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Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God
Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God
by Timothy Keller
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 23.25
44 used & new from CDN$ 20.14

4.0 out of 5 stars Quite complete, Nov. 17 2015
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This volume lays out several essential aspects of living through and experiencing a rich prayer life. As a Christian, our prayer life is our lifeline. It defines our relationship to God and enables us to turn to Him, in need, in joy, in fulfillment and in emptiness. It is important to consider prayer and to reflect on its role in our personal lives. Recall Jesus' warning, "... when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites..." Strong words, requiring careful attention and thought.

This book outlines several ideas concerning prayer and ways in which to think about prayer. Keller also summarizes several key ideas from numerous authors who have written on the subject. It is also remarkably practical, offering ways to think of how to pray.

A few ideas, that emerge from a first reading:

1. Your prayers will tell you about God. Remember who He is that you are approaching. Remember both the unbreakable law that He has established the universe with, the fact that He had to be crushed to enable you to experience Him and to live, and why He might have wanted to do that. There is a nice reflexion on the trinity and the fact that God had no need to create and invite us into His dance. But He did so out of pleasure. Prayer is a means to experience some of this divine joy.

2. Your prayers tell you about you, the bad and the good. Listen to what you pray about, how you pray, the thoughts and emotions that are elicited, and you will learn much about yourself.

3. We pray for events and things to happen and change, for relief and for happiness as best as we can define it, and our prayers are always heard. However, perhaps the most important reason to pray is that through the rhythms of prayer, we learn to know God, to know His will. And through this process, our very prayers change. The primary purpose of prayer is to help align our beings with that of God - to learn to know God better, more.

4. Hidden within the Psalms and the Gospels, are rhythms and disciplines of prayer. Rhythms and disciplines are a vehicle for enjoyment and conversation, for trust and relief. These are not "have to's", but rather "want to's" that help not be like the hypocrites.

5. Many have written on prayer. One of the resounding themes from most books, including Keller's is that our private conversation with God, from which our actions with others, including God, are derived, constitute holy ground. Never underestimate the significance of approaching Him with requests, with thanksgiving, with confession or with anything, without ambiguity, without fear, as yourself. Never forget the honour that we are given, and how much was done so that we could be adopted as children.

6. Prayer will always be a reminder that whatever hardship or joy we are experiencing (we usually pray in hardship) is not the end of the story. It is part of a larger story, a grand narrative, still being written, in which we all have and will have parts. In this context, prayer is the connection between we, who are protagonists in the greater story, and the story's author.

DVD ~ Pure Flix
Price: CDN$ 9.88
30 used & new from CDN$ 5.91

1.0 out of 5 stars Poor art will never be justified by quality of intention, Nov. 9 2015
This review is from: GODS NOT DEAD [Import] (DVD)
We definitely live in a post-christian culture, and in the West particularly, in a post-faith era. At least, any kind of organized faith is weakening (there are increases of personalized and individualistic spiritual movements). In a sense, I value the idea of wanting to portray Christianity's faith claims in a film. Similar projects have been done before, such as "Mere Chrisitianity" by CS Lewis, which started out as radio broadcasts to encourage people during the war, at a time when Christianity was well on its way to being rejected. "Chariots of Fire" was also an incredible film, that traces some of the essential truths of faith in a subtle, nuanced way that allows the viewer to consider, even the non-believer, the important ideas that are communicated. It is also said that Tolkien was heavily influenced by his Christian world view when writing LOTR. In sum, the idea of portraying the Christian faith on screen or in a book, or whatever art form (painting, music, poetry,etc.) I believe to be a good one. One could argue that art will always be a reflection of the artists world view.

But this is a bad film. It is poorly made, it is telegraphic in its message, it is incredibly and overwhelmingly American in its portrayal of the Christian perspective, presents an almost abrasive perspective of Christian truths and really, very predictable from the get go. In defense of the film, I think that some of the ideas that underlie the film are good. In fact, the hostility with which Christians are treated on campuses in North America (and other places in the West), deserves some sort of attention and thought. That this hostility, framed in a kind of pseudo openness by the ambient culture should be denounced also should be underlined. So the intentions and basic ideas are good. The title is also good and catchy in light of the cultural issues that require attention, and I think the two protagonists in this story, and perhaps some of the other actors, might have been better served by a better story. But this is just poor. And the saddest thing is that, contrary to LOTR or Chariots, this film will become a reason NOT to consider Christianity as potentially true.

