Monday, December 30, 2013

Authors & Books that have shaped my life

Some friends tagged me on facebook with their best reads/must reads.  I'm following their lead here - with a little more by way of explanation.

If this is supposed to be a "Top 10 list" - I failed.  I had to start with the first three, though I haven't read them in years.  They shaped my teenage identity and set a path and trajectory for my life.

The next, Top 10 (4. to 13. on my list) are presented more or less in sequential order for "when I met them" in my life and how they shaped a trajectory or identity or rame to my sense of self today.  [Ironically, I don't remember a single textbook from my undergraduate college experience.  This has caused me to realize that as a professor, I would do better (and I try already!) to introduce students to good authors, more than just having them read certain books.  Good authors will shape my student's lives for a lifetime, where they may forget a particular textbook or title.  I think I do this already - but I'll be more intentional about it now.]

In many ways - these authors have been "conversation partners" and "mentors" to the ideas that frame my existence.  It's quite a powerful thought, really - and the reason I thank Walter Brueggemann every year when I see him - truly!

Then, a few that don't make the "top" list and yet they have been influential in my life.  Some day my kids might read this, and want them to "know how I became me," so I'll share here. 

"Top" list . . . ordered both by sequence in my life's experience and influence.

1.  Knowing God by J.I. Packer
2.  Holy Sweat by Tim Hansel
3.  Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
4.  Walter Brueggemann (everything) - Old Testament Theology:  Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy
5.  Paul Hanson (many) - The People Called: The Growth of Community in the Bible
6.  God: A Biography by Jack Miles
7.  Rene Girard (many) - his ideas framed the basis of my dissertation.
8.  Walter Wink (many )- Naming(Unmasking)[Engaging] the Powers
9.  Unveiling Empire:  Reading Revelation Then & Now  by Wes Howard Brook
10.  Wendell Berry (everything)- Jayber Crow
11.  Ched Myers (many) - Binding the Strong Man
12.  Willard Swartley (many) - Covenant of Peace
13.  N.T. Wright (everything) - The Resurrection of the Son of God

Notables for many reasons & interests:

Saturday, December 28, 2013

"I'm a little bully" - so says my mom!

When I was a teenager I discovered a box of audio tapes my parents used to record and send to my grandparents.  (Long-distance phone calls were too expensive!) 

In one audio recording, my dad asks the 3 or 4 year old me, "Marty, what's your shirt say?" 

I reply, "Jesus loves me." 

Dad snickers mildly and says, "No, Marty!  I think it says, 'I'm a little bully.'" 

I retort that it says 'Jesus loves me' and the conversation shifted gears.

Curious about this as a teen, I questioned my mom.  I let her listen to the audio and asked her to explain. 

She replied matter-of-factly.  "Oh, your shirt said, 'I'm a Little Bully.'  I just told you it said, 'Jesus loves me.'"

Thanks Mom!!!

Still trucking . . . stewardship. Rich Dad / Poor Dad.

It's been over 18 months since my pick-up started making an awful noise.  The engine sounds like it's going to drop out at any moment.  Still running, getting me from place to place when I need it.

It's been a great lesson to my kids about many things, including the fact that when something still works, it still works!  Sounds silly, I know, but our society is so prone to trash things that have only minor defects.

Several months ago I helped my daughter find and pay cash for a $900 car.  It's far from perfect, but she paid cash for it and owes no money to any for it.  It is her car.

Many years ago I read Robert Kiyosaki's book - Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not!    The book has many less than favorable reviews but one gold-mine I got from the book - is a lesson I inherently learned in my childhood home, but not so clearly stated.  I understood it as this, "Buy assets, not liabilities." 

Assets, as I've taught my children, are relatively rare in the scheme of total purchases.  Most things in life are not assets.  An asset in this category of stewardship that I've taught is something that maintains its value or grows in value.  An example:  An antique dresser might cost $350 to purchase - but in most cases will always be worth that $350, and may even appreciate to be worth $500. 

