Last 5 Books [7/17/17]

Hey friends! Lots going on lately, but I’ve been able to do a little reading over the last month or so.  Here are the last 5 books I’ve read and my brief thoughts on each!

Linchpin, by Seth Godin – This book by business and productivity “guru” Seth Godin touched on a lot of really interesting ideas that I’ll probably bring up in a later post. Here’s one that I found pretty compelling: the way to elevate your work from being another monkey pressing a button in a cubicle to creating “art” (even if you aren’t in an artistic field) is to bring your humanity to bear in your daily tasks. Don’t just be content with formality and the minimum necessary effort to interact with people. Remember that you’re emailing actual people with feelings and concerns. Treat them that way. It raises the game for all concerned.

The Wonder-Working God, by Jared Wilson – Wilson’s work is always excellent. (I’m an unabashed fan.) This book was helpful to me because it challenged me to look at the accounts of miracles in the Gospels with fresh eyes, and look at how these miracles were signposts pointing to who He is as God-in-flesh. Growing up in the faith, I’ve taken a lot of things in the Bible for granted. The truth is, the story of Jesus’ life and ministry is pretty fantastic and shocking, if you’re paying attention. I appreciated Wilson’s humor and eloquence in exploring these ideas.

Turning Pro, by Steven Pressfield – Pressfield has earned a reputation in the area of writing about writing and, in particular, about the war that writers wage against The Resistance, that internal force always threatening to stop us from producing art. In Turning Pro, Pressfield considers what it means to be an Amateur versus being a Professional, not just in terms of writing or creating art but in terms of life. His style is punchy and sometimes profound, but I felt like this volume wasn’t as strong as his other works, The War of Art or Do the Work, which I would recommend instead.

So Good They Can’t Ignore You, by Cal Newport – Newport challenges the oft-repeated advice to “follow your passion” by arguing that career satisfaction comes not through following your dreams but through working like a craftsman to become outstanding at whatever you’re currently doing. He argues that seeking to be exceptional and skillful in any field opens up opportunities (what he calls career capital) to increase your autonomy and direct your work toward a chosen mission. This book is chock-full of great ideas and interesting insights. I’ll have more to say on this later.

Husband-coached Childbirth, by Dr. Robert Bradley – My wife is having a baby pretty much any day now, and we have chosen to have the baby at a birth center with a midwife. Natural childbirth is a daunting task, and Dr. Bradley is one of the most trusted names in the field of natural childbirth in the United States. I really appreciate the high value that this approach places on the husband’s role in childbirth, and how Bradley coaches husbands to be actively involved throughout labor. While I have some qualms about some of his ideological assumptions, this book is very practical and would be a help to any prospective parents who are considering natural childbirth. It’s not the only resource out there, but certain a good one to check out.

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So what’s up next on the reading list?

  • I’m about a third of the way through the audio version of Tony Reinke’s Twelve Ways Your Phone is Changing You. This book is outstanding. Already going to call it a must-read.
  • I’m about to start The Cubs Way by Tom Verducci, a story of the management decisions that lead to last year’s magical World Series run.
  • I’m working my way through Jeff Goins’ latest book, Real Artists Don’t Starve. LOTS of good content there. Full review forthcoming.
  • Depending on when things come in from the library, this month I’ll also be starting The New Dads Playbook by Benjamin Watson, Teammate by former Cubs catcher (and DWTS runner-up!) David Ross, Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option, and a few others.

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Your Turn: Read anything interesting lately? About to start any new books? Let me know in the comments!

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Overdue Book Reviews: “Unparalleled” by Jared C. Wilson

[A few years ago, I started doing book reviews for different publishers who would send me free copies of books to review. Well, my eyes got a little too big for my reading list, so to speak, and I ended up with more books than time. I kept getting distracted by shiny paper objects until I found myself well outside of the requested 1-2 month range for these reviews to be completed. Some of these reviews are *gulp* over a year past due. However, I want to rectify this, so here is the first of a series of past-due reviews. Hope you enjoy.]

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“Aren’t all religions basically the same?”

This statement is practically part of the secular catechism. It’s taken as a matter of fact when there are broad ecumenical discussions of faith in the public square. It’s assumed that the best of all the world’s religions agree on key tenets of kindness, peace, and human flourishing.

But is it really true? If you’re a Christian, the answer should be a gentle but firm “no.”

