Friday, December 13, 2013

The Red Guide to Recovery by Sean Scott

Disaster recovery grows in importance every year.   Access to information by victims and those who care for them is more important than ever.  The Red Guide to Recovery is a primer, a "book of proverbs" if you will,  to address the need. 

The Red Guide to Recovery
I bought it because it was marketed to the fire service and it is of value, especially in a large scale event.  However, it would be a better course to homeowners than a fire ground resource.  As a small town pastor and fire chaplain, I do very little follow up with survivors and almost no community education. An Emergency Manager might be a better target.

 I spent several years working hurricanes and much of this is old hat.  Those in the fire service could easily assume that everyone knows these things.  Folks that have not been through a disaster need this good and basic stuff.   For example-DON'T run a generator inside the house and DON'T turn off the breakers while standing in a puddle.  People die every disaster over these types of things.
This is a multi media resource and does a good, comprehensive job with an extremely broad subject.  Anchored in a book, e-book and app, the author links back to his website, . This information changes with the whims of the many resources and the site can change where the book cannot.

As it is self published and self marketed by the author, Sean Scott, the book can also be customized for a specific community with local QR's and local resources.  The app could be easily revised later but the hard copy could be obsolete pretty quickly.   This is would make an excellent mitigation/preparation class and supported with the author's "Free Tools" from the website. 

The Red Guide is more focused with larger disasters more than a local house fire but the subjects are relevant to both.  Half of the book is dedicated to handling contractors and insurance issues.  Much is a guide through the tangle of the FEMA web materials which the author does well.  The author does an excellent job of dealing with  disaster scams and pets. Chapter 13, Trauma Intervention and Grief Counseling, is well done, especially with children's issues but does not address the role of faith in recovery. 

The Red Guide is not quite a text book but more than just a field guide.  It is well organized, clearly written but not something you look through on the fire ground. The forward is a more thorough overview than most books like this and each chapter begins with learning goals in bullet point-this makes it easier to navigate. 

Any responder or survivor who reads this will be better equipped for the disaster at hand. I recommend it as an addition to all stress/emotional first aid resources.  Once the situation is calmed, this guide gives you a confident next step. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Connecting the Dots: Fred Craddock Shares his Journey into the Ministry

Reflections on My Call to Preach: Connecting the DotsI am a preacher and live in a world where I share my calling with a lot of wonderful people who don't really understand what that calling is.  The biggest reason for the lack of understanding is that the call of God to preach defies words.  Fred Craddock share the intimate journey from being a little Tennessee boy to one of the greatest and best known preachers of our age.

Craddock's book "Preaching" was required reading in seminary and rightfully so.  It is an in depth look at the process of discerning and creating the oral event that we call a sermon.  "Reflections" goes behind the scenes of the sermon and looks for those "dots" or "final proofs" that affirm this calling is of God and not just a personal decision.  I won't spoil his discovery but will offer this tease.  Quoting Franz Werfel, " (to ) the one who wills to believe, final proof is not necessary.  To the one who will not believe, final proof is never enough." 

This is not a book of chicken-soupy anecdotes but a journey of discovery of how Fred Craddock the preacher came to be.  It is also a witness for us all to the power of an honest memoir for self-discovery.  If you are a preacher is can help you put words to your journey.  If you are not, it may help you understand the strange motivation of those  preachers who are under your care.

A great read from a great writer. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Book Review: In the Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day-The Risk of Playing it Safe

Mark Batterson has taken an obscure story from 2 Samuel 23 and written a commentary on one of the most important issues for Christians and indeed in our world, “Living in Crippling  fear.”  So many writers are busy trying to prove relevance or put a new spin on old answers.  Batterson takes the story of Benaiah and issues us a strategy to fearlessly live life as a faith led adventure. 

