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The Know-It-All

DownloadedFile“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” – Socrates

A.J. Jacobs, in his book, The Know-it-All makes it his quest to figure out how much he doesn’t know by filling his head with the 2002 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. He documented his journey through the 11 ½ months, through the 44 million words, across the country meeting various people each with a special connection to wisdom and knowledge. Starting with a-ak and reading until he reaches zywiec, Jacobs writes his commentary/narrative/pesher on the entries. The pages of his book are filled with his attempts to insert his wealth of information soaked up from the EB into his daily life…with hilarious consequences.

The most intriguing aspect of this book for me was the people who were tangential to his quest. His wife, for example, deserves our respect and some kind of reimbursement. It was her who listened to him read to their zygote, worried about him interacting with other people (70), put up with a different (and usually obscure) fertility god in their bedroom during their quest to get pregnant (152) [a quest that ran concurrent to his and was well documented in this book], was bombarded during daily life by his new knowledge (like how people kiss) (171), and had to begin introducing herself as an “encyclopedia widow.” (184) Julie, who would enact her revenge in the Year of Living Biblically, put up with cards on flowers that read: “These flowers are bisexual, but I am straight, and I love you.” (185) She put up with his sarcastic ideas (202), his use of an ancient dance (St Vitus’s dance from the 12th century) during a wedding dance (237), and his constant information sharing. She finally began to fine him a dollar for every worthless piece of information he spouted out (241). She makes me thankful for the women who have to put up with sometimes immature and excitable men and their quests (no matter how pointless they seem)! Thank you Tricia for your sacrifices for me.

Every few pages we are introduced to another character that makes his journey a little more interesting. There is his brother-in-law, Eric, champion of family games of Trivial Pursuit, pretentious corrector of facts, and Harvard grad, who missed his chance to become legendary after failing to help Jacobs, as his lifeline, on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. (355) Then there is Jacob’s father, who has authored multiple books about law, began to read the Encyclopedia through when Jacobs was young only to stop midway through, and lover of a good practical joke. Though most of his jokes are above most people’s heads it doesn’t get in the way of his passion. Though their relationship seems a little awkward, it all comes together as Jacob’s writes an entry for the encyclopedia about his father at the end (tear!) [364].   Then there are the chess guys (40), his phone book reading Mother-in-law (269), the editors of the Encyclopedia (336), liberal Aunt Marti from Berkley (345), and his overly intellectual 11 year old cousin who threatens Jacob’s with his intelligence (176).

This book was a treat to read. A.J.’s writing style makes every paragraph and page enjoyable. As he is recounting his journey, there is a certain amount of embarrassment and shame that I felt being as though I have never accomplished a feat of that magnitude, nor have I even attempted anything like that. I found his task to be inspiring. I would strongly recommend this book to anyone!

A Year of Living Biblically

A Year of Living Biblically by AJ Jacobs

A Year of Living Biblically
by AJ Jacobs

In the Spirit of full disclosure: “I must confess that I did not read all of this book.” I skipped a full 2 and a half pages as he was describing his twin sons’ circumcision. The rest of the book was awesome. A.J. Jacob’s, the author of A Year of Living Biblically, is a Jewish-born-agnostic author who takes an entire year and devotes it to living out the commands of the Bible. He doesn’t shave (in keeping the command not to cut the corners of his beard [Leviticus 19.27]); he wears white clothing in accordance with Ecclesiastes; and he refuses to touch or sit where a menstruating woman was [Leviticus 15.18]. He attempts to follow the Ten Commandments and he starts tithing. It is an interesting social science experiment.

The book was great. He does some great research on the background of a lot of the Biblical laws. What really made the story great were the people who he was in contact with during his time. There was his eccentric ex-uncle Gil who is a former cult leader turned orthodox Jew who holds a Judaism study weekly in Jerusalem. There was Mr. Berkowitz, the orthodox Jew, who comes to his house weekly to make sure that he didn’t have any mixed fibers in his house [Leviticus 19.19]. Then there is the Jehovah’s witness who came over to meet with him about the Bible. He had to leave after 3 ½ hours of discussion. Jacobs mused that he out talked a Jehovah’s Witness about the Bible. He made a trip down to a snake handling church in Tennessee and met up with Jimmy the snake handler. That seems like something that I need to explore! There was the Pastor to Pasture, the atheist club, and his neighbor Nancy. This Biblical journey was by no means individual.

