Why You Should Read Fiction

I just need to vent a little today.

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Seems like every few weeks I see a post or a blog that suggests reading fiction is a waste of time or at the very least not beneficial. Some of this I see because of what I do for a vocation as a Minister. It is not uncommon for me to be in a group and hear someone mention a famous preacher – there are many – who said they never read anything but religious books. Some will include business books, leadership, devotional, and history.  The common theme being there is nothing to be learned from reading fiction and that it is a waste of time. If you want to be a leader and spiritual you must not stoop so low as to read a fiction book. I usually sit back and never say anything because I know I am outnumbered in my belief. I wait till the conversation moves on and then I ask if they ever watch ESPN. Then I am told how they need to relax and how they could not live without their ESPN. In my mind if you are going to limit the kind of books you read you probably need to give up ESPN as well. Nothing beneficial there – Hummmm. I let the conversation move forward. They never see the connection.

Don’t get me wrong. I read books that are devotional, leadership, prayer, and others. However, I also read fiction at night. For me reading is not just a way to improve my work life and spiritual well being; it is also how I relax and have fun. For some of us the way people view Sports is the way we view reading. I am not against sports. I love a good hockey game as much as anyone.

The question becomes can you be a leader, and spiritually mature if you also read fiction? My response is “YES!” Many studies have shown a correlation between reading fiction and improvement in brain functioning.

Here is a link to just one article:  https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201401/reading-fiction-improves-brain-connectivity-and-function

It is also the key to remaining creative. I know this may not be a value for all organizations, but it should be. When you immerse yourself in a novel your imagination takes off. Studies have also shown that you are able to relate better to others, understand what they are going through, and it gets you to think beyond yourself. All of these are characteristics that Ministers need to develop. I will admit you need to filter what kind of fiction you read. You do not want to fill your mind with trash either.

I know that I am biased due to the fact that I love to read fiction and I write fictional short stories for fun. I think of the authors that have given us some much even in the Christian world such as C.S. Lewis, John Bunyan and others. There are spiritual overtones in many Russian novels.  Many of the classical religious thinkers also studied literature. We called them “well rounded” at one time. Guessing that has gone out of vogue. Limiting yourself to only one type of book does not make you anymore spiritual. Abiding with the Father is the goal. Seems we are always creating markers that gives us a one up on the ordinary Christian.

I might as well come clean since I am confessing. I read and write poetry as well.  Thankfully no one knows what to do with poetry.  Thanks for letting me vent.

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What Happened In My Year of Reading 100 Books

imagesA couple of people have asked me how my goal of reading 100 books in a year went. I found it to be an interesting experiment. Let go ahead and give you a spoiler alert – I did not reach my goal. I finished the year at 83. That was still more than I normally read in a year. I had some unexpected things happen this year. We swapped some responsibilities around at work and there was some adjustment there. My father, who had Alzheimer’s, began to go down and passed away the week before Christmas. There are always things going on in everyone’s life, but these were mine.

What Worked? Again I read more books this year than I have in previous years. That was a good thing. I started to make some choices about how to use my time. Instead of turning on the TV, I would sit and read for a while. I also used small pockets of time such as waiting at the Dr.’s Office, or waiting on someone to show for a meeting. This gave me some headway.

What did not work?  When time ran short that week I found myself picking shorter books so I could meet my goal. Not exactly what I wanted. There were books I wanted to read that I did not because they were going to be too long. For example my daughter gave me a nice leather bound copy of “Crime and Punishment” for Christmas this year. My goal is to read it this year. That would have thrown my goal way off. I also found that it cut into some other activities that I wanted to do. I am also writing more short stories and I could not work both in at the level that I felt I needed to. I found myself towards the end of the year not enjoying reading as much as I did before.

I do feel like this was something that I needed to do for one year to learn how to read more. However, I will not be reading that many this year. I am thinking somewhere in the area of 50 books this year. I want to put more emphasis on my writing and that is a long process for me. That is the thing about goals. You can sometimes learn as much when you do not meet them as you do when you are successful.

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One of the Things You Dread Most In Life

imagesSitting in my chair reflecting back over the last two weeks. My father, who has Alzheimer’s, has taken a turn for the worse. For the last two weeks he has not know who any of us are. It is a weird feeling that first time your when one of your parents does not remember who you are. I cannot imagine what it must be like for my Mom. They have been together since she was a teenager.

He would have bouts where I would have to go and try to calm him down; which is normal for someone with Alzheimer’s. This week was the peak and we had find a Nursing Home to place him in. This is also a hard step for any family. You hate to do it and there is always a bit of guilt, but it was physically impossible to continue care for him at their house. As we adjust we know this will be the best thing we can do for him, but there are a lot of emotions.

