Sunday, September 29, 2019

Coach Wooden's Pyramid of Success: Building Blocks for a Better Life by John Wooden

Coach Wooden's Pyramid of Success: Building Blocks for a Better LifeCoach Wooden's Pyramid of Success: Building Blocks for a Better Life by John Wooden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked this up, ready for a quick business/ motivational read. I was surprised to find a quasi-sermon based on the teachings and experience of the great Coach Wooden of UCLA basketball fame. Similar to the Lou Holtz book I read a few years ago, this was a book of solid life lessons from a great coach. I found myself thinking that they just don't make men like this anymore. He calmly and persuasively told you what you needed to do to be successful, and it was to do what's right, work hard, and follow Jesus. I would love to hear a contemporary basketball coach say those things.

Why only 3 stars? While I liked his old school, conservative message, I thought his pyramid was too complex. Many of his principles could be combined and reordered to get the same message across without so many pieces and mortar principles. Simplify. Also, while I agreed with his message, I don't feel like I came away with anything new, or any burning desire to do anything differently. That might be on me more than the book, but I felt it was missing something there.

Still, it was a good read, so if you need solid life advice from your grandpa, and he isn't around, this might be a fair substitute.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet by John G. Turner

Brigham Young: Pioneer ProphetBrigham Young: Pioneer Prophet by John G. Turner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I approached what looked like a dry history book with a little trepidation. It was long, for one. As I actually got into it, I found it quite interesting. Not a nail-biter for sure, but interesting. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and many of the stories included in this history-first rendition of Brigham's life were not new to me. Some of the details were, however. Many of them showcased questionable decisions made by the pioneering church leader, and, well, true history is like that. Part of the challenge of learning the history of someone you revere is discovering the inevitable--that they were human. The fact that Brigham Young made some sketchy decisions, and had an imperfect personality, shouldn't be shocking, although to many Church members it is. I'm a fairly objective sort of person (although no one is really objective, I know) and I prefer to know the person. By knowing the person, I feel like I understand more about how they tried to apply what they knew about God's teachings. I don't just say this through the lens of my church membership. The last book I read was written by Pope Francis, and I was looking for the same thing there. I wanted to see and hear the man that was the Pope, and get to know him. That book failed at that objective for me, but what glimpses I did have of the man, I saw someone who was also trying to live out God's teachings as he understood them. Despite the mistakes and weaknesses of mankind, I feel that the world improves as each of us try to live out God's teachings as we understand them.

So do I leave this book with my faith shaken at all? I don't think so. I feel educated. I know more about what happened in the past, and I see more of why our current world and local culture is the way it is. I see the mistakes of others and see how we can learn from them. I see how trying to following God's laws, despite the lack of perfect execution, can bring about great results.

I appreciated this author. My 3-star rating is not really a rating of the quality of his work, but in part my interest level in the topic. He did a great job of writing a historical biography and not succumbing to the temptation of taking sides. He does not discredit the Church, and makes this clear in the prologue and epilogue. He also does not make this an endorsement for the church, or in any way a spiritual book. Brigham Young was a religious leader, and so he had to address spiritual topics, but he does so only in respect to his goal of writing an accurate history. He does not coddle the past, even the ugly parts. If you feel he defends Brigham Young now and then, remember that he was writing about the man, and in order to understand him, you have to understand his justification for his choices, so presenting his view of events and reasoning for his actions is justified.

An interesting note: As I was listening to this book, I talked about it with several other Church members, and was surprised at the level of push-back I got. It caused some introspection. There is a lot of negative, incorrect content about our faith out there, and as members of the Church we purposely and justifiably choose to not subject ourselves to it. I think this has unintentionally created a fear of any content that might be less than positive. While I understand the purpose behind that fear, I think that this actually weakens the faith of church members. They start to believe in an infallible earthly organization free from error, but by definition that also means free from humanity. Individuals within the Church make mistakes. They always have and they always will. While it is more infrequent, the Church as an organization has made mistakes. Thankfully, the organization of the church and how it has evolved continues to make that more and more unlikely in my opinion. But from on top of my oh-so-small soapbox, I would suggest to Church members that they learn about the history of the Church, and accept historical facts as they are. Don't base your testimony of the Church on the infallibility of men, even good men. You will be let down. And to those who aren't of our faith, if we seem like we have our heads stuck in the sand and are ignoring historical facts, remember how much misinformation is out there. Remember the history of persecution and hardship that are now a part of our cultural heritage, and it will be easier to be a little more forgiving of our oddities, but also to see where our real spiritual commitment lies.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Walking with Jesus: A Way Forward for the Church by Pope Francis

Walking with Jesus: A Way Forward for the ChurchWalking with Jesus: A Way Forward for the Church by Pope Francis
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So, I don't know what was expecting from this book from Pope Francis, but it wasn't a long dissertation on Catholic doctrine on various topics. I guess I thought there would be some kind of conversation with the reader about the challenges the Catholic church faces, and by extension Christianity faces, and what his plan is to deal with it. I expected stories, engagement, and real conversation. But no. I was bored by a compilation of one-sided, dry sermons instead.

That is not to say I didn't learn things. I am not of the Catholic faith, and so there were many new things I encountered in this book, as well as a few things I already knew, but that I was reminded of. I will list them, mostly because I love lists.

- The Catholic church, like any other group, has its own jargon. Litany, homily, Eucharist, etc, etc. I've encountered these terms here and there, but only in passing, and never in complete context. Well, I'm much more aware of these terms now, although I doubt they will show up in my vocabulary, or that I could really define them in a way that wouldn't have my Catholic friends rolling their eyes.

- The Catholic religion has many doctrines that are different than my faith. That is no surprise to anyone. However, when I put Sunday sermons aside and look at outcomes, these two religions have a lot in common, as do most other religions I have encountered. Take care of the poor, beware of greed, pray. We should all be leveraging our commonalities to promote peace and a general community of faith, rather than focusing on differences.

- But to talk about our differences... the main differences between what I heard in this book, and what I hear every Sunday at church, for me, boiled down to how we see mankind among God's creations. This book left me with the impression that man is worthless, and without power or choice. That we are meant to suffer and be poor during our whole existence, and that to exercise freedom of will, or to strive to improve our temporal means is an act against God. I just can't see humanity in this light. We are obviously beings who have the power to make choices, and if we choose to better our lives, we have even more choices to do good or evil. So I don't want to dwell on this difference, but if I summarize it to one main difference, that's it.

- Finally, if there is any doctrine I straight up disagree with, it is the concept of abstinence as a spiritual requirement. Several times in these speeches, the Pope gives advice on marriage and raising kids. At best, it was the advice of someone trying to teach someone something they read about but never tried themselves, and at the worst, absolutely awful advice. This is not just an idle opinion, but from someone who has been married for over 20 years (to the same person) and is raising 4 children. They really need to revisit that whole concept. Man was not meant to be alone.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

Death on the Nile (Hercule Poirot, #17)Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have found that I really like mysteries, and no one is more adept at the whodunit than Agatha Christie. To me these are the most timeless stories written. Yes, there are the older classics to consider, but none of them carry the pace and interest level for me that these do. In the case of most other classics, I read them because they are classics. I read Agatha Christie books because I want a good mystery.

To be specific about this book, I'll admit that occasionally throughout the book I suspected the correct murderer, although without all the details. Yet, each time my suspicions were discounted by some apparent fact and I looked elsewhere. To have it come back to that suspect in the end was both impossible and enjoyable. It's the twists and turns that keep me coming back. Surprise is everything.