It wasn't my reunion year, but it was a time of reuniting for sure. It is always nice to make plans to see old friends, but sometimes surprises are even better. The surprise of seeing Ked Frank for the first time in a few years was my highlight of the weekend. I couldn't hug that kid enough! I've seen the other guys from our apartment in the past few months, and see two of them almost daily. Since Ked relocated back to Kentucky I haven't been able to connect with him.

Eric and I were already there, so I texted Kevin and Mark when I saw Ked. Kevin was able to come over, so that four of the six apartments mates could spend a little time with each other. I quickly made my way to the 586 to purchase 4 IBC cream sodas. We popped those tops off of the bottles and remembered a day when we got together weekly to enjoy those delicious drinks, as well as each other's companies. We called it "Beer and Bull", the IBC Cream Soda being the beer. So many good conversations, great fights, deep questions and honest reflections came from those times... and a lot of laughs.

It was one of the primary ways I learned about community at my alma mater, through a group of guys committing to nothing more than a block of time together with a good drink to share. That continues to be a good starting place for community.
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Traveling Mercies/Anne Lamott

This is what I have been reading as I traveled. The books has been sitting on our shelves for a long time, but I never picked it up. When I prepare for a trip I always try to bring a book that I think I might feel like reading, on the plane, or during quiet moments, or while riding in the backseat to some destination. The ritual usually begins with me selecting whichever book I am currently in the middle of, and scanning the bookshelves at work and home for other options. I then try to pack all of the options I have selected until a moment of reality hits me. I look at the books, I think about the extra weight (when flying) and I know I need not bring all of these options. I need to make a decision.

I can't recall the larger selection that I pared down from this time, but I did end up bring a few along for the ride (we were going to be in transit for over 48 hours on this trip).

The Bible

The Book I am Currently in the Middle Of: The Selfless Way of Christ- Henri Nouwen
* Not that you can actually be in the middle of this book. The book basically is a middle. It is all of 80 or so centered, larger font pages. I am taking it in slowly we will say.

The Theology Book: The Divine Conspiracy - Dallas Willard
Dave Ballenger gave me this book to borrow over 3 years ago. Until this post he has probably been looking for it under his bed and in the dusty corners of his bookcases (not that Jenn would allow there to be such a thing in their house). Now you know Dave. I have it. I have read a portion of it, but not enough. I think it is the size, so large in my hands... but I keep picking it up and keep it beside my bed for that day that it grabs me... which I am sure will be soon.

The Fiction Book: Raise High the Roof Beams Carpenters - J.D. Salinger
I always include a non-fiction book. It only wins once our of every 3-4 times, but Salinger always has a chance at winning.

The Non-Fiction Book: Traveling Mercies - Anne Lamott
Donald Miller, Rob Bell and others fit this categories. People who teach with their lives. They share their story and reveal truths as they talk.

To win the book of the trip you have to grad me and Anne Lamott did this. Not physically of course, but with her words, which I guess did grab me physically. Through the first 150 pages of this journey I have laughed dozens of times, I have cried a few, I have said "hmmm" many more and I have read section to Kelly too many times to count. I realize why some Christians hate her and some love her and I realize why everyone knew I would love her.

What I love most about her is her authenticity. I realized that this is what I love about Donald Miller as well. They don't hold anything back. For Christians, I have to say this is the exception. It is easy to write about theology or ecclesiology or hermeneutics (in some sense). It is easy to write about your life through prim rose glasses and ideological reflections and edits. Miller and Lamott lay it on the line. They share the dirty, the gritty, the painful and even the questionable or just plain sinful. And they draw us in...

Because we crave authenticity and we love stories...
And we were made for both.

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Adoption Update

I sent out an adoption update recently via e-mail, but thought I should update it, add a couple things and post it on here. Even if you received it, note the new things below (like updated numbers and a new fundraising opportunity for us).

The courts in Ethiopia have opened back up! For those of you that don’t know, we received our adoption referral for a little boy on July 15th, just before the courts closed on August 6th. We have been anxiously waiting and have cherished the pictures and videos that others have sent our way of our little son Phineas. We are so excited and cannot wait to see his face in person! There is a great possibility that our wait may be over soon. Now that the courts are open we may receive a court date any day and be flying to meet Phin in person for the first time.

