The Substance of Faith

The Substance of Faith

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Lila by Marilynne Robinson – A review

Lila is a hard and tender book.   Until she arrives in the town of Gilead, the best part of Lila’s life came among migrant workers in the dustbowl, where she was cared for by a scar-faced woman who stole her from a life of neglect.  That is a hard life.

But the novel is also tender because Lila perseveres;  she fights against the worst of her ghosts and wants to care about others.  She cares about Doll, who raised her, John Ames, the elderly pastor who marries her, and the expectant child she talks to for much of the novel.  The fact she wants to love and wants to trust at all is a testament to grace.

If there is one word that describes this novel it is grace.  It is not a pretty, pretend grace that makes everything rosy.  Rather, it is a grace in spite of Lila’s  dangerous life that is always on the edge of abandonment, It is a gritty grace that overcomes being a second generation knife-totting woman.  The only grace that can touch Lila is a gritty grace experienced in the most dire of circumstances, ministered by the most unlikely of characters.

Reading reviews on Amazon.com is an interesting experience.  The people who respond negatively to the book most likely prefer action over character development, which Robinson does so well.  With consummate skill, Robinson follows the writers’ adage to “show, not tell Your Domain Name.”  Showing the characters in this book takes a while, but seeing their souls grow is worth it.

People of faith and people of no faith are touched by Robinson’s ability to capture the mind of a woman who can carry her worldly possessions in her hands for decades, and how this woman becomes a wife – a pastor’s wife, at that.

Robinson is a rare theologian who can translate the deepest theology into life-giving words.  John Ames says:

I realize I have always believed there is a great Providence that, so to speak, waits ahead of us. The father holds out his hands to a child who is learning to walk, and comforts the child with words and draws it toward him, and he lets the child feel the risk it is taken, and lets it choose its own courage and the certainty of love and comfort when he reaches his fathers…I was going to say safety, but there is no safety.  And there is no choice, either, because it is the nature of the child to walk.  As it is the want of the encouragement and attention of the father.  And the promise of comfort. Which it is in the nature of the father to give.  

She is also an accomplished student of the Bible, using  a book as difficult as Ezekiel as the place where Lila encounters the God who rescues abandoned babies and is the source of hope that seems to grow out of nowhere.

I remember Gilead, as a warm and tender book that a give me much joy to read.  Lila is a stand alone prequel to Gilead and a  part of a trilogy that includes Home.  Any of the three stands by itself.  But as soon as I finish this review, I intend to start reading Gilead again, with a new understanding of how the characters arrived to the beginning of the story it tells.

 

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Beach Reading – Some Authors to Try

mina

It’s the time to start thinking about books for the beach or lake.  Many of us enjoy a good page-turner, but we don’t want to spend our time on pure trash.  Here are some authors to consider for your summer reading.

First is British author Denise Mina, with three main sets of books.  I started with the Garnett Hill trilogy, then read the Paddy Meehan novels, and I am now working on the Alex Morrow series.  Mina’s female heroes are real people with real foibles.  Paddy does love to eat.  Try to read each set in their order of  publication.

These women walk in the real world of dark crime and Mina can disturb you with her images.  The style is very British (which I like) and I often have to infer the meaning of her slang.  Her descriptions, however, are second to none and she can capture images of real life with deep feeling.

Here is a paragraph  from The Red Road, describing Rose, a 14-year old being used by a pimp:

She had been covered in blood when they found her. They’d given her a basin to wash in but no mirror. Her face was washed with watered blood. Every future furrow, every crease that would one day be, picked out in dried crimson. It was in the folds of her forehead, the laughter lines around her mouth, the prophetic tracks of sorrow around her eyes.  This newborn ancient looked up at Julius with the eyes of a disappointed mother.

I think that is a powerful paragraph.  Enjoy Denise Mina, but be prepared to meet the underbelly of society.

furst

Alan Furst writes historical espionage from pre-war and WWII in Europe with different protagonists in each novel.  Furst’s primary characters are average people and often unlikely heroes.  Each book contains revelations into how it must have been, living in Spain, France, Poland, or the Balkans.   Furst’s books are stand-alone novels and can be read in no particular order.  I’ve read Dark Star, The Polish Officer, Red Gold, Dark Voyage, The Foreign Correspondent, The Spies of Warsaw, andMission to Paris.

