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The Man Who Was Thursday, a nightmare
The Man Who Was Thursday, a nightmare
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4.0 out of 5 stars A modern day haunt, July 1 2014
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There are many different ways to interpret this novel. There are certainly a number of philosophical issues that are raised as the protagonist, Syme the poet, is enlisted in a secret group of men to work against a global anarchist movement. Chesterton, who was certainly writing at a time when many accounts of morality and how to structure society were seriously questioned and the German nihilists were taking the high road, raises this paradigm shift in thinking about how and why you stand for different issues and beliefs. The question that is raised throughout history and throughout societies and cultures resonates plainly in this story: Is there a right and a wrong or is there only power and those strong enough to take it?

Relatedly, there is an epistemological take on the story. Rapidly, one questions what and how Syme understands his mission to be and whether there are elements to the story, important elements, that are left out, that are not mentioned, but which are critical to understanding meaning and would no doubt be helpful to Syme (and to the reader). While we are able to have much information, especially in this internet age, how do we know we have the important information, that which would help us make the right decisions in shaping our destinies? Is it possible that the most important information lays hidden and that no matter how we think, we cannot get at it? And when we decide paths to take, have we integrated correctly the information that we do have? These issues lay at the heart of Syme's mission and resonate with any reader who is at all sensitive to the complexities of life.

There is also an omen-like quality to this story. It is written prior to the two world wars which, in may ways, incarnated the questions that society and individuals were struggling with at this time. They reflected the West's strong desire to discard Christian values, and move toward a world that recognized an altogether different set of values. And in a very definitive way, Chesterton suggests that this struggle is not only one for the global society, but is really about something going on within each of us. It is not only about right and wrong, good and bad. It is also about how secretly, wrong and bad may change our way of seeing right and good. Chesterton lays out the question without hesitation. Could the enemy be within?

An interesting read and a peek into a fascinating time in recent history.

Les sept paroles de Jésus à la croix
Les sept paroles de Jésus à la croix
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5.0 out of 5 stars Qui nous sommes, June 25 2014
Dans cette époque dans laquelle on cherche à nous convaincre que le bien et le mal sont des valeurs subjectives (vraiment?), que tous ont raison et peuvent mener leur vie de façon autonome, que Dieu est une entité non-nécessaire, qu'il est déménagé ou peut-être qu'il est mort et que nous sommes plus ou moins seul à définir qui nous sommes et le sens de nos vies, les auteurs de ce livre nous permettent de poser un nouveau regard sur la personne tout à fait exceptionnelle de Jésus Christ. Ses dernières paroles sur la croix permettent un regard lucide sur ce qui nous définit, qui nous sommes, sur notre identité profonde avec ou sans Lui. Si Jésus est vraiment Celui qu'il dit qu'il est, on ne peut l'ignorer ou prendre certaines parties de ses enseignements qui nous conviennent: il faut le prendre tout entier en tant que Dieu et en tant que sauveur d'un monde brisé par notre égoïsme. Dans ses dernières paroles, nous sommes confrontés à qui était Jésus, sur le pourquoi de son incarnation, qui se trouve dans le gouffre qui nous sépare de ce que nous sommes vraiment.

The Pearl
The Pearl
by John Steinbeck
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.89
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5.0 out of 5 stars A fable for now, June 15 2014
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This review is from: The Pearl (Paperback)
Fables allow us to tell simple stories that resonate in complex situations. The Pearl tells the tale of a poor pearl diver who finds a pearl of incredible value. He knows that the pearl is useless unless he can sell it. To sell it, he must be able to protect it and sell it at its value price. Otherwise, all is for not. Instantly, there are different individuals and groups who either want the pearl and are willing to go to great lengths to get it, or other groups, who also want it but will instead devalue it. And there is also what goes on in the hearts of Kino, the diver, his wife and those who love them. The pearl is a way out, but also a way in, to broken hearts and to the reality of our harsh world. The pearl is a place and an object of contrasts, of potential pleasure, of certain pain. A wonderful, thought provoking story, that provides much impetus for thought about what we search for, how we think about the happiness that we search, and the workings of our world.

