Saturday, January 06, 2018

Starting into 2018 - All GREAT reads.

I've been "on retreat" and had time to get through several books in just a few days into 2018.

And some good ones! SOLIDLY good reads here!

These first that I'll cite, I think speak to who I am - I value productivity, peacemaking, understanding cultures and history (historical trauma), travel (and hiking/biking/outdoorsmanship) psychology and biology/ecology.  (Of course, religion(s) - too).


The National Parks: America's Best Idea.  So much to celebrate in this book.  I learned about many characters and bits of history from the parks that I simply was unaware of.  I gained a greater appreciation for the MANY persons and unique events that shaped the National Parks.  I learned about saving ruins, rivers, and wildlife.  Crater Lake, which I've visited from my childhood, had so much history alone - let alone so many other parks.  I was intrigued by how histories of indigenous persons (Native Americans) shaped what we know of these places - and how we pushed them out! :-(   I am so thankful for the many persons (many more than John Muir) worked to save these natural places - including private contributions.  I did not know that the Rockefellers were invested in many contributions of cash and land.  And I learned more about how Congress and Presidents were involved in various decades from the mid 1800s to the late 1900s . . . and individual contributions from persons, literally, their pennies and nickels!  A single quote from the book: Terry Tempest Williams "Our national parks are not only our best idea, but our highest ideal. I think that every time we walk into a national park, we make vows. We make vows that we will live beyond ourselves. We make vows that we will not just care about short-term gains but long-term vistas."


Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy Hardcover by Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg  This was a great book.  I did not like that Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook "fame" gets so much credit - and the name dropping to Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg and others.  BUT, Adam Grant was clearly behind the data in the book - and Sheryl's personal story of loss was a frame to work around, so it worked.  [ I think I just despise that it takes someone "famous" to be on a book to get the book read by others, when the content of the book itself was so good. ] This would be a single solid "Go-To" resource for the themes in it's subtitle - facing adversity, building resilience, and finding joy.  A few take-aways:  Martin Seligman's idea on personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence.  Adam Grand and his colleague Jane Dunton finding that counting our blessings doesn't boost us, but counting our contributions can.  Adam's student, Joe's discovery on finding personal strength, gaining appreciation, forming deeper relationships, discovering more meaning in life, and seeing new possibilities.  "I am more vulnerable than I thought, but much stronger than I ever imagined."  The significance of Gratitude Afterglow - writing thank you notes.  Denmark having "klossen time" and learning how to "matter."  "Companioning" with grief.  Research on Nostalgia - return to pain.  Reflecting on an event helps persons to focus in the future.  Finding strength together - working in mutuality.  This quote from MLK, Jr. " “It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied together into a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality . . . Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on Earth until we recognize the basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.”" "Grounded Hope" in the study of Psychology.  "Moral Elevation" in psychology.  Creating a culture to acknowledge our biggest regrets - being about failures to act, not failures of action!  You regret the things you don't do, not the things you do.   A ton in this book!  Adam did a great job.


The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History.  I learned a ton from this book - and it did an excellent job of weaving together histories of humans (and other living things), ecology, biology, grand epochs of history.  It was great. I learned about people who shaped our history  - from Darwin to many others, like Georges Cuvier and Baptiste Lemarck. The first experiences of earthquakes leading to ideas about plate tectonics and Pangaea (some of which I knew, but much that I learned about in new ways.)  [ I did not know that penguins name may etymologically be tied to the Latin for "fat"! ha! ]  We all survived from the impact after an asteroid hit the earth. (Again, I knew about this, but learned so much more in this book.)  "On the perception of incongruity:  A paradigm"  (Google it.  Again, I knew about it . . . but learned so much more.)   "Long periods of boredom interrupted occasionally by panic" - what frames our lived reality.   "Camels often sit down carefully - perhaps their joints creak? Early oiling might prevent permanent rheumatism." (Google it, ha! ). While I knew about the Anthropocene ideas, again I learned so much.  Ocean acidification and coral reefs.  Darwin's Paradox.  The efforts at Biosphere 2, a test pilot on living sustainably in a concealed living pod.  Forest in motion - and woodstocks defecating on their legs to cool off.  Sea levels dropping by 300 feet!!  300 feet!  Thermotolerance.  The Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project in Brazil. One person knowing every type of bird in the Amazon based on their calls.  The numbers of extinction. Bats and fungi.  Butterflies evolving to feed on bird feces derived from ants.  Invasive species - global diversity and local diversity making us reform the world back to a kind of Pangaea.  It's not clear that man really lived in harmony with the world - though - can we change our future now.  People holding books as persons who destroy the world like those with AK47s or chainsaws.  "In life, as in mutual funds, past performance is no guarantee of future results." Right now - in the amazing moment that to us counts as the present - we are deciding to, without really meaning to, which evolutionary pathways will remain open and which will forever be closed.  No other creature has ever managed this.  And it will be, unfortunately, be our most enduring legacy."  There was so much in this book!  


