Tag Archives: Reading

A book and a movie

I handed in a paper today, one which has been looming over my semester, bogging me down, for several weeks now. Contrary to what I had expected, the “loominosity” hasn’t lifted.  This might be because the paper was fairly open-ended, so I had to set boundaries to it which seemed somewhat arbitrary to me.  It feels incomplete, but it probably would feel that way no matter how long I worked on it. So I handed it in.

Maybe that looming feeling relates to something else. Whatever it is, I don’t like it.

Maybe it’s the time of year. Strangely enough, I find early spring kind of depressing and bittersweet.  The melting snow, the mud, the cool temperatures.  I went for a bit of a walk the other day which was actually uplifting.  Maybe in spring my soul longs for solitude. Maybe that’s it.

Anyway, last week I managed to watch one of the Academy Award contenders for Best Picture: A Serious Man. It’s a modern retelling of the story of Job and the film is as open-ended as that Biblical book (as well as their film, No Country for Old Men). But the lack of clarity or resolution is, I suspect, partly the point of the story, so it didn’t frustrate me as it might have.  It’s a darkly funny film and the acting is terrific.  It’s entertaining and thought-provoking and bears repeated viewing.  4/5 stars.

Also, last week I read most of James Smith’s Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church. It was an excellent book, which argued for what has been called “ancient-future” worship: appropriating the traditions and practices of the ancient (or even simply premodern) church into a postmodern context.  Smith is a proponent of “Radical Orthodoxy“, which is a position he argues for in the book, and he has piqued my interest in that movement.

My only critique of the book is that it focuses too much on the “emerging” church and the “postmodern” church, which, in my mind, seems to pin the movement to an “ism” rather than as an authentic form of church without strict ideological allegiances (such as “we are a postmodern church”). However, I suspect that one of the reasons he insists on doing this is because part of function of the book is a critique the so-called “postmodern church” which Smith argues is actually thoroughly modern (simply a revamped version of the “seeker sensitive” model).

I highly recommend this book, particularly for those who are skeptical of postmodern thought and its relation to the Christianity and the church.

Knowing God

The experiential reality of perceiving God is unfamiliar territory today.  The pace and preoccupation of urbanized, mechanized, collectivized, secularized modern life are such that any sort of inner life…is very hard to maintain…And if you attempt it, you will certain seem eccentric to your peers, for nowadays involvement in a stream of activities is decidedly in, and the older idea of a quiet, contemplative life is just as decidedly out…The concept of a Christian life as sanctified rush and bustle still dominates, and as a result, the experiential side of Christian holiness remains very much a closed book.  (J.I. Packer, quoted in Bruce Demarest’s Satisfy Your Soul)


From Girl Meets God:

I have written [in my prayer book] this, from Diana Eck’s Encountering God:

The Latin credo means literally “I give my heart.”  The word believe is a problematic one today, in part because it has gradually changed its meaning from being the language of certainty so deep that I could give my heart to it, to the language of uncertainty so shallow that only the “credulous” would rely on it.  Faith…is not about propositions, but about commitment. It does not mean that I intellectually subscribe to the following list of statements, but that I give my heart to this reality. Believe, indeed, comes to us from the Old English belove, making clear that this too is meant to be heart language.  To say, “I believe in Jesus Christ” is not to subscribe to an uncertain proposition.  It is a confession of commitment, of love.

And then on the first page of my prayer book, a quotation from the Gospel of Mark: “Lord, I believe; Help thou mine unbelief.”

Once, when we were still dating, Steven read aloud to me from an obscure British novel…he read a scene in which a believer and a cynic are debating God. Of course I know you believe in it, the cynic says, what I want to know is do you believe in it the way you believe in Australia? Some days, I believe the Christian story even more than I believe in Australia…

Living the Christian life, however, is not really about that Australia kind of believing.  It is about a promise to believe even when you don’t. After all, when I stand up in church to say the Creed, it may well be that that very morning I didn’t really know for sure that some fifteen-year-old-virgin got pregnant with a baby who was really God.  Saying the Creed is like vowing to love your bride forever and ever.  That vow is not a promise to feel goopy and smitten every morning for the rest of your life.  It is a promise to live love, even, especially, when you don’t feel anything other than annoyance and disdain. (Lauren Winner, Girl Meets God, p. 268-269)

This reminds me of a couple of things I’ve quoted here before:

The goal of faith is not to create a set of immutable, rationalized, precisely defined and defendable beliefs to preserve forever.  It is to recover a relationship with God.  (Daniel Taylor, The Myth of Certainty)


major theories in the areas of mathematics, physics, and psychology…involve a prior decision as to what is fundamental in the area studied… All of them rest on fundamental assumptions which can be questioned.  But the questioning, if it is to be rational, has to rely on other fundamental questions which can in turn be questioned.  It follows…that there can be no knowing without personal commitment.  We must believe in order to know. (Leslie Newbiggin, Proper Confidence)

What makes you think…

One day, for no apparent reason, a young man’s horse ran away and was taken by nomads across the border.  Everyone tried to offer consolation for the man’s bad fortune, but his father, a wise man, said, “What makes you so sure this is not a blessing?”

