Book Review: Redemption: A Rebellious Spirit, a Praying Mother, and the Unlikely Path to Olympic Gold

Redemption: A Rebellious Spirit, a Praying Mother, and the Unlikely Path to Olympic GoldRedemption: A Rebellious Spirit, a Praying Mother, and the Unlikely Path to Olympic Gold by Bryan Clay

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Who besides Bryan’s prayer warrior mother dared to dream and trust God that he would turn from living as a drinking, fighting, selfish and self-destructive, insecure-but-arrogant young man?

Redemption, Bryan Clay’s autobiography (written with Joel Kilpatrick) is the story of a boy becoming a man; one of society’s throwaways becoming a world-class athlete, husband, father and follower of Jesus. Bryan invites you into his journey to the time just before he plans to attempt something no one has ever accomplished – winning a medal in the Decathlon – in three successive Olympics! He earned the Silver in 2004, the Gold in 2008, the [. . .choose your medal . . .] in 2012?

One of the things I really enjoyed about Bryan’s story is how much impact the coaches and administrators at Azusa Pacific University had on his life. Terry Franson, one of Bryan’s mentors at APU has had a hand in shaping and molding an incredible number of young men. Mike Barnett, also of APU and another of Bryan’s coaches was himself an Olympian in the javelin throw at the Barcelona 1992 Summer Olympics. Barnett constantly counseled Bryan that real life is bigger than sports, a truth that Mike’s brother Doug (APU alum and former NFL player with the Rams, Redskins and Falcons) reminded my own son.

At least one Biblical truth resident throughout the story is that God is faithful – even when and if we are not. Bryan always gives credit to the Lord for his success and seems to long for opportunities to use his position and influence as one of the world’s finest athletes to remind others that he was nothing more than an ordinary young man who allowed God to shape him.
I wish there had been a bit more “story” and more “showing rather than telling” of meets and training schedules and victories and defeats. I still I give the book a rating of 4 out of 5, and recommend it as another instance of God living His life wonderfully and successfully through a broken vessel that He has marvelously healed and repaired. Go Bryan in 2012!

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Book Review: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Cutting for StoneCutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This may be one of the most compelling stories I’ve ever read. The beauty and majesty of Verghese’s prose is astonishing. I’m shocked that it isn’t based upon real lives – since it captures the very essence of Shiva and Marion, identical twin boys, conjoined in the womb; their mother a nun who dies giving them life and their father the physician who abandons them for “killing” their mother, the love of his life. Drama enough for sure . . . But the beauty is in how Verghese breathes life into these characters! The story is told from Marion’s point of view from the time of his earliest memories.

Hema and Ghosh, two other physicians at Missing Hospital, a mission outpost in Ethiopia, become parents to the boys and together weave a fascinating tapestry of familial love amidst an intriguing look at the history of Ethiopia’s Selassie and Mengisto as they ruled and suffered and sometimes ruled again.

The world of identical twins is explored unofficially as Marion comments on and lives through the shared experiences of ShivaMarion, that entity which is neither one nor the other, but both.

This is a long book, but definitely worth the read. I loved it.

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Book Review: Calico Joe by John Grisham

Calico JoeCalico Joe by John Grisham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

John Grisham never fails to deliver. Some of his work is better than others, but I was engrossed from the moment I devoured the first paragraph, possibly because I love baseball more than how well the book was written. Calico Joe, a baseball phenom, has his career devastated by a vicious, self-serving, “old school” pitcher who believed that the pitcher is the king of the field, and the hitters have to respect him. When a batter demonstrates no respect – or worse, shows disrespect, the pitcher’s job is to throw at him. Brush him back. Let him know who’s in charge.

Warren Tracey, the declining old school pitcher for the Mets does just that – only he takes it too far, throwing at Joe’s head. The injuries weren’t just to Joe, but to an entire world of baseball fans and to the game itself.

