Archives For c.s. lewis

The Best Books of 2015

December 26, 2015 — 1 Comment

This year was a bit of an unexpected journey of reading. I try to read about 25-30 books a year and looks like I’ll accomplish the goal this year.

I gauge a book’s success in my heart by its ability to entertain, educate, motivate me to re-read it, underline, and reference from time to time.

None of the books that made my best books list were ones I set out to read in 2015 so they had a serendipitous value that made them that much more special. These are the books I have enjoyed and been shaped by the most in 2015. I also have given each of these books to friends or recommended them along the way. I also chose several passages for you to read to get a feel for each book’s purpose, entertainment, and beauty. Perhaps these books also inspired you in 2015. If not, I hope they will in 2016. Salud.

 

Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World

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This book has been incredibly helpful to me as I am now leading a larger and more complex group of teams this year in publishing. In Team of Team, McChrystal and his colleagues show how the challenges they faced in Iraq can be rel­evant to countless businesses, nonprofits, and other or­ganizations. The world is changing faster than ever, and the smartest response for those in charge is to give small groups the freedom to experiment while driving every­one to share what they learn across the entire organiza­tion.

“Purpose affirms trust, trust affirms purpose, and together they forge individuals into a working team.”

“A leader’s words matter, but actions ultimately do more to reinforce or undermine the implementation of a team of teams. Instead of exploiting technology to monitor employee performance at levels that would have warmed Frederick Taylor’s heart, the leader must allow team members to monitor him. More than directing, leaders must exhibit personal transparency. This is the new ideal.”

“Efficiency, once the sole icon on the hill, must make room for adaptability in structures, processes, and mind-sets that is often uncomfortable.”

 

Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics 

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Many people wondered what they would read after Seabiscuit and Unbroken. Well, they should be reading Boys in the Boat. It reads like a novel and you get such a vivid picture of life during the Great Depression while finding yourself cheering as a coxswain for these University of Washington rowing boys.

“It’s not a question of whether you will hurt, or of how much you will hurt; it’s a question of what you will do, and how well you will do it, while pain has her wanton way with you.”

“It takes energy to get angry. It eats you up inside. I can’t waste my energy like that and expect to get ahead. When they left, it took everything I had in me just to survive. Now I have to stay focused. I’ve just gotta take care of it myself.” – Joe Rantz

“All were merged into one smoothly working machine; they were, in fact, a poem of motion, a symphony of swinging blades.”

“The wood…taught us about survival, about overcoming difficulty, about prevailing over adversity, but it also taught us something about the underlying reason for surviving in the first place. Something about infinite beauty, about undying grace, about things larger and greater than ourselves. About the reasons we were all here.”

Peace Like a River

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Perhaps one of the greatest novels of the early 21st Century, it is beautifully beautifully by Leif Enger. Suggested to me by my friend Matt West, I already want to re-read it.

“Sometimes heroism is nothing more than patience, curiosity, and a refusal to panic.”

“Fair is whatever God wants to do.”

“We and the world, my children, will always be at war.
Retreat is impossible.
Arm yourselves.”

“Many a night I woke to the murmer of paper and knew (Dad) was up, sitting in the kitchen with frayed King James – oh, but he worked that book; he held to it like a rope ladder.”

A Hobbit, a Wardrobe and a Great War

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Although I knew plenty about C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, what I did not know much about was their experiences during World War I and how it brought them together as friends. Their writing about good versus evil was shaped by their experiences and the book was very well researched and written by Joe Loconte, a former author of mine. This is one of the best stories about an epic friendship that has helped me re-look at how I value friendships in my own life.

“Their experience reminds us that great friendship is a gift born of adversity: it is made possible by the common struggle against world’s darkness.”

“Like few other writers over the past century, they show us what friendship looks like when it reaches for a high purpose and is watered by the streams of sacrifice, loyalty, and love.”

“I grew up believing in this Myth and I have felt – I still feel – its almost perfect grandeur.” – C.S. Lewis

The Martian

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Rarely does a movie honor its original book so well and Ridley Scott did a great job for Andy Weir’s underdog book. The book I listened to this audiobook, which is probably the one thing that is better than the movie. I laughed most of the way through and you will too. Pick it up for a long road trip.

“Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.”

“I guess you could call it a “failure”, but I prefer the term “learning experience”

“It’s true, you know. In space, no one can hear you scream like a little girl.”

