Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Review: Soul Cravings – Erwin Raphael McManus

This work is an apologetic that assumes acceptance of the idea that the totality of faith is greater than the sum of its parts. Therefore what characterise it as being different from usual apologetics is that it does not seek to be reductionist with faith. Reductionist techniques seek to provide a response to questions and objections of the secular world; faith to McManus is the greatest longing of the human soul, spirit, emotion, mentality, and this is where he begins and grows his exposition of faith.

The book is written in four movements of journal entries under headings of 'Cravings', 'Destiny', 'Meaning' and finally 'Seek'. The book is not difficult to read, and flows easily in conversational style.

It took this reader two thirds of the work to begin to gain much from it. This bothered to a great extent and despite good willed intentions of the writer it looked as though this book was going to be ranked lower rather than higher. But as it was further read, the work began to open up my mind and soul and to recognise that when reading an emotive exploration one must accept that it cannot speak to every person all the time.

Through reading over the book you may need to reapply known learnings and already held understandings but eventually you will find a gem that grows you further. It was only in the fourth movement, its title 'Seek' in hindsight speaks exactly to this, the purpose of book became clear. The book is to encourage journeying in faith, if you have not yet begun it tells you to get started, if you have been a believer for a lifetime it tells you to keep searching and not be satiated with where your understanding is.

There is one major weakness. For the purposes of this work the level use of scripture quotations is appropriate, however I believe McManus does let himself down in trying to meet his objectives by quoting far too many philosophical statements. Statements requiring the reader to be either highly educated in niche topics such as classic literature, philosophy and history or be alienated by the work. When you are trying to appeal to the inner being of everyone, such alienation could be fatal to their continued reading.

Tangible apologetics of someone like Lee Strobel, where objectivity is prided and designed to respond to known objections are provided, remain required; however such a work does sit neatly beside reminding you that even though you may know everything, by definition God is God and always going to greater than human understanding. But you can still have faith, according to McManus, without answer to every question because your inner being wants it so much. Tennis Balls.

Cover Image thanks to

Friday, December 23, 2011

Review: What a Ride – An Australian Pursuit of the Tour De France – Rupert Guinness

I think the difficulty for Rupert Guinness (an incredibly talented wordsmith on this most gruelling of sports) is that in the past 25 years that he has covered Le Tour, thanks largely to his own impeccable efforts, Australian sporting fans have become all too familiar with it. No longer is this a totally foreign event raced by very few outside of continental Europe, it has become an Australian obsession each July. No longer are highlights packages wedged into unholy hours on television, but front and centre every night as Mum, Dad and the kids sit down for tea.

This book by Guinness are his perspectives, memories and hindsight reflections from a year in year out love affair he has had with the event since the mid-1980s. Guinness over this time has elevated himself not just in the eyes of the Australian cycling fan fraternity but in the eyes of the tour as a whole.

The book is actually more a memoir of Guinness' time as a cycling journalist, centred around the one race every year that everyone really cares about. The sophistication of his writing methods, connection to those in and around the peloton, and his courage in tackling stories front-on grow with each passing years description of what he got up to during July.

Because of our increasing familiarity with the tour, and its marathon rather than sprint character, we have all been granted time and space to become couch bound experts on just what each rider is doing, planning to do, or should have done. The stories in the book therefore are all too familiar and repetitive, and shed no further insight on what occurred in the race.

There are a couple of redeeming features that make the work worthwhile for the more passionate cycling fan to have a copy of it on their bookshelf. Firstly, Guinness does not just focus on the Australian riders who have become our staple diet. O'Grady, McEwan, Evans, Stephens and Anderson all receive pages of description on their heroics, but lesser known guys happy to have just been in the event in the first place such as Scott Sunderland, Allan Peiper, and Matt White are extolled also and provide the reader with a more rounded education of how Australia has grown to be a major force in providing talent to the tour.

Secondly, that the Australian sports journalism landscape is dominated by craftsperson's who have cut their teeth writing on football (be it any code) the tendency for them to miss the point of cycling stories or just describe them poorly is common. Guinness comes from this background also (Rugby Union) however his immersion in the sport of cycling has him better placed to write comment on difficult issues such as doping, and his rhetoric is enjoyable and far more enlightened than others. Marbles.

Note: The book finishes at the conclusion of 2010s tour, therefore does not include description of Cadel Evans' General Classification win in 2011.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Review: Finding Faith: A Search for What is Real – Brian McLaren

Carved away from the extended work “Finding Faith” which includes “A Search For What Makes Sense” this is Brian McLaren's work for the person like me – easily at home with discussing the theoretical, the abstract, the measurable, but who struggles to take faith to heart, to feel faith, to live faith naturally not cerebrally.

McLaren is a post-modernist thinker on evangelistic Christianity. Such labels mean little, simply my opinion from reading only these words of him is that he is a man who possesses one of the greatest desires I have experienced to deepen his complete knowledge (heart and head) of the human condition. While he has a strongly rooted biblical theology the tone and direction he takes his discussion of why his heart tells him his Christian faith is not exclusive, but inclusive.

