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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

book response: Me, Myself, and Bob by Phil Vischer (2007)

When my kids were little, I loved watching Veggietales videos with them. Phil Vischer created them. His company, Big Idea, produced great stories with great visuals about Jesus, God and the Bible, told through the lives of armless, legless vegetables with big eyes, crazy voices, and silly songs. This book is the story of how this extremely popular show and quickly growing business collapsed into bankruptcy, leaving Phil with his God, his family, and his broken dreams. Yet it is a story with hope and redemption and restoration with the same God, same family, and a bigger dream.

The Veggietales videos promised and delivered a half hour of entertaining morality tales. This book delivered in one sitting of about four hours a story that had me laughing out loud, angry at the bad guys, shaking my head at the stupid things, misting over in the hard parts, and choking up at the end. Vischer starts with his childhood, showing how God prepared him for movie making and story telling and new technology adopting despite the wounds of his childhood and his abnormal fit into his evangelical culture. His role model, even idol, was Walt Disney. He wanted to build a children's entertainment empire like Disney, but with an emphasis on Jesus and God.

After it all fell apart, and he only had Jesus, he realized that Jesus didn't need him to do anything. Vischer learned that God let that dream and business fail so that he could know God's love for him. It sounds so weird. But in the Christian life, many of us fall into a trap of wanting to honor God with something we do, but we get so obsessed with the project that it becomes more important than God. It becomes an idol.

It's not how Vischer tells his story, but it's how I received the story. The denouement of Phil's story is encountering God in a fresh way after everything crumbles down around him and why he named his new company JellyFish Labs. He also shares what he has learned from his business mistakes. So there's something for everyone. I highly recommend Me, Myself and Bob.

FWIW, the Kindle edition is on sale now for three bucks.


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Sunday, July 28, 2013

book response: CMYK by Justin McRoberts

The other morning, I did something rather unusual. I stayed in bed and read. Justin McRobert's book, CMYK, kept me in bed. I didn't want to miss out on the conversations Justin was sharing with me. This book is a series of letters written in response to the vagaries of life. McRobert's writes as a pastor, husband, son, father, friend, musician, and disciple of Jesus Christ. His words do not come from a mountaintop, but from alongside, which is very encouraging. Although these letters are not written to me, all of them speak to something in my life. I received this encouragement for someone else.

"Your story is not a story of failure; it is a story of boundless mercy. It is a story about getting second chances seven times, and then seventy times that. While some would suggest your life’s process was marked by failure, I believe that it is characterized by grace."

The perspective of grace changes everything. McRoberts is not only graceful, but humorously self-deprecating. These lines had me laughing out loud.

"At that point in my life, listening to a homosexual claim to believe in Jesus was like seeing a unicorn. Only this unicorn was gay and claiming to be a Christian. I didn’t have a box in which to put the unicorn."

He befriends this "unicorn" and learns that God's primary perception of us is "Beloved." No other adjective matters until this noun is primary.

His music EPs that go along with the project are worth a listen as well. The letters correspond to certain songs, and he includes the lyrics with the letters.

I highly recommend this short book.

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

my trip to Haiti in July 2013 part 1


I've been back for almost a week since my trip to Haiti with my daughter through the organization Mission E4. The picture above is before their front gate at the girls' orphanage in Cassagne, Leogane.
This is a picture of us from day 3 at the outdoor dining area of the guest house in Gran Goave.


Our team stayed at a beach house in Gran Goave owned by Mission of Hope International. There is another group named Mission of Hope Haiti. They also do great work in Haiti, but we didn't stay with them. They do not have air conditioning, you need regular electricity for that, but I was able to walk right out the back gate, down the boat ramp and into the Gulf of Gonave every afternoon for some resuscitation after a hot work day.

I don't know, nor did I want to know, how (un)clean the water is. It was very murky, but so refreshing. On the horizon, we could barely see Gonave Island. Mission of Hope has a small motorboat that they take out to the island to do ministry and relief work. The Haitians I met, whom I asked about the island, told me it was the poor part of Haiti. It's hard imagining people living with less than what they do in the rest of Haiti.

