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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$ 21.47
36 used & new from CDN$ 18.37

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.

The Montreal Canadiens: 100 Years of Glory
The Montreal Canadiens: 100 Years of Glory
by D'Arcy Jenish
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.88
23 used & new from CDN$ 12.84

5.0 out of 5 stars Hockey Matters, April 1 2015
As a fan of the Montreal Canadiens, there is a place in your heart where you remember that it was ok to belong to a team. You remember the players well, because most of them were part of the team for longer than one or two years. You remember the games because they determined your place in the playoffs and how difficult it would be to have a shot at winning the Stanley Cup, not simply whether you would make the playoffs and get past the first round or not. Your remember the tradition of having your friends around to watch games and how, through the years, much like a team, the friends changed somewhat, some remained, some were added, others added girl friends or wives. But in the end, you remember a time where the business of hockey was about fun as much as anything else, and that it "mattered", as Bob Gainey states in the preface to this book.

This is a fine scholarly intrusion into the history of the Montreal Canadiens, written for the centennial celebrations of the team in 2009. It bristles with interviews, with stories and with some of the not so accessible information that only an academic historian might be interested in hunting down. Stories of epochs, players, games and coaches abound and the reader quickly understands that there is more than sports and entertainment at stake here. Jenish portrays what has become a piece of Canadiana, something of a cultural and social institution that one treats with respect, even when addressing the less than glorious business aspects of the game.

In the last part of the book, Jenish recounts the rather discouraging seasons of the early 2000s, where the team made the playoffs, sometimes, by the skin of its teeth and where rapid elimination was the norm. Then, there is this season in 2008, where the team finishes first in the Eastern division and hope rises again. As these notes go to the Amazon.ca quadrant of cyberspace (2015), only 3 (4?) players are left from that team. There is hope as the Habs are contending for first place in their division and among the top teams in the league. There is hope that something of this institution that represents so much for the people of Québec (and Canada) will again become "Les Glorieux" and something of hockey and sport will be right with the universe once again.

Magic in the Moonlight (Bilingual)
Magic in the Moonlight (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Marcia Harden
Price: CDN$ 24.88
10 used & new from CDN$ 6.00

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cynicism and magic: A nice, heartbreaking story., Feb. 17 2015
Coming to this latest instalment of Allen films is not helpful if you are not already familiar somewhat with Woody Allen. The film is clearly a continuation of statements that Allen has made in other films. The photography is beautiful and the soundtrack, as usual with Allen, fits wonderfully with the époque and the themes that are addressed. In this particular film, Allen continues to kill an idea that he had entertained in earlier films but that was decidedly abandoned at about the time of "Crimes and Misdemeanours". This idea is hope in something more than materialism. "There is no meaning. There is nothing out there apart from whatever you can touch and feel and if you try to look hard enough, you will clearly see that anyone who tells you otherwise is really only taking you for a ride. So, make the best of your life. This is really the only ride you get."

The level of cynicism is really quite high for Allen in this film and sometimes, this gets away from him a bit because overly cynical films are rarely taken seriously. But it is warmly wrapped by the music, a cozy little love story and the south of France. You come away from the film almost wondering how such a nice story could be so heartbreaking. In sum, an Allen film as he likes to make them.

Childhood's End
Childhood's End
by Arthur C. Clarke
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 10.12
74 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Changing the questions we ask, Feb. 3 2015
I came to Childhood's end in a rather strange way. I am running through the last volume of CS Lewis' letters and in it, he describes to a few correspondants his appreciation for the book. Lewis also had an ongoing correspondance with Clarke and had expressed to Clarke how he felt that CE made perfect use of the science fiction literary genre. For me, CE was one of only a few incursions into this genre and frankly, it was interesting.

CE is about the dramatic events that take place when humanity is suddenly invaded by "benevolent" aliens who, rather than torture humans, require that they bring peace to their world, feed the hungry, and solve other issues. What results is a civilisation unlike that which we currently know, but also one that has trouble dealing with the absence of individuality and creativity. The question that casts a shadow throughout the novel is: Why invade humans to create this utopia? What is the purpose?

Clarke plays with this question and the response comes in different forms actually, throughout the book. Two issues are particularly well illustrated. The first concerns the purpose of humanity. Is it possible that, although this can never be admitted by any 21st century human, we are present and created for someone or something else, for purposes that go beyond those that we can pursue or even imagine? What if there is a logic to evolution, to the order of things that goes beyond random mutation and natural selection? How could we know?

