Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Author: Beverly Lewis
Publisher: Bethany House
Genre: Christian romance
In The Brethren, the third and final book in the Annie’s People series, Beverly Lewis continues to give her readers what they have found irresistible in her previous best-selling books. Set amongst the Amish in Paradise, Pennsylvania , the book opens with main character Annie Zook at odds with her strict father, preacher Jesse Zook, and living away from home. The fact that she has chosen to stay with her banned friend Essie (Esther Hochstetler) to help look after Essie and Zeke’s four children while Zeke is being held in jail after confessing to a murder makes the rift all the more galling to the elder Zook.
As is typical in Lewis’s books, more than one serpent has found its way into the Amish paradise. Under the settlement’s idyllic surface are misunderstandings, grudges, and secrets that even strict rules and authoritarian leaders can’t keep hidden forever. The result is a twisty plot that raises questions like did Zeke actually commit that murder, who is Ben Martin really, and will Annie make peace with her father and remain a plain woman or follow her heart to pursue her beloved art and become the fancy wife of her English beau?
Characters play an important part in this story. (As someone who hasn’t read the first two books in the series, I must admit the large cast of them, many of whom were introduced in earlier volumes, had me a little confused, though with close attention I got them all straight.) Main character Annie is a vital young woman who doesn’t always understand herself, is impulsive and strong willed yet hard-working, thoughtful, and kind. Zeke, in his mentally disturbed state is an interesting study. Preacher Jesse Zook seems the most complex character. While unyielding in his rigid stance toward Annie, he is demonstrably tender with his wife and shows a largeness of character at the end of the book that took me by surprise. Off-site characters Lou and Ben provide an interesting non-Amish viewpoint of Paradise.
The setting is also integral to these books about the Amish. Lewis, obviously familiar with their home and farm routines, describes these in satisfying detail, giving readers a sense of living in this picturesque and simple place. Yet even here progress is making inroads – though the juxtaposition of cell phones and automobiles with Amish life did feel a little bizarre. Lewis introduces just enough Amish-isms into the conversation of her Paradise characters (“Wonderful gut,” “purty,” “Ain’t so” etc) to keep them feeling authentic throughout.
Romance is woven through this book, as is the exploration of other relationships – parent-child and husband-wife. The ability and willingness of the Amish to forgive is a theme that plays a big part in the resolution of several of the story’s threads. As is typical in Lewis’s books, the Christian faith and its outworking is also a theme that remains front and center. In The Brethren there is a clash of the Amish belief system versus beliefs more in sync with a personal and literal interpretation of the Bible. Various characters risk being misunderstood and even banned by turning to evangelical ways. In the end, Lewis seems to come down on the side of having both – the outward simple lifestyle plus a personal though secret faith, as expressed by Annie and her beau: “They’d made a secret pact, vowing to live out their days with their eyes fixed on the Lord Jesus.”
If you’ve read the other two book in this series, The Preacher’s Daughter and The Englisher, you’ll not want to miss this conclusion to the story. If you haven’t read any Beverly Lewis before, this book is certainly representative of her popular storytelling style – a style that has seen previous books in this series, and this one, achieve a place on such prestigious bestseller lists as The New York Times and USA Today.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Murals decorate the covered window openings of the art gallery – a building located on the Thunder Bay waterfront (which was closed until further notice when we visited there this summer). The paintings, which look rather unremarkable from a distance, are really beautiful when viewed up close.
My favorite is the irises. They remind me of an oriental garden.
Sunday, November 26, 2006
This is the Christmas card scene from our bedroom window today.
We got to church and back just fine this morning. But this amount of snow (and it’s supposed to come down for the rest of today and into the night) is a challenge for lower mainland drivers. Ill-equipped cars, some drivers not knowing how to drive in the stuff, hilly roads and the quality of the snow – heavy, wet and slushy, which then freezes and becomes truly treacherous – are all good reasons to curl up indoors with a cup of hot chocolate and a Christmas CD or good book!
