Thursday, December 23, 2010

Quotes from Bonhoeffer Biography

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, SpyA few months ago Dennis Rainey turned me on to a new Biography about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It was one of the more refreshing and inspiring books I read this year. For those who don’t know much about Bonhoeffer: he was a German theologian and pastor who joined the resistance movement in Germany during WWII, which eventually lead to his capture and execution for the role he played in plotting an assassination attempt on Hitler. He was a man of courage, grit, resolve, integrity, and a man of deep thought and action (in fact, ‘thought’ only made sense to him when married to ‘action.’)

I thought you might enjoy reading some of the quotes from the biography about him over the holidays. There are some real zingers here, and quite a mixture of topics – some are theological, some on leadership, some on action and truth. So if the list below seems too long, skim for the topics of your interest. Some of the quotes are directly from Bonhoeffer; some are by others about him. It should be clear as you begin to read. Italics (except for isolated words of emphasis) are comments/clarification by me. Read a few in the mornings this week - especially the one “On Christ” as you prepare to worship on Christmas.

If you’re looking for a good book to put on your reading list for 2011, I HIGHLY recommend it! (you can read a good review of the book here).

The Cost of DiscipleshipI enjoyed the book so much that I began reading a few pages from his classic The Cost of Discipleship every morning (the book has been on my shelf since college - and oh, how I wish I would have read it when I bought it!) I’ve found his story and writing so encouraging and inspiring, I’ve since acquired two more of his works: Act and Being - his second dissertation, written at 24 years old (thank you Jimmy B.!), and his ‘crown jewel,’ Ethics, both of which are part of Fortress Press’ 16-volume re-publishing of Bonhoeffer’s works. It’s pretty humbling to know that he wrote enough to fill up 16 volumes, all before he was executed by the Nazis at 39 years old (for his role in a plot to kill Hitler).


On their family interaction: “He could not stand empty talk.  He senses unfailingly whether the other person meant what he said … In the Bonhoeffer family one learnt to think before asking a question or making a remark.”
On preaching: “I have long thought that sermons had a center that, if you hit it, would move anyone or confront them with a decision. I no longer believe that. First of all, a sermon can never grasp the center, but can only itself be grasped by it, by Christ. And then Christ becomes flesh as much in the word of the pietists as in that of the clerics or of the religious socialists, and these empirical connections actually pose difficulties for preaching that are absolute, not merely relative.”
On Christ: “One admires Christ according to aesthetic categories as an aesthetic genius, calls him the greatest ethicist; one admires his going to his death as a heroic sacrifice for his ideas. Only one thing one doesn’t do: one doesn’t take him seriously. That is, one doesn’t bring the centre of his or her own life into contact with the claim of Christ to speak the revelation of God and to be that revelation. One maintains a distance between himself or herself and the word of Christ, and allow no serious encounter to take place. I can doubtless live with or without Jesus as a religious genius, as an ethicist, as a gentleman - just as, after all, I can also live without Plato and Kant… Should, however there be something in Christ that claims my life entirely with the full seriousness that her God himself speaks and if the word of God once became present only in Christ, then Christ  has not only relative but absolute, urgent significance for me… Understanding Christ means taking Christ seriously. Understanding this claim means taking seriously his absolute claim on our commitment. And it is now of importance for us to clarify the seriousness of this matter and to extricate Christ from the secularization process in which he has been incorporated since the Enlightenment.”
On Leadership: “A true leader must know the limitations of his authority…If he understand his function in any other way than as it is rooted in fact, if he does not continually tell his followers quite clearly of the limited nature of his task and of their own responsibility, if he allows himself to surrender to the wishes of his followers, who would always make him their idol - then the image of the Leader will pass over into the image of the mis-leader, and he will be acing in a criminal way not only toward those he lead, but also towards himself. The true Leader must always be able to disillusion. It is just this that is his responsibility and his real object. He must lead his following away from the authority of his person to the recognition of the real authority of orders and offices… he must radically refuse to become the appeal, the idol, i.e. the ultimate authority of those whom he leads… he serves the order of the state, of the community, and his service can be of incomparable value. But only so long as he keeps strictly in his place… [H]e has to lead the individual into his own maturity…”
On Standing up for what is right: This is a famous quote by Niemöller, who helped start the Confessing Church in Germany.
                First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out -
                Because I was not a Socialist.
                Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out -
                Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
                Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out -
                Because I was not a Jew.
                Then they came for me -
                And there was no one left to speak for me.

On the importance of taking action: Written while he was in the USA - planning to return to Germany

“To procrastinate and prevaricate simply because you’re afraid of erring, when others—I mean our brethren in Germany—must make infinitely more difficult decisions every day, seems to me almost to run counter to love.  To delay or fail to make decisions may be more sinful than to make wrong decision out of faith and love… [I]n this particular case it really is now or never.  “Too late” means “never.”…

“Should [we] fail to realize this,… then the ecumenical movement is no longer the church, but a useless association in which fine speeches are made. “If you do not believe, you will not be established”; to believe, however, means to decide… We must shake off our fear of this world - the cause of Christ is at stake, and are we to be found sleeping?... Christ is looking down at us and asking whether there is anyone left who confesses faith in him.

On the Sermon on the Mount: “I would only achieve true inner clarity and honesty by really starting to take the Sermon on the Mount seriously. “

On Pastoral Work: “Theological work and real pastoral fellowship can only grow in a life which is governed by gathering round the Word morning and evening and by fixed times of prayer.”

On his Humility: “He never wanted his classes… to become a cult of personality, centered on him. He was interested only in persuading via reason.” Bonhoeffer helped start a college to train pastors in Germany and donated his entire theological Library to the cause.

More On Preaching: “Bethge [best friend] remembered some of Bonhoeffers advice: ‘Write your sermon in daylight; do now write it all at once; ‘in Christ’ there is no room for conditional clauses; the first minutes on the pulpit are the most favorable, so do not waste them with generalities but confront the congregation straight off with the core of the matter; extemporaneous preaching can be done by anyone who really know the Bible.”

On the Tyranny of finances: “Bonhoeffer knew that something of this unwillingness to speak out with boldness [by pastors in the state church against the state church] had to do with money. The state provided financial security for the pastors of Germany, and even pastors in the Confessing church would jeopardize their incomes only to a certain point.”

On optimism: “Bonhoeffer was an eternal optimist because he believed what God said through the Scriptures. He knew that whatever befell him or the faithful brethren would open new opportunities in which God would operate, in which his provision would become clear.”

