January 18, 2013

My year in books - 2012

Goodreads helpfully provides a snapshot of my reading from last year:

I had set myself the goal of reading a book a month. Considering that I often feel like I have "no time" for reading, I clearly made time. I was tempted to set this year's goal at 24 also, but since we're halfway through the month and I have yet to finish a book, I thought I better not. So I'm shooting for 18 this year.

Now I just have to go back and make sure I reviewed all these…Well, except for The Education of Amal. I edited that book, so it wouldn't be proper for me to review it. I'm strongly biased. ;)

January 12, 2013

Kobo app great for social media; lousy for research

Kobo books shelf
Kobo's old-timey bookshelf view
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Since getting my iPad, I find I do most of my book reading on it. Which kind of surprised me, because I thought I would use it mainly for news reading and web surfing. Which I do, but that’s beside the point.

Amazon’s Kindle app is still the Ma Bell of reading apps -- they have a virtual monopoly but nobody much cares because they’re so much better at what they do than everyone else. Nevertheless, I do check out other e-reading apps to see what they have to offer and to support those who are trying to compete with Ma Bezos. Kobo is one of those.
Newfangled list view

It's an attractive app. You can customize the library view with either the quaint old skeuomorphic bookshelf or the more computer-y list. When reading, you can highlight and make notes, and a tab in the table of contents window shows your annotations.

But Kobo’s focus is solidly on social media. It’s all about sharing what you’re reading and earning badges. I don’t need no stinkin’ badges, I just need to be able to find a passage in a book.

One of Kobo's main benefits is its huge library of free books, including most of the major classics. But good luck if you want to find a single passage in a book. Every time the Kobo app gets an update, I open it up, looking for that magnifying glass icon. It’s still missing. So I can download Emily Dickinson’s poetry, but if I just need that poem about Hope, I have to look for it page by page (it’s on page 138, by the way). This is especially frustrating because in the help section of the Kobo website you can find instructions for searching within a book on Kobo’s hardware. So it’s not like they think no one needs this feature. They just can’t be bothered to add it to the iPad app.*
Badges are cute, but I'd rather have a search function.

Because of the missing search feature, I rarely use Kobo. But recently, I needed to reference a text, and knowing it’s an old book in the public domain, I started in the usual places. Kindle had a version, but not for free. Apple’s iBooks, same thing. OK, hold that one for Plan B. Plan A for public domain works is to find a free version. Project Gutenberg didn’t have it. Next stop Kobo. There it is. Of course, to download the free book I have to log in.

Kobo is now closely entwined with Facebook, so much so that you can’t log in to a Kobo account without using Facebook, unless the two accounts are associated with different e-mail addresses. If you use the same address for both, when you try to log in to Kobo, you get a dialog that says “Your e-mail address is linked to an existing Facebook account. Would you like to sign in with Facebook?” No is not an option. Your options are yes, sign in with Facebook, or cancel and don’t sign in at all.
Part of the social media "feature" is being able to read other peoples' comments. Which would be great if they actually had some intellectual substance.

I asked Kobo’s help desk about this and was told you can sign in without Facebook. But the trick is, you have to sign in with Facebook first, then unlink Facebook from your Kobo account. That’s like, if I tell the waiter I don’t want broccoli in my soup, and he says, “We’ll just put it in at first, and then you can pick it out.”

Of course, if you like having every data point of your reading life funneled through Facebook’s marketing machine, this is a non-issue. And if you’re clever enough to sign up for Kobo with a different e-mail than you use for Facebook, it’s a non-issue. For me, though, it’s an issue.

So I found the book I was looking for in Google Play, and am reading it there. Kobo just dropped down a notch on my list of e-readers.

*—A Dec. 9, 2013, update added a search feature to the Kobo iPad app (version 6.2).

January 6, 2013

The parable of the sower in 21st-century America

When we’re taught evangelism or church development, the early church is held up as an example. One church development movement, The Acts 16:5 Initiative, takes its name from this verse:

So the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in numbers daily.
seeds sower parable word of god
Photo by Razief Arlie • bit.ly/sxc-hu-adlie

There’s a fundamental problem, though, with modeling 21st-century congregational growth on the first-century model. And the problem is the church.

In the parable of the sower, Jesus taught that the seed of God’s word can fall on different sorts of soil, and different types of soil yield different results.


When Peter preached in Jerusalem, he was working with fertile soil; the Jews were prepared and waiting for the Messiah. When they gathered in Jerusalem for the festival of first fruits, what we call Pentecost, Peter could convert 3,000 people with one sermon by quoting the prophet Joel, because his listeners all knew exactly what he was talking about.

We focus on the Jews who rejected the Messiah, but we forget that most of the early followers in The Way were Jews who accepted the Messiah. They did not see themselves as Christians, but as what we would now call Messianic Jews.

The main objection Peter had to overcome was, “How do we know this Jesus of Nazareth is truly the Messiah we’ve been waiting for?”


When Paul preached at the Areopagus, the soil was not as fertile. It was rocky ground, cluttered by a profusion of deities. Rome was similar, having imported all sorts of gods from other cultures, including Greece and Egypt.

We get all worked up about mimicking the church-planting practices of the early apostles, but we forget that they were talking with people whose culture was inclined toward philosophical and religious inquiry.

The main objections Paul had to overcome were, “Jesus of Galilee? Never heard of him. Who is he and where is Galilee?” or “How is your one God any better than all the gods of Olympus?”


When we preach in 21st century America, we don’t have soil. We don’t even have rocky ground. We have pavement.

We focus on our God of love and forget that for many people, the worst hurts they’ve received have come at the hands of people who called themselves Christians. They were ripped off by a televangelist, or bullied in a church youth group, or were shunned by churchgoers who disliked their dress or lifestyle or ethnicity.

The main objections we have to overcome are, “You Christians are just a bunch of hypocrites,” and “How can we believe you when you can’t even agree amongst yourselves?”

People in America have been so hurt by the church in so many different ways that they have paved over their wounds. They are armored in asphalt. They won’t be converted by sermons or teaching or tracts passed out on street corners. To reach people like this, we have to wait patiently for the cracks to appear. That takes patience.

Of course, sometimes God plows under people’s pavement with a great crisis: illness or unemployment or some other tragedy. When that happens, we can be there to provide support. But only if we’ve already been walking authentically, living out a faith devoid of hypocrisy and full of love.