Training in Righteousness
Other places I blog



web stats

Find Me On Twitter

Entries in Reading (39)


The gift of beautiful Canadian prose

This year is Canada's 150th birthday. I don't remember the celebrations of its centennial, but I do remember hearing about it. I think it would be interestng to look back at what has changed about Canada since 1967. I'm pretty sure that there is much that has not changed, which is a sad thing.

In thinking about the 150th of Canada, I thought it would be a good time to read more books by Canadian authors, whether fiction or non-fiction. As a Canadian who loves to read, I think it's a good idea to read what my country produces. I know a lot of people don't like Canadian fiction, and I understand that. There are certain kinds of fiction I don't like, too.

I put together a wishlist of various fiction books I want to read, most by authors who are well-established: Margaret Atwood, Farley Mowatt, Alice Munro, Joseph Boyden, and Roberston Davies. I added a book by Gabrielle Roy, because I remember reading some of her works in high school. I also looked specifically for up and coming Canadian authors. I don't remember exactly how I found it, but I saw a description of a book called The Break, by Katherena Vermette. I was drawn to the book because it is set in the north end of Winnipeg, a place where I lived for four years, although not in the exact place Vermette's characters live.

Vermette is Métis, and that also drew my interest, because my great-grandmother was Métis. Also, the struggle of Indigenous women in Canada has become an issue which has drawn attention in the last few years, as there are sobering statistics regarding the disappearance of many of them. 

I started The Break right after reading Hillbilly Elegy. The contrast was positively striking, although Vance's book also deals with a poverty stricken group of people. The difference, as well as the reality that one work is fiction and the other memoir, is in the prose. While I enjoyed Vance's book, I was not drawn in by the prose as I am with Vermette's writing. It is beautiful prose, despite depicting a very harsh world. I enjoyed the prose of Hillbilly Elegy more in its initial chapters. The end felt like neither memoir nor explication of the issue of poverty, and it felt rushed. Vermette writes in a much different style. I love fiction which I just can't put down, and last night, that was the case. The characters are rich and real. I hope that the other books I have on my wishlist will prove to be as enriching. 

Canada is home. It is where God, in his sovereignty, placed me. It is not a perfect country, but we will enjoy none of those until the final ushering in of God's kingdom. In the meantime, I will enjoy what my country has produced in the way of good reading.


Initial thoughts about Hillbilly Elegy

I gave in and purchased Hillbilly Elegy over Christmas. I'm halfway through, and I am finding it a good read. It kind of reminds me of Angela's Ashes, although while Vance is a good story-teller, I enjoyed McCourt's prose more. McCourt managed to create a little humour to break the tension. Vance's grandmother sounds like a pretty interestng woman, but I cannot fathom my grandmother ever using the kind of obscenities that Vance's Mamaw used. 

The terms "hillbily" and "white trash" are not terms I grew up with. While there were any number of racial and socioeconomic insults heard on the playground, most of them were directed to Jewish students, black students, or in some places we lived, Indigenous students. The neighbourhood where I lived in Winnipeg for four years is no longer a newer community for young families just getting started, like it was when my parents purchased their first home there. It has become a run down, poor neighbourhood. When I purchased the book The Break, I was struck by the references to the poverty of North Winnipeg; that is where we lived. We didn't have a lot of money, but it wasn't as poor as it could have been.

While not called "hillbillies," my family roots are in the white poor. My maternal grandfather was a coal miner in Saskatchewan, and my paternal grandfather a farmer in southern Manitoba. My mother grew up in a mining camp and only later moved into town when the strip mine where my grandfather worked closed, and he moved to a different one. There was racisim in that community I am sure. For many years, I was unaware that my great-grandmother, my grandmother's mother, was, in fact, Métis. There was talk over the years that my ancestors were acquainted with Métis, but it wasn't until a few years ago when I was researching our family trees that I was given a photograph of my great-grandmother, Agnes, who was obviously of Aboriginal descent. On further investigation, I discovered that her father, originally from Manitoba, was shoved off his land and went to the United States for a few years before settling back in Saskathchewan. No one told me this. There was shame and racism, and I believe my grandmother was embarrassed by this heritage. I don't know why my mother never talked about it. I suspect she shared that shame.