Many people are paralyzed by fear.  This book is an answer to the dissatisfaction and tension that many live in by redeeming that fear into un-stuckness.   “In a Pit” points to Jesus as the ultimate risk taker and reward bearer.  Rather than being stuck, we are freed through the process of looking to scripture, reframing fear, adversity, prayer into spiritual growth opportunities and not punishment.  We do not have to be stuck in the fear of feeling foolish. The author’s treatment of “divergent” thinking is brilliant.  Children and new Christians-who haven’t met a theologian yet- are born to think “out of the box.  Fear traps us within that box.
 Book Cover Batterson’s calls the reader  to  grow and mature by living the adventure of Christ, “tapping into our natural weirdness” and recognizing that God does not meet anyone in the Bible through “normal’ means.  Besides, “normality is overrated” and maturity is often mistakes as conformity.
Batterson’s style is fresh and efficient.  The text is a mere 171 pages and every word counts.  There are an abundance of sound- bites that ring in my ears.  “In a Pit” is flexible in design.  It can be read devotionally either by a chapter a day or in about two sittings or in a small group by using the chapter reviews and end notes.
 The chapter reviews have discussion “points to remember” and a sensible “Starting Your Chase” suggestion that prompt the reader to action.  The goal of this book is not merely telling you to quit being afraid.  Batterson gives uniquely Christ-centered reasons and spirit led ways to take the first step.  An excellent read.
Thanks to Multnomah press and the author for giving me this book in exchange for writing this review. 
Thus ends the review but begins my personal thoughts generated by this reading.  So many people will not read a book before reading comments and gathering rating information.  Many will not watch a film or listen to music that they know nothing about.  The Christian life, our country and our personal satisfaction comes from discovery and not certainty.  Are people losing their taste for risk?
Fear is crippling so many people.  Unresolved it becomes boredom or even depression.  Reframing fear into a motivation and not a stumbling block is Mark Batterson’s thesis and fearlessness is Christ’s gift to us through salvation.  Christ is not calling us to reckless or random action but walking by “Faith and not by sight”.  Scripture offers a touchstone for our decision making; prayer offers a walking connection to Christ and the church a safe place to train for the journey. 
The call to the church is to be a place of adventure and a sponsor of those jumping into the disciple’s life.  Membership is not enough and study is not the goal.  Finding our way as we go is so satisfying.  Ambiguity is difficult for some but faith in Christ can actually cause the disciple to crave it rather than mistaking it as dangerous. 
  This past weekend I heard a story from a colleague about his personal passion to minister to homeless people in the Tyler Texas area.  This is how his adventuring works; He will see a homeless person, lock his kids in the car, determine them to be safe, and then motion his family to join them.  He will give snacks, meal coupons, and pray for that person.  While driving around with his pre-school daughter, she screamed, “Daddy stop” as she saw a homeless man that she recognized.  Her pastor-dad told her no, they were in a hurry to get somewhere else.  The little girl stuck to her calling and insisted loudly that they stop.  He did stop-and all were blessed-the man, the daughter, and the dad.  This is normality at their house.
This is the life that Mark Batterson is describing.  This is adventure in Christ.  This is how a little girl changes the world…..starting with us boring normal guys.


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Ambrose Bierce: a writer satires his tools

In Heaven there is a Half Price Books store.  I can't prove that in scripture and it isn't really my desire for an ultimate destination. 

As I vacation, however,  I would happily put a cot and my tooth brush here and stay a while.  You don't go to used book stores looking for anything specific.  They are a place of discovery and require huge blocks of time. Where else can you get two hours of entertainment for four buck though?   I have come to see what can be seen.  Here is my find for the day. 

Ambrose Bierce's "The Devil's Dictionary.  Bierce was a witty curmudgeon and a man of words.  A veteran of the civil war, he died in 1914.  This book was originally printed in 1911 and   reprinted from his complete works on its 100th birthday, 2011. (Dover Publications, New York, USA)

Ambrose Bierce was a humorist, journalist, author and professional cynic.  He  made fun of things and his definitions appeared in newspapers from the late 1899's through early 1900's. This book makes fun of dictionaries.  His definition of a dictionary?:  "n. a malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of language and making it hard and inelastic.  This dictionary, however is a most useful work." So there. 

He describes a minister as, "an agent of a higher power with a lower responsibility", diplomacy as "the patriotic art of lying for one's country",  a hearse as "death's baby carriage.", and a lawyer as "one skilled in circumvention of the law."  There are hundreds  upon hundreds of these clever and often caustic "definitions". 

Want a copy of your own?  Amazon has a download for two bucks or hard copies in several covers.  Abebooks, halfdotcom or one of the other used book sites would have them too.

But wait a minute.  The gift of this book is not that I own it but rather that I discovered it.  Authors pour out words that score emotion, transformation and art.  How will we rediscover the works of the past without used book stores?  Will the search for a reading gem be reduced to reading ads from Amazon or Barnes and Noble?

 You can't dig through a resale shop for a download.  They don't get dog-eared or get sold for a quarter with a love note or piece of junk mail used as a bookmark. Digital copies can be shared but carry no marginal notes or other marks of the person that read the book.  Yes, I reluctantly got a Kindle last year and love it but it has no soul.   Technology provides for a way to warehouse every work we create but does create the longing to rediscover.  Books bear our essence as people as much as its own message

There is a French saying, "A recherche du temps perdu".  It translates, a (re)discovery of lost time.  It describes that powerful memory of a past event that floods our being when we touch something or someone from our past. The touch of a book creates a story, sometimes from the author and sometimes from the owner.

