Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Book Review: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

In sports it's called the sophomore slump. A player has a great first (freshman) year and then can't live up to expectations the next. Donald Miller fully admits that after a very successful experience with Blue Like Jazz, a New York Times bestseller for 40 weeks, he went under the radar and did little more than get off the couch. Through a series of events and conversations with his roommate, Miller realized that he wasn't living a good life; he wasn't writing a great story. An avid learner and critic, Miller begins studying story in the context of films. Why? Because he's been approached to adapt his memoir into a screenplay. He's writing his own feature film, staring himself.

Donald Miller gained a nationwide following with his memoir, Blue Like Jazz, in 2003. His style of writing was refreshingly honest, critical, and insightful. But his cynicism left readers with a void and a sense of a missing component. Should we question so much of the Christian life without pursuing answers? In A Million Miles Donald Miller shows us how he has matured from a critic to an editor. He's been charged with the task of making his story work. And the story is compelling. The backdrop is a movie - Miller's life being edited for a screenplay on the big screen. But when two professional movie makers tell Miller that his story lacks some excitement, he's forced to examine his life and see if there's a better story to tell.

I was captivated by Miller's context of examining story and how it translated to his personal life. The characters he encounters and pursues will keep you riveted also. This book will be an enjoyable narrative and a challenging reflection at the same time.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Social Media Revolution

There are certain things that I really get jazzed about that others could care less about.  Most people hate Favre - I'm still a fan.  Friends and family are still using Hotmail and Yahoo - Gmail is the best.  And U2 is still the best band on the planet.

While I'm aware that my personality leans towards passion and action, I know that not everyone gets as excited as I do about certain things in life.  But some things are worthy of more attention than people give me credit for.  My career choice is to be an exercise professional.  While you may not view it as important as I do, and though you may not talk about it as much as I do, you should still do something about it.  Your health, livelihood, and quality of life depend on it.  And that's independent from me - it's just a fact.

In the same way, I don't see too many of my friends and family getting excited about Social Media (blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube).  But that doesn't mean it doesn't affect them.  Because if it doesn't now, it sure will in the future.  Many of my friends have ditched email and now message each other through Facebook.  I've been able to keep friends and family informed with my life and being a husband and father through Facebook updates and photo albums that I can share.  You can't do that with email.  I've learned to not only find information from the web but share the relevant stuff publicly with Facebook, Twitter, and my blog.  News and information is so much more personal when it's shared this way.

As you can see I'm still trying to find my voice on this.  While I may not communicate it as effectively as I'd like, the beauty of computers and the internet is sometimes I don't have to.  I came across this YouTube video last week from a friend I follow on Twitter.

I'd be very curious to hear your thoughts about Social Media after watching this clip.  It goes fast, so you may want to keep your hand on the pause button.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Giveaway: NOOMA Whirlwind

I am happy to have another giveaway this week on my blog.  As a supporter of Flannel , which produces the Nooma series, we received two copies of the latest film, Whirlwind.  What a great opportunity to give one away.

Whirlwind is about the story of Job.  In this installment, Rob Bell challenges us to think outside of our circumstance, particularly ones that aren't going our way.  Actually it's when things are really bad that we must remember our place in history, HIStory.
  • Who is the author?  
  • Who is the character?  
  • What is the dialogue?

You'll love this film.  But to get it, here's what you need to do:
  1. Post a comment below telling me what your favorite Nooma was and why.  (Comments due Saturday 10pm)
  2. Send an email to me with your address so that I can get it to you if you win. (my first name at uwalumni.com)
  3. Check back on Monday morning to see who wins.
Flannel is an excellent organization and these films have reached a lot of people.  They've created Kingdom-centered stories.  Would you consider supporting their ministry ?  (They did not solicit this plug.)  When you purchase a film, they offer a free viewing to someone who can't afford to purchase a copy.

Make the comments insightful!  Haven't seen a Nooma film before?  Tell me why you should win this video.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tweeting the NFL

I understand that not everyone is fully buying into the Social Media culture that is forming.  Forming...  it's established.  It's just a matter if you want to be a part of it.  Today I read an article talking about tv advertising being still relevant, but social media is taking "center stage".  I know plenty of my friends who shrugg this off, and that's fine.  Just remember that I mentioned it here, back on 9/22/09.

