20. August 2006

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The Good Works of Ayela Linde, by Charlotte Forbes

The Good Works of Ayela Linde, by Charlotte ForbesAn intelligent writer chooses her form wisely, then leverages it to yield meanings that would be impossible if she relied solely on words. Form is a container, like a bucket or a vase. Even before we inspect the contents, the container gives us clues, or at least raises expectations. We don’t expect our buckets to hold wine, nor our vases to hold battery acid. If a container holds unexpected things – a bucket, say, filled with roses – then that too yields meanings. And in the hands of an intelligent writer, those fresh meanings enhance the reading experience.

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14. August 2006

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Pound For Pound, by F.X. Toole

Pound For Pound, by F.X. TooleF.X. Toole is best known as author of the short story which inspired the Oscar winning movie, Million Dollar Baby. He did not live to see the publication of his first novel, Pound For Pound, nor even to complete a polished draft. But given the subject matter – small-time boxers trying to make it to the pros – there would be something wrong with the novel if it didn’t read a little rough around the edges. In fact, there is a greater sense of completeness here – in the pitch perfect dialogue, in the well-timed collision of intersecting story lines, in the gritty insider’s view of the ring – than we find in most carefully crafted efforts coming out of today’s MFA programs.

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10. August 2006

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Why progressive christianity must change or die

A culture of political correctness threatens to undermine the Progressive Christian movement before it can even gather steam.

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5. August 2006

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Rogers Chinese lantern festival

The Rogers Chinese Lantern Festival is on display at Ontario Place until October 1st, 2006.  There were a lot of people, like me for example, who came with cameras to take advantage of an excellent photo opportunity. For best results, here are a few tips:

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2. August 2006

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The Wanton Sublime, by Anna Rabinowitz

The Wanton Sublime by Anna RabinowitzIn her third volume of poetry, The Wanton Sublime, Anna Rabinowitz creates an extended meditation upon the Annunciation — the moment that starts everything in traditional Christian believing — the moment the angel Gabriel appears to a young Mary and tells her she’s going to be the mother of God. As a protestant male, I may not be best positioned to review such poetry. Moreso given that I belong to a denomination which is comfortable ordaining openly gay clergy. In the faith community I frequent, concerns about the Annunciation have been tossed into a dusty remainder bin, and its controversies passed long ago. Why should I care what women are saying now about the Annunciation? Then I look to my daughter, thirteen years old, confirmed only two months ago, blithely ignorant of the hard-won concessions her mother and grandmothers struggled to secure, all too willing to waive rights whose price she cannot estimate. Once, Mary was (and often continues to be) held up by traditional religious leaders as a model of submissive piety to be emulated by good Christian women everywhere. But women like Anna Rabinowitz offer different understandings of this model. In fact, she herself serves as a model of how women can think and can interpret ancient stories in fresh ways that take account of realities which would otherwise go ignored if viewed only through the lens of piety’s idealism. These are the messy realities of bodies and sexuality and gender and reproduction, the fact of power and its exercise both to raise people up and to beat them down. As a model, Rabinowitz has the further advantage of a balanced view. She is not an iconoclast. Undergirding even her most searching words is an unmistakable reverence.

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28. July 2006

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Bad religion makes for bad writing

Does bad religion produce bad writing? If we use Jill, by G.R. Spiecker, as a gauge, then the answer is yes. Jill is a tract of dubious Catholicism masquerading as dubious fiction. One can forgive an author his religion since, however it comes to him — whether by upbringing, cultish coercion, or even by grace — it lies beyond his control (at least in theory). But the sin of bad writing is unpardonable.

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25. July 2006

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The Terror of america

We have no idea what we mean by “winning the war on terror”

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16. July 2006

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Mean Boy, by Lynn Coady

Mean Boy, by Lynn CoadyWith her third novel, Mean Boy, Lynn Coady takes several risks which leave the reader wondering: is this just another solidly crafted book? or might it qualify as something more substantial? My ambivalence on this point stems from the nature of the risks she takes. The first risk is the novel’s subject matter — poetry. Coady tells the story of a young man, Lawrence (Larry) Campbell, from rural Prince Edward Island working class roots, who aspires to be a poet and so crosses the Northumberland Strait to attend a small mainland university, drawn there by the Big Name Poet, Jim Arsenault. We sit in on poetry workshops and readings where students evaluate one another’s work, sometimes nasty, sometimes clueless, most often hungover. Is the poetry banal? Is it pretentious? Could it hold the kernel of an emerging talent? Who’s to say? How can anyone really be sure? Just as the students engage in back—stabbing and petty jealousies, so too their mentors. Rural Jim Arsenault bears a long-standing grudge against urban Derrick Schofield and this rivalry has worked its way into nasty reviews of one another’s work. Do the reviews contain any legitimate observations? Or do they merely reflect the clash of strong personalities? In the end, all this writing about writing acts as a tacit invitation for the reader to scrutinize Coady’s work in the same way. Is the novel banal? Is it pretentious? Could it hold the kernel of an emerging talent? At the very least, one must say of Coady that she has confidence when she openly invites such scrutiny.