Imperial Cinnamon Spread,250ml
Imperial Cinnamon Spread,250ml
Price: CDN$ 2.89

5.0 out of 5 stars Cinnamon Spread via Amazon? Wow!, June 15 2014
We lived in Ontario for a while and came across this absolutely non nutritious, but incredibly delicious toast/bagel/croissant spread. Could not find it anywhere now even if our life depended on it (and some mornings, it felt like it did!). But now, wonder of wonders, miracle of this postmodern globalized village, you can order it from Amazon! Wow! Wow cubed even! This stuff tastes sooooo good. Of course, the fact that you can order it testifies to the relatively inert substance that you are consuming. You do not eat this if you want to become an olympic athlete. But sometimes, taste can lead to nothing else but a smile on your face. And that is more than ok :-)

The Prophet
The Prophet
Price: CDN$ 1.79

4.0 out of 5 stars Different from now, June 15 2014
This review is from: The Prophet (Kindle Edition)
I came to the prophet with mixed expectations. Khalil Gibran has been compared with different 20th century philosophers, Nietsche for one, and I was under the impression that he might be one of those oriental writers who was part of the same zeitgeist as that wave of writers who gave way to nihilism and the search for meaninglessness. Not so.

I also was under the impression that there would be a simplicity to Gibran's writing, a kind of moralizing tone that would take one away from autonomous thought. Again, mistaken.

The prophet recounts the story of a religious/spiritual figure who has been waiting for a ship for 12 years, waiting to leave a place where he has lived not of his own will. As he leaves, a woman who seems to be well acquainted with him asks him to impart wisdom on a number of very practical subjects: marriage, talking, working, pleasure, etc. The counsel of the prophet are simple, but not simplistic. There is definite morality, but it is not moralizing. Rather, there is a depth that surpasses the spirit of disregard for meaning that the early 20th century proposed. There is also a respect for life, for the value of individuals, which is manifested in the manner in which the prophet proposes that people be treated, that they treat each other, a quality of thought regarding others that is refreshing. There is value in human life. The prophet shows this.

This short book teaches a number of ideas that are in stark contrast to the manner in which our disposable society functions. Now, here, we do what we want. We look for instant gratification, and while we propose that we should not hurt others, it is only in our ignorance that this is so. Perhaps the prophet hearkens back to a time where values of individuality and autonomy were not what they are now. Perhaps this essay calls us back to remember who we are, more important than we think, less materialistic than would be suggested by how we act. Perhaps there is something to learn from the prophet.

The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3
The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers CA
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4.0 out of 5 stars Lewis bites..., June 3 2014
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I really enjoy reading Lewis, because of his clear thinking, because of his "dinosauresque" manner of resisting fads and modern tastes (that may actually be tasteless) and because of his incredible grasp of the history of thought, of literature and their places in the current zeitgeist. I have also read several volumes of "Letters". I have three points to make about this most recent instalment.

First, we owe an enormous debt to the editors who put this together. They have provided information and insight into a number of letter recipients, some known, some less so, who have been influential in different ways in Lewis' thought. The letters are not only rather exhaustive, but also informative regarding Lewis' circle of friends and acquaintances.

Second, you get a glimpse of Lewis' thinking throughout the letters, especially those intended for correspondents who had questions or who provided ideas or erroneous information regarding matters of thought or faith. Several letters are intended for people who are fairly hard core atheists, others for some who asked questions and seemed to be genuinely seeking plausible answers. Finally some others to editors, friends or other people who knew something of Lewis' projects and plans. In a very real sense, if you are able to keep track of names and sequences of letters as you read, you get a real glimpse into the progress and change in Lewis' ideas.