If you want something a little more educational, try Bill Bryson, who walk in woodsmakes science and history amusing.   Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States is a fascinating look at the development of English in the USA.    A Short History of Nearly Everything covers scientific discovers from the cellular level to galaxies.  It is full of interesting information on a wide variety of scientific subjects and is a treasure trove of  illustrative material for preacher.  A Walk in the Woods is the anti- Wild. Bryson and a high school friend attempt to hike the entire Applalchian Trail.  Their preparations and trials make you realize how lucky Cheryl Strayed was to hike the Pacific Crest Trail unprepared – and lived to tell about it.  Bryson is as witty as he is informative.  A Walk in the Woods is hilarious.

I am a little reluctant to mention Philip Kerr.  I have enjoyed his Bernie Gunther novels, about a detective who gets pressed into the WWII Gestapo against his will.  It’s interesting to read fictional accounts of Heydrich’s and Goebbels’  feuds.  I was extremely disappointed, however, with his stand-alone novel, Prayer, and it’s anti-God message.

If you have any favorite books that you think others may enjoy, let me know.

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Book Review — Being Mortal

 

Being MOrtal

With the advent of the DVD, movie makers have offered viewers the option to watch alternate endings to their favorite movies.  “Director’s cuts’ lets us choose one ending over another, according to our preferences.

Atul Gawande’s book, Being Mortal,  allows individuals in declining health or with a terminal illness to consider alternate endings to their own lives.  For the aging, a typical ending includes a declines in mobility, mental function, and control over the most basic elements of life.  The most common questions along this path include, when shall we move mom to a nursing home?  Which one shall we use?”  Neither the surrounding family nor the new nursing home resident finds the path hopeful or healing.   Inevitably, the quality of life declines.

Gawande, a surgeon by training, explains why the traditional path rarely leads to a satisfying quality of life and then outlines simple steps that have proven to enhance life for aging people who need extended care.  He describes more attractive alternate endings.

After discussing possible solutions for elder care, Guwande turns to similar factors surrounding the care of the terminally ill. As a physician he admits that he and other doctors have a very difficult time admitting when a patient has reached a stage when science and medicine cannot cure them.  Not knowing any other way to treat the problem, physicians often keep pouring more and more medical treatment on a fire that will not be put out.   Chemo to the last minute, or debilitating surgeries with little hope of changing the outcome are not always the answer.

You can watch the PBS Frontline episode on Being Mortal here.

Gawande suggests that medical professional learn to recognize watershed moments and learn to have conversations with their patients.  He offers three questions to guide these discussions:

  • How do you understand your condition?
  • When we know the time is short, what are your goals?
  • What trade offs are you willing to make to reach those goals?

The first question provides a context for the patient and physician to be honest about the prognosis.  The second question helps the treatment team know what is important to the patient.  Does the grandparent want  to take grandchildren to Disney World one last time? Does the music teacher want to continue giving lessons as long as possible.  Does the sports fan want to watch one more season of football?  Knowing these goals allows  care givers to suggest the best ways to accomplish them.  And, finally, when the situation is terminal, there are always trade offs. Does the patient choose pain over lucidity or lucidity over pain?  What other trade offs are acceptable?  Each case is unique, so it is important to know.

Above all, Guwande encourages conversations that include care givers, patients, and family.  These honest discussions are critical to discovering the best endings – the ones with the highest quality of life and the deepest satisfaction for the patient.  We must get over our denial of death if we want to encourage the fullest life to the very end of mortality.

The fact that Guwande illustrates many of his points with examples from his own father’s decline and death gives him great credibility.

I’ve sought out people in the health care profession who have read this book, and I’ve encouraged others to read it, even giving away a few copies to people I think could carry this discussion forward on a local level.