Most people struggle with the sovereignty of God at this point when their loved ones battle Alzheimer’s. You wonder what God has in store, and what He is teaching all of us. They are usually lessons we do not want to learn, but some lessons can only be taught in this way. I have learned a lot over the last few years watching my parents deal with this disease. You learn what the marriage vow means when they say“ for better or for worse, in sickness and in health….”  Patience, compassion and sacrifice all go hand in hand.

I don’t know what God has in store for my family, but I do know that He loves my Dad even more than I do. So much that He gave His son for him. Perhaps the greatest lesson in all of this? Learning to trust.

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Reflecting

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This past week I had the honor to perform a funeral service for a brother of a friend. As a minister it is always a privilege when someone invites you into the intimate moments of their lives such as a wedding or a funeral. This was one of those special times for me.

Funerals are a time of remembering and reflecting. You have 20-30 minutes to sum up an entire life. I sat and listened to the music and family members tell what they remembered about their loved one. Some were funny and some were very moving. As you watch the family and friends your heart breaks as you see their hearts breaking. I looked to see some of the favorite items of the deceased. My mind wondered to what my own funeral would look like.

What do I want family and friends to remember about me? If they put up my favorite possessions what would they be? What kind of impact will I have had on those around me? Questions I thought about as I listened.  Obviously I want to be remembered as a loving husband and father, but what about everything else? As I thought about the funeral the next couple of days I began thinking about what was important to me. I have four passions in life and 3 of them were the key for me in this thought process and all of them could be summed up in one word – Relationships. I have cleaned out houses when we have moved and when my grandparents passed away. You cannot incorporate all of their possessions into your life. You begin to realize how much stuff we all have and when we die it becomes clutter for someone else.

What lasts? Relationships. God had been dealing with me the last couple of months about “finishing well” in life and moving from success to significance. I can only move to significance when I pour into someone else’s life, and help them with no thought of what is in it for me.

What about you? How do you want to be remembered?

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The Theft of Memory by Jonathan Kozol

9780804140973This is the first book I have read by Jonathan Kozol. I found his style to be easy to read and yet he seemed to use a wider range of vocabulary than most writer these days.  What drew me to this story is my own story of parents who are going through a similar journey. I found comfort in being able to relate to what he was feeling and what obstacles that he faced. His honesty and transparency was refreshing and gave you a bond that carried you through the story. I felt like I got to know his dad and appreciated his life and what he contributed.

I appreciated how he brought to the forefront the need for how to care for elderly parents and how expensive that it is. This is a crisis for most of us with parents who are entering this stage of life. The financial drain that will happen for most families will be divesting and will leave many without the care that they will need.

I think most people will walk away from this book feeling like they can relate to the author, but there is also a feeling of helplessness that we have as well. There is nothing we can do to combat Alzheimer’s at the moment. We pray and we do the best that we can. I enjoyed the book and would recommend it for anyone with elderly parents and heath issues.

“I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.”

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Unusual Blessings In An Unusual Place

In my day job I make hospital visits on a regular basis and many times I visit people in hospice. One of the hospice places that I visit is the Baptist Reynolds Hospice House.

HospiceThis place is amazing and the people who work there are the very best at what they do. This place looks like a retreat center rather than hospice. I have never visited there when I have not been impressed. One day while visiting I asked the lady who was escorting me to a room if everyone was paid staff or did they use volunteers. She replied that they used several volunteers and explained to me what areas they worked in. It was when she told me that many times there is no family or friends for the people in hospice and that the volunteers would come in and visit or read to them. That it moved me. I thought “I can do that!” So I went through the training, background check, drug testing and began to spend some time there each week. Some volunteers do garden work as well, but that is not what you want me to do.

I truly believe that people should be able to go out with dignity. During the last few months I have many funny stories from the residents. However, many times when I am visiting the best thing that I can do is to help the nurses out by feeding the residents who are waiting. No matter what is going on in my life; when I step into the hospice center everything just goes away. It is the highlight of my week! The residents and the nurses who work there bless me way more than I could ever bless them. Volunteering, especially to those who have no way of paying you back, is one of the best things that you can do.

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In Love……

Reading throughout the book of Ephesians I was stopped in my tracks by these two simple words the other day. Ephesians 1:4-5 says that “In Love” God chose me and adopted me.

People have children for all sorts of reasons. Some for love, some for wanting to save a marriage, and a host of other reasons. People who adopt children usually do so for the sake of love. No matter what happens, you know the parents love them.

As we raise our children we have the big picture of what lies ahead for them. We try to protect them, and equip them. Some times they hate what we are doing for them. They do not have the big picture and it seems unfair.

How often do we feel that way with God. I don’t like___________. It seems unfair that I should have to__________. We do not have the big picture either, but one thing we can rely on is that whatever God does in our lives it is done out of “love”.

Must be a hard lesson to learn, because I keep coming back to it again and again.

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“The Fold” by Peter Clines

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I have not read many science fiction books and I am not sure why. I was looking for something different to read and this came across my radar. This is the first book by this author I have read, but not the first book he has written by any means. I was anticipating a space or time travel story. I am not opposed to those, but this was a welcomed change of pace. He combined some form of travel into these areas, but the bulk of the story was in a realistic setting.

