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Six for Summer

Photo: Sue Careless

Our West Coast friends, Bill Reimer and Julie Lane Gay, have again offered us their cool ideas for warm summer reading.

Julie Lane Gay is a writer and editor who lives in Vancouver with her husband, Craig, and their four children. She attends St John’s, Vancouver. 


Imago Mundi: Poems

Loren Wilkinson

Regent College Publishing, 2016

I have always been excluded from the poetry club. I’m not sure if I’m too dense or too hasty. But this last winter a friend mentioned that during Lent she was working through a collection of poems, Imago Mundi, and, lacking an alternative, I surmised that doing the same would at least be an acceptable Lenten discipline.

With poems titled “The Christ of Charlie Edenshaw,” “Cello’s Concerto,” and “The Necessity of Snowshoes,” you know you are in for a wide array. Imago Mundi was assembled over more than forty years and there is biography, wonder and Christ in “ten thousand places” in each of them. As Poet Luci Shaw comments in her Introduction, “Loren is a bit like Adam, discovering new beauty and interest in his environment, paying close and loving attention to the glints of splendour that swim into his vision every day. He names things in order to bring them to our attention.”

One stanza in “Wedding of an Incoming Tide” keeps coming back to me:   

Hear this, then, both of you:

However far the sea recedes, keep faith;

And he who daily fills this cove for you with life

Will never leave you gasping on the sand;

His blood is the life of the circling sea.

His life is yours.

A bonus at the end of this treasure-pack are the excellent Notes by Loren’s friend, Ron Reed. Some days these blessed my Lenten efforts nearly as much as did the poems. A writer in his own right, Reed fills in cracks and expands horizons – a winsome support for those of us too dense to see the gifts before us.


The Hidden Life of Trees

Peter Wohlleben

Greystone Publishing, 2016

Available as an audiobook as well.

With phones in hand and laptops before us, we assume that humans are the quintessential communicators.  Peter Wohlleben’s surprise best-seller, The Hidden Life of Trees, explains that trees are not just adept at communicating, they do so with far more respect and kindness than  we do. As the author explains about a towering pair of Beech trees: “These trees are friends…You see how the thick branches point away from each other?  That’s so they don’t block their buddy’s light.”  It turns out that trees are communal – constantly looking out for each other, often at their own expense.  Trees can remember, rule, warn and nurse.  They are more mindful of the forest than of themselves. 

Written by a forester in Western Germany, this humane but botanically-rooted reflection might jar the purest of scientists and the CFO’s of timber mills. Wohlleben speaks in human terms and views long-term sustainability as paramount.  He notes:

“Young trees are so keen on growing quickly that it would be no problem for them to grow 18 inches taller per season. Unfortunately for them, their own mothers do not approve of rapid growth. They shade their offspring with their enormous crowns, and the crowns of all the mature trees close up to form a thick canopy over the forest floor…. Rebellion against this strict upbringing is impossible, because there is no way to sustain it.”  

Was light deprivation ever more memorably explained? 

My guess is that while he didn’t set out to do so, Wohlleben gives a glimpse not just of the particularities of trees but also what they have to show us. It’s akin to peering around a different culture while you stand in its midst, making the trees both familiar and fascinating. 


News of the World by Paulette Jiles

William Morrow, 2016

Recently, fellow readers have been fessing up. When I ask, “Read any good novels lately?” they drop their heads and look to see who is within earshot. They lower their voices. “I’ve actually been reading more non-fiction lately. Fiction is, too… too weird.  It’s hard to find characters I like.” 

News of the World is a wonderful exception.  It’s a cross between Nevil Shute’s Pied Piper and Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses. (A friend disagreed, saying she’d read it was a cross between True Grit and Lonesome Dove.) Either way, it’s a late 1800’s tale of a widowed curmudgeon, Captain Jefferson Kidd, and a feisty ten-year old, Johanna Leonberger. Kidd is a 71-year-old gentleman and veteran who has been offered a $50 gold piece for delivering Johanna to her relatives nearly 400 miles south in San Antonio. Having been captured by the Kiowa Indian’s when her parents and sisters were murdered, Johanna speaks no English and remembers nothing of her life with her parents. Captain Kidd muses, “God above knows what she would do if presented dinner on a plate.”

