Book Review — Soul Shift

Recently our church had an all-church study of the book Soul Shift: the Measure of a Life Transformed, by Steve DeNeff and David Drury. Our pastor preached sermons from the book and our life groups studied it during Sunday School hour.

If I had to describe the book in one word, I’d say “disappointing.”

It is essentially a discipleship book with a cute title. DeNeff and Drury identified seven ways in which a practicing Christian’s life should change to be wholly devoted to God:

  • from Me to You
  • from Slave to Child
  • from Seen to Unseen
  • from Consumer to Steward
  • from Ask to Listen
  • from Sheep to Shepherd
  • from Me to We

Each of these is given a chapter in the book.

While there’s nothing wrong with the book, I suppose I was disappointed because there’s nothing new here.  It’s the same old discipleship stuff packaged differently, perhaps for a different audience.

The book is well written, though possibly a little boring in places. Also, whenever the authors used first person, they always indicated which of them that first person applied to. This was a minor annoyance that I was somewhat able to ignore as I got through the book.

I don’t think I’ll be keeping this one, nor will I likely ever read it again.

Hard to Return to Routine

On June 11 our three grandchildren (ages 7, 4, and 2) came to stay with us while their parents went on a sabbatical trip: business mixed with pleasure. I immediately shifted my routines and established a new routine. I delayed coming in to work until around 10:00 a.m. I got the kids up, fed them breakfast, got them dressed, had the two older ones make their beds, saw that their teeth were brushed, then headed out for work. My wife took the day shift. In the evening we worked together on supper and jointly got them ready for bed. Afterwards I spent a little time in The Dungeon, working on writing and stock trading tasks.

Then, on June 23 their parents arrived, and the routines were shot. They all left two days later on the next leg of their trip, returned on July 6, and left for home on July 8.

So it’s July 9, and time to get back to our usual routines. Actually, I should have begun that on June 25. I tried, really I did, but there were things working against me. One was the Independence Day holiday, which gave my a 3-day weekend Friday-Sunday. The other was lack of a major writing project at home and delay of a certain project at work. So I was without a focus at each location. Consequently I floundered at both. I got stuff done at both, but my productivity was nowhere near what it should have been.

Also working against the routine is being the organizer/planner of my wife’s family’s reunion the last weekend in July/first in August. It’s going well, but it’s a one time thing, not a routine thing. What writing tasks I had were minor corrections to on-line listing of my books, again not routine. At work I had a series of one-off things to do. I also have non-routine things coming up the end of August, end of September, and end of October.  Planning for those has already begun—another thing to draw me out of my routine.

I don’t do well with the non-routine. I’ve long noticed that, but it was certainly confirmed this month. Last night I found myself at home, the kids and grandkids gone, and the evidence that they’d been there mostly cleared away. So I went to The Dungeon in the evening, was confronted with some non-routine tasks, and almost got nothing done. I finally concentrated on my stock trading routine, and was able to enter one trade with my broker, which filled today. Yea! Back to routine.

We’ll see what happens over the next four months. I hope I can be productive, but I’m afraid I will be only marginally so. I have most of the non-routine things on my to-do list (the non-work ones, that is). If I just work that list I’ll be okay.

Seth Boynton Cheney – Mystery Man of the West

This announces that my latest book, Seth Boynton Cheney: Mystery Man of the West, is now available for sale at Amazon and CreateSpace.  This is a family history, not a book for the general market. It traces descendants through Seth, who was descended from John Cheney of Newbury, Massachusetts, through his son Peter. I’m posting this to be complete in announcing my books.

Here’s the link to the book at Amazon.

I just realized I don’t have the cover here as a jpeg, so I can’t post it. Maybe I can grab one from Amazon….ok, got the front cover, I think.

SBC book front cover

When Do The Ideas Stop Coming?

Yesterday an idea for a new book passed through my head. Or maybe it was last Saturday; can’t remember. No, I remember now, it was Sunday morning, while I was getting the grandchildren ready for church. We are watching them for 11 days or so while their parents are on Sabbatical. Actually, the wife tells me it might be 13 days. Which is okay by me. Yes, it’s hard on the constitution and mindset of a 63 year old, but it’s good for me, will help keep me young. That’s the theory, at least.