On principles: “Christians cannot be governed by mere principles. Principles could carry one only so far. At some point every person must hear from God, must know what God was calling him to do, apart from others.”

On action: he believed he “Wasn’t free to do as he pleased. Bonhoeffer never arrived at decisions easily, but once he saw things clearly, he moved forward.”

On the foolishness of the cross: “In a world where success is the measure and justification of all things the figure of Him who was sentenced and crucified remains a stranger and is at best the object of pity. The world will allow itself to be subdued only by success. It is not ideas or opinions which decide, but deeds. Success alone justifies wrongs done… With a frankness and off-handedness which no other earthly power could permit itself, history appeals in its own cause to the dictum that the end justifies the means… The figure of the Crucified invalidates all thought which takes success for its standard.”

On Truth: God’s standard of truth entailed more than merely “not lying.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “You have heard it said… but I say unto you.” Jesus took the Old Testament laws to a deeper level of meaning and obedience, from the “letter of the law” to the “Spirit of the Law.” Following the letter of the law was the dead “religion” of which Barth, among others, had written. It was man’s attempt to deceive God into thinking one was being obedient, which was a far greater deception. God always required something deeper than religious legalism.

On prayer: “For him prayer was the display of the strongest possible activity.”

On guilt - “Bonhoeffer knew that to live in fear of incurring ‘guilt’ was itself sinful. God wanted his beloved children to operate out of freedom and joy to do what was right and good, not out of fear of making a mistake. To live in fear and guilt was to be ‘religious’ in the pejorative sense that Bonhoeffer so often talked and preached about. He knew that to act freely could mean inadvertently doing wrong and incurring guilt. In fact, he felt that living this way meant that it was impossible to avoid incurring guilt, but if one wished to live responsibly and fully, one would be willing to do so.”

On Love in Marriage: “It’s not your love that sustains marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.” Letter from prison for the wedding of his sister Renate, and his best friend Eberhard Bethge.

On his courage: “Bonhoeffer was not ‘naturally’ strong and courageous. His equanimity was the result of self-discipline, of deliberately turning to God.”

On suffering: “If we survive during these coming weeks or months, we shall be able to see quite clearly that all has turned out for the best. The idea that we could have avoided many of life’ difficulties if we had taken things more cautiously is too foolish to be entertained for a moment. As I look back on your past I am so convince that what has happened hitherto has been right, that I feel that what is happening now is right too. To renounce a full life and its real joys in order to avoid pain is neither Christian nor human.”

On being good: “those who wish even to focus on the problem of a Christian ethic are faced with an outrageous demand - from the outset they must give up, as inappropriate to this topic, the very two questions that led them to deal with the ethical problem: ‘How can I be good?’ and ‘How can I do something good?’ Instead they must ask the wholly other, completely different question: ‘What is the will of God?’”… so there are no ethics apart from doing God’s will “All concepts of reality that ignore Jesus Christ are abstractions.”

On principles (again): “Principles are only tools in the hands of God; they will soon be thrown away when they are no longer useful.”

On Discipline (Poem):
                If you set out to seek freedom, then learn above all things
To govern your soul and your senses, for fear that your passions
And longing may lead you away from the path you should follow.
Chaste be your mind an d your body, and both in subjection,
Obediently steadfastly seeking the aim set before them;
Only through discipline may a man learn to be free.

On integrity - “A human being’s moral integrity begins when he is prepared to sacrifice his life for his convictions.”

On Service: “I think what really matters is that the right kind of work renders one unselfish, and that a person whose heart is filled with personal interests and concerns develops a desire for such unselfishness in the service of others.

On Suffering (poem):
Should it be ours to drain the cup of grieving
Even to the dregs of pain, at thy command,
We will not falter, thankfully receiving
All that is given by thy loving hand.

But should it be thy will once more to release us
To life’s enjoyment and its good sunshine,
That which we’ve learned from sorrow shall increase us,
and all our life be dedicate as thine.

On Perseverance: “He never tired of repeating that the only fight which is lost is that which we give up.”

His last words: (reported by a fellow prisoner) “…he drew me aside - ‘This is the end,’ he said. ‘For me the beginning of life.’”

On taking Action: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” - Reminds me of two quotes I’ve often heard from Dennis Rainey: “The middle of the road is a great place to get run over” and “No decision is still a decision.”

Monday, December 20, 2010

Background Story Behind "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day."

FamilyLife publishes a weekly article called The Marriage Memo. The memo for this week was especially interesting, giving the background behind the the hymn "I Head the Bells on Christmas Day" (taken from a poem by Longfellow).

Might be fun to share this with your family tonight and to have a conversation.
You can sign up to receive the Marriage Memo via email here.

The Bells of Hope
by Dave Boehi

Christmas was not a happy time for him.

His country was embroiled in a war he hated. His own son had returned home with severe wounds.

He also grieved deeply for his beloved wife, who had died after a freak accident in their home two years before. On the first Christmas after losing her, he wrote, "How inexpressibly sad are all holidays." Six months later he wrote, "I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace."

Indeed, the very idea of "peace on earth"--proclaimed by the angels upon Christ's birth and echoed by the church bells he heard on Christmas Day--seemed like a terrible joke.

And so on Christmas Day in 1863, with the American Civil War still raging, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem called "Christmas Bells."

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men!

Today we know these words from the song that was inspired by Longfellow's poem: "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." Two of Longfellow's verses, referring to the Civil War, do not appear in the song:

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South
And with the sound the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent
And made forlorn the households born
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men!

Longfellow's next verse, which does appear in the song, may be the saddest words I've seen in a Christmas carol. They reflect the misery of a man who felt no hope:

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men!"

Fortunately the poem does not end there. For somehow the Christmas bells that morning reminded  Longfellow of a deeper truth:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, goodwill to men!"

When life goes wrong

"I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" is one of my favorite carols because it is so honest and yet, in the end, so full of hope.

We all face times when life goes wrong and we feel despair. The despair after the death of a loved one, or the despair that accompanies a life-threatening disease. The despair of a marriage relationship that has drifted into isolation. The despair of a child who rejects everything you believe. The despair of a problem at work that you can't solve, or a career that feels like it's going nowhere. The despair of feeling powerless to break free of a secret sin.

Longfellow's dark cloud began to lift when he chose to focus on the fact that God is alive, that He is sovereign and has a greater plan than we can understand. We will never see the type of "peace on earth" that so many long for, because the heart of man remains unchanged. But we can experience peace in our hearts when we put our faith and trust in the God who created the universe. I think that's the kind of peace Longfellow finally experienced.