The second is that utopia, which in an important way is part of most, if not all except nihilist philosophies, does not seem to be ultimately satisfying to humanity. Of course, this is Clarke's reflexion, but it raises the very real point: Can our imagination of a utopia, a heaven, a world of peace, ever be interesting, ever be a place where humanity can emerge into a better kind human, or is it just something that we imagine and if ever achieve, will leave us cold? Is it possible that our imagination, even our imagination about what is best for us, be taking us in a misguided direction?

A good read that will leave you asking a different kind of question.

Rumours of Glory [8CD + DVD]
Rumours of Glory [8CD + DVD]
Price: CDN$ 121.06
30 used & new from CDN$ 115.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Music to listen to the book by., Dec 30 2014
A very nice collection of songs that closely follow the recent autobiography of the same title. Some are standard versions, others more difficult to find, and a cd of "rarities", very well collated to remain coherent from beginning to end. A great DVD from some shows from the Northeastern US in 2008 as well. Autographed, numbered :-) Fans, such as yours truly, will be pleased. A musical trip through one of Canada's premier lyricists and guitar players, as well as an interesting tour of the work of a musician truly committed to making music matter in ways that it so rarely does now.
CD cases are well put together, but the actual box is a bit flimsy.

A Brief History Of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living
A Brief History Of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living
by Luc Ferry
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.36
36 used & new from CDN$ 8.61

4.0 out of 5 stars Really interesting; some shortcuts., Dec 19 2014
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Luc Ferry presents a very readable history of how people attempted to understand what was true, what was real, how life and the universe are organized and how any of this information might be helpful for daily living. From the ancient Greeks (some of them) to the current contemporary philosophers, working through Christianity, modern "âge des lumières" philosophers, as well as the Nihilists (mostly Nietzsche), Ferry helps us see the changes and the different angles from which people have grappled with some of life's hardest questions. I tend to think that he has done a very nice job and does everyone a favour in making this work available. Ferry has a broad and widely ranging knowledge of philosophy which serves him well in the manner in which he is able to paint broad strokes through history, for the benefit of the reader. A much appreciated read because of the spirit in which it was written (there is respect for all perspectives, even though Ferry does not agree with everyone) and because of the challenge he poses to those who hold ideas loosely, those who hold untested premises and other slippery thoughts that we carry around.

Ferry does take a few shortcuts, however, and it is not clear whether these are because of the synthetic nature of the book (a kind of lay-philosopher approach) or because this is simply part of the philosopher's stance in discussing the great questions of our world. For example, there is this remarkable statement that faith-based accounts of reality cannot really be philosophical, the underlying premise being that non-faith-based accounts of reality engage the mind in a different way, or that non-faith-based accounts of life do not actually involve some basic "belief". Difficult to understand such a discrepancy.

A second idea comes from the descriptions of the processes that led to modern perspectives on philosophy. Here, there is very little reference to the idea that, at one some point in time, there was a desire to keep Christian values, but a strong move was made on the part of philosophers to evict God from the value system. This basic idea has long been accepted, especially in reference to Kant and others whom Ferry discusses at length. It only becomes natural then to address the Nihilists in this light: first, evict God, but try to keep the values that emerge from Christianity. But how do you justify judeo-christian values if there is not God, especially if above all, there are aspects of Christian values with which you disagree? The Nihilists determine that there really is no reason to keep the values of a God that is not really there, that we have "killed". This train of thought, this change in perspective, moving from God-centered to man-centered to uncentered perspectives on reality, are barely addressed by Ferry.

Ferry does not address some of the philosophical perspectives that have come into human thinking from other disciplines, such as economics or the biological sciences. Thus, it was easy for 17th century Christians to point their telescopes to the skies to see the order that God had created. However, it became a more complex mission for Christians to reflect on random mutations, natural selection and survival of the fittest. These principles can be seen as precursors of Nihilism, as influences that pushed in the direction of Nihilism, a couple of hundred years before Nietzsche (in the case of Adam Smith). In effect, the linear evolution of thought described by Ferry may well have been non linear and influenced by many other spheres of reflexion, within and without philosophical inquiry.

While I believe that Ferry has done everyone a great service in providing us with a synthetic and eminently readable and well written history of some of the pillars of philosophical thought, there is no doubt that other takes on the changes in human thought require a bit more contemplation and reading. To his credit, it is Ferry's stated hope that his book elicits an interest in other books that address these issues.

