In my 20s, after sending out nearly 500 resumes for an entry-level urban planning position, I eventually managed to get the job. I felt like a celebrity—I had a title, a purpose—what every kid imagines when asked the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” But a decade later, I found myself stuck in a middle management position, facing a recession and wondering how I was going to survive as a financial provider to my wife and children.
These memories come flooding back to me each time I watch the popular TV show “The Office,” a laugh-trackless situation comedy that delves into the mundane lives of office employees at the fictional Dunder-Mifflin Paper Company. Now in its fourth season, the show—headlined by comic genius Steve Carell of Evan Almighty fame—is one of the most successful half hours on television.
Anyone working in a cubicle will recognize the petty complaints, the power hierarchy, and the office politics that get intertwined with the relationships of those who share the water cooler.
Carell plays fast talking boss, Michael Scott. Michael cares little for his employees but gives lip service to his loyalty in front of an omnipresent camera—representing the audience or, some might argue, some kind of deity that keeps Scott in check. The sad, bored-looking employees put up with Scott’s antics with passive resignation. The show, laden with sarcasm and behavior that might make some squeamish, is not for everyone.
Nevertheless, I find myself drawn to the story line, waiting to see how these people are able to cope and yet add value to the lives of those around them. We can all relate, in our jobs or even our own church community.
When asked what he or she wants to be, I am confident that no child will ever respond, “I want to be in middle management, wondering whether my job is going to be phased out.” “The Office” reveals that no matter our circumstances, we have value and can make a difference to the lives of those around us—even when the boss is an idiot.
After the Baby Boomersby Robert Wuthnow
reviewed by Robert N. HosackSociologist Wuthnow deftly examines research data and concludes, “If I were a religious leader, I would be troubled by the facts and figures currently describing the [spiritual] lives of young Americans . . . .” This should be a wake-up call to all on the frontlines of ministry. Today’s young adults’ tendency to postpone marriage and children is the biggest social factor contributing to their declining church attendance—impacting both mainliners and evangelicals. Social structures erected by churches for children and teens must emerge anew for young adults during their formative decades of decision-making. (Princeton University Press)
Amish Graceby Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt, and David L. Weaver-Zercher
reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen FeddemaOn Oct. 2, 2006, a gunman shot 10 schoolgirls in Nickel Mines, Pa., shattering the myth that “the Old Order Amish remain isolated from the problems of the larger world.” However, the biggest surprise was that the Amish so quickly extended forgiveness to the killer’s family. With clarity and compassion, the authors spell out the reasons: faith in God, scriptural mandates, and their history of persecution. For these deeply religious people forgiveness is “not simply an option but an enduring expectation.” (Jossey-Bass)
reviewed by Elizabeth GonzalezFronted by Irish expatriate Ben Kyle, Romantica is not your typical folk/Americana band of horns and guitars. Quick beats and minor chords surround “Fiona,” a discarded romance in the middle of Belfast bombings. “Queen of Hearts” is an ironic but lighthearted song about the joys and hazards of relationships. America covers Mexico and Ireland, yet melds with Southern charm for a unique reminder of the country’s immigrant and religious history. Unlike most pop albums, it balances dark and light, reflecting hope despite loss. (2024 Records)
Elijah of Buxtonby Christopher Paul Curtis
reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen FeddemaEleven-year-old Elijah is recognized as being the first child born into freedom in the Buxton, Ontario, settlement of runaway slaves. He’s also known for being fragile, crying openly when terrified by things that don’t seem to scare others. When his friend is cheated by a man whom Elijah trusts, Elijah wrestles with his fears. He follows the thief into dangerous American territory, risking being captured and enslaved. Candid, yet hopeful, this exciting juvenile novel portrays a unique community. (Scholastic Canada)
www.GodTube.com reviewed by Ron VandenBurgFast-growing website GodTube offers Christians an option for finding comedy bits, sermons, and amateur videos that can encourage the viewer or make them cringe. Professional Christian performers have quickly taken to uploading their latest songs or speaking engagements. This Christian copycat of YouTube puts a public face on churchgoers, warts and all, for the online community.
Relevant reviewed by Phil Christman Jr.It’d be easy to call Relevant a news-and-lifestyle magazine for the so-called emergent church. Easy, but wrong. Along with the glossy photos and inevitable references to Bono, you’ll find uplifting personal writing grounded in Scripture and solid reporting on global poverty; the writers’ concern for social justice is real, though they try so hard to avoid partisanship that they seem wishy-washy at times. This magazine honestly confronts the temptations—greed, apathy—facing North American 20-somethings.
It’s Here: Grammy winning gospel singer CeCe Winans releases her latest album, Thy Kingdom Come, the first of this month. (EMI)
Mother’s Day (or any day): Looking for a unique gift? Check out www.etsy.com, where artisans around the world sell handmade goods.
Barrier-Free Breaks: Candy B. Harrington’s latest book, 101 Accessible Vacations, is sure to inspire wheelchair travelers! (Demos Medical)