Tuesday, June 02, 2020

"After Trump: Achieving A New Social Gospel"

Donald Heinz, Lutheran minister and Chico State University emeritus Professor of Religious Studies, offers in his new book "an invitation and a manifesto." He calls for a revitalized Progressive Christianity "that mimics the liberating God of the Bible." 

He wants the voice of the church to be heard once again in the public square (rather than a watered-down political liberalism too embarrassed to talk about Jesus). He wants to draw on "Catholic, Calvinist, Lutheran, evangelical, and neo-Anabaptist" teachings to restore the prophetic mission of the church in proclaiming God's "preferential option for the poor."

In "After Trump: Achieving A New Social Gospel" ($28 in paperback from Cascade Books; also for Amazon Kindle), Heinz says "what society most needs from the church" is "the prophetic imagination of alternative realities"--a vision of justice and the common good--brought into the public square. 

We must, he says, take sin (personal and corporate) seriously, but reject what he calls "freeze-dried biblical literalism." "In the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaims, love stretches law and custom towards new forms of social justice. Arms full of antipathy to gays cannot carry the Gospel too." The church is a "parade" as it marches into the public square with this new prophetic vision; and it is "pilgrimage."

"Pilgrimaging towards a new social gospel is the task the times require if we are not to continue our descent into Trumpism--white racism, resentment, selfishness, a rapacious free market, and government in the interest of the 1 percent." The church is (or should be) on the move, collaborating with other institutions but never dissolving into them. 

Heinz situates this liberation within a historical and cultural context. He writes that "the crisis of secular modernity (begun with the Enlightenment) is that it created a thought world in which the Bible simply was no longer allowed to speak." But it must: The "canon within the canon"--"God as liberator, played out in the exodus, the prophets, Jesus, and Paul"--provides the key to what the Bible can say in the public square.

The two Donalds (Heinz and Trump) present starkly different worldviews. The book calls readers to "think on these things."

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

"Fulfilled: The Passion And Provision Strategy For Building A Business With Profit, Purpose And Legacy"

Owners of local businesses will be making crucial decisions in the coming weeks. Can their doors reopen? And, if so, will the customers be there? A new book by a Chico couple, the founders and owners of the marketing and consulting firm Half a Bubble Out, is a superb guide to rethinking one's business in a time of crisis.

Drawing on lessons from their own early missteps, Kathryn and Michael Redman propose a holistic approach to build or rebuild a business that attracts customers and keeps employees motivated. It's called "Fulfilled: The Passion And Provision Strategy For Building A Business With Profit, Purpose And Legacy" ($19.99 in paperback from Lioncrest Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle). An associated website, fulfilledthebook.com, provides special offers and worksheets.

For the Redmans, "Our Passion & Provision concept ... is about living into the 'more' of what life is supposed to be. When we talk about Passion & Provision, we’re talking about fighting a battle against despair, against the status quo, against fear and failure and loss."

Passion is "conviction, values, and commitment ... the willingness to endure pain and suffering to reach a desired destination...." But purpose must be balanced with Provision, "having the resources you need to achieve your goals." This is not, the Redmans say, about just "breaking even" (and for them that includes paying oneself).

Start with core values, like trust and integrity. Create a vision of how to realize what the authors call BHAG, "our Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal." To do that, become minimally competent in leadership; management and operations; marketing and sales; money; and culture (helping everyone reach their potential through the work they do).

It's not easy, but the book includes key real-world insights from other business writers that will help light the way.

As Kathryn writes, "Many times I have looked at Michael and said, 'I knew this would be hard, but I didn't know.' ... The challenge of walking through failures as well as triumphs. Of days when the future looks bright and days when you are convinced the end is imminent."

"Fulfilled" is a must read for business leaders. Anchored in reality, it will encourage and inspire in the uncertain days ahead.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

"The Germ Who Got Tired Of Waiting"

"On a morning in March," writes Chicoan Emily Hajec in her new children's book, "A warm, bright, sunny day/ When the flowers were blooming/ In a spring kind of way// Something started to happen...."

Hajec is a copywriter for the Chico marketing company MC2 Design Group. She writes me that she's also a "mom to one very special seven-year-old. ... Her voice is featured in the book as the narrator. When the isolation and social distancing requirements began, children everywhere were faced with a very difficult and challenging new normal. ... Yet through the power of story, I wanted children to find comfort in knowing that there is a greater message of hope."

