Wednesday, 30 November 2005

Catholicism In the Third Millennium by: Thomas P. Rausch

Catholicism: In the Third Millennium
Thomas P. Rausch
Michael Glazier Books

This book is a new edition of Catholicism: At The Dawn Of The Third Millennium. It is a great book for one raised in the Catholic tradition or someone who is curious about it. It looks back over the past thirty-odd years at the goals of Vatican Council II, and how the church is doing at living up to the expectations from that event.

This revised edition does not, at first look, appear that different. Yet the few differences make it well worth it. There is major revision of chapter 2, section two, which has gone from being ‘The People of God’ to ‘God and God’s People’. There are also discussion questions at the end of each chapter. That will help the reader digest the material, or help a group study the book together.

All in all, in a new edition written seven years after the first, I was hoping for much more. There was an expectation of newer and fresher analysis of the material. Yet, even with that letdown, the book is worth an examination by a member of the catholic community or the casual scholar.

(First Published in Across the Creek 2006-02-10)


Tuesday, 22 November 2005

Some of this week's readings:

Some time’s your reading a book and the weight of the subject just burden’s you down. I just finished a book for school like that. It was a hard read, Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation by Jonathan Kozol it details over a year’s worth of research into the lives of children in New York City, and specifically those of children living in poverty and disease in the ghetto. The situations described in this book will grip your heart and be profoundly disturbing. Elie Wiesel states about this book “Jonathan’s struggle is noble, his appeal urgent. What he says must be heard. His outcry must shake our nation out of its guilty indifference.” If you want the truth about the poor in America read this book.

On the other hand I am reading two book’s this week that are challenging and uplifting and stir the heart to look to greater heights. They are A Holy Meal: The Lord’s Supper in the Life of the Church by Gordon T. Smith and Amazing Church: A Catholic Theologian Remembers a Half-Century of Change by Gregory Baum. Today at the library I went back and forth reading a chapter in one and then the other.

The first one; A Holy Meal looks at the importance and significance of the lord’s supper or communion in the church and in God’s interactions with man. From Adam and Eve eating with God in the garden of Eden, to the meal’s Jesus ate with his followers after the resurrection. Though I have yet to finish it, it is one of the best spiritual book’s I have read this year.

Baum’s book on the other hand is energetic, fast paced and engaging. Spanning the history of the church from the mid 1800’s till today it examines the Catholic Church’s positions and the shift in focus over the time Baum has been a theologian. As a former professor at St. Michael’s College and now at McGill University Baum is one of the voices at the forefront of Canadian Catholic thought. This book is a retrospective of what he sees that the church is doing well.

Well those are just 3 of the books in the pile on the desk this week. Yet each would be worth taking a look at. Happy reading!

Sunday, 20 November 2005

Catholic Roots

No matter how hard I have tried, I find that I am very Catholic in my core. It’s like Robertson Davies book What’s Bread in the Bone will out in the flesh. I was raised Catholic and have through the years spend differing amounts of time away from the church. Yet I always return. I am by no way saying the Catholic church has all the answers, but there is something in it’s traditions and diversity that always draw me home.

I find the same in my readings, I return to certain authors again and again. Both in my fiction reading and in my spiritual readings; for fiction I return to Thomas Hardy, Robertson Davies, Robert A. Heinlein and Madeleine L’Engle. For Catholic authors I return again and again to Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, Scott Hahn, Michael W. Higgins and Andrew M. Greeley. And for Christian authors I am drawn to C.S. Lewis, John Eldredge, Dallas Willard and many others.

Saturday, 19 November 2005

Refuge An Unnatural History by: Terry Tempest Williams

Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place
Terry Tempest Williams
Vintage Books

This book is so powerful and so moving, it brought me to tears in more than one place. This is an amazing story of place, family, love, and the desert. Last winter I had to read one of Williams’ books for a course and have become addicted to her writings. Williams is a Mormon naturalist who pushes the boundaries of both, and her unique insights bring a freshness to both faith and preservation. I have tracked down and read all of her books that are currently in print, and this is the most powerful of them. Terry states in another book, “The great silences of the desert are not void of sound, but void of distractions.” This book is about the silences and the distractions of death, the death of her mother and of the bird refuge that she loved and that was her solace. The chapter headings are unique, written as a journal, but not by date but by lake height. As the Great Salt Lake rose to record heights in the mid-1980’s, Terry’s mother was dying of cancer, and the Salt Lake’s rising was flooding the Bear River Migratory Bird refuge. The refuge was sacred to Terry as a place she and her grandmother would visit together, and as a place to get alone outside of the city to reflect, meditate and believe.

