Do You Mind? a book review

My own interest in mindfulness is spiritual. Sure, it has its roots in Buddhism and I am very much on the Jesus-y Christian end of the world religious spectrum, but as my spiritual director observed, “All prayer begins with something like mindfulness”— paying attention to yourself, your world, and God. So, I picked up Mind Your Life: How Mindfulness Can Build Resilience and Reveal Your Extraordinary in the hopes that it could help me move past my own anxious feelings and my Spiritual ADHD.

mindyourlifecoverMeg Salter is a mindfulness coach and Integral Master Coach™ who explores how mindfulness can help each of us experience life more fully, be more present and have greater resilience. She tells the story of her own mindfulness journey, and shares stories of how others journeyed toward greater mindfulness, discusses its benefits. She also offers a “Unified Mindfulness System” composed of three attentive skills, three types of practices and a variety of practices, related to the three types (83). The three skills are (1) concentration, (2) sensory clarity and (3) equanimity (allowing experiences to come and go without a push and pull or trying to manipulate them). The three types of practices involve appreciating ourselves and our world, transcending our self and world and nurturing our positive selves and our world (95). Three chapters (chapters 7 to 9) describe a variety of practices as they relate to each of the practice types.

There are some super-duper benefits to mindfulness. When you begin to practice it, you are more alert, more resilient, less anxious, less stressed and you get a good night’s sleep because you have no insomnia. You even smell better. Okay, I made up that last one. People who practice mindfulness may still smell bad, but because of their non-judgmental stance toward themselves, they feel a lot better about it.

I appreciated this book. Mindfulness practices (e.g. cultivating awareness of our breath and body in sitting practice, or taking note on our internal experience throughout the day) easily maps upon a variety of Christian practices, even if this is not an explicitly Christian book (it isn’t explicitly anything, except integral spirituality™). I made several notes in the margins and flags some of these practices to try to press into later. Her sitting practice aims at about 10 minutes of intentional practice (which is more doable than the 20-25 other mindful authors tell you to aim for).  I also appreciate that Salter pulls out of her coaching arsenal an exercise of creating a ‘mindfulness topic statement’ to help clarify both our future hopes for mindfulness and our present discomfort (there is a worksheet in the book, to create one, three different times). I give this book three-and-a-half-stars ★★★½

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from SpeakEasy in exchange for my fair and honest review.


An Easy Decision: a book review.

I may not have decided to read this book, but the publisher sent me an uncorrected proof of Decisive and asked me to read it and review it if I liked it. I did read it, though I read everything else on my nightstand first and was slow to pick it up. The concept didn’t excite me, but when I finally read the book I found it really helpful. This is everything you want in a business/self help book. Chip and Dan Heath are humorous, well-researched and have plenty of examples (mostly from the business world).

The Heath brothers are the authors of Switch and Made to Stick. Chip is a professor at the  Graduate School of Business at Stanford, Dan is senior fellow at Duke’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE). In Decisive they put forward some principles which will help us make better personal and business decisions. Too many people ‘trust their gut’ when making decisions, but that is not reliable. Others are more rational in decision-making, making lists of pros and cons; however such lists are still vulnerable to confirmation-bias. We skew our results toward the desired outcome (even if we are unaware of it). The Heaths help us get past our own subjective biases/  The acronym WRAP summarizes their suggestions and provides the organization for this book: Widen Your Options, Reality-Test Your Assumptions, Attain Distance Before Deciding, Prepare to be Wrong.

The Heaths help us Widen Our Options by avoiding narrow-frame decision making. Often when we make decisions we frame it as an either/or or as a choice of ‘one.’ The Heaths get us to think about whether or not we could really do both/and, consider the costs to the outcome of our decision, multitrack decisions (allow multiple people/firms to work towards a solution and synthesize the best parts of eac)h, and to look for people/organizations which faced analogous problems and learn their solutions.