It's the same truth that the biblical character Job understood after losing everything he had. In the end he realized he needed to put his trust totally in God. "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted," he told God. "... Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know" (Job 42:2-3).

Choosing to trust God

Over the years I've interviewed a number of married couples who had experienced the type of hardships that doom many relationships--financial difficulties, death of a child, debilitating disease, and more. They all faced a crisis of faith, when they had to come to terms with the fact that life was not going as they had envisioned. They only experienced healing and peace when they acknowledged their trust in the God who created them and had a plan for their lives.

One husband, overwhelmed with the reality of raising a child with special needs and the pressure it was putting on his marriage, said, "I remember praying in the midst of my tears, Lord, I have nothing to believe in if I can't believe You are good and You are sovereign. I'm not sure I feel that, but if it's not true, then what's life about? I am going to choose to believe that you would not allow anything but good to come into my life."

On that December morning in 1863, Longfellow recognized these same truths, that "God is not dead, nor doth He sleep." Christmas reminds us that God demonstrated His goodness and sovereignty by sending His son to live on earth and pay the penalty for our sin so that we could experience true peace with God. As Romans 5:8 tells us, "but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
God reached down to a world of despair and gave it hope.

Then ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men!

[A contemporary rendition of "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" was recorded by the group Casting Crowns. Click here to watch it on YouTube.]

© Copyright 2010 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Theodore Roosevelt

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt   [RISE OF THEODORE ROOSEVEL] [Paperback]Earlier this year I read the first of three volumes on Teddy Roosevelt by Edmund Morris, called The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt  (I’ve also read the second volume, and the third volume, just published, arrived at my home TODAY).

I’ve included some of the more interesting quotes/anecdotes from the book below. Comments marked with an italicized JCM and/or in [brackets] are by me. There are some gems in here. Print it out and peruse through it during the T-day break. Read a quote or two during the time-outs of the football games. You won’t be disappointed!

If you’ve not read much on TR, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND the book. Edmund Morris’ three works are the finest I’ve seen on TR and worth the investment. You can buy all three volumes in a hard bound set at a reasonable price here.
You can also listen to a brief interview with the author on NPR.

On TR’s Memory:“authors are embarrassed, during Presidential audiences, to hear long quotes from their works which they themselves have forgotten. Congressmen know that it is useless to contest him on facts and figures.  He astonishes the diplomat count Albert Apponyi by reciting, almost verbatim, a long piece of Hungarian historical literature: when the count expresses surprise, Roosevelt says he has neither seen nor thought of the document in twenty years.”… “I remember a book I had read some time ago, and as I talked the pages of the book came before my eyes.”

On Reading: “The president manages to get through one book a day even when he is busy. Owen Wister has lent him a book shortly before a full evening’s entertainment at the white house, and been astonished to hear a complete review of it over breakfast. “Somewhere between six one evening and eight-thirty next morning, beside his dressing and his dinner and his guests and his sleep, he had read a volume of three-hundred-and-odd pages, and missed nothing of significance that it contained.”” – JCM: rough estimates are that TR read approximately 500 books/yr.

Advice from his Father -“Theodore, you have the mind but you have not the body, and without the help of the body the mind cannot go as far as it should. You must make your body. It is hard drudgery to make one’s body, but I know you will do it.” JCM: TR adored his father and leaned heavily upon him for wisdom and direction.

On affection and gratitude for his father: “I remember so well how, years ago, when I was a weak, asthmatic child, he used to walk up and down with me in his arms for hours together, night after night, and oh, how my heart pains me when I think that I never was able to do anything for him in his last illness!”…  “Years afterward” Corinne [his sister] recalled, “when the college boy of 1878 was entering upon his duties as President of the US, he told me frequently that he never took any serious step or made any vital decision for his country without thinking first what position his father would have taken on the question.”

On Opportunities: “It’s not often that a man can make opportunities for himself. But he can put himself in such shape that when or if the opportunities come he is ready to take advantage of them.”

On Depression: “Black care [i.e. depression] rarely sits behind a rider whose pace is fast enough.”

On Writing: “writers write best when removed from the scene that they are describing…” [TR was a prolific writer – authoring 35 books, hundreds of articles, and 150,000 letters in his lifetime.]

On Falling in the Frozen, Swollen Missouri river: Roosevelt actually enjoyed the experience. A few days later he again swam across the river with Manitou [his horse], at a point where there were no spectators to rescue him. “I had to strike my own line for twenty miles over broken country before I reached home and could dry myself,” he boasted to Bamie [his sister]. “However it all makes me feel very healthy and strong.”

On the Benefits of the ranch life: “He had gone west sickly, foppish, and racked with personal despair; during his time there he had built a massive body, repaired his soul, and learned to live on equal terms with men poorer and rougher than himself.”… TR said, “If not for north Dakota, I would not have become president of the U.S.A.!”

TR’s shrewdness - “TR argued that honest enforcement of an unpopular law was the most effective way to bring about its repeal. Legislators should think twice in future about passing laws to favor some voters, the neglecting them to please others.” [quoted during his term as police chief of NYC] JCM: Reminds me of the adage that the best way to prove an order is stupid is to execute it.

His strong response to being told he might be president one day.
                “Never, never, you must never either of you remind a man at work on a political job that he may be President. It almost always kills him politically. He loses his nerve; he can’t do his work; he give sup the very traits that are making him a possibility. I, for instance I am going to do great things here, hard things that require all the courage, ability, work that I am capable of… but if I get to thinking of what it might lead to-”
                He stopped, held us off, and looked into our faces with his face screwed up into a knot, as with lowered voice he said slowly: “I must be wanting to be President. Every young man does. But I won’t let myself think of it; I must not, because if I do, I will begin to work for it, I’ll be careful, calculating, cautious in word and act, and so-I’ll beat myself. See?”
                Again he looked at us as if we were enemies; then he threw us away from him and went back to his desk.
                “Go on away, now,” he said, “and don’t you ever mention the-don’t you ever mention that to me again.”

On Integrity: Bram Stoker, [author of Dracula], After watching TR in action at a literary dinner table,… wrote in his diary, “Must be President someday. A man you can’t cajole, can’t frighten, can’t buy.”

On War and Peace : “To be prepared for war is the most effectual means to promote peace.” “it is too late to prepare for war when the time for peace has passed.”

On cowardice: “All the great masterful races have been fighting races; and the minute that a race loses the hard fighting virus, then… it has lost its proud right to stand as the equal of the best.”… “cowardice in a race, as in an individual, is the unpardonable sin.”

