To a Place with Golden Streets

Heaven by Randy Alcorn

As recently as just hours ago at the time of this writing, I was reminded of some of the greatest wisdom I have received in my lifetime:

Life’s Hard. Then, you die.

It seems morbid, I admit. But it rings quite true, even for citizens of a first-world, free country.

We strive until it feels we do nothing else. A chasing after the wind. Disengaged from the thought of any Afterlife, cognizant only of Heaven’s distractions.

If anything else, we never bore.

This post about Heaven was next in line already, but a Bible study on the book of Hebrews propelled its publishing.

“Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” – Hebrews 4:11

Oh, I strive. But my endeavors are worldly, and I find myself longing for His rest. Whether my interpretation of the context is accurate or not is not the focus; rather that this concoction of reflection reminded me of this book. A book with a simple premise, but one so often overlooked that even Christians claim there is no way to fully grasp the Eternity in which we believe.

Alcorn says, however, that we most certainly can grasp and imagine it, and by God, I’m convinced.

While five hundred pages were, I found, a bit excessive, the book’s layout is worthy of an attempt, if for no other reason than to seek an answer to a specific question. There is no presence of scripture manipulation or lack of evidence to support claims. Alcorn does a fine job of stipulating the Word from his own.

In order to push the message across, I have to break a rule of mine by delivering Alcorn’s main point, though indirectly, if possible.

I’m looking at my neighbor’s sweetgum tree. It’s big. It’s old. It’s dying. Neighbor wants to cut it down, but I don’t want him to. Say what you will about a grown man enjoying trees and birds and clouds. I don’t care. The tree is beautiful, and I want it to stay. Of course, a dying tree of this size is still of dangerous weight. I get it. Maybe it needs to come down.

Whether its time has come or not doesn’t matter. We know for sure that its time will come. When all that remains will be the decay of stump and roots. Decay and death. It comes for us all.

BUT!

When the time comes for the New Earth, will the thought of this sweetgum fill my eternal memory? Will I say to my friends, “Let me tell you about this tree I once knew”?

On the contrary, I expect the redeemed tree, in its new found glory, the greatest it has ever been, to shade me as I sit and read, praise, create, or ponder. Only this time I will do so without an ounce of anxiety. No concern for the future. No fear of my life outlasting my savings account.

I am convinced, and I would like for you to share in my convincing. Read it.

Grow Your Mind, Keep Your Mind, Read a Book!

Sam I Am

There and Back Again: An Actor’s Tale by Sean Astin

Sean Astin brings a short but impressive outline of experience to the table; nearly everyone knows him, and I’ll prove it. If you recognize any of the following, you know Sean Astin:

“Goonies never say die”

“Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!”

“Samwise the Brave”

I can’t say I am well-versed on the former two, but beset you would be to find an individual so learned in the latter as I. Oh, they exist, of course. Only rarer do they become.

Hence, imagine my excitement to read Astin’s tale of becoming Sam Gamgee. Any deeper look into the making of The Lord of the Rings has my full attention.

Regrettably, however, I know more about Astin than I hoped to know about the movies, as I have once again been duped by cover and title. Though there are a few insider nuggets, the vacillation of Sean’s emotional war makes up the preponderance of his manuscript.

“I don’t like this. But, then again, I should like this. I also dislike how this was handled, but I shouldn’t dislike that. I can live. Elijah Wood is a little different. We are lifelong friends.”

There couldn’t be elation without the following valley, and there was no lowland without a quick recoup back to normalcy. In other words… it was boring.

The Lord of the Rings was the hardest thing Astin ever did, but it was also the greatest, and it seems like this statement could have been summed up in a pamphlet. While it appeals to my nature to observe a Hollywood Man as an ordinary person, I found myself yearning for a colossal narrative of extraordinaire.

The reason, I’ve noted, is that Sean wrote his book too early after the making of the movies. The Return of the King was released in theaters in December of 2003; Astin’s book was released in 2004.

Let it simmer, brother. Let it simmer.

Another grievance lies in the fact that I have publicly defended Astin’s abysmal, mutually agreed upon salary for these movies. OK, I know I was twenty years late. What’s it to ya? Only later in the book did I find that bonuses from these movies have the man set up for life, but he didn’t give me the numbers.