Rumours Of Glory
Rumours Of Glory
by Bruce Cockburn
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 22.82
2 used & new from CDN$ 22.82

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Generous Story, Dec 17 2014
This review is from: Rumours Of Glory (Hardcover)
No one would really read a Bruce Cockburn autobiography if they weren't already a fan and somewhat aware of this truly interesting singer-songwriter's career and work. So, confession of bias...

The good: A truly interesting read, if somewhat unorthodox in style and form. Bruce Cockburn honestly attempts to account for life and song trajectories and the reader gets the feeling that this task was not undertaken lightly. From humble beginnings in Ottawa and somewhat troubled experiences in school (aren't they all!), to exposure to a sequence of life changing events and encounters that involve Christianity, life partners, political and militant action and music, Cockburn attempts an honest description of life, of his own life, what has and has not been done, the challenges and roads ahead and how "the best maps will not guide you/sometimes the darkness is your friend". I can't overstate how interesting it was to gain access to Cockburn's thoughts and perceptions. In some cases, you get the impression that Cockburn did his research on himself, on the issues he was involved in, to ensure that his story was told right. A truly thoughtful person. One gets insight into why he has become one of the best songwriters Canada has produced.

The not so good: Sometimes, the tricky style Cockburn uses (with his writer) is difficult to follow and as you read, there is some repetition that does not always fit with the chronological order of events. At least, that was how I read it.

But really, just a fun read for anyone who knows Cockburn, his thoughts and his social/spiritual/political ideas. A generous telling on the part of a man whom, it seems to me, has attempted in many ways to remain generous to those who have followed him from a distance down his path. In a life of fascist architectures, where injustice often reigns and it is difficult to know what to do with our bag of rage, there truly are rumours of glory.

Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold
Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold
by C.S. Lewis
Edition: Paperback
47 used & new from CDN$ 9.06

5.0 out of 5 stars What do we really know?, Dec 16 2014
I was drawn to this book in part because it is said that this is perhaps Lewis' work that was most influenced by his wife, Joy Davidman, and because Lewis has stated that this was the work he was most happy with. This retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth gave Lewis the opportunity to incarnate a few ideas that he refers to in other stories. The first concerns the distinction between what is true and what is myth and our real ability to distinguish between the two. Lewis takes us on a trek where it is possible for us to take events and interpret them in different ways, and in all cases, the events leave us unsure as to what might have really happened. Here, Lewis makes clear that what you see is not necessarily what is there and what is there is not necessarily what you see.

The second idea concerns our inner psyche and how we voluntarily hide from ourselves what we may know, simply to relieve our needs, to help our hurts, or to reach our ambition. We may never really be honest with ourselves, with our conscience or with our close ones, unsure as to how Truth may actually make life more difficult, less manageable. There is an almost Socratic question that the story asks: what if you were totally honest with yourself. What if you admitted your weaknesses, those that keep you from getting what you want, what you feel you need, how would that change your life?

The retelling of the myth begins with a charge against the gods. It leaves us with a clearer vision of the break in humanity and all of the ways in which we hope to heal.

Freedom and Boundaries
Freedom and Boundaries
by Kevin L. DeYoung
Edition: Paperback
6 used & new from CDN$ 117.36

3.0 out of 5 stars Too many loose ends, Sept. 27 2014
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This review is from: Freedom and Boundaries (Paperback)
The purpose of this book is to concisely establish the argumentation for a "complimentarian" approach to the role of women in the church. A short, very short book, on a question that has been very divisive in recent decades. I believe that DeYoung, who ordinarily is a very readable author and is clearly strong on orthodox doctrinal questions, has fallen into some of the traps of trying to over synthesize this issue. The book remains very readable and certainly a good introduction to the topic, as long as one is able to accept both doctrinal and intellectual shortcuts to get to the conclusion the author reachers.

The book opposes the two basic perspectives on this issue, the first, complimentarian approach, proposes that men and women are of equal value, but have different roles in the church (in life really) which complete each other. Specifically, men adopt authoritative, leadership roles, women do not. There is something important that God wants to say to people by having different roles for men and women and if we erase these differences, we erase something of the message of God for the world. The second, egalitarian perspective claims that men and women can handle all positions in the church and that there has been a reparation of the original differences between the genders through Christ's work on the cross. The work is written in a context where, DeYoung admits, there is much cultural confusion regarding the relation between genders across society.