The story is written from the point of view of Tracey’s son, who witnessed the event at 11 years of age and never quite got over it. That one beanball was a tragedy that continued to inflict pain. Calico Joe is the saga of Tracey’s son’s quest for justice for Joe – and redemption for his dad; all three of them deeply wounded by the aftermath of that one pitch. Maybe because I’ve struggled in my own relationship with my dad, I loved the book and can heartily recommend it to anyone who loves baseball.

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Book Review: Crazy Dangerous by Andrew Klavan

Crazy DangerousCrazy Dangerous by Andrew Klavan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Crazy Dangerous, written by Andrew Klavan took me by surprise. It’s a story about a 17-year-old preacher’s kid, who learns deeply and sometimes painfully about himself, bullies and mental illness.

At first, I wondered if I’d gotten myself into a Young Adult book, as it is written in a first-person voice by the kid himself. While pretty well-spoken, you knew it was the kid talking. Seriously. And I wasn’t sure I was up for it.

Ah, but then I was captured. Andrew Klavan breathed life into Sam and the entire story, along with most of the other characters for me – and I didn’t care whether this story was meant for teens or tweens. Only a few pages into the book, I knew it was for adults, too. I just wanted to hear more of Sam’s dry and somewhat self-effacing wit as he describes unbelievably harrowing and suspenseful adventures.

Sam faces moral and ethical dilemmas and leaves you wondering at times over his choices. But never do you want to put the story down. I heartily recommend Crazy Dangerous and look forward to reading more of Klavan’s work.

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Book Review: Behemoth by Jonathan Leicht

BehemothBehemoth by Jonathan C. Leicht

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Title is Behemoth. Jonathan C. Leicht is the author.

It’s Creation vs Evolution. In a famous game preserve in the Great Rift Valley in Kenya, some of the Park’s animals turn up dead – killed in a fashion that doesn’t make sense to Jim, the Park Ranger. The story is Jim’s quest to find the animal that did the killing; at the same time, another group is separately tracking the possibility of surviving dinosaurs as well.

Like Randy Jackson on American Idol might say, “Dude, it was just OK for me.” The main characters seem to preach more than discuss, though the actual information is pretty good. Nonetheless, much of the dialogue felt contrived and the characters don’t seem very well-developed. What made it a even more difficult for me was seeing what appeared to be a Western arrogance, (unintentional I’m sure!) inhabiting and spilling out everywhere in the interactions between characters. I lived in Uganda for 5 months last year and spent time in areas nearby and actually in some of the locations referenced in the book. Maybe it’s just me – but the conversations between the main character and his assistant, a local man from Kenya, just aren’t believable. I felt like I was reading more of an apologetic on creationism than a fictional adventure about the great beast (the Behemoth) that was the focus of the hunt.

I came away feeling like the author needed a story around which to build an apologetic on Creationism; the dialogue and character development seemed to be a necessity to make the apology, but because they weren’t researched and developed well, took away from the story. I might recommend it as a reasonably good primer on Creationism vs. Evolution, but not as a good fiction adventure.

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Inexpensive Wells!

Can you believe that one tiny organization has likely drilled more water wells than any other well-drilling organization in the world? Water For All, International (WFA), headquartered in San Angelo, TX (or others trained with this technology) has been responsible for 3,000 or more wells throughout the world over the past 20 years! Pioneered by Terry Waller first in Africa, then in Bolivia, WFA operates by establishing “well clubs,” where the poorest of the poor are taught to drill their own wells, in addition to manufacturing and maintaining their own hand pumps. Called “the Baptist Wells,” these simple, deep (down to 100 meters) wells are revolutionizing life for poor people who never dreamed they could have access to virtually unlimited water. Poverty tends to be generational; the transformation brought by access to water is instant in its effect of positioning families to move out of poverty.

Palo Diablo & A New Well!