The fact of the matter is that only a very minute percentage of the general population has its roots in wealth. North America was a colony. While it drew people with money, the immigrants who came here did so because they wanted a better life, and often arrived with very little. I think many people have a poor background, and passing on poverty is a difficult thing to prevent because breaking such cycles takes time. The issues around poverty are complex and cannot be answered easily.

What has struck me so far about Hillbilly Elegy is the matter of drug abuse and alcoholism. I realize that poverty tends to beget such abuses. My family was poor, and so were the familes of both of my parents, but substance abuse did not find its way to my parents. It was not an issue with my mother's parents nor my father's. I'm sure some other sorts of dysfunction were passed down, but thankfully, that's not one of them. We were always well-taken care of no matter how little we had, and there were no incidents of minor children having to fend for themselves while parents were absent or having to do without because a parent needed to feed his addiction.

It's been an interesting read, and I'm looking forward to finishing it and seeing what conclusions Vance draws from his story.


Have some poutine with your theology

True confession: I have never eaten poutine. I don't know why people even equate Canadians with poutine, because I've lived here all my life, and I'd never heard of poutine until maybe ten years ago. Yes, I am Canadian, but no, I don't eat poutine. And I'm not overly fond of the stereotypes of Canadians. And yes, I bristle when people say that American culture and Canadian culture are "identical." An American transplanted to Canada said that exact thing on Facebook a couple of years ago. Said transplant has never been outside of Ontario, so I took the comment to be simply a manifestation of being unaware.

American culture and Canadian culture have similarities, but they are very different. I had Michael Haykin as a prof this past semester, and he got to talking about being a Canadian working in the U.S., and his observations and reflections reminded me of how very unlike we can be. As a Christian, the differences are also quite telling. The religious climate in Canada is very different. If you start by examining the link between religious affiliation and political affiliation alone, the differences begin to reveal themselves.

Anyway, I digress.

I see a lot about how Christians are supposed to engage with culture. For some, that seems to mean looking for biblical truth in cable television programs; sanctifying WWF wresting, or looking for spiritual messages in The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Some Canadian Christians know more about the U.S. political culture than they do our own. I understand that. The big theological influences are in the U.S. Here in Canada, we do boast of a few notable men: Michael Haykin, D.A. Carson, Richard Longenecker. However, we realize we're a little nation population-wise, and clearly, our evangelical roots are connected to those in the U.S. However, the origins of Canada and the U.S. are vastly different (we had a revolution, it lasted three days, and we lost), so our evangelicalism will be different. That's the part of culture we ought to pay attention to. How has our history affected our culture, and thus our faith?

In 2017, I want to pay more attention to my own country. My social media feed can often be biased toward American culture, and while I do appreciate it, I want to focus on my own. I've been hearing nothing but good things about the book Hillbilly Elegy. Before deciding to read it, I read quite a few reviews. I decided to read it because it sounds quite poignant, and I like prose like that. But I'm very aware of the fact that the book is faiirly culture specific. The principle of poverty with its related issues here in Canada is not the same. Even words like "hillbilly" and "white trash" are not words I grew up with. I went to school with kids who lived in low cost housing; I don't remember hearing them referred to as hillbillies, and the only reference to "white trash" I had was from the movie Gone With the Wind

I decided that if I was going to read Hillbilly Elegy, I ought to read something about Canada's poverty problem, too. This year, I'm going to read a few books specific to Canadian culture, and see where they take me:

Poverty in Canada - an interdiscplinary look at the matter of poverty in Canada and its effects.

The Break - a novel authored by an Aboriginal woman, dealilng with the fate of indigenous women in Canada.

A Culture of Faith - a discussion of evangelical congregations in Canada. I'm hoping to get some resources that point directly to the history of evangelicalism in Canada.

And I don't think I'll be eating poutine with my reading; maybe a double-double from Tim Horton's.


