Thursday, July 12, 2018

It's Never Too Late To Learn About Death

The Blessing of Sorrow: Turning Grief into Healing

Author: Rabbi Ben Kamin
Publisher:Central Recovery Press, Las Vegas, Nevada, 2018


I really needed to have read this book last year in order to have been better prepared for the high number of deaths in my family and close circle of friends that I experienced in the last six months.  Although I have actually participated in many, and overseen a number of, funerals in my life, I believe this book has added volumes to the limited knowledge my unstructured experiences had taught me.
Rabbi Ben Kamin is well qualified to speak on the topic of death and sorrow – having experienced it over 40-plus years first-hand with the loss of his father and then hundreds, if not more, times in his various roles as a clergyman, teacher, counselor, friend, and just ordinary human being.
Kamin starts his very well written book with the ‘Ten Commandments of Grief’ and then offers chapters on deferring sorrow, understanding grief’s uniqueness, what the dying teach us about life, what to do and say to the dying and the bereaved, what to do after the funeral and in the first year of loss, understanding what funeral directors do and why, and even sensing relief after a death. Two other chapters deal with ‘communicating’ with those we’ve lost (not as far out as one may think at face value) and the value of faith and hope in the process.  Each chapter has much to commend it to us.
The book is not religious in any true sense of the word, except that while an author may prefer to avoid the topic, people who face death or the loss of a loved one, can’t and don’t. Having said that, it is difficult for him to steer clear of his own pet peeves with religion. At one point, he takes issue with how we’ve moved towards “celebrations of life” in place of memorials and funerals and he cautions us about it. Kamin also draws on some interesting Jewish traditions to get across a number of salient points on grief. He calls for caution in our eagerness to rush to the conclusion that the deceased is “in a better place”.  Not necessarily because he/she is not, but because doing so “creates a distraction from the hard facts of a death and impede[s] people from the grieving process. Most interesting. 
Rabbi Ben has some striking ideas. Here’s one: “The death of a loved one is a potential assault on one’s mental health.”  He then proceeds to explain just why.  He concludes, “In short, mortality and the dead themselves, implore[s] us to ask: What is important?” Observing a gathering after a funeral, he reflects, “Alas, death is indifferent to shoes, purses, lipstick, double-breasted suits, and turbo-charged automobiles.”
Kamin provides wise advice on how we speak around those who are dying. He quotes one of them: “I’m not stupid. I know my situation. People come in here and act like they’re talking to a dead person. But I’m still alive! While I’m still here, I wish people would not whisper in my presence like I’m some kind of defunct cow.”  And there’s much more. Like, the dying “want to be sure they are remembered.” And, “[H]ow does one talk to the grieving? Let’s start with this idea: less is more.” Frank, direct, interesting.
And then there are some great contributions on how to answer a dying person’s questions on “why God is allowing this to happen” to them. There are also interesting thoughts on John F. Kennedy’s own thinking on death that add to the value of the book.
I thoroughly enjoyed his many pages on funeral homes and the work that funeral directors do, both in the burial and the cremation processes. Very informative.
Kamin shares a most personal event retelling his experience of what occurred as he was alone with a 16-year old girl that had just died. Let me just give you one line from that account: “I don’t believe in ghosts; I believe in souls.” You’ll have to get the book to read more.
His quotes from other sources are most relevant including that of an unknown philosopher: “Life asked Death, ‘Why do people love me but hate you?’” The answer will astound you. And then there’s a quote from Seneca: “The day which we fear as our last is but the birthday of eternity.” As a person of faith, and a Christian, I can identify with that. 
He deals with guilt as he tells in some detail what happened to his mother after his dad died.  Needless to say, it did not go well.  He deals with the idea that sometimes we can feel relief in the death of a person.   
And finally, he introduces us to a theme that he repeats throughout the book – perhaps the highlight of the teaching for me. It’s a quote from a rabbinical prayer book: “Grief is a great teacher, if it sends us back to serve [and bless] the living.” That was powerful.
I strongly recommend the book for anyone who is still alive and will one day have to deal either with their own impending death or the death of a loved one.  Pastors, priests, rabbis, and lay leaders whose job it is to serve the dying and grieving would gain much. As a minimum, the level of confidence in their work of service would be enhanced greatly.

