Out on the Wire by Jessica Abel

AlbaA large audience of people listen each week to radio shows in order to hear a good story. This new breed of storytellers use a variety of methods all for the end goal of providing the listener with a memorable story and some nugget of truth that they can carry with them after the show ends. And most importantly, to keep them coming back for more in future broadcasts.

Cartoonist Jessica Abel went behind the radio speakers to get a glimpse into what it takes to put together these audio stories that so many enjoy. She spoke to staff at This American Life, Radiolab, Planet Money, and others to get insights into the process, the struggles and victories of telling a good story. The result is Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio.

Books abound in storytelling and the art and discipline of crafting a story. However, Out on the Wire is the only one I have seen that presents the material in comic book form. I am not a reader of comics or graphic novels but I enjoyed the way the book progressed through the chapters in this fashion. It was very informative in the material it presented and the feel of the book made me feel as if I were in the same room with the players, listening to the conversations as they happened in real time. Abel covers important topics like story structure, character and voice, sound (a very important one for a non-visual medium), and editing.

I thought this book was extremely helpful and I recommend anyone interested in storytelling read this, along with anyone thinking of a career (or hobby) in radio storytelling or podcasting. It will be a good resource, but you will need to highlight the dialogue bubbles as you read, since this book doesn’t have a traditional outline or glossary.

I received this book from Bloggingforbooks.com in exchange for an honest review.

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The Curse of Crow Hollow by Billy Coffey

CrowSmall towns always have their secrets. Most small towns have a witch, or at least an eccentric that will be the one to blame when things go bad. Crow Hollow is no different.

In his latest addition to southern small town tales, The Curse of Crow Hollow, Billy Coffey exhumes an evil that can lurk in even the most Christian heart. Crow Hollow is a small town with big secrets and a witch named Alvaretta Graves that lives on Campbell’s mountain. When a few teenagers happen upon Alvaretta’s cabin one Saturday night, a curse is unleashed that tumbles off Campbell’s mountain and crashes in on Crow Hollow and all that live there.

Billy Coffey can always be counted on to show small town, southern living in an honest way. Or maybe it isn’t just the south he is talking about, but the human condition. Coffey gets better with each new book. Some might say darker, but let’s face it, when things get more honest, they often get darker and uglier. Crow Holler is full of well developed and interesting characters, along with a captivating story to carry them along.

The most intriguing element of The Curse of Crow Hollow is the narration. The story is told from an outsider’s point of view, a voice with a strong southern accent and a knowledge of the characters that is troublesome. Who is this person? Well, you will have to read all the way to the end to find out. This reviewer won’t tell lest the curse fall on him.

If you like southern stories, especially those that contain supernatural and spiritual elements, then this one is for you. If you like good storytelling in general, then this one is for you as well. I believe there is something for most anybody in this book since our world abounds with evil and this book illustrates well how it can manifest itself.

I received this book from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review.

A “Good” Funeral

good newsI attended a good funeral last night. I am not a fan of funerals, so to say a funeral is good is out of character of me. Actually, for anyone to say a funeral is good seems odd, so let me clarify. This particular funeral was different for me for a couple of reasons. First, I didn’t personally know the person we were memorializing, though I had spoken with him briefly on a couple of occasions since we attended the same church. The second reason it was different was that it was simple and straight to the point.

A longtime friend of the deceased began the service by recounting memories and a history of their friendship. He kept returning to his theme: “I needed a roommate but I got a friend.” It was a collage of thankfulness and loss, a picture of the pains and joys that characterize life in this world as we long for the better one that is to come.

Our minister finished the spoken part of the service with a simple, yet powerful presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, good news that is so simple and complete that there was just nothing left to say. Jesus did for us, and the deceased, what we cannot do. That is save ourselves. We simply believe and He saves…completely and forever.

This world and the one beyond were well-connected as relationship with others in this world was appreciated and the good news and promise of being forever with Jesus was treasured as precious.

Amazing Grace was sung at the end of the service and that is really what it is about. God is gracious to save unworthy people and that is amazing.

I left this funeral service not just knowing the deceased more, but knowing and loving Jesus more.  When that happens, the funeral can be called good because it points to him that is truly Good.

Unoffendable by Brant Hansen (A Book Review)

We live in a world of offense. It seems everyone is mad about what someone said or did. Getting angry or upset can appear normal and even justifiable at times. But are we entitled to hold onto angerunoffendable? Is anger justifiable or even “righteous” at times? Brant Hansen, in his new book Unoffendable, answers these questions with a short answer: NO!  Like many of you, I have been taught that righteous anger is okay and we are to be offended when God is offended. The truth of the matter, as Hansen points out, is that above all, Christians are to be known and recognizable by their unending love and forgiveness. We will get upset and angry, but to demonstrate God’s love we must quickly forgive and love others, especially our enemies and those who offend and persecute us.