In Jared Wilson’s 2016 book, Unparalleled, he takes on the task of explaining clearly and simply why Christianity stands out from all other world religions in some very important and fundamental ways. He works his way through the basics of systematic theology, answering the big questions (such as the nature of God, the state of humanity, the person and work of Jesus, the doctrine of salvation, and the end of the world).

What Works
Wilson’s style is winsome, approachable, and clear. He generally stays away from theological jargon, although when it is necessary, he usually defines terms well. He compares the key points of Christian doctrine to other belief systems, but his goal is more to reveal how Christianity is distinct and true, rather than to poke holes in other faiths. This isn’t to say that Wilson soft-pedals other religions, but rather, his goal is clearly to focus on what is true rather than what is untrue. I really appreciate his ability in this book to lay out plainly what the Bible teaches about the Christian faith, in a way that both the unschooled and the highly-educated can grasp.

Minor Issues
I am an unapologetic fan of Jared Wilson’s writing, and this recent addition to his bibliography didn’t disappoint. I have only a few minor critiques. I can recall a few places where his explanations got a bit murky and potentially theologically confused. While in no way approaching heresy, it would have been good to clear up a few of these points. (It should say something that, at the moment, I’m failing to recall specifics.) None of these issues are cause for concern, in my mind. Wilson’s writings speak to his orthodoxy, so the most likely point of error may have been in the mind of a distracted reader.

The other critique I have is the bigger issue: the question of audience. Wilson seems to write this book both for non-believers who are interested in learning about Christianity, as well as for believers who want to learn how to explain Christianity. To that end, I think the book is valuable for both audiences; however, it causes the book to feel a bit inconsistent in voice. In some sections, Wilson is clearly addressing believers, while in others he is making an appeal to outsiders. Both aims are profitable and worthwhile; I’m just not sure it’s wise to do both at the same time.

(It’s funny: so often in my book reviews, I seem to spend the bulk of the post on what doesn’t quite work, even when reviewing books I greatly enjoy. It appears this holds true now. The reason for this, as best as I can tell, is that I don’t want to belabor praise, but I feel the need to justify critique.)

The Bottom Line:
Despite some minor editorial issues, Unparalleled is an approachable, clear, useful book that can be shared and discussed with people who are unfamiliar with Christianity, as well as used to train believers how to discuss the big ideas of the faith.

I gladly recommend this book, and I’m thankful for another great volume by Jared Wilson. His writing continues to be a blessing to the Church.

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Please note: I received a physical copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for a unbiased review. The views and opinions expressed above are my own.

2016 Reading Challenge: December Update and End-of-Year Round-up!

Time for the final 2016 Reading Challenge update!

This month, I only read one more book from the list:

A Book About Money: Love Your Life, Not Theirs, by Rachel Cruze. This volume by the daughter of Dave Ramsey (and heir-apparent of his financial-counseling empire) is a lighter version of the core Dave Ramsey principles, with some extra material thrown in. In the book, Cruze lists 7 principles for finding contentment, which includes things like “avoid debt,” “save money,” and “use a budget.” Essentially, if you are familiar with Dave Ramsey’s “Baby Steps,” there’s nothing groundbreaking or useful here. The only addition Cruze makes is some discussion of the dangers of comparing yourself to others. However, the book mostly avoids the spiritual aspects of contentment and jealousy, so the reader is left with a bland, faith-lite exhortation toward gratitude and generosity as a solution for envy and discontentment. In the end, this book is fluff: watered-down, non-challenging, non-offensive. It seems like she’s trying to move away from the brusqueness associated with Dad, but it’s weak tea, so don’t bother.

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Final tally for the 2016 Reading Challenge: 33/52. I’m a bit disappointed I didn’t do better, but honestly, it’s a good run, considering how many additional books I read this year. All in all, I’m pretty satisfied with the experience. As you can see by the list below, the challenge successfully broadened my typical reading, and took me out of my  comfort zone. While I don’t plan on tackling another reading list in 2017, I will certainly give it a go down the road.

Reading Challenge Categories completed:

A book about Christian living
A biography
A classic novel
A book more than 100 years old
A book for children
A mystery or detective novel
A book published in 2016
A book about a current issue
A novel that won the Pulitzer Prize
A book with at least 400 pages
A book with a great cover
A book on the current New York Times list of bestsellers
A graphic novel
A book of poetry
A book that won a ECPA Christian Book Award
A play by William Shakespeare
A humorous book
A book based on a true story
A book written by Jane Austen
A book with 100 pages or less
A book with a one-word title
A book about money or finance
A novel set in a country that is not your own
A book about music
A memoir
A book about joy or happiness
A book by a female author
A self-improvement book
A book by David McCullough
A book you own but have never read
A book targeted at the other gender
A book by a speaker at a conference you have attended
A book written by someone of a different ethnicity than you
Check back tomorrow for my full 2016 reading list, and my top-five favorite books of the year!

