Do you have a good boss?

I’ve Got Your Back puts into focus the leading well and following well concepts I have tried to live and to mentor in others. Not having given as much thought and prayer to the subject, the ideas were vague and less defined for me. James Galvin succeeded in giving them a clarity and logical format that had me saying, “So that’s why I suffered under that boss,” and “Oops, I didn’t follow well that time.”I worked for a Fortune 500 company, where I led several large, complex teams to a successful end. I was a member of two successful teams that had national significance. As I looked back to those experiences while reading I’ve Got Your Back, I could see how the principles of the book were effective. I also realized that the teams could have been even more effective if we had known what we were doing.

James Galvin attempted to write the book for those who have one of two learning styles: by analogy (fiction) and by facts (nonfiction). Successfully writing in both genres is extremely difficult. I have yet to see an author write both well in the same book. Mr. Galvin is no exception. The first part of the book is a well-written parable. The balance between dialog and action is good. The story is long enough to get in enough detail without dragging. (As a side note: Mr. Galvin amused me by having Jack offer a different snack for each meeting with the team. He became quite inventive.)

The second section of I’ve Got Your Back is nonfiction and less well written. The section title is appropriate (A Concise Theology of leadership and Followership) because it reads more like an executive summary to a longer report or a long outline. It contains the same basic information as the parable, but gives few modern examples showing the way the principles work. For that, a reader must return to the parable. However, section two provides clear descriptions of the five follower styles and suggests ways to relate to them.

I was disappointed, however, when I reached the end of section two and I found that Mr. Galvin had failed to use the classic biblical account of a successful leader/follower. Luke recorded the event in Luke 7:3-10. A Roman centurion, whose slave was dying, sent the local synagogue leaders to ask Jesus to heal the slave. Before Jesus reached the centurion’s home, the centurion sent Jesus this message: “Lord,
do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.
Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But
say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” Jesus’ response was striking. He praised a Roman military commander, one who was occupying Israel. This is the way Luke recorded it: When Jesus heard these things,
he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such
faith.” (ESV) The centurion’s message implied that he understood Jesus’ relationship to God the Father because of his own earthly leader/follower relationship. This account is one of the few recorded places where Jesus commended the way in which someone approached Him. When you read I’ve Got Your Back, you will understand just what the centurion meant.

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Lyrical New Voice

The Point‘s subtitle on the front cover gives away the plot. The book tells the story of a man’s reconciliation with God and the community through an unlikely source. That’s the what of the story, but the real substance of any book is the way the how of the story is written. Mr. Jefferson’s voice, his style and word choices, fill the pages with elegant descriptions of place and people. He evokes the mood of the island: contemplative and peaceful. When I’d finished, I had felt almost as if I had been to the island and experienced its charms.

The beauty of the descriptions was both the book’s strength and its weakness. The dialog seemed stilted and awkward in comparison. At many points, I would reread the descriptions because they were wonderful. When I hit a few pages of dialog, however, I found it easy to lay the book aside.

The plot is really a subplot, almost a proverb of the book’s central idea: “Faith is personal but never private. It’s a life shared in culture.” The experience of a couple as they attend the stories of the monks on the island balances the plot. The book reminds me of a detailed “what I did on my summer vacation” report.

If you’re looking for a stay-up-late-’til-it’s-finished book, this is not the one. If, however, you want a summer read for a quiet afternoon, this might just be it.

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Another Ecclesiastes

In Freefall to Fly, Rebekah Lyons uses her story to tell the story of many women, including mine. It’s a tale of pain, panic attacks, fear, and God’s rescue. Her circumstances differed from mine in significant ways, and yet the trajectory of our healing was strikingly similar. In spite of the connection I felt with Ms. Lyons, I sadly confess that the book did not touch me on any other level. The writing was choppy and the story presented like so many puzzle pieces scattered through the pages. So many details were omitted that most of the time I felt I was viewing her life through a patchy fog.

While reading Freefall to Fly, I was reminded of the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. Most of that book tells all the wonderful things Solomon did in his life. After every type of activity—art, building, farming, pleasure, etc.—he said repeatedly that everything was futile. Ninety-nine per cent of Ecclesiastes is about his life and perhaps one per cent is about God. I got that same sense of focused inward looking in Freefall to Fly. God rescued both Rebekah Lyons and I, but her writing style did not bring back to me that sense of wonder, gratitude, and glory that I know she must have also experienced as she fell into God’s hands.

I am further down the road (age wise at least) than Ms. Lyons, so I would not be surprised to discover, in a few years, that she had written another book. With more maturity, I think she will find that God leads her through many seasons of activities. Just as it states in Ecclesiastes, there is a season for everything, for every activity under the sun. Those seasons will ebb and flow, changing in the natural course of life. When we let go of attempting to control our lives and give Him total control, He uses what we do to transform us into what He designed us to be.

