Monthly Archives: May 2015

‘A Letter to my Congregation: An evangelical pastor’s path to embracing people who are gay, lesbian and transgender into the company of Jesus’ by Ken Wilson

A Letter to my Congregationstarstarstarstarstar“One of the most exquisite, painful, candid, brilliant pieces…that I have ever seen.” Phyllis Tickle

This is an important book that could give the church a way forward with divisive controversial issues. Many LGBTQ people have experienced harm and exclusion from the church. Ken Wilson, a pastor who was trying to do the best for all of the members of his flock, courageously took a deeper look and bravely came to a very different conclusion than he previously held. In this book he humbly, honestly, and insightfully shares his own journey, and also describes a biblically thoughtful approach that can offer hope to churches struggling with this and other issues in today’s world.

Wilson recommends the breakthrough ‘Third Way’ approach that recognizes that some things are disputable and that our spiritual orientation should be one of inclusion and tolerance on both sides. The Third Way approach says, “We can agree to disagree on this question without separating from each other. We can hold our respective positions as firmly as our conscience dictates. But we have chosen not to treat this matter as something we have to hold in common in order to share a true unity of the Spirit.” 

Churches like The Meeting House in Ontario have adopted the Third Way. Below are some further resources on the topic including 1) a Third Way newsletter, 2) The Meeting House’s statement of their understanding of the Third Way, and 3) a sermon by Ken Wilson preached at the City Centre Church in San Francisco. This talk is an excellent piece that is well worth listening to.

What struck me the most about Wilson’s book, which I thoroughly enjoyed, was his openness and willingness to ask difficult questions and test assumptions. His strategy was to study the Scriptures, engage in prayer and soul searching, and have frank conversations with people. He was willing to risk coming to conclusions that not everyone will like or agree with. His motivation for this book was love for God and his people, and the result is inspirational.

Third Way Newsletter: A New Way of Being Together
The Meeting House on Same-Sex Marriage: A “Third Way” Approach
Sermon by Rev. Ken Wilson on Romans 14:1-13

‘How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships’ by Leil Lowndes

How to Talk to AnyonestarstarstarstarThis book is way better than its cover suggests and is surprisingly useful. Although it is highly doubtful it will live up to the hype of BIG change in your life, it could make you just a little more confident in many social situations. Most of it is common sense, but a good reminder nevertheless. Lowndes has a fresh and entertaining style and definitely suggests simple tips and techniques that can be road tested right away. Probably best not to read it in one sitting or try too many techniques at once! I did find the author does run the risk of seeming disingenuous in some of her examples, by suggesting how to be interested in people when really you’re not. Of course the best way to  communicate sincerely and effectively with people is to care about them.

A copy of How to Talk to Anyone resided in our downstairs loo for years and seems to have entertained a fair number of guests and family members who heeded nature’s call, judging by how dog-eared it has become. (Perhaps I need to have it steam cleaned !) Since I’d rather read in an armchair, I elevated it to my reading pile and I’m glad that I did. It actually is a well written and surprisingly smart guide despite the gimmicky title and use of the word “tricks.” Most reviewers were positive, however, I had to chuckle at one negative reviewer who said he didn’t like the book or her writing style, but also said he came away with 19 great new ideas!

Drawing on communication research and analysis of body language and studies of casual conversations, some rather decent insights into communication emerge that are worth noting. Here are just a few examples to give you a flavour:

*Body language is a powerful thing. Use it to your advantage: good posture, open arms, head up, direct gaze–these will all exude confidence and make you more approachable.
*Keep people talking about themselves, they’ll love you for it.
*Instead of asking a politically charged, “What do you do?” try this:     “How do you spend most of your time?”
*Provide more than a “one-word” answer to the same question.
*Sound like an insider by doing a little research ahead of time, so that you can share some of the latest lingo about the interests of others. 

*In a business meeting using someone’s name can seem manipulative, but with a friend it can make them feel special.
*When you call someone, always pause to ask, “Is this a good time to talk?”
*Keep voicemail messages free from gimmicks and update to current circumstances as often as possible (if someone leaves a message in the middle of the night, of course you are not on another line, although you most certainly have left your desk…perhaps you could try “My office hours are… and I will be in tomorrow to return your call”).
*Track small details in people’s lives and remember to ask them about it when you meet again (the author even suggests scribbling notes with details on the back of someone’s business card at a conference!) “How was that vacation in Jamaica?” “Did your son pass his math test?” “How are feeling after eating at that new restaurant?”

‘The Silence of the Sea’ by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

The Silence of the SeastarstarA luxury yacht smashes unmanned into Reykjavik harbour with no sign of the crew or the young family who were on board when the ship left Lisbon. Thora Gudmundsdottir is hired by the father’s parents to investigate. Was there something sinister going on or was it true that the vessel was cursed?

The chapters alternate between Thora’s investigative discoveries and what was actually happening on the boat. I did enjoy this style for awhile but despite the intriguing premise, it was not enough to keep me engaged. There’s actually very little action–just discoveries of dead bodies and things gone missing. And there wasn’t much creepy atmosphere created either–perhaps it was lost in translation.

I had hoped that this would be a great new Nordic crime thriller series in the vein of the Dragon Tattoo, but even though I tried to like it, in the end I felt it was too long-winded and the ending really not worth the effort.

