Monday, April 28, 2014

The Art of Storytelling by John Walsh

The Art of Storytelling: Easy Steps to Presenting an Unforgettable Story by John Walsh delineates how to tell a story to an audience, explaining how to find a story through how to stand in front of a group of people, whether a small intimate gathering or a larger audience, and tell the story with confidence.  This book is written by a Christian man and published by a Christian publisher and the author’s faith informs much of the book and dominates the latter part.

I mention this because I did not pay attention when I picked up this book and so I was understandably confused.  I chose the book because I thought it would be interesting to read it after having read K M Weiland’s Structuring Your Novel.  However, this book is not so much about telling YOUR story as it is about telling A story.  A small but profound significance.  And the book is truly written as a tool for group study and sharing, with exercises where you tell a story to another person.  This is easier said than done for some people and I would strongly recommend anyone who wants to fully explore this book to 1) be prepared to have a few family and friends who will listen to you tell stories and practice or 2) use this book in a small group where everyone can learn and grow together as story tellers. 

The book begins with several story suggestions and then assigns one story to the reader.  The first part of the book walks the reader through the steps of learning the story, focusing on not memorizing every sentence so much as honing the beginning and ending, developing and learning story telling skills—like exaggerated facial expressions, gestures (less is more), and pauses—that will make the experience of listening to you tell a story a joy.  Although the Bible and Christianity are mentioned throughout, it is not until the third part that the emphasis shifts to the Bible and the author talks about the proselytizing power of storytelling and encourages the reader to go to his website to see videos and download free resources to help them learn more about storytelling and BibleTelling, as he calls it. 

Truth is, if I had watched any of the videos, I would not have read the book.  I found the author's technique dull and his tone a bit condescending.  I also found it problematic that, within the book, he shares a story from another book without actually researching the Greek of the original text, effectively changing the interpretation of one of the Bible stories.  Had he bothered to do a little research, he would have realized that the story he was telling was not well researched and perpetuating false teaching seems a bit peculiar.

I was especially turned off when he warns the reader to be aware of their physical appearance and shares how he once went to a presentation by a woman who wore short sleeves but, because her upper arms were flabby, he was so distracted that he didn’t pay attention to the storyteller.  Ironic.  I closed my eyes to allow myself to fully engage with his video and found it boring.  Perhaps if he had focused on what she was saying and not on her appearance, he might have been able to tell whether or not she was a good story teller.  And apparently the same goes if you have tattoos.  Better to cover them up because your audience won’t hear your story if you don’t.

The publisher is a conservative one so it doesn’t surprise me that the author is as well.  This is probably a good book for Christians who are interested in learning how to share Bible stories with others.  There is no doubt that stories are powerful and can be used to influence and inspire.  Perhaps if the author had focused more on technique and not shared stories about flabby armed women or inaccurate stories from others, I would be more enthusiastic about the book (even if I would still have found his videos dull).  As it is, I would recommend this book only to Christians and would encourage them to read it with some discernment, one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, because I think it will be needed.

With that said, I knew that I would not want to keep this book by the time I'd finished the second chapter but I had also thought of someone I thought might benefit from and even enjoy reading the book.  I know she has enough discernment to take what she needs and disregard the rest.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Forgiveness by Iyana Vanzant

Forgiveness: 21 Daysto Forgive Everyone for Everything by Iyanla Vanzant is a lovely book that is infused with the author’s own spiritual beliefs and wisdom.  The book includes a CD with guided meditations and uses the Emotional Freedom Technique (aka EFT tapping) to guide the reader through a gradual process of forgiveness.  As the title implies, the purpose of the book is to lead the reader through forgiving everyone for everything.  No small feat.

My first encounter with the author’s works was ages ago.  Someone had recommended her book One Day My Soul Just Opened Up and, while looking through the bookshelves that had the one book I saw another book by her In the Meantime:  Finding Yourself and the Love You Want.  I never finished reading the former, even though I was reading it with an online group.  The latter, I read and recommended in spite of the writing and editing, which I found to be less than stellar.  Nonetheless, the advice she offered was good and I would still recommend the book to anyone who is trying to work through a heartbreak.

