Thursday, May 26, 2016

Gaming Faith

Recently I’ve used this blog to chronicle some ways I’m trying to grow in faith. For example, in 2015 I found a piece of art/media for every passage in the Bible. These challenges may seem silly (because they are) but really it’s just a fun way to spark some creativity.

What challenge could you set for yourself? Do you have any hobbies that you could harness for discipleship?

One of my “games” in 2016 is tackling the Reading Challenge put together by Tim Challies at Visual Theology. We’re getting closer to June so I wanted to give an update on how it’s going. I post reviews of each of these books on my Goodreads account (which is like Facebook for readers).

The Light Reader

✓ 1. A book about Christian living. An Infinite Journey by Andrew Davis
✓ 2. A biography. No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green by David Hazard
_ 3. A classic novel
_ 4. A book someone tells you "changed my life”. Any suggestions?
_ 5. A commentary on a book of the Bible. I might do Colossians and Philemon by Murray J. Harris
✓ 6. A book about theology. Knowing God by J.I. Packer
✓ 7. A book with the word "gospel" in the title or subtitle. Renegade Gospel:  The Rebel Jesus by Mike Slaughter
✓ 8. A book your pastor recommends. The Christian as Minister by Sharon Rubey
✓ 9. A book more than 100 years old. Selected Essays: Montaigne.
✓ 10. A book for children. EverWorld: The Realm of the Reaper by K.A. Applegate.
_ 11. A mystery or detective novel. I’m working on Stranger Room: An Ike Schwartz Mystery by Frederick Ramsay
✓ 12. A book published in 2016. The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson
_ 13. A book about a current issue. I’m working on Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate by Justin Lee

The Avid Reader

_ 14. A book written by a Puritan. Any suggestions?
✓ 15. A book recommended by a family member. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
✓ 16. A book by or about a missionary. The Baboon Chase edited by Don W. Mills
_ 17. A novel that won the Pulitzer Prize
✓ 18. A book written by an Anglican. The Anglican Vision by James E. Griffiss
_ 19. A book with at least 400 pages
✓ 20. A book by C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien. The Business of Heaven: Daily Readings from C.S. Lewis
✓ 21. A book that has a fruit of the Spirit in the title. A Separate Peace by John Knowles
_ 22. A book with a great cover
_ 23. A book on the current New York Times list of bestsellers.
_ 24. A book about church history
✓ 25. A graphic novel. Batman, Death by Design by Chip Kidd.
✓ 26. A book of poetry. The House on Marshland by Louise Gluck.

The Committed Reader

_ 27. A book from a theological viewpoint you disagree with
_ 28. A book written by an author with initials in their name
✓ 29. A book that won a ECPA Christian Book Award. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
_ 30. A book about worldview
✓ 31. A play by William Shakespeare. The Tempest by William Shakespeare.
✓ 32. A humorous book. Yes Please by Amy Poehler
_ 33. A book based on a true story.
_ 34. A book written by Jane Austen
_ 35. A book by or about Martin Luther
✓ 36. A book with 100 pages or less. Stones in His Pockets by Marie Jones.
_ 37. A book with a one-word title.
_ 38. A book about money or finance
_ 39. A novel set in a country that is not your own.
_ 40. A book about music
_ 41. A memoir.
_ 42. A book about joy or happiness.
✓ 43. A book by a female author. Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham.
_ 44. A book whose title comes from a Bible verse
_ 45. A book you have started but never finished
✓ 46. A self-improvement book. Energize, 100 Natural Ways to Recharge by Liz Wilde and Carol Morley
_ 47. A book by David McCullough
✓ 48. A book you own but have never read. Essential German Grammar by Guy Stern
_ 49. A book about abortion
_ 50. A book targeted at the other gender
_ 51. A book by a speaker at a conference you have attended
✓ 52. A book written by someone of a different ethnicity than you. Shake Loose My Skin by Sonia Sanchez.