By Reality-Testing Assumptions the Heaths help us bypass our confirmation bias. Too often we seek out advice which re-enforces our own point of view. Chip and Dan suggest  giving due consideration to opposing opinions. They also want us to “Zoom out” and consider the situation from the “outside” and “Zoom in” and give the details a closer look. They also suggest that we don’t jump face first into the unknown. We should conduct a small test and evaluate the results before we leap.

Attaining Distance is all about not being caught up in the moment. The Heaths warn against short-term emotions and how they impact decision making. We tend to like what we’ve been exposed to and have an aversion to loss.  This biases us toward the status quo. When we look at our situation from an observer’s perspective we get beyond the emotional impact of our situation and can make a more reasoned decision. Likewise, we are not hoodwinked by too-good-to-be-true promises when we stick to our principles and honor our core priorities.

Preparing to Be Wrong,  involves us thinking through our decisions and developing contingency plans in the case of failure. It also means managing risks. Decisions that result in too much of a gamble should be avoided, but “trip-wires” can alert us to when we’ve gone to far, and where we should redirect.

I found these insights helpful and this book made me want to read the Heath’s other books. The book was a quick read and there were lots of business examples. I give this book ★★★★☆

Thank you to Crown Business for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

Bless Your Blessed Socks Off!: a book review

“Watch Your Language!”

These are words we say when we hear  our kids swear or when we hear adults swear in front of our kids. Yet we shouldn’t just watch that the occasional curse doesn’t pass our lips. We should watch our words to make sure they are a blessing to others.

Joseph Cavanaugh has written The Language of Blessing to help  us realize our own gifts and talents and to teach us how to speak words of blessing to others.  As a sought after speaker, ministry leader, life coach and  he encourages readers to discover who God made them to be. The talents, strengths and passions that God gave us reveal what we are made for. As we begin to learn our shape, we also are freed to  bless those around us. Cavanaugh shares vulnerably of his own experience of growing up with an authoritarian father who did not know how to bless his children.  As an adult he works with New Life Ministries helping others discover God’s unique blessing for their life.

The Language of Blessing: Discover your own gifts and talents . . .Learn how to pour them out to bless others by Joseph Cavanaugh III

There are three parts to The Language of Blessing. In part one Cavanaugh describes what the language of blessing is.  A blessing is: words of affirmation which solidify identity and give purpose to a person, enabling us to become all that we are meant to be. Parents and friends may speak the language of blessing to us, but ultimately our blessing is a gift from God.

Part two describes the barriers to blessing in our life. These include seeing ourselves as average (because of one-size-fits-all approaches to education and development), the cycle of false identity,  self-centeredness, and parenting styles which are either too domineering or permissive.

Part three is where Cavanaugh puts it  all together and describes what it means to speak the language of blessing. Those who have received a blessing and live confidently in it are self-aware and non-anxious. This frees them up to affirm others, see their God-given-potential and respond with gratitude.

When I read books like this I have two questions: (1)What insights can I learn from this book? (2)  Is this just another positive thinking self-help book? I am happy to report that there was little said by Cavanaugh that I am wary of. He synthesizes much of the literature on leadership, strength building and parenting. He offers sound advice and aims at getting readers to understand where they have been personally blessed; yet his ultimate aim is that when we are secure in who we are in Christ, we will begin to speak blessing into those around us.

So this book is helpful for vocational discernment. There is sound advice  and good insight here. Cavanaugh draws generously on Smalley and Trent’s The Blessing, Tom Rath’s Strength Finders, Edwin Friedman’s Failure of Nerve, and even Malcom Gladwell’s The Outliers.  These are not ‘new insights’ but Cavanaugh says them sell and synthesizes them helpfully. Of course Cavanaugh’s convictions are also rooted in personal experience and his experience as a life coach and conference speaker.   What I appreciated about Cavanaugh’s approach was how careful he was to ground his approach biblically. This allows him to affirm the individual and their worth without succumbing to self-centered narcissism. I give this book three stars:★★★☆☆

Thank you to Tyndale Momentum for providing me a copy of this book through the Tyndale Blog Network. I was asked to write an honest review.