2016 Reading Challenge Update: October/November

Time for another update on my Challies 2016 Reading Challenge progress!

You may be thinking, “Wait, Dave’s still doing this thing?” And the answer is…kind of?

I’m not sure why, but October and November were just not very bookish for me. Personal reasons aside, I just didn’t make reading a priority like I had in previous months. Also, as I noted previously, my limited reading was often occupied with non-Reading-Challenge materials.

That said, I did finish one short book from the Reading Challenge list:

A book about music: On Bowie, by Rob Sheffield. I mentioned in an earlier Friday Five post that I was slowly working my way through this one, with mixed feelings. While I definitely love Sheffield’s writing, I realized that my understanding and appreciation of David Bowie was very shallow. In a sense, “my” Bowie was the elder-statesman Bowie–more subdued, less sexually-charged, singing about love and loss. Sheffield’s short but adoring biography of David Bowie gave me a fuller understanding of the artist’s long and turbulent career. And to be honest, I find I’m starting to distance myself from him as a result. I can’t explain it other than to say I’m seeing in a new way how out there Bowie often was, and it’s turning me off a bit. I still recognize his immense talent–I’d never argue that. I guess I’m just seeing that Bowie isn’t my bag anymore, if he ever was. (I’m pretty sure Sheffield would be horrified and/or outraged by this response.)

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There’s one month left in the 2016 Reading Challenge. Guess what? I’m not going to make it.

Right now, the tally sits at 32 out of 52. A respectable number, especially given how many extra books I threw into the mix this year.

For this final month of the year, I’m going to focus primarily on books that I have committed to reviewing on the blog. (I’m already about halfway through one more book from the reading list on money/finance, but that shouldn’t take long.) Some of these books for review can be applied to reading list categories, but most will not. However, I want to make sure I take care of these commitments I have made (some of them, months ago).

So my expectation is that I will reach at least 35 out of 52 before year’s end. As for the books and reviews coming up this month (hopefully): selections by Jared Wilson, RC Sproul, Tom Schreiner, Kevin Van Hooser, and others. Some tough sledding, but what better time for that than winter, right?

As for next year, who knows? I may decide to finish out this list before doing anything else. Or I may chuck the rest of this list and tackle something else. Tim Challies has already posted a 2017 Reading Challenge list, but I don’t think I’ll attempt that one next year. I have piles of unread books (both physical copies and Kindle books) that I would like to work through, so I may decide to do just that, and post little capsule reviews on this page from time to time (similar to these monthly updates).

Until then, thanks for reading.

Your Turn: Reading anything good lately? Let me know in the comments below!

The4thDave Recommends: “Reviving New England” by Nate Pickowicz

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I’ve heard for years that New England, the cradle of American Christianity, is becoming or has largely become a spiritual wasteland, with little to no active Gospel witness. Because of this, New England is slowly becoming an area of focus for church planting organizations in the US. However, new churches and church plants are fragile things, and they can wither and die just as quickly as they sprout up.

So how can the Church break through the spiritually frigid New England ground? While there are stacks of “church planting” and “church strategy” books to which we could turn, it may be best to listen to men who are in the trenches, doing the work.

Nate Pickowicz is the pastor of Harvest Bible Church in Gilmanton, NH. He faithfully serves the church of Jesus Christ, doing the work of ministry in a challenging region, and his new book Reviving New England provides some first-hand insights and timely challenges for those considering doing ministry in the Northeast.

Pickowicz begins the book with a short history of the Protestant church in New England, from the founding of America through its recent decline. He then discusses the nature of true revival by recalling the characteristics of revival throughout church history.