“Maybe I’ll post a consumer review. “Brought product to surface of Mars. It stopped working. 0/10.”

“You complete me,” says a man to his book softly in a coffee shop.

Well, not exactly. Not one book (besides the Bible) really completes a person. There was a season of life when I only read history books because I loved the topic. In my early 30s, I came to a point where I was interested so much in the topic, and still am. But, I found myself not growing enough in other areas. It was linear growth and despite my love for history, it is not all that I am.

As I have grown older, I desire to be challenged in my imagination, to avoid the staleness of life, and occasional monotony of checking off the fact that I read a book. I want more out of the reading experience.

Enter the “Renaissance Reader” I aspire to be.

I’ve been on a quest to figure out the best mix of reading that helps shape me to be a better professional, person, and one who can praise God with more heart. 

“In an age of specialization people are proud to be able to do one thing well, but if that is all they know about, they are missing out on much else life has to offer… I like the idea of being a Renaissance hack. If tombstones were still in style, I would want to have the two words chiseled right under my name.” – Dennis Flanagan, editor of Scientific American

In the past few years, I have set out on a quest to figure out the right combination of books to help me grow into the “Renaissance Reader” I want to be.

In this time of exploration, I have found the combination of reading three types of books at a time.

My goal is to read three “P’s”:

  • Professional – What develops me in my profession
  • Personal – What develops me to have fun and dream as a reader
  • Praise – What helps make me stronger in my faith

Here are the latest three that I have been reading each day and are best shaping me.

Professional

As a leader of a very talented marketing team in publishing, I am often thrown dozen so business books to read. They have helped shape me professionally but none of them can I safely say have truly transformed me.

For the past few years, I have been scratching my head about how to be a more effective business leader. There are so many prodigious communication tools in today’s mass media market to make my head spin. Things simimageply don’t work the way they used to, which is hard for me because my chief strength is ‘context’ and I feel most at home reading history books with the inclination to draw inspiration from the past to form the future. Yet, the future is so uncertain. I am in a different stage of career where I lead over a dozen people, separated in different groups, and some with differing objectives.

I am forced think differently. Enter Team of Teams by General Stanley McChrystal. He draws lessons from his time adapting to the Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). When General Stanley McChrystal took command of the Joint Special Operations Task Force in 2004, he quickly realized that conventional military tactics were failing. Al Qaeda in Iraq was a decentralized network that could move quickly, strike ruthlessly, then seemingly vanish into the local population. The allied forces had a huge advantage in numbers, equipment, and training—but none of that seemed to matter.

McChrystal was forced to change his team into a more flexible and cohesive information-sharing team to fight back.

Team of Teams has been a book to help clarify my role as a leader and manager in today’s complex environment. I am so thankful for the military and General Stanley McChrystal in how he had the courage to adapt to a new environment. We all can learn from the military.

Personal

Cover-Boys-in-the-Boat-LargeI love history and fiction so I try to read something in this area that fulfills that joy. My latest has been one of the most inspiring stories in publishing the past few years. My latest read is The Boys in the Boat. Who would have thought rowing was interesting, especially set in the 1930s? I am sure people felt the same way about Seabiscuit. I literally was clapping and cheering for these underdog boys from Washington state, overcoming immense odds during the depression to win the 1936 Olympic gold medal. The Boys in the Boat is one of the finest narratives written in the past few years.

The 1936 U.S. Olympic rowing team from the University of Washington. From left: Don Hume, Joseph Rantz, George E. Hunt, James B. McMillin, John G. White, Gordon B. Adam, Charles Day, and Roger Morris. At center front is coxswain Robert G. Moch. Photo courtesy of University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, UW2234.

The 1936 U.S. Olympic rowing team from the University of Washington. From left: Don Hume, Joseph Rantz, George E. Hunt, James B. McMillin, John G. White, Gordon B. Adam, Charles Day, and Roger Morris. At center front is coxswain Robert G. Moch.
Photo courtesy of University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, UW2234.