Ever touch your grandmother's Bible or the bulletin from a funeral and have that rush of memories?   I pray you have that "recherch√©" today in some way or another. Old books are a means of Grace.  I pray that our quest for technology doesn't take that desire to discover things that we don't know exist.  This is the way Christian Spirituality works too.  It is the journey into the not-knowing that gets us where God wants us to be.

Want a copy of "the Devil's Dictionary"?  Dig for I!.  With any luck you won't find it but will discover something far greater, something left on a shelf or in a paper sack at a garage sale just for you.

Ambrose Bierce gets the final word....

"Review, v.t.
To set your wisdom (holding not a doubt of it,
Although in truth there's neither bone nor skin to it)
At  work upon a book, and so read out of it
The qualities that you have first read into it.
Another book with many of Bierce's quotes in "The Portable Curmudgeon" edited by John Winkour.


Saturday, July 27, 2013

Book Review: Time and Again, a new story 150 years in the telling

Time and Again is author Deborah Heal's contemporary look at time travel.  This is neither sci-fi nor the usual syrup of Christian fiction.  "Weaving History and Faith into Fiction" is Heal's mission and her gift. Shel has done her historical homework for the story's central Illinois setting.

Set in Brighton Illinois, a crumbling mid-western railroad town, the heroine "Abby" leaves her life of privilege to tutor the troubled "Merideth", as what begins as a college service project.  Her job is to save this young charge from being held back in school. The story weaves through adolescent bratty-ness, serious family issues, and coming of age for the tutor, young student, and mother alike. Positive values and the message that everyone is a work in progress flow through these pages without any character being dismissive or judgmental. The adventure of discovery comes through a surprising and contemporary portal, connecting 150 years of history to modern lives.  God is present and faith is celebrated in the lives of these characters who grow and develop throughout this well told tale.  Time and Again is clearly written and interesting as both  a story of fiction and a lesson in American history.  "Time and Again" is a good and safe book for pre-teen readers yet enjoyable to adults too.

 This is the first installment in a series and as such ends rather abruptly.  The author is not done with this story.   Thanks to the author for giving me a copy of her book in exchange for this review and trusting me with my own opinions.

The invitation to review this book came from an unsolicited email from Deborah Heal.  She read the review of another book that I had written and offered a copy.  I am clearly not the target demographic of this book.  The appeal of the book is more for young women.  Heal appeals to me through her marketing strategy.  Her website, , is comfortable and lacks pretense.  Her "Good Books" shelf and ethereal book club have many of my personal must-reads.  She is a writer with depth yet finds humor in herself  and lacks any artistic pretense.

This depth shows through in the historical facet of this novel. Her research, difficult to dig up in a small town, was thorough.  I am a 50 something pastor and history buff from the mid-west who lives in an old Texas railroad town and seldom reads a novel of any style.  I found a connection and  immediately knew these characters, right down to the little bullies and the guy at the snow cone stand.  I also appreciate that she does not over play the heroine by making her perfect. Everyone in the story grows up a little.

Too many books have trashy agendas. Along with a good tale, the book teaches manners, personal hygiene, loving less lovable parents, Finding Christ at a pasty and boring church even when no one is looking, and peeling away the layers of a small town to find treasure in the manure piles.  The story also teaches that in Christ you are not stuck where you are forever.

The story is overly romantic for my tastes and fairly predictable but I like the characters and I like the author.  She is not bound to a publishing house and writes what God leads her to write with boldness. She also has a clear mastery of the social media in this brave new world of publishing.  I appreciate how personal and generous her website it.  She is very open in sharing her journey as an author and encourages everyone to tag along with her.  I pray for her success and recommend this book and her future installments.  

Saturday, May 4, 2013

How to Use a French Coffee Press as a Means of Grace

I love a good rich cup of coffee.  I hate spending a painful sum of cash to get that cup though.  I don't want to settle for the Folgers at the convenience store  so I needed a better way.  I am blessed with two options.  First is the Keurig that my family bought me for Christmas.  It is clean, convenient and gives a great cup for about 75 cents US.  However, in our rural area, the selection is weak, especially in the dark roasts.

I did buy a two different refillable cups but they make a mess each time I use them and the results with this model aren't very good.  The Keurig brand cup works better but clogs the machine.  The Store-bought cups create a lot of trash too as well as costing more.  I have another option.

