so who did i tick off?
Tuesday September 05th 2006, 10:33 am
Filed under: youth ministry, youth specialties, personal, books, youth work

i rarely look at my customer reviews on amazon (for the youth ministry books i’ve written). i don’t think i’ve looked at them in a year. but i went to one of my books listed there the other day to get some info, i noticed these two really harsh review with one star (out of five, one is the lowest the rating system allows):

Reviewer: Barth (Seattle, WA) - See all my reviews
This reminded me of most of the lightweight jr. high curricula out there. It lacked a spark of creativity and originality, and seemed more the work of someone who was just trying to generate books to supply his publishing company.

Reviewer: Janice Smith (St. Louis, MO) - See all my reviews
When I tested a few of these lessons with my Jr. Highers, they gave me a lot of blank stares. The games rarely rose above the level of tag, the activities were something like cutting pictures out of magazines, and there is zero content. I’d never buy an Oestreicher book again.

i was a bit stunned, a bit taken aback. i mean, i’m totally fine with someone not liking stuff i write. i’m not narcissistic enough to think that the stuff i write (especially the middle school curriculum in the wild truth series) would be everyone’s cup of tea. but these seemed oddly over-to-top to me. so i looked at my other books. here’s a sample:

from other wild truth books:

Reviewer: Janice Smith (St. Louis, MO) - See all my reviews
This is such a repetition of the first book, I’m not sure why they came out with a sequel. And the first one wasn’t that effective. After trying it, I decided not to use Oesteicher’s books.

Reviewer: Brad Steffens (Los Angeles, CA) - See all my reviews
This book belittle the intelligence of Jr. Highers. Our group was was too mature for most of the activities here. I wouldn’t use Oestreicher’s work again.

Reviewer: Brad Steffens (Los Angeles, CA) - See all my reviews
This is an unneccessary addition to the Wild Truth book. It’s just a way to make an extra profit off of a so-so book. I wouldn’t recommend buying this if you’re on a limited church budget.

Reviewer: Janice Smith (St. Louis, MO) - See all my reviews
I read through this book from cover to cover and decided it wasn’t going to work with my group. Since the book has little content, it tries to compensate with fun activities which aren’t really that fun. This book probably isn’t going to be an effective resource for anyone.

Reviewer: dan k “dan k” - See all my reviews
Mark’s work is pretty immature. I’d say junior highers are all pretty much beyond this stuff.

from the two ‘great talk outlines for youth ministry’ books:

Reviewer: Brad Steffens (Los Angeles, CA) - See all my reviews
This is a collection of very rough outlines from Youth Specialties celebrities. However, it seems like it means to give them one more book with their names on it rather than to produce worthwhile curriculum for youth. I didn’t find this helpful at all.

Reviewer: dan k “dan k” - See all my reviews
While it’s a good idea, the outlines are too sketchy to be worthwhile. I wouldn’t order this book.

on “help i’m a junior high youth worker”

Reviewer: Barth (Seattle, WA) - See all my reviews
I have no idea why this book got published. There are just a few words on any page and the advice is shallow and obvious. I bought copies for my youth group volunteers and every single one of them said they didn’t get anything out of it. Just use the one from Doug Fields, which is virtually the same thing.

Reviewer: dan k “dan k” - See all my reviews
This book is just riding on the coat tails of the one that came before it. It is again a bunch of shallow advice from someone who is trying to make money off of volunteers.

on “every picture tells a story”

Reviewer: Barth (Seattle, WA) - See all my reviews
This is really just a collection of pictures, less than 50 of them, and it sells for nearly $20. It’s a creative idea that doesn’t go anywhere. You could download 50 discussion pieces off the internet for free. I didn’t find it worthwhile.