 

 

 

 

Praise

I aim to consistently read a Christian-themed book that challenges my faith to grow deeper.

urlThere are many books I would recommend to read before Lewis’ The Weight of Glory, primarily because it is a collection of essays and speeches given by Lewis. In college, I wrote a paper about Lewis’ influence and encouragement to fellow British citizens during World War II. Published years later, The Weight of Glory is evidence of his contributions to give hope and understanding for a world that seemed poised to end for Britain. Churchill and Roosevelt gave their radio fireside chats but Lewis, even as a layman, provided something even deeper. As you study Lewis further, I highly recommend reading this treasure. Put yourselves in the shoes of an average Briton during World War II and his words and God’s truth will come alive.

One of Lewis’ most famous lines is found in these pages, “Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it. That, and only that, is forgiveness, and that we can always have from God if we ask for it.”

 

What connects it all? Reading the Bible everyday.

There is a story to be told that connects all of what we are meant to do and it is the word of God. I’ve heard it referred to at the greatest self-help book, ever. It is true. God’s Word is our greatest guide to shaping how we approach each day.

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 HCSB

Reading is such a wonderful experience. But, it is meant to be shared so I encourage you whether in the Bible to use an online sharing platform like YouVersion, Wordsearch, or He/She Reads Truth. Or or as a reader, use Facebook Groups and Goodreads.com to share your review with others.

“We read to know we are not alone.” – C.S. Lewis.

What are you reading? Do you have a mix of books you enjoy reading to fulfill yourself?

 

C.S. Lewis 50 Years Later

November 22, 2013 — 4 Comments

C.S. Lewis wrote,

“After I’ve been dead five years, no one will read anything I’ve written.”

Well Jack, you were wrong and we are so thankful because of it.

On this day 50 years ago the beloved Clive Staples “Jack” Lewis passed away from renal failure. It was  onNovember 22nd, 1963 when Lewis passed and his death received little media attention due to the tragic assassination of President John F. Kennedy. His incorrect prophetic words above were likely due to the nature of publishing at that time and how easily books would go out of print. For the next fifty years, Christians young and old discovered his writings from Till We Have Faces to The Screwtape Letters to The Chronicles of Narnia. At the 2012 London Olympics, many other British writers were honored during the opening ceremonies; Lewis was omitted. Lewis has never had the widest appeal compared to other contemporary British writers but his readers have a passion for his work like none other. Perhaps his humility transcends today through subtle ways and readers share his words with others one by one.

CS Lewis

I learned that he will finally receive an honor memorial in Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey. This gives me great joy knowing that hundreds of years from now someone will discover him for the first time when walking through the historic Abbey.

There are a handful of writers who have influenced my life and C.S. Lewis is on top of that list. As a new Christian almost twenty years ago, I was exposed to Mere Christianity and it helped me then as it does today to better understand the beautiful mystery of this grand faith. I recently read a couple biographies about his life like Alister McGrath’s C.S. Lewis and I encourage you to do the same to learn more about he and his writings. You can view a complete list of his works here but if you have never read his books, start with the classics like Mere Christianity, The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe, The Four Loves, Surprised by Joy, The Screwtape Letters, and The Pilgrim’s Regress.

I am still discovering his words and hope to until the day I die. My young daughters are close to the age of me sharing the great stories from The Chronicles of Narnia.

Thank you Jack for your faith, your boldness, and for allowing God to work through you in your pain and your joy. We all feel it through your words and will share it with generations to come.

The Beauty of Longing

September 1, 2013 — 6 Comments

A couple of weeks ago I challenged a friend to put together a bucket list. My friend was at a crossroads of life and I felt it was helpful to suggest she endeavour upon this journey to create such a list of things she would want to do in this life.

When I got home, I realized that my list has dust on it.

Last I checked I may have achieved roughly 35 of the 100 items on my list so there is much adventure to be had. At this point in life, the list represents an unfulfilled ‘longing’. But a longing for what? No matter what amazing things happen in life and what I check off on the list, I still feel this longing. C.S. Lewis said,

“There was something we grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in reality.”

CS Lewis

Sheila Walsh calls this a “sacred ache”, as we long for a world or life that we cannot fully attain. Heaven and earth collide. As Lewis noted, ‘reality’ takes hold of us until we are fully with our maker.

I recently read in Alister McGrath’s biography C.S. Lewis that when Lewis realized he was not going to live longer, he acknowledged that his name and most importantly, his books would move toward obscurity. The world was changing in the sixties and so he thought his words with them. We know now that his self-analysis was wrong but it revealed how until his end, he wondered if all of it was in vain. He longed for a greater significance.

So why is there longing? Why do we try?

