Review of Empty Promises by Pete Wilson

Empty Promises by Pete Wilson is a book about the idols in our lives that get in the way from our relationship with God.  Each chapter looks at a specific area about how people attempts to use it to fill a need in their lives, but in reality that leaves a void - or worse brings destruction, like addictions, divorce, and isolation.  From a perspective of calling these what they are, Wilson does a good job of communicating them.

Where I think the book falters is relating those empty idol areas back to a faith.  This book is clearly written to a Christian audience and Wilson uses common Christian idioms often that speaks of God filling those needs.  But that language and style leaves little room for those that struggle with doubt or skepticism on that relationship of God be meaningful.  The traditional Christian audience has evolved significantly, and there is so much resistance to these traditional church idioms and assumptions of faith.  I would have preferred a much more concrete examples of taking on faith in these areas that doesn't lean so heavily on assumptions that the reader knows how God works.

Pete Wilson's writing style is very approachable, and I appreciate his writing style a lot.  His books are quick reads, but can also be read in segments.  It is clear that Wilson cares about people and writes for his desire to be helpful and share his experiences.  I thoroughly enjoyed Wilson's first book, and will indeed read any future books Wilson publishes.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Review of Little Bets by Peter Sims

Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small DiscoveriesLittle Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries by Peter Sims
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fantastic book on the process of success through little risks/bets and failures. The author did a remarkable job of melding examples from all angles: the comedy of Chris Rock, the architecture of Frank Gehry, the political analysis of Tim Russert, the near-fall and rise of Pixar, and more.

The most fascinating part of this book is his review and discussion of the fixed vs growth mind set. The amount of research he shared and his analysis combined with the researchers' own discoveries are extremely valuable. I find these insights to be very important in my ability to manage a team at work, as well as adapt as a parent to children entering elementary school.

This is a must have book for anyone interested in building successful mindsets and disciplines for success, whether it is your success or those whom you influence.

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Review: Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices by Brian McLaren

"Finding Our Way Again" is the opening book in a new series about the ancient practices of faith.  Author Brian McLaren has been a leader in exploring the Christian faith in new dimensions often by returning to old dimensions.  This new examination interested me, and with the series being edited by Phyllis Tickle - who hooked me in with "The Great Emergence" - I was very excited to dig into this book.

Ultimately I was disappointed with the book as a whole.  There are sections of brilliance, yet sections of weakness, and while threaded through the book is the attempt to meld and expose the roots that connect the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faiths, the spiritual exercises at the end betray McLaren's attempts with tired, evangelical-like bible study questions which fails to press the newness he clearly wants the reader to explore.  What I want and need is credible encouragement to explore ancient practices that will be provocative to my faith.  What I read is simply too vanilla to provoke anything more than a few yawns.  I had no urgency to read on, though I did finish the book at a snails pace.

I will likely read some of the other books in the series, but not at a high priority.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

I've lost that blogging mojo, and I want it back

I've been writing here since December 2005 - almost 6 years!  Initially this was just a journal for me, and I kept it semi-private.  But the past few years, I've been writing more and more, both in publications like the Burnside Writers Collective, guest blogs or columns picked up by others, and in professional journals.  

I have a voice on a variety of topics, but I lack the consistency to keep it moving, and to develop a committed audience.  I want to branch out my writing into a professional topics of libraries and technology, but I'm struggling to balance all of the projects and committees and meetings that take up more than the time I have available.  And frankly, I'm often too lazy to get up earlier in the morning.

But the time has come for me to get my blogging mojo back, and I have an excellent resource to help me.  Bryan Allain has published an eBook called 31 Days to Finding your Blogging Mojo.  It's clear and concise with suggested exercises that not only don't take a lot of time, but gives you immediate and critical feedback on your blog, your audience, and your concepts, and your perspective.  My plan is to dedicate the month of October and follow through all 31 days in the month, but I've already read the book, and I know it will benefit me immensely.  It will help you, too.

And it's really, really funny.

