Magazines 2020 Jan - Feb Five reviews from Jan/Feb 2020

Five reviews from Jan/Feb 2020

03 February 2020

Art by Betty Spackman. Miracles and Other Reasonable Things (Bessey); Not Quite Us: Anti-Catholic Thought (Anderson); Encountering World Religions (Hexham); The Idea of Canada (Johnston); Defying Limits (Dave Williams)

Miracles and Other Reasonable Things: A Story of Unlearning and Relearning God miracles and other reasonable things book
By Sarah Bessey
Simon & Schuster, 2019. 240 pages. $29.95 (e-book $17.99audio $18.64CD $31.15). Browse at

"ONCE UPON a time I thought a life of faith was a life of steady foundations and stable shores. Then I heard the unmistakable loon calling me out into the waters at night," writes Sarah Bessey in this captivating memoir about unearthing a renewed vision of God in the midst of pain. With honesty, humour, reverence and wisdom, she takes readers through miraculous and ordinary moments of an expanding faith.

This book reads like a riveting adventure, spiritual devotion and kitchen table chat. Bessey, an author and speaker in Abbotsford, B.C., invites us into her story as it weaves from a car accident in the Rocky Mountains, through a surprising encounter in Rome to the shores of P.E.I. Along the way she explores who God is, how God intervenes in suffering and what it looks like to choose life when it’s hard.

Bessey’s writing is as relatable as it is difficult to put down. Readers witness miracles that weren’t prayed for and tear-streaked darkness where a miracle should have been, and the tensions that make up our shared journey towards a God of love we cannot contain.

Anyone who has felt the foundations of faith shift beneath their feet or found themselves weary and worn will find solace in this book. The poetry of Bessey’s words invite readers into a deeper experience of God’s presence while her skilled storytelling keeps the pages turning. This book beckons us towards a mature faith that can walk through mystery and wonder, mud and miracle. –JULIA BOWERING


not quite us logo

Not Quite Us: Anti-Catholic Thought in English Canada since 1900
By Kevin P. Anderson

McGill-Queen’s, 2019. 352 pages. $34.95 (e-book $19.99). Browse at

THIS BOOK documents how equating Protestantism with democracy and individualism permeated ideas of Canadian identity, and continues to define us into the 21st century. Its author teaches history and Canadian studies at the University of Calgary and humanities at Mount Royal University.

The book includes a wide range of politicians (such as George Drew, Roy McMurtrey, Bill Davis), academics (F. R. Scott, Eugene Forsey, Watson Kirkconnell, Mark Noll), polemicists (T. T. Shields, Robert Sellar, Morris Zeidman) and historians (Arthur Lower, Phyllis Airhart, Michael Gavreau).

It also notes the inflammatory statements of the Orange Lodge, Ku Klux Klan, Canadian Protestant League and newspaper editorials from The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and more.

Anderson repeatedly examines links in English Canada between the British tradition and Protestantism which saw itself opposed to the Catholic ethos of French Canada. The ideals of freedom, independent thought, and escaping the control of the Catholic hierarchy loomed large in anti-Catholic rhetoric. The papal visit to Canada raised strong opposition, and for many years the extension of French education in Ontario was a contentious issue.

This is an academic book argued with sophistication. It explores one significant part of the two solitudes (French Catholicism and English Protestantism), providing "a crucial dimension to our understanding of inequality and exclusion in 20th-century Canada." –ALLISON A. TRITES


Encountering World Religions: A Christian Introduction encountering world religions book
By Irving Hexham
Zondervan Academic, 2019. 224 pages. $21 (e-book $8.99). Browse at

WE LIVE and work in an increasingly diverse society. Finding our way through this evolving reality can be daunting. Irving Hexham’s new book can help us.

Hexham teaches religion at the University of Calgary, and has written numerous books. He’s committed to educating Christians about how we can relate to the non-Christians around us.

His new book focuses everyday relationships. How do we talk about religion with Hindu friends and Muslim colleagues? How do we invite others to explore and embrace the faith we live out?

Encountering World Religions is an accessible introduction to the major world religions and the challenges we face interacting with members of these religions. How do their beliefs compare with ours? What are the differences and similarities in our sacred texts?

It will certainly inspire readers to learn more. Hexham mentions numerous writers and recommended books.

Lay leaders and clergy will find it helpful. Missionaries and chaplains will want it on their desks when they go about their work. This is a book many of us need. –MIKE JONES


The Idea of Canada: Letters to a Nation the idea of canada book
By David Johnston
McClelland & Stewart, 2019 [2016]. 302 pages. $19.95 (e-book $13.99). Browse at

LETTER WRITING may be on the wane, but this collection by David Johnston, Canada’s governor general from 2010 to 2017, is current and thought provoking. Each letter here is addressed to a specific Canadian, some living and others deceased.

Throughout these selections from Johnston’s vast personal correspondence, readers encounter several themes. One is the idea of Canada as "a smart and caring nation." Johnston amply demonstrates our intelligence and care, but also notices room for growth. He champions the conferring of awards to recognize outstanding accomplishment and service, but also as necessary instruments to spur us on.

"The diplomacy of knowledge," that is, the generous sharing of expertise, is another notion Johnston explores. Knowledge, Johnston argues, is not a commodity to be jealously protected, but a currency that proliferates when freely shared across disciplines and borders.

For all the good he celebrates, Johnston is no Pollyanna. He takes time to frankly address our modern ills including fighting in hockey, violence against women and the adoption crisis.

Why would evangelical readers invest time with this collection? Throughout Proverbs God’s people are urged to listen to a father’s instruction. And the Apostle Paul admonishes us to dwell on whatever is true, noble and admirable. Johnston stands as a wise father pointing the way to such things. –EVELYN PEDERSEN

Canadian creatives

a creature chronicle PAINTING © BETTY SPACKMAN

A Creature Chronicle, detail of panels 4 and 5 by Betty Spackman.

The painted and collaged images in this double-sided circular installation (24 feet in diameter, 8 feet high) are spread over 15 panels. Their many references to art, science and faith – from Genesis to contemporary bioscience – provoke contemplation and conversation on what it is to be human.

A Creature Chronicle book:


defying limits book

Defying Limits: Lessons from the Edge of the Universe
By Dave Williams

Simon & Schuster, 2019. 240 pages. $21.95 (e-book $17.99audiobook $18.64). Browse at

HAVE YOU EVER wondered what it would be like to dangle from the edge of a space station as our luminous blue planet rotates beneath you? Or how it would feel to kiss your family goodbye, climb into a rocket and know the next few minutes could be your last? With wonder, curiosity and humility Dr. Dave Williams, a Canadian astronaut who set national records for space walking, describes his journey to those moments.

Through riveting stories – floating by a tether in space, living on the ocean floor and learning to fly a supersonic jet – Williams invites us into the almost mythical life of an astronaut and brings it down to earth. Honouring his family, teachers and colleagues every step of the way, Williams manages to direct attention away from himself and toward the community that formed and inspired him. With vulnerability he describes the failures that shaped his successes and throughout the book explores the question: What makes for a full and well-lived life?

William’s memoir will inspire and delight anyone who has gazed up at the night sky with wonder and curiosity. He draws insights from the profound moments of his career – seeing our planet from the inky vault of space – as well as the more mundane moments, such as repeating detailed training tasks. Through stories he explores the tensions between family and work, risk and discovery, fear and hope.

A full life, he argues, is one relished, savoured, oriented toward others and awake to wonder. For those who believe in a loving Creator, there is little more to say than Amen.–JULIA BOWERING

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