May 20, 2013

Parables: The Arrows of God - Megan McKenna

I really feel as though I don't have much to say about this book.  It was a good book and all, but I still feel as though I am in the middle of a "book hangover" after finishing Quantum Theology which was a great book.  It doesn't feel fair to review the two of them so closely together, as this book will end up with the short end of the stick!

The Lay Worship Leader course that I have been taking is drawing to a close.  We have met for the weekend 5 times over the past year and a half, and our last weekend together will be in July.  Each interval, we have been given assignments which have included reading and reflecting upon 3 books.  Usually, there have been 2 required books and one elective (chosen from a 12-page-long list of books). This interval is slightly different in that all 3 books are electives.  However, as I perused the 12-page-long list, I couldn't decided on only 3 titles from the ones that remained, so I ended up ordering 7 books.  Of those 7, I picked Quantum Theology to read first (I had wanted to read it ever since I spotted the title on the list), and this book to read second.

The book takes a look at several of the parables told by Jesus, and sometimes flips the conventional interpretation completely on it's head.  For me, one of the most important distinctions made by this book is the difference between allegory (items and characters are representative of another item/person/idea), and parable (multiple layers of meaning, multiple interpretations).  This new way of looking at the parables could prove useful to me as I am writing sermons.

But other than that, I don't have much else to say about this book.  It was an easy read and didn't present any roadblocks.  With Quantum Theology, I found myself slowing down half-way through the book, mostly because I didn't want the book to end.  With this book, I read it straight through in a week.

And that is it.  I feel as though I haven't done this book justice by comparing it to the last book I read, but so be it.

May 14, 2013

The Harem - Safia Fazlul

I wanted to love this book; really I did!  When the publisher e-mailed me, asking to send me an e-copy for review, I was intrigued by the premise.  A young girl, raised in a strict household by parents from Bangladesh, within an Asian community located in a large Canadian city (never named as Toronto); asserts her independence by leaving her parents and eventually running an escort agency to try and buy her financial freedom.

A quick note on the format - this is the first time that I have reviewed an e-book on this blog.  I am opposed to e-books both on principle (an electronic copy seems so much less permanent than a physical book), as well as for the reading experience (I like being able to flip around and skim a book with ease).  That being said, I have both the Kobo and Kindle apps on my iPad, but I won't buy e-books.  I use the apps for reading at the gym - I can prop the iPad on the ledge of the machine and it won't fold shut the way a real book will; plus I can make the font size big which makes it easy to read while exercising!  Up until now, I have downloaded anything free from the Kobo and Kindle sites that looks like it will entertain me during my workouts; but most of what I have read in e-format isn't worth a review (with free books, you generally get what you pay for!).

Anyways, back to this book.  I didn't dislike it, but I didn't like it as much as I had hoped for.  Let me try to break it down a bit further...

Things I liked:

The premise.  Lots of the themes covered in this book are ones that I tend to be drawn to in literature.  It is a coming of age story; it deals with the immigrant experience; it points out the class inequality here in Canada.  And I have to say that I have never read a book that involves a group of young women essentially setting up a brothel (OK, a call service) and pimping out other young women.  The idea of the moral and ethical issues that this would present intrigued me.  And for the most part, these expectations were fulfilled.  Especially when the main character's best friend decides to work for them as a prostitute.

The atmosphere.  To me, this book reeked of darkness and rain, with a few bright spots of sunny daytime thrown in for contrast.  Most of the story seems to take place at night, or with the curtains drawn, or in the middle of a rainstorm; and the atmosphere was so well drawn that as I was reading it, I would occasionally look up from the book and out the window (remember that I'm reading this on the elliptical machine at the gym!) and be surprised at the blue sky and sparkling lake right in front of me.

Things I didn't like:

The writing.  I found much of the writing to be clumsy and the language over-wrought, and this did take away from my enjoyment of the book.  A sample picked at random from somewhere in the middle of the book:  "As my tired eyes hover over the stained bowl, I become aware of the mundane sounds of the world out there.  I never before paid attention to the chirping of birds; the tinkling melody of the ice cream truck; the idle prattle from the neighbours.  These sounds come from outside my window, so close.  But I'll never feel part of them again.  I have too many secrets."

The ending.  I felt that the story line and tension built up and built up and built up; and then all of a sudden, boom, story ended.  I found the ending to be particularly unsatisfying.  There were too many threads that tied up too quickly, and too many other threads that were left dangling.

So a mixed review overall.  I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it either.  This is Safia Fazlul's first novel, and there was enough about it that was good that I hope that she continues to write.  I feel as though she has a story that she wants to tell, a message that she wants to get out.  I will read any future books that she publishes.  Thank you to TSAR Publications for sending me a copy of this book.

