Book Review: Bo’s Cafe – Will Grace Finally Win?

Bo's Cafe

The Splendor of Surrender to Sunglasses After Sunset

I truly enjoyed this ride. You will too. Trust me. Real life. Real people. Rugged honesty. Wrenching reality.

A mosaic of granting permission to take ourselves less seriously, to confront the challenge of facing ourselves through the eyes of others, the courage to seek or stumble into relationships where the grace of God can work the miracle of transforming us into what we might be — it’s all here in Bo’s Café – Will Grace Finally Win?

Jesus really never told people what to think. For the most part, he attracted people to see life with new eyes. Sure, He reasoned with some folks. Yet, he truly appealed to their imagination versus their reason (or lack thereof) — Sunglasses after sunset (p.29) is a profound embodiment of the ongoing new era of storytelling that gives new life and relevance to the reality of Jesus presence and unrealized impact in our lives. Come as you are to this book. Bring all your stuff along. Reach for grace. What’s grace? Listen to the authors (John Lynch, Bill Thrall and BruceMcNicol):

“Grace is a gift only the nonreligious can accept. They’re the only ones who can get it. Religious folks see grace as soft. So they keep trying to manage their junk with their own willpower and tenacity. Nothing defines religion quite as well as a bunch of people trying to do impossible tasks with limited power while bluffing to themselves that it’s working.” (p.89).

It’s very important to note that this novel is not written for religious types (although those who consider themselves as such would definitely enjoy it). I am not going to spoil the plot, the characters, or the many poignant truths that will innocently harness your heart in this review. It would be a crying shame to do that. Speaking of shame, take note of the following excerpt:

You know what shame does? It takes a particular violation or several violations from your past, something that really got to you, and convinces you felt like in that violation is who you’ll always be, for the rest of your life. Sad,huh? — We don’t want others to see us for the person the lie has told us we are. We almost unconsciously create a lie to protect us from the lie. Bad combination.” (pp.146-147).

You can’t write those words without having lived it, and experienced the freedom that lies on the other side of this deception.

Ride with these guys. There should be warning label on the jacket of this book: Read with Sunglasses On. You’ll need them to peer into the timeless truths this story reveals in a new, creative, relevant light.

Book Review: The CUL-DE-SAC Syndrome

The Cul-de-sac Syndrome

In The Cul-De-Sac Syndrome – Turning Around The Unsustainable American DreamJohn Wasik provides a surgical strike into the heart of the socio-economic and social-structural challenges currently facing the U.S.

He begins with a characterization of the false economics that got us into this mess, a scholarly historical overview of the origins of suburbia in the U.S. and how debt and finance played a fundamental a role in the current conundrum.

As Wasik states, “The age of froth is long over. It’s a time for reckoning and renewal.” (p.174). This book focuses on re-imagining, re-engineering and rebuilding our communities…and a sustainable way of life for America.

Wasik spears the illusions and assumptions that fueled the unsustainable rise in residential real estate prices. He moves on to characterize how we must “clean up and move on.”

This is not one of those books that simply summarizes and criticizes a crisis in hindsight. It provides  terribly important insights into the correction required to stabilize and grow this nation.

Listen to Wasik. After devouring this work, I’m convinced he is a thinker legitimately worth paying attention to.

One of my favorites for 2009.

Book Review: Tales of Wonder – Adventures Chasing The Divine

Tales of Wonder

This is an autobiography of Huston Smith.  Smith has written 14 books, most notably, The World’s Religions. During his career, he taught at Washington University, Syracuse, MIT and U.C. Berkeley.

This is an extraordinarily well written book. Jeffrey Paine of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (formerly a judge on the Pulitzer Prize committee) writes this amazing story of Smith’s life.

A fascinating read. Huston claims the soul of Christianity as his faith and became a practicing Muslim, Hindi and Buddhist during his lifetime. The metaphor Smith uses to provide a framework for understanding human existence is the cross:

“Our life in historical or chronological time, measuring and minding, cautious and comparing, forms the horizontal arm of the cross. Our experience of the unqualified, of inner, immeasurable time (or timelessnesss) is the cross’s vertical pole. We live in two kinds of time or perspective simultaneously. The horizontal and the vertical are at once quite distinct and entirely overlapping, and to experience their incongruity and confluence is what it means to be human.” (p.41).