Unoffendable is written in the same humorous conversational style that is consistent with Hansen’s radio personality. I appreciate his humility about his own failures and weaknesses. Far too often writers present themselves as authorities on their subjects and in that forget to acknowledge their dependence on God for all things, including the subject at hand. Hansen doesn’t do this. He shares as a thankful recipient of God’s grace and a still-struggling traveling companion with his readers. Through personal accounts and scripture, he points to love and grace for all of us to become unoffendable. He shows the power of just being present with people and loving them. Peace and Christ-likeness are the result.

If you struggle with holding on to anger and wrestle with forgiving others in the same way God has forgiven you, Unoffendable will be a helpful book. If you have mastered forgiveness and letting go of anger and consistently love people well, then Unoffendable will be a helpful book for you as you deal with your lack of humility and honesty with yourself.

Brant Hansen has written a good one and you should read it.

I received a copy of this book from BookLookbloggers.com in exchange for an honest review.

Kick the Bucket List

bucket listMany of us have a list of things we would like to do or accomplish in this life. You may call them goals or a wish list, or more commonly a bucket list (things you want to do before you “kick the bucket”). There is nothing inherently wrong with these goals or desires if they are viewed correctly. I recently read an article by Randy Alcorn regarding bucket lists. In the article, Alcorn points to the unbiblical nature of the bucket list. While reading, I had one of those A-Ha moments when God reveals a truth that I needed to hear. I have often been found guilty of gauging the impact of my life and my own worth by accomplishment or things I have done. I have spent countless hours pondering things I want to do or places I want to go. These range from writing a novel to scuba diving or hiking the Grand Canyon. You may have done some of this mind traveling when you hear of a big lottery winner or even when someone you know checks something off of their list that remains unchecked on your list.

My A-Ha moment was this: Underneath the idea of a bucket list or my discontent from not accomplishing something is a core false belief. This false belief is that my only chance of doing anything important or doing something fun is in this life. Basically, the old adage “you only live once.” The assumption and false belief underneath this is that heaven or the new earth is going to be inferior or worse yet, downright boring. But this is not the picture the Bible paints. Revelation 21 and 22 point to a place free of death and pain, a place where everything is new. Everything will be better and the amount of things to enjoy will be far greater than anything we could possible put on a bucket list in the present. And they won’t ever end. There will be no timeframe in which things must be done. No bucket to kick. For those in Christ, the greatest hope is in the promise of resurrection; first, the resurrection of Christ and then our own resurrection because of what Christ accomplished for us.

Paul discusses this in 1 Corinthians 15 . He begins with a reminder of the gospel (verses 1-5), then in 12-58 discusses resurrection and comes to this conclusion in verse 58: Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord, your labor is not on vain (ESV). So what does this have to do with resurrection and my A-Ha moment regarding a  bucket list. Correcting our view of eternity and the false belief that all fun and things of importance must be done in this life frees us to do more for the  kingdom, rather than trying to squeeze in all the fun and entertainment into our few short years on this “old earth.” We can seek first the kingdom (Mt. 7:33) and store up treasures in heaven (Mt. 6:20). The rest of the list we have eternity to accomplish. The kingdom list provides us the opportunity to participate in helping others gain an eternity with God and never-ending enjoyment. So seek today to kick the bucket list.

Scary Close by Donald Miller

_225_350_Book_1491_coverIt has been a while since we have had a new book from Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz and A Million Miles in A Thousand Years. His latest book, Scary Close, could possibly be his best to date. Miller came to write Scary Close after dealing with the fact that he is no good at relationships, even though his friend Bob continually throughout the book tells him that he is good at relationships. Miller’s barrier to intimacy and lasting relationships, especially with females, is his pretending and putting up a strong façade of importance. His “writing life” as a hermit and in isolation hasn’t served him or others well. He decides to take a journey toward “dropping the act and finding true intimacy” as the book’s subtitle says. He takes his readers with him on the journey and much is learned by all as keys to intimacy are discovered. Through each chapter, Miller introduces us to his fiancé/wife Betsy, who also served as one of his most important relationship teachers. The book is built largely around his relationship with Betsy, but the principles are important for all relationships and applicable in simply being a healthy human being living in community with other humans. Community is something we all need and daily need a reminder of its importance.