Friday, November 24, 2006
Be still and know that I am God Psalm 46:10
Is there any note of music in all the chorus as mighty as the emphatic pause? Is there any word in all the Psalter more eloquent than that one word, Selah (Pause)? Is there anything more thrilling and awful than the hush that comes before the bursting of the tempest and the strange quiet that seems to fall upon all nature before some preternatural phenomenon or convulsion? Is there anything that can touch our hearts as the power of stillness?
There is for the heart that will cease from itself, “The peace of God that passeth all understanding,” a “quietness and confidence” which is the source of all strength, a sweet peace “which nothing can offend,” a deep rest which the world can neither give nor take away, There is in the deepest center of the soul a chamber of peace where God dwells and where if we will only enter in and hush every other sound, we can hear His still, small voice.
Photo: Evening descends on Crescent Beach, Surrey, BC
Thursday, November 23, 2006
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Author: Heather Johnson
Illustrator: Ken Save
Genre: Christian poetry, Children
Tea parties and little girls go together. If anyone should know that it’s Heather Johnson, mother to four of them and author of The Precious Teacup.
Heather and her daughters have been inviting their little friends over for tea parties (with a purpose) for a while now. As Heather tells it, the poem that became the text of The Precious Teacup came to her as she prepared for one of those parties.
Now it’s available as a beautifully illustrated 36-page hard cover book. The simple rhyming text compares a little girl to a beautiful tea cup. Each page spread shows the two sides of the comparison with the teacup made, cleaned, bought and filled with tea on one side and the child uniquely designed by God, bought and cleaned by Jesus and then filled with His love on the other. The book ends with a simple prayer.
It can be purchased online through the precious teacup website. Also available there is a free downloadable tea party guide to help you plan your own tea party with a purpose. If you need any more inspiration, check out the photos of one of those parties. It makes me wish my girl was little again and we had a neighborhood full of friends to invite over for sandwiches, cookies, tea and this book, of course, to give us a beautiful segue to the subject of Jesus and His love.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
In Chapter 9 Mr. Guinness, in a few words, articulates a mind set that I suspect if entered into would make one impervious to the peer pressure and sense of alienation followers of Jesus so often feel in the world of 2006:
A life lived listening to the decisive call of God is a life lived before one audience that trumps all others – the Audience of One.”
Do you wish to be inner-directed rather than other-directed and truly make one audience decisive, the Audience of One? Listen to Jesus of Nazareth; answer his call.
Monday, November 20, 2006
Yesterday the home team – the B.C. Lions – won the Grey Cup (football). Now, I do not claim even reflected glory from this. Our very tiny Grey Cup party fizzled when someone (not I) got sick. My only participation in the game was to occasionally check on the score from the bedroom where I was reading.
The game was played in Winnipeg - and I realized, as soon as I saw this site what I would have wanted to do had I been there.
This mural is located at 756 Ellice Avenue in Winnipeg. The artist is Jill Sellers. Check out the link above for 552 more mural shots, photos of other art, and artist info from around that city.
Saturday, November 18, 2006
There have been a couple of interesting Q&A forums in the Globe and Mail recently. In “Ask an Evangelical”* Aileen Van Ginkel (director for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s Centre for Ministry Empowerment) answers general questions about Christianity.
In “Lorna Dueck took your questions on the Ted Haggard scandal” Ms. Dueck answers questions about the above scandal. Predictably, here there were lots of questions about how evangelicals view homosexuality and other hot-button moral issues.
I read the questions and answers with interest, asking myself, what would I have said?
This is a good exercise, I think – to challenge oneself to come up with answers to honest hard questions. We’re actually told to do this.
In the process, it's a good idea not to forget the advice given by the Bluedorn’s in The Thinking Toolbox about anticipating opposing arguments:
“After you have listed all the reasons why you believe something, the next step is to defeat the argument you have built. This may sound like a strange thing to do, but if you don’t try to defeat your own argument, someone else will.... It is not good enough to have convincing reasons for the things you believe. If you want to have a strong position, then you need to anticipate opposing arguments and prepare counter arguments.” (Lesson 7)
Of course in the end, even the most waterproof arguments will not convince someone to believe in God as revealed by the Jesus of the Bible who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The Spirit of God does that.
* This link opens first on a 'Register' page. That's how the G&M wants it, I guess.