Growing Reading Lists

My reading list is always growing. I have a couple of wish lists, one at Christian Book Distributors and one at Westminster Books. I add when something looks good, and every now and then, I have a look and delete stuff that I've lost interest in. Here are some recent additions. 

The Historical Reliability of John's Gospel: Issues and Commentary, Craig L. Blomberg.

Invitation to the Septuagint, Karen Jobes and Moises Silva

The IVP Biblical Background Commentary: New Testament, Craig Keener

Biblical Words and Their Meaning, Moises Silva

A Biblical History of Israel, Iain Provan, V. Phillips Long, Tremper Longman, III

Hermeneutics, Authority, and Canon, D.A. Carson and John Woodbridge

A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New, G.K. Beale

Continuity and Discontinuity: Persperpectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments, John Feinberg, Ed.

Letters to the Church: A Survey of Hebrews and the General Epistles, Karen Jobes

The Promise-Plan of God: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments, Walter Kaiser

New Testament History, Ben Witherington, III

Who's Tampering With the Trinity? Millard Erickson

The Deep Things of God, Fred Sanders

The Forgotten Trinity, James White

Thanksgiving: A Biblical-Theological Investigation of a Pauline Theme, David Pao

That last book is a recent addition after getting into Christine Pohl's book Living into Community. Thankfully, quite a few of them on the list are in the library at my school, and I hope to get some through inter-library loan. The books on the Trinity were added in the midst of the discussions that have been rumbling around lately. I'm going to be taking Theological Foundations this September, so I hope to get more insight into the Trinity there as well. 

In the meantime, I'm enjoying reading for fun, and that's always a good thing.


Take time to smell the pages

My daughter does the same thing with a new book every time she gets one: she holds the book to her nose, flips the pages and smells. She has a thing about the way books smell. I think there are times when the enjoyment of reading is inhibited because she doesn't like the smell. Naturally, she is a paper book lover, as opposed to digital. She enjoys the sensory experience.

I am not a book sniffer myself, but I have seen lately the need to stop and sniff the pages in a figurative sense. Over the past six weeks, as I prepared papers, I had to pretty much race through my reading. Sometimes, I was frustrated because I had to take longer to understand something. At other times, it was frustrating to have to have to hurry through. I skimmed the bibliographies and wished I had time to spend delving into some of the issues more deeply. There just wasn't time. While I love having completed my assignments, I can't say the process was easy, and at times it was onerous. I don't like to be rushed, but it is a consequence of busyness.

Being busy is an interference to our gratitude. That is a principle I read in Christine Pohl's book Living into Community. She comments:

"Gratitude and wonder are squeezed out when our lives are packed full with busyness and responsibilities. There is simply no room, no time to notice." 

No time to notice; that situation extends to so many aspects of our lives.

When I am in a hurry, I just don't notice things, whether it is the many things for which I am thankful or the wonderful things I have read in a book. As a child growing up, I read L.M. Montgomery's books over and over again to the point where I can repeat passages at length. I wouldn't be able to do that unless I had either read repeatedly or read more slowly, or perhaps, both. I want to be able to remember what I read, especially if it is eloquently stated. And certainly, eloquent writing is far more memorable than that which is not.

I think this is why I don't like reading lists. When there is a list, I look at it as something to be conquered. I don't want to look at reading in that way. I want to stop and "smell" the pages. I want to dwell on the footnotes, check out the resources, and follow the bunny trails. I guess I'm more like my Beagle; the joy of the trail isn't the end; it's the variety of smells in between the beginning and the end. 

I am thankful for good books. I am thankful that I have the means to purchase books and libraries to borrow from. But I don't want to get caught up in the busyness so that I don't notice not only what's inside the book, but what's going on around me. Certainly, placing a list of books to be read by a certain date means I have to avert my eyes from other things in order to finish. I can't do that. Reading methods and approaches are not universal. Some of us want to slow down, and some of us want to hurry along. I may not physically smell the pages, but I want to do so metaphorically.