Tag Archives: books
I just finished reading Johnny Cash: The Life by Robert Hilbum and I must say I hated reaching the book’s end, not just because it ends with Cash’s death but because it was such a terrific read. Hilburn is a wonderful writer (music critic and editor for the Los Angeles Times for over 30 years) and he really knows how to tell a story. From what I understand, this book is the definitive biography of Cash (over 600 pages long) and it is brutally honest, well-researched and intimately detailed. It’s not a celebrity tell-all book that makes you feel like you need a shower after reading it, however. Hilburn wrote it with the full cooperation of Cash’s children as well as the Man in Black himself who told the author that “he wanted people to know his entire story—especially the dark, guilt-ridden, hopeless moments—because he believed in redemption and he wanted others to realize that they too could be redeemed regardless how badly they had stumbled.”
Mr. Hilburn, himself a secular journalist, weaves Cash’s faith in Christ—inconsistent and contradictory as it was—into the storyline throughout the book. It begins with a picture of young J.R. (he didn’t become “Johnny” until after he started making records) attending church with his family “every Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday night. Unlike other kids who complained about having to go to church, he looked forward to the music, the sermons and the sense of community.” Hilburn writes that although Cash’s pledge of fidelity in “I Walk the Line” (“Because you’re mine … I walk the line”) was undeniably inspired by his love for his first wife, Vivian (whom he would eventually leave for June Carter), he adds that Cash often spoke of the song as an expression of his allegiance to Christ as well. In fact, Cash called the song “his first gospel hit.” I’ve listened to that song hundreds of times and never made that connection. The book is full of interesting revelations like that.
Johnny Cash has become much better known for his dark side, however—his addictions, his moral failures, his frequent run-ins with the law, and his famous “one-finger salute” photo that went viral after it was featured on a full-page ad in Billboard magazine. According to Hilburn, the photo was taken at Cash’s 1969 concert at San Quentin prison. Apparently, Cash was fed up with the TV crew following him around and decided to send them a little message. The subsequent photo of a snarling Cash flashing his middle finger at the camera was acquired years later by Cash’s record producer Rick Rubin who decided to use it on the Billboard ad in 1998 after Cash’s album “Unchained” won the Grammy Award for Best Country Album. The caption read “American Recordings and Johnny Cash would like to acknowledge the Nashville music establishment and country radio for your support.” (The joke, of course, was that country radio and the Nashville music establishment snubbed the album altogether.) “Cash was uneasy about the ad,” writes Hilburn, “so he called Billy Graham to ask for advice.” Graham’s response? According to Cash, “He didn’t tell me what to do or not to do, just that he wouldn’t judge me either way. After my talk with him, I prayed about it and called Rick back. I gave him the go-ahead.”
I have to say that my opinion of Billy Graham went up after I read that story.
One reason I wanted to read this book is because I have had a couple of personal encounters with Johnny Cash and actually got to work with him when I was in the group Brush Arbor. We played a couple of concerts with Cash in 1973 and we also appeared on a TV special that he did for NBC. I must admit that I checked the table of contents of Hilburn’s book to see if by any chance we got a mention. We didn’t.
We didn’t deserve one of course. That TV show which aired in January 1974 wasn’t a significant part of Cash’s legacy, but it certainly was a highlight of Brush Arbor’s career. We flew from San Diego to New York for the taping of the show which was done at NBC Studios in Rockefeller Center. In a classic case of being too self preoccupied to pay much attention to what was going on around me, I’m sure I spent most of the time in our dressing room practicing banjo rolls rather than soaking in the part of history I was getting to witness up close and personal. Besides Cash and his ensemble (the Tennessee Three, the Statler Brothers, June Carter, The Carter Family, Mother Maybelle Carter, his daughters Rosanne and Rosie, etc.), Bill Monroe was on the show as was Tanya Tucker, Larry Gatlin and Carl Perkins. I can’t tell you how many times I have wished I knew then what I know now. And I also wish I my camera hadn’t been stolen on that trip. I left it in our dressing room while we were taping the show and when I got back, it was gone. So I have no pictures of our time in New York City with Johnny Cash.