Months later, his horse returned, bringing with her a magnificent stallion.  This time everyone was full of congratulations for th son’s good fortune.  But now his father said, “What makes you so sure this isn’t a disaster?”

There household was made richer by this fine horse the son loved to ride.  But one day he fell off his horse and broke his hip. Once again, everyone offered their consolation for his bad luck, but his father said, “What makes you so sure this is not a blessing?”  A year later nomads invaded across the border, and every able-bodied man was required to take up his bow and go into battle. The Chinese families living on the border lost nine of every ten men.  Only because the some was lame did father and son survive to take care of each other. (Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, pp. 129-130)


Nearly forgot that today marks 6 years of the Eagle & Child.  I should have saved yesterday’s post for today, because I don’t have much to say.

We had Madeline’s friend party today. 12 kids running around screaming for 2 hours. (Thankfully we used one of the school’s banquet rooms.) Too much.  I think that marks me as an introvert, doesn’t it?  Or does that kind of crazy affect even the most extroverted of extroverts.

Otherwise, a relaxing day.

Happy blogiversary to me.

Yesterday I purchased an unusual book: A Life in the Bush: Lessons Learned from my Father. I stumbled upon it while browsing the books section at theglobeandmail.com. Every so often I want like to try something different to read. (If I never did that, I wouldn’t have discovered Bill Bryson or P.G. Wodehouse.)  This one is a memoir written by the son of a man who lived most of his life in Ontario’s Algonquin Park. I was planning to read The Culture of Fear, but I may just put everything else aside for now and read it instead.

You are accepted.

The word of the day is “Hunkered”, as I have been hunkered down in a private study room in the library for most of the day.  I’m working on a paper for Christian Ethics. Actually, it’s a letter written to my church tradition (which happens to be a a mutt) as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, drawing exclusively from his Ethics. Ethics is a rather deep book–you might say it’s meaty, like a thick steak.  It’s loaded with promise, but I’ve felt like I’ve just been on the borders of understanding it for most of the semester.  My task is difficult not only because the format for this paper is unusual, but also because of the nature of this particular book and this particular theologian.

But: the coffee I made before 10a.m. this morning is still hot in the Thermos, I’ve got some soft classical music playing on BBC Radio 3, and I’m making some headway.  I think. At least, I’m beginning to fill the allotted space, which at this point in the semester, quite frankly, is all that I ask for.

And so I offer you this tasty morsel from Bohoeffer’s magnum opus:

In the [physical] body of Jesus Christ, God is united with humankind, all humanity is accepted by God, and the world is reconciled to God. In the body of Jesus Christ, God took on the sin of the world and bore it. There is no part of the world, no matter how lost, no matter how godless, hat has not been accepted by God in Jesus Christ and reconciled to God. Whoever perceives the body of Jesus Christ in faith can no longer speak of the world as if it were lost, as if it were separated from God; they can no longer separate themselves in clerical pride from the world. The world belongs to Christ.

…in the body of Christ [i.e. the church] all humanity is accepted, included, and borne, and that the church-community of believers is to make known to the world by word and life. This means not being separated from the world, but cfalling the world into the community of the body of Christ to which the world in truth already belongs…. The church-community is separated from the world only by this: it believes in the reality of being accepted by God–a reality that belongs to the whole world–and in affirming this as valid for itself it witnesses that it is valid for the entire world. (Ethics, p. 66-68)

You–whoever you are–are accepted by God.

On defending God (from the archives)

I’m looking for inspiration for a reflective-type paper by rummaging through some old posts on faith and church. I stumbled upon this post from August, 2004, when my blog was not even a year old.  It’s a quote from Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. It’s a good one–I have thought of it many times since, but had forgotten from whence it came.


There are always those who take it upon themselves to defend God, as if Ultimate Reality, as if the sustaining frame of existence, were something weak and helpless. These people walk by a widow deformed by leprosy begging for a few paise, walk by children dressed in rags living in the street, and they think, “Business as usual.” But if they perceive a slight against God, it is a different story. Their faces go red, their chests heave mightily, they sputter angry words. The degree of their indignation is astonishing. Their resolve is frightening.