Some thoughts on communal worship

I've returned to reading Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices by Brian McLaren not only because I owe Thomas Nelson Publishing a review, but because I'm yet again in a phase of transition within my faith journey. I'm on Chapter 12 ("Communal Practices") now, and I will get back to blogging my answers to the questions at the end of each chapter, but while reading this chapter, I immediately got out of bed to write through some of these thoughts. Later this week, I will be guest blogging for Rachel Held Evans on my visit to a faith community very different than ones I've belonged to, but for now, I want to work through some points and excerpts from this chapter that quickly engaged with my mind and spirit.

First off, I'm finding it difficult to engage in formal Christian community these days. These are my own problems and not the fault of my or any other church, but at least within my church there is an on-going seismic event that has had more subtle effects than I think people I expected. I am evaluating in what ways I need to participate within this, but McLaren discusses worship in a way that I find intriguing for, if not convicting of, my thought process:
Singing is so familiar in our churches that I fear we are missing what a miracle it is. First, singing involves our bodies.... Second, it involves our souls.... Third, it involves a text, sometimes (though too rarely) a beautiful poetic lyric. Fourth, it involves a score, sometimes (again, too rarely) a beautiful artistic score. Fifth, that score engages instruments.... Sixth, it often involves parts.... And finally, [singing] involves other people - many voices, one song. Think of it: bodies and souls, people and instruments, texts and notes, men and women and children, Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives somehow coming together in the miracle of a song or hymn. Figuratively as literally, songs harmonize us, which is why they are such important communal spiritual practices. (pp. 105-106)
No matter what I believe on a particular issue, no matter where I stand in a conflict of justice, worship - and in particular singing communally - is the opportunity to join in unity through expressing worship to God. Whether that is true unity, or not, is a different story, but it is certainly the opportunity, and the onus is on me to participate, or not.

But I fall short of this, yet my growing suspicions and discomfort of the typical American church is not a sufficient excuse to recluse myself of the community of faith, especially as I desire to participate in a more diverse community of faith within and beyond the local church I have chosen to participate. Along those lines, McLaren provides this insight:
As well, songs (like acts of romantic affection) simultaneously express and intensify emotion. Sadly, the singing in some of our churches expresses a range of emotion that runs from B to C (bored to complacent), but the Bible takes us from A (angry) to F (fervent) to J (joyful) to L (lamenting) to N (nostalgic) to R (restful) to X (er, exalted) to Z (zealous). I'm glad to report that people are beginning to notice the narrow range of songs used in so many of our churches, whether they be "traditional" or "contemporary" or "blended," and even better, they're starting to write new songs that more fully explore and express the spiritual life in both content and emotion. (p. 106)
Here's the moment of truth: do I really want a diverse worship experience that can or does go from anger to fervency to joy to lamentation to nostalgia to rest to exaltation to zealousness? At first blush that would be an emotionally exhausting experience, but what about over the range of a month or a liturgical season, or the entire liturgical year? Usually I want to rush to joy and nostalgia in worship, but is my soul nourished by ignoring the anger I am holding securely and privately? Can we be a diverse community of faith if we don't allow room to share our complaints to God around each other, or describe what drives our fervent energy, yet give room for those seeking people rest?

If I'm honest, I still want to be surrounded by like-minded, like-feeling, and like-expressing people if there is any chance I would put myself in a position of vulnerability. But that leaves little room for the miracle of the communal practice described above. So where does this discussion lead? Find a community attempting to approach communal practices by actively seeking this miracle or be an advocate of change within the community I am in now?

Am I sincerely willing to do either?

A deja vu beginning

I've returned to a house I haven't been to in two years, and even then I only spent one week. It's odd how familiar something can be despite the brief time spent and the long time away.

But the differences already shine bright. My son is walking and talking, and he did neither two years ago. We walked on the beach together, chasing some baby seagulls, and then dipped our feet in the ocean. My daughter danced and leaped over waves with her cousin with the fullness of joy beaming in her face and smile. My wife and I shared the humbling awareness of how fast she will grow up.

I'm ready for this week, to learn and experience new things as a parent, husband, and relative to the others sharing this house. I can't wait to jump on our bikes and ride together, to explore this island on my own, and to drink in deep the view of our kids playing and laughing and living fully.

A couple weeks ago, I had time away with my wife that we both desperately needed. This week is definitely one for the family. Time for some fun.