On diplomacy: “Diplomacy, is utterly useless when there is no force behind it: the diplomat is the servant, not the master of the soldier.”

On the appeal of TR - “Years later, White tried to analyze the element of TRs conquering ability. It was not social superiority, he decided, nor political eminence, nor erudition; it was something vaguer and more spiritual, ‘the undefinable equation of his identity, body, mind, emotion, the soul of him.. It was youth, and the new order calling youth away from the old order. It was the inexorable coming of change into life, the passing of the old into the new.’”

Great leaders are great followers: “I don’t suppose I shall ever again have a chief under whom I shall enjoy serving as I have enjoyed serving under you… I hate to leave you more than I can say.” [written after resigning from his post as assistant secretary of the navy to head up the Rough Riders in the Spanish American war].

Friends thought he was crazy to go to war: “A man of unbounded energy and force,” secretary Long remarked in his diary. “He thinks he is following his highest ideal, whereas, in fact, as without exception every one of his friends advises him, he is acting like a fool. And, yet, how absurd all this will sound if, by some turn of fortune, he should accomplish some great thing and strike a very high mark.”

On Character: “he was too strong a man to be susceptible to flattery.”
“I should heartily despise the public servant who failed to do his duty because it might jeopardize his own future.”

And the quote for which he is likely best known…
“I have always been fond of the West African Proverb: ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.’”

Monday, November 1, 2010

On Reforming Halloween - one piece of candy at a time

5:30 PM on October 31st 2010, my wife yells out "we don't have any candy for tonight!"  A quick trip to Dollar General solves the problem. Once inside I'm confronted with a wall of seriously under-stocked corn-syrup-based, food-coloring-laden, excessive-plastic-packaging madness. Four bags should be enough for the insanity that's about to ensue at our front door. I'll be like a float rider at Mardi-Gras, tossing packages of instant delight to the flock of front lawn free loaders.

Two chairs, a good book, and a baby entertaining device were placed on the porch just as the sun began to fade below the horizon. Now the waiting begins, and wait I did. A grand total of two cars (what ever happened to walking?) came to our home. Not the festive atmosphere recalled from days gone by.

But the time was not a loss. There was a plan in place for those two families. This was the year that all the innocent Halloween bystanders would come to learn about the real October 31st holiday: Reformation day.

Each person that came to the door received one piece of candy, and then were asked, "If you can answer a question, I'll give you one more piece." All were eager to participate.

Luther's Seal
QUESTION: "What happened on this day almost 500 years ago."

Silence unanimously ensued. Not even one attempt at a response.

The follow up questions went "Have you heard of Martin Luther?"

More silence.

I gave a brief summary of the Reformation to all and most listened intently. One boy (who was pushing the international trick-or-treat age limit) even said, "Huh. I learned something new today."

Mission accomplished. One child enlightened. Many left behind.
Successfully sowing seeds for Church History.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Update from Son on Rwanda

My son wrote a report on our time in Rwanda. My wife added the pictures. You can read it here on my wife's blog.

I cannot say enough about the resilience of my son on this trip. As a six year old, he endured the unknown and the frantic pace better than many adults would. I don't think he experienced any jet lag in either direction, and he slept like a champ on the plane. The power nap served him well. He was adventurous with the food, he was always ready to go and do at a moments notice, and always ready for an adventure. What an amazing guy.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Update from Rwanda

Julie here, posting for John.  He's in Rwanda, Africa and I thought his peeps would want to read an email he sent to me (and copied Alphonse, our Rwandan college friend who's a college student in Little Rock.)

Reminder of the cast of characters:
- Pam, John's mom, is in Rwanda with John and John Isaac
- Alphonse - the Rwandan college student we've befriended here in Little Rock
- Alphonsine - sister to Alphonse, who lives in Rwanda.
- Alphonse's parents and grandmother do not speak any English.

The one thing John Isaac said to John (not recorded below) that thrilled my soul: "Mom was right, I wish I'd brought more of my stuff to give away."

Of course I love hearing I'm right, but even more than that is the fact that John Isaac is realizing he has so much stuff!

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: John Majors
Date: Sun, Oct 10, 2010 at 10:42 AM
Subject: trip to Eastern Rwanda
To: Julie Majors
Cc: alphonse MUGENZI

Well it was quite a day.  We left  our house around 4:30 AM to head to the national park (Akagere).  It was fun to be up so early and see the streets of Kigali so empty.  A rare site indeed.  Reminds me of the last time I was on the streets at 4:30.  Not a memory I’m quick to repeat.  John Isaac slept a portion of the way, which was good!

We arrived at the park with little problem. I enjoyed the drive and the memories of all the places from our trip to Gahini last year.  We were the first to arrive at the park and immediately John Isaac was making friends. I told mom that we cannot compete with his blond hair and smile. We took pictures with the gate attendants and started out with our ‘guide’ (or basically a man with a radio to help us find the animals).  I did not realize how large of a park it is - 1800 km2 - [Julie's Google conversion: almost 700 square miles] until we drove for 3 hours in just the bottom 5th of the park.  Within the first 5 minutes we saw a Giraffe, wart hogs, and baboons.  We also saw some amazing birds.  Wish I had a bird book!  One crane type bird was as big as a pre-teen. Huge.

We hoped to see an elephant, but it was not to be.  Lots of hippos sticking their eyes out of the water.  We scurried through the rest of the park and I enjoyed the ride, though I think the rest of the party (including the driver and the guide) were ready to be back.  I can only guess as to how bored of this drive they both must be, having done it so many times. JI fell asleep again after we dropped off the guide and slept until we arrived at the intersection that leads to Alphonse’s hometown.  We waited in the car for John to arrive (Alphonse’s brother) with a flock of small children rapidly growing in size next to the car.  The driver (Pierre) attempted to shoo them away a number of times, but it is a fruitless effort, like holding water in your hand.  But they were not bothering us - the children are so adorable.

John arrived and we went to his town and had an amazing time.  First we visited the grandmother.  She was full of joy.  We sat in her house for 5 minutes or so then went to Alphonse’s house.  I walked while the rest drove and we gathered quite a crowd along the way.  The family was incredibly gracious, and we felt very welcomed.  Mom and I were both amazed by the number of children gathered next to the door, just staring at us. John said (his English was quite good) that for many of them, this was a once in a lifetime experience to have a Muzungu in their village.  We gave the gifts from Alphonse and a few others and then shared some cokes and fantas (a highlight for JI).  We spent some time telling them what a great son they had with Alphonse and that I could tell they were great parents.