It is hard to talk about this book and not to give the story line away. The vast majority of the book was easy to follow and you kind of knew what was going to happen. However, the author ramped the story up more than I thought he would. It made a huge leap. In some ways it was too much of a gap, but that is the nature of science fiction. I felt the ending could have been a little stronger. I am having this feeling about several books I am reading lately. There is a lot of time building up to the climax and then it seems the ending is kind of an after thought or not quite sure how to end the story.

Over all this was an easy read and a great way to distract myself. I would read another book by the author. I do feel like I need to say that the book had one sex scene and some cuss words. I mention this for the parents who are reviewing for their teenagers who like Sci-Fi. Not that the publisher is targeting teenagers by any means, but I know several teenagers who like to read this type of literature.

 

This book was provided free for me to review by Blogging For Books.

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“The Porcelain Thief” by Hun Hsu

book1This is a different book than I normally review, but I was intrigued by the description. I am glad I was given a chance to read the book. I loved the book and the story behind it. Not only did I get an interesting story line but I learned about the history and culture of China as well.

Hsu begins to try and discover his roots based off of family history and a story of a buried treasure. Who does not like stories of buried treasure? Hsu tells of his struggles of being an American Born Chinese. He had struggles both here in America and China as well. He tells an intriguing tale of his families journey through the different wars and their struggle to maintain their heritage. There were times when some of the history became a bit tedious and was hard to follow for me. I enjoyed learning about the history and culture, but it was hard to track all of the names and families. He starts off reluctantly  learning about his family, but eventually begins to understand them and why they became the people they were.

His style of writing made the book easy to read. I think he could have shortened some of the book without changing the story and the outcome. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good story and wants to learn more about the culture of China.

This book was provided to me by Blogging For Books for review.

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1,000 Books In 10 Years

When I wrote a few weeks ago about the Kindle reader I bought and a little of why I bought it. A few people asked me about my reading goals. I have been hesitate in sharing something like that, because everyone is different in why they read and it is a personal goal.

I need to share on the front end that I read a lot for work. I have friends who only read for work and only one genre. Sometimes they make comments about how you should only read for work, but then they are into sports and other things. For me reading is also how I relax and have fun. I love escaping into the other worlds of books. Reading 100 books a year does not make me superior to someone who does not. This is a goal that is just for me.

This is how and why I set the goal of reading 1,000 books in 10 years. When I started this year off I began like I always do in setting some goals for work, but I also like to set some for myself. The personal goals are things I want to enjoy or make an improvement in. There are people who read over 200 books a year so this is not a world record by any means, but it would be a huge stretch for me. I can honestly say this has been one of my favorite goals this year.

imagesI am four months into it and I am ahead of schedule. I know I need to read about 8 books a month on average. However, some months are more and some are less. There will be short books and long books and so you have to bank on the fact that at the end of the year it will all balance out. The first month I was nervous and read very fast making sure I had met my goal. I eventually developed a rhythm and slowed down. What good was reading that many books if you did not comprehend or retain any of what you read?

For fun I read fiction, classics, poetry, and books about writing. In my work I needed to work on a balance. I tend to find a topic and read only about one thing. So for me I read books related to my specific job, discipleship, prayer, leadership, and devotional books. This gives me the balance I am looking for and if I want to improve in a certain area I try to limit it to 6 books at a time. You could balance the list for most any job.

For me the reasons for this goal is to become a better minister. I am not quite ready to just rollover and relax. Reading is one of the main ways I can keep up and move forward. There are certain areas of my life that I want to improve in and reading gives me a way to do that. Conversations with others is easier and I am able to participate more. One of my goals is to become a better writer and you cannot become a better writer without being a huge reader. The two go hand in hand. I have also found that reading, like most things in life, the more you do it the more proficient you become. I read everywhere. Five minutes waiting for someone to arrive at a lunch meeting, and situations like waiting at the doctor’s office. There are short periods of time that I try to take advantage of.

I realize this goal is not for everyone. I am at a place in my life where I can do this. If I had small children at home and other obligations it would be hard to do. I feel like this level of reading with my years of experience in life will be a great combination.

I had a couple of questions about how do you afford 100 books, and the church must give you a great book allowance. The church allows me $200 a year for books which I appreciate, but that will not cover this level of reading. So here is how I am doing it so far. I review books for different book companies and they give me a free book for the review, I download free ebooks from different websites for my e-reader. I also use the library both in person and online. I buy books at goodwill and other used sites. By the way if I am in your office and you have a book setting on your shelf I will probably ask to borrow it as well.

People ask me “what if you do not meet your goal?” Honestly that is not the point. So what if I only read 900 books in 10 years or it takes me and extra 6 months to read the 1,000. The goal is secondary. It is the process and who you become from reading that is the real goal.

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