Hospice workers are very pleased these conversations are going mainstream. Other ministers have commented on how helpful it is to have the rubric of Gawande’s questions in discussing these matters with church members who feel the pressure to make decisions in critical moments.

Ministers and caregivers who regularly encounter aging patients or those in terminal circumstances will find this book helpful and encouraging.   I believe it will be a watershed book that encourages healthy conversations about the quality of life.

Here are a few quotes from the book:

  • We put off the adaptations that we need to make as a society.  And we blind ourselves to the opportunities that exist to change the individual experience of aging for the better.  p. 35

 

  • They (nursing homes) were never created to help people facing dependency in old age.  They were created to clear out hospital beds- which is why they were called “nursing homes.” p. 71

 

  • This is the consequence of a society that faces the final pause of the human life cycle by trying not to think about it. p. 76f

 

  • At least two kinds of courage are required in aging and sickness, the first is the courage to confront the reality of mortality -the courage to seek out what is to be feared and what is to be hoped….But even more daunting is the courage to act on the truth we find.  p. 232

 

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Growing Givers Hearts by Jeavons and Basinger

Stewardship is a dreaded word.  Once when I tried to recruit a man to serve on the Stewardship Committee, he responded, “That’s as bad as being asked to teach sixth grade boys.”   Stewardship is church code for “money.” At least that is what people think.  And we all know people talk more openly about sex than they do money.

In our congregation it is the time of year when the Stewardship Committee is hard at work, preparing the emphasis for this fall.  We set the theme; we’ve outlined the main information booklet to be mailed.  I’ve struggled over how to address the issue in worship – again – for the 33rd time (by my count).  Once again I am confronted with the task of trying to convince people that Stewardship really isn’t about money; it’s about discipleship and it’s about love.  If our congregation discovered it sits on top of an oil well and had all the money it needs for 100 years – We would still need stewardship because it is about discipleship and it is about loving God.

Many years ago I came across this marvelous book by Jeavons and Basinger.  Each year since, at the beginning of stewardship planning, I retrieve it from my shelf and reread many of the passages I highlighted the first time through.  The book grounds me in the task of reminding believers why we all give.  It grounds me in taking the correct theological approach so that people grow and express their love of God through giving.

I really don’t like the term fundraising for church.  To me the task of a fundraiser if different than that of a pastor.  And the tools of fundraising may include a raffle or rummage sale, while stewardship is about giving, tithing, and offerings.   Jeavons and Basinger, however,  help me see the crossover between the two.   Thus, the book is equally helpful for congregations engaged in stewardship and for any faith-based organization attempting to fund its mission.  If your task is theologically based, this book will help you perform your task better, whether you call it fundraising or stewardship.

If you are leading an effort to engage givers in a Christian mission, this book will provide reminders and encouragement that you will find invaluable.

All quotes from:

Jeavons, Thomas H. and Basinger, Rebekah Burch, Growing Givers’ Hearts:  Treating Fundraising As Ministry, San Francisco, Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2000.  Copyright by the authors.   Perhaps these quotes will encourage you to read the entire book.

Buy the Book Here

 

Jesus did not say to his disciples, “Your money will follow your heart.”  That is conventional wisdom in fundraising but may well be the best explanation for why volunteers in many organizations are generous donors themselves, but it is not the essence of this teaching of Jesus.  He told his disciples, “Your heart will follow your money.”  In this teaching, Jesus points out the very powerful connection between the way people use their wealth and their emotional and spiritual commitments.  p. 2

Henri Nouwen once said, “Every time I take a step in the direction of generosity, I know I am moving from fear to love.”  p. 27

Note that this practice (tithing) also requires one to trust God enough for one’s own essential needs.  It requires one to act on faith. p. 43

 

If Christian fundraisers show as much concern for their donors’ spiritual growth as their own organizations’ financial needs, these fundraisers will help grow their donors’ hearts, resulting in donors who are truly and more consistently generous over a lifetime.  p. 67

Quoting Hannah Whitall Smith:  “The greatest lesson a soul has to learn is that God, and God alone, is enough for all its needs.  This is the lesson that all God’s dealings with us are meant to teach, and this is the crowning discovery of our entire Christian life.  God is enough!”  p. 71 