Throughout the remainder of the book, Pickowicz details a strategy for preparing the spiritual ground in his region. I found this material to be incredibly valuable for 3 key reasons:

  • It’s not that ground-breaking. This may sound like a slight, but I assure you it’s not. Pickowicz is not interested in novelty here. Instead, he carefully exposits and applies Scriptural teaching on how a healthy church is to function. You won’t find shiny new strategies for filling the pews with gimmicks and spectacle. And that is a very good thing.
  • It’s based on a Scriptural understanding of what revival is. From the very beginning, it’s evident that Pastor Nate understands revival is first and foremost a work of the Holy Spirit. It’s not something that can be scheduled, manufactured, or advertised in advance. What Pastor Nate lays out is a blueprint for preparing our churches and individual hearts for the work of God, but everything Pickowicz prescribes relies wholly on the Holy Spirit to move as He wills.
  • It’s not just about New England. It is certainly focused primarily on the state of the Church and the spiritual landscape in that region, but there is nothing in Pickowicz’s book that cannot and should not be applied to every church in the US and around the world. That’s why this book should be read by every pastor in every context. The reality is that the spiritual famine that is currently associated with New England is slowly spreading throughout the American church. While some of the details are different, the prescription is the same: faithful Biblical teaching; a commitment to proper church structure, leadership, and membership; and consistent discipleship.

Reviving New England is a concise treatise on what faithful believers and churches can do to try to break through the spiritual malaise and apathy of their communities. It would be edifying to lay readers, as a call to renewed spiritual devotion. I would definitely recommend it to anyone in church or ministry leadership. But I would most especially recommend it for pastors in difficult ministry contexts, as an encouragement and reminder of God’s faithfulness.

You can pick up a copy of Reviving New England here. And you should.

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Please note: I was provided an electronic copy of the book by the author, in exchange for an honest review. The preceding thoughts are wholly my own.

 

2016 Reading Challenge: September Update!

Time for another update on my Challies 2016 Reading Challenge progress!

I guess September is the beginning of harvest time, so it makes sense for me to finally finish several books, including a few I had been working on, on and off, for a few months! It seems I had a lot to say about a few of these books, so this post is almost 2-3 posts in one!

So here’s a list of what I was able to finish in September:

A Book of Less than 100 Pages: A Guide to Adoption and Orphan Care, by SBTS Press (Russell Moore, ed.). This short booklet was produced by Southern Seminary, and is really just a collection of short essays (long blog posts?) from the Southern faculty about adoption and orphan care. The first group of essays addresses personal/family issues related to adoption, while the last few essays touch on how to begin or support orphan care ministry in the church setting. This is a hugely important topic, and while this book doesn’t go into any real depth, it may be a great starting point for beginning to think about how you can take part in and support orphan care. It certainly helped me begin thinking about this issue for my own family.

A Book by Jane Austen: Persuasion, by Jane Austen. I am a growing fan of Jane Austen stories–I’ve read Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, and I’ve seen the filmed productions of those two as well as Emma and Mansfield Park. I appreciate her style of writing, and her ability to describe a character in an incisive yet still sympathetic way. Austen’s stories have some stock character types that get mixed and matched in different ways: noble, long-suffering characters in a family of self-centered jerks; rogueish young men who are up to no good (a.k.a. the “all that glitters” character); silly aristocrats and bitter commoners. In Persuasion, the main character is the noble, long-suffering youngest sister in a family of silly aristocrats who is trying to find love with a dashing young captain whom she regrettably spurned in her younger days. (Truth be told, she reminded me of Edith from “Downton Abbey” early on in the story.) And about 2/3 of the way through the story, I was enjoying it immensely, on par with the top-shelf Austen stories. However, the ending seems to fall apart, and Austen seems to tie it up abruptly, almost arbitrarily. Nothing in the resolution felt really earned. On the whole, some interesting character moments, and Austen’s writing style shines through as well as ever, but the plot sags in the third act, leaving a disappointing conclusion (certainly no “Mr. Darcy walking through the morning fog” moment, that’s for sure).

A Play By William Shakespeare: The Winter’s Tale, by…well, Shakespeare. Okay, bad-English-major / slacker-lit-geek confession: I haven’t read all of Shakespeare’s plays. Many–more than half–but not all. And one I hadn’t read before is The Winter’s Tale, one of Shakespeare’s pastoral plays that he wrote in the waning years of his career. Now, I will argue passionately for the quality and value of his major works (and it drives me bonkers that they are being taught less frequently in schools), but this one?  Meh. Here are the highlights: accusations of royal infidelity, court intrigue, the hubris of a ruler not listening to wise counsel, loss and regret…and then a half-baked attempt at pastoral humor and a love-story resolution. Oh, and there’s a bear attack and a statue that comes to life, because…reasons. So, yeah. The first half feels like a mix of Othello and Hamlet, the second half like a half-baked Much Ado.  Not his best work.