Yea, he’ll give us the weak salary numbers but not the sweet honey that he obviously deserved.

“Pay the man, Peter Jackson!” you may recall me exclaiming. I’m now the foolish loudspeaker. Talk first. Listen later. Maybe.

Suffice it to say that I did not love the book like I wanted, but Astin allows me one insight into arguably the greatest scene in the entire trilogy. If you’ve made it this far through this post, I have to believe you’ve seen the movie. Recall on the slopes of Mount Doom, Frodo losing all will to carry on before Sam concludes his monologue with:

“I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you!”

Epic.

Astin elevates to the highest of pedestals the genius that is the stoic and non-hysterical Peter Jackson, and fills us in that the filming of this scene brought Jackson to tears, a feat that caused Astin and Wood to silently exclaim Victory!

If Astin captured anything in his text, it can be summed up in a single sentence on the very last page:

“I owe everything to The Lord of the Rings — and to Peter Jackon.”

We all do, my friend. We all do.

Grow Your Mind, Keep Your Mind, Read A Book!

You Will Soar

Soar! by T.D. Jakes

Without prior expectation, Greater by Steven Furtick became an immediate favorite of mine, and with this newfound catalyst into a pursuit of greatness came a slight obsession with all things Furtick.

If you’ve seen Pastor Furtick preach live, you know he is one who brings you to your feet. Repeatedly. He is one who may receive, from the likes of me, an occasional, OK, dude. Let me sit and listen.

In a particular episode of my man-crush saga, Furtick interviewed Bishop T.D. Jakes on his latest released book, Soar!, in which I received a great deal of wisdom in a short amount of time. I knew of Jakes, but I had not read any of his 40+ books. Nor, to my knowledge, had I listened to any of his Grammy Award-winning music or watched any of his produced films.

This interview with the Bishop was enough to convince me to grab the book and learn what the veteran had to say.

Drawing analogous imagery between our impossible dreams and the infamous exploits of the Wright brothers in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Jakes encourages us with great exigency to fly, to soar.

“Build your vision from the ground up,” instructs the cover in sage fashion. If a renowned Jesus lover and entrepreneur wants to give me insight, I’ll take it, but it did not appear that I belonged to the targeted audience.

For reasons not clearly defined in his book, T.D. directs his supposition towards women, an approach I found unique, while simultaneously bold. I feel compelled to include that uniqueness and boldness fused together are quite the admirable pair. I am simply iterating that he was not speaking to me.

Even so, imparted affirmation would not escape me. The Bishop and I concur on the issues of American debt and the repercussions that linger. We also beware and warn against the “money first” ethos.

Affirmation may be the most salient profit from my readings, not fundamentally contributing “new” or “exciting.” But as I say many times to those who care to listen, every one of us, whether deep down or on the surface, desire to be affirmed. We crave it. We require it.

And I’ll die on that hill.

Therefore, I’ll welcome it always. I would urge any man or woman hesitant to begin, in the early stages of, or in the midst of doubt due to chasing a vision entrusted to them by the Almighty to read Soar! But it is the American, woman entrepreneur who openly shares her reluctance to begin that I will seek out and urge to dive in.

Grow Your Mind, Keep Your Mind, Read A Book!

Antonio Ban-Clooney

Love Works by Joel Manby

I won this book.

I bought two tickets to a Young Business Leaders breakfast, replaced a cancelled buddy with a new one, grabbed me some orange juice and a sausage biscuit, and took a seat alongside hundreds of others like me.

Manby entered stage left following an ample introduction from which I learned that his claim to fame includes a cameo in Undercover Boss. Neato.

I quickly surmised that this man had the good looks of a slightly aged Antonio Banderas and sounded very much like George Clooney, and not much else mattered to me for the rest of the day.

However, my encounter with George Banderas was highlighted when he gave away two of his books, and my name was called first!

Little did he know, I’m sure, that it would actually be read and critiqued.

Recently, Proverbs 21:31 has been ever on my mind.

“The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord.”

Conversation on the subject has ensued amongst my peers; spiritual and physical applications have contextually risen, but the most prevalent sentiments revolve around the idea of work.