Reviewer: dan k “dan k” - See all my reviews
This seems like a book written by someone who thinks he is more profound than he is. I picked it up but didn’t find it useful enough to buy.

so, here’s what i’m wondering: “barth”, “dan k”, “brad steffens” and “janice smith” (none of which had the amazon “real names” identifier, btw), are these the same person, or really four people? the reviews all have the same vibe, roughly the same length, are all one star, and are on multiple books.

and, whether this is one person or multiple people: what did i do to tick you off? this seems about much more than resources for middle school ministry. (seriously, if this is you, and i’ve hurt you somehow, i’d love you to contact me so we can talk). i don’t care about the reviews — i care about the fact that someone is clearly pissed at me.

in defense of evangelicals
Friday September 01st 2006, 7:25 pm
Filed under: faith, church, books

ok — so any regular reader of this blog knows i appreciate snarkiness. i’m no stranger to cynicism. and even though i still consider myself an evangelical (my heritage, my current church attendance, and to reasonable degree, my theology), i’ve taken my share of blog-shots at everything from the religious right, to our obsession with christianized junk, to my 11 part (way too long, said some) ‘rant from a runt about the american church.’

and i’ve kind of been enjoying the slew of snarky books coming out these days ‘explaining’ evangelicals. ; ; ; and others. really, we have to be able to poke fun at ourselves. and most of these books carry an additional level of meaning or message.

so when i saw a few posts here and there about a new release called , i expected it would be another one of these — maybe a bit late into the foray, but along the same lines.

but today, a friend (who, i believe, would struggle to still call herself an evangelical, though it is her history, and she has a rock-solid, something-a-bit-other-than-evangelical faith these days) sent me a link to an article about the book. the article includes extensive quotes from the book. i expected to laugh at myself, and at all those silly evangelicals who are my brothers and sisters, but are still a bit wacky at times. instead, i found myself getting frustrated with the author’s unfair and inaccurate statements. i felt defensive for evangelicals. i even felt a bit defensive for fundies! and i don’t like feeling defensive for fundies. not that the book is humorless — there were a few funny lines in the bits i read (note: i have only read the pieces in this online article, not the whole book — but, that’s the risk of putting a segment online, huh?).

i was gonna copy some examples here (from the article), but i’ll let you go read ‘em yourself, if you’re so inclined. i just needed to take this shot across the bow of the book (like it’s gonna make a difference!). bring on the fair and informed cynicism, sarcasm and critique. i’ll join ya. but this one looks like one i’ll take a pass on.

books on faith in tough times?
Friday September 01st 2006, 6:52 pm
Filed under: faith, books

the mom of one of my middle school kids has to give some talks on “having faith when it’s hard”, and asked me for reading recommendations. i suggested yancey’s ‘where is god when it hurts?’ and lewis’ ‘the problem of pain’. but both of those are a bit more specific to pain. any suggestions on faith in difficult times, or faith when it’s hard to have faith — slightly broader topics than pain?

thoughts about the church, from an odd little paragraph
Thursday August 31st 2006, 5:51 pm
Filed under: church, thinking..., books

reading nathaniel west’s , i stumbled through this paragraph, where the protagonist is trying to hold the drunken woman of his affections, who has recently turned to prostitution:

raging at him, she was still beautiful. that was because her beauty was structural, like a tree’s, not a quality of her mind or heart. perhaps even whoring couldn’t damage it for that reason, only age or accident or disease.

i love the church. my life’s work is to serve christ by serving the church (specifically, youth workers in the church). but i can still be cranky about the bride occasionally, right? when i read these few sentences, i instantly thought of the church; more specifically, of the american church; more specifically, of that segment of the american church that continues to be passionate about slick models and approaches, rather than by being passionate about loving people, or even passionate about loving jesus. sure, they’re not all mutually exclusive — i’ll be the first to admit that. but the idea of a church who is beautiful only for structural reasons, not because of her mind or heart; well, that just caught my attention, because i think there are a wad of ‘em out there.

but, hey, sometimes those are some pretty sexy structures!