The Salt of the Earth (Le Sel de la terre) (Bilingual)
The Salt of the Earth (Le Sel de la terre) (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Sebastião Salgado
Price: CDN$ 24.95
2 used & new from CDN$ 24.69

5.0 out of 5 stars Harsh awakening, Oct. 26 2015
A haunting, somber photographic and narrative overview of some of the most difficult humanitarian and human crises over the last 40 years. The photos are captivating and will leave an indelible mark on the viewer. The narrative provides insight into the human mind and begs the question: How can an individual be a witness of so much suffering and not be profoundly changed? The lucid answer is that it is not possible. The following question becomes: How does one live with the images that Sebastião Salgado has taken and shown and not slip into a immobilizing depression and cynicism about the world and the humans that make it up? An attempt at an answer is given towards the end of the documentary. Still, the questions raised are hard and the answers not easy. We are so easily clogged up in our western, privileged bubble, we forget the hardship that makes up much of life in other parts of the world. A must see, simply to open up parts of our ability to reflect on the times that we live.

Midnight in Paris / Minuit à Paris (Bilingual)
Midnight in Paris / Minuit à Paris (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Carla Bruni
Price: CDN$ 7.99
7 used & new from CDN$ 5.75

4.0 out of 5 stars Great fun, past, present and future., Oct. 20 2015
Mr. Allen delivers an incredibly fun incursion in the Paris of the 21st, early 20th and even late 19th centuries, as he addresses our eternal preoccupation with the past and our longing for another time. Owen Wilson plays to a T the role that Allen would have played earlier in this kind of film as a young writer, concerned with the futility of his work, desiring to become an author and drawn to the Paris of the 1920s. This nostalgia has strong repercussions for his present as well, as it gradually changes from an escape from the present, to a means of dealing and coping with the present with some amount of courage and resolution. Throughout, an incredible cast of characters and actors make different appearances and the whole story is just a lot of fun to follow. Of course, a Woody Allen film is always wrapped in incredible photography and wonderful jazz. One feels the pleasure that Mr. Allen must have had in making this film. The end of the story falls a bit flat and takes on a bit of a moralizing tone, surprising from someone like Allen. I think I would have appreciated if, instead of saying that we are nostalgic and that we must simply deal with it, that the question that lies underneath the nostalgia be asked: What do we really long for? But really, this is a minor concern. This is a great story and a tribute to Mr. Allen's imagination and thought about our current time.

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
DVD ~ Ben Stein
Offered by M and N Media Canada
Price: CDN$ 52.66
10 used & new from CDN$ 7.97

3.0 out of 5 stars Of mice and straw men: How being biased takes away from science and makes documentaries less credible, Aug. 31 2015
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As a research scientist, I often have to reflect on the epistemological foundations of my work. For example, the current narrative regarding the foundations of life and of civilization is that they are a product of haphazard forces that work according to basic principles that are essentially "there": random mutations, natural selection and survival of the fittest, random environmental circumstances that contribute to the former. A very important part of this theory is that it cannot be falsified: you cannot come up with a set of observations that will oblige you to set it aside - because the theory can always be modified (as it has) to accommodate new data (other than supernatural observation, which is not really considered). In sum, there is no intention or creativity anywhere. I have to admit to struggling with the idea that our world came from nothing and has no meaning, which is where this line of thought, when it is not accompanied by other ideas, inevitably takes us.

Enter intelligent design. I do not like the "explain everything" attitude of people from this perspective. But their attempt to integrate the idea that a creator exists with scientific observation is a step in a new direction. In effect, they ask a fundamental question: If it is more reasonable to conclude that a creator might be present, because of the complexity of the observations that are made, why not do that? An honest scientist, one who is not intent on discrediting the possibility of "God" at any cost, might do that. Many in history, after examining the heavens or the seas, or other aspects of nature, have come to these kinds of conclusions.

This film is mainly concerned with these ideas and with illustrating how certain individuals may (or may not) have been discriminated against because of their adherence to the possibility of a creator being involved in nature and being somewhat involved in the different observations that scientific investigation brings.

It is clearly biased and should not be viewed as a scientific documentary.