 I found a French press at a Target store and get a great cup made from any premium ground coffee for about 20 cents-10% of a Starbucks small.  This is how to use one.

I have a "2-cup" and a "6-cup".  They make 1 or 3 medium sized coffees.  I use two scoops in the small and 6 in the large.  Measure your water and coffee with the intensity of a chemistry experiment and write down your "formula.  I have a piece of tape on the press to mark the level of water.

The water should be just short of boiling when you pour it onto the grounds.  let it set for a minute or so and a crust of grounds will form on top.  Give it a good stir and then put the top on with strainer at the top

Then you wait.  The formula has three basic parts:  grounds, water and time.  When all three come together it is a beautiful thing.  Each brand of coffee is different and each coffee drinker has a different idea of perfection. It will take a couple of tries to find your "perfect".   This cup is 2 scoops of Starbucks Verona-ground, about 10 oz. of near boiling water and five minute to steep.  The world won't end if you get busy and go over. The usual Folgers, Maxwell House etc. don't do well in the press.  It is drinkable but they tend to be bitter.  I like it strong but smooth.  The $7-8 a pound stuff is expensive but it goes a long way.

At the right time, slowly push the plunger down and then pour it all into your cup or cups.  A press does not make a pot of coffee but a cup of coffee.  As you can see, I slopped a little on the counter and you will have a bit of solids at the bottom of the cup.  It is worth wiping the counter and stirring the cup for this quality of Joe. 

There are spiritual lessons here.  First, to enjoy this I have to get up earlier and think about what I am doing.  My cup goes from the press to either my prayer garden bench or the front porch.  This process creates time and slows me down.  Second lesson, a really great CUP of coffee is better than a POT of brown liquid.  My Dr. doesn't really want me drinking any of it and if I only get one, it should be a good one.  Third, all of this takes a cup of coffee and makes it an event. Your coffee may be the only thing you have any control over all day.   Coffee becomes a means of grace that speaks to my heart of the process that God is working on me.  This cup is part of my morning prayer time and is a treat rather than it being just a common something to gulp down all day. 

Enjoy your perfect cup and I pray for a deeper moment for your life as you do. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013


One of the most rewarding parts of life is being a fire chaplain.  I love the work and my department.  I am a work in progress.  Always learning and always training.  Most of the chaplaincy worship events are funerals-less than cheery but important.  A chaplain in Maryland called for a dedication service for their remodeled station.  There were some services around but I took this as a challenge to stretch my brain. It is much like any church dedication service and I think it will play but there on thing worries me. 

Here is the question.  A fire station is filled with churched, unchurched, Christians, other religions and non-religious alike. So is the community we serve.  How much of Christ can I take out of a service like this and keep my integrity?  How much can I put in and simply cut myself off from the department and the community without adding any God to the situation?  I am blessed to work for a volunteer department that doesn't make me choose!  We pray before meetings and are not offended if I ask us to drop and pray at other times.  I dare say that many if not most departments are not that open minded.

I am unashamed and unafraid to present Christ. I am not going to dance around the fact that I am a Christian disciple and a Christian pastor but even Paul was "Greek to the Greeks etc.". Where is the line for faith in public and secular gatherings in an increasingly secular world?  

My guys pray before going into a burning structures without me telling them too. There are no atheists when the ceiling is dripping fire onto you.  I will not compromise myself or Jesus but fear that using too much faith language could compromise my department.  Today, I will err on GOD's side!   How wonderful it is to give our public buildings and departments to God before anything is on fire.  

Here is a sample of a service that a department might use.

A Service of Dedication
A dedication service must be tailored to the needs of the particular department by including local traditions and "inside jokes".  This outline  is a starting place for a service.  Music, speakers, photographs, slideshows and other things can be added.  Parts that don't suit the needs of the day can be changed or removed too.  This is unashamedly a Christian service and can also be toned down if needed.   This is often appropriate but this service starts with a Christ center which doesn't change even if some of the words do.
Make sure there are seats for the guests, The sound system works-it one is needed, and that everyone has arrived before starting.  Printed bulletins may be passed out as a keepsake or a receiving line might be appropriate to greet guests as they come in.

Gathering (a time to gather everyone, give any directions, and make thanks to the team putting this event together)

Greeting (The chaplain or other assigned leader addresses the group)
Jesus said, "Listen! I am standing at the door knocking, if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in".  Firefighters, friends and family, we are here today to ask God to be present in the new ____________ Fire Station.  This is not just a place to store our gear, this Station House holds our department as a family.  This is a symbol of God's love and care for us and our response to His calling to protect the people of our community. 
Let us stop for a moment and pray.  May God be praised in this new building as we offer our skills, our equipment and yes, our lives to the community of  _____________________. 

