Book Club Book List


Looking for a good book to read?  I won’t guarantee the below list are all good to read, but the Avondale United Methodist Church Book Club will be reading one a month over the next year and discussing whether we think it was a good read or not — opinions guaranteed to NOT be unanimous.

The first book in the list we will be reading for our October meeting (regular time and date 10 a.m. the Second Saturday of the month in the church library), but for the rest, the order is still being decided on.

The Johnstown Flood, by David McCullough.

The history of civil engineering may sound boring, but in David McCullough’s hands it is, well, riveting. His award-winning histories of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Panama Canal were preceded by this account of the disastrous dam failure that drowned Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1889. Written while the last survivors of the flood were still alive, McCullough’s narrative weaves the stories of the town, the wealthy men who owned the dam, and the forces of nature into a seamless whole. His account is unforgettable: “The wave kept on coming straight toward him, heading for the very heart of the city. Stores, houses, trees, everything was going down in front of it, and the closer it came, the bigger it seemed to grow…. The height of the wall of water was at least thirty-six feet at the center…. The drowning and devastation of the city took just about ten minutes.” A powerful, definitive book, and a tribute to the thousands who died in America’s worst inland flood.

The Lost City of the Monkey God, by Douglas Preston.

National Geographic and New Yorker writer and novelist Preston shares the story of his involvement in the search for a historic lost city in the rainforests of Honduras. Preston is one member of a team that managed to use a combination of historical research and state-of-the-art technology to examine the rainforests in the Mosquitia region, an area filled with all manner of dangers, from disease to drug traffickers. Preston’s writing brings the reader along with the team as they discover 500-year-old artifacts, encounter huge and deadly snakes, and face the political and academic fallout the search brings with it. Listeners hear several interesting side stories, such as the discovery of historical fraud in their research and the battle half the team had with a deadly parasite picked up at the ruins. Preston’s journalistic experience is on full display as he gives not only the viewpoint of those in the expedition but also those on the outside. Bill Mumy’s reading is straightforward and engaging. The final disc includes 16 pages of photos. Verdict: A great story with many paths to interest fans of history, archaeology, adventure, environmentalism, South America, or diseases.

Truman, by David McCullough.

McCullough’s life of Harry Truman is a Sandburg’s Lincoln for the 1990s. Biographer of Theodore Roosevelt, historian of the Johnstown flood, the Brooklyn Bridge, and Panama Canal, clearly McCullough found not just a new subject but a hero too when he began research in 1982. As with Roosevelt in Mornings on Horseback ( LJ 5/15/81), he is concerned above all with defining Truman’s character. With poetry and reverence he writes of the farmer, haberdasher, and local official whom accident and ambition raised to unprecedented power, yet who left the White House an American everyman. Skeptics uneasy with McCullough’s Truman in mystic communion with America’s spirit will recall the raw politics described by Richard Miller in Truman: The Rise to Power ( LJ 12/85). For detailed treatment of policy, scholars will often need a specialized monograph. Yet McCullough’s Truman is not quite a saint, and his own scholarship is exhaustive in portraying Truman the man. No biography approaches the richness, depth, or grace of this one.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba.

This is the remarkable story of an African teenager who, by courage, ingenuity, and determination, defeated the odds. Born in 1987 in a drought-ravaged Malawi where hope and opportunity were hard to find, Kamkwamba read about windmills in a library book and dreamed of building one that would bring electricity to his village and improve the lives of his family. At the age of 14, Kamkwamba had to drop out of school and help his family forage for food, but he never let go of his dream. Over a period of several months, using scrap metal, tractor, and bicycle parts, the resourceful young man built a crude yet operable windmill that eventually powered four lights. Soon reports of his “electric wind” project spread beyond the borders of his village, earning him international recognition and, with the help of mentors worldwide, he now attends a high school in South Africa. Verdict: Demonstrating the power of imagination, libraries, and books, Kamkwamba’s heartwarming memoir, with Mealer’s (All Things Must Fight To Live: Stories of War and Deliverance in Congo) contribution, is sure to inspire all readers.

The Radium Girls, by Kate Moore.