However, it brings to the fore some of the bias that is also present in science and in the politics of science, namely that you must keep any idea of God out. In many ways, this perspective is reminiscent of philosophers who do not recognize the possibility of the divine in their accounts of life. It is not that the divine is not possible, it is simply that it is not considered. What this humoristic documentary brings out is that the possibility of God is not part of the scientific narrative.

This statement alone is quite packed and really would need a paper in itself. The foray into NAZI Germany in this film is awkward, but it reflects an attempt at asking the question which emanates from the premise behind the scientific endeavour: If there is no God, who determines what is right and wrong and what if different peoples come to different conclusions (as they inevitably will)?

After the fact, I realize this film has some problems, the least of which concerns the accuracy of the different kinds of discrimination that certain researchers are exposed to. But I must say, being in the academy, it is clear that there is discrimination, sometimes against people, clearly against ideas and in some ways, against the scientific process itself. This documentary offers a concentrated version of this basic observation, in the realm of the biological sciences.

Breville BES840XL Infuser Espresso Machine
Breville BES840XL Infuser Espresso Machine
Price: CDN$ 507.85
5 used & new from CDN$ 487.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Great espresso machine, Aug. 31 2015
Three reasons why (our family) think this Breville is simply great:
1. After having tried a few machines, it makes wonderful coffee and is available at a reasonable price. It is easy to kind of lose yourself in the technology ($) of espresso machines. This product lets you try different settings and has a few neat little gadgets that make your barista job easier (e.g., pivoting milk foamer; pressure gauge), but it lacks those elements that drive up the cost of a machine (e.g., auto-grinder; clock).
2. We make a lot of coffee, everyday, and this machine is still going strong after several years. It really works well. The pump seems to always be primed and ready.
3. The chrome, retro look is a throwback to older professional machines. Looks very sharp on a kitchen counter!

The Man Who Knew Too Much
The Man Who Knew Too Much
Price: CDN$ 0.00

2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing - maybe it's me., Aug. 28 2015
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I enjoy reading Chesterton very much and have read or am often reading something he has read. Most of his books ask questions that we forget to ask and his work, which was written at a time that really was the beginning of scientific triumphalism and the denigration of anything that might be called "Christian", really addresses issues that seem to have been conveniently forgotten, both at the time of his writing and now. In a real sense, Chesterton applied a reason and a logic that we really need so much more of to ask and address some of the most important questions in life. In this, his work is truly inspiring.

I cannot say that I have enjoyed this collection of quasi-detective stories. I find they lack the razor-sharp logic that I am accustomed to and often take on a satirical or even sarcastic tone that is difficult to integrate. There are a number of difficulties in story-line, detail and observation that preempt the conclusions that Chesterton hopes to draw at the end of his stories. I was disappointed because, as mentioned, Chesterton is a favourite. I will have to come back to this set of stories to ensure that I haven't simply read too quickly or missed important points.

However, on to another. Have started to re-read The Everlasting Man. Thoroughly reconciled.

East of Eden (Oprah's Book Club)
East of Eden (Oprah's Book Club)
by John Steinbeck
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.93
118 used & new from CDN$ 0.98

5.0 out of 5 stars Will, must or may, Aug. 28 2015
My son recommended my reading of EOE. He had read it and had been thoroughly taken up by the story and the issues that were raised. I have read it, and now my wife is on the verge of finishing. We are always talking about the story, trying to see which of the characters remind us of people we know, trying to understand the different points Steinbeck was making throughout this epic, multigenerational story. Steinbeck was a marvellous storyteller, the likes of which we rarely meet in our present generation, mostly preoccupied with creating, rather than generating, emotion. Steinbeck lulls you with descriptions of places and people and kindly places you in the everyday dilemmas and challenges they meet, in a way that truly engulfs you in their lives and leaves you asking many questions about your own.

Something is broken. Sometimes the break manifests itself in the land and the environment, sometimes as something missing in people, sometimes in the very soul of individuals. The brokenness comes forth, it accompanies individuals in their thoughts and in their actions. It is a complex thing to even become aware that it is there and when one becomes aware, one is almost helpless in working against it. But perhaps one can...

