Book Review of “To Be a Runner” by Martin Dugard

tobearunnerThis book is a collection of essays about running by cross country coach and writer Martin Dugard. At times, the writing is very good. Dugard knows how to write and his love of running is certainly illumnated through his essays. For the most part, I enjoyed this book. As a beginning runner, I enjoyed seeing how Dugard’s love for the sport has kept is interest over a lifetime.

Though I enjoyed it, To Be a Runner wasn’t without it’s problems. First, the essays were connected in theme only. They seemed collected in no particular order. Some focused on his individual running adventures while others focused on his coaching or his high school runners. As a result, some of the essays were much more interesting and engaging than others.

The biggest problem with this book, however, was that it made me feel like an outsider. I didn’t run cross country in high school and I’ve only been running for a few months. My longest run is just five miles and I’m struggling with losing enough weight to run any further than that. Also, about half my runs happen on treadmills as a means to protect my body from pain and as a way to protect myself from the unpredictable Ohio weather. Dugard almost comes off as a “run snob” and I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t even consider me an actual runner. I may be totally wrong, but I doubt that I was the target audience for his writing.

I enjoyed the book and particularly enjoyed visiting the sport through Dugard’s eyes. But don’t pick it up if you expect to learn anything about the sport or to pick up hints or tips. Read it for what it is … a collection of loosely connected essays written by an avid runner who loves the sport.

 

Book Review of Still Growing: An Autobiography by Kirk Cameron

stillgrowingKirk Cameron and I are the same age. When his TV show ‘Growing Pains’ was on the air, I was in the age demographic it appealed to and, I must admit, I was a pretty big fan. I can somewhat remember the controversy between Cameron, the writers on Growing Pains, and his fellow cast members when he accepted Christ and subsequently began objecting to some of the content, dialogue, and plots on the hit show. I mean, I remember it, but it’s not like it was that big a deal to me. I wasn’t a Christian at the time and, though I was a fan, it wasn’t like Darth Vader started going to church or anything – I mean, it was a pretty small glip on my radar.

Flash forward several years and it turns out I am still a fan of Kirk Cameron. Now that I’m a Christian I appreciate how outspoken he is regarding his faith. He is actively promoting the gospel and I have nothing but respect for that. In addition, His movie Fireproof is one that I’ve literally seen dozens of times and really enjoy. So when I picked up this book it was out of mild interest at best. I was kind of interested in his memoirs considering the Growing Pain years and looked forward to reading his take on what it was about the gospel that impacted him so much that it changed the trajectory of his career. This book delivered on each of those fronts.

It was interesting to read how Cameron became a teenaged heart throb and how that stardom impacted his everyday life. Cameron details every aspect of his career from bit parts in commercials to star of a hit TV show along with the events in his acting career after Growing Pains. But he also shares his testimony and how the gospel impacted that same life. He explains why he made the choices his made and what his reasoning was at the time. I enjoying seeing things from his perspective.

Perhaps what impressed me the most was that Cameron allowed the gospel to impact his life. How many times do we see people accept Christ yet refuse to allow His grace and mercy to change them. That can’t be said about Cameron. He was willing to answer God’s call even if it damaged his career. A career, by the way, that was successful by any definition of the word. Cameron trusted God with his career and, by all appearances, has been blessed for his faith.

I enjoyed this book. If you are a fan of Growing Pains and of Kirk Cameron, there is no doubt you will too.

Books Read in 2013: No. 7 – Think and Live: Challenging Believers to Think and Thinkers to Believe

thinkandliveTitle: Think and Live: Challenging Believers to Think and Thinkers to Believe
Author: Paul Hughes
Date Completed: April 20, 2013

This book distills posts and resources from Apologetics.com into one book. The result is tremendous. The title of the book is the stated goal – readers are asked to think, and live. The formula is fairly simple. In the first half of the book, readers are presented with a basic Christian apologetic. Chapters include Behold the Man, Only Logical, Risen Indeed, and Moral Miracles (among others). In the second half, readers are challenged to shape their lives around their beliefs. Chapters in the section include An Excellent Pursuit, Admirably Christian, and Love. I am appreciative for the approach. From the book:

So Christian belief, following on Christian thought, means to be ready to act as if what God says is so. Life and faith includes both … apologetics includes both.