Cover Image thanks to
In a world where more and more we are driven to categorise everything so to control and manage it is far easier to talk about the 'what' than the 'why'. Here lies what I believe the aim of McLaren's work is to this world. What is stated may still be correct to ones mind, but without ones heart the message will have no effect.

McLaren's technique's and application (or facilitation may be a better word) of Christian principles will grate with those who have had little experience (or desire) to move beyond binary approaches to faith, but this is their loss and not McLaren's fault. Though he may be accused of being, he is not a theological lightweight nor a populist. The discussion is rooted in scripture and does not shirk difficulties.

This work drew me out of the cerebral and excited my heart. I could read it 10 times over and remain challenged however its purpose is not to draw consensus, but to push further exploration. My first taste of McLaren's offerings and I will return again – Basketballs.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Admin: Welcome to the new-look BwB

Welcome to Books with Balls' new look!  We decided after nearly a year that our former theme and presentation was due for an overhaul.  If you like our new look, let us know by commenting below!

Book review: Basketball Junkie, by Chris Herren and Bill Reynolds

Over the past twenty years the NBA has a remarkable success rate at weeding out drug addicts. In the mid-eighties, the league instituted a three-strikes policy aimed at ridding the league of the American popular image of '70s pro basketball: that of overpaid and over-coked players who cared more about fighting than defense. Several of the league's top talents fell victim to nose candy in the 1980s: David "Skywalker" Thompson and Walter "The Greyhound" Davis managed to sustain effective NBA careers. However, guys like Chris Washburn, Richard Dumas and Roy Tarpley - I could name a dozen more off the top of my head - couldn't, and found themselves banished to eternal European ball.

Of all of these players, the one common denominator was talent. Each of them, from Thompson, who could have been the best player in the game, to Washburn, who was drafted third in 1986, was supremely gifted and capable of multiple All-Star games. Many were unable to control their habit, let alone sufficiently enough to function at NBA levels.

The same could be said of Chris Herren, one of the best ballers ever to come out of New England. His memoir "Basketball Junkie" portrays the life of an athlete blessed with talent, but cursed with addiction.
Herren was born to be a basketball star, and followed his brother as one of the greatest players in the history of Durfee High School, a storied Massachusetts basketball programme. At sixteen, he was so good - and messed up by "maturing" in small, working class Fall River - he was the subject of the best-seller "Fall River Dreams". The book, by journalist Bill Reynolds (with whom Herren collaborated in writing Basketball Junkie), reported the licence afforded teen athletes in a town where basketball is king.

Chris Herren managed to play two NBA seasons around the the time of the last NBA lockout. I use the verb "managed" because he did played while fighting, and eventually succumbing to, addiction to alcohol and opiates (including oxycontin and heroin). That he had the talent to play basketball was for a time perhaps his one saving grace, even though it was no longer a game for him: it was expectation, pressure and success. At his leve, playing basketball - in Denver, Boston, Italy, Turkey, China or Iran - meant he had the money to buy the drugs he needed to function.

There are two striking features of Herren's memoir: how easy it is to slip from "partying" to addiction; and secondly, simply, how functionally dependent he (and by extension, other addicts) became on opiates. What started as "Hey, I'd like to party with you" turned into mailing packages of Oxycontin to hotels he would be staying at on road trips so he could sustain his NBA form - and pay cheque. Herren wasn't addicted to getting high, but his body so craved the gear that he was completely unable to function without it. Graphic descriptions of withdrawal symptoms and his fear of both those symptoms and his future make for compelling and memorable reading.

His yearlong spell as a Celtic is effectively a haze, as it was for him at the time. He writes about how he could obtain drugs in almost any setting, from deepest, darkest China and Iran to flying into Providence airport, finding a dealer and then flying out again. The lengths he went to in order to score - like driving around Fall River with a needle in his arm and his baby daughter in the back seat.

He writes frankly about substance abuse beginning in his teen years to final, gut-wrenching, sobriety in 2008. This should-be joyous occasion, isn't so much celebrated as Championship victory but, in typical Herren matter-of-fact fashion, describes the rehab facility and every fearsome slip he made throughout.  You can sense some of the hallmarks of rehab in his words: ownership, reality and an almost total lack of astonishment at his past.

 The rehab process is depicted with the same grit and fear characterising the rest of the narrative. There is only one epiphany, the choice he describes as leading him to the choice he says all recovering addicts have to make in order to survive.  There's no trophy at the end of this longest season, only normalcy most take for granted.

This isn't a basketball book. Because Chris Herren scored more in back streets than in the NBA, it's an addict's memoir where the author is also good at basketball. There's little doubt in the reader's mind he would have been in a similar, but less fiscal, situation had basketball not taken him out of Fall River. The young Herren didn't dream of the Lakers, but Durfee High School and State championships.

To lose one's independence is a frightening thought; in fact, it may be the very concept people fear most. To become utterly dependent on a chemical is even more of a scary concept. Basketball Junkie tells how Chris Herren became totally dependent and later details the factors which allowed him to regain his life

Basketball Junkie is dirty, honest and frightening. Basketballs.