May 11, 2013

Quantum Theology: Spiritual Implications of the New Physics - Diarmuid O'Murchu

In order for what I am about to say to make sense, you have to know that I have a very strong aversion to writing in books.  I feel as though books are to be treasured, and making any marks in them decreases their value.  (Yes, I am familiar with the argument that writing in books increases their value - and in neither case does value refer to monetary value!)  I have very few books with any marks in them.

However, when I started reading this book, I found myself reaching for a pen within a couple of pages.  I kept a pen with this book right up until the end.  There was just too much in there that resonated with me.  I found myself underlining phrases and sentences and paragraphs that lingered with me and that I wanted to remember.  My brain was kept busy making connections and references and expanding on thoughts that I kept scribbling phrases and ideas and questions in the margins.  I rarely went more than a page or two in this book without making some sort of mark.

And then a few pages after I started making my marks in this book, I started posting quotes from this book on my Facebook page.  This book was just too good to keep to myself!

When I was in university, I started in the Pre-Physiotherapy program which meant essentially a year of pure sciences (biology, chemistry, physics, and calculus) and as long as my grade point average stayed above a certain point, I would then transfer straight into the Physiotherapy program.  There were several points in that year where I thought that if the whole Physiotherapy thing didn't work out, I could quite happily study Physics or Chemistry.  There were points in those classes (once we moved beyond the boring Newtonian Mechanics) when we would be presented with concepts that I found that I couldn't think about directly.  I could think around them, and maybe glance at them sideways through the corner of my eye, and occasionally get a glimpse of something big, something beautiful, something awe-inspiring.  I wanted to dig deeper into those ideas, but then I did get the marks to move into the Physiotherapy program and that was the end of my Physics and Chemistry career!

I think what I'm trying to say is that I have understood for many years - for much longer than I have identified as a Christian - that the world is bigger and more complex and more beautiful and more organized and more random that our puny little human brains will ever understand.  The world is full of mystery, lying just below the surface of what we can perceive.  And yet it is only in the past year or so that I have been able to acknowledge that "mystic" is a large part of my Christian identity.  I find myself getting more and more in touch with the Holy Mystery that is God.

And I suppose that is the main reason why I have never been able to accept that there is any sort of contradiction between science and religion.  The mysterious, the incomprehensible, the awe is a part of both of them.  And after all, if I can accept that light is both a particle and a wave at the same time - a quantum of energy - why can't I accept that Jesus is fully God and fully human at the same time?  Interestingly enough, the April edition of The United Church Observer included an article addressing this very same question, with very similar conclusions - Will Science Eventually Explain Everything?

I apologize - this post is straying very far from the book!

The most concise description of this book that I gave to a friend of mine is that it is like a non-fiction version of Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time series.  There is another writer who saw absolutely no false dichotomy between science and religion!

This book is a seamless melding of the world of Quantum Physics and Theology.  It looks at how science has expanded and developed and evolved over the past century, and how parallels can be drawn with our understanding of God.  Some of the parallels drawn include looking at quarks as a model for the Trinity; a re-telling of the Genesis 1 creation story melded with the big bang creation story; dark matter is as necessary for matter, just as Calvary is necessary for the resurrection; photosynthesis as a cosmic parable; the fundamental importance of light in both the quantum world view and the theological world view.

And now for a few of those quotes I was sharing on Facebook:
"No longer do we understand the earth to exist primarily for the benefit of us humans.  The earth exists to manifest the beauty and grandeur of the creator; it is an "alive" planet with a capacity to grow and survive, endowed with a resilience that we humans cannot match." (p 19)
"Reality is bigger than our ability to perceive and since it grows forever in complexity it will probably always outstretch our imaginations and outwit our intelligence." (p32)
"With two-thirds of humanity struggling to meet basic survival needs and the other third largely preoccupied with accumulating and hoarding wealth, the human capacity for reflection, intuition, and the development of the imagination is at an all-time low." (p126)
"Often it is our fears that cripple us - fear of the new, of letting go of the old, of being challenged, of taking risks, of broadening our visions and horizons.  The call to conversion is an invitation to outgrow our fears and trust ourselves to the unfolding process of life and meaning.  Once we realize that the unfolding process itself is fundamentally benign and benevolent, then we begin to realize the profound meaning of the words:  "Perfect love casts out fear" (1John 4:18)."  (p217)

OK - sorry for the long and rambling post.  I am just so excited to share this book with anyone who will listen!  I am going to celebrate this book by adding a re-read of the A Wrinkle in Time books to my summer reading list.  And possibly by purchasing this t-shirt.