With MC2 colleague and graphic designer Alycia Jones, who provided the colorful illustrations, the message came to life. "The Germ Who Got Tired Of Waiting" ($20 in paperback, available at thegermwhogottiredofwaiting.com) explains that in the midst of March a "bad guy" showed up. "He was tiny and mean/ And he made people sick/ Although hand washing did/ Seem to be a good trick."

He was relentless, and that changed everything: "No more school, no more stores/ No more going out to eat/ No more play dates, no more parties/ No more people on the street." The message for kids, for everyone, was "Stay away and stay in." "That mean ol' bad germ/ Really ruined the fun/ I don't like that mean germ/ I don't like him a ton."

Then something begins to dawn on the narrator. "But ya see, what did happen/ When we all stayed away/ We actually spent more time/ Doing fun things to play// We made crafts and played cards/ We rode bikes and took walks/ We built forts and read books/ And had lots of fun talks."

And the germ? "He got tired of waiting// That mean ol' bad germ/ Couldn't get us no more/ When we all stayed away/ The bad germ was done for."

The power of a family. Together.

In email correspondence, Hajec notes that profits from the book go to local charitable organizations such as the North Valley Community Foundation's Covid-19 Rapid Response Fund and the Chico Children's Museum.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

"The Empath"

Chico novelist Michael Agliolo's supernatural techno-thriller is a seat-of-your pants wild ride. "The Empath" ($11.43 in paperback, self-published from MA Productions; also for Amazon Kindle) tells the story of 40-something day trader Jason Marino. He has a secret.

Jason is an empath. Sometimes, seemingly at random, he feels a "pull" toward someone who has been hurt. Touching them, he takes on their pain. In doing so, the healing process speeds up, and Jason, exhausted, falls sound asleep. He never makes a show of it. No one must know. 

"It doesn’t take a genius," he says, "to know anyone who can heal people would be hounded, dissected, and turned into some government science project if the word got out." But his life as a nondescript divorced guy in Northern California is about to come to an end. 

Visiting a hospital he feels the old familiar "pull" toward a young boy named Joey being wheeled into one of the rooms. Donning a disguise as "Dr. Cavanaugh," Jason gains entrance into Joey's room and touches his arm to "take his pulse."

And then: "The pulling sensation jolted me. All my senses vanished except my pain receptors. The pulling sensation surged. My head began to throb. Not a sharp pain, just a deep dull ache. My left leg hurt. Everything intensified. I owned the pain now."

Things really get strange when he meets Sarah Backman. She has prophetic dreams, seeing in advance what is going to happen--or what may happen if things are not changed.

They are surrounded by news that U.S. President Cunningham is stepping down after a brain tumor is discovered. Jason can help--but how is he going to get to the President? Child's play, compared to what happens next. Jason is inserted into a desperate mission to stop North Korea from bringing America to its knees, while Sarah at home guides them by her dreams. 

Jason, aboard a super-secret U.S. nuclear sub that runs at unheard of speeds by bubble cavitation, has an audacious plan and a load of nuclear missiles. What could go wrong?

"The Empath" will have readers cheering for Jason and Sarah, even as they learn the real cost of truth-telling.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

"Fire In Paradise: An American Tragedy"

"It was 4:00 a.m. on Friday, November 9," write Alastair Gee and Dani Anguiano of 2018, "and the destruction of the Paradise Ridge as it had been known for a century and a half was almost complete." 

Gee is an editor-reporter for the U.K.-based Guardian newspaper in its West Coast office. Anguiano, also a Guardian reporter, honed her journalistic career at the Chico State University Orion and (for three years) this newspaper. Together, drawing on hundreds of interviews, they tell the story of the Camp Fire with skill and even-handedness.

"Fire In Paradise: An American Tragedy" ($26.95 in hardcover from W. W. Norton & Company; also for Amazon Kindle) is divided into three sections: "Paradise" (which establishes the town's setting in California history and its vulnerability to conflagration); "Hell" (which includes the stories of those who had to make the agonizing decision of whether to stay or go); and "Ashes and Seeds" (which chronicles "a city dispersed").

It's an "American tragedy" because there are other communities, such as Nevada City, about which residents say "it's only a matter of time." "In the wake of the Camp Fire," the authors write in an Epilogue, "a century of certainties about the ability of humans to dominate fire were in question." 

In the wake of the Camp Fire, P.G.&E. plunged millions of Californians into darkness with power shutoffs--and yet there apparently was at least one utility-caused fire, in Sonoma County, evoking for those in and around the Ridge "a familiar sense of dread."

There are eerie resonances with the world we are living through now. In the midst of the fire, "firefighters across the Ridge adopted the makeshift tactic called 'sheltering in place' ...." 