 

In contrast, when Christian organizations approach the end of one fiscal year after another clawing and scratching toward their stated goals, a very different message is communicated to constituents about God’s ability to meet the needs of the church.  These organizations say they serve a God who “owns the cattle on a thousand hills,” but, plainly stated, many Christian ministries operate in a perpetual state of scarcity and financial panic.  The message conveyed to supporters out of this panic is that God is unable to supply even the most basic needs, let alone provide funds for new programs.  If this message of panic is a contrived fundraising technique, it is doubly harmful.  p.73

 

“I don’t need a calendar to know it’s May,” the longtime friend of a Christian ministry stated.  “Any day now, I’ll get that ‘with two months to go in the fiscal year, we still need $300,000 to balance the budget’ letter.  I’ll give again, but I have to tell you, after more than twenty years, the crisis approach is wearing thin.”   p. 81f.

 

Appeals that focus exclusively on crises, whether internal or external to the organization, reinforce donors’ perceptions of scarcity, and work against joyful giving in response to God’s great abundance.   p. 83

 

As one observer puts it, “Our fundraising methods reflect not only the character of our organization, but also its values.  They reflect who we are.  Whatever methods we use ultimately come from the hearts of the leadership.”  p. 109

 

We take care to check up on what sponsors hear in what we’re doing.”  Compassion International actually runs focus groups to find out what people glean from the material the organization puts out—what message the donors are taking away—not just what is making them give.  p. 110

Quoting one development officer:  “If possible, during donor visits, I try to encourage the individuals with whom I’m meeting to talk about what God’s been doing in their hearts as a result of their giving.”  p. 111

 

Quoting Bishop Manuel Moreno of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson:  “It’s more than just money that people are giving.  It’s part of their life.  They worked hard to earn what we are asking them to give away.”  p. 118


 

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Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy – A Review

Events today in Ukraine make Brendan Simms’ book on European history most relevant.  Simms, a Fellow at Cambridge, pours an incredible amount of information into 533 pages of text and nearly 100 pages of end notes. If you want a 600-year, historical perspective on what is happening in Europe today, it is worth the read.

Simms describes four, lasting and competing powers in Europe: England, France, Prussia/Germany, and Russia;  along with two historical powers: Austro-Hungary and the Ottoman Turks.  Six hundred years of European wars and politics have been the result of these powers maneuvering each other for dominance.  Alliances and confrontations are the consequences of each power working to keep the most threatening competitor in check.  When Napoleon threatened much of Europe, Russia and England became allies.  In the colonial period, when England threatened to dominate Europe, France came to aid of the 13 colonies, not out of love for freedom, but to preoccupy England militarily away from the continent and to weaken England economically.

The book shows how Russia and Prussia/Germany have historically viewed each other warily and have competed multiple times for geographic buffers for their respective homelands.  Neither wants the other within reach of their native territory; thus, Eastern Europe has been their battle ground.  Hitler’s offer to split the traditional buffer of Poland pleased Stalin because it kept Hitler at arm’s length without a war.  Until Hitler reneged.  Of course, at that point Hitler was much closer to Moscow because Stalin had misread his strategy and allowed Hitler access to half of Poland.

The Crimean war of the 1850’s pitted England and France – enemies during the Napoleonic years – along with Ottomans, against a threatening Russia who was encroaching on all of them geographically or economically.  The Crimea was the buffer none could afford to lose.

Thus Ukraine and the Crimea are back in their historic roles as an economic resource for the dominating power, and a geographical buffer against military aggression, no matter how unlikely that may seem to Americans.  The loss of Ukraine from their sphere of influence (following the fall of the Soviet Union) is not something the Russians will allow to continue without resistance.

If I could subtitle this book, it would be “Why Germany is the Center of All History.”  Simms clearly sees the Germans (or their Prussian predecessors)  as the pivotal power in Europe and, consequently, the world.  He outlines in many places why he believes German interests influenced events on the continent and many other places, including the American continents and Africa.  I am not a capable enough historian to confirm or deny some of those assertions, but his conviction is interesting and informative.  I had never seen some of the connections he makes.