Friday, November 17, 2006
Title: Arthur, the Christmas Elf -- A Christmas Adventure
Author: Valerie Connelly
Publisher: Nightengale Press, 2006 - 68 pages
Genre: Children's Fiction, Children's Activities
The author-illustrated 43-page story section is only the first part of this two-part book, however. In the second part are instructions on how to make the seven craft projects mentioned in the story. These easy-to-make, family-tested projects use materials most people probably have around the house. The instructions are well-organized, easy to follow and include traceable patterns and photographs that illustrate the projects at various stages of completion.
I can see this dual-purpose and prize-winning book being a great addition to the Christmas of any family with kids up to and including teens. The story will probably become a holiday favorite. And the book may be the catalyst for a new tradition of kids and parents (or older siblings) spending quality time together making things in the days before Christmas, and then giving gifts that come more from the heart than the wallet.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Title: Winter Birds
Author: Jamie Langston Turner
Publisher: Bethany House - 2006, 400 pages
Genre: Contemporary Christian fiction
“At eighty I knew I must not delay. The branches of the tree were nearly bare. My method: I sent letters to nine people, family acquaintances, five of whom responded, to apply as Providers of Winter Hospice for Sophia Marie Langham Hess.”
The wealthy widow Sophia chooses, finally, to live with her nephew and his wife in a modest bungalow in Greenville, Mississippi. Winter Birds, Jamie Langston Turner’s sixth* novel, is the story of Ms. Hess in that winter season and the tale of the gradual unthawing of her heart in the home of Patrick and Rachel.
The time period spanned in this contemporary novel is about one year, though through Sophia’s flashbacks and memories we are able to piece together the entire life story of this intelligent but embittered octogenarian. The setting is spare. Mostly we’re in Sophia’s room which looks out over a playground, has in view a mortuary and, just outside the window, a bird feeder.
This book majors on characters. Sophia, the main character, who tells the entire story in first person (present tense, no less), is rich and complex. As a former English teacher and the widow of Eliot Hess, a noted Shakespeare professor, she shows herself to be intelligent, cultured and perceptive. She is also sneaky, funny and at times a less than reliable narrator, colored as her outlook is by low self-esteem, betrayal, disappointment and cynicism.
Other main characters Patrick and Rachel as well as secondary characters Terri, Steve and Potts are seen and interpreted through Sophia’s eyes in satisfying physical and psychological detail. Sophia’s penchant for people-watching leads to some amusing reflections - like this one at the Christmas dinner table, when most of the guests are gushing about the pin Sophia got as a gift and Sophia, catching the look on teenager Mindy’s face muses:
“Mindy is eying the pin, frowning slightly as if wondering how such a small thing, something she would never be caught wearing, can evoke such emotion from adults. Perhaps she will tell her friends about it later: “And this fat old woman was wearing this weird-looking bird pin that everyone was having a cow over!”
Langston Turner’s prose style is simple. In one place she has Sophia overhear aspiring writer Patrick report to Rachel “in painstaking detail” (Sophia thinks Patrick is an incredible bore) something his teacher has said about “two kinds of simplicity – one producing art, the other banality.” As I read this book, I got the feeling that simplicity producing art was the effect Langston Turner was after and, in my opinion, achieved. But if the prose is simple, other stylistic features like Shakespearean lines as titles and the descriptions of bird behavior under those titles, both of which are then woven into the story line of the chapter, make the book satisfyingly thoughtful and layered.
Death is a theme that runs through the entire story. That’s probably not surprising, as Sophia is 80 and feels that her own is imminent. This theme is underlined again and again as Sophia watches the goings-on at the mortuary across the street and obsessively reads the "Milestones" columns from old Time magazines, paying special attention to the obits. Other themes that emerge as the back story unfolds are betrayal and deception. What finally transforms this often pessimistic story into a hopeful one is the message that love has the power to heal and restore.
The Christian aspect of the novel is handled with a light touch. Sophia, herself a skeptic throughout the book, does a good job of articulating common objections to belief. These are countered not with platitudes and sermons but with actions. Rachel, Patrick and others do a good job of showing in their own imperfect ways, what it means to serve and love the way Jesus taught.