Finally there is Jacobs wife: Julie. Julie is the most interesting character. She has opened her life to this guys antics. When she found out that he couldn’t sit where she had; she sat in every seat in the house so he couldn’t. She is patient as he refuses to jaywalk anymore and as he builds a tent in the living room to celebrate the festival of booths. She allows him to write about her in vitro fertilization. She puts up with his trumpeting every first of the month and she even allows him to describe the birth process as she gives birth to the aforementioned twins.

As a youth pastor this book had a lot of things that made me think. He devoted much of his day to study; as an agnostic. I could definitely eek out a couple minutes. He also strove to live according to the commandments. He kept God at the forefront of his mind. He prayed for 10 minutes 3 times a day; all of these things that should be central to my own life.

He is admittedly a liberal guy; but one thing that I appreciated about this book was his ability to show both the fundamentalist and liberal views of scripture. I felt like he was able to walk

that line very well. If you need something to read that will make you think and laugh! The Year of Living Biblically should be on your list! Devotionally I even got a lot out of this book.

 

Midnight: Champion Bucking Horse

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Midnight: Chamption Bucking Horse by Sam Savitt

I am of the opinion that very rarely is anyone remembered in a vacuum.  In the rodeo world, Tuff Hedeman and Lane Frost will be forever linked.  Tuff and Bodacious, Ty Murray and Hard Copy, Michael Jordan/Scotty Pippen, Bird/Magic, Jobs/Wosniak…you can probably think of many others.  Very rarely is anyone remembered solely, but our interconnectedness is what makes legends and history.  Sam Savitt wrote his book Midnight: Champion Bucking Horse, a fictional account based on history, about the collision course between two great figures whose connection would make them legendary.  Before Tuff/Bodacious, Lane/Red Rock, Shivers/Yellow Jacket, Freckles/Tornado, before bullriding ruled the sport, legendary saddle bronc horses met up with legendary hands.  Midnight met Pete Knight 4 times in their career, with the unridden-in-his-career Midnight coming out on top every time.  This book sets the course for their meeting in Cheyenne in 1930.

The story starts with Jim McNabb, whose ranch produced the famous horse.  Like the rest of the horses raised at the ranch, Midnight was destined to be a cowhorse.  In 1919, when Midnight was a four-year-old, McNabb had every intention of breaking his undescript, and yet unnamed, coal-black horse into a fine stock horse.  After 3 failed attempts at riding through Midnights fits, McNabb saw the unique ability of his horse.  Men from all over southern Alberta tried their hand at Midnight, and everyone ate dirt.  McNabb, under council from the deposed, took Midnight to Calgary, the biggest rodeo in Canada, where he made the showing that would dictate his career.  Pete Welch, Calgary’s promoter, bought Midnight from McNabb.

By way of Calgary, Midnight eventually found himself in Verne Elliot’s string of bucking horses.  Verne was no stranger to changing the game of rodeo.  It was him who first introduced the Brahma bull to rodeo, the first to exploit indoor arenas for rodeos, and one of the first to replace the shotgun chute with the side chute for the rough stock events (Lamb, Gene. Rodeo, Back of the Chutes: 1956, pg 148-149).  Verne’s new bucking horses, and in 1928 Elliot found himself the owner of the most famous bucking horse of the day.  For $250 dollars, and $5,000 insurance policy, Midnight became his.  Immediately he started bucking the great horse at his rodeos.  As part of the draw, or a bounty horse, Midnight was the prize attraction at the rodeos.  It was at Fort Worth, that Pete Knight first got his chance at Midnight.  It went Midnights way, but he would have others.  At Pendleton, later in the year, Pete would get another chance that ended the same way.  July 1930, at Cheyenne, where Vern’s best stock was displayed, would be the attempt that would forever bind these two together.

Pete Knight picks up the story at this point by telling of a great year in 1930. He was headed for his first world championship.  He spoke of all the ups and downs of rodeo life: the long nights driving, the lack of insurance, and the beating his body took.  All these things he would say: “added spice and vinegar to life.” (69)  Knight had an addiction to Midnight, watching the newsreels (prior to movies in those days) of his bucking action, studying his trips, and gathering information on the horse.  When their fateful meeting in Cheyenne, 1930, Knight would be ready.  Before the ride, Midnight was paraded around the arena, wearing a “World’s Champion Bucking Horse Blanket”, like a boxer entering the ring.  Knight would make it 7 seconds that day, 3 short of the whistle at that time, and Midnight would remain unconquered.