Miller rightfully points out that trying to impress others and pretending to be something we are not just to be accepted is harmful not just to our own identities but to those around us as well. We need to be real and okay with who we are, but always in the context of seeking to be better at relationships. I have to admit that while reading this book there were a few times that I had to stop myself from comparing myself to people in the book. At those times I remembered that wanting to be something I am not can lead to my own hiding behind a face that doesn’t belong to me and it blocks intimacy. I am okay and God is writing my story.

Scary Close is an easy and fun read, most definitely worth the time. If you are familiar with and a fan of Miller’s previous books, you will not be disappointed with Scary Close. It is written with honesty and is confessional at points. It is convicting and inspirational.  It is a keeper. Read it. More than once. Then apply liberally to your life.

I received this book from Booklookbloggers.com in exchange for an honest review.

Counter Culture by David Platt

CCBookEvery day Christians are faced with the cultural issues that fly in the face of biblical truth. How are we to respond and act? This is the question that David Platt answers in his latest book Counter Culture. Platt makes a passionate call for Christ followers to do just that…follow Christ and point to Him and live counter culturally, going against the grain and proclaiming the truth of the Gospel of Christ.

Platt devotes chapters to the following: the gospel and culture,poverty, abortion, orphans and widows, sex slavery, marriage, sexual morality, ethnicity, religious liberty, and the unreached. In each chapter, he explains how scripture speaks to the topic at hand and how the gospel is to inform our response within our culture. Supplementing the scriptural texts, Platt provides accounts of how real people are living out the principles he has set forth. Each chapter ends with a helpful section called “First Steps to Counter Culture.” These first steps are broken down into three sections: Pray: suggestions on how to pray regarding the information presented in that chapter; Participate: Suggestions on how to be involved and act; Proclaim: Scriptures that present the truth of that chapter that need to be proclaimed. In addition to these helpful sections, Platt has provided the link to a site giving more helpful suggestions: http://CountercultureBook.com.

Here is the promotional video for the book:

In Counter Culture, David Platt has provided the church with another helpful resource. I was forced to counter the culture of my own sinful heart as I read each chapter, knowing that I have been complacent in my converting my beliefs into actions in the culture. In typical Platt fashion, he holds nothing back, but remains humble throughout and often confesses his own failings and struggles with applying God’s truth to each controversial area mentioned in the book. He continually points to God as the only source for change and power to live out what God ordains for his people in the cultural landscape of our times. This book is easy to read but difficult to apply, since it will require sacrificing and dying to self. But isn’t that what we are commanded to do?

I recommend this book for anyone desiring to prepare for countering the culture when it sways from the truth of God’s word and plans. Pastors would benefit from getting this book into the hands of each member of their respective members. I recommend they preach a series on the material found in this book. Small groups will be blessed as they challenge each other to be more involved and act. Individuals will grow in their faith as they seek God and trust him in living out the gospel in authenticity. May we all live counter culturally.

I received this book from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for a review.

 

 

Another year begun…

…and another year gone. During her visit to MunchkinLand, Dorothy made the observation that “people come and go so quickly here.” That is the way I feel about the years now. They come and go quickly. The Christmas season was upon me and gone before the spirit of it set in. And a couple of days ago I saw Easter candy at one of the stores. My calendar shows January. But yes, time is passing quickly. I usually have some goals for the new years and this year is not different. I have some of the normal ones like get more healthy (considering I am overweight and the heaviest I have ever been) and reading my Bible more consistently. In past years, I have set writing goals, none of which I have ever achieved. This year I added learn to play guitar, rather than play at guitar. Time seems to go faster and faster with seemingly less time to accomplish things. Yet the day is still made up of 24 hours. How will I spend them?

When I look back on my goals of previous years, I wonder why most of them still remain unreached. Goals can be frustrated with life situations. Like my desire to play guitar. My thumb on my left hand is giving me problems, making applying any pressure with my thumb a painful strain. so what of that goal? Is God saying that is not what he desires at the moment or do I play through the pain.  Discipline and follow through has always been a challenge for me; I can easily get distracted or give up and find myself watching yet another movie or television show (TV is my big time waster). I also tend to have little confidence in my ability to achieve or accomplish anything, minimizing what I have to offer, gifts or talents I possess. I need to remember that my goals are not God.

I want 2015 to be different (this is the year I turn fifty). I desire to be less self centered in my prayers, wanting to seek what God wants for me, not what I want and think is best for my life. And to include the needs of other more in my prayers, especially since I have people close to me that need Jesus, with lives that are crumbling and headed down dead end roads that I have attempted at times to travel. I will praying specifically with expectancy with what God wants me to do as a vocation and how he wants me to be part of his mission, both locally and globally.

