Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Appeal – John Grisham

© 2008 Doubleday, New York

Welcome back, Mr. Grisham. The old saying is “Write what you know.” And John Grisham has finally taken that advice. Not to say the attorney/politician/author/little league coach knows nothing about Italy, pizza, or football, but after Playing for Pizza I was ready for one of Grisham’s crank ‘em out legal thrillers. The Appeal was just the ticket.

The entire city of Bowmore, the whole “Cancer County” of Cary County in southern Mississippi in fact, is waiting on pins and needles to hear the verdict in the case of Jeannette Baker vs. Krane Chemical. The story that follows is a roller coaster ride following the high of a record-setting judgement, and the appeal that ensues.

Good guys and bad guys are easy to spot in this tale of conspiracy and politics. Krane Chemical (and big industry altogether), led by the rich and unscrupulous Carl Trudeau are definitely bad guys. Struggling lawyers for the plaintiff Wes and Mary Grace Payton (of Payton & Payton) lead the entire victimized town of Bowmore as they fight against the evil empire of Krane who knowingly and willingly contaminated the drinking water of Cary County by illegally dumping toxic waste behind the Bowmore plant. Incidents of fatal cancer skyrocket in and around Bowmore literally killing the town. Jeannette Baker’s losses are greater than most losing both her husband and her son to the chemically induced cancer.

Upon the record-splitting judgment in favor of Mrs. Baker, Trudeau takes steps to purchase a Mississippi Supreme Court justice—through the shady avenue of judicial elections. Incumbent Sheila McCarthy is targeted and labeled as liberal, though her nine-year record shows her to be thoughtful and even in her pursuit of upholding Mississippi law from the bench.

Unknown Ron Fisk is chosen by a secret “election fixing” group to replace McCarthy in an effort to reduce the number of frivolous, high-liability lawsuits in the state. The book follows the original verdict and its fallout, through the election campaign that just happens to take place after the verdict but before the appeal can be heard by the Supreme Court. Finally, Grisham ties everything together in a short section that reveals the opinion of the Court. (Spoiler Alert) The question is will the new Justice, Fisk allow his emotions, his pocketbook, or his judicial understanding to win out?

The book reads easily, as with most of Grisham’s legal thrillers. It ends with more sense of resolution than some. Readers will find it either a refreshing getaway for a day or two, or will be angered by the outcome. The emotion of A Time to Kill is hinted at toward the end of the book, but not fully appreciated. Nice, fluffy summer fare—three and one-half reading glasses.

—Benjamin Potter, May 27, 2008

Friday, May 23, 2008

Free Book! Free Book! Free Book!

Actually it's only one free book. And it can be yours if you're interested. Just click here, register in the comment section, and if your name is drawn, you'll get an autographed copy of Guardian of Light by Steven Hunt.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Ugly American – William J. Lederer & Eugene Burdick

© 1958, Fifth Fawcett printing (1987), Fawcett Crest, New York

The back cover states, “If this were not a free country, this book would be banned.” It’s a strong statement especially for a book that opposes Communism in the middle of the Cold War.

The book centers on a fictional country in Southeast Asia named Sarkhan. The stories contained within the chapter bounce between competence and incompetence on the part of the diplomats and politicos. Heroes include Ambassador Gilbert McWhite, John Colvin, and Homer Atkins—all men who took the time to learn the culture in which they were being planted. Even with the mistakes made by the Ambassador, the heart was right. The ineptitude of Americans who live and work overseas according to the authors starts high and trickles all the way to the lowest levels.

This book, while written during the height of the struggle between American capitalism and Russian communism, bears all the marks of a lasting piece of literature. The authors write well and keep you engaged in the story, even when you don’t like what’s happening in the story. There are parts of the story line that will dishearten you, it will also open your eyes. Here you’ll find the reminder that Americans are not always right, and even when they are right, they may not be heard—even by other Americans.

This is an excellent book if you can find a copy. Four and one-half out of five reading glasses. Read it if you want a book that will engage your brain. If you want to escape, save this one ‘til later.

Benjamin Potter, May 16, 2008

Sunday, May 4, 2008

unChristian – David Kinnaman with Gabe Lyons

© 2007 Baker Books, Grand Rapids

People say all different kinds of things with statistics. Pollsters are a mainstay of ministry people as they try to either justify what they are doing or prove to someone that they are right or not. I’ve never been a big fan of doing the kind of tedious work required to gather the information found in books like Comeback Churches or our current feature, but I have found the information helpful once someone has done the work. David Kinnaman is the president of The Barna Group, which collects this kind of information for Christian ministries, and he has done this data collection well for several years. This is his first time to write more than a collective report for the group commissioning the research, and the book that is the result is shattering, while not altogether unexpected.

At the request of Gabe Lyons, who at the time was preparing to start what has become the Fermi Project, Kinnaman set out to find out what the upcoming generations of young adults think of Christians and Christianity. What he found over a three year study gives the modern expression of the church more than just pause for thought, but a siren-laden wake-up call that, if ignored will contribute to the slow, painful, gasping death of the church as we know it. However, if we perk up our ears and listen to the cry that is coming out of the “Buster” and “Mosaic” generations, we can make adjustments and return to the church Christ promised to build on the faith statement of Simon Peter.

The book itself is written in such a way as to be read by even the most statistically challenged of us all. In it you will find the findings that younger adults (both from within and without the church) find these common perceptions of Christians and Christianity:

  1. Hypocritical.
  1. Too focused on getting converts.
  1. Anti-homosexual.
  1. Sheltered.
  1. Too political.
  1. Judgmental.

Regardless of whether we agree with the assessment or not, Kinnaman suggests that Christians must pay attention to the perceptions because they are the perceptions that are driving young people out of the church and away from Christ.

Throughout the book you will find not only Kinnaman’s assessment, but also suggested responses to move us from living out “unChristian faith” and being more Christ-like in our actions from leading Christians in America today. Most poignant, I believe, are the quotations scattered throughout the text—some from the interviewees in the research, and some from Christians who are trying to get the faithful back on track. In reaction to the perception that Christians are anti-homosexual, 34-year-old Peter said, “It’s very much an “us-versus-them” mentality, as if a war has been declared. Of course each side thinks the other fired the opening shot.”

Perhaps some of the perceptions held by these young “outsiders” (those who are not part of the established church) are well-deserved. In a conversation with a friend, Kinnaman relates the story of how one church leader turned people away from a “free” concert because he didn’t want “those people infecting our youth group.” (see pages 190-191 for the account)

The difference between this book and others that are meant to wake up the church such as I’m OK, You’re Not is that while the information may be scary and even maddening to Christ followers, it is not presented in shock form, but with a loving attitude toward both the Christian and the outsider as well.

As with all research of this type, the statistics will be current for at most five years, and then more reports will be necessary. But for today, Christians need to read this book if for no other reason than to open their eyes. (Five out of five reading glasses—get this book and read it.)

Benjamin Potter, May 4, 2008

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