When Midnight passed away, on Nov. 5, 1936, he was buried on the ranch.  But not after he had seen Southern Canada, Texas, San Francisco to New York.  His final trips were 4 exhibition rides at Wimbledon in London.  The horse had taken on all challengers, emerged victorious, bucked long and hard, and became the content of legends.  A senator wrote his epitaph: “UNderneath this sod lies a great bucking hoss, There never lived a cowboy he couldn’t toss, His name was Midnight, his coat black as coal, If there’s a hoss heaven, please, God, rest his soul.”

Savitt wrote and illustrated this fascinating book.  If you have a rodeo kid, from K-6, this book provides an excellent story, awesome history about the sport of rodeo, and incredible illustrations.  It is one of the prizes of my Rodeo library.

 

What a Ride!

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What a Ride
by Terry Holland

Growing up watching rodeos, following the PRCA and the PBR, and wanting to be part of the sport, I remember some of the great characters.  Bulls like Neal Gay’s Joe Cool, Mr. T., Billy Minick’s V61, and Sammy Andrews Skoal Outlaw Willie; riders like Donnie Gay, Tuff Hedeman, Denny Flynn, and John Quintana; rodeos like Mesquite, Cheyenne, and Fort Worth.  Terry Holland in his book, What a Ride, describes the places and the faces that make rodeo an awesome community.  In telling his own story, he acquaints you with with  the people that inspired him and those he in turn inspired in his 20 years as a PRCA Bull rider.  He is also the man responsible for creating The Mighty Bucky, a trainer for bull riders.

This book begins with Terry getting on his family’s purebred beef cattle in the corral behind his house.  His parents of course were not real excited about his dream profession.  As he grew older, he was forced to sneak rides on the family’s breeding bulls while his dad was in town and business and his mother was getting her hair done.  This was a great idea until he broke his leg during a practice session one friday afternoon.  As he recounted his rise in the PRCA, his tutelage under Donnie Gay, and the stories of traveling the rodeo circuit in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, I was taken aback at some of the things that they went through and put up with chasing the dream of being a World Champ.  Car wrecks, late nigh flights, getting stitched up by DVM’s and not M.D.’s…stuff that would cause most people to find a different profession.

The turning point of this book really was the story of his ride in Bay City, Texas.  It was there that his leg was compound fractured when a bull stepped on his shin.  Both he and his wife take turns during these couple chapters describing what they went through, their faith that carried them on the journey, and the fear and anxiety surrounding the fact that he may loose his leg during all this.  It was during these chapters that they continually recounted how God had pulled them through and their faith was strengthened.

After his 10 month layoff he returned to riding bulls.  At the twilight of his career, he kept up his schedule, dabbled in some clown acts (too funny for me to recount here), and rode some of the best rides of his career.  To his final bull ride, he devotes a couple chapters.  He had spent some time raising bulls.  At one time, he had sold Donnie Gay 24 bulls that could really buck.  Holland wanted to retire at one of Donnie’s rodeos, so he entered up.  His draw was one of the bulls he had sold Donnie a few years prior.  It was the best bull of the group, the one he had wanted to keep for himself.  The bull that had thrown off men 20 years younger, and hurt some of the best riders out there, was going to be Holland’s last bull.  As he tells the story, his emotions and his introspection about his life, career, family, and future, provide the back drop for the whole deal.

The final section of this book is about his story of following God’s leading after he hangs up his bull rope.  Holland is a man who is fully devoted to God and his direction.  He tells stories of divine appointments, healing prayers, and encounters that changed both him and the people he contacted.  It is funny how a faithful man is presented with the people he is.  God is surely doing work through him and his ministry.

This was an awesome book that put God on center stage as the main character.  There are no greater people than those you will meet in and around the rodeo arena.  This book shows how God used one man to influence many.  It is a story that is funny and light throughout.  It is a story of a man who is certain about what he was meant to do on this earth, and who he was supposed to serve.  If you are a fan of rodeo, or just a good story, this is a great, short book to check out.

St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen

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Most books are meant to be read from start to finish. Others are works of reference. Kregel Publications has delivered to us one of those rare books that is both. The classic work of William M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen edited by Mark Wilson was re-released by Kregel in 2001. This modern edition complements the original text with color, charts, indexes, and maps.