Help Me to Find My People: The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery (The John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture)by Heather Andrea Williams.  Such a great book.  It made me weep for how white people displaced Africans, who can truly never find their origins.  I was caught up in stories of dislocation of families - children from their mothers (primarily) and husbands and wives who were controlled by the white men who didn't properly let them marry.  I was beset in new ways with trying to discern how slavery took place for more than 250 years in the America's - by persons who practiced their version of their understanding of Christianity, while beating and separating human persons because they had different skin colour and were perceived as not human.  Legislatures in slave states regulating so many things about what slaves could and could not do. The pathos of loss.  "Disenfranchised Grief."  I'd read about Historical Trauma with indigenous persons - but this book helped me think about this differently with slaves in America.  Bidding on persons . . . I just don't get it.  "Ambiguous loss" in psychology worse than certainty of death.  "Genealogies of separation."  I did not know that "Oh Susanna, oh don't you cry for me" was a slave son.  I want to read more on Historical Trauma - and this book helped me.  Though, this was more on blacks/slaves than Native American Indians (the first Americans!).


Mindshift: Break Through Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potentialby Barbara Oakley.  Many great bits in this book - though I think I agree with this Amazon review: "I bought this book because I had previously read Oakley's "A Mind For Numbers" (AMFN) and absolutely loved it. This book is her second and it is weak compared to AMFN. This book is chock full of anecdotes. Long, repetitive anecdotes. AMFN is succinct and full of very constructive steps. Mindshift has very few useful nuggets. It is more like a cheerleader urging you on to make changes. Buy "A Mind For Numbers" and borrow this one from the library if you must read it."  If you need a good cheer leading - read this book though.  Here is a summary of the book, again, from an Amazon review - and on point:  "** Broaden Your Passion >>“What could you do or be if you decided to instead broaden your passion and tried to accomplish something that demanded the most from you? What skills and knowledge could you bring with you from your past that could serve you as you really challenge yourself?” ** Taking Active Steps >> “What mindshift are you trying to accomplish? What thoughts are keeping you stuck? Do you tell yourself that you are too old to make a career change?” **Considering What Underpins Your Mindshift >> “Should the reality of the working world be a factor in your mindshift? If so, how strongly? Do you have a weakness you can change into a strength?"


I was privileged to spend several days with Oklahoma indigenous persons in the Fall of 2017, from Choctaw, Arapahoe, and Potawatomi tribes.  I was entranced by their perspectives and views of life. So thankful for what I learned and I plan to learn more from and with these people personally in 2018. And, this book helped me, too.  Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux by John G. Neihardt.  Weaving autobiography and narratives history - and stories of dreams and insight from "the Grandfathers" - the book gives unique perspective into the worldview of Black Elk as a person.  From the book's cover:  "Black Elk Speaks is widely hailed as a religious classic, one of the best spiritual books of the modern era and the bestselling book of all time by an American Indian. This inspirational and unfailingly powerful story reveals the life and visions of the Lakota healer Nicholas Black Elk (1863-1950) and the tragic history of his Sioux people during the epic closing decades of the Old West. In 1930, the aging Black Elk met a kindred spirit, the famed poet, writer, and critic John G. Neihardt (1881-1973) on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The Lakota elder chose Neihardt to share his visions and life with the world. Neihardt understood and today Black Elk is known to all. Black Elk's remarkable great vision came to him during a time of decimation and loss, when outsiders were stealing the Lakotas' land, slaughtering buffalo, and threatening their age-old way of life. As Black Elk remembers all too well, the Lakotas, led by such legendary men as Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, fought unceasingly for their freedom, winning a world-renowned victory at the Little Bighorn and suffering unspeakable losses at Wounded Knee. Black Elk Speaks however is more than the epic history of a valiant Native nation. It is beloved as a spiritual classic because of John Neihardt's sensitivity to Black Elk's resounding vision of the wholeness of earth, her creatures, and all of humanity. Black Elk Speaks is a once-in-a-lifetime read: the moving story of a young Lakota boy before the reservation years, the unforgettable history of an American Indian nation, and an enduring spiritual message for us all."