Their saga is both suspenseful and heartening.  Their friendship constantly surprises. You find yourself worrying about them, antsy to offer help. Paulette Jiles (a Canadian who resides in Texas) has a magical way with stories rooted in history. I think she knows that old stories don’t need to be discarded, they just need to be brilliantly recast – and she can do it.  News of the World nearly won this year’s National Book Award. It will be a film before you know it. 


Bill Reimer is the manager, and has been for many years, of the Regent College Bookstore, one of North America’s largest surviving theological bookstores. He attends St John’s, Vancouver.


Attend: Forty Soul Stretches Toward God

Laura Davis Werezak

Faith Words, 2013

Having experienced some years ago a deep loneliness for God, Davis Werezak began to “attend” to the small deeds and found, to her surprise, that this took her slowly forward and closer to the God that she had given up on. Whether we attend to God or a human being, we physically “stretch, tilt and turn” towards the person. Following this attend theme, Davis Werezak serves up 40 “soul stretches” intended to take us back again and again to God. These stretches are common, seemingly everyday movements: opening a window and making one’s bed are the first two in the book. But these two stretches can become something meaningful in our tech-saturated world. Soren Kierkegaard is even called upon in a reflection on the “daily bread” that is provided to us by acts of repetition.

Divided into four part – Returning, Rest, Quietness and Trust – the “stretches” are wide-ranging from planting a seed, reconnecting with a friend, spending ten minutes with an onion to sitting with someone in pain, giving up something you can’t imagine living without, or asking God your hardest question. These are not simple random acts but rather, under Davis Werezak’s wise guidance, “quiet deeds” that nurture our desperately needy souls in this tech-saturated culture.


The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation

Rod Dreher

Sentinel, 2017

A brief reflection on this barnburner of a book is bound to get a reviewer into at least somel depth of quicksand. Dreher is an Orthodox Christian and a feisty blogger (one doesn’t usually associate the two) with an intended audience of “mere Christians.” The book’s thesis is that American culture has secularized to such an extent that Christian beliefs and practices make little sense to this world or even to the life of many churches. Dreher sees the life of a sixth-century monk, St. Benedict of Nursia, as the “way forward.” At minimum, Dreher gets a good bit right. Christians are called to resist with “faith and creativity” and then “strengthen,” “revitalize,” “create,” “build” and to “cultivate” through the ancient Christian traditions and practices.

In many ways Dreher mirrors the American philosopher James K.A. Smith’s Cultural Liturgies even though the two have clashed in print since the publication of The Benedict Option. Both work to some extent within the paradigm of Alasdair Macintyre’s After Virtue. The nub of the disagreement, I think, concerns whether the Church needs a manifesto a la Dreher, or whether Christians can negotiate a stance to culture a la Smith that seeks to be “salt and light” and thereby influence it as, say, a Calvin or a Wilberforce did in the past. There is a difference. Over the next twenty years (that is perhaps my life expectancy) will it be Dreher’s “monastery” image or the “city” model preferred by Smith that prevails? In God’s providence I would hope for communities and activities that mingle the two approaches.


Protestants: The Faith That Made the Modern World

Alec Ryrie

Penguin, 2017

Of all the books in this season’s new crop, Protestants is the one that I have been most awaiting. Ryrie possesses a warm faith, is an accomplished academic at Durham University and a licenced lay minister in his Anglican parish, and has provided a sweeping history of an upstart “cult” that spread like wildfire across early modern Europe.

Protestants, according to Ryrie, are both fighters and lovers: fighters in that they are capable of conducting endless battles but also lovers in that they have an ability to kindle and rekindle passion for God and his world. Ryrie is a master at telling both these exterior and interior narratives. Luther’s principles with their emphasis on personal conscience, led inexorably towards free inquiry, democracy  and apoliticism. These qualities combine to create a “restless activity.” Five hundred years of history follows in which Protestantism was a world-shaping dynamic.

Significantly, Ryrie concludes with chapters on “Chinese Protestantism’s Long March” and “Pentecostalism: An Old Flame.” While Ryrie sees many strands of Protestantism continuing to accommodate to contemporary culture, there remains a Protestant “heartbeat” that underlies an “old love affair” that longs for that “direct encounter with God’s power.” This is a “Big Book of Protestants” that I will continue to dip into over the course of the summer.    TAP


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