Liabilities are everything that loses value.  Really bad liabilities are things that lose value and also take from other sources of value.  Nearly everything fits this category.  Even the $2.00 pants I buy at goodwill, while I buy them cheap, by the time I am done with them, they're worth $0.00.  Computers, even if they allow for a certain amount of productivity and gain in professional work, the computer itself is still a liability.  It can be used to gain income, so functions to help with other asset growth, but it is still a liability as an item. 

We all buy things and most of what we buy are liabilities, but if we only buy liabilities, we will forever be using our money for things that depreciate, never growing in any categories of "wealth" with assets. 

My daughter's $900 car is a liability.  It will not appreciate in value.  But, as a liability, it functions better than other potential liabilities because (1) it prevents her from having greater liabilities like a $200 (or more) a month car payment for month after month after month - with interest!  (2) Because of it's age and condition, insurance for it is a smaller cost than a more expensive car, saving cash assets.  And, (3) compared to a car that cost say $4000.00, if her $900 car was wrecked in a car accident, the most she can ever lose is $900.  [Of course, if the $900 car started consuming oil, or started needing major repairs, than it could begun to cost more than $900.00 in which case it might be too great a liability and need to be sold.]  As a result, my daughter gets to save more money each month from her job, the cash is an asset, that she can apply toward other potential assets or save toward a wise purchase with the next vehicle (another liability, but one that can be stewarded wisely).

We have to own things and we have to buy liabilities, but we don't have to purchase bad liabiliteMs and we can measure and think through the extent of how we steward resources toward liabilities.

Had I rushed out to get a "new" pick-up 18 months ago - I would have immediately lost money in the purchase and my insurance would have increased, costing me more out of pocket expense.  eanwhile, I've been saving some moneyso that when the pick-up truck finally does need major repair - I'm financially set to make the next purchase I need to replace it, with cash.

I'm still trucking in my pick-up and still trying to teach my kids how to be good stewards.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas I know . . .but Childermas? December 28th Holy Day!

I share so that people will be mindful of what "Childermas" is, and considerate to think and pray for vulnerable children alongside American celebrations of Christmas prosperity!  (Excerpt edited to reflect 2014 dates - from )


Brought to you by the Desmond Tutu Centre for Leadership
Childermas is a feast on the church calendar, that remembers the slaughter of the innocents by King Herod. It it celebrated on December 28th every year, and also weekly - on the day of the week that Dec 28th falls on, in any given year. In 2014, that is Saturday.

Recently a painting by one of the Dutch masters called Massacre of the Innocents was sold for a record-breaking price at an art auction. It is puzzling why "a violent painting, depicting Roman soldiers knee-deep in butchered babies, carrying out King Herod's edict" would fetch $116 million at a London auction, a record high for an Old Master and one of the top ten largest prices ever paid at an auction? Especially in a world where innocents are dying in their millions of AIDS! Of the 26 million people who have already died of AIDS (more than all the wars of the 20th century combined), 5 million were children. If we put our treasure where our heart is, then something has gone desperately wrong, somewhere...

When God pitched his tents and dwelt among us, he became a baby - fragile and vulnerable. Escaping Herod's despotic regime, he grew up as a refugee - in Africa. "A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief."

Here is a bold and unprecedented suggestion... especially for those who are protestants and have a tendency to steer away from the "bells and smells" of high church tradition. Just out of solidarity, then, couldn't we set aside Thursdays in some special way, between now and December 28th? Not just to remember the dozens who were slain in Bethlehem by a despot, but to remember millions who are dying in our time because of various factors - including state indifference and recalcitrant leaders who do not role-model what it takes to stop the spread of HIV infection and thus of the AIDS pandemic.