This book begins with Vanzant’s personal invitation to open up to the power of forgiveness.  Yes, much of her rhetoric is awash with New Age-ism.  However, I was able to filter out the more heavily spiritual content and focus on the strength of her advice.  The first day’s forgiveness practice begins where most teachers say such things should begin—with forgiving yourself.  There are journaling exercises to do before the reader listens to the CD and uses a string of phrases during the tapping exercises.  Each day has a different focus—forgiving people in your life (from parents to friends to more generic strangers) and aspects of your life (work, money, etc.).  The journaling exercises invite you to write your own forgiveness statements which are then used during the EFT tapping.

I know some people are skeptical of tapping.  I’ve witnessed its use and can testify to its effect.  I have my theories about why it is beneficial and I’m not going to defend the technique.  If you are skeptical then I would encourage you to skip this book altogether.  If you have not tried EFT and are open to exploring its use, then this book is an excellent introduction.  There is a learning curve with learning the sequence of the tapping.   

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t buy into all of the advice/wisdom but I used this book as a starting point for more journaling, for more personal exploration.  The book suggests you can work through the book in 21 days.  I found myself unable to work through the book that quickly.  I stopped listening to the CD meditations which are lovely but I prefer to meditate in silence.  (I confess, I also cringed when Vanzant, whose voice is relaxing and ideally suited for guided meditation, used the word “ain’t” which is indicative of her down-home, colloquial style.)   And some of the “objects” of forgiveness require a little more time and devotion.  Also, there are some opportunities for forgiveness that are not included.  Again, the book offers a strong framework from which to build.  The journaling exercises are simple enough to use with anyone or anything.  By the time you’ve worked through the 21 days, you will know how to continue the lifetime journey with forgiveness.  You’ll also know how to use the EFT tapping sequences to heal many more experiences than are included in this single book. 

I liked this book very much and would recommend it, with some reservations, to others.  The 21 days will lay a foundation for a lifetime of forgiveness.  After all, I know I’ll have a plethora of reasons to forgive myself for the rest of my life and I suspect I’ll be reviewing Day 1 many times.   

Monday, April 7, 2014

Holy Shift edited by Robert Holden

Holy Shift: 365 Daily Meditations from A Course in Miracles edited by Robert Holden is a collection of excerpts from A Course in Miracles (also known as ACIM)Not unlike the many books that break the Bible down into texts taken out of context and organized by theme, Holden takes parts of the source texts—the textbook, workbook, teacher’s manual and two supplemental texts.  The passages are organized by month and date so that there’s a short reading for each day.

Anyone who has tried to read A Course in Miracles and found it too difficult or confusing will probably appreciate the work Holden has done in creating this book.  Like many Bible-based morning devotionals, a short passage is offered as a touchstone for the rest of the day.  Given that ACIM itself has a daily reading upon which the reader is supposed to meditate (see the workbook), it almost seems redundant for Holden to create this book but each day’s reading is not merely a reiteration of what is presented in the primary source.  To put it plainly, this book makes its sources easier to comprehend.  For better or worse, it is meant to make ACIM more accessible.

I say “better or worse” because sometimes dumbing things down is not the best answer.  On the other hand, this book may make it possible for some people who have been discouraged by the primary sources to begin a journey on a spiritual path they will find fulfilling.  Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with making the path smoother for those who are just beginning to walk.  Having read ACIM, I appreciate what Holden has done.  I would probably even recommend this book or give it to someone who is interested in applying the teachings of ACIM.  No, this book may not be for me but that doesn’t mean I cannot appreciate how it might be fulfilling to someone with different beliefs from my own.  Definitely, it is one I would recommend to anyone who thinks ACIM is interesting but is not quite ready to read the three-in-one volume cover-to-cover.

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