Specifically, our pursuit for corporate superiority; I admit I possess a few ounces of this ambition.

Fortunately, it is possible to thrive in corporate America and still be a respectable human being, an ideology driven home by Joel Manby in Love Works, though his delivery is far better and worded differently.

For those who find themselves with similar ambitions and intend to remain genuinely compassionate as a business leader, this book will assist with preparing that horse.

It is a tool that will be kept in my arsenal for years to come. Good job, Joel. I appreciate you.

Grow Your Mind; Keep Your Mind; Read A Book!

What Did I Just Read?

Against the Gods by Peter L. Bernstein

The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist… to name a few ravers. It comes as no surprise. Friends and associates of Bernstein urged him for years to write this book. It appears those friends and associates missed the meeting in which Bernstein settled upon a thesis.

Observe the book cover. The depiction is an attempt to portray Jesus and his disciples in the midst of a storm; at least, I think it is. Now, observe the subtitle. The Remarkable Story of Risk.

With these two things in mind, where does your mind go? Do you think you are about to immerse yourself in one of (or some of) the best biographies you’ve read in quite some time about risk takers who come out on top? Or do you at once see a web of financial history anecdotes peppered with nonfinancial history narratives that have seemingly no correlation to the financial pieces?

If you chose the latter, well you have a gift. You are spot on!

Yea, yea… I know… “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Well, I have news for you! I judge books by their covers!

And this one had me excited, so excited, even, that I placed the other seven books received as Christmas gifts on the backburner in order to focus my attention on this gaze-grabber.

I try to be as learned as I can possibly be in finance, but while I don’t believe myself to be unfortunate, I have been blessed with a mind that is more disciplined than skilled. Therefore, the intricacies of finance can become quite overwhelming rather quickly. I read this book because a previous book told me to, and that book was considerably convincing in its motif. How could I say no?

While there are plenty of page folds and documented “return to-ers” (as I call them), this book was simply a scramble. I still don’t know what the author is trying to tell me.

After considering it for a bit, I’ve determined that Peter L. Bernstein was most likely one the most intelligent men in his field, his close acquaintances knew it, they convinced him to write this book, and he took everything he knew and put it together in timeline form.

So, yes, I might have stored a bit more information than I had before, but at what cost?! Though present, the story-telling is minimal and separated by long, incomprehensible filler permeated with abstruse vernacular. Mr. Attention bids adieu, and Lady Slumber invites herself in.

She is welcome, my friends. She is welcome.

Grow Your Mind, Keep Your Mind, Read A Book!

A Statistical Observation Markedly Different

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

There is a puzzle in this book. I could not solve it. Supposedly, most people cannot, but there are men and women in this world who have astronomical Intelligence Quotients and who would have almost no trouble tackling it. And many of them are clerks or grocery baggers for the remainder of their lives. Out of choice!

Many who cannot solve that puzzle go on to win the Nobel Prize.

There is a small, Italian town in Pennsylvania, the city of Roseto, where people die of old age, and nothing else; so says a study conducted in the 1950s — well before the modernization of cholesterol lowering medication. Roseto’s inhabitants didn’t eat healthy. They weren’t thin.

In Roseto, “There was no suicide, no alcoholism, no drug addiction, and very little crime. They didn’t have anyone on welfare. Then we looked up peptic ulcers. They didn’t have any of those either.”

How did Bill Gates do what Bill Gates did? How did the Beatles do what the Beatles did?

Malcolm Gladwell covers all of these unique, individual concepts in phenomenal detail in this Story of Success; purchasing the paperback for 16.99 US dollars is worth just one chapter, and I’ll let you in on it with a little hint: Korean Air.

Outliers covers more than you ever thought to know about why and how certain people become who they become. I can nearly promise that this book is as, if not more than, intriguing as anything else you have read in the past five years. And let’s be honest, when we really strip away all the bustle and dust, and when the singularities of our beloved genres abate, what else do we truly seek in bound text but intrigue?

However, if I may possess a lone grievance, it became evident to me that Gladwell had no intention of attributing timeliness and opportunity to that of a higher power, a glaring neglect in any case.