A Book More than 100 Years Old: The Innocence of Father Brown, by G.K. Chesterton (1911). My original selection for this category was Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, which quickly showed to be tough sledding, and I wanted something a bit lighter. [I’ll get back to that one eventually.] I later realized that this collection of Father Brown stories would fit the bill. My previous exposure to Chesterton’s fiction was the novel The Man Who Was Thursday, which I enjoyed greatly. I was dimly aware of Father Brown, mainly that the character was a clergyman of some kind (Catholic priest, as it turns out) who solved mysteries. I began the collection expecting something of a religiously-tinged Sherlock Holmes. In that regard, I was mildly disappointed, since there wasn’t the consistent “big reveal” moment at the end of each story, as you’d get with the Baker Street detective. If there was ever a big reveal, it was understated almost to the point of denoument. In all of the stories, Father Brown (usually accompanied by French-master-thief-turned-detective Flambeau) stumbles his way into intrigue, or is invited to provide perspective. While he does do a bit of “detecting” of the classic sort, Father Brown’s skill set arises more organically from his understanding and experience dealing with the human soul. In fact, the best parts of these stories are Father Brown’s (and thus, Chesterton’s) ruminations on why people behave the way they do. Outside of one or two unfortunate racial slurs in one of the stories (a relic of its era), these stories are actually quite charming, and as such are worth seeking out.

A Book You Own But Have Never Read: Orphan Justice, by Johnny Carr. I bought this book back when my wife and I were dating. Orphan care and adoption has been a passion for my wife for years, and I wanted to be a supportive boyfriend/husband, so I purchased this book but never actually read it, until now.  I have to admit, this one is a bit tough to read, because it challenges you with the realities that orphans face around the world. Carr looks not only at the orphan crisis itself but also the complex social issues that feed into it, like human trafficking, HIV, poverty, and abuse. Hard stuff. But God used this book to continue the process of awakening a concern for orphans in my own heart. I don’t have the same level of passion that my wife does, but I’m getting there. There is such need. These kids are suffering every day. And that’s…wrong. I mean, really wrong. The wrongness of it is so great that it’s getting harder for me to ignore. And this book really forced me to think about that, and to question some of my own assumptions and stereotypes. One great feature of this book is that Carr ends each chapter with a challenge to act, by pointing out things that everyone, some people, and a few people can do to make a difference in each area. By doing so, he keeps the book very practical. My main critique of the book is that the author pulls Scripture out of context frequently, which really bugs me. However, I committed not to let these issues distract me or close my ears to the bigger truths in the book. And you shouldn’t either.

A Book that Won an ECPA Christian Book Award: Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, by Nabeel Qureshi. Qureshi is a Christian apologist whose focus is evangelizing Muslims. He was raised in Islam, and this book chronicles his critical exploration of both Christianity and Islam, as well as his eventual conversion to Christianity. Qureshi demonstrates through his own story his deep appreciation for his family and upbringing, as well as the difficulty of facing the truth about the faith he once believed. The book provided a glimpse into a world I’ve never known, and it helped me understand how a person can actually love Islam (or at least, some versions of it). The one reservation I had as I began this book was that I had heard the story involved Qureshi receiving “dreams and visions” from God. Theologically speaking, I consider myself about 93% cessationist, with only just enough doubt not to be adamant. In other words, when people talk about experience with sign gifts like prophecy and visions, I tend toward doubt until their testimony meets some thresholds of doctrinal testing. So I have to admit, I was a little leery. Well, I can tell you this much: the “dreams” Qureshi describes did not concern me from a doctrinal perspective. While he does drift into some “God spoke to my heart” direct revelation talk, it’s no more than the standard evangelical nomenclature (and nothing I haven’t said myself at one time or another).  All in all, this book was encouraging and edifying, and the description of Qureshi’s conversion brought tears to my eyes. I’m glad I read (technically, listened to the author read) this book.

A Book about Joy or Happiness: The Joy Project, by Tony Reinke. I wrote about this a little last week. The Joy Project is a sneaky book, in a way; while you think from the title and cover art that it’s a book about “joy,” you find out that it’s really a book about theology–specifically, the Calvinist “doctrines of grace.” However, as you read it, you recognize that Reinke wasn’t trying to pull a fast one. He was sincerely linking a Christian’s joy to their understanding of their salvation as a work of sovereign grace that rescues, redeems, and secures them. As I wrote earlier, this truth is something that I need to spend a LOT of time meditating upon, because in my years of being Calvinistic, I have only half-heartedly applied it to my own life. What I’m beginning to see is tha there is joy–so much joy!–in knowing that I am fully and completely secure in the Father’s hand. May I know it ever more and more.