(see the restraint i showed in this post? i didn’t even say a thing about the church whoring herself, or anything like that! well, now i did, but ya know…)

books read on my personal retreat
Wednesday August 30th 2006, 7:49 pm
Filed under: youth ministry, books, youth work

locust.jpg, by nathaniel west.

mark matlock suggested this classic novel to me in a recent late night conversation during dcla about books we’ve been reading lately. it was originally published in 1939, and looks at the fictional lives of a cluster of hollywood wannabes. the difference in this and many other books about hollywood during this era is that it doesn’t deal with any stars or power-brokers (real or fictional). it’s a rather bleak look at the posing and posturing and off-kilter hopes of a group of people in a long-gone, unique and odd slice of historical american culture. not exactly a pick-me-up, the book does have an almost anthropological interest. i folded a couple pages down that had quotes that made me think of the church, for one reason or another: i’ll post about those in the days to come.

futurist.jpg, by james p. othmer.

bob carlton mailed me this novel, thinking i would like it: he was right. wow. i loved the main character’s jaded, cynical and sarcastic comments. and there’s a whole subplot of political intrigue — kind of a grisham set in the worlds of mysterious military subcontractors and the speaking circuit of sound-bite afficanados. but at the end of the day, it’s a commentary on our obsession with wanting to know (and predict) the future. a mid-life crisis for not only the protagonist, but for the whole enterprise of future-telling. really fun read.

teen.jpg, by barbara strauch.

i’ve known of this book for a while, and have been meaning to read it. we drew from it for the core this past spring. but when kurt johnston mentioned re-reading it recently, i finally ordered it. and now i’m going to have to read it at least one more time, if not more. there’s so much critical stuff in here — amazing stuff — for every youth worker and every parent. really, this book goes to the top five of all books a youth worker has to read, and the top two or three a parent has to read. i’ve casually studied adolescent development for 25 years, and i learned so many new things in this book. please, if you’re a youth worker: read this now. there are hundreds of findings explained, and thousands of implications. but the finding that kept coming back over and over in the book is that the teenage prefrontal cortext (the frontal lobe of the brain, just behind the forehead) is still under construction, so to speak. the prefrontal cortext is responsible for so many things (which are all outlined in the book); but primarily, it’s the decision-making office for the brain. many, if not most, of the behaviors we traditionally assign to teenage impulsiveness or immaturity are directly linked to underdevelopment in this part of the brain. it’s a science book, but not a difficult read, as strauch has clearly written for a parent audience.

books read this week
Friday August 25th 2006, 7:43 pm
Filed under: books

survival.jpg, by primo levi.

this is the fourth of the five books at bought at the holocaust museum bookstore in july. i also bought the sequel, which i’m pumped about reading. primo levi was a young chemist from turin, italy, who spent a year at auschwicz. while , by elie wiesel, gets all the attention, i think i connected with this book even more. there’s a tedium in levi’s book that reveals what life was really like, day to day. the chronicling of atrocities is here, but even more, levi dealves into all that he was feeling and thinking — and he was clearly a thinker. that’s what i connected with (not that i’m much of a thinker!): i was able, as the reader, to put myself in his place. it was less of a voyueristic read, and more of an invitation to join him in his thoughts and emotions. powerful, powerful stuff. as to the storyline, wiesel left the camp as part of the death march, and mentions those left in the camp because of illness. levi was one of those left in the camp, and his story of those 10 days — between the camp being deserted and the arrival of the russian forces — is “can’t stop reading for any reason” stuff. apparently, the sequel tells his story of re-emerging into life and his transition back home, which i expect to find fascinating.

belief.jpg, edited by preston jones. this book has received a few mentions in the blogosphere lately, and for good reason. apart from an extremely lame title (though a clear-as-day subtitle), it’s a great read, accessible and engaging. it’s the edited email dialogue between preston jones (a history professor at john brown university in arkansas) and greg graffin (lead singer/songwriter for the band bad religion). graffin had (at the time of their correspondance) just finished a ph.d. in zoology from cornell, with a dissertation on evolution, atheism and naturalism. jones, a whip-smart progressive evangelical, in addition to being a history prof with a good working knowledge of science, theology and philosophy, is a fan of graffin’s band. the discussion is almost always interesting — and the great thing about the book is that it is truly a dialogue. they identify some common ground and some clearly significant differences. they get a bit punchy with each other from time to time, which only adds to the readability. btw, this is one of the first releases in a new line published by IVP called ‘likewise’, aimed at younger adults and emerging culture — this book bodes well for the line.

books read this past week
Sunday August 20th 2006, 5:52 am
Filed under: books

hairball.jpg, by gordon mackenzie.

