Step Back from the Baggage Claim by Jason Barger

I must admit I am a bit sheepish about posting this review.  You know those books you really want to like? Recommended by a friend or co-worker. Picked by your book club and praised by everyone.  A bunch of five star reviews at Goodreads and Amazon.  Step Back from the Baggage Claim was that kind of book for me. Or in this case, picked by my church for use in a Sunday school class and whose author came to speak at our fellowship dinner. Everyone on the Adult Education Council was supposed to read it. So I decided to do so.

It all seemed so innocent at first, slightly interesting in fact:

Ever experienced the way small moments impact our lives? Ever wanted to participate in a movement to change our world? Step back, Be Still, Share Compassion, Live Gratefully. Today, travel gracefully along your path! Step Back from the Baggage Claim. Jason Barger spent seven straight days flying 6,548 miles to seven different cities living only in the airports the entire time. He studied 10,000 minutes of observations at all four corners of the U.S. and reflected on how our airport experiences can teach us about our lives TODAY. The airport metaphor leaps to life through profound anecdotes about an orphanage in Mexico, a summer camp in Ohio, bamboo, the homeless, climbing Mt. Everest, a hotdog grill, and much more. The funny and inspiring stories remind us how to change our daily world through thoughtful and compassionate action! Join the movement.

My reaction after having read it? Meh.  While the airport hook is creative the overall book is just too full of truisms and cliches for my taste.

To be fair, the book was published in 2008 so perhaps the ideas have become a part of culture and somehow seem less fresh now, but the idea that we need to step back, get a fresh perspective and change the world one small step at a time is far from original or insightful. Barger is ernest and well meaning but offers little in the way of concrete advice on doing the hard work involved in real change and instead offers sugar coated platitudes and quotes from favorite authors.

And to add another caveat, I am not the audience for this type of book despite my intentions prior to reading it. I really dislike what I often call Christian psycho-babble. The psychological/spiritual self-help book with a thin patina of Christianity.  Barger is not really quite in this territory but he wanders very close.

Mind you, there was nothing objectionable or wrong about Barger’s advice or writing, and he has an impressive background in charitable work, it just lacked-for me anyways-any sharp insights or real depth. It had the feel of a book Oprah might hype but with a soft Christian thread.

After having read it I can’t think of a single insight or nugget that wasn’t commonplace (even if very hard to practice).  Here are the nuggets he wants you to take away from each chapter:

Step Back
Gain Perspective and Create Space for Others

You Are Now Free to Move about the Cabin
Practice Stillness in This Moment

Ministry of Availability
Share Compassion with Those Along Your Journey

Embrace SkyMall
Celebrate an Ethic of Creativity

Take Flight
Put a Grateful Spirit into Action


Again, none of this is bad advice or wrong or anything.  But if any of those things were easy a lot of people would be practicing them! Barger makes some good, if obvious points, in a creative and earnest way but you are stil left with the fact that putting this into practice is much more difficult that he makes it appear. It has the sense that if we all just tried a little harder the world would be a happier place. That is a Coke commercial not a serious argument.

Perhaps my expectations were too high and this is overly harsh but this book struck me as warm fuzzies dressed up as hard truths.

But as I am found of saying around here, your mileage may very.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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