At the heart of the story, in a major discussion between the novel's protagonists, comes the story of Cain and Abel and the issue of scriptural interpretation. What was the meaning of that particular passage, that spoken by God, just prior to Cain's murder of Abel? Timshel... its meaning and sense occupies and dominates this story, across individuals and generations.

A story that leaves one in awe of this author, his storytelling ability and the questions he has left us that define who we become.

Whiplash (Bilingual)
Whiplash (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Miles Teller
Price: CDN$ 6.99
6 used & new from CDN$ 6.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Narrative of Natural Selection, Aug. 1 2015
This review is from: Whiplash (Bilingual) (DVD)
Whiplash is the story of a young, up and coming but deeply insecure drummer who meets a teacher and band leader who is something of a cross between Genghis Khan and and Leviathan. The film takes us through the different dilemmas that the search for musical excellence brings, and it shows us many ways in which life course can be laced with deeply seated and honorable ambitions, but that somehow miss the essence of life. Is life really about being excellent at something? What if you are not, do you still have value as a human being? Is the only valued narrative in this world that of natural selection and survival of the fittest?

Although music is profoundly human and through it, humans strive for beauty, what happens when the striving for excellence takes takes place in a context that takes away both the humanity and the beauty? The film asks other questions: what do you make of a world that hurts and smears dozens so that we can praise one? How do you interpret the success of the olympian whose victory in a race is measured in hundredths of a second? Why do we seek to determine winners in this way and why do we create such insecurities that people are willing to give up their humanity to look for the praise that comes from this kind of excellence? The film ends on a fabulous, existential note. Did I mention the music is incredible? I hate to say it though...

On the down side: The representatives of what I would call "grace" in this film are weak. Of course, when we encounter weak and cheap grace, we are not drawn to it. We may even denigrate it. Throughout the film, we wish there was just one person, a mentor, a pastor, a rabbi, someone, who is able to articulate that there is something else in life that is worth the fuss. No such person shows up, leaving us with the impression that the film makers may well believe that no such persons, or perhaps not enough, exist.

Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life
Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life
by Eric Metaxas
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 24.71
39 used & new from CDN$ 18.21

3.0 out of 5 stars Yes, but not quite., April 27 2015
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I came to this book after reading Eric Metaxas' Bonhoeffer biography, which was simply enthralling and cannot be recommended enough. I leave "Miracles" in somewhat of a quandary: How do the positives and negatives from this latest offering balance out? Because, to be sure, both are part of Miracles. On the good side, there is a review of recent cosmology, biology and other science related to the beginnings of the universe and of life. This "layman's" walk through the scientific garden is important because it underlines in red ink that the universe and life itself are highly unlikely events and that in this sense, they can be considered to be miracles. Indeed, anything that appears organized would, it seem, argue in favour of the presence of "an organizer" and, as such, as evidence for miracles. This section alone is interesting and worth the read.

After this section, however, the book becomes a bit troubling to me and I am a bit ambivalent as to how to think about it. The section on Biblical miracles is not well written and frankly, Metaxas, while a sound writer, takes too many shortcuts in describing the New Testament stories. He does most readers a disservice unless this is the first time one encounters these stories. Furthermore, the different testimonies that follow involving "miracles", again while interesting, raise too many questions that cannot be asked, addressed or answered. There is the potential here for the author to simply be using his position to support a position for which there can be no questioning or counter-interpretation.

To be sure, the issues raised here are important and as a Christian, I found myself be more sensitive to the question of God's direct work in day to day life. However, the book is remarkably one-sided. There is no discussion of how the basic claim for God's involvement may also lead to different abuses and distortions of potential miracle events. This is a problem.

Can there really be miracles? Well, if one believes in God, especially the Biblical God as described by the major Jewish and Christian perspectives, there can be no doubt as to His involvement in human history and everyday life. However, on an individual level, when attempting to describe events, there is always a competing explanation, one that is conveniently labelled "chance" or "coincidence". Metaxas should have addressed this possibility directly in a distinct chapter, especially when dealing with some of the sections on miracle stories.

So, it is not that miracles cannot exist. Rather, apart from the first sections, it is difficult to be convinced from personal stories that they do. The inside cover of the book refers to CS Lewis' book of the same title and states that this one is a more contemporary account on the question of miracles. The reader is advised to read Lewis' book first, to gain perspective, before reading something like this Metaxas take on this topic.

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