‘The Storm Whale’ by Benji Davies

The Storm Whalestarstarstarstarstar(Age 2 – 5) This is a tender and heart-warming story of a little boy, his Dad, six cats, and a whale. It applauds the beauty of nature and the power of companionship. The illustrations are gorgeously atmospheric and full of whimsy. It’s fun to spot the cats in funny places and I loved Noi’s choice of music for his new guest!

BathtubOne day Noi, who is all alone when his Dad goes to work, finds a whale stranded on the beach. He decides to take the whale home and takes care of him, also to alleviate his own loneliness. I love the absurdity of a whale fitting onto a little boy’s wheelbarrow, not to mention into a bathtub, even if it is a baby whale!

Storm WhaleWhen Noi needs to make the difficult choice to return the whale to the sea, he is comforted by the sheer presence of his Dad. Sometimes when times are rough, having one person understand can make all the difference.

“Noi knew it was the right thing to do, but it was hard to say goodbye. He was glad his dad was there with him.”

‘Little Pea’ by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Little PeastarstarstarstarMany favourite children’s picture books are also published as board books–those sturdy, thick cardboard ones that are perfect for toddlers.

Little Pea board book puts a topsy-turvy spin on mealtime–you must eat all your sweets before you can have your vegetables! Not sure if the reverse psychology will help at dinner, but that’s not the point…this is just fun.

Little Pea is sure to please children and also the adults who are reading to them. This is always my benchmark for illustrated children’s books. They must appeal to all ages and this ones suits to a pea…er, I mean T! Makes a great gift for new baby or toddler.

‘The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry’ by Gabrielle Zevin

The Storied Life of A.J. FikrystarstarstarstarThis is a great book for those who love books and the book industry. A.J. Fikry is a bookseller on a small island. He is a little grumpy but with good reason, having been widowed at a young age and struggling to keep his bookstore going. He is literary, but not as creative with the business as was his late wife. One day a precious package is left in Fikry’s store and a rare book is stolen. From there this short and (bitter) sweet story takes off.

I loved the setting for this book. Reading it shortly after doing a London “bookshop hop” with members of my book club, it felt like just one more stop on the tour. Every bookstore is unique in inventory and displays. Connecting books with people is a joy but it can also be tricky–an art, not a science. Reading enjoyment is powerful but it is also a very personal thing and may even change in one person over time. “Sometimes books don’t find us until the right time.”

I loved the quick and quirky dialogue and the light tone overall. Fikry as a character develops tremendously during the course of the novel, transformed by the unexpected twists and turns in his life, shaped by the choices he makes, and guided by his friends and loved ones. Many real book titles make appearances in this novel, which was also good fun. Every chapter starts with ‘shelf-talkers’ on short stories. However, the central book title The Late Bloomer (which I would have put on my reading list for sure) is fictionalized fiction! It may not have been as special to me as it was for Amelia and A.J. anyway, so perhaps it is better this way.

‘Missing Persons’ by Nicci Gerrard

Missing PersonsstarstarstarFrom one half of the bestselling duo Nicci French, a novel about how a family is affected by a son’s disappearance. Feelings and relationships are explored as if under a microscope. When Johnny disappears from his university dorm room with no explanation and no clue as to where he has gone, each family member responds in their own personal way. Like books by Anne Tyler, the story is well described and examines how people react when the unthinkable happens. It is a story of coping, hope, but especially of love.

The plot intrigue is of course about whether Johnny will be found and what happens if he does return. The re-entry is often more fraught than the original crisis! The story line reminded me of  The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacqueline Mitchard and The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, both excellent novels. This is my first Nicci Gerrard (thanks for the tip Bertien!) and I am looking forward to trying a Nicci French next, to see how the duo compares to the solo.

‘Sweet Tooth’ by Ian McEwan

Sweet ToothstarstarstarThis is an elegant novel about a spy, not a “spy novel.” The book starts with this sentence. “My name is Serena Frome (rhymes with plume) and almost forty year ago I was sent on a secret mission for the British security service. I didn’t return safely. Within eighteen months of joining I was sacked, having disgraced myself and ruined my lover, though he certainly had a hand in his own undoing.”

Set in the cultural Cold war scene of the early 70’s, Sweet Tooth is a literary spy novel–that’s literature and its relationship to life, politics, and the imagination. Serena Frome enters the espionage world on a covert mission to combat communism by infiltrating the intellectual world. Although there are no car chases, guns blazing, or poisoned cocktails, we do see the psychological toll that being a spy can take, never knowing who can be trusted. Ian McEwan is a master at smooth prose and well crafted intelligence. However, despite a few genius twists and turns (especially the ending), the novel would feel weak in plot for anyone looking for a page turner.

If you are new to Ian McEwan this is not a novel to introduce you to this author. Better to pick up Atonement or Saturday for that. But if you are familiar with his works, this is a good one because he has put a lot of himself into the novel that would be recognizable to his fans. The story itself is about a writer and the writer’s uni, publisher, awards, peer authors, and even his earlier short stories (ones he wrote during the time period of this novel) are all based on McEwan’s own life. The only thing he says is that, “unfortunately a beautiful woman never came into my room and offered me a stipend.”