We then ate a fabulous lunch - I wish I could have fit more in my stomach!  Everything was delicious.  The time passed too quickly, and after 2 hours it was time to go.  We toured the farm, saw the cows, and then received some final gifts of fruits and baskets - very gracious.  Of course, the highlight was when the youngest boy (Gustav?) delivered a LIVE CHICKEN to John Isaac as a gift!  Boy was that exciting!  The hardest part was trying to explain that we could not take it back to America with us - they would not let it on the plane.  But I think they understand. I told them that we would leave it there and that it would be our chicken at our home in Rwanda and that we would eat the eggs if we returned again. Maybe they might even name it after us?

After gifts we took at least 1,000 pictures with everyone, which was much of fun as well.  I think we could have taken pictures the rest of the day, but we loaded in the car with John and Alphonsine (who rode to town) and left by 3PM.  I was sad when Alphonsine asked us to come to her house as well, as it was time for us to return home (and the driver needed to get back as well).  Maybe another time - as it would have been an honor to see her new home.  She showed us pictures of the wedding and they were spectacular (we have a few to give to Alphonse).  Quite impressive with the dress and the ceremony.

The return drive was a delight as we were able to see more of the beautiful Rwandan countryside.  So comforting.  I’m glad it worked out for us to go.  Definitiely the highlight of the trip so far!

This morning we went to a church in Byumba = first time i'd been north.  The drive was pretty amazing and the city was spectacular, as it is built right on top of a hill.  i must say, however, that the church service was a bit too long for all of us:  FOUR HOURS!!!!!!!!  Which was followed up with a lunch and another mini-sermon.  It was a long morning.  We were asked to visit other homes afterwards, but we declined (I said my mom was too tired - and she didn't mind.)  It was tiring, but it was still a fun experience.  Right now it is "Raining Cats and Dogs" (though Mom noted that she had not seen a cat here yet, and only two dogs) - and the sound on the roof is quite comforting.  I broke down last night and had my american fix - as I went to a local restaurant in the evening and watched an American movie and met other Americans working in the country.  Fun time!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Piper on Reading

One other thought on reading:  I heard Piper say recently, and publicly, that he only reads about 10 books a year.  He said he can read no faster than he can talk.  A good reminder that you don’t have to be an amazing reader to have an impact for the kingdom.  It’s more important to be faithful where God has you and to be faithful in the little things (Luke 16:10).

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Role of Reading in the Life of the Busy Believer

After the recent post on my visit to the majestic Mohler museum and library, a friend emailed me the following question:

I have many friends who are passionate followers of Jesus, who do and have worked in the market place for years, and who feel tremendous guilt when they read about Mohler's reading habits.  Personally, I believe that there are people who waste five or six hours a day doing other things and that this can be redeemed by reading.  However, I would postulate that reading in and of itself has become in scholarly circles and many Christian circles a type of idol that people devote inordinate amounts of time to when they could be actively involved in people's lives.  I fully embrace a view of reading that Paul had (Ephesians 3:4-5) and one that can be extrapolated from the wisdom literature concerning walking with the wise.  I also realize that immersing oneself in various literature can inspire and prepare you for untold opportunities to speak into other people's lives. That being said what place in the average believer's life do you think reading should have?
Great question, and one that deserves an answer. The following is my response (with some minor additions and/or clarifications to our original interaction):
Short Answer
For the average believer, whether one reads or does not read is not the issue as much as the importance of developing a lifestyle of learning and growing and pursuing Christ in all areas of life, instead of passively wandering through the motions of the Christian life.  With great audio books, sermons, and interviews, reading as a means of Christian growth is not as critical as it once was.  The question becomes, are people passionately pursuing Christ and taking advantage of the available resources for growth?  Long commutes or time on the treadmill can easily be turned into 30 minutes a day of rich mentoring and resourcing through audio content and books that are so readily available.  Reading should serve and help, and balance must be sought in this pursuit (I Cor. 6:12).  For instance, a man in his 30's with a job, wife and kids should use whatever free time he has to grow in his Biblical leadership in those areas, making sure to prioritize them along with his own growth as a follower of Christ. The temptation for many men in this stage of life is to become overly focused on the 'job' part - taking time from the other areas and attempting to justify their neglect of their family. I would encourage any man to take a good hard look at their calendar and see if they are truly carving out the time they need to really learn and grow and lead their family well, whether that means reading or not.
Other Thoughts
When reading about Mohler's habits, the temptation for some is to feel guilty about their own habit. However, some have the opposite response to Mohler of being inspired by his example. I find myself being inspired, rather than laden with guilt, because I realize I could be much more productive with my time.  I also remind myself that Mohler certainly has a gift for reading and consuming information.  I cannot read 3 books a night like Mohler, but neither can I dunk a ball like Lebron (or anybody for that matter).  That does not mean I shouldn't lace up the sneaks and try to improve my jump shot occasionally and likewise try to improve my reading skills.
It is also important to note that for Mohler and other teachers, reading is more than just a sharpening tool, it is almost a requirement of their work.  It is really at the core of his job.  He turns around and spits back out everything he reads on his blog, on the radio, in the pulpit, in book reviews, in articles, in books he writes, and to faculty and staff at the seminary all day long.  He is essentially paid to read.  That should remove some of the guilt for some.  Though I would say that those in the market place could likely do more reading in their field (and I'm sure they would agree).
There is a difference between guilt and healthy pressure.  It's ok to feel pressure to do something if one should be doing more of it.  It is not ok to feel guilty for doing something that we should not be doing (or an activity that should be considered optional).  The issue that all believers should feel a healthy pressure about is growth in the area of expertise that the Lord has given to us.
Of course anything can become an idol.  Reading can become an idol for sure, as can the act of avoiding reading.  But I believe that many people, especially men, have not really tried to learn to really love reading. But this can change.  Just last year I watched a man go from abhorring reading (A college jock type - awesome basketball player) to a place where he recognizes how important it is and cannot stop reading now.
On a personal level, reading has always been my favorite hobby.  Nothing calms me as much (maybe lifting weights is a close second).  So anytime I have free time, I'm reading.  TV stresses me out, so we don't have one.  Reading calms me.  However everyone is wired differently.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Great article on Reading with Kids

Check out this article on one man's commitment to read nightly with his daughter and what it meant to them.  Certainly inspiring, though I wonder how things might have turned out with his marriage had he maintained a similar practice with his wife.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Baby Race

Friday morning at 5:30 AM Julie’s water broke.  My first thought was “well, here’s the start of another loooong day,” since JI’s birth came 22 hours after his water broke.  But Caroline had a different plan.  I was on the phone with a friend at 8 AM, still thinking we had plenty of time, when Julie said “I think we’re having this baby today.”  Thirty minutes later the contractions were coming in waves, so we shipped John Isaac off to a friend’s house, assembled some belongings and prepared for the trip to the hospital.  In the midst of getting ready my brother in Kentucky calls and informs me they are at the hospital ready to deliver their baby!  The race was on – who would go first?  (Competition never gets old between brothers).