Third, there are some very personal matters that are discussed and one can't help but be moved by some of the issues that are addressed in Lewis' correspondence. Some deal with American readers who supplied the Lewis household with a steady flow of victuals while the rest of England faced post war rationing. Others were more personal. One particular letter is addressed to JRR Tolkien after publication of The Lord of the Rings. In it, Lewis elicits memories of their time during the war, discussing projects and writing, in a way that very much testified to Lewis' longing for the friendship that was a part of those days. And one also gets a feel for Lewis' happiness at his friend's work finally getting out, which is significant in light of knowledge that Tolkien and Lewis had somewhat had some difficulty during this time. So the letters give insight into personal issues, issues that impinge on everyday life and, while not at the heart of stories, certainly informs the reader into some of the challenges that were there for Lewis.

Finally, one can't help but be impressed by the perseverance Lewis showed in keeping this correspondence. These were not emails, but hand-written notes and letters intended to keep communication channels open with all kinds of people. We currently live in a time where you can send the same note to a slew of people all at the same time and forget about it in the following minute. While it is clear that Lewis wrote quickly, it was clear that he was thinking about each note he sent and, consequently, each correspondent. It was another time, with different ideas about what it meant to write someone a note.

Interesting insight into the life of a well loved author.

The Confessions
The Confessions
by Saint Augustine
Edition: Paperback
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5.0 out of 5 stars Read to understand, Feb. 24 2014
This review is from: The Confessions (Paperback)
There is something old about "The Confessions". It harkens back to a time that many have viewed as "dark" or "medieval" and Augustine is clearly one of the founders of a perspective that we are in a bit of a hurry to reject. I would argue, however, that if you want to understand anything of western civilization, if you want to begin to grasp why Christianity became dominant in Europe (and by extension, the Americas) and if you want to probe into the radical differences in epistemology that takes the Christian God as a starting point, rather than other gods, philosophies or the absence of god at the beginning, then reading Augustine's auto-biography is unavoidable. The book is regularly on the "Top 10" classics that must be read. It is written during a strange time when the West was at a sort of crossroads, deciding between classical, Greco-Roman culture, different pagan perspectives and philosophies and Christianity. The contrast between these views of the world and the universe is striking. At the time, the choice became clear for both leaders and people: choose Christianity, for there is safety and comfort there. Choose Christianity because it is not only safer, but it is truer. Choose Christianity because closeness to God is not based on your flawed ability to live well, but on the redemptive work of a God who, somehow, has not forgotten who we are. How the faith must have been misread to foster theocracies and conflict between peoples... and how now, through this misreading, as we look back on that time, we struggle to understand the choices of our European ancestors in favour of a faith for which Augustine was (and still is) a leading proponent.

What has not often been said about The Confessions is that they may be prophetic. We cannot reinvent radically new philosophies - we can only remodel old ones, trying to keep what we like of each. As we reject Christianity and the possibility of the Christian God, we have nevertheless kept the values that are at its base - values of love and acceptance, values that some would say are at the heart of political democracies or, in the least, behind the idea that people should look after people, and give them a fair hearing and a glass of water if they are thirsty (perhaps as Augustine might have in his day). However, Augustine suggests that this might be impossible. You cannot have the fruit if you won't have the tree. The question will be whether the values we like can survive when their base and roots, which we no longer like, have been cut down. Of course, as others would say, that is an empirical question. No doubt we will soon find out.

First Corinthians: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Pre
First Corinthians: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Pre
by Richard Hays
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 22.80
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very user friendly, well documented and thoughtful, definitely not cookie cutter, Feb. 18 2014
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As a prelude to this review I should say that I am a lay speaker at church. I am not a theologian, but have read numerous books of theology. I am not an exegete and not familiar with Greek or Hebrew, but when I have to speak, I go to extra special care to ensure that I understand context, language and message. I take forever to put together a 45 minute message. I should also add, as a secondary prelude, that I have little time for those who do not appreciate how complex it is for laymen, living in the 21st century, to appreciate and understand written works of the era of the ancient church, including biblical works. In my understanding, while there is a hard core to Christianity that perhaps is best reflected by something like the Apostle's creed (or some of the early predivision creeds), there are few doctrinal convictions that are "so simple that anyone can get them". Old texts just do not work that way for modern readers.