Is longing there to pick and prod us to the point where we sit up in our chair, move the chair back, and stand up? Sometimes, that is the case I am learning. I am also discovering that courage is in the subtleties of life. It is in the thoughtful decisions about how to spend time. It is how I will prioritize and develop richer relationships. It is trusting in God in my career (which is difficult) and dust off my bucket list. I am 34 and have so much life ahead of me. My wife and I both feel this urgency to make a difference but often feel paralyzed by the grind of busyness.

So, I can retire to my excuses or I can act.

Philippians 1:21 points out the Apostle Paul’s struggle with this very thing.

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

It is evident that God has purpose in life as well as death. I am confident though that God knows what he is doing and this is why the longing exists. I was a daydreaming child and now a daydreaming adult. I do know that I feel most alive when I am moving, trying new things (and even failing at them). I question my motives though and ask God if I even should be longing? Is it selfish? I don’t want to get lost in the busyness, I want my time to mean something. If C.S. Lewis had questions about this then I should pay close attention in my life.

My thoughts drifted to the movie Finding Forrester (2000) when the reclusive writer Robert Forrester recites the poem from his young mentor Jamal.

“…we will find that the wishes we had for the father, who once guided us…for the brother, who once inspired us….The only thing left to say will be: “I wish I had seen this, or I wish I had done that, or I wish…”

As Forrester reflects on what he learns from the young man, no matter young or old, we feel these words.

“Someone I once knew wrote that we walk away from our dreams afraid we may fail, or worse yet, afraid that we may succeed.”

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I have very few regrets in life mainly because my faith comforts and reminds me that it is all part of God’s journey. But the longing is real and as life’s clock ticks and without that prodding, I won’t be pushed to act.

Thankfully regrets are fleeting though and I am comforted most by Lewis’ words,

“We can never know what might have been but what is to come is another matter entirely.”

So I will continue to look ahead.

Tomorrow I will sit up straight in my chair, gently push back the chair, take a deep breath, and pray. After all, longing is beautiful trust and I will stand up and begin walking in faith.

How We Fight Distraction

August 27, 2013 — 2 Comments

We live in an age of disruption.

Everyone wants your attention; family, work, church, your iPad, a book, marketers, television, and your local service group.  Some of these distractions are noble and do require attention. Some of these can wait.

Technology and life’s demands want to suck us dry. A friend remarked to me the other day that he wish our world went dark with technology like the television show, Revolution. While that is drastic, I empathize with his sentiment as does my wife when she sees me looking down at my phone when I am at home.

My job is focused on leveraging social media in business and everyday there is something new to pursue; the hot new app, the new social media network, or a digital conference where you fear missing out of the ‘new thing’ in technology. There is always a new technology to learn or a place where people want to share information. It is a never-ending cycle that has only been accelerated in today’s culture.

When I am bombarded by too many meetings, demands, and other things, I am reminded of Indiana Jones. In a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Indiana is trying to rescue Marion and the Ark. He is being chased by Nazi agents and Cairo henchmen. After he briefly escapes, he is then confronted by a master swordsman who is prepared to end his quest. Indy has to act fast. Watch and see.

Admit it, you laughed.

While I would like to take care of our distractions the Indiana Jones way, there is better wisdom I am learning. I struggle with disruption like any average person. C.S. Lewis said that “God whispers in our pleasures” and I feel most alive and joyful when I am focused on doing one single thing. God didn’t make me a multi-tasker thankfully and when distracted he causes me ask this question,

What what is most important and what do I do about it? 

There are three pieces of wisdom that I have learned over time. Whenever I am overwhelmed with distraction, God seems to point me back to this wisdom.

1. Wisdom of my Mother:

“Slow down: One thing at a time.”

No one likes listening to their mother but even at 34, I humbly acknowledge thought that she is right.

2. Wisdom of Scripture:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. – Romans 12:2

Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established. – Proverbs 16:3

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 5:18

3. Wisdom of Prayer:

Jesus taught us out to pray and in prayer he helps us focus on him.

Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth,
As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,

The power, and the glory,

For ever and ever.

Amen.