But I have some good memories, like the night we went out to dinner with Cash and his family at a famous Italian Restaurant in New York called Mama Leone’s. There were about 15 of us as I recall at the table: Cash and his family, Larry Gatlin and us. After we ordered our meal, I got up to use the restroom. At the back of the restaurant where the restrooms were located, one of the waiters asked me (in a strong Italian accent), “Excuse-a me. Is-a that-a Johnny Carson at your table?” I thought that was hilarious and when I got back to the table I remember Cash got a kick out of it too.
My camera may have been stolen, but thanks to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, I do have video of the performance we did on the that TV Show:
And here’s a photo of us with Cash that was taken by our manager Dan McKinnon. Speaking of one finger salutes, it appears that I (yes, that’s me in the upper left hand corner) was sending an unintentional message of my own.
Back to the book. One aspect of Cash’s life that resonated strongly with me throughout the book was Cash’s determination to keep going, his perseverance. He was strongly committed to his music, his family and his faith and he never gave up on any of them even though he failed miserably and made disastrous personal and professional decisions. He never gave up on his musical career even after it had deteriorated to the point that he was in the mid 1990′s performing in Branson to half-empty showrooms of disinterested blue-haired tourists. I remember seeing Johnny Cash around that same time with a bewildered look on his face standing in a small exhibit hall table at the Christian Booksellers Convention, hawking Bibles for Thomas Nelson. How the mighty have fallen, I thought at the time. But Cash kept on going. Late in life, he finally kicked his pill habit and his sagging career was ultimately revived by rap producer Rick Rubin, the man responsible for some of Cash’s best work, including “Hurt,” the haunting song (and video) that introduced Cash to a whole new generation of listeners. Suddenly he became an international star again.
On a side note, I think it would be wonderful if everyone had a Rick Rubin in his or her life—someone younger and smarter who could bring the best out in us when we get old and stuck.
Rejuvenated as he was, he continued to write songs and record through heart surgeries, neurological problems, a damaged jaw and failing eyesight. He even continued working after his beloved wife June Carter passed away in May 2003. He died four months later at the age of 71. By then, according to one estimate, doctors had him on some 30 medications.
His son, John Carter, later said: “I believe the thing about Dad that people find so easy to relate to is that he was willing to expose his most cumbersome burdens, his most consuming darknesses. He wasn’t afraid to go through the fire and say: ‘I fell down. I’ve made mistakes. I’m weak. I hurt.’ But in doing so, he gained some sort of defining strength. Every moment of darkness enabled him to better see the light.”
I recently finished Roger Steer’s biography of the late Anglican pastor and renowned author John R.W. Stott titled Basic Christian. Thank you InterVarsity Press for sending this book to me during the Christmas season. What an amazing, full and exemplary life was lived by this giant of the evangelical faith. I have read several of his books over the years, most notably his The Cross of Christ (several times) which I learned in this biography was the book he considered his greatest work. But I regret that I never had a chance to hear him speak nor to learn more about his private and public life. I am especially intrigued that he was an avid birdwatcher and always took time to enjoy his hobby all over the world and sometimes at great personal expense and risk. This encourages me somewhat as I also have some obsessions (like bluegrass music) which is sometimes hard to explain to people in ministry circles. I have often suggested that people who do ministry should take up a hobby, an “other life,” a passion outside of ministry that is healthy, invigorating, fun and irrational. I’ve discovered that pastors and ministry leaders who do not have such an “other life” often become full of themselves and are more likely to burn out or fall into an other life which is more often than not self-destructive.
One big take-away for me from this book about Rev. Stott (and there are many) is his morning prayer which Steer reprints and notes that John prayed it daily. “Each morning (usually before five a.m.) John swung his legs over the side of his bed and before placing a foot on the ground started the day (whenever possible) with this Trinitarian prayer.”
