Category Archives: Books

Nothing to Envy

Korean Peninsula

When I first saw this photo of the Korean peninsula I was intrigued. How can a place so full of light be in such close proximity to a place cloaked in utter darkness. A friend and co-worker from Seoul, South Korea has told me of her life in a very modern city filled with technology, modern design and commerce. How could a country that shares a border and a common history be so different? And what must life be like in a place so dark, oppressed and isolated?

I read Barbara Demick’s book, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, 2 years ago and it still haunts me today.  It tells of the everyday lives of several people in North Korea, their struggles to live, love and survive.  As I watch the news and see the rising tension surrounding North Korea I think not of the threat this country and its unstable leader poses to the world but of the ordinary people who suffer everyday, silently, in the darkness.  They are the forgotten people who are hidden behind the voices of a legacy of dictators.  They are the ones that are oppressed, starving, waiting.   This book reminds me that all conflict and war that we read, see and hear about through the lens of policy, government and the media have a vast array of people, ordinary people, that are suffering and forgotten amidst the rhetoric.  This book brings a sense of the humanity of the North Korean people and their need for truth and light.

It is a North Korean phenomenon that many have observed.  For lack of chairs or benches, the people sit for hours on their haunches, along the sides of roads, in parks, in the market.  They stare straight ahead as though they are waiting – for a tram, maybe, or a passing car, a friend or a relative.Maybe they are waiting for nothing in particular, just waiting for something to change.        – Barbara Demick, July 2010


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How to Prepare for the Olympic Games

Summer is reading a good book under the shade of a tree.  A good book… one that takes you to another place and time, grabs your attention and won’t let you go until you reach the conclusion, only to wish there was more to the fascinating story you’ve entered.  But this story is no fairy tale, science fiction or distant world.  It is true and continues to be lived today.

Running for My Life tells the story of Lopez Lomong an athlete that we will soon watch on television as he participates in his second Olympic games.  He will run the 5000 as part of Team USA in London later this summer.  But his journey as a runner began unexpectedly when he was just 6 years old, running for his life from the civil war in Sudan in 1991.  His escape from rebel soldiers took him to a refugee camp in Kenya for 10 years living with other Lost Boys from Sudan.  Syracuse, my hometown, was his first home in America joining the Rogers family in nearby Tully.  Our community is home to many resettled refugees and his story is only one of many that inspire our community. His running has taken him to college, the Olympics and given him a platform and voice to help his homeland of Sudan and the people there.

Many times while watching the Olympics we are given a glimpse of the athletes before they took the world stage with their incredible athletic ability.  Learning the stories of these athletes is one of my favorite parts of watching the games.  Lopez Lomong’s story is certainly one of pain, suffering and hardship but all that is overshadowed by his tremendous drive, hope and selfless endeavors for the people of South Sudan.  I was looking forward to the Olympics as a spectator.  But now, I am a fan.  A fan of Lopez Lomong.  And not because I want to see him win a race and stand on a podium for a short time with a medal around his neck.  I am a fan because he knows that the race set before him is one that includes much more than a gold medal.  It includes a life filled with loving God, loving those around him and loving his homeland and it’s people of South Sudan.

Let the games begin!

To learn more about Lopez Lomong and 4 South Sudan go to:

This book was received free for two honest reviews. (After reading it, I would gladly buy it)

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The courage of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana

My aunt came over to our house one day to teach me to sew.  We picked out a pattern for a simple jumper and a beautiful dark green corduroy fabric.  She insisted that we should make a prototype out of cheap muslin for practice.  I think this was to save the more expensive corduroy from being destroyed.  We cut, measured, pinned and sewed to finally have a jumper that was passable as a piece of clothing.  She handed me the pattern, corduroy and told me to give it a try.  And with that she went home.  All week I tried, cried, yelled, threw the fabric, threaded and rethreaded the machine.  On the weekend my aunt came back and I tried on the severely misshapen corduroy jumper.  She pointed out a few things that might have gone wrong, armhole facings to name one big snafu, and declared the best way to learn was to keep sewing. And with that my sewing lessons were complete.  Not a method I would recommend.  However my aunt did give me enough knowledge to create an appetite for making many of my own clothes through junior high and high school.  I made more than I wore, and if you have ever attempted to sew you know exactly what I mean by that, and can truly appreciate those who are skilled dressmakers.  A skill and title I do not even come close to.

