Book Review: The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing Comics: How to Create and Sell Comics, Manga, and Webcomics, by Comfort Love and Adam Withers

The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing ComicsYes, this is quite a departure from my usual genre of review, but when I found The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing Comics: How to Create and Sell Comics, Manga, and Webcomics by Comfort Love and Adam Withers was available, I was transported to a time in my childhood when I made magic. Well, at least I thought I made magic! There are a number of “how to” self-publishing books out there, but this one caught my eye. I haven’t really kept up with comics in quite a number of years, but I am familiar with some of the latest trends in publishing and marketing, especially given the way the boom in webcomics. So, I was really interested in what this comic-making, married couple had to offer. They did not disappoint!

There is a boatload of information here for those who are interested in creating a comic for the first time, or for those who needs some pointers in an already well-developed process. They won’t tell you what to write, draw, or publish, but they sure give you enough of the “how” to set you on as smooth a path as possible with plenty of appropriate hazard signs along the way. Want to know what’s most important in a comic? They’ve got you covered? What should you research as a writer? How far ahead should you plan? Why should an artist know publishing dimensions? What’s so important about hue and saturation for a colorist? How do I create a flat color layer in Photoshop again? How many copies should I print in a first-run and how? Why can’t I be an angry, self-entitled curmudgeon at conventions? Yup, it’s all here. Big, glossy pages, pictures, examples, and a “Pro Tip” from a host of comic industry veterans on about every other page are all here to help you on your way to comic fame (or at least a load of frustrating fun and hard work)! And if you still want more, check out comfortandadam.com for more self-publishing guides.

I definitely recommend this guide for anyone seriously considering a life in comics.

 

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

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Book Review: Rise: Bold Strategies to Transform Your Church, by Cally Parkinson with Nancy Scammacca Lewis

RiseI chose to review Rise: Bold Strategies to Transform Your Church by Cally Parkinson and Nancy Scammacca Lewis because I’ve always been skeptical of a lot of statistical data and any “plug & chug” Christian programming meant to “fix” a church. I wanted something to challenge those notions, and hoped this might be that book. It was certainly more than I expected and quite helpful!

REVEAL researchers took survey material from 727 churches from different areas of the USA, different denominations, and different cultures (this is all charted and explained in an appendix), all between 2008 and 2010 (churches involved in surveys from years pre-2008 were tossed because they did not include what turned out to be some key questions) and pulled from it eight archetypes in which most American congregations find themselves: troubled, complacent, extroverted, average, introverted, self-motivated, energized, and vibrant. Each of these is explained with charts, typical symptoms, and model case studies of participating churches—where they were, what they changed, and where they landed a few years later. There is then a final chapter that offers ways in which churches may grow in a number of areas that were assessed.

I found the information quite helpful because its generalizations are offered as starting points—the authors even explain where a church might have secondary, or “shadow” archetypes (e.g., a primarily extroverted church may be tend to be energized or average). Before offering ways in which churches may use this information, the authors provide this honest and helpful statement: “Our sole caveat is to begin with a cautious and sincere reminder that we do not pretend to be capable of advising your own particular, individual church. Only you and your fellow leaders, in concert with God’s wisdom and mercy, can truly discern the best “next step” to help your people grow closer to Christ” (153–4).

The reader may not agree with how some of the particulars were put together and may still remain skeptical about how one may be certain of the accuracy of surveys, a Spiritual Vitality Index (SVI), etc. (I’ll probably always remain in that boat!), but when used as a base, at least as far as I can tell, typical American churches are quite likely to find themselves in one of the archetypes and able to use that as a starting point in determining where they may or may not want to begin making changes in order to be better disciples of Christ.

I’m surprising myself with this recommendation, but here it is: I believe this can be a helpful resource for church leaders to have in their libraries, perhaps revisiting it every couple years or so to reassess things.

 

*This book was provided by Tyndale House Publishers for review. I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I offered or provided any compensation.

Book Review: Divorce & Remarriage: A Redemptive Theology, by Rubel Shelly

Divorce & RemarriageIt’s not often I have a major shift in my theology, but it does happen. When it comes to the oh-so-controversial-and-convoluted-subject of marriage-divorce-&-remarriage, there are a number of systems that have been constructed through the centuries to explain various interpretations of what Jesus and Paul have to say about it in the New Testament. Up until a few days ago, I had already shifted my thinking a couple different times; however, no matter how seemingly logical the legal constructions fit together in my mind, nothing has set well with what I read elsewhere in Scripture as to how they fit with the heart of God.

For the past ten years, I have not been a part of a church, either in general membership or leadership, where there has not been a messy, or at least very uncomfortable, dealing with people who found themselves in the middle of trying to figure out what to do with their marriage, divorce, and potential for remarriage. I’ve often heard from those older than I that this is a growing concern in the church; however, I believe it’s simply that we become more and more aware of these difficult situations the older we get—things were always better back in the “good ol’ days,” whether that be when we were toddlers, teens, middle-aged, or what have you…or so they say. Though I’ve had discussions with many about my beliefs and interpretations of Scripture, something always kept me from speaking from some position of authority (ha!) to those I thought may be “in sin” when it came to my interpretations of Jesus and Paul on this subject. I either felt God holding me back and keeping me from speaking, or scheduled meetings simply didn’t happen for a number of reasons. I am so thankful they didn’t!