“Good morning heavenly Father, good morning Lord Jesus, good morning Holy Spirit. Heavenly Father I worship you as the creator and sustainer of the universe. Lord Jesus I worship you, Savior and Lord of the world. Holy Spirit I worship you, sanctifier of the people of God. Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Heavenly Father I pray that I may live this day in your presence and please you more and more. Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you. Holy spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Holy, blessed and glorious Trinity, three persons in one God, have mercy upon me, Amen.”
I want to make this prayer mine also. And I want to go back and read more of Stott’s books now that I know more about the man. I am at an age when I am seeking out contemporary mentors–dead or alive–who lived their lives completely dedicated to God with immense integrity all the way to the end of their lives. I have found one such mentor in the life and ministry of John R.W. Stott.
The December 2011 issue of Christianity Today featured an article by Anthony Baker, a theology professor at the Seminary of the Southwest titled “Learning to Read the Gospel Again” with the subtitle “How to address our anxiety about losing the next generation.” Losing the next generation (or expressed positively—hanging on to the next generation) is a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about lately in my role as Pastor to Generations at College Avenue Baptist Church. Like many churches, we are doing our best to stop the bleeding of young people leaving the church in record numbers.
Professor Baker makes a strong case in this article that the only thing capable of holding young people to their faith is the Gospel itself. He quotes the venerable theologian Stanley Hauerwas who made this comment about the emergent church movement which of course targets younger generations: “The future of the church is not found in things like this; the future is in doing the same thing Sunday after Sunday.” The “same thing” Hauerwas is referring to here is not the same failures of acculturation, but rather the continual proclamation of the good news, the Gospel about Jesus Christ, and “attending to the various classical practices that form people’s lives within the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ … The future of the church is found in doing this week in and week out, Sunday after Sunday, come rain, drought, hell or high water.”
Baker notes that one doesn’t have to look far to find churches where the “same thing” is a thing of the past and he suggests that youth & children’s ministries today are particularly prone to skipping over the gospel message in favor of more relevant fare.
For the kids, the situation is especially dire. Summer camps feature Jesus on a surfboard, or perhaps in safari gear, while Sunday morning classes tend to specialize in low-quality group counseling sessions. What we offer is anything but the simple gospel that ‘God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ’ (2 Cor. 5:19). On good days the children humor us by pretending to enjoy themselves, all the time wondering when they get to do something more fun.
Quoting a memorable line from Kenda Creasy Dean and Ron Foster, he continues: “Young people look to the church to show them something, someone, capable of turning their lives inside out and the world upside down. Most of the time, we have offered them pizza.”
What Baker is suggesting is not that we stop using age-appropriate methods of reaching and teaching our young people, but that we consistently offer our kids a fresh and inspiring look at Jesus as revealed to us in the Scriptures. He continues,
“Of course what Matthew Mark, Luke and John offer us is a story, but not just a story. It’s also the linguistic vessel through which we encounter the loving, creating and saving God. The central character in this narrative loves us back. After asking, ‘Do you love what you are reading?’ the Christian educator ought to be able to add, ‘And are you loved by what you are reading?’… Imagine a church in which children and adults of all ages, races and classes were bound together by their common love for the words of the Gospel. If Christians can learn, week after week, to read the story of Jesus of Nazareth—to love what we read, to be loved by what we read—then surely the future of the church would look a bit more hopeful.”
I also read a new book last month by professor Scot McKnight (North Park University) titled The King Jesus Gospel which has greatly enlarged my understanding of what the Gospel is all about. McKnight begins at the beginning of the book by asking the reader to write down on a piece of paper an answer to the question “What is the Gospel?” I played along and wrote something like this: “The Gospel is the good news that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, was buried and then rose again on the third day.” I based my explanation of the Gospel on Paul’s summary in 1 Corinthians 15:3.
As it turns out, I wasn’t too far off. McKnight in fact bases much of his book on the same verse in 1 Corinthians. But he takes issue with evangelicals who summarize the Gospel more in terms of a formula for salvation: “Christ died on the cross for your sins. If you will repent, believe and receive Christ as your personal Savior, you will be saved.” I have to admit, I have presented the Gospel that way many times.
