Saturday, May 14, 2016

‘A Lady’s Pocketbook Ministry’ (Book Review)

If you’re going to illustrate godly principles using a material good, why not use a purse? After all, it’s one thing that is almost universal among American women today, regardless of age, race, and class. Each item found in a typical handbag then could represent a virtue sought after, a discipline to attain, or a lesson to be learned. This is exactly what Barbara J. Barnes must have had in mind when she wrote A Lady’s Pocketbook Ministry (Westbow, 2015).

The author is a former missionary and member of the Pleasant Grove Church of Christ (Inverness, FL). The book is a brief study guide, sorted into thirteen chapters and complete with prompts for discussion, organized for a typical women’s Bible class. Admittedly, I’ve generally not been impressed with self-published books, but I gave this one a chance because someone, who personally knows the author, recommended it to me. During my read, I found the content a little disorganized and the “worksheet” questions a little too basic, but the main problem was its outdatedness.

Right off, the title tells us something’s amiss. Not only does the use of “ministry” make it sound like a service is being provided, but the terms “lady” and “pocketbook” harken back to a “black and white” era. The items chosen also seem to fit the past more than the present: a Bible, set of keys, family photo album, friends photo album, small pendant watch, eye glasses, pen and paper, crocheted cross, bookmark, medication, coins, and mirror. These are too generation-specific to make effective illustrations. I would even argue that they are too person-specific because the list even leaves out another universal symbol of womanhood: lipstick, something that no “lady” with a “pocketbook” would’ve ever been without.

If the author had asked my opinion before taking the manuscript to print, I would’ve suggested to keep the keys and mirror and to reconsider everything else: No Bible. (That’s cheating.) No crocheted cross. (Too many CofC readers will cry “Catholic!” and throw the book away.) Cash or a debit card instead of coins, which are more of a nuisance today than anything else. “Pain killer,” which would still conjure up images of “medication” in the minds of older women but also “Motrin” in the minds of younger ones. Eyeglasses paired with contacts. Lip balm or lip gloss. And of course, a phone. Every reader, whether in her teens or in her eighties, can identify with a phone, even if they are one of the few who don’t have one.

Again, I think that the author’s idea has merit. The theme oozes with the kind of cuteness that attracts many women to Bible studies. Unfortunately, I don’t see a lot of leaders actually selecting it for their women’s groups. There’s just nothing to maintain interest in their younger members. For that reason, I can’t recommend this book.

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.