The Obsessed Reader

✓ 53. A book published by The Banner of Truth. You Must Read by Joel R. Beeke
_ 54. A book about the Reformation
_ 55. A book written by a first-time author
_ 56. A biography of a world leader
_ 57. A book used as a seminary textbook
✓ 58. A book about food. candy freak by Steve Almond
✓ 59. A book about productivity. How Did I Get So Busy? by Valorie Burton
✓ 60. A book about or relationships or friendship. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
_ 61. A book about parenting
_ 62. A book about philosophy
✓ 63. A book about art. Heart to Heart: New Poems Inspired by Twentieth-Century American Art edited by Jan Greenberg
✓ 64. A book with magic. The Thief by Claire North
_ 65. A book about prayer
_ 66. A book about marriage
_ 67. A book about a hobby
✓ 68. A book of comics. Charlie Brown
✓ 69. A book about the Second World War. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson
✓ 70. A book about sports. Can I Keep My Jersey?: Eleven Teams, Six Years, Five Countries, and My So-called Career as a Professional Basketball Player by Paul Shirley
✓ 71. A book by or about a pastor’s wife. I’m More Than the Pastor’s Wife: Supporting Your Husband’s Ministry Without Losing Your Identity by Lorna Dobson
_ 72. A book about suffering.
✓ 73. A book by your favorite author. The Serpent by Claire North
_ 74. A book you have read before
_ 75. A book about homosexuality
_ 76. A Christian novel
✓ 77. A book about psychology. Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You by Sam Gosling
_ 78. A book about the natural world
_ 79. A book by or about Charles Dickens
_ 80. A novel longer than 400 pages
✓ 81. A historical book. Dave Barry Slept Here: A Sort of History of the United States by Dave Barry
_ 82. A book about the Bible
✓ 83. A book about a country or city. Tales of Iceland by Stephen Markley
_ 84. A book about astronomy
✓ 85. A book with an ugly cover. Love Poems for The Very Married by Lois Wyse
_ 86. A book by or about a martyr
_ 87. A book by a woman conference speaker
_ 88. A book by or about the church fathers
✓ 89. A book about language. A Little Book of Language by David Crystal
_ 90. A book by or about a Russian
✓ 91. A book about leadership. Intuitive Leadership: Embracing a Paradigm of Narrative, Metaphor, and Chaos
✓ 92. A book about public speaking. Backward and Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays by David Ball
_ 93. A book by Francis Schaeffer
✓ 94. A book by a Presbyterian. Coffee with Calvin Daily Devotions by Donald McKim
✓ 95. A book about science. The Science of Michael Crichton edited by Kevin Grazier
_ 96. A book about revival
✓ 97. A book about writing. bird by bird by Anne Lammott and On Writing by Stephen King
✓ 98. A book about evangelism. Growing Your Faith by Giving it Away: Telling the Gospel Story with Grace and Passion by R. York Moore
✓ 99. A book about ancient history. Ancient Puzzles: Classic Brainteasers and Other Timeless Mathematical Games of the Last Ten Centuries by Dominic Olivastro
✓ 100. A book about preaching. The Supremacy of God in Preaching by John Piper
✓ 101. A book about the church. The Church Case Scenario by Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz
✓ 102. A book about adoption: From Ashes to Africa by Josh Bottomly
✓ 103. A photo essay book. God Left Us Alone Here, A Book of War by John Gaps III
✓ 104. A book written in the twentieth century. Barrel Fever: Stories and Essays by David Sedaris

Extra Credit

✓ 105. A book from a library. NPR: The First Forty Years
_ 106. A book about business
_ 107. A book by an author less than 30
_ 108. A book published by a UK-based publisher

_ 109. A book you borrow

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Life-Sized Word Search #4

Recent finds:

A-Team, A-List, A-Bomb (seen in pictures)

In the book Growing Your Faith by Giving it Away (which I rated 3 out of 5 stars): page 74 abstract, 79 abyss, 90 absorbed, 92 able, 95 & 97 about, 97 abbreviated, 107 absence, 146 absent, 133 abandon, 136 abruptly.

New words to find:

accelerate, accent, accentuate, accept, access, accessaries, accessible, accession, accessory, acciaccatura, accidence, accident

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Life-Sized Word Search #3

You're surrounded by great words!

I'm learning that you don't have to look very far for unexpected, interesting word choices. For example, have you ever learned a new word and then started to see it pop up everywhere? There's actually a scientific term for that: the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. Yesterday I came across a word that was totally new to me (disquisition).

My recent assignment (to be on the lookout for words that start aa- or ab-) is, I admit, a little crazy. At best it's a nerdy and slightly embarrassing achievement. BUT already the result is that I'm slightly more incentivized to acknowledge and appreciate the use of a rare word.

So no, I'm not reading books word for word, looking back and forth between the book and my list of words-to-find. That would be silly. Instead I'm just generally on the lookout, and occasionally I feel a little ping, re-read a sentence, and realize I found a word on the list.

If you're a language/vocabulary nerd then consider joining me. Yes it's a silly project but who cares, it'll itch your completionist side. And it may just cause you to stop and smell the lexicographical roses.

Recent Finds

Abides: John 15:4 and The Big Lebowski movie (haha, what a combo of sources). I didn't actually go through the motion of getting out the movie and finding the scene but I know the word appears in that movie, as in the phrase, "The Dude Abides."