I come from a rather legalistic and “rule book” approach to Scripture, and looking for those legal systems is still a temptation, which isn’t to say that systematic theology is a bad thing! In my late college days I began to pray more, listen to God, and do my best to stay out of the way of the Spirit’s leading in my life. That has been the foundation of how I have since approached Scripture and my life. Those who know me can attest to the changes and far-off places to which that approach led! Once I began graduate work in theology, my academic endeavors were kept in check with my reliance on the Spirit, without which I could very easily jump right back into a purely “do and don’t” mentality on how to use Scripture. The deeper I leaned into God, the more these divorce and remarriage systems disturbed me, but I could not see what Jesus and Paul had to say any differently than how I’d been approaching them for decades prior.

Jumping to the present, my wife (Delana) and I recently moved to the greater Denver area where we believe God led us. We first visited back in January (2015) for an interview Delana had at a local university. We decided to spend a little of our own money to stick around for a couple more days so that we could get to know the area a little bit. One of our biggest desires was finding a church we could immediately plug into and glorify God through serving others. We had several recommendations, and had planned on visiting one in Denver proper—we only had time to visit one church on Sunday morning, so we wanted to make it count! Around 10:00 PM the Saturday before, getting ready to go to bed, I told Delana, “I think we’re supposed to go to [a particular Church of Christ].” Both of us were shocked by what I’d said because I’d not planned on going back to another denominational congregation, and she didn’t have the most pleasant experience with the CoC since learning about it and visiting a few after meeting me. We both felt a bit nervous about it, but I believe it’s where God wanted us to be. So, we followed. It was the best experience at any church we’ve ever had. We were welcomed warmly and joyfully, prayed with, immediately included, and encouraged. One of the ministers and a married couple kept in touch from that point until we moved to CO on June 29, and then we had breakfast at the minister’s house the next morning. Just awesome.

We were immediately plugged into different ministries and Bible studies, and began growing closer to several families in the church—we still haven’t even been here two months! In July I attended an information session about the church and what they expected from those who wanted to be “members.” Delana was out of town that weekend for work. At the beginning of this session one of the ministers, out of a desire to be transparent and wanting others to be the same, told us of his past marriage, his infidelity, and subsequent divorce and a host of other consequences. After fifteen years of celibacy, he remarried just a few months ago. The elders and the rest of the church fully supported him in this. I’d never seen that in a CoC, and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I knew what I wanted to do with it, but not sure what I was supposed to do with it. This is where Delana and I truly believe God wants us. Our move to CO for her job and our coming to this church was purely a decision by faith, not by sight (we’re still trying to work it out financially!). When Delana returned, I gave her the bullet points of the meetings and shared with her the minister’s story. “What are we going to do?”

The minister and I had a few things to discuss anyway, so we set a time for earlier this week. There was much prayer beforehand, and when the time came we had a loving, nonjudgmental, brotherly conversation about how he read Scripture concerning divorce and remarriage and from where we both came. After going through every passage in the New Testament and looking at context from the Old Testament, I felt a peace about his conclusion that I’d never had before. Things clicked and I felt like God had lifted a weight from my shoulders that had been hanging there for over ten years.

It’s important to understand that he held this position before things went sour in his first marriage. This isn’t a case of someone subsequently trying to find justification for selfish desires in Scripture thereafter. In fact, he’d never planned on marrying again, but had a similar “God put us together” story with his current wife that Delana and I share.

So, what does all of this have to do with a book, let alone a book review? Context! When I first asked for the minister’s perspective on divorce and remarriage, he reached over to his bookshelf, pulled out Rubel Shelly’s Divorce & Remarriage: A Redemptive Theology, and said, “This is what I believe.” Of course, we didn’t read the book right then and there (he did read a few pages in conversation), but I did borrow it and read it over the next couple of days. I’d already been convinced by our conversation to change my perspective on the subject, but I wanted see what this book had to say, since it was likely going to be added to my library and recommended to others if it had anything to do with what we discussed! And it’s wonderful: full of love and compassion, and with no lack of scholarship and “sound” reading of Scripture. It includes the meat of the text (setting up context and addresses all necessary Scripture references for the subject, peppering a number of “what would you do?” narratives in mix the to help the reader think through these things), a lengthy question & answer section (he asks himself many of the questions he’s heard in the past and answers them well), and two brief letters, one to those who have been divorced and one to church leaders.

I highly recommend this book, especially to those who find themselves in any sort of church leadership position so that we do not continue to heap more burdens on people with whom we have no right to so do. Read with an open mind and heart toward God, and get ready for a life changing moment. It can happen.

To all those I’ve oppressed in the past regarding their divorce and remarriage, I ask for your forgiveness. We are always called to reconciliation, and that is what we first desire in any relationship, especially a marriage. We do live in a fallen world, and bad things happen. Let us continue from there in love, grace, and mercy. Lord, forgive us and grant us that capacity for one another. Amen.