This book is easily one of my favorites of 2006. The beautiful writing full of wisdom, literary allusions and stylistic elegance give it the moodling possibilities of poetry. Its quiet but compelling plot, realistic characters and sly humor made me wish it were twice as long. It reminds me of Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead and, like that book, it’s one I’m planning to read again, this time with highlighter always at hand.
Jamie Langston Turner's ‘Discussion Questions’ would be useful for reading clubs planning to dig deeper into Winter Birds.
* Correction: I originally stated this was Ms. Langston Turner's third novel. It is actually her sixth, as pointed out to me (by Dan Turner) in a comment on the review I posted at Blogcritics.org.
Other books are SUNCATHCERS, SOME WILDFLOWER IN MY HEART, BY THE LIGHT OF A THOUSAND STARS, A GARDEN TO KEEP, and NO DARK VALLEY. All are published by Bethany House.
I apologize for the error - but am happy to know that there are even more books out there by this fine author.
Monday, November 13, 2006
Saturday, November 11, 2006
On the way to the square, we caught sight of these Mounties, all ready to join the parade of dignitaries.
A special event this morning was the unveiling and dedication of a new statue on the cenotaph memorial
The representation of a World War 1 soldier, kneeling at the grave of a fallen comrade was commissioned to replace an earlier similar one which was melted down to make bullets for World War II. This new piece was paid for in part with funds raised by Surrey school children.
Friday, November 10, 2006
If you seek great things for yourself – God has called me for this and that; you are putting a barrier to God’s use of you. As long as you have a personal interest in your own character, or any set ambition, you cannot get through into identification with God’s interests. You can only get there by losing forever any idea of yourself and by letting God take you right out into His purpose for the world, and because your goings are of the Lord, you can never understand your ways.
I have to learn that the aim in life is God’s not mine. God is using me from His great personal standpoint, and all He asks of me is that I trust Him, and never say – Lord this gives me such a heartache. To talk in that way makes me a clog.
When I stop telling God what I want, He can catch me up for what He wants without let or hindrance. He can crumple me up or exalt me, He can do anything He chooses. He simply asks me to have implicit faith in Himself and in His goodness.
Oswald Chambers - from My Utmost for His Highest.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
I have been reading A Poet’s Guide to Poetry by Mary Kinzie. It is a very technical book, for people dedicated to the study and writing of poetry. I must admit some of it is quite beyond me.
However, I can’t help but feel the passion Ms. Kinzie has for her subject. This endorsement on the cover says it well:
“Mary Kinzie’s A Poet’s Guide to Poetry is an exacting, thorough and loving book about the excitements and technical intimacies of poetry. I don’t know any other book that speaks so lucidly and says so much about the formal life of poetry and how poetry lives that life inside us.” W. S. Di Pietro.
Yesterday I googled Ms. Kinzie and came across this fascinating essay (or whatever – this writing seems, in a way, almost a collage of prose poems) by her. In the paragraph below, she puts into words something I’ve felt in my gut for a while now about the self-promotion one must supposedly do in order to be noticed, read, bought and considered successful as a writer:
“The surer I became about the mystery of words in time, the more intricate the disdain of the professionals around me. This was a world in which there was a constant encouragement to promote onself, to mention every little mention of oneself. To be your own entrepreneur. Deadly to art. I tried not to play, but did just a little – enough so that I neither made a good showing among them nor kept my heart pure. Caving in “just a little” is the hateful side of humiliation, for one is driven by fear of going under, by doing nothing. This anxiety doesn’t end with a small cowardice. It is a world based on worry, because they themselves are always heartily, greedily worrying, scratching the sand of their little plots of earth.”In contrast, I think of the words of Jesus in Matthew 6, where He concludes:
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear.’(or ‘Will I get read and published? Will people buy my book?) For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you.” Matthew 6:31-33This surely goes against the common wisdom to relentlessly self-promote often dispensed on blogs like this one. But somehow, I can’t help but think it’s the way God wants us to live and work. If what we write is to the advantage of His kingdom and His glory, He will see to its promotion in ways we never dreamed.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
I heard Adrian Plass for the first time Saturday night. He and his wife Bridget are on tour with Steve Bell.