So let’s fix our eyes on him, pray, and take it one thing at a time. 

indianaswordsman

The bar/confrontation scene from Good Will Hunting (1998) is one of my favorite movie scenes because it reveals something uncomfortable about us; we are all posers. In the scene, Will Hunting played by Matt Damon and his friends, who are from a poor part of South Boston decide one night to visit a Harvard bar. After Will’s friend played by Ben Affleck attempts to pick up some girls, he is confronted by an arrogant MIchael Bolton look-a-like Harvard graduate student. The graduate student begins to taunt Affleck’s character in front of the ladies by showing off his supposed knowledge of early American History. The scene is full of class-tension but underneath there is something deeper; a man’s authenticity is being challenged.

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Watch the scene to understand.

“But at least I won’t be unoriginal”

Our education system creates unoriginal posers who are incentivized to memorize facts and other people’s ideas. This happens to people of all ages, not just in school. I work in an office that tempts to suck the creative spirit out of me. There are days when I feel the desire to go to graduate school but then I realize that another degree or a graduate degree will only serve as an entry point to feeding my pride. As I evaluate my heart, I catch myself yearning just to see extra initials after my name on a business card or a resume. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing inherently wrong with a degree or a graduate degree.

My point is this.

You are only as good as what you do with your education. 

We are all posers unless we use our education for the better and for each person that will be something personal and hopefully unique. The viewer learns later in the film that Will Hunting was a poser for not using the gift that God had given him. We are left at the end of the movie not knowing what he does with his education but that is probably the beauty of the story to embrace.

I apply this scene to my life because God has given me many dreams that I can sit on or pursue. I am reminded of C.S. Lewis’ words,

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

God gives us experience and the passions to act. By faith, he calls us to trust him in this journey. This is life’s great education. God gives us choice on what to do with this education and I am learning that I need to take seriously what he has given to me. I am awaken.

I am learning that it is not my degree or credentials that matter. He loves me no matter what and it is what I do with my education that matters. That is what makes the world stand up and clap.

I need to write.

I need to take the risks.

I need to engage fearlessly with my wife and my kids.

I need to leave the excuses behind and go forward with this education.

I may not have multiple PhDs. But my hope in life is that at least I won’t be unoriginal.

What are you learning about your education? What do you want to do with it?

One of the wittiest and most quotable movies of all time is Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). It is a personal favorite and the most graphic scene in the movie is a sword fight between King Arthur and a stubborn black knight guarding a wee bridge. As the black knight loses a limb, Kind Arthur demands that he surrender. The black knight claims that losing an arm is “just a flesh wound” and continues the fight while King Arthur stands there bewildered. Watch the clip below for full amusement.

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Like the black knight, we are in a world full of walking wounded and in pain. The pain is a reminder that sin has plagued us and quite frankly I’m tired of the pain.

Thankfully there is hope in many places.

Psalm 23 provides great comfort in what lies ahead in heaven where there will be no more tears and no more pain or strife. But we are not there yet so why does pain exist beyond be a reminder of the fall? What does God teach us in pain? In the movie Invictus, there is a great exchange when Nelson Mandela asks Francois Pienaar, the South African Rugby Captain, about if  he was feeling 100% in preparation for the next match. Francois’ responded humbly that no one is ever 100% free from pain or injury.

It is the same in all things in life.

I am currently recovering from arthoscopic knee surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus. It has been harder than I thought and my mind keeps wanting to push forward. My body still feels the pain though. Personally this past year has been wonderful and painful. Our family’s year has been full of the following:

  • My knee surgery.
  • My mother is awaiting a knee replacement.
  • My father has been battling a severe staph infection and is waiting on a hip replacement.
  • Brooke lost her grandmother.
  • We renovated our house and were fighting bumps and bruises for almost a year.
  • Our dog has ACL surgery and we have to literally pick him up to help him go to the bathroom outside.
  • My wife has had the painful duty of taking care of us all.
  • My previous job was painful and stressful and left me far outside of my comfort zone.

Too often pain tends to keep us focused on ourselves but when we stop to look around we see that we are not alone. In fact, I have many friends who are suffering much worse things like cancer, severe mental illness, greater physical injuries or have lost loved ones. We are surrounded by pain.

In the book, The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis, he points out the struggle.

“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

He goes on.

“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.”

Ultimately pain serves a purpose and we should be thankful for its purpose. If we had no pain, we would be home in heaven. But we’re not there yet.

Pain tells me that life is real.

Pain tells me that I need help.

Pain tells me that I need Christ.

Pain tells me that I’m not home yet and to keep pushing forward.