We were waiting for the Birthing Assistant (B.A. hereafter) to arrive before departing, but I wasn’t sure if we would be able to wait at this point – the contractions just kept coming, one after another, and Julie wasn’t getting any relief.  The B.A. arrived around 9:30 and knew right away that it WAS TIME TO GO.  We loaded Julie in the van and took off (though my driving was well controlled, as the B.A. commented afterwards).  I didn't know it at the time, but the B.A. was discretely calling another B.A. that was following behind us in a car, telling her to call the hospital and warn them that we were coming.  She told us later that she was for sure Julie would have the baby in the van!  

Julie was glad to be on the way, but not happy at all about the 47 speed bumps in the hospital parking lot.  When we parked at the entrance, I dashed off and retrieved a wheel chair, only to be informed by my wife that, “I can’t get out!”  Well, we’re not having this baby here – not when we're this close to having her nosocomial - so we all lifted various body parts and helped her into the chair.  We proceeded down the loooong hallway, up the elevator and pulled into the maternity ward at almost 10 AM.  Recognizing her condition, everyone jumped to attention and started helping right away.  A few minutes later she was in the delivery room and ready to go.  The Lord was so gracious to have some of the kindest, gentlest nurses in the room with us – they were so sensitive to her condition.  They immediately checked her and she was already fully dilated!!!!  Julie wasn’t kidding – we would be having a baby THAT DAY.

After many complications from delivering John Isaac with drugs, my amazing wife was dead set on having this baby o-natural.  Now, I’ve heard all the horror stories of women snapping at their husbands in this condition, so I was on my best behavior, not wanting to do anything to frustrate her.  I must have said a thousand times “you’re doing a great job!” and meant it every time.  She amazed me with her resilience and focus – I was truly inspired and became “choked up” many times just watching her endure the pain.  All the material we read beforehand  said there would come a point when she would say “I can’t do this – I can’t go on!”  but she blew right past that point, only hinting at it right at the very end.  She started pushing at 11:30 – and at 12:01, we had our girl!

The only down side of the entire morning was the flurry of messages that came in right before Julie started pushing: my brother’s daughter was just delivered.  They beat us by 37 minutes!  Oh well, you can’t win them all.  I guess it wasn’t a total loss, as Caroline was heavier by 3 ounces.

We spent the night in the hospital and made it home Saturday afternoon with no problems.  Please pray for a speedy recovery for my wife.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Two Books of Note

Colonel RooseveltJust noticed that Edmund Morris' third biography on Theodore Roosevelt, called Colonel Roosevelt, is available for pre-order on Amazon.  Having read the first two volumes, I'm sure this one will be worth the time and effort to ingest.  This volume will cover his life from the end of his presidency till his death in 1919 (volume one covered his birth to the start of his Presidency at McKinley's death, volume two covered his Presidency.)

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, SpyAnother book of note is a new biography about Dietrich Bonhoeffer , called Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas.  The book was recommended to me by a friend after reading this review on the Wall Street Journal.  The reviewer appreciated Metaxas' efforts to paint Bonhoeffer's faith in a fairer light than others have done (at least according to the reviewer).  Interesting note on Mr. Metaxas:  he has also written for Veggie Tales, has written over 30 children's books, and a best-selling bio on William Wilberforce.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Bat Cave of Evangelicalism

Forgive me while I gush.  A few weeks ago, i joined a co-worker in Louisville to interview Al Mohler for a new video based marriage conference FamilyLife is producing.  While there we had the chance to visit Dr. Mohler’s personal library in the basement of his home (what Ligon Duncan refers to as “the bat cave of evangelicalism”).

His personal librarian (yes, that’s what I said) gave the current volume count at 40,550 volumes, though he hedged with the disclaimer that “hundreds of books come in a month.”

 His Desk (on the right side of the picture)

His Churchill “section” (pic on right) contained over four hundred books by or about the man.  And the collectibles were everywhere.  In one corner was a pile of leather briefcases “to give to friends.”  On a desk were dozens of fountain pens.  Model ships, airplanes and busts protruded from every corner and were perilously perched on every possible ledge.  It was glorious and dangerous at the same time. 

Mohler consumes books like a five year-old eats candy on Halloween.  I asked about his reading schedule - he settles into his favorite reading chair around 11 PM or midnight [see pic of his 'current reading’ stack on left] and reads till 4 or 5 AM, then sleeps till 9 or 10 before heading to the office.  How many books a night does he read?  “Usually 3 or so.”  Not from 3 books - but 3 from start to finish.  You can read Mohler’s comments on his reading habits here.

One of his reading suggestions I’ve followed is to find an author you enjoy and read everything you can that they have written.  One of those authors for me has been David McCullough, who says, “you are what you read” (his bio on Truman is my favorite of his works).  McCullough is a throwback author who still uses a typewriter, partly because he knows he needs to “go more slowly” (read this interview about his typewriter here).  If one of the greatest writers of our time (one journalist said “he is incapable of writing an incorrect sentence") needs to go more slowly, let all others take heed!

Mohler also asserts that “reading will save your life.”  This proved true on one of my all time favorite FamilyLife Today radio interviews where Mark Hamby, founder and director of Lamplighter publishing tells his journey from not reading a single book in high school to being addicted to books.  The story is both entertaining and inspiring, and each re-airing on FamilyLife Today produces a run on Lamplighter books, one of which was Ronald Reagan’s favorite book, That Printer of Udell’sReagan read the book as a young boy, and when he put it down, he said “I want to be like that man.”  That’s what a great book does; inspires you to want to live differently.  Those are hard to find, but those are the ones that are worth reading.  This week I read A Confederacy of Dunces.  It was entertaining, well written, with an intriguing plot-line, but not inspiring.  Nothing about the story made me want to emulate anyone.  None of the characters were redeemable - even at the end - when someone usually comes out changed and motivated to live differently, none had changed.  Their situations had, and they had largely stumbled into new situations, but their inner character had not changed.

This is contra every book I have read about Teddy Roosevelt.  Almost everything about his life inspires me to want to live differently and to want to read more about him!