So what was I saying? Oh, yeah, the writing idea. Actually, I don’t need any more writing ideas. For the last couple of months I’ve been making writing to-do lists when I’m in meetings/presentations where I don’t have to pay much attention. I work chronologically, starting with the things I’m working on now, setting goals on when to complete them, then move on to the things I know I want to do next, then on to things more distant in the future.

I’ve done this in four different meetings. Earlier this month I took that lists and compared them, trying to gauge what I could realistically accomplish, and what was really pie-in-the-sky type dreaming rather than planning.  I found that the lists weren’t too far off. Sometimes I had things switched on the lists, sometimes I had things off by a month or two between lists, but all in all they were pretty consistent. I have them entered on my weekly writing diary sheet (something I don’t keep up with as well as I should). This gives me a reminder of what I want to accomplish in the near future.

For the things that are far out there, say in 2016 or 2017, perhaps they are more dreaming. But just having them on the list is a reminder to me that other writing tasks are waiting to be completed. This helps keep me writing, rather than slacking off. If I let slip the thing scheduled to be completed by Sept 1, 2015, that could cause a dozen other things to slip. So it’s motivation of a sort.

So where was I? Oh, yes, the writing idea. I don’t need any more writing ideas. When I look at that to-do list, which really does include things out as far as 2017, I realize I have enough writing ideas already in the hopper to keep me writing out to the time when I assume room  temperature. I don’t need one more thing to add to the list.

So I’m letting the recent idea go. I’m not writing it down, to preserve it until a more opportune time. I’m not sure it was a very unique idea anyway. It would be a retelling of an age-old story with a little bit of a twist. If it’s actually a good idea, perhaps it will stay with me, and will someday be added to the to-do list, or at least get an idea page in my writing projects notebook. But for now, I’m letting it go. See you later, idea, or perhaps never again.

The Sunday Report – June 14, 2015

Well, I did a little better job keeping up with posts to the blog over the last two weeks; not perfect, but better. I thought for today I’d write a fairly simple report on what’s going on in my life, as it relates to my writing life.

We are, at present, playing host to our three grandchildren, ages 7, 4, and 2.  Consequently I’ll be working short days for the time while they are here, to keep my wife from going batty and to lessen the work she’ll have to do, which is always hard on her back. This will also mean I’ll have less time available to go to The Dungeon and get my work done. The kids came on Thursday, and will be here at least through next Sunday, June 21.

Fortunately, I just wrapped up my writing project. My family history book, Seth Boynton Cheney: Mystery Man of the West, was completed on Thursday. All but for one photo, that is, which I added on Friday. Yesterday I uploaded it to CreateSpace. All but the cover, which I tried to create beginning Friday evening and was unable to do. A friend at work is going to help me with it, and I suspect it will be ready by Tuesday. That will allow me to order a proof book.

The proof book is critical in this case, because I had planned to do the book in color, but that would drive the cost up to a minimum of $36. In black & white it can go for $12, or maybe a little less. $36 is too much, so I’ll have it printed in b&w. That will mean I’ll have to look at the proof and decide if I need to do anything with some of the color photos/illustrations. I may have to do without some, or swap some out.

Fortunately I have time for that. While I wanted to have the book completed and out by June 15, the Cheney family reunion isn’t till July 31-August 2. I’m sure the book will be done long before then.

Between now and then, the only other writing work I intend to do is make sure all my books are properly listed on Goodreads. I think five of them aren’t listed at all, and one has the wrong cover showing. Adding books is easy, so I can have those all added in one evening. However, changing a cover requires an action by a Goodreads staffer. I made a request six months or a year ago to have the cover changed, but never heard back from anyone. I’ll try it again. If I don’t hear back, I can just delete it then add it back with the new cover. At least I think I can.

Some greater use of Shelfari, an Amazon thing, might be in the cards, to see if it improves visibility of my books. Researching advertising services might be another thing I’ll spend a little time on.

So writing continues, though every day I’m seeing less and less reason to go on with it.

Foolishness from Authors Continues

An author whom I’ve never read, Ursula Le Guin, had a blog post at the Book View Café Blog. Titled “Up the Amazon with the BS Machine”, the title is an obvious play on words, BS in this case not meaning what everyone would first think, but rather “bestseller.” The post is interesting to read, and not terribly long. The gist of it: She doesn’t like the way bestseller lists are developed, thinks the books that make it on the bestseller list are garbage, and blames Amazon for the situation while at the same time exonerating the publishers.