One of the most interesting developments for social media has been with Twitter and the NFL.  Players like OchoCinco have advertised their intent to Tweet during games.  The NFL has countered with adjusting their policy on Twitter and social media numerous times now. 

Where does free speech come in?  As an avid listener to sports radio, I'm hearing these stories more and more often.  And they're asking questions like this.  But what we need to remember is that the NFL is an employer.  These players are not independent contractors.  The NFL shouldn't have a problem telling players (employees) what policy will be when you're "on the clock." 

Now when a player is on their own time...  knock yourself out!  I'm a HUGE fan of behind the scenes action.  That's what makes Twitter so great.  We're getting a glimpse into certain celebrities' lives we've never seen before.  And as much as I'd love to hear sideline chats and thoughts from players during the game, during halftime, and before their interviews at their lockers, the NFL needs to stand firm in their social media policy - no Tweeting on our watch.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Benefits of Training

As I train for my third marathon, I've been able to focus less on the miles scheduled for the week and focus more on the structure of the program and it's purpose.  For those that don't know, when you're training to run 26.2 miles, you never actually run that far before the race.  One common training program (Hal Higdon) has you peak at "only" 20 miles.  And that's three weeks before the race! 

While I understood this concept in 2007 when I first did Madison Marathon, the years have allowed me to familiarize myself with the program, the design, and most importantly my body.  Having gone through the program three times now, I can confidently talk about training for a marathon with any novice runner.

Lately I've been reaping the benefits of training.  The human body is designed to be able to run 26.2 miles.  Not everyone can do this because too many of us let our bodies go.  But with proper training, I feel like I could get most people to complete a marathon.  And this is because of the power of training.  Think about training.  It's not something you figure out over night, in a week, or a month.  People take years to be properly trained on a piece of equipment or proficient at a job.

And training for a run is no different.  My marathon training program for the Lakefront (Milwaukee) Marathon on October 4th included two 20-mile runs.  This is an advanced workout that I was trying for the first time since I'm looking to improve on my run from this spring.  I'm happy to report that the first 20-miler was going so well that I extended it to 21 miles.  Then the second 20-miler was going well (training!) that I extended it to 23.5 miles.  If you haven't had the feeling of your body getting stronger, you're missing out.  

So after 17+ weeks of training, I'm tapering.  The program is set up such that your body decreases its workout load for the last two weeks of the training so that you're ready for maximal effort on race day.  I remember feeling this three days before my first marathon in 2007.  I came home from a short run and told Katie "I'm ready to go."  I could just feel my body's strength and even pent-up energy during my taper.  This was because I was used to so much higher mileage, my body was under-performing.  And that would change in three days when I would ask it to run 26.2.

When is the last time you trained for something?  It doesn't have to be a marathon.  It doesn't have to be athletic.  But when is the last time you felt yourself noticably get better or stronger in an area?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Exercise and Christianity

Since I became a fitness professional (as a personal trainer) I've made an intentional effort to practice what I preach.  It's not enough to have the knowledge to simply prescribe a workout routine for people and expect them to become healthier.  I firmly believe a good trainer needs to model a healthy lifestyle to be effective.

In addition to training, it has been my experience that I also need to have open discussions about health-related topics as a normal part of my days and relationships with people.  I want my fitness profession to be more than a job - I want it to be a significant component to my life.  So I approach relationship with the lens of "how can I be a resource and an encouragement to those with whom I interact?"

As these conversations have taken place, I've realized that my fitness profession and my Christianity have something in common.  It seems to me that these two aspects of my life can come across as over-zealous and even self-righteous.  Here's what I mean.