Ability: page 25 of Growing Your Faith by Giving it Away by R. York Moore.

Abomination: page 15 of Torn by Justin Lee (a book that tries to build bridges between the various sides of the Christian approach to sexuality, written by the founder of the Gay Christian Network)

Absolutely: page 13 of Growing Your Faith by Giving it Away by R. York Moore and page 9 of The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Abundantly: page 24 of Growing Your Faith by Giving it Away, "It is knowing Jesus and following him on a daily basis that allows us to live life the way it was intended: abundantly, fully and freely."

Academic: page 12 of Torn by Justin Lee. I expect I'll also see/hear this word in the context of High School graduation parties I'll be attending in the next couple of weeks.

Academy: page 28 of Stranger Room by Frederick Ramsay

Seven words found which means seven more are added to the bottom of the words-to-find: acarid, acaroid, acatalectic, acausal, accede, accelerando, accelerant. Though 'accelerando' feels like jargon and my spellcheck doesn't know 'acausal' or 'acaroid,' oh boy.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Life-Sized Word Search #2

My wife thinks I should call this "Living Word Search" instead. What do you think? Either way, I'm doing this vocabulary scavenger hunt where I look for real-life examples of words. This past week I was looking for words that started with aa- or ab-

I should have mentioned last post: I can search for words but I can't provoke/prompt them. In other words, it's not a game of "catchphrase" where I'm trying to get my friends to say bizarre words. Here's how I did:

a capella: This was an easy one to find. The dad of one of my best friends growing up would emcee a cappella events. So I still have one of the cd's my friend made me which has a fantastic mix of songs (from groups like Da Vinci's Notebook, The Bobs, Glad). Oh, and that childhood friend of mine (David Senft) went on to be in a band himself that's definitely worth checking out called Darlingside. Here's my favorite song of theirs called "Terrible Things":

a priori: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. (I'm also counting a posteriori for this one). In High School I went through a phase where I wanted to absorb as much philosophy as I could. At the time this book made a big impact on me. I wonder what it would be like to re-read it now? Hmm.

abduct/abduction: On a recent SNL (with Brie Larson) there was a hilarious skit about alien abduction. Kate McKinnon is one of the funniest cast members that show has ever had. Here is the first time they did the skit this year (with Ryan Gosling):

abnegation: from Divergent the young adult fiction book

abuse: spoken by someone I know as they described a situation

Near hits: mollusk instead of abalone. I almost got 'aboriginal' when I was telling someone I had too many musical instruments at home. They said, "Like what?", I said "didgeridoo," they then asked what a didgeridoo was. So yeah, close one.

So a slow first week, five words. Which means 5 new words join at the bottom of my search list: acacia, academe/academia/academic, acajou, acalculia, acanthamoeba. (Hmm, should scientific words count as 'jargon'?)

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Life-Sized Word Search #1

Do you love scavenger hunts AND adding words to your vocabulary!? No? Well, either way I'm going to share about a new challenge I'm giving myself: I call it "Life-Sized Word Search" and basically it means I'll be finding a real-life instance of every word in the dictionary.

In some ways this idea started back when I was growing up and my mom would give my brother and me a "word of the day." That new word would broaden our horizons and keep us on the lookout for new things. Without a doubt this world is a big, strange, wonderful place.

So here are the rules:
1. Find every word in the dictionary. (I'll be using the New Oxford American Dictionary primarily because it's the one sitting on my Mac desktop, easy).
2. Words on websites don't count. Otherwise I could google everything, that would be lame.
3. Only one conjugation of a word needed. No proper nouns, phrases, jargon, archaic words, or abbreviations.
4. When I find a word I cross it off the list and add a new word to the bottom. At any given time I'll be looking for like 100 or 125 words.
5. Have fun! Life is a game so enjoy.

Hopefully this little "project" will lead me on mini-adventures, remind me of how delightful language is, and stave away a wee bit of boredom.

The challenge begins today and I'm already pleased with what I've found. I found the word "abutment" when I was reading a book on basketball of all places! That just goes to show that you never know where a word is going to pop up.

a: It's been fun to fill my daughter's bookshelf (she's 7 months old) with books for her to enjoy. I grabbed a few of the alphabet books for a quick photo.

abacus: Stumbled across in a book I'm currently reading. Pg. 80-81 of Ancient Puzzles: Classic Brainteasers and Other Timeless Mathematical Games of the Last 10 Centuries by Dominic Olivastro. He references the publication of Liber Abaci (The Book of the Abacus) by Leonardo Pisano (or Fibonacci). 

ablative: I happened to shuffle around some books on my bookshelf today. I peeked into my old Latin Grammar book to find an instance of the word 'ablative.' [I'm pretty sure I also stumbled across the word last week when I was peeking through a German grammar book?]

abutment: Not every word has to come from a book but here you go, from pg. 236 of Can I Keep My Jersey? by Paul Shirley. He is writing about driving in Russia: "First of all, the streets have no markings. No lane lines, no turning lanes. The roads are one big racetrack, with the added obstacle of cars choosing entirely new directions of travel at a moment's notice. It is not so bad when the streets are confined by some boundary, such as buildings, a canal, or a bridge abutment. However, when a widening occurs -- near an intersection, for example -- all hell breaks loose."