She seems to forget that Amazon is primarily a bookstore, not a publisher. Sure, they do some publishing functions, such as Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace for self-publishing, and they have a couple of publishing imprints that currently are small. Le Guin doesn’t like any of it. Read the article and you’ll leave thinking she says “bring back the good old days.”

There must be a logical fallacy in this. A behaves. Environmental conditions change and A behaves differently. B doesn’t like A’s new behavior, and blames C for it—C being not the environmental conditions but another entity who is also behaving based on changing environmental conditions but who has no effect on A’s behavior.

I suspect Le Guin is having trouble selling books. I’ve never read anything she’s written, and don’t know what she writes. I’ve heard her name, but her books haven’t popped up on my radar. I take it she’s fairly popular. She’s probably been on bestseller lists multiple times.

So what’s her beef? It’s that the books that make the bestseller lists aren’t of very good quality. Yet these books make the list, not because people want to read them, but because Amazon is pushing them, and because of this push they get even more sales and climb even higher on the bestseller list. Meanwhile, books of better quality (which I presume includes her books, though she doesn’t say that) languish farther down the lists or don’t appear at all.

This push that she bemoans is what the Big 5 publishers do all the time. They call it “velocity,” and woe to the book that doesn’t have it.  They buy “co-op” from bookstores to get a couple of titles on featured displays at the front of bookstores. They buy ads to push the books they think will sell best. They sponsor links on search engines, links that masquerade as search results and fool people. Thus, the publishers, in cahoots with bookstores, are manufacturing bestseller lists by pushing books to create velocity. Personally, I don’t know there’s anything wrong with that. It’s a business practice, not a conspiracy.

So the evil she bemoans really isn’t Amazon. It’s the very publishers she champions. Just another example of top-tier authors not liking the changes in bookselling, and blaming Amazon instead of the party that is really at fault. The madness continues, madness that has been called Amazon Derangement Syndrome.

Free Exercise of Liberty – Not Always Smart

Some time ago I started a series of posts on a political subject, the furor then raging over freedom of religion laws either just passed or being considered by legislatures in several states, most notably Indiana and Arkansas. Here are the other posts in the series, should you wish to read them before continuing with this one.

A Class of Rights – Part 1

A Clash of Rights – Part 2

Freedom of Conscious – Political and Religious

My main point has been people have a right to freedom of conscious, and ought to be free to exercise that right. Other people have a competing right, the right to not be discriminated against based on their race, their gender, or other issues (such as their sexual preference, i.e. homosexuality). What you have is a clash of rights. In that case, whose right wins? It’s not an easy question. The media debate tends to be favoring the right to not be discriminated against should triumph over the right to free exercise of conscious. I suspect, however, that if the issue were really pressed, they [the media] would want to be able to freely exercise their conscious, and that they are really trying to suppress the rights of those whose consciouses are contrary to theirs.

As the debate on those laws raged (it’s since died down a lot, hasn’t it?), the most disturbing part of it, to me, was the situation with the Memories Pizza shop in Walkerton, Indiana. A reporter, I suppose knowing the owners of the shop were devout Christians, asked if they would cater a same-sex wedding. Stop for a moment and think of the absurdity of this. Pizza for a wedding reception? This question was a set-up, for the purpose of either embarrassing or causing harm to the shop. The results were predictable: the shop owner said they would refuse to cater the same-sex wedding, citing their religious stand against homosexuality and their rights under the new law.

The reaction was also predictable. The pro same-sex marriage side made all kinds of hateful statements and, allegedly, threats of harm against the shop and its owners. Those in favor of the statements of the pizza shop owner started a crowd funding campaign for the shop and raised over $300,000 in less than 24 hours, 10,000 people donating an average of $30.00. To this the other side responded it was a bogus campaign and the organizer was going to pocket the money. On and on it went.

The fact that the furor has died down is, it seems, and indication that the passage of the laws didn’t cause society to collapse.

So, it’s time for me to answer the question: If I were the owner of the pizza shop, or the cake decorator, or wedding planner, or whatever business that serves the public, would I serve the same-sex wedding? I’m opposed to the practice of homosexuality, on religious grounds, believing it to be a sin against God and man. Hence, I oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage, seeing no reason to change what has been a tradition in virtually every society in the world for thousands of years. I want the law to recognize I have, or should have, freedom of conscious and freedom to act on that conscious.