n Ken B. Godevenos, President, Accord Resolutions Services Inc., Toronto, Ontario, July 12, 2018, www.accordconsulting.com

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Saturday, July 07, 2018

Get Transformed, Then Preach – That’s the Message

Thoughtful Proclaimer

Author: Elizabeth Wright Anderson
Publisher:WestBow Press, Bloomington, Indiana, 2017


This ‘manual’ is a detailed guide to preparing Bible sermons that first transform the proclaimer. Central to its message is that at all times the proclaimer is proclaiming God’s purposes for His Word as a whole, as a book of the Bible, and in the very specific passage under consideration. The author calls this the “Commander’s Intent” – a term taken from the military world. The focus of the approach is that Scriptures should transform the proclaimer while he/she prepares transformative messages for others.
Elizabeth Anderson incorporates much of what many learn in their theology classes when it comes to ‘how to preach’ – classical Bible study style techniques, time-honored spiritual disciplines, step-by-step exegesis, as well as new practices in teaching and sermon planning.
High value is placed on the proclaimer preparing a message asking questions – lots of them as he/she works on the message.  These include questions for picking passages, contextual questions, cultural questions, and many more. There is an excellent Glossary defining terms (e.g. canon, exegesis, hermeneutics, and homiletics) in a way that makes sense to a layperson.
The word ‘Thoughtful’ in the title comes from the book’s goal of convincing the proclaimer that it is “just as important for us to allow the Word we preach and teach to transform us.”
I gained many insights from Anderson’s treatment of the subject of preaching. One that I particularly liked was her view that “The Bible is Not a Fortune Cookie”. Well worth taking heed of her position.
The book is full of hints that make sense and are well explained. For example, “Preaching Sequentially Lends More Accuracy of Meaning” and “Look for Christ in Every Passage”. It also goes deeply into what Anderson calls “Tear(ing) the Passage Down to the Studs” with step-by-step instructions on things such as the general principles of interpretation, word structure (including semantic range which I found fascinating), and more.
Anderson reminds us that when we preach ‘redemptively’, we have two audiences – those who have run away from God and those who “have stayed home and kept the faith but whose lives are not victorious.” Keeping both in mind is critical to reaching your audiences effectively.
There are several excellent Appendices as further helps including a “Thoughtful Proclaimer Message Preparation Worksheet” and “Sample of Planning a Biblical Series.”  Finally, the book is full of comical one-frame cartoons that drive home the ideas Anderson is hoping we’ll see. 
Who is this book for? Well, for starters, anyone who preaches periodically and hasn’t attended bible school will gain much from reading the book. I’m a prime example.  But I also think it can be a handy reference to pastors and ministers who need a refresher on the topic. But the most important audience may well be those that are missing out on the personal value of preaching to others.  I have always told my audiences, and you hear other speakers say the same, that “no one learns or gets more out of any public talk than the person who researched the material and prepared the message.”  Well, this book takes that concept one step further – the Thoughtful Proclaimernot only does that, but it helps the tired, in a rut, proclaimer come alive.  Well worth having on your personal shelf as well as in your church library.

Ken B. Godevenos, President, Accord Resolutions Services Inc., Toronto, Ontario, July 7, 2018, www.accordconsulting.com

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Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Not A Self-Help At All -- It’s A Complete Detailed Manual to Managing Change