The book The Dressmaker of Khair Khana is set in Afghanistan during the past 15 years surrounding the rise of the Taliban rule.  It gives a glimpse into the lives of the women who lived during the oppression of this era.  The young women in the Sidiqi family are living lives with school, career and choices in front of them.  In just a few short days in 1996 they are sequestered to their homes, banned from school, work, and restricted to public appearances only when accompanied by a male family member.  The burqa, the head to toe fabric covering, was required for any travel outside the home.  These young women were industrious, creative and immensely courageous.  They learn to sew and develop a thriving dressmaker business and sewing school in spite of great personal danger.

As I recalled my experience with sewing and then contrasted it with theirs I developed great respect for these women. They have persevered under stress, oppression and danger.  Their resourcefulness was not just self-serving but for the community as well.  They looked beyond their own needs to give opportunities and hope for other women as well.  My sewing never had a purpose greater than to increase my wardrobe.  Kamila Jan and her sisters were thrown into difficult circumstances and found strength not only to survive but to look beyond themselves.  They brought hope and courage to everyone around them.  Including those who read their story.  It is a story well worth reading for yourself.

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I must have been hungry.  I devoured a book in less than 24 hours.  Not a novel where I got lost in the story living vicariously through someone elses’ life.  No this was something unexpected and unknown but captured my imagination and sent my mind racing none the less.

The Medici Effect:

What Elephants and Epidemics Can Teach Us About Innovation

by Frans Johansson

Create an environment for new imaginative thinking to solve problems or develop ideas by working with people from diverse backgrounds, cultures, professions and experiences.

Last year I asked my friends and co-workers to join me to solve an old problem, modern-day slavery, in an old way with government funding and collaboration with other governments.  But with creative innovative thinking I’m sure there’s a new way to look at this problem.  The old way is good.  It’s what we have to work with now, but if people from a variety of disciplines, fields, cultures, businesses and academic interests were to intersect around human trafficking – I have hope that new extraordinary ideas would come to mind.

And that’s just one area that could use extraordinary ideas.

A few months ago Mary Nelson brought together over 150 people to address the upsurge in violence in our city.  This problem needs more than just the same old concepts and solutions.  It needs an innovative idea that comes from the intersection of a variety of people coming from unexpected relationships.

After traveling to Haiti this month and seeing people still living among the rubble, destruction and in tent cities over a year after the earthquake it reminds me how much they need new innovative thinking. One gentleman we met in a rural village look us inside his home to show us his sick wife, leaky roof and dilapidated house.  The one english word he repeated over and over as he pointed to various things, “Problem”.  Yes, Haiti has overwhelming complex problems that need new creative ideas.

This book gave me some take away’s for today:

  • Carry a notebook, or ipad, and write all my ideas down, no matter how crazy
  • Exercise my thinking by breaking down usual associations between ideas and concepts
  • Reverse a goal to find a new solution
  • Brainstorm alone before you brainstorm as a group (and shoot for 30 ideas)
  • Find a way to reward failure as well as success

There are creative ideas that have yet to be developed.  Ideas that could change large problems that we face across all spheres of life – government, health care, economics, education, family life and church. My sphere my be small but this book gave me a new perspective on how to set myself up to step into the intersection of creative, innovative thinking.

Is there an area you need a new idea, a problem solved, a creative solution?  Try the Medici Effect.

Free pdf copy


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Writing Your Own Story

Who doesn’t love a good book or movie?  One where there is great conflict, peril and danger. These are the stories I watch or read over and over, identifying with the characters, lost in the story of their fictional lives.  Donald Miller’s book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, was a great read that I have recommended or now given away several times over. He tells the story of what makes a great story.  And not just a story you’d want to read, but a story you’d want to live.