However, with all that being said, I would serve the same-sex wedding if I ran such a business. My reason? It gives me an opportunity to give a Christian touch to someone who I think needs it. I don’t see it as a statement of agreement with what they are doing. I see it as fulfilling Paul’s cautions about not always exercising your freedom of conscious, and his other statement about by all means saving some. If my serving the wedding would bring one someone attending one step closer to Christ, that’s what I’d want.

Book Review – The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?

It was at a thrift store, I think, that I picked up The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? by F.F. Bruce. Originally published in 1943, the small paperback I bought was from July 1971, and a printing of the 1959 revision of the book.

I had seen this book referenced in various other writings about the New Testament. Other writers always made it sound like a book I’d like to read sometime. When I finally found it on those mixed shelves, I was surprised at how small it was. 120 pages is all. Sure, the font is small, but still it’s a fairly short book. I haven’t done any reading into Bruce’s background, and why he would write this book and what his qualifications are to do so. That research remains in the future for me. For now the book stands on its own without me knowing anything about the author.

As, perhaps, it should be. While we want to know for most non-fiction that the author knows what he’s talking about, whatever they write should make sense regardless of who wrote it. Bruce’s little volume does.

I was surprised to see that such a small book was so highly prized and referenced. Yet, as I read it, I could see why. Bruce makes an excellent case that the New Testament is reliable both as “a witness to God’s self-revelation in Christ” as well “as a record of historical fact.”

I’m already a Bible believer, so Bruce was speaking to someone who was anxious to have his current beliefs reinforced. He didn’t disappoint me.  Starting with why it matters whether they are reliable, he moves on to the probable date the books were written and how they came to be accepted into the canon of the scripture. From there it was on to the gospels, a special chapter on the gospel miracles, thence to Paul’s writings, then Luke. He digs into the archaeological evidence for what the New Testament says, and concludes with looking at contemporary and near-contemporary writings to show how they testify to these scriptures. All this packed into 120 pages.

Bruce certainly doesn’t waste words. Nor is this work boring, though it is scholarly. I think Bruce was writing to the average Christian of the 1940s, to give them confidence, in a world that was beginning to question, that the documents upon which their faith rested were indeed reliable. He achieved that aim, in my not-so humble opinion.

This book is a keeper. Perhaps someday I’ll re-read it; or maybe go back into it as a reference for something else I’ll write in the future. If you have a chance to read it, by all means do so.

Book Review – The Oxford Inklings

I’ve known about the existence of the Inklings, the writers group to which C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien belonged, for some time, and have wanted to read a good book about them. I had bought one for my Nook, but it turned out to be mostly a picture book—some words to support it, but not an in-depth analysis like I was wanting. For years I’ve been aware of Humphry Carpenter’s book The Inklings (1978), and have intended to read it, but have never been able to find it.

I finally found that analysis by searching, and came up with The Oxford Inklings: Lewis, Tolkien and Their Circle, by Colin Duriez. Ordered it at Barnes & Noble; it came in in March, and I read it in April.

I give this book 5 stars, and highly recommend it to others who want to know more about this group.  The book is scholarly, yet at the same time very accessible, easy to understand. Duriez has obviously done research, and knows what he writes. I learned much from this book, such as:

  • How large the Inklings were, much larger than I realized. While Lewis and Tolkien were the core, almost two dozen other writers took part in the group at various times.
  • How long they lasted, from the mid-1930s till Lewis’ death in 1963. The main years were from 1940 till 1960.
  • Exactly what kind of group it was, for improving as writers and for the fellowship only fellow writers can enjoy.
  • How important C.S. Lewis was to the group. Duriez presents him as the glue that held the group together, or perhaps better described as the rock around which the group revolved. Tolkien was as well known, and as active in the group, but Lewis more central to the group’s history.
  • The other things C.S. Lewis had going on in his life, such as the Socratic Club, his tutoring, and his lecturing. It’s been a while since I read a Lewis biography. Perhaps I read some of this before, but if so I’d long forgotten many of the details.

Suffice to say that I enjoyed this read. As a writer myself, who has been a member of several writers groups, mostly short-lived, it was of great interest to see how this group did it. I’m going to keep this on the shelf, in my growing Lewis collection. My only caution to other readers is that, if you have a good background on the biographies of Lewis and Tolkien, you might find this a little too elementary in places.

Author | Engineer