The past few months many of you have written to ask me where we stand in our fundraising, so I wanted to send an update. As we near the end of this process, we realized we were about $8,000 short of our total expenses. A couple of months ago Kelly thought we had raised all that we needed, primarily through the generous gifts of others. We had it all worked out on an excel spreadsheet, but then I noticed that something was missing, The Second Trip. A policy that was changed midway thru our adoption process now requires an entire second trip to Ethiopia. The first trip is when we officially adopt him in court. The second trip is when we return to have our appointment with the US Embassy and bring our son home. So, basically, we were short what it will cost for us to travel the second time. THE GOOD NEW NEWS is that friends and family have sent $2000 to us in the past two weeks, and many more have told us the intend to order t-shirts from us, which will shrink the gap further.

Some have asked how they can give or what fundraisers we have, so here are 4 quick options:
1) Direct Donations: You can always donate directly to us using PayPal on Kelly’s blog or by sending a check to 407 Martinsburg Rd., Mt. Vernon, Ohio, 43050. Don’t worry. When we get random checks from people we usually figure out it is for the adoption and not for more toilet paper.
2) T-Shirts: SHOW HOPE (Steven Curtis Chapman's organization that gave us a 3k grant!), sent out an email with t-shirt fundraiser info. If we sell their shirt for around $25 a piece, we can clear a $15 profit per shirt (not including shipping them to people). We are able to pre-order, which is a big bonus (that way we don't get stuck with a bunch of shirts and wasted money). We just launched this idea on Facebook tonight and have already had a huge response. Here's the link to their website if you want to take a look at the shirt. We would most likely sell the black ones since they are the cheapest and we would make the most money off of them. Christmas is just around the corner, so don’t be afraid to buy one for each of your family!
3) Just Love Coffee: Don't forget you can get your caffeine fix and support our adoption at the same time.. and the coffee is Fair Trade Certified. Visit
Many of you have already enjoyed these beans and we thank you!
4) NEW - Coincidence Maybe CDs: Some friends of ours who make up the music group Coincidence Maybe have given us several copies of two of their CDs (one of the group and one solo album of Denver Shindle). They are allowing us to sell these and use all of the profits towards our adoption. If you would like to order a set of these two CDs for $15+shipping e-mail me at
5) Garage Sale: My parents and their small group recently held a garage sell and raised over $500 in one day. This was a huge surprise and blessing to us! We have heard of other churches doing this, even during bad weather and just hosting it in their fellowship hall or gym. If you have the energy to host something like this for our adoption in your area, please do! Let us know if there is anything we can do to make it happen. We can send pictures of our family sitting around the dinner table with an empty chair… just kidding. Seriously, don’t ask for the picture.

Thank you for all of your prayers, support and financial blessings. We have been overwhelmed and amazed by the support or our family and friends through this entire journey. We can’t wait to welcome Phin home and we can’t wait for you to meet him!

Blessings to you and yours!
The Smith Clan

P.S. We are also all moved into our new home, which is VERY close to work! Stop by if you are in town... and we know you. :-)
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The 33rd Year

I'm in Bloomfield. The home of the Cardinals... and the Smith Family. It's my birthday so we decided to hang here for another day and delay starting on the house until we close tomorrow morning at 10:00am. We had a great night with our family last night celebrating Uncle Don's birthday. Good food, dancing, lots of kids running about and even fireworks.

AND cousin LeeAnn surprised us by presenting us with over $1000 towards our adoption. She has been secretly collecting it from family members over the past few months and completely surprised us! Our family is such a blessing!

Year 33.

Seems significant to us Christians. Seems like we should do something great by this time in our lives, or at least this year. Seems like we should be doing something radical. Making sacrifices. Helping others. Living with sheer confidence and boldness.

My hope is to live more selflessly this year. I feel like Kelly and I have made some big choices in the past couple of years that trend towards unselfishness, but I am talking about the little things. The way I treat salespeople when they call me at work. The way that I react when I am stressed and someone stresses me out. The way I treat the kids and Kelly after a long and tiring day and they just need a little attention. The way I pursue friendships, new and old.