For me now, past the mid-point of my life (I think I can safely say I’m past half time) I can look back and say that there are chapters in my life that were a great story, full of adventure, conflict, pain and triumph.  And then there were chapters that you could skip over because they would lull you to sleep.  Same routine, different day, without too much variation.  Just plodding along keeping everything steady and even keel. That was the goal, the aim and the achievement.  Trying to avoid the hospital, the principal’s office and policemen.  Somewhere along the way aiming for routine became the target because it was the opposite of chaos.  Sometimes just surviving the day seems like enough.

Miller says every great story has an inciting incident that the character embarks on, something to shake things up, stretch you, challenge you and ultimately help you live a great story.  Might make your life harder, messier, painful but it’s a life lived, not just survived.

The book is a great read and to catch the update of the minute by minute happenings that have taken place since the book was written check out:  Save Blue Like Jazz (and when I say minute to minute, I mean currently happening now, don’t miss it)

This is a book that compels you to live your story, live a great story.  Not just one you survive.

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Doing anything alone can get, well,… lonely.  Discouraging, stuck for lack of resources and difficult.  Anything, and especially parenting.  But when we are collaborating with another, say the church, then the potential for success is much greater.  Collaborate is a book  containing the thoughts, ideas or philosophies of 35 different authors on how the church and family can collaborate together to encourage the spiritual growth of children.

Thirty five different authors giving a glimpse of their thought or experience is a bit like going to Baskin Robbins for ice cream and having an incredible tasting session with those little pink spoons.  Each one gives you an instant feeling or “mmm, I want more”, “not bad” or “ooo, don’t need any more of that”.  WIth 35 different views (tastes) I was able to find a few of each.

Each time I read a book, I can always find a few take aways.  Here are mine:

  • The church can help the family by just giving them an opportunity to be together with no hidden agenda. With family members torn in different directions with busy schedules they need a reason to just “be” together in a shared experience.  Nothing wrong with a good ole’ game night just for fun!
  • The church would do well to take every opportunity to equip parents to be involved in milestone events (like baptism) rather than pull their children away into the hands of the “professionals”.  Provide parents the tools, resources, training and encouragement they need, not do it for them.
  • Parents of teens need all the encouragement they can get.  Don’t beat them up with guilt, judgment or comparison.  The church would do better to build a culture of compassion, compatriots and mentors for both the teen and the parent.
  • Provide a shared experience for the entire family for the family to rally around.  A weekend service where everyone is hearing the same topic/story/scripture is one Big Idea.  Perhaps a shared experience around a service project or event that provides both the family and church to encourage one another.

Collaborate is a good book to get an introduction to the many varied ideas that are being used around the world to bring the family and church together.

To hear what others are saying about Collaborate:


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Why I love to read the newspaper – part 2

I recently read the book Googled by Ken Auletta.  I can’t go a day without Google and knowing the history of this innovative company seemed like a good read to try out my new Kindle.  I became more and more of a fan of Google reading this book until I realized that they were undermining the future financial viability of the newspaper industry.   Google’s ability to get to know me by the topics I search and the advertisements I click have given them the information they need to supply me with the news I want.  Or so they think.  Little do they know, the reason I like to read the newspaper is to find out things that I don’t even know I need or want or like or care about.

Last week, by reading the newspaper, I was able to find out that Metro Mattress is seeking charitable organizations to donate 50 beds to in the CNY region.  My friend Nicole is leading a group of people to supply local refugee families with beds, furniture and winter clothing – necessities they lack when they arrive in our city. How would anyone, especially a search engine with mathematical algorithms that calculate what I want to know, know I needed to know that? (yes, I’m standing on a soap box right now)

I love Google’s ability to help me find the local time in Wellington New Zealand* or what it’s called when rabbits jump sideways for no reason**.  And I love their corporate culture of giving employees the freedom to spend 20% of their time on research that encourages innovation.  And I love their company slogan “Don’t be evil”.  I just don’t want them to mess with my newspaper.

By the way, I did enjoy the book.

*According to Leah the formula is -6 hours + 1 calendar day (in other words EST+18 hours)

**Binking.  It means they’re really happy.  I hope Pizza is binking in Boston. (Pizza = Leah’s rabbit on loan to a friend while she’s in New Zealand)

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