Europe is not an easy book to read.  At many points I bogged down in reading intricate details that came in rapid-fire succession.   It did provide me with a perspective on World War I and World War II that I did not have before.  Of particular interest to me was the history behind the Central Powers alliance of Word War I (Germany, Austro-Hungary, and the Ottoman Turks).  It also showed me how, if history is any indication, neither Russia nor NATO (representing the alliances on the other side of the first Crimean war)  will easily back down in today’s  tensions in Ukraine.


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The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson – a Review

Cold and lonely.  Such is Jun Do’s life.   The cold might be in the unheated orphanage run by his father, where Jun Do fairs no better than the orphans over whose life he holds the power of life and death.   It may be at his listening post on board the fishing vessel Jumna or in Prison 33, but his world is predominantly cold.  The cold places are also lonely.  His father’s refusal to acknowledge him seals his fate with the orphans, who, without families for the state to use to extort fulfillment of duty, are only allowed to perform jobs that likely end in death.  No one gets close to another in the pitch black incursion tunnels under the DMZ.

Despite his orphan-like loneliness, Jun Do (phonetically pronounced John Doe), finds an odd nurture from the heart of the Jumna‘s captain and mother-like protection from Mognan, Prison 33’s photographer.  For a fleeting moment he finds intimacy in the arms of Sun Moon.  Nurture and intimacy are the victories of a lifetime when displayed against the gray, brutal background of North Korea.  To love after being unloved is a lifetime achievement. 

Jun Do’s life takes some improbable twists, yet Adam Johnson makes them believable, even logical.  At page five I wanted to to know what happened next to Jun Do.  By page twenty I wanted to see him succeed in a way that kept the pages turning late into the night. The narrative structure requires an occasional mental adjustment and page review just make sure the reader has the sequence correct, but it works in the telling of this story, serving to heighten suspense.

During and after reading The Orphan Master’s Son I went to the internet to see which components of the Johnson’s portrayal of North Korean culture were true and which were not.  Unfortunately most are true or based on a composite picture of a sick Orwellian culture.

Stylistically this book is in a class by itself.  You will find no formula writing or cliche here.   Thematically, this book reminds me a bit of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, where loyalty and love are all the more valuable for existing in a world with so little of either.

 

 

 

 

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Dot.Complicated – A Review

Randi Zuckerman’s last name may sound familiar.  Her brother, Mark, founded Facebook.   Dot.Complicated contain’s a short history of her career at Facebook and many of her observations of life in the age of  social media.

The book contains many insightful comments from research on how social media effects us.  Here are some paraphrases of a few:

A 2012 study from Harris Interactive reveals that 40% of people would rather go to jail for a night than give up their contacts through social media. (p. 63)

Sam Roberts from the University of Chester, England, reported that people laugh 50% more with friends in real life than through social media.  (p. 114) [Think about that real life comment.]

In the July, 2013, edition of Computers in Human Behavior, Dr. Andy Przybylksi reports that individuals with the highest levels of FOMO  have the lowest levels of life satisfaction.  [FOMO = the fear your life doesn’t measure up to the Facebook lives of your friends.]

Zuckerman also offers some of her personal insights about the connected life.  Here are some quotations:

….there’s no privacy or security setting in the world that can save you from a friend’s bad judgment [to share your private information]. (p. 83)

Today everyone is a broadcaster as well as a receiver.  In the past, we were all just passive consumers of information.  Creating content was reserved only for the rich and powerful, who controlled and ran large media companies.  But, now each of us can generate and share as much as we receive. (p. 66).

The author also talks about the ways social media has blurred the edges between personal and professional lives.  For instance, does your boss read your Facebook posts?  The influence of parents’ over their children’s internet behavior also gets a chapter and is worth reading more closely.