i read a decent amount of business books. but i’m not really a business book kind of guy (um, nor am i really much of a businessperson). mackenzie’s book goes to the top 5 of my favorite business books (that list would also include good to great, purple cow, free prize inside and others). mcnair, the super-creative consultant/disney emagineer/ex-wittenburg door guy/long time friend of ys, told me to buy it when i became the pres of ys. i did read it at that time, and was blow away. the title kind of says it all: it’s about maintaining a connecting to the organization and maintaining creativity, while not getting sucked into the beaucracy of the organization. and everything about the book is creative — from the writing, to the layout (lots of doodles, a couple chapters hand-written). really, it’s a book on creativity — anyone would enjoy this book, i’d think.

when ys got bought by z a few months ago, and we started experiencing a level of, well, ‘process’, that we hadn’t experienced before, the book suddenly popped back into my mind. i bought 15 copies and gave them out to everyone at ys who has regular interactions with harper collins and zondervan (god bless ‘em). and i gave a copy to my new boss (at zondervan). he loved it. so, doing something i’ve hardly ever done in my life — i read it again.

creed.jpg, by scot mcknight.

funny, both of these books i read this week were on my book meme post 10 days ago: orbiting the giant hairball for “book you’ve read more than once” (i knew i was just about to read it for the 2nd time), and the jesus creed for “book you’ve been meaning to read”.

no more meaning to read. i read it. have you ever had a book you knew you would resonate with, knew you would love, and even started recommending it to people (i’ve recommended jesus creed to tons of people), but never quite got around to actually reading? that was the jesus creed for me. no good reason. i wasn’t afraid of it, or worried it would bore me. i read scot’s second book (embracing grace) and loved it.

but all that is past now. when the author (scot) and his wonderful wife kris stayed at our house a few weeks back, the book came up a few times, and i had to confess.

as one might expect me to say from that long-winded wind-up: fantastic book. it’s one of those “i’d like to orient my life around this book” kind of books. the jesus creed, btw, is:

hear, o israel, the lord our god, the lord is one.
love the lord your god with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
the second is this: love your neighbor as yourself.
there is no commandment greater than these.

there’s a simplicity to the book, as mcknight unpacks some very simple, yet profound, truths — centering around the rooted-and-connected idea that the jesus creed is jesus’ update of the shemah, and the lord’s prayer is jesus’ update of a jewish prayer called the kaddish, and so on. all of these “updates” (my word, not scot’s) are rooted in the simple “love god, love others” message of the jesus creed. really, all followers of jesus christ should read this book (i’m not exaggerating). it’s likely to move to the “book you’ve read more than once” category for me.

books read in the last few weeks, part 2
Monday August 14th 2006, 11:55 am
Filed under: thinking..., books

china.jpg, by t. colin campbell, phd and thomas m. campbell II. michael bridges, half of the ys-loved musical duo lost and found, sent me this book after reading my posts about my cleanse. it rocked my world. i’ve had more discussions in the last few weeks as a result of this book than from any book i’ve read in years. written by a scientist (not a science-buff opinionating), the book is, primarily, a summary of the largest nutritional study ever conducted (he brings in a massive quantity of other clinical research also). his primary findings are that the diseases that kill americans (he calls them “diseases of affluence”, because they’re found only in populations that can afford an animal based diet) are all direcly linked to animal proteins. heart disease, all the leading cancers, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, obesity and many others: these diseases, for the most part, do not exist (to a great degree) in countries and populations that eat a plant-based diet. here’s the upshot: i’m seriously considering — and anyone who knows me, or has even seen me, will know what a big statement this is — pursuing a vegan diet. i’m not sure i can pull it off. i do like meat! but i think i’d rather have a cancer-free, heart disease-free, and many other diseases-free next 30 years of my life, than have cheeseburgers and filet mignon (and milk, cheese and eggs). i’m sure i’ll be blogging about this more this fall, as i’m tentatively planning on trying a vegan diet for one month at some point. really, you have to read this book! even if you never adopt a whole food, plant-based diet, it’s a brilliant and accessible read.