A caterpillar can’t fly. He can only give up being a caterpillar and wrap up in a cocoon to die. While we’re in the “doing” mode, God is shaping us in the cocoon. The day finally comes, however, when no amount of using our gifts satisfies. Then God splits open the cocoon and we discover we have the glory of wings and we fly without restraint because He has turned us into butterflies. That’s the book Ms. Lyons has yet to write.

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A Song of Renewal

In North of Hope, Shannon Polson shares her recovery from the devastating killing of her dad and step-mother by a bear in the Alaskan wilderness. She wanted closure from her grief, but failed to find it in moving forward in her daily life. Instead, she searched for it and found the beginning of healing in participating in a chorale production of Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor. Without quit understanding how, participating in the production led her to take the same summer trip down the same Artic river that was the scene of her family’s final trip.

The memoir contains moments of insight and beauty. I especially liked her discovery about the wilderness: “The companionship of the wilderness girds the soul, but human companionship in the wilderness warms the heart.”

Ms. Polson came to the same point that we all must when we began to heal. She said, “No, what mattered was that they had lived. What mattered was that I still lived, even for a moment. What mattered was what I made of the moment.”

In spite of the beautiful descriptive passages and the transparency of Ms. Polson’s journey from grief to healing, the book did not capture my heart. It should have. All the pieces were there, yet that indefinable element that would have connected me emotionally with the story never appeared. Perhaps, when you read it, you can tell me what I missed.

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The Price of Masquerades

Much of women’s fiction takes the readers out of the ordinary and sends us into a world of fantasy. Most romantic fiction builds on this foundation, both Christian and non-Christian. Invisible, while fiction, is not fantasy. It focuses on the reality of the human experience.

The story revolves around three women and the chapters rotate between three points of view. Ellyn protects herself from the inner voice of her alter ego. Sabina runs from failed expectations. Twila balances on the edge. Her choices are to fight or to disappear. Each woman masquerades as someone who has it all together. They hide secrets even from themselves. The story ties their struggles into a narrative of decisions to leave their shells and live more transparently.

Ginny L. Yttrup writes with subtlety and finesse. She slowly introduces us to whom the women think they are, who others see them to be, and to God’s love working in their lives. Nothing is simple. No cookie-cutter plots in Invisible. Instead, we learn about the ways in which we all struggle with ourselves. I highly recommend this book. Read the novel the first time for the story and the second time to see yourself. Both times, you will find yourself laughing, crying and holding your breath in suspense. Enjoy.

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Deeply Disappointing

As I opened the package and pulled out the review copy of Wanda E. Brunstetter’s latest “book”, I knew I was due to be disappointed. Goodbye to Yesterday was only 121 pages long. In a small oval on the front cover were the words “The Discovery Part 1 of 6.”

I had been hearing rumors that publishers were experimenting with serials. (Long ago, prior to the development of paperback books, newspapers and magazines routinely published books as serials in their publications.) I presumed that the slim volume I held was evidence that the rumors were true.

At this point, anyone who is a faithful fan of Wanda Brunstetter can stop reading. If you will wait for six “parts” to be published and will pay US$6.99 for each “part,” then the rest of this review is a waste of your time. However, for the rest of you, here are my thoughts on “part 1″—Goodbye to Yesterday:

An episode of a serial has a different flow than a book. Instead of a beginning, middle and end, an episode introduces some characters, sets up a situation, ratchets up the suspense and stops when something bad is happening. (The outcome of the “something bad” is left unfinished until the beginning of the next episode.) Everything I just described is all you get in Goodbye to Yesterday.

In order for a serial to work, the reader must care about the characters. She has to wait until the next episode to find out what happened, so unless she cares a lot, the serial fails. In my opinion, the characters in Goodbye to Yesterday were so bland that I cannot tell you anything about them less than 24 hours after reading the “book.”

So that’s it: no plot, lackluster characters, and a few pages of imitation suspense building. I think the publishers should rethink this strategy. It didn’t work for me with Goodbye to Yesterday.

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Highly Satisfying Book

Dreamlander tells the story of two worlds, our own and the land of dreams. The hero, Chris, is from our own world. His dreams tie him to the heroine, Allara, in the country of Lael. It begins with Allara attempting to drive Chris away from Lael as his dreams become real. Allara wants Chris to stay away because she fears the results of his crossing into Lael. Her fears prove to be well founded when Chris fails to believe in the reality of his crossing and make several bad decisions. The consequences of those decisions lead to war with a neighboring country and internal uprisings for Lael. The bad decisions also trigger the beginning of total destruction of both worlds.

In an era when most books fail to meet the minimum requirements to be called a story (i.e. the beginning, middle and end are not published under one cover), Dreamlander exceeds all expectations. The plot is well developed and provides plenty of unexpected events to keep the suspense high. The characters have all the human attributes: they suffer from confusion, fear, anxiety, bitterness, selfishness and greed. They are in turns wise, helpful, loving and brave—and that’s just the hero and heroine. The other characters are also well developed.

