Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Geez Magazine

Ran across these guys a little while ago (while looking for their web provider) and had forgotten about them in the heat of the search. Was reminded again when I looked at John's blog. Worth looking at.

Father Elijah: An Apocalypse

Father Elijah: An Apocalypse

After I read Honey for the Child's Heart (which appeared in another post) I read Honey for a Teen's Heart, also by Gladys Hunt. It is more of the same, which is good, with the exception that Hunt did not actually do all of the annotations. The annotations are much fuller than the children's version which shouldn't surprise. How much annotation does a board book need?

Since I've been lame at reading fiction for the past 7 years, I though I should get back in the game and use my local library. I found five books listed by Hunt and got them out. Father Elijah was the first I read. A died in the wool apocalypse, a genre of literature that I'm familiar with from Revelation and sadly from Left Behind. This book has more in common with the first than the latter, especially in quality.

Last night, a mother of one of my youth mentioned that here child was into reading the Bible, and that he had a particular shine for Revelation. He should read this book (I will recommend it to him) because it will open doors of interpretation open to him that otherwise would remain closed. He will see the epic scale of apocalypse without getting consumed in dispensationalism. He may see how he should/could live his everyday a little bit different.

At core, O'Brien grasps sin, perhaps a little bit like Milton grasped evil in Paradise Lost, making it just slightly too attractive. Isn't that the basis of sin however, that it is slightly too attractive? The antichrist wants peace but not peace built on truth or love. The main Catholic characters, and they are very catholic (a monk, a monsigneur, two cardinals and the Pope) get that we are both justified yet still sinners, that, in the words of my tradition, that total depravity reigns.

I look at the Mid East and think that while Annan's efforts are admirable, we fool ourselves if we think that we can have peace this side of heaven. The sin of pride, of wanting to construct a world of justice and goodness, will always run into the fact that our hearts, even the best of them, are stained. Bluntly, we need a saviour outside of ourselves as humanity and O'Brien gets this.

Back to the Catholic thing for a moment. I can deal with a lot of matters Catholic. This blog has a reference to a Catholic saint in the title. I found O'Brien a bit pedantic at points. It was the same feeling I get when I read bad philosophy told as a story - The Celestine Prophecy comes to mind. It was nowhere near as bad as that but at 576 pages, I could have done with a few less Catholic speaches.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


11 years ago I married Vivian. For the first time in three years I'm home to celebrate the day. We went back in time together by going to the Stephen Bulger gallery and looking at Vivian's grandfather's pictures.

Charlie (C.D. Woodley to the gallery) took some great pictures. Some are in the National Archives of Canada and others are sold through one of the premier if not the most premier commercial galleries in Canada, the Stephen Bulger gallery.

Most of the prints that we are thinking of buying are online but you can check out a small sample at the Stephen Bulger gallery website. We are thinking of getting this one of Hart House at U of T in the 30's, which you can see on the website, but I can't copy it here since it is copyright protected.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Laptop Returned

There are good people in the world. One of them purchased my laptop and when they noticed that the thief had not wiped away all of my data, she was suspicious. She emailed me and then brought my computer to me. I have no idea what the thief saw or did with my data but it is all gone. That is actually a relief. She will remain anonymous, the only thanks she wanted are prayers for a friend with terminal cancer.

Duncan Nicholls

Back from holidays where I got to hang out with my friends Duncan and Jill. Although Duncan doesn't have a blog, he does have a site where you can listen to some of his tunes. As well, he is an award winning short story writer so perhaps I will be able to convince him to post some teasers at some point. Link is now live on the side.

Friday, August 11, 2006

An Uncle Garry for the Rest of the World

I can remember seeing my Uncle Garry perhaps a dozen times in my life but his influence on me has been far more profound than that number would tell. Garry is my eccentric book uncle. For my lifetime he has lived in BC and has worked for/owned bookstores. Almost every year for Christmas and/or birthdays Garry has given me a book, some of which have shaped who I am.

For Blair from Garry - I hope you enjoy these poems as much as I do, January 1975. For my third birthday I received Dennis Lee's Alligator Pie illustrated by Frank Newfeld (one of the serious omissions in Hunt's book). Those whimsical lines - Alligator pie, alligator pie/ If I don't get some I think I'm gonna die/ Give away the green grass, give away the sky/ But don't give away my alligator pie - still capture how I feel about lemon cake. More importantly, Lee taught me about Canada in a way that no one else did.

Without doubt the most read book of my childhood was a Book of Greek Myths by Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire's (another omission). I would pretend to go to sleep then a short time later turn my flashlight on underneath the covers to discover and rediscover the stories of Zeus, Hercules, Athena and Apollo. I have read this book more than any other in my life except the Bible.

As a teen I received and devoured T.H. White's, The Once and Future King. I struggled through Hugo's Les Miserable because my uncle sent it to me. I travelled to Africa and the bushmen of the Kalahari with Laurens Van Der Post and through pre war Europe with Patrick Leigh Fermoor. Most recently I've traveled to Tibet's Tsango River through books that my Uncle Garry has given me. I am a reader and my world is bigger for it partly (perhaps largely) because my Uncle Garry has consistently encouraged me and pushed me.