Al Mohler - Study Tour from Together for the Gospel (T4G) on Vimeo.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Hatchet: Boys to Men

I'm always on a hunt for good books to read with my 5 year old son. I recently ran across the Art of Manliness blog and their list of books for boys. On this list was the book Hatchet. It's your basic "lost in the wilderness" survival story - except that the main character is a 13 year old boy. With recently divorced parents, he's off to visit his father in Canada. The pilot of the small plane has a heart attack, veering the plane hundreds of miles off course in the Canadian wilderness. The boy survives the crash, with only his Hatchet to help him endure the rugged nature. 

Now stay with me here, because though the story is interesting (and kept my son UBER engaged… especially since I skipped over most of the divorce parts) the more relevant part is his journey of self-discovery and what it says about the modern man.

Leanord Sax, in his book Boys Adrift (which I HIGHLY recommend to all parents of boys) tries to get at the root issue behind the increase of apathy among boys. He says "the boys I'm most concerned about don't disdain school because they have other real-world activities they care about more. They disdain school because they disdain everything. Nothing really excites them." Why is that? He cites a number of factors: changes in the education system, video games, medications, foods. He has a chapter on each of these topics, as well as one addressing the issue he calls "Failure to Launch," where boys are not launching into manhood until their late 30's.

I believe there are two main contributing factors to this increase among elongated adolescence: excessive consumerism and the fact that most boys are not being called up to anything of significant value in their minds. Consumerism: my friend David Sims, who did a PhD on the effects of affluence on children, says "consuming deadens the senses." Makes sense. If you always eat sugar, you'll never want vegetables. If you always watch dribble on the tube, you'll have little interest in fine literature and poetry. If everything is handed to you, then why work for it? (as Matthew McConoghay said, "It's gonna take a stick of dynamite to get me out of my parent's house"). The increase in boys having little drive for things of significance is striking. For instance, very few boys have interest in pursuing traditional "trades" (electrician, plumbing). College is often promoted as the only real option in schools if you want to really be somebody. Yet the trades are often the most satisfying jobs for men, because of the immediacy of seeing the results of your work. Matthew Crawford, in his book Shop Class as Soulcraft argues that a career in the trades is "better for both your net worth and your self-worth." These trade jobs are increasingly more secure, since "You can't hammer a nail over the Internet. Nor can the Indians fix your car. Because they are in India."

The appeal of cubicle life is declining as well. The combination of the two declining interests leaves many young men with little interest in pursuing anything. Combine this with a free ride at mom and dad's, and you have a legion of 30 year old boys. Men and boys alike long for the kind of work that William Voegeli describes in the Claremont journal as "the kinds of work we can most readily imagine ourselves getting lost in and being proud of." But how does one find this kind of work?

Leonard Sax, in his previous book Why Gender Matters (a must read for ALL parents) address the ability of boys to concentrate for extended periods. Most boys, especially those with ADD/ADHD are not able to concentrate for extended periods. But Sax's contention is that they are able to concentrate on the things that interest them. He tells the story of a young boy with ADD on multiple meds. His grades were suffering and he was depressed. His parents sent him to South Africa for the summer to work with a safari guide. He was there two days and the guide said "get rid of the meds, you don't need them." The next day he followed a group of natives in the woods and sat motionless for hours as he prepared to kill a bird with a spear. This is the same boy that one week earlier couldn't sit still 10 minutes in the classroom.

And here is where Hatchet returns. This 13 year old boy, having had everything handed to him and done for him up to this point in his life, for the first time becomes aware of all of life's basic necessities that he has taken for granted: food, shelter, protection from harm. He quickly gains great interest in providing for himself and works tirelessly, day after day to make sure he survives. He went through a long process of "inventing" the bow and arrow to learn to catch fish and birds. But he notices a point where he changes. He turns from the "old Brian" - a boy that passively passes through life, noticing little about what occurs around him, to a boy-man with sharpened senses. He says, there was now a "changed part of him, a grown part of him, and the two things, his mind and his body, had come together as well, [they] had made a connection with each other that he didn't quite understand." He observes, after being rescued and returning home, that he "gained immensely in his ability to observe what was happening and react to it; that would last him all his life. He had become more thoughtful as well, and from that time on he would think slowly about something before speaking." He returned home and spent hours researching all the things he consumed and experienced in the wilderness - learning their real names. His interest and focus sharpened because he was forced to survive. And this changed him.

Muscles grow under tension, and we often remove this necessary tension from the muscle of our minds in a consumer based society. I can say from experience that my seminary education meant FAR more to me and I was much more intentional with it than my college education partly because I had to pay for it! [not that I'm not grateful for college mom and dad!] My decisions about classes and dollars spent were very different when I was footing the bill. As a result, my views on the necessity of a college education are evolving - especially knowing that many parents are primarily bankrolling a 4 year party (listen to this episode of This American Life.)

So read Hatchet to your boys and enjoy it as well and ask yourself how you can reduce excessive consumption in your life and the lives of your children and reduce the clutter in your soul.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Self Suspicion

“I should be primarily suspicious and regularly suspicious of myself!  To be suspicious of my own heart is to acknowledge two things:  that my heart has a central role in my behavior, and that my heart has a permanent tendency to oppose God and his ways.”

From When Sinners Say I Do, by Dave Harvey, p64.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

On putting books on hold...

My son and I have been reading through The Hobbit.  We finished it this afternoon, and tonight he said, "Ok, now we're ready to read through The Lord of the Rings (TLOTR)."  I reminded him that it is a REALLY long book, and that this version has no pictures.  He says he knows, but wants to read it, because "now I know who Bilbo Baggins is."  He then reminded me that we began reading TLOTR over 6 months ago, and that the first words in the book were "Bilbo Baggins", and, he says, "Now that I  know who Bilbo is, we can read TLOTR."  Sure enough, I opened to the first page, and the first sentence introduces Bilbo Baggins.

Now, I understand the importance of putting off an item of interest until one is ready to enjoy it the most, but most 5 year-olds have no context for such endeavors.  A good lesson learned today by all in the family. 

Monday, February 22, 2010

Chandler on the Gospel

I preached Sunday on Luke 11:5-13, a passage that immediately follows Jesus' giving of the Lord's prayer.  While preparing to preach I listened to Matt Chandlers sermon on the same passage and he made this statement about the gospel: 

The gospel is not that if you love Jesus then you'll get everything you want. The gospel is that you'll get Jesus and he will be enough no matter what.