These finds were just in the short lead-up to this post. But now the real search begins! The hunt is on for words starting with aa- or ab- . If you think I am missing or skipping a word I shouldn't, let me know. Below is my starting list:

a cappella, A-frame, aha, a la, a-line, a-list, a-okay, a posteriori, a priori, a-shirt, A-side, A-team, A1, aa, aardvark, aardwolf, aargh, abs, abdabs, abaca, aback, abaft, abalone, abandon, abase, abash, abate, abates, abattoir, abaxial, abaya, abbey, abbot, abbreviate, abdicate, abdomen, abduct, abecedarian, abele, abelian, abelian, aberrant, abet, abeyance, abhinaya, abhor, abide, ability, abiotic, abject, abjuration, ablate, ablaut, ablaze, able, able-bodied, ableist, abloom, ablush, ablution, ably, abnegate, abnormal, aboard, abode, abolish, abomasa, abominable, aboral, aboriginal, aborisation, aborning, abort, aboulia, abound, about, about-face, above, above-board, above-mentioned, above-named, abracadabra, abrade, abrasion, abreaction, abreast, abridge, abroad, abrogate, abrupt, abscess, abscise, abscissa, abscission, abscond, abseil, absence, absinthe, absolute, absolution, absolutism, absonant, absorb, absquatulate, abstain, abstemious, abstinence, abstract, abstruse, absurd, abubble, abulia, abundance, aura, abuse, abustle, abutilon, abuzz, abyss

Friday, May 6, 2016

Is it Unhealthy to Read 100 Books a Year?

I’m a little defensive right now, I’ll admit it. My youth group and I are doing a Reading Challenge this year. We’re not the only ones; there is a whole community of people doing the same challenge, which is fun.

The only problem is that on a discussion forum someone angrily posted that it was unhealthy to read 100 books a year. This person accused the 100-book-readers of slacking off at their workplaces or something. There was even an accusation that people in ministry are sitting around and reading when they should be ministering. Yikes.

For the record, I work in full-time ministry and none of my reading is done at work. I try to serve the church with excellence and integrity. I care deeply for God and His people, and I don’t ever want my hobbies to get in the way of Christ-centered ministry.

So today I’m writing to persuade you that it is possible to read 100 books a year. In fact, consider a few of these tips and reading 100 books will be downright easy:

General Tips for Reading:

1. Have fun!

Most of us stopped reading because the only books we read were assigned in school. It was a chore. The books were boring. We didn’t get to pick the topics.

Life’s too short for that nonsense. Reading shouldn’t be like eating vegetables; if those “timeless, classic books” don’t appeal to you then read something else that catches your interest. Read garbage! Read books you’d feel silly showing in public! Who cares, reading should be fun or interesting.

If you talk with lifelong readers then most will share that they came across the right book at the right time. Something lit the spark. And once they had momentum, it was fun to search out new books because, well, reading begets reading. Someday you may even find yourself at a point where those “timeless classics” catch your interest in a new way.

2. No guilt.

This is similar to “have fun” but with a sleight twist: a big reason why people stop reading is because they get slogged down in a book and it just drifts lower and lower on the to-do list. I get it, there are books I intend to read but end up collecting dust.

The result is we start books like we start diets. In a well-intentioned moment we say to ourselves, “I’m going to read more this year!” but then we somehow can’t find the time. We let our resolution slip and feel bad about not having created more free time.

There are a few ways to conquer this hurdle of guilt: First, give yourself permission to read in shorter spurts. There’s nothing wrong with reading a page a day as you brush your teeth, or wait for the microwave to cook your food, or while you’re waiting for a bus.

This short-spurt reading is especially great with e-books on your phone. The small screen of the phone means you quickly click through tiny, bite-sized pages. You’re less aware of the length ahead or behind of you so you fly through the book faster than you expect. (This principle is true when you purchase a bag of bite-sized candies or muffins too, by the way)

3. Genres.

Depending on what type of reader you are, you may want to read multiple books at once. I read several books at a time, each from a different genre. At any given time I might be partway through a non-fiction Christian book, a fiction sci-fi, and a book of poetry, for example. The genre differences make it easy to keep the books separate in my mind.