End of 2017 reading

Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire, a 500 year history.  I found this book to be intriguing in many ways.  I learned a ton.  I'd never taken the time to consider how various stages of religious "fanatics" or "zealots" have shaped curious idiosyncrasies in America. And how the "stage" and the "side show" from Ringling Brothers and Circus and Buffalo Bill's Wild West shaped perceptions of American idea(l)s.  It was one of the best books I read in 2017 - and the best at the end of the year!

Optimal Thinking: How to be Your Best Self.  Nothing new here.  Mostly a waste of time for me - though, perhaps new for other readers who don't read in the either popular or academic psychology.  Not one I'd recommend.

Love Is the Best Medicine: What Two Dogs Taught One Veterinarian about Hope, Humility and Everyday Miracles.  A fine audio-read while I was in airports and on flights.  Nothing remarkable.  I was captured by the sub-title - and some of the story telling was good - and a few stories touching.  Nothing profound.  The James Herriot books shaped my childhood reading - and I hoped this would be on par.  In fact, I need to get back to read some James Herriot.  I'll do that in 2018!

Run with Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best - by Eugene H. Peterson.  Peterson is huge in the Christian world of books.  I value his Bible translation and him.  Much of his work though simply does not captivate me, as this did not.  I think it's because I know too much of the back story in Biblical studies that he slowly sets up . . . and I find myself bored.  Others love him! I note on Amazon (as I post this today) - his book has 5 stars - RARE for anything on Amazon.  I just don't read this as a 5 star, though again, I think that involves his style and what I bring to the task of reading.

Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph.  I'll copy and paste the brief on the book from Amazon here.  It accurately states what the book encompasses.  I'm not "sold" on American Values being the only way - with my Christocentric ideas and framework around which I view the Kingdom of God (Priestly Kingdom/Holy Nation) of OT and NT biblical ideas.  I do agree with much of what Prager shares - though I think he oversimplifies the issues and fails to tie in greater potential for monotheistic issues and/or other religious influence simply not considered in his thesis.  From the publisher: "Dennis Prager contends that humanity confronts a monumental choice. The whole world must choose between American values and two oppositional alternatives: fundamentalist Islam and European-style democratic socialism. In this visionary book, Prager makes the case for the American values system as the most viable program ever devised to produce a good society. Still the Best Hope deals with three major themes, each vital to America's future. The first is perhaps the most persuasive explanation for why Leftism has been and will always be a moral failure, despite its appeal to many people of goodwill. The second explains why fundamentalist Islam also cannot make a good society—though Prager holds out hope for an open and tolerant Islam. The third is a persuasive defense of what Prager calls the "American Trinity": liberty, values rooted in the Creator, and the melting-pot ideal."

Sunday, December 03, 2017

A Better Way to "Just Google It" - Refining Your Internet Search

Good internet research is easy. Sadly, most persons "just go to the first link."

This 17 minute video gives simple tools for better research even on the "first links" that you will find.

I guarantee you'll learn several immediate tools that will save you many hours of future research.

In addition to saving you time, you'll find better sources for better content for your future academic or business needs.

Link to Video:  "Better Google Search Tutorial"



Monday, October 30, 2017

Exegetical Work - The Spirit of God at Work & Contemplation

In BLT2163: Methods in Biblical Study - we spend most of the semester focused on "read, research, repeat" as a frame within which I present the various critical methodologies for engaging the Bible within the academic context.  I teach learners to read the Biblical text closely and carefully.  I introduce them to places (in libraries, commentaries, dictionaries, journals, articles, word-studies) to engage critical research, and then I tell them to repeat this process - over and over again.  (Here's a video of my method summarized!)

I make clear that *this* course is not focused on spiritual readings of the Bible nor contemplative discernment (in some ways) - and - I make clear that exegesis is not proclamation (preaching) even while our hermeneutics contributes to our homiletics.