Moore (Roses Are Red…) details the tragic stories of dozens of young women employed as dial painters during World War I. Often the daughters of immigrants, these women were lured to these prestigious and well-paying jobs unaware of the dangers of the radioactive paint present in their workplace-which caused their bodies and clothes to glow, even outside of work. With America’s entry into World War I, demand for painted dials and painters skyrocketed. Soon, many employees suffered aching teeth and jaws, sore joints, and sarcomas. As their ailments worsened, many sought answers from their employers. They were met with denials and misinformation even as evidence mounted that radium poisoned these women. After nearly 20 years, several trials, and thousands of dollars in doctor and attorney fees, the women won a small measure of justice, but for some, it was too late. Moore’s well-researched narrative is written with clarity and a sympathetic voice that brings these figures and their struggles to life. Verdict: A must-read for anyone interested in American and women’s history, as well as topics of law, health, and industrial safety.

The Light Between Oceans, by M. L. Stedman.

In Stedman’s deftly crafted debut, Tom Sherbourne, seeking constancy after the horrors of WWI, takes a lighthouse keeper’s post on an Australian island, and calls for Isabel, a young woman he met on his travels, to join him there as his wife. In peaceful isolation, their love grows. But four years on the island and several miscarriages bring Isabel’s seemingly boundless spirit to the brink, and leave Tom feeling helpless until a boat washes ashore with a dead man and a living child. Isabel convinces herself-and Tom-that the baby is a gift from God. After two years of maternal bliss for Isabel and alternating waves of joy and guilt for Tom, the family, back on the mainland, is confronted with the mother of their child, very much alive. Stedman grounds what could be a far-fetched premise, setting the stage beautifully to allow for a heart-wrenching moral dilemma to play out, making evident that “Right and wrong can be like bloody snakes: so tangled up that you can’t tell which is which until you’ve shot ’em both, and then it’s too late.” Most impressive is the subtle yet profound maturation of Isabel and Tom as characters.

Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man, by William Shatner, David Fisher.

Fans of TV shows might wonder if the people who portray the characters are friends in real life. As Shatner explains in this biography of Leonard Nimoy, actors form close bonds when working together and swear their undying friendship when it’s over but more likely never see one another again. That was not the case with Shatner and Nimoy, who starred in three seasons of cult favorite Star Trek as Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock respectively, though -Shatner reveals that they were wary of each other at first. He tells stories about the show, such as Nimoy’s creation of the iconic Vulcan salute and nerve pinch, yet also shares little-known personal information, such as Nimoy’s alcoholism and the price of celebrity. However, the heart of this book is Shatner’s description of their friendship that grew from the Star Trek movies and the Trekkie conventions they attended as a pair. Shatner discusses his own life and the parallels in Nimoy’s, but he does not upstage his friend, rather giving him center stage with his usual Shatner self-deprecating humor. Trekkies will want this for the insider stories from Captain Kirk himself, but fans of candid, emotion-filled biographies will adore this account because it’s a treasure trove of information.

The Oregon Trail, by Rinker Buck.

Award-winning journalist and author Buck (Flight of Passage) has ostensibly written a book about his experiences retrekking the 2,000-mile Oregon Trail from St. Joseph, MO, to Baker City, OR, in a mule-drawn covered wagon with his brother Nick and Nick’s dog Olive Oyl. As romantic as the adventure sounds, this is not a casual summer endeavour-don’t try to imitate it. There’s a second, parallel story, a description of another covered wagon trip he took at age seven in 1958 with his father and siblings. The family set out from central Jersey across the Delaware River to south central Pennsylvania for a monthlong “see America slowly” expedition. This adventure, tamer than the Oregon one, is now as much a part of Buck as his DNA. The Oregon trip is fraught with mishaps, near-death experiences, and plain bad luck. But there were also angels along the way helping them get through and guiding Jake and the other two mules. The parallel story is, at times, more compelling than the contemporary one, and the book could have been cut by a quarter and still be a solid read. It shouldn’t take longer to read the book than to actually cross the Oregon Trail. Recommended for folk interested in the Oregon Trail, pioneer history, or mules.

Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance.

