All That Belongs (Dora Dueck); Living for God in a Pagan Society (James Coggins); Why Would Anyone Go to Church (Kevin Makins); You Are What You Do (Daniel Im); Artwork (Sylvia D. Woods); The Quintland Sisters (Shelley Wood)
All That Belongs: A Novel
By Dora Dueck
Turnstone Press, 2019. $18 (e-book $10). Preview at Amazon.ca
UNSETTLED WITH her status as a newly retired person, an archivist uses her skills to look into the difficult parts of her family history and uncovers a shocking event that explains intergenerational trauma. The experience helps her accept herself and love others more unconditionally.
This is the latest novel by Dora Dueck, an award-winning novelist from Western Canada. It’s a compelling read.
Lead character Catherine Riediger calls her research project "the year of my preoccupation with the dead." But she ends up realizing it’s really a private journey toward self-acceptance.
Throughout, the author weaves past and present as the archivist struggles to reconcile her memories against her current life and the historical record her research uncovers.
Many readers will relate to Catherine’s life. There’s retirement, which includes volunteering and visiting her mother in long-term care. There are recollections of growing up in a rural community, in youth group and in worship services.
The story is rooted in the Russian Mennonite experience in Canada, but no explanation is necessary for non-Mennonites. Catherine grew up like so many other Canadians in the 1960s, the child of immigrants in an era of social upheaval.
The plot drips out teasers about what happened to brother Peter, while giving anecdotes about the eccentric Uncle Gerhard. Tension mounts slowly as the reader wonders what happened with these two men. The plot twists and turns kept me engaged. –TOBI THIESSEN
Living for God in a Pagan Society: What Daniel Can Teach Us
By James R. Coggins
Mill Lake Books, 2019. $18 (e-book $5). Preview at Amazon.ca
THE BIBLICAL Daniel was an exiled captive in a pagan society who skillfully navigated the political-religious terrain of his new society in a model way, according to Vancouver writer James Coggins.
Coggins is a novelist and former editor of the Mennonite Brethren Herald. He has a PhD in history (University of Waterloo) and a diploma of Christian studies from Regent College. He’s also a publisher who helped found Mill Lake Books.
His new book includes practical elements at the end of every chapter on how to live faithfully in a pagan society, as well as reflection questions in the appendix. As Coggins works chronologically through the book of Daniel, his greatest strength appears as he explores the text with a straightforward and narrative-focused style.
The purpose of this book is to teach Christians how to live for God in a pagan society, but it frequently points to personal commitments or failures as evidence of success rather than dependence on God’s providence. The book tends toward a fearful and antagonistic approach to society, which leaves it a little short from reaching its goal.
Coggins has seen the writing on the wall – Christian social influence has succumbed to a pagan successor. Ideally, this book can open discussion about ways we inadvertently resist God as we fight assimilation, but its primary value is as a narrative overview of Daniel. –JESSE KANE
Why Would Anyone Go to Church? A Young Community’s Quest to Reclaim Church for Good
By Kevin Makins
Baker, 2020. $18 (e-book $10, audiobook $19). Preview at Amazon.ca and Books.Google.ca
IN THIS book a pastor uses the story of the church he and his wife planted in downtown Hamilton, Ont., to challenge readers to rethink what it means to live out the Good News in their local community.
This is not a how-to manual for struggling churches or prospective planters. Makins even says, "Most churches shouldn’t be like us" – because ministry is always local and personal.
For instance, he talks about artists in Eucharist Church who "made weird art projects featuring saints with blood on their hands" and how their liturgical calendar includes an annual Nap Sunday. Not exactly a run-of-the-mill First Baptist church, but a demonstration of how churches should connect with their community.
Connecting is always a challenge because every congregation has its own traditions, culture and history. These so often push us away from incarnating the love of Jesus to our neighbours, and instead toward hoping they will join us in maintaining our institution.
Makins writes candidly about mistakes, disappointments and setbacks. Early on they had to repeatedly relocate their church. Some people left for other congregations. Makins is even frank about his jealousy of another pastor. His account of confessing this to that pastor is a model of the authenticity many Canadians are hungry for.
Reading about the ups and downs of Eucharist Church reminds us it’s always hard to be the church. But it also reassures us a gospel-centred, lifegiving community is still possible and that many of our neighbours still long for it. – DEREK MELANSON
You Are What You Do: And Six Other Lies About Work, Life, & Love
By Daniel Im
B&H Publishing, 2020. $24 (e-book $10). Preview at Amazon.ca
DANIEL IM, a pastor at Beulah Alliance Church in Edmonton, takes a snapshot of some prevailing trends in our society and then compares them to biblical teaching.
He observes seven lies. You are what you do. You are what you experience. You are who you know. You are what you know. You are what you own. You are who you raise. You are your past.
What’s challenging here is that these lies are not immediately recognizable as either lies or unbiblical.
For example, the first lie has to do with the gig economy. It’s no longer enough to have one career, it’s expected people will also have a side hustle. Many pastors (including myself) do this. Im doesn’t argue side hustles are wrong, but does demonstrate the danger of seeing our identity in what we do.
Another chapter examines how experiences are more important than things. However, Im shows that in our social media world experiences often become online contests for the most impressive event instead of for personal enrichment.
This book is so relevant to the present that many of its examples may be out of date within a few years. Still, the principles are timeless and helpful challenges to how we see ourselves. –STEPHEN J. BEDARD
"This piece was painted as a part of a Stations of the Cross art event at Lakeside Church in Guelph, [Ont.]. In my work I explore often forgotten historic symbols from nature. In the Victorian era the aspen symbolized lamentations. A lament is an expression of loss, often in the form of art, which helps us navigate through pain and suffering. It is expressive, raw and searching." www.WoodsSylvia.Wixsite.com/SylviaWoodsArtist
READING THE BESTSELLERS
The Quintland Sisters: A Novel
By Shelley Wood
Wm Morrow, 2019. $20 (e-book $12, audiobook $33, audio CD $30). Preview at Amazon.ca and Books.Google.ca
IN 1934 AMID the Great Depression, an unexpected light caught and held the world’s attention when five little babies were born in a dilapidated farmhouse in rural Northern Ontario.
The parents, Oliva and Elzire, already had five children, with the youngest being under a year old. The birth of five identical sisters was unexpected. Annette, Émilie, Yvonne, Cécile and Marie were born two months premature. Against all odds, they all survived.
In her debut novel, Vancouver author Shelley Wood has the narrative told by a fictional character, 17-year-old Emma Trimpany, who records in journal form the events surrounding the birth and afterward.
At the suggestion of Emma’s mother, Emma ends up helping the local midwife at the home birth, and a loving bond soon forms between Emma and the Dionne quintuplets.
The novel is historical fiction, but the extensive fact-based research is astonishing, drawing on many articles and newspaper clippings from the Montreal Gazette and the New York Times.
The Dionne sisters were famous worldwide. They were in movies. They met royalty. To the world they appeared adorable little dolls. Thousands of tourists travelled to glimpse them in Quintland, a playground and home built for them across from the crumbling homestead where the rest of their family lived.
Emma recounts the daily schedules, tender moments, circuslike aspects and the tensions that flourished with each passing year. It is a story too of government, a controlling doctor and a church, those in authority exploiting children for selfish interests.
The novel is excellent for introducing younger generations to a true Ontario story of remarkable beauty and corruption. –LUCY PAVIA