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Category Archives: Books

My wife, son, and I traveled to Lawrence, KS last week to attend the University of Kansas (KU) homecoming events and festivities.  One such event was the homecoming football game between Big 12 rivals KU and Nebraska.  (By the way, we beat the crap out of Nebraska; sweet and poetic justice considering when I was a student at KU, Nebraska then a powerhouse football team would just steam roll us.  Scores like 70 to 0 were not uncommon.  So imagine how ecstatic I was when we beat Nebraska 76 to 39!).  But I digress.  I ask: Considering there were over 50,000 people in attendance, what are the odds of sitting next to a older white lady who shares a common interest in the Underground Railroad?  This is amazing to be sure but it gets better.  I told her that I am reading a book entitled, “Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America”, by Fergus M. Bordewich.  I told her that Bordewich speaks of a sympathetic Quaker named Levi Coffin who is considered the founder of the underground movement’s infrastructure.  This movement – later dubbed “America’s first racially integrated civil rights movement” – would eventually help thousands of slaves escape to their freedom.  How does it get better?  She told me that her husband is a descendant of Levi Coffin!  Amazing, you got to be kidding!  Her enthusiasm and excitement was so contagious.  I listened mostly as she told me of ‘stations’ in Kansas that were used to hide slaves and about the background of her husband’s family (mostly ministers who were vehemently opposed to slavery).  My only regret is that I didn’t get her name and number!  What are the odds!

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I just completed the book, “Through Gates of Splendor” by Elisabeth Elliot.  It is the account of her late husband Jim along with four other men who paid the ultimate price for trying to reach the Aucas (a primitive Indian tribe in South America) with the message of the Christian gospel in the 1950s.  These men were killed by seven Aucas (we know that it was seven because 2 of the killers later became Christians through the efforts of the widows and others.)  There are several moving statements in the book.   This one ranks high on my list:

“It is not the level of our spirituality that we can depend on.  It is God and nothing less than God, for the work is God’s and the call is God’s and everything is summoned by Him and to His purposes, the whole scene, the whole mess, the whole package – our bravery and our cowardice, our love and our selfishness, our strengths and our weaknesses.” 

  1. My sister told me tonight that an old flame google’d me!  What a stroke to my ego.  That made my day! (I am just be honest here!)
  2. I am bored with the status quo of doing church.
  3. I am looking for a place where I ‘fit’; I don’t fit in some church contexts and I don’t fit in some academic contexts.  I have all these credentials (according to my wife) yet why is it so difficult to find a place where I ‘fit’?
  4. I am having trouble getting out of bed in the morning.  What does this mean?
  5. I am reading a troubling thick book: “War Against the Weak” by Edwin Black.  In general the book is about America and its effort to propagate a superior race (which means some people were sterilized; some people were [are still] counted as ‘expendable’ or a burden to society.)  This effort is called eugenics (=good genes).  Little known secret that eugenics was started in the US and borrowed by the Germans.  Also little known secret that some household names funded the eugenics movement in the US: Rockefeller and Carnegie.
  6. I told a friend to find his affirmation in his relationship with Christ.  We can’t always count on affirmation from others.

At the urging of my wife and two students, I finally read The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell.  (I knew this book would be good because when my wife read it she could hardly not put it down.)  The Tipping Point explains why social epidemics occur.  For instance, Gladwell explained why the crime rate dropped in New York City in the 1990s.  It was due to some small insignificant changes: cleaning graffiti off buildings and posting guards at the subway ticket machines.  Doesn’t make sense?  That is Gladwell’s point in what he calls the “Law of the Few.”  A few small modifications altered the crime rate in New York.  A few young people resurrected a dying market for Hush Puppy Shoes.  Gladwell explains why the children’s show Blues Clues was so successful.  In Gladwell’s words, Blues Clues was ‘sticky.’  Marketers seek to make their ads ‘sticky’ or memorable.  Also little known fact is that Paul Revere was not the only one who announced that the ‘British were coming!’  Actually, two men in history alerted townspeople that the British were coming.  The reason we don’t know about the other guy was because he was not a ‘connector.’  Paul Revere was a ‘connector.’  Gladwell argues that there are three kinds of people who are behind social epidemics: connectors, mavens, and salesman.  Gladwell uses many human interest accounts or short stories to prove his arguments.  This book is a great read!

color-of-water-cover.jpgI just finished the hilariously funny and moving story of Ruth McBride-Jordan (or Rachel Shilsky – her maiden name) written by her son, James McBride.  The title of the book is, ‘The Color of Water.’  When a little boy, James (who is black) asked his mother, Ruth McBride (a white Jewish woman and daughter of an Orthodox Rabbi), what color God was, Mrs. McBride responds, “God is the color of water.” 