When I look at the life of Christ, Selflessness seems to be at the root of his actions. He moves with a rhythm that says to others, "let me serve you". BUT his selflessness is not motivated by a desire to manipulate or control, which it can easily be used for. It is raw, pure, love of and for others. This is the driving force behind his actions.

Whenever I observe myself living that way, even for a moment... those are the moments I feel closest to the person of Christ. Those are the moments that I feel I understand who he is and why he changed the world. Those are the moments that I recognize with my own eyes and heart that... God... IS... love.
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Asking Questions

"By then I wasn't just asking questions; I was being changed by them. I was being changed by my prayers, which dwindled down nearer and nearer to silence, which weren't confrontations with God but with the difficulty - in my own mind, or in the human lot - of knowing what or how to pray. Lying awake at night, I could feel myself being chagned - into what I had no idea. It was worse that wondering if I had received the call. I wasn't just a student or going-to-be preacher anymore. I was a lost traveler wandering in the woods, needing to be on my way somewhere but not knowing where."
- Jayber Crow pg. 52

Familiar thoughts for anyone? Similar experience?
Can you or have you ever been able to relate?

Personally, I'm probably too afraid to post on here which parts of this have resonated, or do resonate with me. I think its enough to say that some of it has and does. This expert is a little out of context, but I'd have to include 6 pages of text to put it in its proper place. Why are we afraid to ask these questions in a public forum? Why do we, as Christian leaders, feel the pressure to always have all of the answers? Why do we feel the need to always have a response? I remember thinking that one day I would have all the answers. In fact, I thought I actually did have most of them when I was 18... but that doesn't even make sense with something named "faith". In faith, I believe in God, and that faith is as firm as it could be. But faith can not be proven... because it is faith. No matter how hard we try. It still takes a leap of faith in the end.

Faith is the fabric that bridges the gap between truth and the inadequacy of our human minds to answer supernatural questions.

My faith in God is firm.
But so are my questions about some of the details.
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Hey Extroverts!

Do you ever have a day when the food of an extrovert (people) turns rotten? Totally unexpectedly you find yourself sitting there being drained by the existence of humans. You realize that no one can understand what you feel, because you are extrovert and it would be too diffcult for them to perceive you outside of that box. Nope? Me either...or maybe it happened today.

I didn't see it coming. It just snuck up on me. I was working in the Welcome Center around lots of people throughout the afternoon and slowly, but surely the energy ebbed away. Before I knew it the place was mostly empty and so was I. I was frozen in that chair and in that room. I knew I needed to go home, but I couldn't. I called Kelly, but she didn't answer, and I was somewhat relieved because I knew I could squeeze a little bit more "quiet time" in before heading home. I continued to sit there... frozen. I wanted to drive somewhere, walk through the woods, sit by a lake... or sit in front of the computer... anything alone.

It was sudden.
It was wierd.

Finally, I went home. Very, very late.

And there were the kids. And there was Kelly. And they gave me life. They filled me right back up. I wished I would have been able to move myself sooner, but maybe I need the extra hour plus. I really hope this doesn't become a trend. It could really hamper my people filled lifestyle.

What if half way through life your mind just changed... it's mind. What if it decided to flip your needs/wants and you become the opposite of what you had always been (introver to extrover or vice versa). Sometimes the body/mind scares me, because it can really do whatever it wants.

I'm still an extrovert.
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I Wore My Grandpa's Tie Today

I really did.

The tag on the back says "Envoy", which to my knowledge no longer exists. It is a slanted stripe tie with 70s brown serving as the primary color, and stripes of other browns, khakis, white and a little red mixed in. When I look at it in my closet I know it is dated and it makes me happy, because I know why it is dated.

My college roommate lost his first grandparent last week, which is much different from my experience. My mom's dad (Brooks) died when I was a junior in high school, so I had plenty of memories with him by that time, but hadn't reached an age where I realized I needed to glean knowledge from him.

My dad's mom (Geraldine) died my sophomore year of college, after leaving a VERY strong imprint on my life. We lived with her for almost a year and lived down the road from her from 6th-12th grade. She was the type of woman who made things happen... especially for her family and probably bequeathed to me my ability to confront people. She had a powerful presence, but loving and the loss of her was very difficult for me.