The downside of the book is Zuckerman’s stream of consciousness writing style.  The loose and redundant language gives the impression that the book was dictated and then edited (some).  There are too many usages of “blown away,” “train wreck,” and “OMG!”  The book could have been half as long and still contained all the significant insights.

Still I think the book is worth the effort.  Once the reader gets the flow, it is easy to skim and read the gray-paneled summaries at the end of each chapter.  I’d recommend the book for anyone interested in the shifts in our culture brought about by Facebook – and for parents who use social media, but have not yet realized the different world their children are living in.


 

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Almost Christian

Our ministry staff recently read Almost Christian, Kenda Dean’s research driven commentary on the faith of present day Christian teens.  Her research and commentary are both alarming.  Dean finds that Christian teens today:

  • Are “Christian-ish” – They practice Moral Therapeutic Deism instead of following Jesus. (I would summarize Moral Therapeutic Deism to mean – a nice god wants to make us happy and we should be good.  That is not exactly the message of the cross.)
  • Tend to approach religious participation like any extra-curricular activity: a nice thing to do, but unnecessary for a fully integrated life.
  • Lack a vocabulary to articulate a faith. See my Observation from June on this subject.

Further, Dean points out that youth are this way because they learned this faith from their families – a striking indictment, one that no one wants to admit.  Despite what many families believe, they have incredible influence over their teens.  The only problem is that they have used their influence to lead teens to a faith that is almost Christian.  But not quite.

almost christian

If you have teens in your home, however, ask yourself some questions.

  • “When was the last time my family discussed experiencing or  following Jesus while eating together or driving together?
  • “From observing my choices, would my teens say that faith is one choice among many, or the undeniable center of my life?”

The first question helps us understand why teens lack an adequate faith vocabulary.  Few adults model it, or talk about it in front of them.  The limited religious conversation that takes place usually refers to a generic “God” and not to the personal “Jesus.”  We may mention God, but rarely describe how the living Christ directs our daily actions.  What did we do or not do today because Jesus led us?  How did I respond to a situation today because I have committed to following Christ?

The second question reminds us that children and youth are tremendous observers and terrible interpreters of life.  Anyone who has ever been divorced and had a child ask, “Is it my fault” understands this concept.  Children know what is going on; they just don’t understand why.  Failing to understand why, they jump to many false conclusions.  They see church, Christian service, and spiritual growth relegated to a status of one choice among many.  They simply have no way of knowing that you think it is more serious than that.  They just know what they see: you participate in faith-shaping activities when it doesn’t conflict with sports, dance, or a myriad of other options.  It is one choice among many.  All of these observations are  backed up by Dean’s extensive research.

Fortunately, Dean does not leave us with a depressing diagnosis; she also gives us proven, effective ways to stimulate our own youth to a genuine, saving faith in Jesus.  Some of her prescription for faith includes conversation.  Talk about your faith and encourage your youth to talk about theirs.  Encourage them so that “Christian’ becomes a native tongue.  As with any language we learned long ago, unless reinforced through usage, we lose the ability to speak it.

Send your child/teen to camp. Group faith experiences can be like language immersion courses, exposing them to a way of thinking and believing in a short period of time.  These events become shared memories with other participants and reinforce their faith.

And stress loving Jesus over believing in God.  Using a “band crush” as a metaphor, Dean points out that teens don’t enjoy a particular band’s music because of research.  They are swept away by a song, then, because they love the music, they research the band and learn all about it.  We all learn best what we love most.  The order matters.

Since reading Dean’s book, I have tried to articulate some matters of faith more directly and more clearly in preaching.  John Uldrick, our Minister to Students at FBC, is currently leading a study with parents called Hollow Faith, based on a book of the same name.  Hollow Faith echoes the findings of Dean in Almost Christian.  John is trying to help families build an intentional, Christian faith and not to default into the Moral Therapeutic Deism of the day.

I would encourage families in our congregation to participate in John’s seminar on Wednesday nights.  Anyone who works with students in a faith environment will benefit from reading Dean’s book.