Conquer Change and Win

Author: Ralph Masengill, Jr.
Publisher:self-published, 2016


I’m writing this review on July 4thfrom my southern “office” on the coast in South Carolina. I mention that because today I experienced “unexpected” change in my life immediately after I finished reading Ralph Masengill, Jr.’s book this morning. Heading to our car, my wife got something in her eye. She was experiencing considerable pain and we tried all the ‘home’ type treatments we knew of.  Three hours later we were in Emergency. Diagnosis was a scratched eye near her cornea.  After a tetanus shot, numbing drops, two prescriptions that needed filling right away, orders to see a local ophthalmologist in two days, and lots of time on the phone with our insurance provider, we finally returned to our party destination – me and my one-eyed (due to patch) wife. Thanks to Masengill’s book, I handled it all very well.
The author is indeed an expert in the field of change. His book is about “understanding change” and how it “makes you and others feel”. A formidable task, but he accomplishes it with honors. His introduction promises a lot and he delivers it.
The book is also full of great quotations beginning with Helen Keller’s “Security is mostly a superstition.” Here’s another, “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” (W. Edward Deming)
Early on he tells us about the 30 percent of the group we’re trying to change who will be “resisters” and flatly tells to ignore them. He gives some very detailed and very practical advice to some real problems – like how to deal with difficult people. 
He distinguishes between the ‘actual change’ and the “stress, anxiety, or fear (we) experience anticipating the coming change”.  A fascinating concept which he builds on.  There’s also a whole chapter on the importance of having the right attitude. Both positive and negative change is discussed, along with the different ways it impacts different people.
The book is sprinkled well with example from his own life, both personal and work-related. Fear is attacked vigorously, and he tells us that it does not go away on its own – it needs to be pursued aggressively at the highest level.
For the business manager, he provides some practical tips that are critical to being successful. For example, deadlines must be clear and unambiguous – give a person a time, not just a date. And he explains why that’s so important. He explains what “grey decisions” are and you need to know about that.  Failure to identify the real problem you are trying to solve will garner you irrelevant suggestions.
Two-thirds of the way through the book, the author focuses on the ins and outs of great negotiations. The lists of advice on how to ‘win’ are priceless and well worth the price you’ll pay to read the book.
The advice on any topic (and there are many of them) is top-notch.  For example, on team-building, “The best possible action in team building is to choose your own team members.”
There’s also a complete list of how organizations should introduce change using a change plan and how to make changes to a change plan. Fascinating material.
Many of us know about developing Vision Statements and Mission Statements (and yes, he’s got the order right).  But before you do either of those, Masengill says you need to develop your “Current Reality”.  That was new to me and it adds much to the Strategic Planning process I often use with my own clients.
Do I have anything against the book?  Just a couple of minor points.  First, his lists are way too long to be absorbed on first reading, but they’re also invaluable if one were actually implementing the processes they were intended to cover.  Secondly, some of his examples, especially his funny anecdotes, we’ve heard before, but one can easily forgive him as they serve his points extremely well.
This book is highly recommended for those who want to conquer and not just survive, but actually win, in a life experience full of unavoidable change.  That includes individuals, managers, and negotiators.


n Ken B. Godevenos, President, Accord Resolutions Services Inc., Toronto, Ontario, July 4, 2018, www.accordconsulting.com