Terry begins the prologue with “Everything about the Great Salt Lake is exaggerated – the heart, the cold, the salt, and the brine. It is a landscape so surreal one can never know what it is for certain. … Most of the women in my family are dead. Cancer. At thirty-four, I became the matriarch of my family.” pg.3. This book chronicles one woman’s love of the desert, of the bird refuge and of her family. It tells the story of cancer clusters in the desert where the US Government tested thousands of nuclear devices from the 1940’s to the 60’s.


Journey with one woman, through disease, death, destruction and the desert; journey with her both through the physical landscape and the internal one, to a new place- a place of determination and desire to make change and to grow from all she has been through.


Terry states in the epilogue, “I belong to a clan of One-Breasted Women. My mother, my grandmothers, and six aunts have all had mastectomies. Seven are dead. The two who survive have just completed rounds of chemotherapy and radiation.” pg. 281. This is a story of a strong woman who shares her pain, and her strength, to help us all see what could be possible with the triumph of the human spirit.

(First Published in Imprint 2005-11-18 as 'A tale of true inner strenght')


Friday, 18 November 2005

Bench Press by: Sven Lindqvist

Bench Press
Sven Lindqvist
Translated Sarah Death

Granta Publications

What do an aging 50-year-old writer and a skinhead body builder have in common? This is an intriguing little book, written part as memoir and part as history of working out, weights and bodybuilding, and little bit of dreams. Sven, who is our 50- year-old writer, meets the skinhead in the sauna; they end up talking, as people will at the gym, and a man who only swam laps started working out. Yet in the process of working out, he experiences an almost religious epiphany.

A man, who was happy as a writer traveling the world, and was content with middle age, slowly reawakens dreams from his youth. As he workouts, Sven remembers childhood dreams, like a desire to visit the Sahara desert.

This book begins with a quote from Marcus Aurelius; “Does transformation frighten you? Yet what can happen without transformation? Can you yourself take a hot bath without the wood being transformed, can you nourish yourself without the food being transformed? Do you not then see that your own transformation is equally necessary?”, and this book will change you. As I read it, my own childhood dreams and aspirations, long put away, were awakened. This book is broken up into 85 penses or thoughts. Some are the personal reflections of the author, some of history, and tidbits of information fun and bizarre, and a few are visions that Sven has along his journey.

This book is the first in a trilogy. The last chapters of the first two are the first chapter of the next. They are Desert Divers , a journey into the desert to see childhood dreams, and Exterminate All the Brutes, a history of genocides in Africa committed by Europeans and leading up to the great genocide of the Nazi reign. Sven, in the preface to Bench Press, states: “As a boy, I read about fire-eaters and well-divers, sandstorms and desert lakes. I dreamed of going to the Sahara. Bench Press is the story of how I found my dream again....…these books grew out of one another and form a single unit, taking the reader from the self-obsessed physical culture of the early 1980’s to a new awareness of the crimes of the past and the threats lying ahead in the future.”

Lindqvist books in English are not easy to find, but are well worth the effort. Back to the writer and the skinhead, what they have in common is self-image and self- doubt that can be overcome, and dreams that are assisted by building the body. Or as Montaigne stated a long time ago: “To Strengthen the mind you must harden the muscles.” Use this book for the mind and maybe it will challenge you to do some work on tuning up the body as well.

(First Published in Imprint 2005-11-18 as 'Memoirs, brains and brawn')

(Reprinted in Across the Creek the St. Jerome's Students' Union newspaper column 'Book Look' November 2005)

Other Fitness Articles:
Fall 2011 Programs
Workout program March 2012
My Gear February 2012
Fitness My Retrospective

TRX Articles:
TRX an Introduction
TRX Force

TRX Force Tactical
TRX Essential Flexibility

My P90X Series:
Phase I, Phase II, Gear, Phase III, Fitness Options, P90X at 120 Days Out

Health & Fitness Book Reviews:
The Primal Blueprint 21 Day Total Body Transformation - Mark Sisson
The Ten Commandments Of Lifting Weights - Jared Zimmerer

Toadally Primal Smoothies - Todd Dosenberry
Caveman Resurection - Jeff Pickett
40 Days to Optimal Health - Dr. Scott Morris
Eat Stop Eat - Brad Pilon
The Primal Blueprint - Mark Sisson
The New Rules of Lifting - Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove
Bench Press by: Sven Lindqvist
Sly Moves by: Sylvester Stallone
Fit for Eternal Life: A Christian Approach to Working Out, Eating Right, and Building the Virtues of Fitness in Your Soul by: Dr. Kevin Vost
Body for Life 12 Weeks to Mental and Physical Strenght by: Bill Phillips
Lose Fat Not Faith by Jeremy R. Likeness
Living The Good Life: Your Guide to Health and Success by: David Patchell-Evans
Dump your Trainer by: Ashley Marriott and Marc L. Paulsen


Thursday, 17 November 2005

Trends

I love reading there is no doubt about it. I am known for my love and reading and my passion for books. I find I come upon an author or a subject and hunger and thirst for it more and more. I tend to read all that I can from authors that I like. In some ways it’s like music lover who collects a complete discography of an artist or group. Over the last few years I have read a little broader than in the past. I have gone through phases or reading Chuck Palahniuk, Douglas Coupland, Terry Tempest Williams, Travel Literature, environmental preservation and spiritual environmental writings. Now I find that I am returning to things Catholic. Having been raised Irish Catholic I find I return to catholic writings every few years and renew my spirit and my hunger for the things of God.