I admit that I don't talk about my faith as much as I should.  I've certainly had opportunities and relationships where I've been able to be more vocal, and I feel good when I can share my faith.  But the general consensus in this country and culture is that talking about Christianity comes off as 'better-than-thou.'  I hate that.  But it seems true.  Any discussion of Jesus, the Bible, my morals, or my views on family and society are interpreted as though I don't sin, I don't accept anyone else's lifestyles, I'm unforgiving, or no one lives up to my standards.  Have you ever felt unreasonably pegged and wanted to defend yourself?

Let's look at the excercise profession.  Since learning about physical and health education at the University of Wisconsin, I've realized how important health and fitness is to our culture.  Over 66% of the population is overweight - and almost half of that group is obese!  This has created a passion in me to see more individuals gain their health back and begin to feel better about themselves.  As noted above, I figure I'll be more effective if I practice what I preach, but to be honest I'd probably be doing this training even if my profession was unrelated.

But then comes my dilema.  I'm thin, I'm active, I eat very healthy (thanks to Katie) and I compete in marathons.  How does this look to those I'm trying to reach?  To some it's exactly what they'd expect.  But to others (usually the very-overweight ones) it just seems like they want to say, "Easy for you to say, Hans.  You're in great shape and I could never get to that point."  Maybe I'm reading into this or maybe I'm not bringing them along with me in the conversation.  But it sure feels like people hear me talk about fitness and just don't care or don't think it's attainable.

So my faith and my profession seem to have this in common:  when you're part of "the group" you're elite and so you must be looking down on those that aren't.  I guess at this point it's just an observation.  I don't have evidence of this and I don't have a solution.  But I believe God has called me to develop these aspects in my life and I also believe he's given me a voice and is allowing me to develop and grow that voice to work for His good.  So I'll keep pushing my agenda and practicing what I preach.

Friday, September 11, 2009

"How Could You Not?"

There are certain things you run across and say, "that's good."  This video from Donald Miller and the Mentoring Project does just that.  While I'm promoting this video, I don't mean to convey that I'm fully on board, because I'm not.  I can't right now.  But it's still an important message that needs to be heard so I'm trying to spread it.  If you like it, pass on a link to this post to someone who may sign up with the Mentoring Project.

Mentoring Spotlight - Ben and Dennis from The Mentoring Project on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

And the free book goes TO.....

The first responder, Mr. Persistance, the reader and writer himself... Mr. Jaye Barbeau.  This guy hounded me on Facebook and recruited his friends to write on his behalf - well played, Sir.  It was difficult to turn down the web-man Jeff Miles because he's helping to update my blog and take it to the next level.  Crowning him winner would have been for selfish gain.  Nice try Miles - I guess I'll have to pay those consulting fees after all.  But today all the glory goes to Jaye Barbeau. 

Thanks to everyone who commented and participated in my give-away.  Please take a moment to see if my blogging material might interest you on a weekly basis.  My blog is focusing on family, leadership, fitness/exercise, social media, and a few stories about sports.  You can subscribe and get it right to your inbox for free.

And remember - there may or may not be a NOOMA video give-away in the weeks to come.  Thanks again.

Jaye - the book is on its way.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Book Giveaway - Donald Miller's "A Million Miles"

I have recently started reviewing books for Thomas Nelson as part of their book review bloggers program.  My second title will probably be an all-time favorite - Donald Miller's "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years."  Katie and I were sitting on the porch when the UPS man pulled up with a box that was bigger than expected... because there were TWO books included!!

The publisher (CEO Michael Hyatt) thought that the book was so good that he wanted us to give away a copy to a friend.  So I've decided to have a little fun with this.  I've teased this on Facebook and Twitter for the last week and here on my blog I'll be giving away the free copy.

Here's what will happen:

  1. You post a comment at the bottom of this post telling me why you deserve the free copy.  Include your first name or an identifying title.  Get creative!!
  2. You email me your full name and address in case I choose you as the winner. (Hans@uwalumni.com OR message me on Facebook)  IMPORTANT:  include "Donald Miller book" in the subject so I can sort through them.
  3. I'll pick a winner on Wednesday night and post something on Thursday. 

If you're so inclined, please check out my blog and participate in some conversations.  Oh, did I mention I may or may not have some Nooma videos to give away later?  Shameless promotion, I know.