Gladys Hunt is an Uncle Garry who has published. She passionately argues that books give people language they would not otherwise have, brings families together in reading out loud, and expands the mind and spirits of everyone who falls in with the right books. In general, I think she is correct. Her criticisms about TV seem a little over done but with the possibility of being valid. In this she reminds me of Marva Dawn. Her lists also are rooted in a canon of children's literature that might seem to some old fashioned. From my perspective, the lists are expansive enough that the canon that she defines is broad enough to include all kinds of tastes. For a Canadian, some of the lists have a heavy American content. Someone needs to publish an addendum to this book for Canadians so that children can learn a la Dennis Lee what it is to explore our country not someone else's.

Even with these weaknesses, this book strikes me as an important one. There are some faith based statements and a chapter on reading the Bible with children which I think hardcore atheists or secularists might protest but in general Hunt's argument is universal - reading good literature is good for children in many ways. I plan on giving this book to the day care my son attends. I also plan on giving the lists to parents, aunts and uncles of my son so that they can help be Uncle Garry's for him.

I also am contemplating using this in family based ministry. Parents often come to my church to have their children baptised. They want their child to have "values" and think that the church is the place to supply them. How wrong they are. The home is where we are shaped and the reading program that Hunt lays out would go a long way to providing values that are far more robust than the ones that Sunday School could ever hope to provide. Perhaps I need to shut down Sunday School and just open up a library for kids at church. Wonder would happen then?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Soul Searching by Numbers

[Two caveats are in order before my comments begin. First, this book is not to be confused with Christian Smith's Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers although there are certainly a plethora of similarities that could easily confuse. Overholt/Penner are Canadian, using someone else's data (mainly Bibby's) and write a much shorter book. Second, I am aware that there is another edition of this book but the one that I read and therefore can comment on is the one with the cover pictured at left. The other edition seems to be marginally newer and I'm not certain whether they updated anything.]

Although I technically teach at the same institution as Overholt, we have never actually met face-to-face. Besides a brief email/phone conversation that we had about a symposium I was organizing, we move in orbits that overlap but never collide. Overholt teaches on the Seminary side of the school and I teach on the University College side. Overholt teaches on Wednesday and I teach on Monday. The list could go on.

I say this because it was actually one of the main motivations for reading this book. I needed to get to know the work that Overholt was doing so I could figure out how to include it in my Canadian Youth Culture class. I did not know Penner at all before this but have discovered that he teaches a sociology of youth class at Lethbridge which has some similarities to the course that I teach. If nothing else, reading this book and doing some snooping around has given me a syllabus from someone else who is doing similar work. Well worth it in my opinion.

The tangential benefit of getting a sample syllabus is not the only value in reading this book however. Overholt and Penner have produced the only, to my knowledge at least, study that examines sociological data from a ministry perspective. I'm aware of Reg Bibby's Canada's Teens and considered it last year but found some weaknesses to it, the largest of which is that it is dated. A snapshot, especially of such things of values and priorities, is only useful for a short while after it has been taken. Canada's Teens is about teens in the 90's. The consitutional crisis in Quebec causes more anxiety than 9/11 because the data was taken before 2000. Not overly helpful now almost a decade later.

Soul Searching falls prey to some of the same aging problems. The most glaring example for me was Chapter Six - Digital Divides. I've seen recent statistics which show that the numbers presented on page 81 are not valid any longer. I think that teens are more wired now than they were six years ago. The rise of MSN, MySpace and economical high speed connections all point to more recreational usage than before. The conclusions that Overholt/Penner draw are reasonable given the data set they have before them but that data set is too old to adequately describe the teens I work with today.

This weakness does not mean that there is no value to this book, or even to some of the numbers that Overholt/Penner look at. Overholt/Penner draw out, for instance, the real stresses of adolescence - school combined with planning for the future. While the numbers may vary from year to year, I think that teens in this generation will always rank "Pressure to do well at school" and "What to do when finished school" followed closely by "Never seem to have enough time" as their top three personal concerns (see page 112). Although it might not be clear from my other posts on this blog, the issue of adolescence and vocation is a burning concern for me. Overholt/Penner nail it and bring it to the fore.

The conclusions that Overhold/Penner draw from the data, such as the stresses listed above, are generally good. It is a tricky thing to take the sociological data and move to the practice of ministry. I think the book would have been stronger if they had a more articulated understanding of the descriptive or interpretative nature of sociology and the normative nature of theology. If that relationship was clear then evangelical pragmatism, the default position for most of us, would not be so apparent when it came to 'doing' ministry with youth. On the other hand, Overholt/Penner have given the church a short precis of some well informed youth ministry practices. Perhaps there will be an update soon.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Baby Got Book

The Associate Minister for Visitation at my church gave me this link today:

You need to understand that Rosemary is past the age of retirement so confessed that she didn't understand what was going on but she did think that I might find it interesting.

Sir Mix-a-lot has got nothing on this dude. I'm going to contact him and see if I can use it in some of my classes when we talk about reading the Bible with teens.