Opening Prayer (may be made by the chaplain or another person.  A spontaneous prayer might also be more appropriate and less "Canned" for some crowds)

Almighty and loving God
You are our Calling to the fire service.  Bless this station and all who serve here with protection, strength, and skill as we go in your name to fight for those who are in danger.  Make this a place of strong family ties for all who serve here.  Bind us together with cords of duty, friendship and dedication.  Use us, we pray, to be strength for the weak, freedom for those trapped, and hope for all in danger.  We ask that this new station be a sign to everyone that you are at work through us to our community. (-Name of your community).  You are our shield and strength.  We pray this in the strong and loving name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

-OR-if your crowd is used to a liturgical prayer you can print this in a bulletin

The Lord be with you
let us pray
You are our strength and protection.  Bless this station and all who serve here with protection, strength, and skill as we go in your name to fight for those who are in danger.  Make this a place of strong family ties for all who serve here.  Bind us together with cords of duty, friendship and dedication.  Use us we pray to be strong for the weak, freedom for those trapped, and hope for all in danger.  We ask that this new station be a sign to everyone that you are at work through us to our community. (-Name of your community).  You are our shield and strength.  We pray this in the strong and loving name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

Remembering our History
This would be a time to present pictures, a powerpoint slide show or have a long time member share a few stories of the department's history.  Pictures of the old station, pictures of the process of building or remodeling the new station, and artifacts (old equipment, mentioning members who have passed or critical events in the life of the department could be shown or presented).   Great care must be taken to be respectful of this time without letting things ramble on.

Presenting our New Station
(An officer, project manager or other person who has been a leader in the process can talk everyone through a guided tour of the new facility.  Features, equipment and new operation plans can be talked about.  Large donors can be thanked and those who have given of their time and talents honored.   This would be a time to give any awards or honor the memory of someone who the building is named for etc.  )

Keynote Speaker
 (optional, but a fire official, political dignitary, or other interesting presenter would be appropriate.  Music or a department "best of" fire scene/interviews/etc. video could also be put here)

Consecration of our Facility
(Everyone should stand as they are able, join hands if appropriate, form a circle if the crowd is small, or make any other show of unity as a team.  Fighters might lock arms or simply stand together.  A chaplain, priest or other pastor would wait until everyone settles and then invite them to pray.)

Let us pray together and ask God's Blessings on our department, our firefighters and this wonderful new station

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (or in the name of the holy and triune God)
May your protection and provision rest upon this  the  _____________ Fire Station and all who enter it. 
We consecrate it to your service and all in _____________ who are in need.
Bless this house that it will be that place of preparation which gives a sense of confidence and security to all of our neighbors.
May all who look upon this facility experience your grace as it is shown by our calling to the fire service.
In the loving and living name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

 (something less formal might be appropriate, but a dismissal is important.  This ends the service without any awkwardness and sends everyone from this time with a purpose)
Go with God from this place for God goes with you.  Amen
You have just witnessed God at work in our community through the building of this station.  Go in the excitement and the sense of accomplishment that we have experienced here.  In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen
Thanks to all of you for coming.  It takes us all to have a quality Department.  You are a part of making this happen.  Leave here knowing you are a part of a great community.
have someone pray a simple prayer of dismissal

By Chaplain Alan Van Hooser 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

St. Anthony, A Christian "Maggid"

Story Telling as 
a Means of Grace

The Jewish mystics have a tradition of story telling that dates back many hundreds of generations.  The Maggid (Magid) is basically a wandering street preache/Rabbi that repeats the Torah  with teaching stories. Christians can certainly receive a blessing from hearing them.

 Long before Jesus and His parables, the Maggid would travel around and teach right-eousness through their stories.  Jesus used this style of teaching in His earthly ministry and perfected His parables for us in our scripture today.

Project Shalom, through its "story tour, shares the deeper wisdom of the story.  The site offers a number of stories in print and a podcast from Rabbi Rock. I don't know anything about the group but the stories are rich.   It is operated by donations and is worth pitching in a couple of bucks. for using it.

Christians had a rush of spiritual story telling a few years ago.  The stories of the Desert Fathers (and mothers) along with other stories from other  Christian mystics and monastics were popular for a while but fell back into the shadows. These stories are worth revisiting.

Hear some of the stories that Jesus might have heard at Tour/