                Growing up in Appalachia may leave a person open to harsh criticism and stereotype, yet Vance delves into his childhood and upbringing to make a clear distinction between perception and reality. Born in Kentucky and shuffling among homes in Ohio, the author ended the cycle of poverty, abuse, and drug use after becoming a U.S. Marine and Yale Law School graduate. His memoir is less about his triumph and more about exposing the gritty truth of how a culture fell into ruin. Using examples from his own life with references to articles and studies throughout, Vance’s intent is to show that what was once the fulfillment of the American Dream-moving to the Rust Belt for a better life-has now left families in peril. His plea is not for sympathy but for understanding. Both heartbreaking and heartwarming, this memoir is akin to investigative journalism. While some characters seem too caricature  like, it is often those terrifyingly authentic traits that make people memorable. Vance is careful to point out that this is his recollection of events; not everyone is painted in a positive light. A quick and engaging read, this book is well suited to anyone interested in a study of modern America, as Vance’s assertions about Appalachia are far more reaching.

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George.

Fifty-year-old Jean Perdu is a literary apothecary on his barge bookshop moored on the Seine in Paris. Gifted at prescribing just the right book for what ails his devoted customers, he is unable to cure his own heart, broken two decades earlier when Manon, the married love of his life, vanishes after leaving behind just a letter that Perdu refused to read-that is, until now, with devastating consequences. Walking out on his first tender encounter with a woman in 20 years, Perdu flees south, setting sail with Max, a young, best-selling author with writer’s block, as his uninvited guest. Triumph over tragedy is played out in the beauty of France’s canals, in the quirky goodness of its people, and in Perdu’s determination to seek forgiveness and reclaim joy. Verdict George’s exquisite, multilayered love story enchanted Europe for more than a year, and the U.S. publication of this flawless translation will allow gob-smacked booklovers here to struggle with the age-old dilemma: to race through each page to see what happens next or savor each deliciously enticing phrase. Do both; if ever a book was meant to be read over and over, this gem is it.

Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly.

In this debut, Shetterly shines a much-needed light on the bright, talented, and wholly underappreciated geniuses of the institution that would become NASA. Called upon during the labor shortage of World War II, these women were asked to serve their country and put their previously overlooked skills to work-all while being segregated from their white coworkers. The author tells the compelling stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden as they navigated mathematical equations, the space race, and the civil rights movement over three decades of brilliant computing and discoveries. The professional and private lives of the ladies of Langley Research Center are documented through an impassioned and clearly well-researched narrative. Readers will learn how integral these women were to American aeronautics and be saddened by the racism and sexism that kept them from deserved recognition. VERDICT Shetterly’s highly recommended work offers up a crucial history that had previously and unforgivably been lost. We’d do well to put this book into the hands of young women who have long since been told that there’s no room for them at the scientific table.

Deep Down Dark, by Hector Tobar.

                Tobar (The Barbarian Nurseries) relates the story of the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped thousands of feet underground for over two months. A significant portion of the narrative portrays the initial, critical days of survival against starvation. Before rescuers could reach the group, the men managed without assistance by rationing what little food was available, drinking water that was meant for their equipment, and depending on one another for support. As their time trapped below ground lengthened, and rescue efforts grew ever more complex, the men became the object of worldwide media attention. Deep Down Dark details that international rescue effort and the perseverance of those above ground, including mining experts from the United States and Chile, scientists from NASA, and family members who lived near the mine in a tent city for the duration of the rescue. A compelling account of a modern miracle for readers interested in survival narratives and contemporary accounts of recent mining disasters.




A Farewell Recital


Avondale United Methodist Church, where I have attended and participated in services and the music ministries for nigh on the past decade, has been blessed during the past four years to have as its Musical Director a very young but very talented and spiritually focused man named Aaron R. Redburn.

When Paul in I Timothy 4:12 advised Timothy to “Let no man despise thy youth”, he could have had Aaron in mind.  For Aaron came to us as a very accomplished, yet very young man just out of high school starting his college career. And in the past 4 years he has challenged us to grow, both musically and spiritually. At the same time we as a choir of mature adults taught Aaron many things that his previous leadings of youth and school choirs doubtless hadn’t taught him.

But, alas, four years have passed, and with the bachelor’s degree completed, he is now taking his Master’s Degree in Memphis, so is no longer our Musical Director. As part of our parting, Aaron, along with his girlfriend Shannon Lowe (who we knew these four years and likewise became a part of us in this growth and challenge), and our church organist John Livingston, presented A Farewell Recital on his last Sunday with us, July, 30, 2017.

I video recorded that recital, and am putting the edited version up to the cloud today, to be embedded into this blog for everyone’s appreciation and enjoyment of their performance and skill. This video edit is my small token of esteem for all they have done for me and for us at AUMC.