Our beliefs should cause us to reexamine the way we live our lives. Christianity shouldn’t be simply an academic pursuit and the contributors to this book understand that. I highly recommend this work for anyone interested in apologetics.

Books Read in 2013: N0. 4 – The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

timemachine

Title: The Time Machine
Author: H.G. Wells
Date Completed: Feb 18, 2013

Years ago I read a children’s edition of this book and loved it. The imagination of my youth was captivated by the notion of time travel. I decided it was time to revisit this classic when I found a free edition of it for the kindle and I wasn’t disappointed. I must say, the notion of time travel is still intriguing. I enjoyed the Time Traveler’s interaction with his contemporaries (the scenes that open the book) a great deal more than I did Wells’ vision of the future. Perhaps I am to far removed from the political and social statements Wells interjected into the story, but it fell just a little flat with me as the story progressed. Had Wells included just a hair more action into the story I would have definitely given it a five-star rating.

If you like to read science fiction, this is a must read.

 

 

 

Books Read in 2013: No. 2 – Killing Calvinism

14760916Title: Killing Calvinism: How to Destroy a Perfectly Good Theology From the Inside
Date Completed:
Jan 15, 2013

This is a wonderful little book that I recommend to anyone who considers themselves a Calvinist or is interested in Calvinism. Calvinism is a wonderful theology when placed within the larger context of Scripture, however, those of us who consider ourselves Calvinists have a tendency of allowing it to play out in our lives in unappealing ways. Dutcher manages to expertly expose and examine the mistakes Calvinists often make.

Contemporary Calvinists would do well to read Dutcher’s book and to avoid the pitfalls he has revealed. Killing Calvinism works well because Dutcher is speaking as a Calvinist to Calvinists. He is transparent enough to share his own theological journey in a way that shares with (rather than preaches to) his audience.

I highly recommend this book.

Books Read in 2012: No. 24 – Total Church: A Radical Reshaping Around Gospel and Community

Total ChurchI really enjoyed this book by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis. It actually helped me redefine my vision of the Church’s mission as well as my own role within my local church. The authors drive home the theme that church should be focused on the Gospel of Christ and on community. I must admit I was convicted when I read that Christian community should go beyond what is considered normal as church members are sharing an identity with one another that is found in Christ. The concept of community in the local church should go beyond ice cream socials and mere friendships; rather, Christians should see one another as integral to the Church’s mission within the framework of God’s plan and apply that focus to everything they do.

Many readers will be turned off by the notion that Chester and Timmis are “home church” leaders, however, there is no reason why much of what they are saying can’t be applied within the traditional local church body. I highly recommend it for Christians who want to find their identity within the church or fail to understand why belonging to a church community is important.

Books Read in 2012: No. 19 – J.R.R. Tolkien

This brief biography of J.R.R. Tolkien offered as part of a series titled “Christian Encounters” is a wonderful little read. Author Mark Horne tracks Tolkien’s entire life highlighting the relationships he had with his friends, mentors, and wife. Along the way Horne manages to touch on aspects of Tolkien’s faith.

Of particular interest to me were insights on how Tolkien helped lead his friend C.S. Lewis into a relationship with Christ by addressing Lewis’ hesitations concerning Christ’s resurrection. Considering Tolkien was Roman Catholic and Lewis eventually became a Protestant in the Church of England, entire books could probably be written on their relationship. Such an examination, however, would be out of this little book’s scope which I found slightly disappointing. However, the author manages to fill that void by including tidbits concerning Tolkien’s creative process.

This book serves as a good introduction into the life and faith of J.R.R. Tolkien that fans of his work are sure to enjoy. In my case, it also managed to instill in me a desire to read more about Tolkien. Fortunately, author Mark Horne offers some recommended titles for additional reading.

Coffee Shops, Chipotles, Morality, and Christ

I am writing this post from my new favorite place. It’s a coffee shop complete with overstuffed leather chairs, couches, plenty of tables, televisions, and free wifi. In short, it’s wonderful. However, over the last hour or so, I’ve grown worried for my new favorite place because I’m not sure how they’re going to stay in business.

