I'm Fine With God...It's Christians I Can't Stand

Here is a podcast of a radio interview I did with M88, a Christian, non-commercial radio station that plays rock and pop music and occasionally does interviews on interesting topics. They thought "I'm Fine With God...It's Christians I Can't Stand" (the newest book from me and Bruce Bickel, my writing partner) was interesting. The host, who simply goes by "Yo," asked a bunch of great questions, including this one: How can we (meaning me and my writing partner, Bruce Bickel) be so critical of other Christians when Jesus told us to love one another. I could tell you now, but that would ruin the experience of listening to the podcast.

Even If It's Not Your Fault, It Is Your Problem

An advertisement for the provacative new book, unChristian, by David Kinnaman, says this: Christianity has an image problem. If that's the case--and there's good reason to believe that's true--then I have a suggestion. We need to give Christianity an image makeover. And I know just the people to do it: the customer service pros at the Walt Disney Company.

Years ago when I was running our family's Christian bookstores, I attended a seminar at the Disney Institute in Orlando so I could learn how to better serve our customers. It was a great experience and very practical. I took what I learned back to our stores and noticed an increase in sales in just a few months, all because we followed Disney's advice.

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Learning From a Cheapskate

I was watching the Today Show the other day, and on comes this guy by the name of Jeff Yeager. Matt Lauer, who was doing the interview, has dubbed Yeager "the ultimate cheapskate." Indeed, that's the name of a new book he has written. Mr. Lauer was very respectful and seemingly quite taken with Mr. Yeager and his sometimes amusing eccentricities when it comes to saving a buck. (One amusing/disgusting example that stuck out was Yeager's advice to take the barf bags from the airplane when you fly, because "they make great sandwich bags.")

I have to admit that I was impressed with the interview and the almost childlike innocence that Mr. Yeager displayed. This was no schtick. The guy actually lives his life in such a way that frugality is a virtue, not an oddity. Maybe I was ready to hear his advice, because I've been doing some thinking lately about the state of the economy, my own included. There's a lot of gloom out there, some of it coming from people who have heretofore been optimistic about America's economic condition.

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Resolved to Forgive

Ask anyone what they are resolving to do this year, and more than likely they're not going to say, "I'm going to be more forgiving." It's much easier to respond to such a question with "I'm going to lose weight" or "my goal is to get out of debt," because that's what people expect you to say (unless you're rich and thin). Besides, who's going to hold you accountable for your resolution if it's the same as everyone else's?

But try telling your friends or your spouse or your kids that you're determined to forgive more, and you'll probably get a funny look in response, as if you're expecting them to do something that needs your forgiveness. The point of forgiveness, of course, is not to anticipate just who it is who will wrong you, but to make it a part of your life, so that when the bad stuff happens, you are ready to forgive the perpetrator and let it go.

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What America Is Reading Tells a Story

There are many ways to take the pulse of American culture. You can watch television talk shows and see what people are talking about. You can scan the bestselling songs on iTunes and hear what people are listening to. You can wander through your local mall and just watch people. Or you can do like I do and go to Amazon.com and look through the Top 100 books.

Now, I realize that fewer people are reading books these days, especially people under 35. They much prefer to access content online. That's okay with me. In fact, I think it's the future of reading, which is why I'm a big fan of Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon.com. Not only is Bezos the number one bookseller in the world, but he is leading the charge when it comes to electronic books. His Kindle device may not be the category killer that the iPod has been, but it's pretty close. Even now, when you go to Amazon to order a book, there's a good chance that the book you want is available on Kindle for about one-third the list price of the hardcover. For example, the number two book on Amazon's Top 100 (this list is updated hourly, so your results may vary) is A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. The book lists for $25.95, and is available from Amazon for $14.27. By comparison, the Kindle edition is $9.99. Not bad.