rejuvenile.jpg, by christopher noxon. i’ve ruminated a few times on this blog about “grups”, the name given to adults who are erasing the generation gap by continuing to embrace values and tastes traditionally associated with adolescents. this book (pointed out to me by bob carlton) notches it down a few years. while most of the “grup” discussion has centered around rock concerts and expensive jeans, noxon’s book looks more at kickball leagues and toy collectors (not adult toys like jet skis and GPS, but real toys, like dolls and super-soakers). noxon is clearly pro-rejuvenile, though he says the word is neutral, and has positives and negatives. the book gets a bit wordy at times (i love all his examples, but they could often be shorter), but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable and worthwhile read, identifing what i believe is a significant cultural shift in affluent populations. fun reading with plenty of implications for those of us in youth ministry (or any kind of ministry, for that matter).

books read in the last few weeks, part 1
Sunday August 13th 2006, 6:52 am
Filed under: thinking..., books

exuberance.jpg , by kay redfield jamison. fascinating book. jamison is a professor (and researcher) in psychiatry, and has done most of her work in the area of clinical depression and abhorant behavior. but she decided to take a rather different subject this time around and dive deep in the emotion of exuberance. full of story and biography, rich in science and observation, it’s a pithy study of an emotion i love, experience often, and never get tired of. i earmarked dozens of pages in order to pull quotes and ideas - wish i could type in a few of them here: but i don’t have the book with me, so i’ll leave that for a future post. this is one of those “i don’t normally read this kind of book” books that stretched my thinking in ways well beyond, i’m sure, the intentions of the author.

yossel.jpg, by joe kubert. one of the five books i picked up in the bookstore at the holocaust museum, this illustrated book is fiction (all the others i bought were non-fiction). it tells the story of an uprising in the warsaw ghetto in 1943. yossel is the name of the main character, a pre-teen boy with a huge skill in drawing (which keeps him alive, as the nazi soldiers like his drawings). the entire book was drawn in pencil (most illustrated books are done in pencil originally, then inked later for the final version) to give it an unfinished vibe. the story is good, the characters are good, and the drawing is some of the best i’ve ever seen. i enjoyed this as much as any illustrated book i’ve read. highly recommended.

book meme
Thursday August 10th 2006, 9:26 pm
Filed under: books

i wasn’t tagged by scot mcknight on this meme, but i really enjoyed it, so i’m answering the questions anyhow.

1. One book that changed your life: the bible. ok, i had to write that. :o) beyond that, i’ll say jim collins’ . the part about level 5 leadership completely kicked my butt and has been the single biggest factor in the shift of how i lead in the past 2 years.

2. One book that you’ve read more than once: the bible. ok, i’ll stop. um, i’ve read so few books multiple times. i’m just now reading a second time. it’s a fantastic book about maintaining creativity while being a part of a bureaucratic organization.

3. One book you’d want on a desert island: the bible. no, really, i’ll stop that. if i were stuck on a desert island for an indefinite length of time, and thought i could only have one book with me (uh, other than the bible) that i would likely read over and over and over again, i think i’d go for something like anne rice’s , or some other story of our story that i could soak in and ruminate on. i’d probably need to spend a day on amazon looking, though, as i might want to bring some pithy book of theology that would take me years to understand anyhow.

4. One book that made you laugh: christopher moore’s

5. One book that made you cry: renee altson’s

6. One book you wish had been written: an idiot’s guide to rethinking salvation models and atonement theories, without jetisoning orthodoxy

7. One book you wish had never been written: the series

8. One book you’re currently reading: christopher noxon’s (review to come in the next few days)

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read: scot mcknight’s . i’m so lame for not reading this yet. i finally ordered it a couple weeks ago, and am planning on reading it in the next couple weeks.

and since this meme only had 9 items, but just seems to be begging for a more neat 10, i’ll add one:

10. One book you’d like to write: i’d love to write (and maybe will someday) organizational hope, a book about the role of hope in human organizations.

[addition] - sean meade suggested a ‘tag’ a handful of people on this. ok. i’ll tag you, sean. and, dan kimball, bob carlton, renee altson, kurt johnston, dave palmer, and mark dowds.

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