The full video took a long time to upload; so I uploaded a link to the 3-minute title slide/teaser I created for the video first. Now you can enjoy both the full video and the title slide.


A Blast of the Past #108: Graduation Party


For years Betsy and I attended a small group at the mega church — and I mean a small group. It never seemed to get very big, but it rotated through a number of people that we ministered to (and who ministered to us) that were then able to move on to other stages of ministry in their lives.

One of those example moments was a college graduation party for one member that we helped support through that process, and who in returned encouraged and taught us many things. Here are a few pictures from that celebratory memory.

Chiming in …


I’ve been living life, some of which will come up in Monday’s fitness blog, but haven’t spent time chronicling it, so instead today, before I run out of day without posting anything, I’ve decided to throw up an older video clip from a Easter service several years ago. Hallelujah just seems appropriate in thanks for all the good things in life I have experienced today…

A Look Ahead …


This week’s look ahead has four items, including glance ahead teasers …


AUMC — Vacation Bible School


Avondale United Methodist Church Invites Families to Rome: Paul and the Underground Church

[Kansas City, MO] A summer family event called Rome: Paul and the Underground Church will be hosted at Avondale United Methodist Church. Families step back in time at Rome, exploring the life of the apostle Paul and the underground church. Kids and adults participate in a memorable Bible-times marketplace, sing catchy songs, play teamwork-building games, dig in to Roman eats, visit Paul while he’s under house arrest, and collect Bible Memory Makers to remind them of God’s Word. Each day concludes at Extollo—a time of upbeat worship that gets everyone involved.

Kids and adults at Rome will join The Missouri United Methodist Conference in the “Water for Haiti” project—a project that provides water filters to families in Haiti. With this service opportunity, families’ donations will change the lives of other families across the globe by helping provide them with safe drinking water.

Rome will begin on Friday, June 23, with supper at 6:00 p.m. and conclude at 8:30.  Saturday, June 24, 9:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.  Sunday, June 25, 9:30-Noon. For more information, call 816-452-3518.

Please register both adults and children using forms located in the foyer or by calling the church office.  We encourage parents and grandparents to accompany children as we learn about Paul’s Rome.  All church members of any age are welcome to attend with or without children!

Worlds of Fun

The big events coming up all relate to a week from now, with Celebrate America on the July 4th weekend, and Family Reunion Days and a Military Day all packed into the July 4th celebrations.

KCCC Tug of War

This week, the final week of the Kansas City Corporate Challenge, has been the swim meet, the penultimate competition,  since Monday night.  Tonight is the final event: freestyle — both 50 individual and 200 relay.

Saturday is the ultimate event — the tug-of-war.  I might even be doing it again  for my company this year, for the second time.  We are still trying to put together our team. Event itself starts 7:30 a.m. Saturday at the Longview Lake Swim Beach.

Teaser — Liberty Con

And finally the real look ahead teaser.  More to come next week:

FacebookBannerLC30 2017 SoldOut


Densel Ray Ball II: A Demi-Eulogy


Today’s post is going to be a very dangerous one. For while I won’t be speaking evil of the dead, I may not be speaking with high enough praise to satisfy everyone.

The deceased, Densel Ray Ball II, was a dear friend of mine, though definitely others knew him better and closer. My choices, and those of my family, took us out of his closer orbit, but still left my son and I within the greater orbit of his friendship.

Densel passed away on April 27, following complications from an automobile accident on the afternoon of April 21. He left behind his wife of 21 years, Denise, and two children, Jacqueline and Ty.scan0004

The service, as all funerals and eulogies tend to be, praised the man highly, as was true and right. People talked of his faith, of his care for others, the way he walked with his head up, reaching out to those around him. They portrayed the truth of his faithfulness: to his God, to his Family, to his Church, to his friends and fellowman.

I first knew Densel when he came to Cornerstone Wesleyan Church as pastor. We were between two churches, deciding which one to attend, and eventually chose the other church (close and specific programs). But we kept track of friends at Cornerstone through Facebook, and eventually when they started a men’s breakfast, my son and I started attending, and renewed old and developed new friendships.

And Densel was there, and I renewed friendship with him, and found his care and reach deepen with me and my son.

I also saw how he reached out to the staff at the restaurant, first at Home Town Buffet, and then Golden Corral. The way he observed everyone and reached out, and prayed for everyone, really was true.