Here are some ways to do this:
  • pray on Thursdays for children, orphans, and especially infants dying of AIDS
  • every Thursday, do some special reading about this (start with Googling "Orphans" and "Africa" and you get quite a few items from CNN, BBC, the World Bank, etc.)
  • make every Thursday the day that you engage at least one other person to raise awareness about this issue
  • go without lunch and instead make a gift to a ministry for OVC (orphans and vulnerable children) like C4L's
  • dare it be said? What about fasting on Thursdays? This is more than solidarity - it engages the powers
Volunteering is a mode of giving that has to be encouraged more and more, in the light of "capacity shrinkage" in Africa, and the increasing need for "capacity replenishment". But it is concentrated intensely around a trip overseas, at a particular season...

Observing Childermas could be a complementary strategy; a "long war" to borrow an all-too-familiar phrase. Are you ready to take action that is on-going and proactive? In favour of innocents who are either orphaned when their parents are taken by a pandemic through no fault of their own, or worse yet, born with AIDS? When top political and cultural figures promote behaviours that fail to dampen the spread of infection, and behind it the death phase of the pandemic, and the deluge of orphans.There are more and more people who want to do something more substantial than just making a donation, but they don't know how. Here is one suggestion - choose a way to observe Childermas, and stick with it.

Wouldn't it be great if this became a mass movement!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

More than ever . . .

More than ever, I feel a deep gnawing pain in my personal sense of life.  It seems to me that more American Christians are more deeply committed to Capitalism & Acquisition, than they are committed to Giving & Discipleship.

The Season of Christmas calls us to celebrate a child, who becomes a man so that as a man he can reject titles, power and wealth. Despite the Magi bringing presents and wealth (which was their worship of this King - their demonstration of self-giving), Jesus is never associated with monetary wealth, tangible "things" or personal property and even describes himself as an itinerant, poor, teacher.

On this Christmas Eve in 2013 as I reread the story of "peace on earth" and "joy that will be for all people" (Luke 2:8-20), I'm reminded of the disturbing violence and pain that exists in our world right now!  From Syria to Sudan where open conflict is rife - to homes in my own neighborhood where children are beaten, where men & women steal from their futures with drugs, to crime, abuse, hurt, and hate-filled speech. Our world needs peace and peacemakers.

More than ever, I commit my life to try to better lead others, to more frequently discern, and to better live out myself - the ideals of Jesus' ministry to live and love for others so that the world might be transformed into a place where there is peace on earth and joy for all people!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

On Reading Well

A few days ago I posted to my Facebook wall:  "Walter Brueggemann, N.T. Wright, Willard Swartley, Walter Wink, Wes Howard-Brook & Wendell Berry. Authors who have reshaped my life. Heartily recommended to all!"

Today I saw the Librarian of our University Library posted this picture as her Christmas reading stack. 

There is only one book in her stack that I have not read  - and perhaps 15 of the 19 books in her stack are from specific requests I made that our library purchase these titles.

It's a silly-piece-of-nothing - but (1) I'm proud of myself this morning for being a good reader since reading changes lives and (2) I'm proud that I encourage other people to read great works and (3) I'm proud that I help resource things like my University library and this blog space to share specific reviews on reading with others.

And, I'm reminded that I've been too busy with too many other things of late, to read more.  I do have a few books to post from the past months. 

I look forward to more good books to read into 2014!

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

How we treat others.

This is excerpted from the Blog of the editors of Wipf and Stock Publishers:

An unattributed story from the Associated Press in last week’s paper recounted how a Mormon bishop in Taylorsville, Utah, (a suburb of Salt Lake City) had a make-up artist radically change his appearance so that he would be unrecognizable even to his own family.

He dressed like a homeless man and showed up prior to Sunday services at his own church and interacted (or tried to interact) with the congregants. A couple gave him money, a few (especially children) spoke with him, but most hurried past him and didn’t want to speak to him or even look him in the eye.

During the service, he approached the pulpit and revealed who he was—to the shock of the congregation. He was quite surprised that people were so taken aback. He told them that he didn’t pull this as a stunt and certainly did not intend to shame anyone. He simply wanted to hold up a mirror so that they could think about how they interacted with others. It is reminiscent of “some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb 13:2, KJV).

If we treat everyone with grace and gratitude, whether at the holidays or not, ultimately what we will have created is a more gracious and inclusive community.