Nonetheless, the scales shifted in favor of concurrence. Gladwell’s research in The Trouble with Geniuses, in particular, concludes that intelligence does not equal success, further bolstering my belief that intelligence is relative, and a smart man is not created by an education.

The book is smart, it’s brilliant, and it will not be the last Malcolm Gladwell book read by Yours Truly. If you care to be entertained, read it.

Grow Your Mind, Keep Your Mind, Read A Book!

A Voice

Radical by David Platt

With every bit of honestly and authenticity I can muster, I humbly admit that I desire the reach that Platt has, though not by any means with the same method.

I wanted to know what Mr. Faucett thought of this concept when we met in Rainbow City, and, of course, his view and submission were far more Godly than mine.

It’s a real place, Rainbow City, well-known in these parts compliments of the Croyle family, but I know it from my childhood trips to Steele for a night of drag racing with Pops.

There isn’t much to it save for some major highways and an English-run coffee shop in the corner of a strip mall that also houses Dirt Cheap and Big Lots. Every low-maintenance wife’s dream.

Union Jack! Cool place, and I nearly felt some pride and patriotism for England until I remembered 1776. I also thought the owner was from New Zealand, so his accent may have been a farce.

We were able to sit outdoors, which worried me a bit due to a slight reverberation off the brick walls that tunneled us in. We battled through adversity, however, and came away with the W. The podcast was rather short, but so is Platt’s Radical.

Obviously, I have to let you go listen. You receive no freebies here. Only will I remind you to…

“Grow Your Mind, Keep Your Mind, Read A Book!”

A Rendition

LeMorte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory
A rendition in modern idiom by Keith Baines

The Old French translation of the title would be The Death of Arthur.

I’m a fan of Arthurian legend, which is precisely what urged me to give this book a shot. Apparently, the original was more than double the size of this already five-hundred plus page “abridged” version.

Honestly, I would have rather read the whole thing. This one is choppy, supposedly not spending any futile efforts on superfluous details. As I read, however, I felt the need for some unnecessary features.

The book is extremely hard to follow, and I had to write out several family trees in order to keep up. For instance, King Uther Pendragon (awesome name) stole away the wife of the Duke of Tintagril, and the new couple begot Arthur from deceit. But it is Sir Ector who raises Arthur and naturally fathers Sir Kay, a common character throughout, the “brother” of Arthur.

Aside from Jesus, we are led to believe that Arthur is the greatest to ever walk the Earth until he isn’t… because Lancelot is present. Then, Lancelot becomes the most admirable man in the history of life after Christ… until he isn’t. Because he takes Arthur’s beloved Gwynevere.

Galahad, Lancelot’s illegitimate son, is the only one who maintains his righteousness throughout. He is one of the three who partake in the quest for the Holy Grail.

The stories move in and out, but the reader must remember that Sir Thomas did not create Arthurian legend; he only recorded a mythology in the best way that he thought he could. And in prison, historians tell us.

I read this book several years ago, and I did not fold pages at that time. I will have to read it again one day and be sure to mark some key points. If King Arthur intrigues you, though, it is worth the read.

Who exactly is Merlin? Is the sword in the stone the true Excalibur? Who chooses the Knights of the Round Table? And why is there always a jousting tournament!?

One fun little connection before I go: Before we had our second son, my wife and I were trying to pick a middle name. Arguments ensued. We wanted a three or four syllable name to flow with the first and last names. You get it.

My wife, Anna, thought I was joking when I suggested Excalibur. I was not joking, but no amount of assertion on my part would budge her from her stance. Therefore, I was inclined to oblige her wishes.

I opened this book well before our second-born was conceived. To tie it all together, the very first page, written, no doubt, by Keith Baines rather than Sir Thomas, lie two words:

For Anna

Grow Your Mind, Keep Your Mind, Read A Book!

Is it Wise?

12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke

Episode 2 of a podcast that I thought would be way easier to do than it actually is, accompanied by none other than longtime friend, Mark Bethea, who horribly misdiagnosed my phone-carrying methods.

Of course, you already know that because you have already listened to it on just about any platform, but also could find here if necessary. What you may not know, however, is that Mark made me laugh many times, but I had to cut most of it out because I still don’t know what I’m doing.