But McKnight’s view is that such a formula is not the Gospel but “the plan of salvation.” It is, of course, an important part of the Gospel, but it’s not the Gospel. When we reduce the Gospel to the plan of salvation, writes McKnight, we tend to make the Gospel more about us and what we do than about Jesus and what he has done. The Gospel is not our story, writes McKnight, but instead it is the story of God, the story of Jesus, how he came as the Messiah of Israel, lived, died, rose again, ascended into heaven and is coming back again to rule over his Kingdom forever and ever. That’s the good news (Gospel) about which all of the four evangelists wrote and which is contained in their four accounts which are appropriately named “The Gospel (according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).” This is also the Gospel which Paul proclaimed in 1 Corinthians 15: 1-5: “Now brothers and sisters I want to remind you of the Gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this Gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the twelve.” McKnight asserts that these four crucial events in the life of Jesus Christ are the concern and the primary message of the biblical evangelists, not the “four spiritual laws” which are the concern and primary message of evangelical Chrisitanity today. The Gospel as a system of personal salvation is an incomplete Gospel, says McKnight, and is ultimately self-centered.
We are tempted to turn the story of what God is doing in this world through Israel and Jesus Christ into a story about me and my personal salvation. In other words, the plan has a way of cutting the story about God and God’s Messiah and God’s people into a story about God and one person—me—and in this the story shifts from Christ and community to individualism. We need the latter without cutting off the former.
What McKnight is saying is that the Gospel is more than what can be communicated in four bullet points. It is even more than what happened on the Cross. It is the whole story of God’s redemptive plan, from the creation story to the coming of the Messiah to the final consummation of human history when Jesus reigns forever as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
The story is told of author and professor Robert Webber’s (Wheaton College) encounter with a student who asked him to explain the Gospel. He replied, “Do you have an hour?” McKnight himself takes a stab at summarizing the Gospel in his book and his summary takes six pages. He’s not saying that it’s impossible to be concise and clear about the Gospel message by using just a few words (that’s exactly what Paul did it in 1 Corinthians 15). He’s just saying that the Gospel is the entire amazing story of Jesus as Messiah, Savior, Lord and King as told in the context of God’s amazing plan to redeem all of humankind.
I remember reading a book years ago by Paul Little called Your God Is Too Small. McKnight’s book has made me think that mayber our Gospel has become too small. I agree with Baker that the Gospel, the good news about Jesus, is big enough, awesome enough and certainly powerful enough to capture the hearts of our young people and keep them connected to Christ and the church. If the Gospel is something that we want our children and young people to believe and trust for a lifetime, then we must take the time, week after week, to teach it to them.
I’ve been reading Garrison Keillor’s latest book Pilgrims and as he usually does in his books, he makes me smile. I was reading at home this week and my wife Marci heard me chuckling out loud to myself and asked “What’s so funny?” I said, “It’s just a funny part of the book.” She said, “Read it to me.” So I read this passage to her:
(I should explain that the book is about a group of Lake Wobegonians who go on a one-week tour of Rome. At this point in the book they are eating pizza together at a sidewalk cafe. Marjorie Krebsbach, the tour group leader, is doing the talking.)
“The first time they served pizza for hot lunch at school, it was sort of like fried silage with chunks of boiled owl, and anyway none of us were used to it and by the time school was over and we went to confirmation class, we were full of gas. I remember kids sitting perfectly still in their seats, no leaning to one side or the other, but now and then some gas would escape and sound like a bassoon solo and we’d all smell it and look around and scowl so everyone would know it wasn’t ours. We were trying hard not to laugh, and when you try to hold a laugh in, it will explode on you, sometimes in the form of a fart. Which happened to me. I had my cheeks clamped shut and I was afraid this fart could explode and I would load my pants. And then Pastor Tommerdahl asked me to stand and read today’s scripture and I said, ‘Could I please go to the toilet first?’ and a couple boys busted out laughing and I stood up and read the verse about Pentecost in Acts, the second chapter, it says ‘And when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.’”
“And I exploded. I boomed like a cannon and two big strands of mucous shot out of my nostrils and hung here like spiderwebs and I covered my face. The smell was horrible … “
I could barely read because we were both laughing hard, with tears streaming down our faces. I don’t know why farts are always so funny, but we were just howling as I read through these couple of paragraphs.