The loss of my mom's mom (Juanita Ruth)was a devastating blow in my life. I think I blogged on this back in the day. Grandma Clouse was one of my favorite people in the world. I am not sure if this was just because of who she was, or also had something to do with the fact that I was literally one of the most important people in here life... and she reminded me of this every time I saw her or talked to her. She believed in me so much. She was one of the funniest people I have ever known and most of my friends who knew her share that sentiment. If I picked on her she would get in a wrestling match with me to defend herself well into my teens years. I could write a book about what she means to be still today, and her loss just before Halle's birth put me in a haze that was only broken by Halle's birth. I still think of her weekly, and the images I see of her reflected in the faces of Halle and Judah brings me to tears at times. I miss her and I miss being her favorite boy.

My college roommate's grandpa was a "pillar of the church" as they say and an incredible influence on many. My Grandpa Smith was the same... but I never knew it. The tie I wore today belonged to him, my dad's dad (Charles "Art"thur). He passed away just before we lost our first son Elijah. He was a man of God... even more than I knew. We went to church together and lived down the street from one another from the time I was 10. I saw him all the time. I talked to him all the time. I got rides from him all the time. I always took him for granted... not in the negative way where I would take advantage of him. I just lived in the assumption that he would ALWAYS be there. My father was such a strong believer that I never "needed" to ask spiritual questions to grandpa, so I didn't. I think I assume that because my dad was an ordained elder he knew more than grandpa. In the final year's of grandpa's life I began to see my misperception. Grandpa Smith had more knowledge about life and Jesus and how you combine those two things that I ever had known. I just didn't notice how strong his faith was, because he was so quiet about it, so humble. He was that consistent, gentle giant of the faith. When he died the new pastor of my church said to me, "Your grandpa was one of the greatest prayer warriors I knew. He was a pillar of our church." That outside perspective opened my eyes even wider as he explained to me the Christ-like, gentle, humble influence of my grandfather on that church. I returned to my grandpa's house after the funeral looking for something to remember him by. Something small that could remind me of who he was and who I want to be... I found his ties... and I wear them... and I remember that great man.
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One of my former teens died this year. His name was Jordan Hacker. He was a good looking kid who was usually getting into some sort of trouble from the moment I met him. The mysterious thing about him was that he was so reserved and respectful around adults... at least at church. He had a humble approach to adults that made you want to help him. Sure, I had to "sush" him every once in a while, but I blame that more of Coree Tennant, who was inevitably sitting beside him and was his best friend until the day he died. Coree is the one that called me to tell me and ask me if I would officiate the funeral. I couldn't. I was flying out of town and couldn't even attend, let alone be present for Jordan's family. The full story of his death is too sad to share, and almost too sad for me to even think about again.

This is the third former teen of mine who has died... that I know of. I officiated the funerals of the other two (Zach Eisel and Crystal Grenier). I have also officiated some weddings of former teens. I prefer those. In fact, I welcome those. I am probably honored to be asked to do either one, but I definitely prefer weddings. Most of us probably do. I do have one friend who prefers officiating funerals.

"We sit around at funerals, feeling sorry for the unfortunate person whom death happened to. We say nice things about the person; we dig a hole and put the body in the hole and cover the casket with all our questions."
- Donald Miller "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years"
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The Adoption Is Real!

Our dossier (the document that make us officially ok to adopt from the US) was mailed to Ethiopia today from our adoption agency AMERICA WORLD!!!!! 3-6 months until our actual referral...most likely! This is real people!!!!!!

You may wonder why I don't write about the adoption more, or at all, on here. Kelly and I have decided that her blog was the most natural place to consistently update people about the adoption. We also have a Facebook Fan Page called James and Kelly Smith Adoption Page (very creative we are) that we keep regularly updated. To follow our journey please check in with one of those two places.

I am sure I will begin to share my thoughts, excitement, fears, plans, dreams for the adoption and our son on here eventually, but those have primarily been share verbally with friends and family so far.

All I know is that I am excited and I can't wait to bring that boy home!!!
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Marriage Enrichment: "Garth & Kat" Sing... AND So Do James & Kelly

Kelly was getting ready for bed tonight and I was telling her that my parents and I watched the Garth and Kat portion of SNL this weekend when I was at their house. At that point I started to recreate a portion of it and Kelly chimed in. In these sketches Garth starts singing and Kat tries to sing with him. It took me two songs to figure out what was going on and who was leading, but it is pretty funny to watch.