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The end of September means we’re 3/4 of the way through the year. (That’s crazy to think about!) So how am I doing in regard to the 2016 Reading Challenge? Well, a 7-book month definitely helps things along!

I still don’t know if I will be able to hit the original goal of 52. Back in mid-July, I lowered by expectations and set a goal of reading at least 30 of the books on the list. Well, consider that “realistic” goal met! With the 7 books completed in September, my current total is 31/52 books read!

That leaves…21 for the next 3 months. Can I do 3 more 7-book months in a row? Considering the fact that those months include the holidays, which in our house is the busiest part of the year…probably not.

But if you know me at all, you know I’m sure gonna try! And as always, I’ll keep you posted on my progress. Thanks for reading.

Your Turn: Reading anything good lately? Post your recommendations in the comments below–because I’m definitely working on my list for next year!

Between Ta-Nehisi Coates and Me.

Mr. Coates,

I read your book because someone I respect said that it would challenge me to listen and not speak. He was right. It challenged me.

It challenged my assumptions, my perceptions. It made me angry. It confused me. It saddened me.

I’m not claiming enlightenment. I feel like you’d scoff if I did. I’m one of the dreaming ones, after all. One of the ones who “thinks he is white.” It took me a while to understand what you meant by that, if I understood it at all. Those who “think they are white” are those who think they are free of the weight of history, those who pretend that their legacy is unstained. I don’t think the sins of the fathers should be charged to the children’s children, but I can’t argue that I have not benefited from time and location and advantage. I guess that’s called “privilege.” I have struggled to acknowledge or accept the idea–mainly because it’s a concept that is used as a bludgeon against us dreamers, to shame and silence us. We can’t speak about what we see because we are too privileged. We don’t understand “the struggle.”

You’re right. I don’t understand your struggle. I should never presume to. As I read your letter to your son, your legacy of fear, your armor of defensiveness that steals your joy, I realize that I don’t really get what life is like for black men in this country. Again, an “epiphany” that would surely elicit a head-shake and snort. As obvious as water’s wetness.

What I’m wrestling with, Mr. Coates, is that I don’t know what else to do but state the obvious. I don’t know what else I can say, what else I have the right to say. There’s nothing I feel like I can do to make things better, because: 1) I’m white, so I “don’t understand the struggle”; 2) I’m white, so any “help” I offer is patronizing; 3) I’m white, so I’m “part of the problem.”

I’m not whining. Do not mishear me, please. I’m not complaining, and I’m in no possible way equating. What I’m saying is, I don’t know what to do about this. I don’t know what to do about the injustice of racial hatred in America. I don’t know what to do about inequity of opportunity, or the poisoned cloud of fear that so often chokes out African-American communities, day to day.

The one thing I can say, you would refuse to accept. I’m a Christian, Mr. Coates, and I believe that there is a God who sees and hears and remembers and promises to bring ultimate justice. As you wrote in your book, you cannot accept this. For you, there is no comfort in struggling and suffering; there is only anger and the necessity of fighting back to prevent the abuse and plundering of your natural body. It makes sense to me that you would feel that way. If there is no God in heaven, then there is only struggle, and the only sensible response to a history of abuse is anger and determination to fight back by living a full life, for however long you can do so.

But, Mr. Coates, I believe there is more. I believe that there is justice that will one day roll down like mighty waters. I believe there is hope beyond suffering. I don’t believe this because it’s a fantasy dreamed by “those who think they are white.” It is a truth that has been held by British Puritans seeking religious freedom, by African-American slaves praying for physical deliverance, by Chinese peasants who face government oppression for holding onto a faith and a Name that refuses to be put down and stamped out, despite the menace and malice of a thousand kingdoms and a thousand kings.

I pray you can one day know that hope, Mr. Coates. I hope you can one day believe on that Name. Not because it will instantly cure your struggles, or will ever make you part of the “dream.” But if you come to know Jesus as Savior and Lord, He can redeem what is broken in your life, and He can replace your fear and your anger with something greater, something stronger, something that won’t eat you up.

I appreciate your book. It forced me to look at my assumptions, the white noise around the edges of my daily life. It forced me to confront my own arguments about problems and solutions within the African-American community.

If nothing else, your book has challenged me to be silent more, to pontificate less, and to stop saying comments like, “if only they would ___.” Because I don’t know you, sir. I don’t know what your life is like. I don’t know what it is to inhabit your body, to wear your skin. And it’s wrong of me to presume to know. I’m sorry I’ve done that.