While we were laughing, I noticed a twinge of pain in my face during the laughing spell and for some time afterward I could feel it. It was the aftereffects of the Bells Palsy that I had gotten back in August. Bells Palsy causes the muscles in your face to go numb and atrophy and it takes a while to work those muscles back into shape. What I realized during our laughing episode was that the muscles in my face that I use to laugh hadn’t be exercised in a while. So like other muscles in my body that suffer from non-use, they hurt a bit when they do get used.
So it’s made me think: I’ve been trying to get exercise for the rest of my body; maybe my face needs some exercise too. Heard anything really funny lately?
Since my book Reinventing Youth Ministry [Again] came out last month it has received a few very positive reviews that have been very encouraging to me. To tell you the truth, I was worried about how this book would be received. As I was writing it, a little voice kept whispering in my ear: “Nobody’s going to want to read what you have to say about youth ministry … you’re almost 65 years old for crying out loud!” and “Who do you think you are, writing about your early life as if you were a big celebrity or something?” The voices got louder as the publication date for the book neared and quite honestly I was a bit nervous waiting for it to come out.
Well, it’s out now and I have been very blessed by the positive reviews that the book has received so far.
These reviews were solicited by InterVarsity Press from three friends of mine who are also respected voices in youth ministry. They read copies of the manuscript before the book was published:
This book reads like a novel, incites like a prophet, engages like a story, reports like a history, coaches like a veteran and encourages like a pastor. Wayne Rice is absolutely one of the pioneers of modern-day youth ministry. But don’t read this book looking for nostalgia. The whole thrust of this amazingly honest, insightful and hopeful youth ministry critique is about looking backwards only long enough so that we don’t repeat (or make new) mistakes going forward. I couldn’t have written this book with the eyewitness authenticity that Wayne has written it with, but I’ve felt and thought much of what it says. Wayne Rice is still giving youth workers IDEAS they can use.”
—Dr. Duffy Robbins, professor of youth ministry, Eastern University
“All of us in youth ministry owe a debt of gratitude to Wayne Rice. Depending on your age, Wayne’s your youth ministry brother, father or grandfather. With this book, our debt just got bigger. All of us would be wise to sit at the feet of this youth ministry pioneer as he tells us the ups and downs of his own ministry story; shares the kind of deep wisdom and perspective that can only come with years of experience; and challenges us to live, think and minister with biblical integrity. Youthworkers have benefited from Wayne Rice’s experience and wisdom for well over forty years. And now, we should be listening more than ever.”
—Walt Mueller, president, Center for Parent/Youth Understanding, and author of Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture
“Wayne Rice is (still) one of the most authentic, honest voices speaking into the world of youth ministry. I have loved reading Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again). It is unlikely that we will reinvent youth ministry well in this generation without a clear and accurate picture of where we came from. Wayne helps us do both, with passion, intensity and his characteristic gentle wisdom.”
—Mark DeVries, founder of Youth Ministry Architects and author of Sustainable Youth Ministry
Here are some other reviews from blog posts, web articles, online booksellers and the like:
I have also received several very encouraging e-mails from readers who took time to write but I won’t post them here since they were not intended for public consumption.
Needless to say I no longer hear the voice telling me that this book isn’t going to be well received. Now if it would only sell a few copies … !
Last year I wrote a book summarizing pretty much all that I have to say about the past, present and future of youth ministry. The book is titled Reinventing Youth Ministry [Again]: From Bells and Whistles to Flesh and Blood and it was just released this month by InterVarsity Press. I began my youth ministry career in 1963 as a Youth for Christ club director, ran junior high summer camps at Forest Home, served as a youth director in a couple of Nazarene churches, then started Youth Specialties with my old pal Mike Yaconelli. All of that took place long before many of today’s youth workers were even born.
