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Entries in Reading (48)


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.


Too much theology?

Is there anything as too much theology? I didn't think so, but the past few weeks, I've been wondering. My seminary class has a lot of reading. In addition to learning the course material, I am also beginning my research for my hermeneutical papers. That means more reading. It means commentaries, and it means lots of Bible reading, because the first thing to address when writing a hermeneutical paper is the context. Between school and weekly planning for teaching Sunday school, I've found my interest in other thelogical books a little half-hearted. In May, I will be starting a course about how the New Testament uses Old Testament Scripture. I have a feeling I may continue to feel this way.

Perhaps it's because I'm getting older, and I don't juggle multiple books like I used to. I find that trying to juggle too many draws my focus away from the school work, and I want to be focused. On the upside, seminary has meant I'm reading other things. And I'm actually reading without a pencil in my hand, which I seldom do, but sometimes, it's good to do that. It's good to have a break from the theology. Sometimes, stepping away for a break is good to just process things and let them settle in my brain.

My husband and I both began reading The Last Kingdom series, which is about Alfred the Great. It's set in the 9th Century, and there's lots of battles. I never thought I'd like this kind of book, but I really do. I'm about to start the second volume, and my husband just started the third. There is eight in all, so we should keep busy with that.

I am about to finish a book called The Famine Plot, which is about the Irish Famine. The author, Tim Pat Coogan has written many books, and was a journalist. I've read two of his other books, one on Michael Collins and one on Eamon DeValera. Coogan's mother, Beatrice, wrote a novel set in the time of the famine, The Big Wind, and I picked that up recently.

In April, Dr. Michael Haykin is bringing Karen Swallow Prior to my school to speak about Hannah More. I decided to give in and see what all the fuss was about, so in preparation for her lecture, I want to read Fierce Convictions. Judging from those who liked it, I suspect I will, too.

I don't know if I'll get all of these finished before May, which is my goal. Once the deadlines for my papers get closer, I know I won't have as much time. As for all those other unread books, I'll just have to pencil them in for the summer.