Well said Mr. Chandler, well said.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

World War Two Books

This week I finished a book called The Third Reich at War by Richard J. Evans. It's the third in a series on the Third Reich by a history professor from Cambridge. This volume addressed the years from 1939 to the end of the war in 1945. At 900 pages, it is thoroughly researched and heavily referenced, yet also easy to read. But the title is a bit misleading. Evans certainly deals with the "war" part of the war, but if the title was meant to described the content of this book, then it would likely be named, How the Germans Killed Lots of People During WWII. The level of detail Evans provides throughout the book on both how they were put to death and the amount of people killed is overwhelming at times. I know, sounds encouraging. So why would you want to read this? After turning the last page and closing the cover I thought "more people must read this book. Especially high school students." It is too easy to forget the atrocities this world has endured, especially when we live in such a comfortable time. No culture that forgets God is very far away from repeating the acts of the Nazis. In fact, the book makes a pretty strong case for Hitler being primarily driven in his desire to eliminate the Jews by his Darwinistic convictions related to the 'survival of the fittest' and the need to protect the integrity of the master race. 

Evans concludes the book this way:

The Legacy of the Third Reich… extends far beyond Germany and Europe. The Third Reich raises in the most acute form the possibilities and consequences of the human hatred and destructiveness that exist, even if only in a small way, within all of us. It demonstrates with terrible clarity the ultimate potential consequences of racism, militarism and authoritarianism. It shows what can happen if some people are treated as less human than others. It poses in the most extreme possible form the moral dilemmas we all face at one time or another in our lives, of conformity or resistance, action or inaction in the particular situations with which we are confronted.

Or, to summarize, it shows what happens when sin reigns and controls a nation.

Though the book is very readable, the literary quality pales in comparison to the WWII book I completed just prior to picking up the Evans volume. For my 2009 birthday, my parents bought the six-volume set Churchill wrote on the history of WWII. I finished volume one in December and picked up Evans immediately afterwards. Churchill is a master writer, one of my favorites (in fact, one friend recently accused me of having "a man crush" on Churchill) and his ability to turn a phrase is among the best in the English language. Churchill had a team of writers accompany him on this book, and these guys were no slouches. Read what they said about Churchill's influence on their writing style in this work:

From the Foreign Office, Sir Orme Sargent and Professor Savory submitted notes on Britain, Poland and the coming of war.  Sir Alexander Cadogan sent extracts from his then unpublished diary of the Churchill-Roosevelt meeting in 1941.  From Cambridge, Professor Goodwin, a former flight-Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force, submitted a 150-page account of the Blitz.  Kelly was given the task of reducing this to three typewritten sheets. 'They seemed quite good', Kelly recalled, 'till I sat beside him and he pulled out his red pen and slowly and patiently corrected what I had written.  My sloppy, verbose sentences disappeared.  Each paragraph was tightened and clarified, and their true meaning suddenly stood out. It was like watching a skillful topiarist restoring a neglected and untidy garden-figure to its true shape and proportions.  In the middle of this penitential process he gently turned to me and said: 'I hope you don't mind me doing this?'
Finally, I'm in the process of re-reading The Red Horse, a novel about the Italian involvement in WWII. This is likely the best work of literature I've ever read. I'd put it up against all the great classics: War and Peace, Les Miserables, the Count of Monte Cristo. This is one of the few novels I have ever read a second time. It apparently won an award as the "European novel of the decade" (though I've not been able to find the evidence of the award recognition). The first time reading this book, after putting it down, I felt like I had lost a good friend, not wanting the story to end or the people to go away. If you have wanted to tackle a larger novel but haven't found the right one, this would be a good one to try.

On a humorous note (maybe), my son occasionally asks about the books I'm reading. Since WWII themes have lately dominated this list, much of my responses are related to War History. So occasionally the Nazis will come up and we will discuss who they were and what they did, trying to keep the conversation within the realm of what a 5 year old can handle. Last week he had a new friend over to play. They began in his room and within a few minutes he came out crying frantically and wringing his hands. Julie asks "whatever is the matter?" The child said, "Are the Nazis going to kill me? Please tell me they are not real! Please?" Apparently our son was trying to teach his new friend a little war history. Julie calmed him down and the boys went back to playing together. Now, I can only imagine how the conversation went down that night in their home…

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Get Fit in 2010

One of the keys to exercising is to make it easy and enjoyable.  That's why I don't run - no fun and takes too much time - plus it hurts my back and knees and makes me feel like a hamster.  I've mostly lifted weights and played Basketball instead, but going to the gym takes time as well.

Early in college, my Bible study leader said he does 100 push-ups and 100 sit-ups in the evening before going to bed if he doesn't have time to make it to the gym.  Great idea - and I've been amazed how effective this simple step can be. I usually do them in 2 or 3 sets, but if you can't start with 100, then set a timer for 5 minutes and do as many as you can of each, alternating back and forth between the two.

I've also wanted to add pull-ups to this regiment, and this Christmas my father-in-law gave me this great pull-up bar.

I've used it for a couple of weeks now and have been pleased.  Partly because my exercise routine has started to shift from heavier weights at a gym to body-weight exercises.  This is a style of exercise that I've been learning more about over the last few years and I wish I would have known more about when I was younger.

Having equipment readily accessible makes exercising easy - and a pull-up bar hanging in your doorway (one that requires NO INSTALLATION and can easily be moved out of the way) is as about as easy as it gets.  You can do a few at night and a few in the morning and get as much effect - if done properly - as 30 minutes in a gym (when adding the sit-ups, push-ups, and dips).

The push-up feature on the bar is great as well. Usually, I can do anywhere between 50-70 standard push-ups at a pop.  But using this bar - which allows you to go much deeper - I'm lucky to get 15.  And I feel stronger as well after using it for just a few weeks.  One of my fitness goals this year is to be able to do a planche push-up like this guy (at the end of the video) and I'm hoping this bar will help get me there!

So if you're looking to start the new year with some exercise, try ordering this pull-up bar and giving it a go.  At $40, it's much cheaper than a treadmill or gym membership, so your risk is much lower.  Start small so you don't get discouraged - even 5 minutes makes a difference.  And if you can't do even 1 pull-up, you can still use this bar because it's so close to the ground, you can use your feet to help you get up (you can pull your knees up once you are able to do a full one).

Finally, if you are already in the habit of exercising, but wanting to do more body weight exercises at home to avoid the cost and time of a gym, try following this guys routine.  And maybe, as I continue to use this fancy new bar, I'll be able to avoid any further embarrassing losses to theologians in a pull-up contest!