About 2/3rds of the way through the semester, with the critical methods and "tasks" for reading and research in place, I begin to do more work in exploring the dynamics and "fun" of what good exegesis produces when we read Scripture well.

Today I spent time using the Ignatian method of contemplative prayer as an invitation for learners to "imagine themselves" in the setting of the Biblical passage they are exploring.  While not a "critical methodology," it does "expand" the way we can ponder "the world" of the story - and who/how/persons interact.  And this is critical to our discerning care! :-)

I shared with them a phrase I picked up from a Presbyterian pastor I engage from his podcasts, Kirk Winslow with Jesus@2AM.  He says something close to this which I share with my learners. 

"May the Spirit who was present at the writing of Scripture be present at its interpretation."

A great phrase.

For more on praying or reading with the "method" of Ignatius - do some research, though here is one simple frame copied from Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.

Ignatian Contemplation – The Process:

This method is especially appropriate for scenes from the Gospels, but also possible with other biblical narratives.
  1. Begin: consider how God looks upon you and loves you; become aware of being in God’s presence;
    stand for a moment, bow if you wish, then be seated comfortably for your time of prayer
  2. Preparatory Prayer: offer to God all your will and actions, especially in this time of prayer;
    ask God for a specific grace that you need and desire right now (peace, consolation, hope, etc.).
  3. Contemplate the Biblical Story that you have selected:
    • Read the text slowly and carefully; recall what it is about; then let it come alive for you!
    • Place yourself inside the story, using your imagination; become one of the characters in the scene.
    • Participate in the dynamics of the scene, dialoguing & interacting with Jesus and other characters.
    • Observe what is going on around you in the scene: What do you see, hear, feel, smell, taste, touch?
    • Dialogue with the other characters: What do they say or ask you? What do you say or ask them in reply?
    • Notice what is going on inside you as you pray: joy, sorrow, peace, confusion, love, anger, etc.
    • If you get distracted or your mind wanders, gently return to the biblical text and re-enter the scene.
  4. Colloquy: enter into a short personal conversation with Jesus (or God the Father, or the Holy Spirit); speak heart-to-heart, as if conversing with a close friend.
  5. Closing Prayer: conclude by praying the Our Father, Hail Mary, or another familiar/favorite prayer;
    you might stand, kneel, bow, raise your hands, or adopt another posture to mark the end of your prayer.
Afterward, briefly review what you experienced during this time of prayer (maybe journal about what happened),
and look forward to your next prayerful encounter with God (when? where? which biblical text will you use?).






Saturday, October 21, 2017

Podcasts - Peace Talks Radio, Other Podcasts & Apps


I want to "promote" the Peace Talks Radio podcast.  

I engage it routinely - and it has great content.  It's "lesser known" than other podcasts and I want to "inspire others" to find it.  



Additionally, for those who might be interested, I'll share a few non-religious podcasts I listen to frequently (in no particular order):

  • Sincerely X
  • TED Talks Daily
  • Conflict & Resolution with Tammy Lenski
  • Quirks & Quarks
  • 99% Invisible
  • Stuff You Missed In History Class
  • TED Radio Hour
  • ON Being with Krista Tippett
  • Peace Corp Stories: The Unofficial Podcast
  • My Peace Corp Stories


Podcasts I find meaningful for religious connection (in no particular order):

  • Kingdom Roots with Scot McKnight
  • The Meeting House Audio (Canadian Brethren Church)
  • Word of Life Podcast (Zahnd)
  • College Church of the Nazarene (Nampa, ID)
  • Jacob's Well (since there are many with this name: jacobswellchurch.org )
  • Office of Rabbi Sacks
  • The Bible for Normal People
  • Jesus at 2AM: A Humorous, Intelligent . . .
  • Oklahoma City First Church of the Nazarene
  • Lake Shore Baptist Church
  • 60 Seconds of Solitude:  Mindfulness Meditation


I'm not big on being an "APP" user on my Apple Brand iPod . . . though, I do value the following:

Overdrive (for my library books) - I use this every.single.week and have been known to require family members in other States to get a library card in their local library and let me borrow their digital books! :-)

Breathr and Breathe have great mindfulness meditations.

Pocket.   (I'm new to this app, but a professional colleagues promises me I'll love it as I add content to it and use it to "read to me.")