If this letter ever finds you (what a strange thought that is!), I hope it finds you well. I hope it doesn’t offend. And I hope I’ve understood your book at least a tiny bit. I feel like I have. But I’m willing to admit, I could be wrong.

–Dave

The4thDave Reviews: “Kill Devil” by Mike Dellosso

The Hook: In this sequel to 2015’s Centralia, Jed Patrick has been living “off the grid” in a mountain cabin with his wife Karen and daughter Lilly under assumed identities. They have guarded the flash drive that contains all the secrets of the government program known as “the Centralia project,” and have done everything they could to stay out of sight until they figure out how to release the data. Unfortunately, their location is discovered by government operatives. The safety of their daughter is threatened, and they’re given a new mission: help a small group of operatives within the CIA expose and take down a plot to overthrow the federal government. However, as Jed begins to learn what exactly he’s being asked to do, he starts to wonder if the people he’s working with are the ones who can help him…or the ones he has been trying to escape.

What Worked: Jed Patrick worked. Dellosso has created a solid protagonist that seeks to do the right thing and wrestles with the moral challenges and ambiguities of the situations he faces. This isn’t a Hollywood tough-guy type that blithely takes life and inflicts pain. Patrick seeks to incorporate the realities of his faith into the darkness of his daily life. This is a character whom I have enjoyed getting to know over the course of these two books.

The action in Kill Devil is fast-paced. Dellosso knows how to keep the tempo up on his stories, and once things kick off in the first chapter, the novel does not slow down a bit. These stories seem like they would make a natural jump to film adaptation.

What Didn’t: The thing I liked best about Centralia was that there were so many twists and turns, I really didn’t know what to expect. I just can’t say the same for Kill Devil. Dellosso delivers a few surprises, but the “big twists” were telegraphed to the point that I got impatient waiting for the other shoe to drop. While the reader may not be able to predict all the finer details, the broad strokes are easy to anticipate. In the end, my expectations for another thrill ride were pretty let down.

The narrative sections that focus on Jed’s daughter Lilly just didn’t work for me, for 3 reasons: 1) They didn’t really contribute to the main plot. There seemed to be threads of subplots that were perhaps abandoned, and as a result they felt a bit irrelevant. 2) Lilly is, honestly, a boring character. She’s a cipher, a perfect little girl who seems to be there to say something cute or spiritually poignant. 3) The spiritual content in this book takes a turn into the “personal messages from Jesus” and “dreams and visions” area, particularly when it comes to Lilly. Depending on your theological beliefs about such things, your mileage may vary. However, for this 93% cessationist, it really took me out of the story.

Final Analysis:  Y’all, I’ve been avoiding doing this review (which is why I’ve kept putting it off for about 2 months). Mike Dellosso seems like a really nice guy, and I will definitely keep reading his stuff. I honestly wanted to like Kill Devil, but by the last page, I was left disappointed. Centralia was a nail-biter of a novel that kept you guessing. Kill Devil felt more paint-by-numbers. The obvious bad guy is obvious, the final act plot twist was telegraphed, and the overall story felt derivative. I liked particular story beats, like the Alcatraz sequence. Dellosso writes great action sequences. I was glad to get another Jed Patrick story. But if this were my introduction to the Jed Patrick novels, rather than Centralia, I wouldn’t be as motivated to look forward to more.

 

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Please Note: I was provided a free copy of the book by the publisher, in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed above are my own.

Reading Challenge: July Update!

Time for another update on my Challies 2016 Reading Challenge progress!

My summer class is over (yay!), and I think I did pretty well, actually (double-yay!). Once the class was over, I had 2 weeks left in July to dive back into my reading list. I used a combination of audiobooks, Kindle books, and paper books to get back on the Reading Challenge train!

So here’s a list of what I was able to finish in July:

A Memoir: No Hero, by Mark Owen.  I listened to the audio-book of this memoir of a 14-year Navy SEAL. Owen, whose previous book No Easy Day about the mission to kill Osama Bin Laden brought him national reknown, tells a series of personal stories and experiences to expound on the qualities needed to succeed as a SEAL. He highlights attributes like purpose and focus, the necessity of dealing with fear, the power of embracing discomfort, and the vital importance of teamwork and trust. The stories he tells are sometimes redacted, the names have all been changed, but the emotions and experiences are real and are fascinating. If nothing else, books like No Hero can give the reader a renewed appreciation for the sacrifices and selflessness of the men and women who serve in the military.