Tuesday, 15 November 2005

Used Bookstores

I love bookstores, and used bookstores! I was in Toronto this past weekend staying at Sanctuary a Church that ministers in the inner city. I was there with Jeremy Horne, my former boss from The Navigators who is now leading a new organization called Life Change Adventures. A few years ago I was at a retreat there and one of the speakers introduced me to Noah benShea one of my favorite authors. While there that time I found his books at used book stores near by. This time around I found a great little book called “Confessions of St. Patrick” it was a book I lend out a few years back and was never returned. I found it used for $2.75 which is great because it is out of print and I have wanted to reread it for a while.

Saturday, 12 November 2005

Mother Macrina by Irma Zaleski

Mother Macrina
By: Irma Zaleski
Novalis Press

This is an inspiring little volume that focuses on the wisdom of Mother Macrina, a wise woman who left a hermitage and settled in a small town in northern Ontario. Her wisdom became known, and as her reputation spread, more and more people came to her door, and her door was always open. She invited them in to have tea and talk.

When she passed away, people were surprised by how many came to her funeral. These stories are the collection of some of her wisdom and guidance, the tales that people still tell.

These stories read like the wisdom of the desert fathers, or the Zen mystics. The book is a collection of short thoughts and its wisdom and guidance is penetrating. Mother Macrina relates this about being sorry:

A woman came to tell Mother Macrina about a quarrel she had with a friend. She explained in detail how it came about, and how difficult her friend had been. She was sorry she got so angry, but still…

Mother listened patiently till the women ran out of breath. Then she asked her, “Why don’t you tell your friend you are sorry and be done with it?”

“But Mother,” the woman exclaimed, “did you not listen to me at all? It wasn’t my fault; I explained it to you already!”

“So you did,” answered Mother Macrina. “What a strange thing it is that to say one is sorry takes only a moment, but to explain why one should not say it takes over an hour!”

That is just a taste of the wisdom for life that you will glean from this little gem. Reading this book, you will laugh and smile and maybe it will help you grow. Pick it up and I am sure you will enjoy it. Zaleski is also the author of Living the Jesus Prayer and The Way of Repentance.

(First published in Imprint 2005-11-11 as ‘Aliens and Inspiration’)

Friday, 11 November 2005

Jhereg by Steven Brust

Jhereg
Steven Brust
Ace Fantasy

This is book One in the adventures of Vlad Taltos, an unlikely of heroes. The book begins with: “There is a similarity, if I may be permitted an excursion into the tenuous metaphor, between the feel of a chilly breeze and the feel of a knife’s blade, as either is laid across the back of your neck. I can call up memories of both, if I work at it. The chilly breeze is invariably going to be the more pleasant memory.”

The world in this series started much like ours. But long long ago the Jenoine, powerful aliens, came to this planet. They split the population in two; the Easterners were much like us, lived to 50 or 60 years and used witchcraft. Then there were the Dragaera Empire, with people much taller and much longer-lived. Yet we find out that these people were altered by the Jenoine mixing their genetic material with those of the animals native to the planet: seventeen animals to be specific. These people broke into houses named after the animals. And each house takes a turn in ruling the empire.

Vlad, our lonely easterner, is living in the Dragaera Empire. But he has become muscle for the mob, the house Jhereg. Now he is getting paid to beat up and eventually kill those who always picked on him and put him down.

The book is humorous, witty and fun, reminiscent of Neil Gaiman or Roger Zelazny. Vlad zings one-liners at us that will make you laugh and smile and cheer for the underdog: “Success leads to stagnation; stagnation leads to failure.” Or “No matter how subtle the wizard, a knife between the shoulder blades will seriously cramp his style.”

If you want some light, fun, humorous reading, this is the series for you.

(First published in Imprint 2005-11-11 as ‘Aliens and Inspiration’)

My Other Reviews of Brust Books:

Jhegaala
My Own Kind of Freedom
Dzur
The Sun, the Moon & The Stars
Jhereg

Saturday, 5 November 2005

Tales of Adam By Daniel Quinn

Tales of Adam
Daniel Quinn
Random House of Canada
November 2005

Do you want the good news or the bad news first? Daniel Quinn, best know for his Ishmael trilogy (Ishmael, My Ishmael & The Story of B), has released some more writings in this vein of thought. That is the good news; the bad news is, the book is only about a hundred pages long.