So I thought I would share some of that history as a kind of memoir, along with a few observations on how youth ministry has grown and changed (for better and for worse) over the past 40 years. The book contains a lot of stories, a few rants, and my best shot at trying to describe what good youth ministry should look like in the future. I put all of this down in a book and was simply amazed that a respected publisher like IVP would agree to publish it.
To tell you the truth, I’ve been pretty nervous about how this book would go over. There are so many voices better qualified than me to write about youth ministry. And I’ve had a hard time convincing myself that anyone would want to read another youth ministry book by a relic of youth ministry like me. (“Um, like wasn’t his last youth ministry book written in the last century?”)
Reinventing Youth Ministry [Again] has only been out a couple of weeks now but the response has been pretty gratifying. A couple of friends who got advance copies said they couldn’t put it down. And I was just blown away by the kind endorsements written by Duffy Robbins, Walt Mueller and Mark DeVries on InterVarsity’s website. Best of all, my son Nate gave the book two thumbs up and my wife Marci told me it was the best I’ve ever written. That’s about all the affirmation I need, really.
I’m just very grateful. My prayer now is that it will be used by God to encourage better youth ministry in the future and result in more and more young people coming to know, love and serve Jesus for years to come.
Zondervan informed me a while back that my book (series) Hot Illustrations for Youth Talks was going out of print. So I was a bit surprised when they sent me the latest edition of it in the mail this week … in Spanish. I often hear that youth ministry in other countries is a decade or two behind the U.S. so I guess that’s the reasoning here. Funny, I don’t even know how to translate the name of this book. Looking up the word “inolvidables,” I think (in English) the book is called “Unforgettable Illustrations.” I’m not going to attempt a translation of the subtitle.
Actually, the “Hot Illustrations” series is still a very useful resource for youth workers. The only reason they’ve gone out of print here has to do with sales volume. All four of these books are still available from a number of retailers and you can order them from me, too. I don’t have the Spanish edition for sale but you can order it here.
Standard Publishing has asked for some feedback on two cover designs for my new book Generation to Generation. What do you think? Which do you like best? Keep in mind that this is a book for parents. Click on the images to make them larger.
I have a new book which just came out titled Engaging Parents as Allies, a book for youth workers on how to work with parents. It’s part of a three-book series called “Youth Ministry in the Trenches” which the publisher packaged with a bit of a military theme (little toy soldiers, etc.) The other two books in the series were written by my friends Rick Bundshuh and Marv Penner.
Standard Publishing asked me to videotape a little commercial for the book and you can view it below. It’s also posted on Standard’s website along with more information about the book.
I found this newly-released book at a bookstore the other day and couldn’t resist buying it. Written by a couple of comedians and a therapist, the back cover reads: “Is it any wonder … Most people go through mid-life crises when their kids are teenagers? … Fewer parents are grounding their teenagers–to avoid being stuck at home with them?” And so on. The authors describe their book pretty well in the intro: “This is not a book about parenting teenagers. It’s a book on how to survive parenting teenagers.”
In my parenting seminars I usually tell parents that how you treat teenagers often determines how they respond, how they behave, how they feel. If you treat them as problems, they’ll give you problems. If you treat them like children, they’ll act like children. If you have a low view of them, they’ll live down to our expectations. We are in a sense mirrors to help them determine their identity and self-image.
So in our seminars we try to help parents appreciate the positive aspects of adolescence and encourage them to “catch their kids in the act of doing something good” whenever possible. Discouraged parents only discourage their children.
Needless to say, I don’t think I’d want to leave this book lying around the house for my kids to see.
To be fair, there’s actually some pretty decent parenting advice between the covers. For example, the authors advise against over-indulging teenagers with money and material things:
“First off, realize that teenagers are expensive to maintain. (Think of them as yachts with messy rooms.) Secondly, make sure they realize it too. The more you can steer your teen toward Appreciation and away from Entitlement, the better your chances of maintaining some non-gray hairs. This is where you dust off your ‘When I was your age, my allowance was a nickel and I wasn’t allowed to spend it all in one place!’ stories. You know you have them. And if you don’t, use the ones your parents told you.”
The book was written by Joanne Kimes and R.J. Colleary with Rebecca Rutledge, PhD.