There are few authors that match the intellectual genius of the late Oxford professor of Archeology, Sir William Ramsay (1851-1939). In his book St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen, Ramsay unpacks the life of Paul in meticulous detail. Ramsay begins his great work with the following introduction,

The aim of our work is to treat its subject as a department of history and literature. Christianity was not merely a religion but also a system of life and action; and its introduction by Paul amid the society of the Roman Empire produced changes of momentous consequence, which the historian must study.

When you open up this book to read – make sure your Bible is close by. As I read it I began to understand how rich the biblical text really is, especially the writings of Luke. The details that he gives, or in some cases leaves out, tells us much about the life of Paul and the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. The book is laid out to follow the chronological life of Paul through the text of the book of Acts and his own letters.

One of my favorite sections of the book gives a clear and plausible understanding of Luke’s usage of the names Saul and Paul to describe the man who met Jesus on the road to Damascus. I won’t spoil the excitement of discovery – you will have to read it for yourself.

The chapter titled The Apostolic Council was most informative. Ramsay describes in great detail with razor sharp distinctions the events leading up to the Jerusalem Council and how the account in Acts 15 is enlightened by Paul’s writing in Galatians 2. Ramsay’s meticulous interaction with the biblical text produces a grand story of how the events unfolded.

The magnificent work of Ramsay has answered many critics of Doctor Luke and the accuracy of his writings. Once a skeptic himself, Ramsay writes this,

Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy…this author should be placed along with the very greatest historians.

If you are looking for a book that reads like a fast paced novel, this is not it. I was only able to read a few pages at each sitting for two reasons. One, I’m a slow reader. Two, the detail and depth Ramsay packs into each sentence is quite astonishing. If you use this book as only a reference you will certainly be rewarded. But if you also take the time to plow through it, it will change the way you look and understand the text of Scripture. A seminary professor of mine would often refer to books of high importance that any serious student of the Bible and Christianity should read. My friend and nicknamed those books, the uninformed-until-you-read-list. St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen is one of those books.

Bonhoeffer: A man with mind and heart

 

There are few humans that inspire me more than Dietrich Bonhoeffer. There are those who have moments of courage and then there are those who live a life a courage. Bonhoeffer is the category of the later.

Eric Metaxas has written a brilliant biography on this man from Nazi Germany who is still inspiring Christians and non-Christians alike. Bonhoeffer was one of those rare breed of man who had the mind of a scholar and the heart of a warrior. He thought clearly and he acted decisively and radically on what he believed to be true. Metaxas reveals this wonderfully in his captivating and detailed writing of the life of the fourth and youngest son of Karl and Paula Bonhoeffer.

One of the ideas that Bonhoeffer thought and acted on was the Church. How was it to be defined? How was it to be lived out? Metaxas does a wonderful job of tracing this passion of Bonhoeffer back to his late adolescence when he had the opportunity to attend a Palm Sunday service in Rome. It was there, that he first really grasped the Universal nature of the Church. Universal, not in the sense of every human being, but universal in the sense that the Church is made up of people from various cultures, colors, and local fellowships. His conviction for the purity of the Church would later be demonstrated by his involvement in the Confessing Church movement that stood in opposition to the Nazi takeover of the Lutheran German church.

In the midst of World War II Nazi Germany was not a country where its people could find great hope resting in their heart. However, one of the extraordinary characteristics of Bonhoeffer was his unwavering sense of hope that looked to a future. Metaxas does a wonderful job of drawing this out in the accounts of romance and courage in the midst of a war, even in prison. The underpinning of this optimism and courage is traced back to his self-discipline and faith in God.

Much has been made of Bonhoeffer’s involvement in assassination attempts of Hitler. Metaxas merely describes the thought and actions of Bonhoeffer without criticism or affirmation. By doing so, he allows the readers to draw their own conclusions. And I found that part of the intrigue of the book. It allowed me, the reader, to come to my own conclusions on the ethics of his actions.

The text of Bonhoeffer’s letters are scattered throughout the book at just the right moments to enlighten the narrative. So too were the accounts of other in this grand story. One example being the words of Henning von Tresckow a co-conspirator of an assassination attempt on Adolph Hitler.

A human being’s moral integrity begins when he is prepared to sacrifice his life for his convictions.”

Convictions, sacrifice, and life – those words most aptly describe the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.