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?

Relevant . . . or Irrelevant?

I ended my last post with the confession that I was “scared to death.” There is such nuance buried in those three little words. Today we’re on the threshold of a move that has been about 7 years in the making. Here’s a bit of the back story . . .

Sherry and I began this journey decades ago, committing our lives to the One greater than us—thinking then that we had fully abandoned ourselves to His care and cause.

I threw around words easily and quickly. I sang worship songs proclaiming my love, loyalty and allegiance to a God I then carefully allowed only into protected areas of my life. Over the course of many years, and in the midst of a busy life and career, I lost sight of what it meant to be truly abandoned to Jesus. My “relationship” with Him informed only some of my emotions, choices, decisions and actions. And yet, most people who knew me would have likely said I was a “good Christian.” The horrific reality was that I meandered into—without realizing it—the worship of a god and faith, essentially of my own making; a god whose job I saw as blessing me, protecting me, taking away my hurts, and insuring my place in heaven. In fact, nearly all of my faith was about . . . me.

I had slowly, unwittingly, yet willingly offered myself as prey to the seductive, paralyzing scourge of loving this world. From the outside, I looked just like so many others around me, men who were good, honest and “god-fearing.” Some called upon the same faith as mine while others made no such declaration. Some were in the church and some not; yet there was virtually no difference between us. I was stunned to realize that the faith I claimed to follow did little to set me apart from those who claimed no faith at all.

It wasn’t surprising then, to look in the mirror and see someone affluent (especially compared to 2/3 of the rest of the world), comfortable, arrogant, and to those outside my own orbit, irrelevant. If I represented what a good Christian looked like, it’s no wonder our young people are leaving the church in droves! Tragically, with good Christians like me as a model, I fully understand why they are abandoning a Christianity that to them is irrelevant.

Fast forward 7 years; last night we bought our tickets—one-way tickets—for Uganda. We’re now officially committed, leaving January 4th at 10 am, headed to Entebbe, unsure when we’ll be coming back. Not that I’m counting or anything, but that’s only 55 days away, or about 7 ½ weeks. Time is now screaming by, leaving a trail of myriad tiny details clamoring for resolution, and conspiring to keep us from people we’d like to see and things we’d like to finish before we leave. Please pray with us for consistency between what we say and how we live our lives!

Uganda, Here We Come!

It’s finally here. We’ve been praying, planning, training, waiting, talking, learning and wondering. Now we’re finally heading out. Our departure date looks to be the first week of January, 2011. You’ll recall (or see from my previous few posts) that I was in Bolivia for two months this past summer, learning the nuances of – and getting experience in – hand-drilling water wells. Water For All, International (WFA), the folks with whom I was in Bolivia, have invited us to become their point people in an effort to begin a new well-drilling movement in northern Uganda! Because a well-drilling movement isn’t something that occurs in a short-term trip (or trips), Sherry and I are planning a 6-month (or so) first trip, and then an ongoing focus on the people, language and culture in the place from which we believe the movement can grow. Let me explain . . .

We’ll begin in a town named Soroti, in partnership with a local non-profit called Global Care. Global Care currently operates out of several locations in Uganda, sponsoring children, working in schools, focusing on school drop-outs with micro-businesses and vocational skills, and hopes to expand into working with handicapped and other poor and marginalized children in Soroti. They have asked WFA for help in securing wells that will bring regular clean water to kids and families within their local sphere of influence. My first job will be to help them with 8 new wells.

Now, when it comes to creating a “well-drilling movement,” it becomes paramount that our (well) trials are successful – meaning that the locations in which we drill have a high potential for success. By success, I mean that at least 9 times out of 10 we get good wells that produce somewhere around 20-25 liters/minute of clean water. This is obviously the “textbook version,” and reality (or Terry Waller, Exec. Director of WFA) may dictate some adjustments, but that’s the goal at which we’re aiming, both for WFA and for the wells on which we’re partnering with Global Care!

Because of the long-term focus of initiating a well-drilling movement, we can’t say for certain – until we’re there and on the ground for some time – that Soroti is the best place from which that movement can begin. Thus it is difficult to know whether Soroti will be the location from which this work will build in Uganda.

Now, having given you all the “data” about what’s happening, let me tell you how I really feel about it . . . it kind of scares me to death. I believe without a shadow of doubt that this is something we’re called to do; but that doesn’t make it any easier. I’m convinced that WFA is the perfect organization through which I can utilize both my gifts and the education and training I’ve accumulated over the past 7 years; but there isn’t a “career path” or retirement plan. In fact, we’re “volunteers,” investing in eternity – and utterly dependent upon the One Who controls our account in the Bank of Heaven. Thanks for being interested enough to read this far!