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Friday, June 29, 2018

An Intimate Journey Probing the Mind of Jesus

In The Flesh, My Story

Author: Michael Gabriele
Publisher:self-published, 2017



I’m convinced that the best way to get to know a person intimately if you can’t sit down with them is to read their autobiography. The second-best way is to read their biography. When it comes to the Son of God, we have neither in the true sense of the words. What we have is a pretty consistent account of the last three years of His life on earth.
Michael Gabriele, a professional writer for more than 25 years has taken those accounts of Christ’s life provided in the Gospels, and rewritten them, with vivid details, almost always sticking to the original, as if Christ was narrating them. What results is a most moving piece of literature.  The book is a novel. That helps perhaps to avoid those that would criticize the author’s every word. But even though Gabriele adds his own interpretations of what Jesus “might” have been thinking, his desire to present the unique perspective, the well-versed student of New Testament Scriptures cannot easily find much straying from the facts.
The book is divided into 30 chapters taking us through the key events in the life of Jesus – all from his perspective. The author attributes to Christ a transparency in describing the content and context, and more importantly, the Lord’s imagined thoughts and intents. So much so, that often it ran shivers up my spine in a most positive way.
I can only share some of my feelings as I soaked it all in and allowed myself to be transported to the land where Jesus walked and taught and performed miracles and ultimately died. Needless to say, I felt I knew Him better once I had finished.
Throughout the book we get a sense of Jesus’ relationship with, and love for, His Heavenly Father, often referring to Him as Dad.
Gabriele’s writing skills are superb.  Giving us spiritual insights that we otherwise may well miss. Here are some examples that speak for themselves:
·     “These (carpenter)tools that had practically become extensions of my own hands would never be part of my life again.”
·     On leaving his earthly mother to begin His ministry: “I will take with me the perseverance you taught me, the love you showered upon me and the will to please God that you demonstrated every day.” What a model for all mothers.
·     On the early lack of faith of his disciples, and by inference, us: “These were my brothers. Still too stubborn at times to readily allow faith and trust to guide them, I nonetheless cherished them like my own.”
·     On being approached by the 10 lepers while walking with His disciples: “My entire group took an obedient (to the lepers’ request) step backward. I stepped forward.” That to me was so powerful an expression of who Jesus is and what He does.
·     On dealing with Judas who wanted Jesus to lead an insurrection against Rome: “You, Judas, are my friend . . . here . . .in the present. . . with me. Disturbing yourself with fantasies of future events will only bring stress and distraction from the most important here and now.”  I wrote on the margin of the book, “Good advice.”
·     On Martha greeting Jesus after Lazarus had died: “Such faith. Such a selfless heart. She did not reproach me, asking where I had been. She did not beg me to bring her brother back or grovel through desperate sobs to turn back time. She did not ask or suggest anything. Rather, Martha freely put the matter into my hands.”  Amen. That’s the lesson we need to learn.
The reader also learns a lot that he/she may have simply missed in reading the Gospels. For example, while Jesus’ first two disciples were brothers, I had not noticed that the second pair He chose were fishing competitors of the first two. That speaks to His desire that we are to minister with even those that we have competed with in the past.
There is an intense description of what Jesus went through in communication with His Father before being able to calm the waters that scared His disciples while He had slept. Gaining that perspective and understanding alone, is worth the price of the book.  And it goes on:
·     In response to being questioned on His teaching style: “I illustrate with parables because those who are open to the truth will find meaning in my words, while those who are filled with pride will not.”
·     Gabriele provided me a new understanding of “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”  He uses one of Christ’s disciples to do so, on the occasion of the rich young man that would not sell his all to follow Jesus, when he has the disciple saying, “I guess those who have many things find it difficult to imagine life without them.”  Bingo.
·     When Martha was complaining about Mary not helping, the author effectively helps us to understand that when we choose the “right thing” for God, the other things are also taken care of. 
Throughout the book, we can also see the desire of Christ to mentor His disciples preparing them for greater works after He was gone. The care, patience, love, and prayer with which He does that comes out over and over again.
One of my favorite parts was Christ considering the imposition He was placing on Lazarus in bringing him back from the dead, a desirous state for many who believed in life after death as Lazarus did. Well worth the read.
Sharing with us what may have been going through Christ’s mind as He headed for the last time to the Garden of Gethsemane and then on to various Roman rulers He had to appear before, Gabriele gives us a fascinating and emotional account of what may have transpired between Christ and His Father at the time. 
Both my wife and I rated the book “excellent” but she wisely reminded me, as I know the author would (after all, he did call it “a novel”), that it is not the inspired word of God.  Agreed, but it provided a window into His Word that is most valuable.
This is a great book for anyone preaching on the various accounts of Jesus’ life from the Gospels to read from during their sermons in order to provide their audiences with some very vivid perspectives. Worship leaders or pastors choosing to recreate short dramas or monologues on the life of Christ would benefit greatly from this work.


n Ken B. Godevenos, President, Accord Resolutions Services Inc., Toronto, Ontario, June 29, 2018, www.accordconsulting.com

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Saturday, June 16, 2018

Never Underestimate What Goes On Behind Closed Doors At Your Neighbor’s Place

The Painting and the Piano: An Improbable Story of Survival and Love

Authors: John Lipscomb and Adrienne Lugo
Publisher:Health Communications Inc., Deerfield Beach, FL., 2017