He is a funny and complex man. I bought his book The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass Aged 37¾ (the double value edition, which includes The Growing Up Pains to the Sacred Diary). In the Preface he says:" I don’t think I shall ever be unhappy enough to write such a funny book again."
He and wife Bridget did some hilarious skits. I found, on his web site, a sampling of what they do (short Windows Media Player videos).
Pray for Each Other
His Media Page has links to more video and audio files.
Surrey prize-winning short-story writer Donna Farley will be blogging some of her out-of-print short stories at Deja Pubd. This piece, "The First Shall be Last and the Last Shall be First" appeared in Dreams and Visions #12, 1992. The disclaimer about it being a bit dated is right (the kids still listened to tapes!), but it’s a lively and amusing read all the same.
Monday, November 06, 2006
Sunday, November 05, 2006
"We must be the church wherever we are. These walls are not the church. Be Jesus at work, school, play. You are the best possible reason why someone would be interested in knowing Jesus."
- Brent Cantelon
Photo: Crescent Beach pier - Surrey, BC
Saturday, November 04, 2006
We have the most excellent weekend on tap.
It starts with tonight when we’re having guests for dinner, and then going as a six-some to hear Steve Bell and Adrian Plass (Yummy!).
Tomorrow night, our choir is doing backup vocals at the release of the new CD, “Hope is Waking,” our church is putting out. Here is how it’s described in our E-bulletin.
“Hope Is Waking” is a mixture of musical textures featuring 12 of our very own original songs. Recorded right here in our CLA studio, it is a sound of joy, sorrow, intimacy, praise, passion, warfare, and hope. It is our prayer that the honesty and integrity of these expressions will capture your heart and turn you towards the Father …… the only One truly worthy of our worship.
In a way this is like a dream come true for me. I have watched many a variety show on TV and thought how much fun it would be to do the harmonies and the boo-she-bop-bop stuff around the main feature. Well, tomorrow night we’re doing that. This is even better though – doing it in worship (by the way - no boo-she-bop-bops)!
One wee fly in the ointment. They’re videotaping the evening with a view to making a DVD, thus no water bottles, sneezing, scratching, grimaces etc. etc. ! It all adds up to no pressure!?
Friday, November 03, 2006
I like the transparency that comes through much of Bridges’ work. She doesn’t avoid talking about experiences and behaviors she has struggled with like rape, abortion, and various addictions. And she isn’t shy to tell on herself:
“I am a vegetarian
Engaging in carnivorous relationships
With nicotine on my lips”
Especially moving are the poems she addresses to the kids she chose not to have – and the one she birthed, but with an attitude.
“I prayed my baby dead
As I lay alone in the hospital bed
Nurses poked and doctors pervaded
But to no avail she refused to debut
“...No dress code
Come as you are
Leave your past at the door
Cause there’s redemption at the bar
You can dance
Party non-stop. . .”
- “G’sus N’em”
Despite a variety in subject matter, a sense of unity is achieved with the use of formatting (title, Bible verse reference, centered poem, another Bible reference and the verse quoted in full). There is also a similarity in the the rhythms and rhyme patterns that flow through much of Bridges’ work. I am reminded of rap. Many of these poems beg for out-loud performance.
The spiritual angle of the book is never subtle. The Scriptures that bracket each selection become another facet of what Bridges conveys. The book as a whole leaves no doubt who Bridges credits for her escape from an addictive lifestyle. And in her story and poems she sends the message that she continues to rely on God through the challenges of life as a single mom to four kids.
This is an accessible, gritty yet hopeful book of poetry. It will appeal to those open to considering the answers given to life’s knotty problems in the Bible and the Christian faith.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
We first realized he was ill on Sunday, when he stopped printing after completing only three pages of a many-page job. In the last few days he has been sounding more and more laryngitic, though still able to print one page at a time. Yesterday he quit entirely.
Brother was predeceased by his grandparents Okidata and Fujitsu and his Brother parents. He is survived by ECI the CPU, Spectrum the monitor, the Microsoft siblings Mouse and Keyboard, and the Labec speaker twins Left and Right.
Brother will be greatly missed and hard to replace. In lieu of flowers, please send money. (Oops ... kidding!)