These people fail to realize that it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside. They should direct their anger at themselves. For evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out. The main battlefield for good is not in the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart. Meanwhile, the lot of widows and homeless children is very hard, and it is to their defense, not God’s, that the self-righteous should rush. (Life of Pi, Yann Martel, p.78)

It’s interesting that he uses the term “Ultimate Reality”, which is Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s view of God.  This paper (well, it’s actually a letter) which I’m writing is to draw exclusively on Bonhoeffer’s Ethics. In fact, it is to be written from Bonhoeffer’s perspective–as Bonhoeffer.  It makes me a bit nervous.

Why shouldn’t the prophecies prove true?

“Then the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!” said Bilbo.

“Of course!” said Gandalf. “And why should not they prove true? Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!”

“Thank goodness!” said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar.

(from The Hobbit).

Just finished reading The Hobbit to Madeline.  It took many weeks.  She loved it.

The Psalms

A couple of weeks ago Madeline walked into our room at 7:00 a.m. and came to my side of the bed. She said, “Dad, have you read Psalm 91? It’s really good.”  She had woken us up, so I mumbled something about “Probably” and “I’ll read it when I got up.” I wish now I had just sat up and paid attention, because she was so excited. It was as if she’d made amazing discovery.  I have no idea how she landed on that particular Psalm.  Probably a random choice.  She had read it on her own in the wee hours of the morning and was thrilled by it.

After we got up I read the Psalm and she told me how much she loves the Psalms.  I was thrilled by her excitement. Still am.  What’s remarkable is that we did not directly influence her to do this; we did not suggest that, “Hey, why don’t you try reading something from the Bible some time.” And if we had, we most likely wouldn’t have suggested a 6-year-old start with the Psalms. Her grandma gave her a Bible a couple of years ago and she just decided one morning recently that she would read it.

The other day I decided that it was time that I give Bible reading after supper another go. I tried a couple of years ago, but it was chaos: the kids didn’t listen and I just got frustrated and angry.  But it seems to be going well now–Madeline, at any rate, has the spark of scriptural interest in her (again, through shamefully little direct influence from us), Luke can be convinced to at least sit quietly, and Olivia just copies Luke. There are varying degrees of comprehension happening at the table, but comprehension isn’t really the point. I think it’s good for them to just hear the stories.

For whatever reason, I chose the story of Joseph. I had forgotten that it goes on for a number of chapters, but that’ s just as well. Maybe I can stretch it out until the Advent season. I wasn’t sure what to do with the bit about Potiphar’s wife looking at Joseph “lustfully” and trying to seduce him, not knowing what sort of questions would arise out of that episode. Luke and Olivia were oblivious and Madeline just took it in stride.  I explained and editorialized the text more than I probably should have. It’s easy to worry too much about what our children hear, but if I believe these words are somehow divine, should I censor them or should I just let them go? Did the Isrealites censor their stories for their children? Who knows.

I have a very low-church upbringing, but the other day I taught the kids about concluding the reading of a passage of scripture with “The word of the Lord” and the appropriate response. That night Madeline suggested that she could read a Psalm every night with the Bible story.  So tonight I read about Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams and then Madeline read Psalm 1.  She did very well.

When she finished reading, I said, “The word of the Lord.”

And Madeline said, “Ummm…Thanks be to God!”

And that just warms the cockles of my heart.

Social commentary

I received in the mail today a book entitled The Culture of Fear.  Its subtitle is, “Why Americans are Afraid of the Wrong Things,” and its sub-subtitle (following the colon after the subtitle), “Crime, Drugs, Minorities, Teen Moms, Killer Kids, Mutant Microbes, Plan Crashes, Road Rage, & So Much More”.  A veritable mouthful.

The book has been on my wishlist for some time now, but with all the craziness and confusion surrounding H1N1.*  I thought it would be a good time to read the book (over Christmas hopefully).

This book belongs in the category of sociology, which is becoming a bit of a hobby interest of mine, in terms of reading.  “Social commentary” might be a better term; it sounds less clinical and academic. Or maybe “Cultural Studies”. But I digress.

I’ve read a  couple of interesting books in this category: Bill McKibben’s The Age of Missing Information; Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation; and Ferenc Mate’s Reasonable LifeTo an extent the books of Bill Bryson fit into this category, as do the films The Corporation and Supersize Me.

Other books of this nature I’ve picked up over the years (but have not yet read):

Some of these books may be a getting a bit too close to the genre of conspiracy theory (I’m thinking in particular ofTrust Us, We’re Experts), but sociology/social commentary is a broad genre, I think, and includes the likes of both Michael Moore (on the left–also, arguably, a conspiracy theorist) and people not so on the left (I had an example earlier in the day, but it escapes me now).

The Culture of Fear should be an interesting read.  I’ll let you know.**
*including, apparently, the suggestion that I’m being selfish if I don’t get vaccinated: so now it’s not just the fear of the flu, but also the fear of how people perceive me!
**Of course, it’s the middle of November, so by the time Christmas rolls around I may have different reading plans–such as reading next semester’s books in advance!