I’m writing this review on Father’s Day weekend. I suppose that is having an impact on my thoughts. With many wonderful memories of this special day with my own father and now with my children, I can’t help but think that this is not the way so many think of their father, or their mother for that matter. I can’t help but be amazed at just how dysfunctional many families are today. This is a real story of just two of them.  My guess, based on what I read these days, is that there are millions more out there just like them.
This book is gut-wrenching from start to finish. But it opens your eyes wide.
The two authors alternate writing chapters – each telling their own story until the very end, when they’ve joined forces in more ways than one.
First, we meet Adrienne, a happy young lady living with her very loving foster parents. She couldn’t be happier.  Then we meet John growing up in an upper-class home with all its benefits. But it isn’t long before we discover a major problem in each.
In Adrienne’s case, disaster strikes when her birth-parents decide it’s time to reconnect with their daughter. In John’s case, we find out his otherwise beautiful mother has a deep blotch hidden behind her façade – she’s a hopeless alcoholic.
The rest of the story you’ll need to read for yourself, but I assure you that you will not be disappointed. In fact, you may very well be shocked.  But let me share with you some of my observations.
Both Lipscomb and Lugo write very well.  So much so, that reading this book on a flight home from Boston, I was pleased to have my flight delayed because it gave me time to let me finish it.
The book includes some wonderful quotes and truths.  One of my favorites was from a psychiatrist, “If I know the relationship a child has with his or her mother, then I can help that person.” Relationships with our mothers, and fathers, matter.  I’ve also confirmed from the book that it’s the parents that usually (but not always) screw up such relationships, partly because they were screwed up by their parents in their own relationships.
In John’s case, we learn that when a mother is not capable or willing to fill the role she should be filling, that role is often filled by some other, much more loving individual. And thank God for that.
In this book, we observe at close hand, both the failures of our child protection agencies and their limited powers to do what is right. We also watch a lame family court judicial system follow the letter of the law when by doing so, they condemn innocent children to a life of misery.
We see the effects that both alcohol and drug abuse can have on children’s lives – even from within the womb. We learn that what these children deal with constantly in their mind’s images, as a result of their parents’ conditions, is something they seldom wish to talk about even when the events are from decades past. We understand why it is that our children’s friends often wish to spend as much time at our place, avoiding theirs like a plague. The value of wise and loving parents of one’s friends to make a positive impact on a life is brought to the forefront in this book.  I know that from personal experience and I also know it from the wonderful kids that were at our house so often after school spending time with my children and my wife – some of which we are still in contact with.
This is also a book of hope for those that have fallen into the vicious cycle of abuse, now risking the chance of being the abusers themselves. But make no mistake about it, getting off the cycle requires hard work and extreme pain. Another great quote from the book is – “I got the monkey off my back, but the circus is still in town.” (There is some disagreement as to who originated that idea.) Nevertheless, it fits well with the long process of being “clean” (either from alcohol or from drugs), only to have to find yourself in a place full of drinkers or users.
Adrienne and John both end up where their dysfunctional parents were – but with one difference. They both wanted to stop the spinning cycle and get off.  Adrienne committed herself to doing so because of the love she had for her children. John because of the respect he had for people outside his family that really loved him.
Finally, and perhaps a little tongue in cheek – it’s worth buying the book just to find out what the title is all about.
I strongly recommend the book for any parent, any abuser, anyone being abused, any counsellor, pastor, or just anyone who has no idea whatsoever is going at their neighbor’s place.

Ken B. Godevenos, President, Accord Resolutions Services Inc., Toronto, Ontario, June 16, 2018, www.accordconsulting.com