You Must Choose Wisely: a book review

We  all face difficult decisions. We  also carry regrets from bad choices (i.e. buyer’s regret, relationships gone sour, a poor business decision or watching the Spice Girls movie). Most of these poor choices could have been avoided if we asked ourselves the right question.

The Best Question Ever: A Revolutionary Approach to Decision Making by Andy Stanley

When facing important decisions, Andy Stanley, author and pastor of the second biggest church in America (when you’re second you try harder), contends that he has the best question ever for you to ask yourself. Taking Paul’s warning in Ephesians 5:15-17 to not be foolish, Stanley posits that when we are faced with difficult circumstances, we should ask ourselves, “What is the wise thing to do?” This is the Best. Question. Ever.

Sounds simple right? And yet, how many times have you failed to choose wisely?  Often we orient our decision-making around whether or not a particular action would be right or wrong. The problem, something doesn’t have to be ‘wrong’ to be unwise. Choosing a wise path will lead us away from the boundary edge of right and wrong and give us a sure footing.

Stanley unpacks this ‘best question ever.’  We need to ask if a particular choice is wise for us personally, in light of our  past history, current circumstances and our future hopes and dreams. He also  looks at the areas of time, money and sex (three things we all want more of). He advises us to invest our time in things that matter (and not foolishly waste it), to set proper priorities with our money and to guard our moral conduct (especially in the realm of sex/relationships). In the last section, he talks about the necessity of seeking wise counsel (letting others speak into your life).

This is the third book by Stanley I’ve read, and I  think The Best Question Ever is good.  His books have lots of practical advice–sort of biblical self help and personal development. This book is about making wise decisions and would be good for youth, and young adults. Others could also read it profitably. It is less helpful for picking up the pieces after having made poor decisions than it is for getting people to orient themselves wisely from the start (not really a criticism, just delimiting what the book is about). There is sage advice for everyone. But before you go out and buy it, ask yourself, “Is it the wise thing to do?”

Thank you to WaterBrook Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Question: Where have you chosen wisely?

Better Off Not Dead: a book review

I Fully Alive: A Journey that Will Change Your Life by Ken Davis

I’ve been a fan of Ken Davis for a while. I don’t mean I have really followed his career or anything, but years ago I picked up a cassette tape (remember those?) of a message he gave off the bargain rack at my local Christian bookstore. The message was called Super Sheep  and despite not having heard it in years I remember the things Ken said, his depth and his humor. Okay, so I got one of those minds that actually remembers sermons (I’m a freak of nature) but you can ask my wife, she’s heard the tape and she remembers it too and she doesn’t have one of those minds.  Later I found I video of his called A Wimpy Prophet, A Butane Bush and No Exuses  on VHS (remember those?) which was also really funny and inspiring.

So when the opportunity to review this book came up I jumped at the chance and had them send me a print copy (remember those?) My previous experience with Ken Davis was with him as a speaker and he was dynamic with impeccable comedic timing.  I wanted to see what kind of author he was and found this book inspiring. However I read the book way too fast so his comedic timing was all off.  Well not totally, but this book seems to be a different animal than my previous exposure to Davis.

The book begins with the tale of a camping trip with his wife and grandchildren where his granddaughter Jaydn gets lost in the wilderness. Davis panics and the hunt for Jaydn begins. When a couple of hikers find Jaydn, her words to them is “My grandpa is lost.” This becomes a metaphor for Davis of the ways he’s let his life drift off purpose. When he sees a picture of himself at 240+ lbs with his granddaughter at the beach, he exclaims, “Nooooo! Walking Manatee!!!” and begins the process of taking hold of his life and really living.

This is a book about not wasting your life by walking around like you are half dead. Davis encourages his readers to lose weight, get in shape, take risks, make deep friendships and care for your family and attend to spiritual health and our relationship with Jesus.  What I liked about this book is Davis’s vulnerability with his own struggles through depression, struggle and self-doubt. He opens up about the struggles he has had to accept himself, but also shares the  ‘stakes in the ground’ in his life which have revealed to him all that he was meant to be.