Which is why I appreciate so much Richard Hays' commentary on First Corinthians. There is something to appreciate about a scholar who has a grasp of the text and the time and context of the text and is able to communicate them to readers in a way that is cohesive, structured and interesting. The reading is straightforward. Which doesn't mean that the matter is as well. Hays goes to great lengths to discuss problems in interpretation, one of the nicest examples of this is in his discussion of the first few verses of chapter 7, where Paul discusses marriage. There is much to be said regarding the understanding of context and time to appropriately understand meaning and Hays is careful not to impose strong conclusions, but to help guide the reader in making interpretations of text.

Perhaps on the down side, I would have appreciated a bit more reflexion that goes beyond the text. Not that such ideas should be considered as equal to interpretation of scriptural text, but something more of the history of the Corinthian church, where some ideas that historians have regarding Paul's relationship with them might be considered in the context of interpretation. But this is a small negative comment. This book has become a model for me regarding how theologians and academics might communicate difficult interpretative material to theological laymen. Richard Hays has to be commended for the unusually rare skill he has demonstrated throughout this commentary.

The Space Trilogy 75th Anniversary Edition
The Space Trilogy 75th Anniversary Edition
by C S Lewis
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.80
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5.0 out of 5 stars Everything Lewis Comes Together, Feb. 5 2014
I have often described the Space Trilogy to friends as a kind of Narnia for adults. The parallel is not perfect and readers of both will know that there are differences. But the parallels, both in style and content, I believe to be compelling. A few points where the two sets of stories might converge:

1. There is another world placed in danger by evil forces and someone from outside that world enters to act to save it, in collaboration with quasi-spiritual forces. This idea is the main line in the first two books from the trilogy. In the third, the same protagonist must act to save our own world from dark, spiritual forces who are aided and abetted by unknowing humans. In both stories, there is an individual who comes out of myth to influence positively the outcome - in Narnia, that is Father Christmas who gives the children their gifts, in that Hideous Strength (book 3), that is Merlin, who comes to life (had he really died?) to strengthen the battle against evil.

2. Lewis brilliantly uses the Space Trilogy to address ideas and their consequences. For example, in Perelandra, there is an important scene where the relation between obeying God, even when the reasons for obedience are unknown, is described. Why would anyone obey in a situation where one doesn't know why one is obeying? The parallels with the Genesis (chapter 3) narrative of Eve and the serpent, as well as the Narnia scene where Diggory rings the bell to waken the figures in The Magician's Nephew, are clear. This idea is addressed in several parts of the two sets of books, as well as in some of his essays (notably, in the Weight of Glory). Lewis uses Story to discuss and contemplate such ideas throughout. In the Space Trilogy, the ideas emerge more clearly through dialogue, conversations and exposed thought from the different protagonists.

3. Lewis also uses the story brilliantly to delve into the psychology of individuals. I believe here that he draws on his remarkable observations of the relations and interactions between people to tease out the insecurities, fears, and desires that are at the base of much human endeavour. In the Space Trilogy, nowhere is this more clearly drawn out in the descriptions of Mark Studdock, the up and coming academic who is enticed to "become someone, be successful, to enter the inner ring" by the heads of the NICE. His thoughts, his ambivalence, his profound desire to find value in superficial success as well as his longing, yet disdain, for his wife, are drawn out in ways that give life to Lewis' essays on the topic, and perhaps draw out some of the character traits he has described in the Narnia series. His description of Studdock's wife's thoughts are also revealing in this regard. Lewis asks: where do our fears come from? Why is skepticism one of the ways we deal with them? Why is part of the solution to gain success and be autonomous? Where does the idea of autonomy and independence as a cure to fear and insecurity come from? Brilliant writing here...