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Wild by Cheryl Strayed

In my family I am known as the careful one. I plan everything and over analyze most decisions.  Consequently, the blurbs on the dust jacket of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild got my attention.  What woman hikes 1100 miles of the  Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) by herself?  Drawn by the author’s impulsiveness, this was a book I wanted to read.

Now, a few months later, my careful nature shows up as I decide whether or not to review this book.  Strayed is impulsive and she’s very brave, but what does a pastor say about a book where the lead character describes bluntly her use of heroin, curses her mother’s memory, and exposes her sex life?  And when I say “curses her memory,” let’s just say has she been in A Christmas Story, Ralphie’s mother would have washed her mouth out with soap.  Plain enough?

I’ve made the decision to review the book here, but here are two things I’d say to you in the beginning.  First, now you know about the subjects mentioned above.  If you decide to read the book, I provided notice.  This is a review, not a recommendation.  Additionally, Strayed does not describe her frailties and problems in such a way that anyone would emulate her values or life.  In fact, these unsettling circumstances drive Strayed to her hike.  Extreme pressures call for extreme catharsis.  She goes on an 1100 mile hike because there is nowhere else to go and she goes by herself because she has no one to go with her. Readers may wish they had her nerve, but few will wish they had her life leading up to her hike.

With those observations out of the way, let me say that Stayed was brave, yet foolish.  Under-prepared, over-equipped, and informed only by a guide book, she sets out to conquer the PCT. Before she sets foot on the trail, she realizes her backpack is too heavy, but she can’t identify the essential items needed for the journey.   Unsure what to leave out, she takes everything.  Blistered, sore, and weary from the beginning, she takes step after agonizing step past obstacles that include a rattlesnake, a bull, a bear, a sexual predator, and her closest companions: solitude and hunger.  The physical demands of the hike result in her looking like, what Strayed describes as, a combination of Farrah Fawcett on her best day and Gunga Din on his worst.  The trail was demanding every day.

I think it was Nietzsche who said, “If we knew the whole truth at once, it would kill us.”  Would Strayed have started her hike had she known from the beginning how difficult it would be?  I can’t say.  But she did keep going when most would have turned back.  You have to give this woman credit:  she refused to give into fear, loneliness, weather, wilderness, or a lost boot.

For the reader with an unfinished degree, an incomplete home project, or unused exercise equipment cluttering up the house, Strayed’s completion of her goal is an inspiration. She did it. As unprepared and foolish as she was – Strayed hiked the portion of the trail that was her goal.  She makes “I didn’t sleep well last night” look like a laughable excuse for any task put off until tomorrow.     Reading this book makes me want to undertake a challenge – to start and finish something big.  In the end, that’s why I reviewed this book.

 

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Other Books – How Children Succeed by Paul Tough

I am always interested in parenting, primarily out of my love for children.  I want to see very child grow to lead a fulfilled, productive, and rich life.  Despite what many think, parents and families are the most critical influence in a child’s life.  Better parenting (which may be done by parents, grandparents, or others) leads to more children growing into fulfilled adults.

So when Paul Tough asks these questions –which skills and traits lead to success? How do they develop in childhood? And what kind of interventions might help children do better? – -he has my attention.

Tough’s book requires some focus to read.  He uses case studies, references and statistics to make his points.  The reader who takes the time to read this book, however, will find valuable information on such subjects as: the physical damage stress inflicts on children; the way nurturing can counteract negative influences; and the virtues that lead to healthy, productive lives.

When you read the word “virtues,” don’t think about the characteristics of “do-good-ism.”  Tough quotes important research on functional virtues like grit, self-control, zest, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism, and curiosity.  Think about those virtues for a moment.  If you are in a family, raising a child, it is far different question to ask, “How can I make my child happy,” than it is to ask, “How can I help my child develop grit or self control.”  Things you do to make a child happy are simply not the same things you do to help your child grow in persistence or to develop delayed gratification.  Speaking of which – did you know that self discipline (a part of delayed gratification) is a greater predictor of your child’s GPA than is IQ?

I keep a section in my library that I consider Essential Parenting Books.  Tough’s book is the latest addition to that section and I encourage anyone raising children to read it.

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