I am a several years younger than Davis  but I have had my own “Noooo! Manatee!” moment. When I graduated with my M.Div from Regent College it was the biggest academic and personal achievement of my adult life.  I was proud of myself for finishing, but when I saw pictures of myself kneeling to receive my graduate hood, I saw that I weighed more than I ever have. And I felt terrible. I was slow, sluggish and had no energy. Within six months of that picture I had lost 50 lbs by running, swimming and watching my food intake. I have since gained some of that weight back (but no where near all), but some lifestyle changes I made were permanent and I have felt better for it.

Still, some of Davis’s exhortation to take risks and live life to the fullest speak to me. I have, as of yet, to find a ministry position (what I went to school for, and the calling and deep passion of my life). I am currently working at a hardware/animal supply store to pay the bills and provide for my family, but I am still feeling like my life is stuck and I am not doing what I was put on the earth to do. As I read Davis’s book I am encouraged and hunger for more out of life, and more of what God has for me.

I would describe this book as inspirational self-help. If you are in need of a gentle (but firm) swift kick in the rear, this might be a good book for you.  If you feel like you are living life to the fullest, you might want to pass this by. When I mentioned Fully Alive’s contents to my wife she said, “I think we are already pretty much fully alive.” This is not a book for her. But if you look in the mirror and feel like you look dead and . . .well, manatee-ish, this may be the book for you. Or if you feel like you can’t do anything of value anymore because you are too old, Davis has lots to say to the old folks. 

Thank you to Thomas Nelson for providing me with a copy of this book via Booksneeze in exchange for this fair and exceptional review.

Man Alive: A Book Review

Men’s ministry leader Patrick Morley is an expert on men. He must be, he keeps writing books about them. The Man in the Mirror sold more than three million copies, he has a Bible study with 5000 men (okay most of those watch the webcast) and he has had coffee with thousands of guys. He also has a Ph.D in management and races his 1974 Porsche 911 for sport. All this tells me, he knows and understands what it means to be a man!

Okay, so the case for Morely’s expertise may be laid on a little thick, the proof is in the pudding. Does Man Alive prove his mastery over manhood? Well yes and no. Morely is complementarian in his approach to gender roles (which I am not) but most of his advice is sound. A lot of what he says would applies equally to both genders but men behaving badly don’t always get the message. His ‘seven primal needs’ which, when addressed, can transform your spiritual life can be summarized as follows: the need for community, the need for faith in a benevolent God, that one’s life has purpose, that there is freedom from sin/addictions, the need for transcendence, the need for love/intimacy.

None of these needs seem particularly gender specific to me but I agree with Morely that if you address these needs of the soul, you will become a better man (providing you already are a man, otherwise I can’t help you). This book is full of personal stories and stories of men that Morely has been privileged to walk alongside. It is evident that Morely has helped men come out of their isolated shells, fulfill their God-given potential, and grow in their love for God and others. So, yes, Morely has some good stuff to say here.
I agree with Morely that part of what men want is to love and be loved, do something significant with our lives, and that we were created for transcendence.

Where I would critique Man Alive is that Morely seems to apply an instrumental and formulaic approach to spiritual transformation. The stories shared here are all victory stories. Sometimes men follow God and their lives still fall apart. With Morely, I trust in God’s providential care, but I wonder how helpful this book would be for those guys who have been ‘doing the steps’ but are still stuck in the mire. I know, because Morely tells me, that he has walked alongside men facing divorce, contemplating suicide, and other really bad stuff. So I know he probably sees the reality of things, but what is presented here is a little too simplistic.

That being said, this book would be read profitably in church men’s groups and ministries. Each chapter has questions for reflection and discussion and there is a brief leader’s guide at the back of the book (and a two page bio of all Morely’s accomplishments).

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review