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12. July 2006

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toronto outdoor art exhibition

David HynesA friend of ours, David Hynes, was showing his mixed media works (i.e. collages) in this year’s iteration of the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition down at Nathan Phillips Square. The show itself was a mixed bag, trying (a little bit unsuccessfully) to walk that narrow path between popular appeal and artistic integrity. There were scads of artisans displaying their neo-romantic pap that would be sure to tug at the heart strings – and purse strings – of the genteel folk from the burbs. But there was also a sizable gathering of artists who know what they’re doing. This popular/legitimate dichotomy is pretty much analogous to the comatose/wide awake dichotomy. Most of us, most of the time, are asleep to the more immediate ways our culture touches us; sadly, some are narcoleptic; but for most, we find ourselves periodically jolted from our slumbers so that we can participate for a time. I’m pleased to announce that, when we ran into David Hynes, he was wide awake. His collages are ample evidence of this. His collages look in two directions: they look backward with an obvious debt to their sources, but they look forward with strikingly surreal images that are fresh and have an immediacy that makes it easy to believe (mistakenly) that they have been digitally generated.

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5. July 2006

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Blogging for jesus and other lame ideas

I finally caved in and implemented a blogging package so that I can blog like the rest of the world. For two years now, I’ve been trying to do it my way. I started posting my rants on an old-fashioned html site. I did this, in part because I didn’t have MySQL on my old host, and in part because I just wanted to maintain absolute control over the look and feel of the site. Theoblog_2.0 was a conversion to flash because I was getting bored of the static pages and wanted things to look a little more dynamic. The problem with flash is that search engines can’t index content embedded in shockwave files, so nobody was visiting my blog. There are workarounds to the indexing problem, but these are the same workarounds that porn sites use, and so the search engines tend to ignore the workarounds too. The world was getting to be a lonely place, so I ditched the flash project and started looking at PHP/MySQL blogging systems, and settled on Serendipity, which released its 1.0 version just three weeks ago. At the same time, I have gotten serious about getting listed on blogging directories, and improving my ranking on search engines. So here it is: Theoblog_3.0. I have joined the rest of the world but, as is the case for all compromises of this sort, I have given up a measure of control. Finally, readers can post comments. But I give to readers some control over the direction of the threads that may unravel from my initial entries. Finally, I can post via a browser, which gives me greater flexibility about where I am when I make my posts. But that flexibility comes at a cost – Serendipity (like Movable Type and Typepad) imposes limitations on page layout.

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4. July 2006

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A model for dialogue with the religious right

I have agreed to serve as webmaster for the westhill.net website. It’s funny how what began as curiosity soon turned to commitment. I wanted to see for myself what all the fuss was about with Gretta Vosper and Progressive Christianity. There had been an “exposé” in the United Church Observer, and then a flurry of letters to the editor from people telling her to get the hell out of the church. So last summer I went to her church to see for myself if she was as corrupting an influence as some would have us believe. I would just be an observer, I told myself. But they needed a/v help and there I was. Now, I find myself attending every week, doing the sound board thing, doing the powerpoint thing, capturing it all on video, uploading the video to westhill.net, podcasting the meditations, now the webmaster gig, and this Sunday I was lay leader. Things have gotten way beyond being just an observer.

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27. June 2006

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Fearless – Toronto’s Pride Parade 2006

Sunday June 25th, 2006. The culmination of pride week (Fearless) in Toronto was the parade. I heard there were a million people at the parade. In fact, there were a million and one. I decided to go at the last minute, but didn’t have a ticket, so I crashed the party.

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16. June 2006

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Not All Violins, ed. Charlotte Caron

Not All Violins, ed. Charlotte CaronNot All Violins, ed. Charlotte Caron (Toronto: United Church Publishing House, 1997)

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16. June 2006

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The Tent, by Margaret Atwood

Tent, by Margaret AtwoodI despise Margaret Atwood. Living as I do in Toronto, such a statement may come off sounding like blasphemy. How can you say such a thing? ask the pious onlookers. It is precisely because I am from Toronto that I despise her.

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