In typical Kelly/James fashion we then sat around in our living room and tried to do this. First I led and Kelly followed and she was amazing! We laughed so hard that tears were definitely welling up and Kelly's neck hurt afterward from the strain. It was probably the hardest we have laughed together in months. We couldn't stop. Kelly is actually really good at following my lead, but I have a difficult time keeping it PG when I am on the fly like that... usually some innocent animal ends up getting killed or maimed in our renditions.

If you and your significant other haven't had a good laugh in a while, watch this, pick a topic and give it a whirl. It feels so good to laugh together... and "make music".

I love Kelly!!!

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New Hope Community OR "I was changed"

Since the last week of December I have been preaching on Sundays (and a couple Saturdays) at New Hope Community in Boardman/Youngstown. Their pastor left in November and Dr. Downs asked me to help bridge the gap and preach for at least month. At first I said no, feeling a little overwhelmed with the other demands in life lately. After Kelly and I spoke about it a little more and committed some prayer to it we decided to call back and say yes.

It has been a blessing.

I love this community of "everyday life missionaries" living out their faith in Northeast Ohio. My second week preaching there they voted on a new pastoral family and confirmed their call to Adam and Jackie Stevens. When I said yes I knew that they were considering Adam and Jackie and this made it ever more appealing to me. I learned so much about preparing the way for a new pastor through this experience. Every week I felt like God opened my eyes to the next thing to share.

I started by preaching on Christian Community (go figure), specifically about how God CALLS US into Christian community. Throughout Scripture this is the case. It is at the initiation of God and the response of us. Paul Hanson speaks about this a lot in his book "The People Called".

I also touched on how it is a GIFT from God, and not something that is guaranteed. Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke about this a lot in Life Together, as he reflected on his experiences in Christian Community after it was stripped away as he was isolated in prison.

The next few weeks we journeyed through Ephesians 4:1-16 and unpacked what it takes to live in Christian Community. We really focused on Ephesians 4:2, which the Lord has been bringing to my mind every time I am about to go off on someone lately... it's been very helpful. "Be completely humble and gentle, be patient, bearing with one another in love." Those words seem so simple and trite, but when you really dwell on them and apply them to the way we treat one another it is easy to see how the practice of that verse can lead to very healthy Christian Community. This verse has changed me and I hope it continues to.

I continued on through that passage over the next couple of weeks and discussed our need to celebrate what we have in common and to fulfill the functions/roles we are gifted and called to do within the body of believers. The last message from that passage discussed the results of the first 11 verses and what a united, fully functioning, celebratory community of believer would look like to those around them.

Two weeks about I went back and spoke about practical ways to develop Christian Community (like my favorite of eating with one another) and loving one another. Finally, this week I preached about loving our neighbors in the way of the Good Samaritan.

For some reason I can't really summarize how amazing this experience was for me personally and for that church body and I together. I'm not satisfied with this attempt to describe it's impact on myself or them. This is a good summary of what I was led to share, but hopefully I can express the impact of this time more adequately in another post.

Instead I will summarize my feelings about this experience with some simple words of Jayber Crow, "I was changed".
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"Listen. There is a light that includes our darkness, a day that shines down even on the clouds."

I finished Jayber Crow just now.

It was good. It feels good to finish a book. To finish something. I feel accomplishment and pride and joy. Most of all it feel good to have read this amazing piece of literature. If I began to type all the quotes and meaningful moments of that book it would become annoying quickly, because they are numerous and usually leave much for one to think about. I want to know Wendell Berry. I feel so blessed to know he is alive. It gives me hope that he can write more works that stir similiar sentiments in me, although there are several others out there I need to read anyways. He said not to read into the text, but I did and I would do it again, because it has moved me in many ways.

"Troubled or not, grieved or not, you have got to live. And the facts of the case are even harder than that, for however troubled and grieved you may be, you will often find, looking back, that you were not living without enjoyment." (pg. 358)

And so it is in our current situation, and being a man of blind faith I know this is true... and I still believe it... most days.... but I can't wait for the time of looking back to be present.