One of the sites we worked at was in Fauche, where a pastor and his wife are taking care of about a dozen orphaned boys, as well as running a small school. The school is just a tin roof and some blue tarps. We were helping poor the foundation on the right for a new school. There is more information about the ministry and financial need on Mission E4's Fauche page

Some things never change. I helped mix concrete one shovel at a time then poured a foundation one bucket at time. I've done this at different spots the last two times I've been there.
The outhouse complex to the right of the house/orphanage is everything you fear an outhouse at a boy's orphanage would look like behind plywood doors.
Speaking of terrifying things, the outhouse was nothing.
 I had first time encounters with a tarantula in the wild ...

and the even more terrifying and massive wasp called the tarantula hawk. It's finally dead in this picture next to my pen. They lay eggs on live tarantulas. When they hatch, the pupae feed on the living spider.
At the girls' orphanage, my daughter and another team member filled up one wheelbarrow at a time, which I rolled to another part of the property and dumped and spread out, eventually making this pile disappear over two days.


The trip wasn't all work and play. There was a spiritual aspect to it as well, which was very significant for me. I think I'll talk about that in part 2.

P.S. It cracked me up to find this graffiti in Haiti. Was this by an American tourist on some family's home? Does a Haitian teen live here who happens to know English? I have so many questions yet I agree with everything written on this wall.
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John's summer reading 2013

Summer time is normally a time for lighter reading, books that finish quickly. For many people, these books are usually fiction. For me, however, I am interested in historical narratives of natural disasters. Here are the four I've read so far.

Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938 by R. A. Scotti is fast paced and well written. Scotti is a fomer journalist for the Providence Journal and is intimately familiar with the coastline and people of Rhode Island which lost the greatest number of lives. My section of southeastern Connecticut was also hit hard in 1938, and I appreciated her local perspective. Her collection of anecdotes helps us remember this event changed the lives of families and not just impersonal towns.

Category 5: The Story of Camille, Lessons Unlearned from America's most violent hurricane by Judith A. Howard and Prof. Ernest Zebrowski, Jr. includes some more science behind these storms. It was published soon after Katrina repeated it's path of destruction. Unlike Katrina, Camille not only devastated the Gulf Coast, but it's remnants collided with a cold front over a couple rural western Virginia counties and devastated again. What the wind and storm surge did on the coast, the couple feet of rain in one night did in the Appalachians. The effects the storm had on families, political dynasties, and federal agencies, which last till today are told with sensitivity and skill.

The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the Volcano That Darkened the World and Changed History by the father and son team of William K. and Nicholas P. Klingaman remind us that it's a small world after all, and it's always been. They look at the affect of the most massive volcanic eruption in the last few centuries on Western civilization on the opposite side of the planet. Their focus is mostly on Western civilization because of their access to historical records from the United States and Western Europe.

Not 70 years later, another massive volcano blew itself up in Indonesia. Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883 by Simon Winchester explores this story. Winchester's style is more textbook than the other books'. In fact, the central chapter in the book, about the actual eruption, is over 100 pages long! Winchester also includes many personal anecdotes, but they are often miles and decades away from the story of Krakatoa. Unlike Scottie's driving narrative, Winchester meanders.

In fact, I've arranged these mini-reviews in order of how hard it was to put these down. Scottie is like a river rapids guide and you don't want to let go of the sides of the boat. But the story telling river calms down and gets pretty broad and dreamy with Winchester. If you put it down, there is not a story arc you'll miss around the bend.

Speaking of great rivers, I also finished Twain's Tom Sawyer. One of the things I enjoy when I read fiction from another era is the constancy of human nature with all it's foibles and merits. There is no character in Twain's world that cannot be find in real life today. It helps that Twain is such a good writer and observer of humanity.

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