As will be custom, the show left little to be expounded upon here. Lucky for you, there isn’t much to read, but there is one thing that I wanted to speak on that Mark and I left out for the sake of time.

Reinke’s 9th point on how our phones are undoubtedly changing us is “We Lose Meaning,” and he uses two dystopian novels to dramatize the narrative: 1984 by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Reinke does not claim the comparison to be his own, his modus operandi, but I can give him credit because I don’t care.

The comparison is the method in which we become indoctrinated (in dystopian theory, that is).

Orwell’s future was one in which we would be impoverished of knowledge and information, while Huxley warned of a fate that would render us inundated with the very educations that Orwell believed we would miss dearly. But with Huxley’s prophetic material overload would come “a sea of irrelevance.”

Reinke’s verdict: Huxley wins.

We truly have the world at our fingertips. Everything we face, even this very day, is at our disposal. The all-knowing Google is our god, and we are hard-pressed to converse rationally at anyone’s expense.

Are our phones to blame?

While I cannot justify placing total accountability on an object, animate or no, I must partially attribute our latest decline in civil efficiency to the phones that we are unable to lay down.

Man…

I’m not even trying to be discouraging. I don’t even hate phones. But I did just scroll through some comments on Facebook, and I’m depressed again.

My point, exactly.

Anyway, if you want to hear some better discussion on the book, perhaps a bit more uplifting take from Mr. Bethea, give us a listen.

And remember,

“Grow Your Mind, Keep Your Mind, Read a Book!”

A Comic’s Life

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin

“Hello, I’m Steve Martin, and I’ll be out here in a minute.”

I’m told I laugh at everything. It isn’t true. On the contrary, unamusings are bountifully present every day; I simply choose to give credit where it’s due.

My dad is the laugher. Many times, he would be the only one laughing in our living room. Other times, he would be the only one laughing in an entire movie theater.

Maybe it wasn’t funny, or maybe we didn’t get it.

I do remember, however, that when Pops laughed at Steve Martin, I laughed at Steve Martin, not because I wanted to laugh like Pops (though I have inherited it naturally), but because Steve Martin is just freakin’ funny!

My life ranges through Martin’s career from Three Amigos! to An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life. The man is a legend, and I had no idea that he had written a book. It turns out that he has written several, and I intend to read at least one more. But how am I to know which to choose? Guess I’ll have to read them all.

Unfortunately, Born Standing Up is a little sad. At least, it is sad for a softy who believes that every father should always be able to tell his children that he loves them. For Martin, he did not receive the affirmation until his father was in his eighties. I know there are serious issues in this world, but I imagine there would be far fewer if we could figure out how to remedy this one. It’s a travesty.

It’s brave for a man of such renown, or any man or woman, to disclose such private and personal information, and I do admire it, but it was not the preferred material. I instead looked forward to reading about how easy it was for a man of Martin’s talent to “make it” to the top.

I didn’t find that either.

And I promise it never gets old. Even the best of the world’s best ever contend with the legions of Difficulty and Impossibility. Nothing’s easy. And if it is, it ain’t cheap.

Fortunately, Martin was endowed with “the one element necessary” for obtaining such a position. I have something in common with Steve Martin, and I find it fascinating. Never in a million years would I have put us in the same circle, confessing our ignorance to the room and seeking a reprieve from our faults.

“Naivete: that fabulous quality that keeps you from knowing just how unsuited you are for what you are about to do.”

I feel you, Steve. I really do.

Mr. Martin connects with me as well; he just doesn’t know it. When he was twenty-eight, he began to question his path and future. Of course, don’t we all at twenty-eight? You already know. He told himself he’d continue on his path until he was thirty, and if clarity was still lacking, he would figure out something else.

It may seem like an afterthought to Steve Martin, but deep down he knew. He knew what thirty held.

Now, the man has excelled. He’s at the top of the comic food chain. I could follow him, I’m sure, but most of my jokes are misunderstood. And even if they weren’t, my delivery is not worth being perfected.

If you know who he is and you find him humorous, read some more about him.

Grow Your Mind. Keep Your Mind. Read A Book!