The book is over 500 pages in length, so it has plenty of room for world building, sub-plots and depth of detail. I read it quickly the first time because the pace of the action leaves no room for a break. The second time, I am reading for the beautiful prose and elegant descriptions that turn Lael into a place I would like to visit.

My last thought is about the ending. The ending is fitting, gruesome and satisfying all at once. Ms. Weiland stayed true to the story to the last period on the final sentence. I highly recommend Dreamlander.

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Handlebar Marketing invited me to review a weekly e-newsletter: The High Calling (http://bit.ly/highcalling). Usually, I review books given to me by either an author or a publisher. This invitation included a $10 gift card for the review, so I promised to read a few back issues and review it.

Before I read the newsletters, however, I researched the sponsoring organization – Foundation for Laity Renewal. Many of us lament over the disconnect between our Sunday “church selves” and our every other day “worker selves.” Mr. Howard E. Butt, vice-chairman of the H.E. Butt Grocery Company moved to reconnect the two parts of our world through the Laity Renewal Foundation and the High Calling e-newsletter and internet community. He makes the case that wherever work thrives—in a corporate boardroom, over the ironing board or at the local soup kitchen—it benefits everyone the most when we are more salt and light and less hypocrite.

I read a couple of the newsletters, expecting to find a high quality of content and technical sophistication. That’s exactly what I did find; I was not disappointed. Quite to my surprise, however, I also found an unexpected connection with the content. My energy levels are limited these days, so I add few things to my schedule. However, after discovering that The High Calling encouraged me and refreshed my energy level, I signed up to join the community. I highly recommend it and I have the feeling that the gift card is only the start of the benefits I’ll receive from The High Calling.

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The Weight of Our Words

John Hagee’s latest book, The Power of the Prophetic Blessing, will probably contain few surprises for those who follow him. Since I seldom view his TV program or read other material authored by him, the book brought much of his biographical history to my attention for the first time. Pastor Hagee showed a great sense of humor in several of the personal incidents he relates. Just thinking about them still makes me grin. The book also encouraged me to think of familiar biblical passages in new ways.

The first two sections of the book explore biblical examples of prophetic blessings in the Old and New Testaments. While many passages were familiar ones, the interpretation and emphases Pastor Hagee used to develop his position on prophetic blessings prompted me to consider them from a different perspective. He also wove information concerning his personal commitment to the nation of Israel throughout these sections. Since the passages He used as examples concern the blessing of Israel and the blessing (or cursing) of those who affect Israel, the two strands worked together very well.

Section three of The Power of the Prophetic Blessing, delivered the application: our words and actions are powerful. With them, we can either bless or curse our family. Pastor Hagee explains releasing, receiving and proclaiming prophetic blessings in clear language — and includes examples of blessings for us to use.

I received the free advanced reader’s copy for review at a time only God could orchestrate.

I had wondered why a friend was not receiving God’s blessing on his property. He owns a few acres and a variety of domestic birds and animals. For the past few years, he has had little increase in his flocks or herds. He is a fine Christian man who serves in his church and honors God in his daily life. I tried praying for him with no change in his circumstances. Shortly after I received The Power of the Prophetic Blessing, I spoke to him about the situation. He said that he had been speaking negative words about his property. I told him that he might be cursing himself. He promised to be more careful and we prayed for God to bless him. Our words are that powerful. The Power of the Prophetic Blessing demonstrates ways to harness our tongue for blessing. THAT is worth discovering. I highly recommend it.

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Delight and Disappointment

Before I tell you what I don’t like about Mongoliad let me share what, in my opinion, are its strengths.

Most amazing is the ability of these seven diverse writers to bring about one consistent voice across 400+ pages. The skill with which they melded their writing styles delighted me. Like a spectator at a magic show, I kept wondering, how did they do that?

The plot is a strength worth noting. While the blurbs describe one strand of the plot, two other strands are braided into the book. Each of them is interesting in its own right, but they also build suspense into the others. In all three, the cost of war and barbarism paints a dark and foreboding background.

A large host of characters moves the three stories forward concurrently. It would be easy for these characters to lack depth. The writers, however, succeeded in developing the characters with such uniqueness that there never was a moment of confusion. This facet of the book is not easy to pull off either.

“With all these accolades,” you might ask, “why are you disappointed?” Simple. The book only begins a story. I read Mongoliad because I was given a copy to review. Otherwise, I would have waited the two or three years it takes to get a trilogy published before I read page one of book one. I resent reading 400+ pages of a book, hoping that the promised “epic-within-an-epic” means it will have – at least – a stopping point that wraps up some of the plot. Instead, I was led to the edge of a cliff and left teetering there waiting for the next installments. That was very disappointing.

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