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Monday, June 04, 2018

I Thought I Was Reading An Updated Version of a Saul Alinsky Manual

We Need A Movement: Four Problems To Solve To Restore Rational Government

Author: John Jensen
Publisher:Self-published, San Bernardino, California, 2017



Full disclosure – I am a “conservative”.  Now, read on.
The book’s title intrigued me enough to agree to read it and review it. Certainly, many would agree that the West has lost any vestige of rational government. We’d also agree we want to fix the problems that result from such a loss. And I thought Dr. John Jensen, a clinical psychologist, educational consultant, and a former Catholic priest, would lead us through the waters of social change to the promised land we crave.  He certainly made a valiant effort.
His book is broken down into four main sections (really, they’re chapters). These cover the four problems he believes need solving -- Meaning, Selfish Power, Mediocre Thinking, and Organization.
While he offers many gems of wisdom, the organization of his material leaves much to be desired. For starters his four chapters are each, on average, 70 pages long. He engages points and subpoints, and bullets and sub-bullets to the point that the material becomes tedious for the reader.
Nevertheless, he is bang on when it comes to describing why we’re in the societal mess we are in – and clearly, to Jensen, we are in a mess. Our economic and success models are geared to raise one up at the expense of many others – sometimes unintentionally, often while unaware of doing so, and regularly, quite intentionally.
Early in his book he lists many issues and then asks, “Is it right?” But he’s very careful to only include issues of the political left, not the political right. For example, he raises concern for global warming, high rates of teen death and child poverty, poor child care, high rate of incarceration, inequality in education, inequality in the justice system, an over-funded military, etc. But there’s no mention of issues like abortion, euthanasia, broken marriages, single parenting, etc.  So right away he alienates his conservative readers.
He also uses words that are polemic to some.  For example, on his dedication page he warns us of only using 300-word quotations from the book, but it appears that “activists’use of the text for promoting ideas outlined within” is totally okay, with no limit. 
Jensen does many things well. For example, he explains the necessity for great care when we seek freedom from government interference, pointing out that if the government is not in control, others rush in to fill that gap.  He warns that many democracies have been or are ruled by autocrats and that Hitler took over his homeland when German democracy was ineffective.
I must admit Dr. Jensen may think he is writing an apolitical book, but his examples seem quite one-sided for one who follows American politics these days.  In fact, he has a unique way of criticizing the Trump phenomenon on several occasions. He writes things like, “We must not design society to violate justice and respect.”  And yet, to a conservative reader who believes he is a proponent of the left, he seems to be totally missing the fact that this is exactly what the side he favors is doing.  He makes a discrete point for increasing or widening the voter base, but in so doing, he speaks directly against what most Americans want – voter identification. He writes, “Every attempt to exclude individuals, demographic groups, or regions from the electoral process by making their participation harder, longer, or more confusing degrades democracy and leaves a minority in control.”  He lost me ideologically after that.
Sticking with his desire, Jensen identifies the issue before us as simple: “The issue,” he says, “is basic. Can society grow efficiently and profitably and still account for everyone? The data do not say. It appears to be a matter of choice.”  But while he gives us lots of details on how to change that society step by step, person by person, it’s not clear as to how successful such a process would be.  After all, there were many community and societal organizers (Saul Alinsky being one) before Jensen came along and look where we are.  He himself writes, “A ten-foot ladder does not free us from a twenty-foot hole.
The author wanders into the issue of refugees and ethnic groups and objects to our seeing them as being our enemies simply because of where they were born and where we were born. Unfortunately, while as a Christian like him, I can, and I must love individuals from any part of the world, I don’t believe I can realistically expect everyone not to see some groups as enemies when they want to kill us.
The book has many redeeming values.  For example, there is a myriad of great lines.  Here’s one with regard to expecting assistance from those who know a crime has been or is being committed: “To turn in a family member (terrorist, murderer, etc. to the authorities), people must commit to the values of a society that values them (the people doing the informing).” [Italics mine.]
He includes a great deal of detailed instruction for almost each step of a movement’s creation and implementation. Those are most helpful to anyone working on any cause.  His list of “analytic tools” and their use is top-notch. As an example, there is a list of 153 questions to use in having a discussion when challenging people with your ideas.
There are also some great and very useful insights into how to argue with extremists.  If you don’t mind the author’s slant, even though he tries to hide it well, this is a great book for how “to do” what needs to be done to start any kind of movement, let alone a social one.
Jensen also seems to miss the real purpose of the Church instructing his readers on how to infiltrate it for your cause. (He calls it ‘appealing to the churches’, I call it ‘manipulating the Church’ based on the social teachings of Christ.). In so doing, ex-Father Jensen misses the higher calling of the Church – the salvation of mankind.
Nevertheless, I intend to keep it on my shelf as a reference not only to use when running discussion groups or formal meetings, but also to remind me of how political and social activists operate.
  
Ken B. Godevenos, President, Accord Resolutions Services Inc., Toronto, Ontario, June 4, 2018

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