The amazing thing about it, was that once he established the connection, the rest of us, less open to reach out, learned and grew to continue the connection on the times he wasn’t there. He was faithful, seeing Christ in everyone, and he taught us all to learn how to do the same.

Yet, with all that, there was also another side to Densel. The oblivious side. Because that demeanor to reach out to everyone, doesn’t work for everyone. My wife never felt comfortable with it, and Densel never seemed to realize that fact, never changed or modified himself to meet her that way. Because of his obliviousness to who she was, she was never really able to get along with him. Likewise, for myself, I had personal reservations at the start, especially because of the way it caused dissonance in my family, and it took the time of a different angle for it to merge and grow on me, for me to be able to grow and gain an appreciation for his ministry and style, as I kept my own, while learning from him.

One other thing the funeral service did for me, was make me acutely aware of how far I felt myself fall from the standard Densel portrayed of faithfulness and selflessness. It did not bring me to despair, because it also emphasized the role of Christ’s love and mercy for us to be able to become new creatures, and experience and practice that faithfulness.


The service also showed me how many people were touched by Densel, and I saw people I didn’t know knew him, and we all realized how much the body of Christ is one body, but many members.

Examples of Faith …


Today’s post is about two examples of faith I heard about today: one very close to home and personal for me, the other around the globe, but just as powerful. The latter touches a global hotspot, the former, the greater community in which I live.

Local example

The first relates to Cornerstone Wesleyan Church. On Friday afternoon, April 21 , 2017, their pastor, Densel Ball, was involved in a car accident where he was thrown from the vehicle. He has sustained severe head injuries and was taken to the ICU at Overland Park Regional.

Cornerstone, the church, came into my family’s life back in 2007, when we were at the stage of moving from the mega-church we attended to something more community-oriented and local. When we were searching, we narrowed our focus to two churches, Cornerstone, and the Avondale Methodist church where we finally ended up going.

During that search, we made connections at both churches, and still maintain friendships at Cornerstone, even though it isn’t the one of the two we now regularly attend. There was a change in pastors about the time we were finalizing our decision — that was Densel arriving at Cornerstone.

Over the years we’ve kept in touch with Cornerstone, and seen the community of faith there that continued to develop around Densel’s leadership. And though we didn’t continue to attend Cornerstone, Densel made my son and I feel very much at home and a part of the community of believers when we attend the monthly men’s breakfast sponsored by Cornerstone.

So when I saw on Facebook this morning the post about the accident, and had to look back to yesterday to find the posts about the accident itself, it was a hard punch to the emotions. The Bells had recently gone through a surgery for a brain tumor for Densel’s wife, and now this for him.

Yet when you look at the Facebook page, you can see the circle of friends, of the church, of the faith, coming together in prayer. The drawing together of the community in faith, praying for healing, ready to trust whatever happens.

As I type this they CT scan today didn’t come back with good results, and the prognosis is still very critical. Though not there in person, I am filling in the circle of faith with my own prayers.

The church is having a prayer-oriented worship service tomorrow, continuing the ministry of the worship and the faith, as they have been taught well by their pastor.

Global Example

The second example comes from Egypt, and the Coptic Christians there. This article in Christianity Today tells the story of a widow forgiving the suicide terrorist who killed her husband on Palm Sunday. In a televised interview she noted:

“I’m not angry at the one who did this,” said his wife, children by her side. “I’m telling him, ‘May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you.’

“‘You put my husband in a place I couldn’t have dreamed of.’”

This example of forgiveness is sending shock-waves through the Muslim communities in Egypt. It is also creating a resurgence of faith within the Coptic community itself. Christians in the Arab world have been declining in numbers in the past decades, with severe persecution driving them out.

The article also talks about the role of the Coptic Christians in the Arab Spring, something that I never saw in the media articles of the time. Yet that glow has faded, but a new opportunity of faith is arising, and my question is, will we of the West support, or hinder our brothers of faith in the Muslim world?


I mentioned that there would be two examples of faith, but I’ll allude to a third. This week I recorded and edited two quick video interviews to be used in our worship service at the Avondale Methodist church on Sunday. I won’t mention specific details, but they discuss a program of our church that in its own essential way is demonstrating the reach of the faith in the community.

The two main examples are just that, examples, of faith in action. We need to make sure that each of us continues to be examples when and wherever we have the chance, and to stay involved as communities of faith.