The Tao of Right and Wrong: Rediscovering Humanity’s Moral Foundations
By Dennis Danielson
Regent College Publishing, 2018. 134 pages. $26.
THIS SHORT book is a thorough and thoughtfully illustrated discussion regarding morality and moral philosophy. Vancouver professor Dennis Danielson argues our society needs "a surer footing than the shifting sands of moral relativism."
He weaves his way through contemporary confusion around good and bad, right and wrong, to help readers think about our society’s mistrust of timeless truths and preference for more subjective, relativistic and opinion-based ones. Or, using his terminology, "to put the argument for moral realism as a challenge for 21st-century thought and life."
Such issues are especially important "in educational and political systems in which ethical claims – statements about right and wrong, ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ – are so often assumed to be fundamentally either socially or culturally ‘constructed,’ or else purely individual and subjective matters."
His main argument borrows the idea of the Tao from C. S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man. The Tao serves as shorthand for a singular or universal source of moral judgment, codes of ethics, standards of right and wrong.
Overall his topic warrants much more conversation, and this book can be for many readers a great foundation to begin with. He is careful to avoid a purely academic discussion about moral philosophy in favour of what he calls moral realism. However, even with this approach the book remains quite intellectual and juggles a lot of philosophical, social, political and educational concepts.
–R. WAYNE HAGERMAN
By D. S. Martin
Wipf & Stock, 2018. 102 pages. $18 (e-book $9.99, hardcover $43). Browse at Books.Google.ca.
THE AMERICAN poet Robert Frost once said, "A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom." That certainly applies to this new book by Ontario poet D. S. (Don) Martin.
In the title poem Martin makes the startling and humorous comparison of the symbol "&" with the "the first of one hundred thousand well-armed angels / emerging from the back seat of a Volkswagen." Like the ampersand, Martin’s poetry can open a magic wardrobe to a larger world where "infinite hope / erupts like a new sunrise." "It’s then," the poet says, that "we recognize the continual pattern / of conflict & resolution of estrangement and reconciliation / and even of death and resurrection."
The first section notes that "Sometimes it’s difficult from a distance / to tell the difference" between "Saints & Stumblers." It includes poems about many historical and biblical figures.
The second section "Peas & Queues" is more reflective and personal, including a poem that considers how prayer was modelled to the poet in childhood – "something carefully opened / and closed … with edges folded in … every wrinkle / steamed into submission" – and compares it to now having learned that "Some fabrics are for common use."
Another poem describes his mother’s nursing home where "the quiet & peace / she aspired to all those years ago / is attained through the dementia / she wraps about her like a fleece."
"Even a poem can rub us clean," Martin writes. This collection does indeed "baptize the imagination," to use C.S. Lewis’ expression, with playfulness, insight and tumbling imagery. (Don’t miss "The Soul As a Grocery Cart.") –MARIANNE JONES
Wherever I Go
Curb/Word, 2018. Digital download $9. www.DanBremnes.com.
THIS COLLECTION of seven new songs by Dan Bremnes from Salmon Arm, B.C., comes four years after his album Where the Light Is that featured the hit single "Beautiful." Fans of Christian superstars Matthew West and Jordan Feliz will surely also enjoy the music of Dan Bremnes.
His new recording, made in a Vancouver studio owned by Bryan Adams, is about half the length of a full album – it clocks in at 21 minutes, making it what’s called an EP – but it’s having a major impact.
In early 2019 he was set to perform on the 47-city WinterJam Tour across the eastern United States. Last October he performed "Wherever I Go" at the Dove Awards held in Nashville and broadcast on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, the world’s largest religious TV network.
That song has seen significant radio play both here and in the U.S. He released an epic music video of it that documents an eight-day trip around the world visiting Iceland, Italy, Jordan, Egypt, Dubai, India and China. That video now has more than a million views on YouTube.
Bremnes performs using an acoustic pop sound, but he writes with lyrical depth, as heard on the ballads "It Would Have Been Enough" and "Speak to Me." On the latter he sings, "I know sorrow lasts through the night / But your still small voice is like morning light / Yeah the ground will shake and I will pass through the fire / I will wait, wait / Won’t You speak."
Surely his infectious pop melodies – heard on "How You Love Me," "Up Again," "The Way" and the title track – will take him far. –KEVIN POLLARD
A Sinking Star
By Chrissy M. Dennis
Anaiah Press, 2018. 348 pages. $20.99 (e-book $3.99).
THIS SASKATCHEWAN author’s second young adult novel can help teens tackle issues related to mental illness, abandonment and abuse.
Seventeen-year old Evie and her sisters Samantha (14) and Lily (10) live with their mother, a woman whose mental illness makes her unpredictable and unreliable. The girls’ father left nine years before – he abandoned them, their mother explains.
When their mother is arrested, Evie struggles to be strong and protect her sisters. That is, until their father Benjamin comes back into their lives and takes them into his new family.
As Benjamin re-assumes his role as father, we watch Evie’s guilt and feelings of inadequacy take a toll on her self-worth. She believes she has failed her sisters and, more significantly, she has failed her mother. Evie feels hopeless and lost.
So, what does it take to find hope when everything is crashing down around you?
Benjamin and his new family are people of deep and abiding faith – they believe hope is found in Jesus. They model for Evie and her sisters the same unconditional love shown by Jesus. They are patient, kind, loving and firm, and the sisters eventually come to understand the truth about the past and that their worth is found in the One who made them.
A Sinking Star opens the door for youth to talk about the challenges they face and where they can find their hope. Recommended for a youth-focused book club or study group. –DANA ANTAYA-MOORE
"Drawn to the mystery within the sky, this atmospheric painting points to the truth within Psalm 19:1 – the heavens declare the glory of God. Applying an experimental painting process, an expression of light and beauty is created by applying layers of blended colour and intriguing textural marks. Knowing God is the master artist, He has given us His creation as an unending supply of inspiration for expressing our faith through art."
Warlight: A Novel
By Michael Ondaatje
McClelland & Stewart, 2018. 304 pages. $34 (e-book $13.99, audiobook $42.99). Browse at Books.Google.ca.
THE YEAR is 1945 in London, England. Siblings Nathaniel and Rachel, ages 14 and 16, are left by their parents in the care of two men, as their parents say they must go to Singapore for a year.
The teens are silenced by the strange arrangement. Yet, as Nathaniel concludes, "Life was still haphazard and confusing during that period after war; so what had been suggested did not feel unusual."
These two mysterious guardians educate and love Nathaniel and Rachel as if they were their own.
The children nickname the first of their parents’ colleagues as The Moth. He’s a humble man with a shy disposition. When Rachel grows into adulthood, she names her son after The Moth.
The second guardian, nicknamed The Darter, is dating a poised and beautiful woman who also becomes a delightful and comforting presence in their lives, until one day she mysteriously disappears.
This novel comes in two parts. In the first half the teens adapt to life with their assigned caregivers. The second half presents Nathaniel as a 20-something man employed at a government office who is also piecing together the lives of his parents.
Canadian author Michael Ondaatje is a master storyteller and the recipient of numerous literary awards. His words are lyrical and poetic, his themes and tone luring and intriguing.
Warlight is not only a spy, love or coming of age story. Instead it illuminates faith in humanity as demonstrated in the way the characters protect the children in their care. This novel can remind believers that even though things may be dark and chaotic, the darkness is as light to the one who is ultimately in control. –LUCY KRAEMER