The basic passages are outlined and addressed and DeYoung's hypothesis is clearly structured. The problem with a short book, however, is that it must only build straw men. The outline of both positions are essentially caricatures. Only the most polemical positions are portrayed. There is no discussion of possible compromise, no possibility that in some circumstances, complimentarian and egalitarian positions can cohabitate and, frankly, no presentation of the serious questions that plague the simply presented but adopted complimentarian position.

The role of women in the church has been a difficult question for centuries and the fact that it has been should temper our efforts to be overly simplistic in addressing it, for fear of truly hurting and offending both Christians and non Christians. It is indeed a challenge to reconcile Christian claims to complimentary roles for men and women, with current society's push towards erasing any differences between the two. Male authority, unfortunately, has been highly abusive and oppressive (not all males, not all the time, of course) and as such, create an important obstacle for anyone who suggests that authority in the Church has been attributed to males. In this context, and in response, female calls for equality have been very vindictive, and have perhaps missed the point of the Biblical call to complimentary roles. One of the very real questions that arises from this study, not addressed in the book (very few books from what I can gather) is: If we accept the complimentary roles perspective that is drawn out in Scripture, how do we avoid male oppression, that is bound to happen? Is there an alternative answer to this practical problem other than simply erasing gender differences. DeYoung does not address this and other very practical questions. I believe that much pastoral and scholarly writing on this topic has been concerned with establishing Scriptural antecedent to a variety of different takes on this issue, without much preoccupation for the daily, practical concerns of the common church and churchgoer. This issue has also been a major concern for those who consider Christianity, but cannot accept a view of life where women are viewed as second class citizens. Obviously, complimentarians do not see their position in this way, but the book does not address how to address this perspective that non Christians may have. Again, a problem with practical questions.

I do not want to be overly harsh. Kevin De Young is a dynamic writer, well versed in doctrine and I very much enjoy and benefit from his work. I just think that a short book on this matter, not concerned with the very practical questions that this issue raises, leaves too many loose ends for most readers. And perhaps, this says something about how difficult it is to be clear about this issue, where history and doctrine, culture and context, converge.

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering
Walking with God through Pain and Suffering
by Timothy Keller
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.59
29 used & new from CDN$ 17.09

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hope, Aug. 29 2014
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I have read several Keller books and there are a few that stand out as extremely well organized and thought out, as well as very nicely written. I would have to say that this is one of them.

Suffering has always been a part of human experience and societies and cultures throughout history have attempted to come to terms with it, to find meaning for and in suffering or to simply reject it as something that must be fought and resisted tooth and nail. One of the interesting contributions of this book is that Keller summarizes nicely different historical and societal takes on suffering. One of the unexpected conclusions is that perhaps our secular, 21st century western world is ill equipped to deal with this issue. Drawing on both secular (Luc Ferry), Christian (Charles Taylor) or otherwise religious writers, Keller draws out nicely several different underlying premises that current thought on suffering rest on. In fact, there is much to learn not only on suffering, but on the general world view regarding the meaning of life in the West in present times.

Keller also does a masterful job in presenting a Christian perspective on suffering. This is a crucial part of Keller's work because there is a strong tendency in Christian circles to view suffering in different ways that, Keller argues, are in and of themselves not Christian, but simply a transformation of other perspectives, that eventually undermine hope. By relying very nicely on places in Scripture where there are examples of suffering, including a central accent on the meaning of Christ's profound experience of suffering, Keller states some important truths: Christians are most able to feel the pain of suffering, most equipped to understand that suffering was not part of the original plan, most able to enter into suffering. But, also, they have the greatest hope, and cannot be destroyed by suffering. It is not and can never be what defines them, whether they are victims, or responsible for their situation. The Christian hope has trumped and will ultimately trump, all consequences of suffering.

There is much Lewis, much Tolkien, old writers, new writers, the New York Times, the Atlantic Monthly, pastors and philosophers, scientists and journalists. All kinds of people are cited and given thought to, testimony to Keller's uncanny ability to speak to people's experience and cultural context. I have already started giving this book away to friends. I am impressed by Keller's writing in a couple of ways: He is able to describe profound Christian truths in extremely pertinent ways, speaking clearly to the ambiant culture. I have met and read few that do this well. Second, there is definitely the feeling that Keller treats his readers as intelligent, thoughtful individuals, who have also given reflexion to the issues he raises. Finally, you get the impression that Keller's long experience as a thoughtful pastor comes through in his work.

I cannot recommend this book enough, not only for those who want to understanding suffering, but also for those who want to get a clearer picture of hope and how it might be becoming a rare commodity.

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