Huston’s life can be characterized by the following phrase:

to think of how to think the way I do not think,” (p.130)

His life explored the dilemma whereby “Once different religions knew about each other only enough to kill or convert one another.” (p.51). Smith’s life exemplified that the exploration of a varierty of faith persuasions allowed him to tap dimensions of the human experience that he was unaware of. His life illustrated the observation that, “The great changes in history occur, I believe, not through argument but through seeing things differently.” (p.106).

This autobiography of Huston Smith provides tangible evidence that great changes in human beings occur, not through argument, but through seeing things differently.

This is truly a divine adventure. I recommend it.

Cost(a) Accounting & The Homeless

Costa Editorial Sunday September 20th 2009 – Bend Bulletin- Who’s Really Harming The Homeless?

Homeless

Sunday September 20th 2009

Mr. Scott Cooper – Director of Public Policy

Partnership To End Poverty

521 SW 6th Street – Suite 101

P.O. Box 147

Redmond, Oregon 97756

Scott:

I would like to share with you the dismay I felt in terms of John Costa’s unfortunate editorial on page F-1 of the Bend Bulletin today (Sunday September 20th 2009) entitled “Who’s Really Harming The Homeless?

We typically don’t have any problem counting money. Yet, when the equation involves people, that’s when the math gets murky. Unfortunately, we have developed a tendency to forget/argue how to count people accurately when it comes to socio-political issues…particularly one’s like homelessness, where the persons being counted do not have an Editorial page platform to expound from.  It really boils down to counterfeit counting or, counting only the folks that somebody defines as worth counting, the ones that truly matter, or disparaging the number of those (particularly the needy) identified as counted. The figures we throw around depend upon the position we are attempting to support (Costa’s carefully crafted defense of his newspaper came off just that way — defending his count). This is what I refer to as arbitrary arithmetic or arbithmetic: the rules for counting change depending upon the reason underlying your count. Whether people count or not is dependent upon some pre-defined subjective definition that somebody makes up and translates into a quantifiable form.

We have arrived at a critical juncture in our region that demands that we revisit the madness of our arbithmetic, as characterized by the following author: “The first step is to measure whatever can be easily counted. This is OK as far as it goes. The second step is to disregard that which can’t be easily measured or to give it an arbitrary quantitative value. This is artificial and misleading. The third step is to presume that which can’t be measured easily really isn’t important. This is blindness. The fourth step is to say that which can’t be easily measured really doesn’t exist. This is suicide.”[i]

Counting can be considered, cold, cruel and calculated. When we immerse ourselves in this routine activity, we can become desensitized to the essential compassion and character required of one who embraces a citizen’s responsibility for ridding our region of the scourge of homelessness. As one author points out, “At the end of the twentieth century, many millions of refugees and displaced persons are victims of “compassion fatigue.”[ii] We human beings have a history replete with centuries of evidence documenting our tiring about the care of the less fortunate. Yes, we continue to suffer from this insidious malady today.

Total assets minus total liabilities equals net worth.  Is diminishing human beings to arguments over counting them vs. addressing the fundamental deficiencies that feed the burgeoning divide between the haves and the poor, the needy, the marginalized, the displaced and the homeless something that detracts from the net worth of this region? Is it possible that, “In the process of being against something worth being against, one often becomes for something not worth being for.”[iii] When the outsiders view of central Oregon appears to be at an all-time low, is it time to examine whether or not Mr. Costa’s editorial is evidence of the possibility that The Bulletin has succumbed  to becoming for something not worth being for? I hope not. I think that is taking things too far.

My wife came home exhausted and heartbroken after volunteering (with hundreds of others) serving the thousands of the less fortunate at the Deschutes County Fairgrounds on Saturday September 19th. I wish Mr. Costa could have been here when my wife returned. He would have garnered a vastly deeper appreciation of what truly counts in central Oregon. He could have experienced a woman with a broken heart. Broken hearts are difficult to count.