4. Some of Lewis' ideas regarding the relations between the cosmos, nature, human history, myth and scripture are exposed. Here, Lewis draws on his profound knowledge of the ancient and medieval world views. He asks some key questions: Is myth only imagination, or is there a partial truth concerning stories that took place somewhere, somehow? This question is asked most clearly in Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra, but is pertinent as well in That Hideous Strength. Is there more "life" in the universe and in nature than we can understand because of our focus on what we can see and measure? Was there an order, formerly explicit but now latent, which is waiting to reveal itself, an order where there is a relation between the cosmos and humans? These questions are not asked to shake anyone's faith in Orthodox Christianity, which Lewis defended... rather, Lewis was exploring ideas and thoughts. Brilliantly I would add. In the Space Trilogy, Lewis gives himself permission to tell a story that brings together his hypotheses, thoughts and insights about the inner workings of nature, humans and spirituality.

I would also add, it is clear that Lewis had a great, great time writing this book, which was so much fun to read.

The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature
The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature
by C. S. Lewis
Edition: Paperback
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5.0 out of 5 stars Towards a better understanding of Lewis' ideas, Jan. 22 2014
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The discarded image consists of the essential material that Lewis addressed in his lectures on medieval and renaissance literature and philosophy at Oxford and Cambridge. In spite of Lewis' known status as a Christian apologist and writer, it is important to underline that this book, the last that was published during his life, only occasionally refers to matters of faith as one might expect of Lewis. Lewis literally presents a "discarded image" or world view, that of medieval and early renaissance Europe. There is much reference to the organization of the universe, of the earth, and the search of coherence between the two. The book is a fascinating incursion into both the topic and into Lewis' vision of this period of human history. A few points are worth underlining:

First, the former, now discarded image, placed very little value in the empirical confirmation of different phenomena. Indeed, a number of different beings and processes are postulated to exist and to influence human life that could not possibly be investigated under what we would call the modern scientific method. However, this was not an issue to their probable existence. One of the first ideas that comes across from this book is that, while people knew that "you had to see it to believe it", it was not clear that everything of importance could really be seen. From an epistemological perspective, this is a clear and important difference in the way that we can know whether something is valid. The ease with which the ancients postulated different ideas was quite surprising, however, there was an internal coherence in the different proposals. In other words, if spirits existed, how might they affect human conduct? Where would they live?, etc. So, the first point concerns the idea that in a very real sense, there were many kinds of information that were accepted and whether they could be empirically verified or not was without consequence.

Second, there is much knowledge that we now accept as "modern" that was also accepted in ancient times. Lewis goes to great lengths to show how the ancients really believed that the earth was really a small part of the universe, presumably to go against the common view that the ancients believed that the earth was really the centre of the cosmos - and part of the book really drives home the idea that several new ideas are really not so new, that they are old ideas that have been perhaps transformed and adapted to present conditions.

Third, an understanding of Lewis' appreciation for this old world view illuminates several aspects of stories and essays written by Lewis. For example, the ancient belief that the planets had an impact on human personality, thought and endeavors is brought out at the end of "That Hideous Strength" where the representatives of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter appear on earth and meaningfully change the course of earthly events. The same can be said of the relation between epistemology and values - Lewis brilliantly shows how knowledge could not, in the ancient world, be dissociated from virtue and that such a separation inevitably led to moral bankruptcy, a point made again in the Abolition of Man and in the Narnia stories (perhaps most notably in the Silver Chair and The Magician's Nephew).

Reading the discarded image also underlines how our thoughts about knowledge and its place in our world may be taking us in new directions. If it can be said that the ancients pursued knowledge to the best of their abilities but always wanted this knowledge to be submitted to virtue, the new knowledge knows no such boundaries. The new knowledge is arrogant. At the end of The Discarded Image, Lewis describes his fondness of the old model of the world, notably its imagination and it expansion of reality. The new world view, that reduces knowledge to only that which can be measured and mastered, while very practical, perhaps lacks in its appeal to the mind and soul.

A fascinating read that will completely take you out of your comfort zone regarding the discarded, medieval world.

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