James McBride writes in such a way that you feel like you know Mrs. McBride personally; as though she was your next door neighbor.  Mrs. McBride raises 12 kids; all of which go to college and finish college (Ruth earned a college degree when she was 65).  She was married twice; both to black men.  Rev. McBride, one of the husbands, named James when he was on his death bed (Ruth McBride was pregnant with James when Rev. McBride died of lung cancer.)  This fitting and wonderful tribute to Ruth McBride made me laugh out loud and it also made me cry (the subtitle to the book is ‘A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother’).  All in all, Ruth McBride gives credit to God for helping her when funds, resources, and living arrangements were less than idea or optimal.  She said this about God, “I want you to know you are looking at a witness of God’s word.  It’s real.  It’s real.”  This book is a must read!

doylec82.gifI am a cynic.  In my view, cynicism has positive and negative consequences.  Negatively, being a cynic can rob you of intimacy/closeness with those who truly care about you.  In other words, cynicism is an enemy of intimacy.  And being cynical can rob you of receiving and appropriating genuine/authentic feedback or encouragement. 

Positively, I think being a cynic is helpful at times because it keeps our feet firmly planted in reality.  Everything is not wonderful.  And we shouldn’t look through ‘rose tinted’ glasses; because we are severely flawed, this world is severely flawed, and human relationships are severely flawed. 

Friend and colleague Dick Keyes has written a good book on the topic.  The book is entitled, “Seeing Through Cynicism: A Reconsideration of the Power of Suspicion.”  I have heard the material for this book in his lectures! Dick and wife, Mardi, head the L’Abri in Southborough, Mass.

  • It is such a delight to see evidence that the seasons are changing.  The vivid fall colors of the leaves in St. Louis are beautiful.
  • Sometimes, I carry a lime green-bright orange-sky blue Pokemon lunch box (my son’s hand-me-down).  The older I get, the less concerned I am about what people say about how I dress, what I carry my lunch in, etc. 10-5-2006-7.jpg
  • Another good read is “Amusing Ourselves To Death” by Neil Postman.
  • Go Jayhawks!  (as in University of Kansas Jayhawks of course)

diving-bell-and-butterfly.jpgIs the ‘title’ a riddle?  Read this book, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” by Jean-Dominique Bauby to discover if the title is a riddle or not.   The book is fascinating!

My late step-father (Robert E. Frazier), a late neighbor (Mr. Sasser), and my grandfather (Henry Bobo) have provided good role models on being a father.  Besides these ‘living books’, two written books that have provided guidance for me as a father (the toughest job a male could have in my humble opinion) are Bill Cosby’s Fatherhoodand recently, Tim Russert’s Wisdom of Our Fathers.   Both books carry instant credibility with me as both men are fathers (rather, public fathers).   Both books are filled with great wisdom.  They will make you cry, laugh out loud, and reflect deeply.

keypad.jpgI am sure you recognize the device to your left; it’s known as a numeric keypad. You typically see them adjacent to cash registers. This cool miniature device allows you to pay for groceries, etc. by entering a pin number; a private number tied directly to your checking or savings account at your local bank or credit union or whatever institution serves as the respository for your money. By entering the ‘secret’ combination of numbers, money for the transaction is taken directly and instantly from your account. I think this is called a ‘point of sale’ transaction. This is a convenient little device as you don’t have to carry cash or write a personal check.

While I laud these conveniences, my brain or rather my memory/recall capability is being taxed with so many numbers or passwords to remember in our technopoly world (Neil Postman writes a great book entitled, “Technopoly”). Currently, I have:

  1. a pin number for my bank accounts;
  2. a pin number for my voice mail at work;
  3. a pin number for our home phone voice mail;
  4. a password for my e-bay account;
  5. a pin number for my UMSL student account;
  6. a password for my home e-mail account;
  7. a pin number for my work e-mail account;
  8. a pin number for Amazon account;
  9. a password for my Borders Bookstore account;
  10. a password/pin number to access Ballwin Athletic Association (needed to register for son for baseball season);
  11. a password for a staff/faculty portal at work; and finally
  12. a pin number to gain access to the Rockwood School District’s ‘Infinite Campus’ (a website for my wife and I to check on our kids’ grades).

That’s twelve instances; and those are the ones I remember as I am sure I have forgotten some or many more. Some would say – stop complaining and use the same pin number or password over and over again. But what about the real threat of idenity theft or computer hackers? Isn’t this a no-no according to IT gods? Bottomline: technology use has advantages and disadvantages. But I thought technology was billed to make our lives easier?