Mr. Costa’s editorial broke my heart. He could have chosen a vastly more constructive expenditure of his energy and his platform. I forgive him. I’ve made the same mistake myself.

Then again, who’s counting?

NOTES


[i] Handy, Charles The Age of Paradox Harvard Business School Press © 1994 p. 221

[ii] Power, Samantha & Allison, Graham Realizing Human Rights – Moving From Inspiration to Impact, (c) 2000 by Samantha Power and Graham Allison, St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY. p. 30.

[iii] Campolo, Tony and McLaren, Brian Adventures in Missing the Point – How the Culture Controlled Church Neutered the Gospel, Emergent YS Books – Zondervan Publishers, Inc. Grand Rapids, MI., Copyright © 2003 by Youth Specialties p. 242.

Book Review: When Genius Failed – The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management

When Genius Failed

Somebody suggested that for every 3 books you read, make sure that one of them is at least eight years old (from its initial publication date). This particular book demonstrates the legitimacy of the suggestion.

This is required reading for anyone involved in the fields of finance/ economics/mathematics or the social sciences. The moral of this story is really captured from a quote attributed to John Maynard Keynes on page 123:

Markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.

Lowenstein is a superb story-teller. This is a mystery, thriller, non-fiction  account of the intrigue and insights into the minds of those on Wall Street who evolved the proto-typical hedge fund.  It is a story about assumptions, thinking and hubris.

As Lowenstein says:

Finance is poetically just; it punishes the reckless with special fervor.” (p. 179).

Not only do markets possess the capacity for irrationality, the businesses and the people behind them can be unreasonable and simply wrong. For finance professionals, this book is a stunning reminder that the risks of tomorrow cannot always be inferred from the examination and inferences made from yesterday’s information. The author makes a solid case for the observation that uncertainty and risk do not always cooperate with the results produced by quantitative modeling.

Read this book. You don’t have to be a finance professional, investor or mathematics wizard to garner the timeless truths that are illuminated throughout this  carefully crafted story….truths whose essence endures today….Truth has a habit of doing that (enduring) doesn’t it?

Animal Spirits – How Human Psychology Drives The Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism

Animal Spirits

In their new book, George Akerlof and Robert Shiller suggest that:

The confidence of a nation, or of any large group, tends to revolve around stories. Of particular relevance are new era stories, those that purport to describe historic changes that will propel the economy into a brand new era.” (p.55).

Akerlof and Shiller go on to state: “Confidence is not just the emotional state of an individual. It is a view of other people’s confidence, and of other people’s perceptions of other people’s confidence.” (emphasis is mine p.55) .

Stories, changes, a new era, emotional states, perceptions — confidence — all terms that John Maynard Keynes might point to as sources of explanatory power for economic fluctuations and the instabilities that inhabit capitalism. Keynes, Akerlof and Shiller refer to these influences as animal spirits.

Accordingly, the thesis of this work is captured in the following:

“To understand how economies work and how we can manage them and prosper, we must pay attention to the thought patterns that animate people’s ideas and feelings — We will never really understand important economic events unless we confront the fact that their causes are largely mental in nature.” (p.1)

“The human mind is built to think in terms of narratives, of sequences of events with an integral logic and dynamic that appear as a unified whole. In turn, much of human motivation comes from living through a story of our lives, a story we tell to ourselves and that creates a framework for motivation. Life could be “just one damn thing after another” if it weren’t for these stories. The same is true for confidence in a nation, a company, or an institution. Great leaders are first and foremost creators of stories.” (p.51).

This is a groundbreaking work in macroeconomics. Macroeconomics, as it has evolved over the last several decades, might lead one to  succumb to the sheer beauty and mystery of the mathematical portrayals and the inter-related interpretations thereof. This book reveals a new frontier that will hopefully spawn solid research and new explanatory tools – inter-disciplinary in nature (psychology, sociology and perhaps neurological) that may form the new theories of macroeconomics and lead us to courageously consider what we think we know about economic behavior, economies, and the motivations of economic beings — from a variety of perspectives.

The dawn of new era stories in macroeconomics is upon us. Read what Akerlof and Shiller have to say. Enjoy! I certainly did.