A Book that won the Pulitzer Prize: A Visit From the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan. Every person who has read this book had the same reaction when I told them I was reading it: an affectionate, “Aaaaah, Goon Squad!” Though some suggested I may not appreciate it as much as they did because I “wasn’t a girl” (which seems a bit sexist, but whatever), I assured them that I was enjoying the style and language even if the characters weren’t always that likable. I have to admit, though, once I finished the book, I still wasn’t sure if I actually liked it. I enjoyed aspects of it, and I can appreciate the themes the author was going for (the paradox of emotional distance in an age of increasing “connectivity”). But I have to admit, it’s not a book I would ever re-read, and I don’t know if I could strongly recommend it to others. So, there you are: well-written, effective, but in the end, it left me cold.

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And unfortunately, those were the only two I finished by July 31st. I am halfway through about 3 other books, so I’m in good shape to beef up my August numbers. And after some discussion with my beloved wife, we decided that I’m going to postpone my next seminary class until the spring (for various reasons), so I’m back on the Reading Challenge train full-force!  I’ve fallen behind quite a bit over the last 2 months, but let’s see if August is my month to gain ground. I’ll keep you posted as always, faithful readers!

Remote Control.

I’ve been reading Charles Duhigg’s newest book, Smarter, Faster, Better (which debuts today–I’ll review it in the next week or so), and the first chapter deals with a concept that may be familiar to students of psychology or counseling but was new to me: internal and external locus of control.

Who’s in Charge Here?

In lay terms, someone with an internal locus of control believes that their choices can affect their lives. They have the power to make changes, to make a difference, and to chart the course of their own path.  This leads such a person to take responsibility for their circumstances and make decisions that are meant to lead to a desired outcome.

Conversely, someone with an external locus of control sees their life as being affected by outside forces that are indifferent to them (or even opposed to them). A person with an external locus of control sees his or her life as being directed or at least affected by these external forces, and due to this, their best efforts will still be moderated, if not totally undone, by these forces.

The result of this is that people with an internal locus of control feel like they can change their lives for the better, and it’s up to them to do so, while people with an external locus of control tend to believe that they need help from the outside in order to make any positive changes in their lives.

(I realize this may be a gross over-simplification of the concept, and it’s probably more complicated than that. If you have more experience with the idea, I’d love to hear from you in the comments!)

We Don’t Need Another Hero

In thinking about this idea, one can even make the jump to social and political ideology. It’s not hard to see that some political positions work from an internal locus of control; they focus on self-reliance, personal responsibility, and limited involvement from outside forces. Others work from an external locus of control; they emphasize systemic issues that require systemic solutions, and de-emphasize the ability of an individual or  family unit to overcome such challenges, which require outside assistance (usually in the form of governmental intervention) in order for such individuals to succeed.

Each stance has its inherent dangers at the extremes. People with an internal locus of control struggle with having a solely-inward focus, caring only for themselves or their family and ignoring the needs of the people around them. (For example, consider Ayn Rand’s “objectivist” philosophy as an extreme example.) Such a stance also makes it hard for these individuals to sympathize with people from a much different background and set of experiences, who may not have the same opportunities and are unable to change certain circumstances.

On the other hand, people with an external locus of control may feel like they are always victims of outside forces, and thus they refuse to take responsibility for their actions. They may feel helpless and dependent, despite having the capability to create change. As a result, they look for rescue from other people and outside entities who promise to set things right and deliver them from evil (even if these pseudo-saviors consistently fail to live up to their promises).

A Savior on Capitol Hill

Which leads me to the following video, from nationally-syndicated radio host and financial guru, Dave Ramsey:

As I’m sure you can guess, Ramsey functions very much from an “internal locus of control” approach. He emphasizes that “YOU” can change your life and that “YOU” are not a victim.

I have to admit, though: as I watched that video, something didn’t sit right with me. I understand that Ramsey was trying to speak to wide range of viewers, even if he is himself a professing Christian. But as a Christian, I can’t help but notice that there’s Someone missing in all this.

The same thing is true with the locus of control discussion as a whole: the internal vs. external models seem primarily materialistic, and don’t account for spiritual realities.

So how do I think of these concepts as a Christian? What kind of “model of control” addresses a more Biblical worldview?  I have some ideas about that, and an alternative stance, which I’ll share…tomorrow.

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Your Turn: Have you ever heard of this idea of “locus of control”? Do you find yourself leaning more toward internal or external locus, in your day to day thinking? Am I misunderstanding this concept? Share your thoughts in the comments!