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The Indestructible Book

The numbers are in, and we have a winner. For the 551st year in a row, the Bible is the number one selling book in the world. More than 25 million copies of the Bible were sold in the U.S. alone in 2007, easily thumping the closest competitor, the latest Harry Potter book, which sold 14 million. Selling Bibles is big business in America. More than $770 million worth of the Good Book were sold in a dizzying variety of shapes, sizes, colors, editions, and translations. In America, having access to a Bible--a Bible custom fit to your preferences and personality--is a given. That isn't the case many other countries, where having even a portion of the Scriptures is a luxury. In other parts of the world, being caught with a Bible is a crime.

It's hard to understand why governments would fear this book. It doesn't call for the overthrow of those in power. The central character of its 66 books doesn't advocate violence. If anything, the Bible says we are to love our enemies and bless those who persecute us. On the surface, there's not a subversive word among its more than 31,000 verses.

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Let's Talk About Global Warming

There are so many voices speaking out on behalf of or in defense of or in denial of global warming, that it's getting increasingly difficult to know where to land on this issue. On the one hand, you've got a certain Nobel Peace Prize winner preaching the gospel of imminent global disaster unless we band together as a global community and do something now to fix the problem.

On the other hand you have a semi-popular conservative television commentator saying that the whole global warming thing is a scam, and that we should all drive Hummers as a way of thumbing our noses at that Nobel Prize guy.

What we need to find is a reasonable middle between these two extemes, and so I want to start a conversation that will produce some thoughtful dialog. I have no expertise in this matter. I don't even have a strong opinion either way, except that it makes sense to conserve resources when it helps me stretch my household budget (buy a more fuel efficient car, use less water when I brush my teeth, get rid of my pet cow, those kinds of things).

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How Not to Dialog With Mormons

Okay, so Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee has crossed the line in his not-so-subtle attempt to create a distinction between himself and Mitt Romney. Over the last several weeks, Huckabee has strategically positioned himself as the "true Christian candidate," which can only mean one thing. Huckabee doesn't think Mr. Romney (the only other Republical candidate who is open about his faith) is a "true" Christian. Rather than create a distinction between himself and Romney based on their political views, evidently Huckabee has chosen to focus on their respective faith views.

Now Huckabee has taken his rhetoric to another level, and in doing so he has probably alienated some of the very people he has been trying to attract. In a lengthy interview for a New York Times article, Huckabee threw out this question to the reporter: "Don't Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?"

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Can't Go to Starbucks? Oh, the Humanity!

For folks living in Southern California, the writers' strike is kind of a big deal. For people living in other parts of the country, it's a little less important than the latest government report on cholesterol.

The reason the writers' strike makes headlines in Lala land is that the ripple effect on the local economy is fairly significant. One estimate has the entertainment industry accounting for 7 percent of the GNP of Los Angeles County. That's around $30 billion annually. Now, that's not what the writers make, but the various productions they have a hand in generate that kind of money once you take into account everything it takes to make movies and television shows. When the writers stopped writing several weeks ago, it was just a matter of time before the productions, which depend on scripts (even Jay Leno can't tell a joke without someone writing it for him), could no longer move forward, putting thousands of people out of work.

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The Death of Books?

Books may not exactly be dying, but the current system that is responsible for getting books into print and then selling them to the general public is on life support. That's what Michael Hyatt, president of Thomas Nelson Publishers (the world's largest publisher of Christian books) is saying in a blog entitled "Why Traditional Books Will Eventually Die." What's amazing about this blog post is that it is coming from the president of a book publishing company. I happen to agree with Mr. Hyatt, but I'm not sure I would have the courage--hey, it's more than courage, it's chutzpa--to say what he said if my paycheck depended on selling books.

The problem with the current system of book publishing and distribution is that it is inefficient. Mr. Hyatt cites three inefficiencies: the manufacturing process, the distribution process, and the book buying experience. The manufacturing process for a book is pretty simple. You chop down a whole bunch of trees, make the tree pulp into paper, and send it in huge spools to printing presses, where massive amounts of ink are applied in the form of words and pictures. In this day of increasing environmental concerns, is it really necessary to go through such an arduous process when it's possible to read words on a medium other than paper (like you're doing now)?

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Stan's entire life has been wrapped in content: selling, writing and publishing books and resources that help ordinary people capture a glimpse of extraordinary things.