For those fans of Quinn’s earlier writings it will be a treat, a little treasure to be savored over and over again. I have already read it twice and got even more out of it the second time. The book is broken into seven teaching stories, much like the stories used to illustrate points in the trilogy, except they are not woven into a larger story.

The stories are each told by ‘Adam’ to his son Able. The stories teach lessons on sustainability, greed, wisdom and knowledge. They teach Able and us our place in the universe and our responsibility as creatures of reason. In teaching about ecology, Adam states, “Every track begins and ends in the hand of god. Every track is a lifetime long.” P.22.

In talking about place Adam says: “No Place where there is life is a desert except to man.” P8. This sentiment on place echoes much of Terry Tempest Williams’ thought. Towards the end, Adam tells his son, “We are seekers of holy places.” P.74, and that is true of many of us. We are questers on a journey to find out who we are and our place in the universe. These sorts of stories might help us along the path.

(First published in Imprint 2005-11-05 as ‘Teaching from Adam’)

Friday, 4 November 2005

Myths, Madness and Mayhem

There is an amazing new series of books being published. The first three have just been released in 32 countries and 30 languages. The project is the brainchild of Jamie Byng, a publisher at Cognate books. The series was launched October 22nd, 2005 after nearly seven years of work. Their goal was to assemble some of the top authors in the world and have them re-tell a myth or legend in their words - how they would tell the story. If the first few are any example of things to come, this will truly be an amazing series of books worth the time and effort to read.

The three released in this event are The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus by Margaret Atwood; Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles by Jeanette Winterson, and an introduction to the series by Karen Armstrong called A Short History of Myth. What makes these books and this series so great is that they are not approaching Myths as fairy tales, or children’s stories, but as truth, as the stories that tell us who we are and why we are here and how we are to live.

There are forthcoming books by David Grossman: Lion’s Honey: The Myth f Samson, and Victor Pelvin’s The Helmet of Horror: The Myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, as well as future offerings by Chinua Achebe, Milton Hatoum, Donna Tartt, A.S. Byatt, Su Tong and Natsuo Kirino and possibly more to come after that.

In Canada these books are being released by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random house of Canada. Armstrong needs no introduction and her book serves as a reminder of mythology and story and the reason we as humans tell stories. So let us now begin with Atwood’s book.

The Penelopiad
Margaret Atwood
Knopf Canada
October 2005

I am not normally a fan of Margaret Atwood’s writings. I often find that she is too dark or has too much edge. Not that it is not good writing, and she is probably currently the most famous of the living Canadian authors, she just isn’t usually my thing. I cannot say that for this book.

The Penelopiad is a hilarious romp through a story that most of us know, but told outside of time. There is an old saying that “dead men don’t tell tales” and that may be true, but in this inventive retelling, a dead woman and her chorus of dead girls do just that.

Atwood has turned this myth on its head and told it from the female perspective. Unfortunately, our heroine is dead and in Hades, retelling her story from across the river Styx. She is telling her whole story but especially the events around Odysseus’ long absence during the war against Troy and that unfortunate event with her cousin Helen.

The story is written in the format of a Greek Tragedy but with the humor and temperament of a comedy. Our chorus is the twelve dead maids, hung strung together on a ship’s rope by Odysseus. They appear from time to time, in song, dance, or mock plays and trials to re-enact events from their lives to punctuate Penelope’s story.

The twists and turns in this story will make you laugh out loud. A friend of mine who read it stated, ‘It begs to be read aloud.’ And I could not agree more. Pick up the book, get some friends together and read it aloud, over an evening or two together. Much fun will be had with the ghosts of our 13 dead ladies.


Weight
Jeanette Winterson
Knopf Canada
October 2005

Now on to much weightier matters. Winterson takes a much different approach than Atwood. She tells this tale as herself telling her tale retelling a tale. Confusing? No not really. She begins with herself, tells the story of Heracles ad Atlas and then returns to her own life and lessons learnt.

Unlike the Penelopiad, this book Weight is very dark and brooding and leaves one with a feeling of unease as if we missed something, or even that in reading this book, like Pandora, we have opened a box and cannot now close it and will be forever different. Though we are not sure how.

How does Winterson accomplish this? In this deep brooding book she touches something primal inside. Much as Heracles is awoken and bothered by the question “Why? Why? Why?” this question arises and will not let him go.

So too, this book will awaken questions in your mind and your spirit, and maybe, just maybe, if we are lucky, in this book we will find the questions to lift our weight. If we can learn from it to tell our story we can be freed, and step out from under the burden on our shoulders, as Atlas so desperately desired.

As stated earlier this series is a unique event. It is stories from old being told by authors anew. As such they are books we could all enjoy and learn from.


(First published in Imprint 2005-11-05 as ‘Myth Novels’)