I want God to be glorified in what I do and have, not taking things for granted that are gifts…food, shelter, friends, family and…a job. In all of these, I want to complain less and be more thankful. and not forget people.

So this year, I am trying not to be so rigid and set goals that are unrealistic. I want to enjoy life and involve God more in it and not get bogged down in the insignificant.

I am confident this year will pass quickly as well. When I look back this time next year, I want it to be with thankfulness and satisfaction of all that happened and not regret or frustration.

Happy 2015.

 

Billy Joel by Fred Schruers (A Book Review)

JoelHow can you not like the music of Billy Joel? From the release of his first album, Cold Spring Harbor, to his Madison Square residency (where he plays one show a month going on indefinitely), Billy Joel has proven himself to be one of the greatest American musicians and songwriters of all time. His songs about real people and real situations have connected with listeners worldwide. Joel has a gift for capturing where people are through his musical stories that are laced with feelings and melodies that have become landmarks in the hearts of many. My personal favorite Joel song is Scenes From an Italian Restaurant and I am confident many Joel fans share that favorite with me.  Billy Joel is a musical icon.

But what about behind the music? What about the man?

Billy Joel, the new biography by Fred Schruers, digs into the mystery of the singer-songwriters long career, revealing all of the success, failure, heartbreak, and triumph that goes with building such a musical history. Schruers devoted six years to research and had countless interviews with Joel and those who have been around him to capture the truth of the man behind the music that people love. As is often the case when a life is researched, thing are not as rosy as they seem. Schruers and his unveiling of Billy Joel is no exception. Joel’s life is full of betrayal, broken relationships and marriages, and career mishaps and confusion.  Schruers offers the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Told through many direct quotes from those involved in the various stages of Joel’s life, Schruers lets the reader hear the various points of view straight from the horse’s mouth. I found this approach to be enlightening most of the time, but at other times it became drudgery and overdone because it felt like I was reading a book of quotes relating to Billy Joel compiled by topic. Several times in my reading of this book, I also became confused because of repetitive information that messed with the chronology, causing me to look back to previous pages to get the timeline adjusted in my mind so I could continue.

Apart from the aforementioned problems I had with the book, I enjoyed the book because I enjoy the music of Billy Joel.  My desire to know more about why some of my favorite songs were written was the force that carried me through the book and it delivered on that quest. Though it is no surprise that life is messy, even for a celebrity, it is encouraging to see someone overcome and press through almost impossible times to bring a body of lasting music to the people. For Billy Joel, it has always been and will always be about the music.  Fans of Billy Joel can find the proof in this biography thanks to the thorough research of Fred Schruers.

(I received this book from Bloggingforbooks.org in exchange for an honest review)

It Will Be Okay by Lysa TerKeurst (A Book Review)

Little Seed feels happy and safe in the seed packet on the shelf in the Farmer’s dusty shed. His greatest fear is having to leave his packet, a reality that he knows will happen one day. Little Fox was comfy in his den under the trees in the woods. He is afraid of everything. One night a heavy rainstorm forces Little Fox out of his den to look for dry shelter, which he finds in the shed where Little Seed lives. The two become friends and are enjoying their days together until the Farmer takes Little Seed and plants him nearby, where he grows into a strong tree.

So goes the story of Little Seed and Little Fox in It Will Be Okay: Trusting God through fear and change, the new book from Lysa TerKeurst. But this is not the whole storOkayy. The real story lies in the character that remains faceless throughout the story but whose hands guide all that happens: The Farmer. Throughout the story is the refrain: The Farmer was good, and the farmer was kind, and the Farmer was always watching over them. Even when they didn’t know it.

Lysa TerKeurst has provided us with a book that is so needed for children these days. In a world of uncertainty, constant change and chaos, a message children (and adults as well)need to hold tight to is the truth that God is good, He is kind, and He is always watching over those in His care. Even when we don’t know it.  I am almost fifty and I have to remind myself of this truth often. Fear is rampant but God is bigger than my fear and is always there. I appreciated the way TerKeurst did not portray God as being good only by giving Little Seed and Little Fox exactly what they wanted. He was good because he was present and always watching over them.  In a self-focused world, it is important that we all understand that God is not a genie that just gives us what we want, but is a God that has great plans for us to be all that we are made to be which only comes from placing our desires, dreams, and hope in his hands, fully trusting in his goodness and love for us.

It Will Be Okay by Lisa TerKeurst, with the wonderful illustrations by Natalia Moore, is a needed addition to your collection of children’s books. I am confident your children will enjoy it.

I received this book from Booklookbloggers.com in exchange for an honest review.