As the fire burned, thick smoke enveloped large parts of the state. "Authorities recommended n95 respirators, so called because they claimed to filter out at least 95 percent of dust and mold in the air." 

Evacuees faced sickness: "In the coming days about 145 people in shelters caught norovirus, a highly contagious illness causing vomiting and diarrhea."

"It was incomprehensible," Gee and Anguiano write, "just how swiftly an entire world had been lost." It happened, and is happening again.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

"Chicken Soup For The Soul: Laughter Is The Best Medicine"

There are hundreds of "Chicken Soup For The Soul" titles in print. The goal of the series, under the editorship of Amy Newmark, is to bring readers "inspirational and aspirational true stories curated from ordinary people who have had extraordinary experiences."

The newest volume, though, focuses on gentle humor: true-life silly situations, embarrassing moments, animal antics, "work whoops," "domestic disasters," and moments that are "innocently inappropriate."

"Chicken Soup For The Soul: Laughter Is The Best Medicine" ($14.95 in paperback from Chicken Soup For The Soul; also for Amazon Kindle) presents 101 vignettes from real people, including Chicoan Gwen Sheldon Willadsen. She's "a retired professor. Her retirement hobbies include spending time with her grandkids, genealogy research, travel, and writing memoir and genealogy stories."

Her short piece, entitled "Eddie," fits into the "mistaken identity" category. It all begins simply enough: "'Welcome to the neighborhood,' said Kelsey and Jim, our neighbors who lived across the street from our new house. As we chatted, Eddie, their short, portly, wrinkled bulldog, sauntered over for an introduction and to check us out. He was slow-moving and mellow but curious. Eddie hung out nearby while we got to know Kelsey and Jim."

A few weeks later her husband Paul walks across the street to visit Jim; turns out they both love cycling. But Paul can't quite remember Jim's name. He hears Kelsey outside yell "Eddie!" (who was eating the flowers) and figures that is the man's name. And that's the name he uses. Jim never corrects Paul; when Paul returns home to talk about the conversation, Willadsen explains who the real Eddie is. Embarrassment? Sure. But it turns to laughter and a long-term friendship.

Joan Dubay's two-year-old grandson describes Jesus as an orange square. Where's Jesus? Up there in the cupboard, pointing to the Cheez-Its....

Viji K. Chary's five-year-old daughter takes to saying "one sec" every time she is asked to do a chore. Frustrated, Chary yells out "No more secs!" Just then her husband walks in....

Robin K. Melvin, exhausted, reaches for the tube of toothpaste and brushes her teeth with Preparation H.

These stories will provide soothing relief just where it's needed.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

"Stone Scar"

T. J. Tao is the pen name of Michael J. Orr (wordsmithmojo.com). Now based in southern Idaho, he and his family survived the Camp Fire. In "Burn Scar," he transplants what happened in Paradise to a town called Genna (Maltese, he says, for "Paradise"); the novelist's blaze starts in Bear County near Bonneville Road and so is dubbed the Bonn Fire.

One of the characters in that book, James Aloysius Augustine, is a man with a checkered past starting over in Genna, a man who discovers the plot by one Gavin David to use corrupt town officials to drill for gold after the fire. David escapes and James is left to figure out a life purpose.

Not to worry. His story continues in "Stone Scar" ($16.99 in paperback from WordsmithMojo Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle) but the novel itself begins in 1805 with Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in the midst of their famous expedition. They are in what is now central Idaho, meeting with Shoshone Chief Cameahwait, brother of Sacagawea. Though these facts are part of the historical record, what Lewis and Clark find next is most certainly not. 

Days later, their Shoshone guide, Toby, directs the explorers to what Toby calls "the river of no return." Will, on a side mission from Thomas Jefferson himself to find the rumored "Lost City of Gold," clambers over rocks for a look, but they give way and he tumbles into the river. Then he "saw it for the first time; a scar burrowed into the stone face of a giant wall leaving an opening the width of the river and nearly level with the surface. A stony beast swallowing the river."

Will and Meri find the river leads into a fantastical chamber, bathed in a golden glow, sporting strange machinery, a portal to a most unfortunate encounter with Gavin David's tyrannical ancestor.

Alternating chapters take the reader to 2019, when James and Boise State University archaeologist Stuart Angeline discover the same chamber, activate its mechanism, and eventually find their purpose in life beyond what they could have imagined. Dan Brown fans, especially, will enjoy the page-turning romp and be impatient for the next in the series.