Why read multiple books at once? Because then I don’t care if it takes me months to read a boring or thick book. I chip away at the tome a couple pages at a time, and stay encouraged because I’m simultaneously flying through “easier” or “more enjoyable books.” It may just be me, but even if it takes a year to finish a book, I don’t feel stagnant because I’m completing smaller books. It works for me and it might also work for you.

4. Formats

Audiobooks, e-books, physical books. They each have their advantages and disadvantages so why not use them all!

I listen to short sections of audiobooks while in bed or while commuting. I read e-books on my phone if I’m stuck waiting somewhere. And I read physical books at home or while on trips.

Maybe I should throw in a comment about price too. By diversifying formats you can find great deals. I download audiobooks for free through my local library (with an app called Bridges). My local thrift store sells 20 books for $1. Seriously. And if you’re patient then you can nab e-books for cheap (or your relatives find out you like to read and give you Amazon gift cards on holidays).

5. Reading Speed

Some of us read fast, some of us read slow. It’s all good. My advice would be to read at your own pace and not to worry too much.

If you want to read faster then here are a couple suggestions: 1. try to get out of the habit of subvocalization (where you speak every word in your mind as if you were saying it out loud). 2. read more. As with anything, you’ll get faster with time. 3. dabble in a speed-reading course. It’s just a tool, speed-reading is not the same thing as usual reading, but it gives a different perspective.

I have different speeds: I read poetry the slowest because I want to savor every rhythm and word choice. It might take me minutes to read a few lines. I read fiction a little faster because I want to enjoy the events in “real-time,” getting swept along with the action. But I don’t want to watch an action movie in fast-forward, that would be strange. I read non-fiction a little faster because it’s more about receiving ideas than watching a scene being acted out. I read formulaic non-fiction the fastest. If you can guess the next 3 arguments the book is going to share, give yourself permission to up the pace a little.

Of course my absolute fastest speed is “speed-reading” or “reading for school deadlines,” which involves scanning the text to grab the first and last sentences of paragraphs, main words, the general flow of the argument, etc. Again, reading like that is just another tool in the tool belt. You might bristle at the idea of this kind of reading and that’s okay.

Tips for Reading for a Challenge:

1. Have fun!

I repeat this tip because it’s that important. I personally have a lot of fun doing challenges. They motivate me. I enjoy them.

If a reading goal/challenge becomes more of a burden than an encouragement then let it go. Or slow the pace. It’s better to have fun reading 2 books a year than to feel miserable trying to read 10. And if you’re like me then “fun” means the goal is hard enough to have to reach for it, but not so hard it pulls me down.

2. Be strategic.

Part of my fun was mapping out the books I would read. I’m trying to balance the thicker reads with lighter ones (so I’m not reading Dickens and Austen at the same time, that would be a killer). I’ve found short books to read. The fun of a challenge is being creative in accomplishing the goal.

3. Be flexible.

I mapped out what books I would read but then have switched a bunch. There are many reasons for this: either I found a shorter or more interesting book, I doubled in another category and could slide one over to something else, I found a different book in a more convenient format (like audiobook), etc.  [Some books make for better audiobooks than others]

4. It’s a challenge!

When you say yes to one thing you are saying no to other things. Because I took on this reading challenge, I’m writing less this year. I watch less television. It’s all about priorities; If you choose a different activity over reading then great, but own it, don’t get mad at the people who read and vent that you wish you had more free time.

If you’re looking for more free time then count up the time you spend watching t.v. and surfing the internet. If you are still looking for more free time then perhaps your schedule is overburdened and you need to create more margins in your life.

If you’re going to do the #vtReadingChallenge then here’s a quick-start plan:

A book for children.
A graphic novel.
A book of poetry.
A play by William Shakespeare.
A book with 100 pages or less.
A book you have started but never finished.
A self-improvement book.
A book of comics.
A book you have read before.
A photo essay book.

These 10 categories are extremely quick options. I’m guessing most readers can complete all 10 in less than 10 hours, which if you divvy into daily readings would be 98 seconds a session. (This blog post has gone WAY past that length). Add 3 audiobooks from your local library and you’ve already accomplished the first milestone of the reading plan. You get my point.

So read 100 books this year! Read 200 books! The number is not what makes the challenge healthy or unhealthy, it’s whether your reading habit encroaches upon your faith, family, friends, or work. Question for all you readers out there: have any tips to add to my list?