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I Write in Books

I write in books. I underline phrases and sentences that are significant or move me or even move the story, so that I can find them later. I put a star on my favorite pages to catch my eye. I put a line down both sides or the outside edge of beautiful or meaningful paragraphs. I write words or short phrases that will catch my attention if I am flipping through looking for a specific passage, or simply want to review my favorite parts.

Things like, "Community", "The Call", "University", "Death", "Water", "War"

I love books. I love how they look on big shelves or an end table or my desk. I love how their presence seems to draw you to them at times, reminding you that there is more than TV or video games. When I buy one, I buy it for a reason. I am not flippant and put a lot of consideration into my choices, because I know I will most likely keep it forever. I have no intention of selling my books or discarding them, so I see no reason to not write in them. In fact, I wish my grandfather and father and ancient relatives would have written in their books. I see it as a way of passing on our personalities, out thoughts, our reactions to others...whether that be a friend we hand the book to or our offspring.

When one of my close Point Loma friends (Jimmy) died his mother gave a couple of his books to one of our friends (Eric). Eric and I sat down one night and he showed me this gift Jimmy left behind. Jimmy didn't just underline, earmark or highlight... he WROTE. He wrote all over his books and I loved it. You could see his personality popping off the page. You could hear him saying the words. You could sense his excitement, or disdain with the author. It was one of the closest connections I have felt with him sense he died, and it changed the way I read, and wrote in books.

The awkward thing about writing my thoughts and insights about Jayber Crow in the book, or on here, is that I feel that I am somehow offending old Wendell Berry. In the front of the book, before the table of contents there is a page that says this:

Persons attempting to find a "text" in this book wil lbe
prosecuted; persons attempting to find a "subtext" it it
will be banished; persons attempting to explain, interpret,
explicate, analyze, deconstruct, or otherwise "understand"
it will be exiled to a desert island in the company only of
other explainers.


So, I will proceed in trepidation and fear, trusting he will never see my copy of the book or read this blog. I did not try to find a "text" in that book or interpret it. It has been interpreting me. I did not try to understand it. It has been helping me understand. If that gets me exiled to a desert island so be it, but I hope the other explainers there aren't the annoying ones.
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Fasting Reading - The End of an Era

I am almost finished with Jayber Crow, by Wendell Berry. I absolutely love this book. I am sure it is one of my favorites and will be one of my favorites for many years to come. It has opened my eyes to the idea that classics are still being written. As I read it, I feel that everyone else should, and that they will be missing something if they don't.

When I finish it sometime this week it will be the first book I have finished for pleasure in over 18 months. I realize that is ridiculous, but I have been fasting from reading. This fast of reading has been my way of justifying my disdain for reading after my three month immersion in reading and writing while finishing my Master's thesis in 2008. I have more accurately been fasting from reading and writing, and I sense this era must come to a close.

Reading opens my mind to new ideas and possibilities and truth and beauty and ways of living.
Writing completes the work that reading and living life begin. It helps me process and think and create and breathe deeply and reflect, and most importantly engage others in the process.

So, I am returning to both practices in some respect, although I don't know the extent yet. No goals, just a movement back toward a healthier balance of input and output.

In the past year I have read two books:
Tribes, by Seth Godin
I was asked to read this for the Big Picture Youth Ministry Training team I am a part of, and I read it all on my way to our meeting in Kansas City, and in my room the night before. It is good for what it is, which is a business book conveying how to spread your passion by finding a tribe who shares it and leading them (primarily through social media/internet outlets that are available today).

Be Out Guest, by The Disney Institute
Read this for the University. Learned a lot that we can apply to the university as a whole and the Admission office. The main thing I extracted was the value of story. I have been singing that song since I arrive, but the book and Disney World helped me understand how to take our story and find new ways to share it with those who visit us or don't visit us. Very good for any business to read as well.

BUT the best thing I have read about telling story is from Jayber Crow of course.
"Telling a story is like reaching into a granary full of wheat and drawing out a handful. There is always more to tell than can be told... there is also more than needs to be told, and more than anybody wants to hear". -Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow, pg.29

That Wendell Berry. He is so stinkin' good! He seems to hit on everything at some point!

So, 2 books for business in 2009... typical of my past year.
We'll see how that balance swings in the new year.
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