Saturday, April 30, 2016

‘Learning to Speak Life: Fruit of the Spirit’ (Book Review)

While many parents might wish to incorporate regular family devotionals into their day, few generally make a long-term success of it. Time constraints and changing priorities are usually blamed, but probably more often than we realize, the real culprit is the study content itself. Varying ages, attention spans, and levels of biblical understanding create a challenge for already over-worked moms and dads. Having ready-made resources available would certainly ease the burden, and that’s what Michael and Carlie Kercheval have provided with their Learning to Speak Life series.

The first study guide, Fruit of the Spirit (2013), takes the familiar Galatians 5:22-23 passage and provides lessons covering each of the nine virtues listed by Paul. Each lesson has a relevant Bible verse to memorize, prompts to define each “fruit,” confessions to recite, role play guidelines, “Silly Sayings” (i.e., tongue twisters), a short story showing the virtue in action, discussion questions, family project ideas, a sample prayer, and a “Digging Deeper” section to encourage more study.

While it might look like a lot of content, there’s not much that I think is really usable. The heart of each lesson lies in the role play and short story sections, and unfortunately both felt like they were thrown together without much thought about what lessons they’re supposed to promote. Also, the “confessions” made me uneasy. I’m not a fan of teaching by catechism, and it struck me as a bit presumptuous of the authors to compose such statements.

When it comes to engagement, the lessons need even more help. The “Silly Sayings” are poorly written in an unamusing sort of way. The copywork would be better labeled as “busywork,” a half-hearted attempt to provide something for the kids to do. And “digging deeper” just means looking up additional Bible verses linked by the key words. I would’ve preferred to see coloring and word game pages, ideas for journaling, art project instructions, song lists, and practical applications and solid research prompts for teens and older children.

Yes, the LSL curriculum is flexible enough to be easily molded to fit the unique needs of your family, but I’m not sure that’s a positive selling point in this case. Parents would buy the guide primarily to have something ready-made. In addition to the weaknesses mentioned above, the content is unapologetically targeted at preschool to early grades. Families with older children will have to supplement a lot, raising the question of whether this premade study is worth the bother. Teachers, however, focus on specific age groups and generally plan on supplementing their lesson materials. So I can see the guide’s potential for use in Sunday School, Vacation Bible School (VBS), and children’s Bible classes at Christian elementary schools.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Lost Anonymity or Will Fitbit Change My Life?

Casual Runner by  Chris Hunkeler (Flickr)
Yesterday, a relative sent me a friend invite on Fitbit. I didn’t even know you could have friends on Fitbit. To be honest, I hadn’t looked closely at the fitness app’s features, just opening it up once and awhile to log too many calories and not enough exercise. (I don’t have one of the tracker devices.)

Unlike being “discovered” on other social media, this was a little disconcerting. Sure, Fitbit doesn’t report personal information like your target weight and such, just the number of steps logged, badges earned, and friends. But still…It’s not like connecting on Facebook. It’s more like connecting on Yelp – You shop there? – but then some. Do I really want people to know I’m working towards some goal…and haven’t gotten anywhere near obtaining it?

On the other hand, maybe that’s why it’s been so easy to get off course. Without accountability, without positive support, it’s very difficult to achieve goals in life, whether they involve advancing your education, pursuing a new career, or finding a new relationship. I know that from personal experience.

Maybe the Fitbit friend invite was a sign – a sign that in order to actually make progress on my diet and exercise, I need to connect with others, rather than running a lone race. Maybe what I’ve needed all this time was some motivation. Fitbit might only report positive achievements, but silence will speak volumes. Maybe I’ll finally get off my chair and get a tracker. It can’t hurt…much.

And yes, I did accept the friend request.

Friday, February 26, 2016

‘A Doctor in the House: My Life with Ben Carson’ (Book Review)

There are books that make for some really tiresome reads, and Candy Carson’s A Doctor in the House: My Life with Ben Carson (Sentinel, 2016) needs to be added to the list. The author, wife of famed neurosurgeon Ben Carson, can’t mask her unspoken intent of garnering support for her husband’s shot at becoming the next President of the United States. But rather than providing an insider’s perspective of the man’s life, with all its ups and downs, Carson appears to subscribe to the belief that, during a job interview, it’s best to recast one’s weaknesses – and even mundaneness – as strengths.

From the very first page to the last, the doctor is genius and a miracle worker. And when there’s anything that might be construed as otherwise, Carson is quick to put a positive spin on it. The doctor is a calm and cool “hero” when he steps aside to let a robber hold up a fast-food joint. He “comes through” for her when he catches the baby and placenta during an emergency homebirth and then sends her off to find something with which to clamp the umbilical cord. I could go on, but I’ve got a headache.

The point is that it’s rather boring to read two hundred pages of a doting wife’s…doting. Yes, the doctor has been a vanguard in neuroscience, and that’s amazing. But I think most readers are interested in reading about a real person, not a constructed flawless superhuman. My only recommendation is to leave Candy Carson’s book to its proper place. Her grandchildren can cherish it as a hodgepodge collection of stories about their grandparents’ lives, accompanied by written endorsements from their colleagues and children. Future (real) biographers can use it as a source of information probably not available elsewhere. To everyone else I recommend leaving it on the self.

Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book as a First Reads giveaway winner on There was no obligation to write a review.