It seems to me that all of the successful business models rely on volume. Take Chipotles, for example. Chipotles has mastered the art of serving people quick and push people through the line like toothpaste through a tube. And if you do have thoughts of sitting down and enjoying your burrito, the chairs at Chipotles are cold, metal, and uninviting. In fact, it seems like everything about Chipotles is designed to get the customer to leave. It’s the same with Starbucks really. Because Starbucks is most often located on busy streets with lots of foot-traffic, people are in and out at a dizzying pace.

My coffee shop is different.

These big, comfy couches invite me to sit and enjoy my coffee at a slow pace. It seems that the moment I walk away from the counter (having dropped five bucks for my drink plus tip) I become a liability to the owners of my new favorite place. I’m a leach, really – soaking up the free wifi and drinking my coffee at a snail’s pace. In all honesty, this place has none of the qualities that work well for Chipotles. Perhaps that’s why it stands out from the rest of the businesses in town.

For some reason, perhaps because my brain works in odd ways, this reminds me of a book I read recently. In The Rage Against God, author Peter Hitchens points out that even though anyone can practice morality, the moral code Christians are called to follow should stand out from the rest:

In their attempt to argue that effective and binding codes can be developed without a deity, atheists often mistake inferior codes of ‘common decency’ for absolute moral systems.

But the fact that people can arrive at the Golden Rule without religion does not mean that they can arrive at the Christian moral code without religion. Christianity requires much more and, above all, does not expect to see charity returned.

It’s most powerful expression is summed up in the words ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (The Rage Against God, pages 141-142).

So the moral code taught by Christ should stand out from man-made moral codes. When Christ called us to love others as we love ourselves, He was telling us to put the needs of others above our own. He exemplified this behavior when He went to the cross to pay the penalty for my sins. If I accept the challenge of loving others in this way I should accept that it may be difficult at times. Sure, I could compromise and adhere to a man-made moral code with lower expectations, but that isn’t what Christ called me to do.

I can expect it to be tough but I want to follow the example of my Savior. And I should expect the rewards to be worth it, right?

Just like my favorite coffee place. It may be harder for them to forge a business that is so different than the successful business models of the world, however, if they succeed it should be worth it, right?

Oh man, the barista just brought me a large coffee even though I paid for a medium. This place is doomed.

 

Do You Have the Itch for Something Scary?

It’s probably because Bram Stoker’s Dracula was one of my favorites reads as a child that this time of year finds me with the itch to watch a good scary movie or read a good scary book. The older I get, however, the harder it is to find a movie that is genuinely scary without being weighed down by unnecessary sex or gore (by the way Hollywood, gore does not equal scary). You may ask yourself if it’s even appropriate for a Christian to be reading or watching scary stories; if you’re interested in such a debate, visit Jared Moore’s excellent blog. For my part, I thought I would share my recommendations for two movies and two books to soak up this Halloween season.

The Day Satan Called: A True Encounter with Demon Possession and Exorcism by Bill Scott: This book is incredibly engrossing. I downloaded it to my iPad one day and finished it the next. Bill Scott relates the events of twenty or so years ago that began with a possessed girl calling his Christian radio show. It is an amazing read that is both chilling and inspirational at the same time. It also raises significant questions regarding the relationship between mental illness and demonic possession. I highly recommend this book.

The Rite (2011): Anthony Hopkins is wonderful in this movie about the Catholic Church’s involvement in exorcisms. I’ve seen it a couple of times now and and enjoy it tremendously. One particular scary scene caused my stepsons to hide under a blanket!

The Wolfman (2010): Yet another Hopkins movie. The cinematography in this flick is excellent and reminds me of the old classic movies I watched on Chiller Theater as a child. There is a fair amount of gore in this one, but it is appropriate gore (we’re talking werewolves here). The story is great and the action is fun to see.

True Haunting by Edwin F. Becker: Like Scott’s book above, the story contained with this book is one the author claims really happened. Rather than demons, however, Becker relates an encounter he had forty years ago with a house full of ghosts. The story is quite convincing (although I must admit I find it more difficult to believe in ghosts than I do demons). Perhaps the most convincing part of the story is that Becker doesn’t really report anything too awfully outrageous. Everything the author claims is somewhat believable, thus making it a little more scary.

Clark