Book Review: The Argument-Free Marriage: 28 Days to Creating the Marriage You’ve Always Wanted with the Spouse You Already Have, by Fawn Weaver

The Argument-Free MarriageWhen I first saw Fawn Weaver’s The Argument-Free Marriage: 28 Days to Creating the Marriage You’ve Always Wanted with the Spouse You Already Have available for review, I thought, “Sure.” But then I remembered thinking the same thing about Brant Hansen’s book Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better (my review here),and it was (is!) brilliant (I’ve already sent out copies and recommended it on numerous occasions). If you get nothing else from this review, I hope you walk away remembering this: go buy Brant’s book because it is a foundation-changing premise that will likely help long before seeing any change while going through The Argument-Free Marriage. Now, back to the book at hand.

The foreword is written by Dr. Gary Chapman, author of The 5 Love Languages, and basically says we are incomplete unless we are married. Granted, the unmarried are not the primary target audience of this book, but I still think this is a poor approach. Strike one.

In the first chapter (really an introduction), Weaver writes that she and her husband have never had an argument in twelve years of marriage. In chapter 3 (Day 2) she eventually defines “argument” for the reader: “The definition I most often use is the same one that will appear at the top of your screen if you type the term into Google: ‘an exchange of diverging or opposite views, typically a heated or angry one.’ It is the latter portion of that definition that I truly believe can be avoided” (18). If this is her foundation, then she must be working with a relative timespan before she stamps something as an argument, which is just long enough to exclude the experiences she shares in the book (pages 134–35 demonstrate the most obvious example of a definable argument had by the happy couple who claim they’ve never argued). Weaver and her husband probably have a very happy marriage and argue much less than anyone they’ve ever met, but given what she’s written about their relationship, I certainly don’t believe in the pristine claim. I’d much rather read someone who’s honest about these things. Strike two.

Jumping back to when I first saw the title and remembered reading Unoffendable, I thought my wife and I could give this book a go since we do argue—we’re human. After getting through the first three chapters, we realized this was not going to be very practical (it won’t fit into 28 days—Day 10 could take months just trying to find couples to imitate!) and seemed to be a bit hokey. However, I accepted the book in exchange for a review, so I carried on. This is no 28-day fix as it claims. Strike three.

The final week is nothing more than a Dave Ramsey fest. That’s not necessarily bad, but none of the chapters deal with how to not argue, though finances are a common source of arguing. Again this doesn’t really fit the 28-day challenge, and can’t. Strike four.

Though I do no doubt that Weaver loves God (she expresses it a couple times and regrets yelling at God instead of her husband in Day 16), the approach in this book is not to glorify God, but to love your spouse first above all else (174). Praying or meditating (distraction from getting heated) and tithing to a church or charity (simply giving away money) apparently perform magic and will keep you from ever having an argument or financial trouble. This will surely broaden the potential buyers market, but I can’t imagine sharing these points as so presented. Strike five.

Okay, so I just kept going with the strikes. You get no sport analogy from me—especially not baseball! (Doh! Did that just count?) My point is that it’s just not something I would recommend. Can it be helpful and beneficial? Absolutely! There’s some good stuff in here about keeping your cool, being a good listener, communicating well, setting boundaries, and, most importantly, loving one another. There’s just nothing new and sits on a dishonest premise. And…Weaver mentions her first book and blogging community in almost every chapter like a bad promo.

 

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals, by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw

Jesus for PresidentIn 2014, my good friend Zach bought us both a copy of Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw. He had heard good things about the book and wanted my opinion as we went through it since we had been studying political theology for about a year in church. Unfortunately, we didn’t get past our first meeting with our combined busy schedules, but I’m glad to have finally come back and finished reading it myself.

I want to first point out that no one should be approaching this text from either a “liberal” or “conservative” political stance. This, unfortunately, has been the stance from which many have reviewed the text. We should first see how Jesus calls us to live, and then work out pragmatic application in our own context, regardless as to whether it may be perceived as “liberal” or “conservative.” In Jesus for President, Claiborne and Haw approach a number of controversial subjects from the initial perspective of being a citizen in the kingdom of God first. Many cannot separate their national and political affiliation from their Christian affiliation—framing it this way may seem harsh, but it’s what Jesus called us out on; we’re all in, or we’re not—and this will be the foundation of much disagreement and debate. So, I would encourage the reader to stick with them and make as much an attempt at thinking from a kingdom perspective first as able. This does not mean he or she will always agree or disagree with the authors—I certainly didn’t agree on all theological or practical points—though I do think one may be better able to appreciate their arguments, and perhaps learn and grow into being a better disciple of Christ.

It’s widely understood by my friends and family that I am a pacifist and am far more in favor of living in community than is my individualistic, privatized, American culture. I believe this is what Jesus asks of us. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that I agree with the authors on much of what is presented; however, I do not always come to the same conclusions as to how we go about demonstrating these things. Nevertheless, I do and will recommend this as a beautiful and interesting introduction to how we engage with one another and the world.