This is a new well in a remote community – in a cattle field! We drilled to a depth of abut 55 meters (~165 feet). Just to the side – about 30 feet from the well stands a tree that  local bad guys use as a torture point, called “palo diablo” or “devil tree.”  The ants living in the tree inflict wicked, painful bites. The Bolivian drug cartels tie an enemy to the tree and kill their enemies by subjecting them to hundreds or even thousands of bites from these wicked little beasts!

There’s some kind of venom in the bites that also – when bitten “in moderation” – brings relief from muscle or joint pain! I personally experienced it when I had one of the ants bite one of my fingers where I have constant arthritis pain. Instant relief from the arthritis . . . maybe from the bite pain?

Water For All, International Well Clubs

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks. I’ve spent most of this week at Terry’s house, resting my back, which I tweaked again, but thankfully is almost back to normal now. As I’m writing this post, we have 4 well clubs working, with another ready to begin drilling next Tuesday or Wednesday. Speaking of well clubs, here’s the basic structure on how Water For All (WFA) well clubs operate:

1. Someone in a community says they want a well.

2. WFA encourages them to get 9 more people in their community who also want a well, which then forms a “well club.” They elect a president, a treasurer and a “driller,” who becomes the club’s resident expert on this type of well drilling – and who will be the one to actually drill and supervise the last 8 wells to be completed. Actually, everyone in the club gets trained, but the driller becomes the leader of the work. They also determine among themselves the order in which the 10 wells for the club will be drilled. The final thing they do is an actual written request for the wells, signed by each of the club members, essentially co-guaranteeing participation (because it truly requires 10 workers to do the wells) and authorized by a recognized community leader.

3. Each of the 10 families raises $100, unless they’re so desperately poor they can’t – in which case WFA may allow them to raise less and subsidize the balance of the cost. It’s critical though, that they participate in the cost.

4. Once the families in the club have raised all the money, someone from WFA goes to the market with them, never handling their money, instructing them on all the supplies needed for ALL 10 of the wells.

5. The supplies get delivered to the club President’s location and we set up for the first well.

6. Someone from WFA goes to the first well site and begins the process of instructing the club on how THEY will drill their own wells. Then, we show them the entire process for the first and second wells only, working alongside them (which is what I’ll be doing in Africa), teaching and mentoring the technology officer on how to drill in their specific location.

7. We turn them loose to finish ON THEIR OWN, the last 8 wells.

8. We start the process all over again with another new well club!

How amazing is this???

Santos’ New Well

This is Santos, washing his hands with water pumped for the first time (at over 5 gallons/min!) from HIS OWN new well, which Water For All (WFA) taught HIM to drill; today we helped him complete the pump installation, and he will now be the pump installation “expert” for his water club (of 4 more wells). See if you can imagine with me just a couple ways in which life might look different for Santos and his family, now that they have essentially unlimited access to safe, clean, cool water from their 146 foot (45 meters) deep well.
They have unlimited, safe, clean, cool water for drinking and cooking. Until now, they drank from and cooked with contaminated pond water or from jerry cans carried back and forth from the community well, ½ mile away. The community well water is probably clean, but there’s been no way for them to keep the containers clean. Imagine the health implications.
They can bathe. Until now, they climbed into bed every night, unwashed, wearing the same clothes to bed they’d worked in for days if not weeks or even months. When was the last time you climbed into bed, in dirty clothes, without bathing – simply because there wasn’t water to do so?
His wife can wash their clothes at home whenever they are dirty. Until now, she had to carry them the ½ mile to the community well, waiting in line for access to the pump along with all the other villagers, washing by hand in one bucket, rinsing in another; then she had to wait for them to dry on the fences or bushes around the well, and finally, after at least 2-4 hours, carry them the ½ mile back home. No wonder clothes got washed infrequently.
Santos paid $100 for this well. It is scandalous that people still live this way when clean, safe water is so available. Sherry and I will be heading to Africa somewhere around the first of next year to begin the process of finding more folks like Santos and his family, who have been marginalized, forgotten and with no hope or dream they could ever have unlimited access to safe water. Thanks for coming along with us on the journey!