Book Review: Fearless by Max Lucado

Fear is simple: “I’m scared of…”  Fill in the blank.  But when we examine the dimensions of fear, we see that it can play a significant role in various aspects of our lives.  Max Lucado unpacks all the subtle places fear can attack us and what the Bible says about how we should respond.

Plain and simple: in America 2009 we have realized that things we take for granted are not as secure as we thought.  Our jobs, investments, and retirement accounts are not guaranteed anymore.  Fear slowly pushed its way in and now has hit many of us square in the jaw.  Personally I’ve never felt uncertainty (in the job market) like this season I’m in.  I’m glad for Max’s words to investigate and remember what Jesus had to say about trusting him.  In classic Lucado fashion, Fearless shows us how Christians should respond to different fears in our lives.  Do we ultimately bring all things to Jesus?  Of course we should... And what a reassuring message when so many practical aspects of our lives, from career to money to family to death, are infected with fear.

I've included a video of Max talking about Fearless.

For more books by Thomas Nelson Publishing, visit their website.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Reviewing Books

A few months back I stumbled upon a blog by Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing.  Somewhere in there I found out that they have a blogger review program.  The idea is that they ship you an advanced copy of a book in return for a book review that you post on your blog, their website, and at least one commercial site (such as Amazon).  Well I'm always a fan of free stuff and I figured it would be a good way to add some goals to my reading habit and challenge me in my writing hobby.

The first book I received was Fearless by Max Lucado.  I've read a few of Max's books, so I knew what to expect.  But what convinced me to choose this book was Hyatt's raving review of the book - that it was one of the most timely books written considering the state of our nation.  And did I mention it was free?  I'll be reviewing the book Tuesday morning, so please check out the review and post a comment of you're so inclined - the publishers will appreciate your feedback and attention.

I've already got the next book - it's by one of my favorite authors, Donald Miller.  His new book is entitled A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.  I'm so excited to read this because Katie has already stole my copy and is at page 190 in less than 48 hours!  Michael Hyatt liked the book so much that he included a second copy so that we could give one away, so I'll be giving away a free copy on my blog on Tuesday September 8th.  Stay tuned if you're interested!

Friday, September 04, 2009

Twitter: What Has Your Attention

I am a huge fan of Twitter.  But many people I talk to are still confused about what it is and why someone would do it.  Twitter originally (and probably still) asked users, "What are you doing?"  And this is why I get so much negative feedback about Twitter - because that's such a self-centered question.  People ask me, "Why are you so important that people want to know what you had for lunch today?"

That's their best response:  Who cares what you're eating right now or that you're at the gas station...

I agree!!  Who CARES!?!?!

Why Twitter?  When you give Twitter a couple weeks of your time, at only 5 minutes per day, you'll see how it can be so addicting.  Personally, I follow people interested in business, leadership, exercise, and social media.  These are all interests of mine and I can instantly get information that is relevant to my life.  You see, instead of using Twitter to answer the question "what are you doing", the people I follow are basically commenting on "what has your attention right now."  Do you see the difference?  The later question means we're sharing information about interests, not necessarily ME.

The other thing that non-Twitter users don't understand is how quickly we can filter through unnecessary tweets.  Especially on my iPod touch, I can page right through a handful of people's tweets depending on how much time I have at that particular moment.  I can also add tweets to my favorites so I can go back later when I have more time and read further.

Have I peaked your interest?  As with email, Facebook, and even talking to people on the phone, Twitter can be used as much or as little as you want.  I'm not a slave to Twitter - I use it as a tool.  And it can be a powerful tool for information, ideas, research, and relationships if use it right.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

First 30 pages of Donald Miller's New Book

Currently I'm using my blog as an extension of my reading on Twitter and the blogs that I follow. Donald Miller is beginning to promote his new book, which I'll be reviewing for Nelson Publishing and posting here on the Game Plan.

Did you read Blue Like Jazz? Great memoir of Don's, a must-read. Are you excited for his next book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years? If so, here's the first 30 pages to get you started.

A Million Miles In A Thousand Years by Donald Miller