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Jun 16, 2010

Book Review: Growing Up Christian

Growing Up Christian: Why Young People Stay in Church, Leave Church, and (Sometimes) Come Back to Church Growing Up Christian: Why Young People Stay in Church, Leave Church, and (Sometimes) Come Back to Church by John P. Bowen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
At a recent meeting in one of our parish’s churches, vestry members suddenly realized that not one of their children currently attends an Anglican church. Some of the young people have changed denominations, while others have simply opted out. This experience – which could be easily duplicated in many congregations within the Anglican Church of Canada – begs the question: Why have these young people left the Anglican Church?

John Bowen, a friend and professor from Wycliffe College, an Anglican seminary within the University of Toronto, provides some thoughtful potential answers in his recently released book, Growing Up Christian: Why Young People Stay in Church, Leave Church, and (Sometimes) Come Back to Church.

In his book, John offers answers within carefully structured limits. He draws the entire population of his research study from his many years as a worker in a Leadership Training Program at the Christian Ontario Pioneer Camp. John follows up with these students (many of whom are or were Anglican) and asks them about their current levels of church and faith commitment.

This book will not address all Anglicans’ concerns about why their children and grandchildren no longer attend church. Why not? Because the population that John draws from (including both students and their parents) is unusually committed to church life, to the point of sending young people – and having the young people interested in going – to a several-week-long Christian leadership camp, with all its associated sacrifices and expenses.

However, some of John’s findings can be applied to the Anglican church as a whole. First, the young people who have stuck it out in the Christian church over the years say that what keeps them going back, despite many devastating disappointments in both the church and their personal lives, is first of all their personal relationship with God. Second in line is the support of their local Christian community.

Significantly, the church was also a main factor in the decision of many young people to leave and not come back. In their case, the church proved either inflexible in terms of explaining the claims of Christianity or incapable of living them out. Those who left simply did not receive the intellectual or friendship support they expected and needed from their church communities, and hence their decision to leave is understandable. After all, how many among us would remain part of a group where we felt neither sure of the local values nor personally welcomed and appreciated?

Many who have left the church, however, have not left their faith in God. These young people expressed an interest in returning to church, if they could somehow find one that offered a warm community of friends. This is made even more difficult in today’s highly mobile society, where people are constantly moving across town or across the country.

In the end, what most young people in the study were looking for was “a good church.” Toward the end of the book, John offers ideas on what makes a good church, including the quality of its community life, openness to questions and new ideas, social activism that resonates with the desire of young people to influence the world for good, and excellence in whatever worship style the church attempts.

Basically, what these young people – and, arguably, Anglican and all other young people – are looking for is a church community where they can find authentic friendships, passionate worship of God, and the ability to exercise their creativity and skills as they live out their Christianity. And judging from the lack of young people in our Anglican churches, they have unfortunately not found it with us. The question is, what are we willing to do about it?

-review by Julie

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Book Review: Stirring up Strife, Hope Street Church Mystery #1

Stirring Up Strife: A Hope Street Church Mystery (#1)The concept for this book - Stirring Up Strife: A Hope Street Church Mystery - is what caused me to pick it up - it's unique for its genre, and also largely untapped within literature.

Heroine Cooper Lee is a 30-something with an unusual job; she repairs copiers and other office machines. Like many people of her generation, she's long ago left church behind, despite being raised in an at least somewhat religious family, where weekly church attendance is simply part of the landscape of life.

At one of her work sites, seemingly by chance, Cooper meets a very friendly and genuine churchgoer who invites her to attend her church. Cooper decides to take her up on her offer, but she turns up an hour too early and ends up in a Bible study group meeting. This group is a mix of eclectic characters who would have little to do with each other, if it were not for their shared faith: a real estate diva, a rich banker, a blind artist, and a computer geek, among others. However, their authentic friendship attracts Cooper despite her misgivings about getting too involved with a church, and she sticks, becoming a supporting and supported member of the group.

Speaking from many years of church experience, both good and bad, I can say that Cooper's experience rings true - especially her reluctance, shyness, and indecision about re-joining a church. In addition, the Bible study group characters come across as real people that you might find in a church, with very real strengths, quirks, and blind spots.

Unfortunately, though, the mystery itself turns a bit formulaic, with the characters acting in stereotypical and unbelievable ways with respect to the actual solving of the murder. The bright spot, though, is that through it all, the characters keep their integrity - hopefully a sign of good things to come as the series progresses.

I would especially recommend this light read to people who are thinking of coming back to church and wonder what the journey might be like (hopefully theirs won't involve a murder, of course!). And long-time church people would do well to read this book, too, to "experience" Cooper's tentative first steps on her faith journey back to church.

Concept & characters: 5 stars
Mystery storyline itself: 3 stars
Overall: 4 stars

-written by J

Book Review: Me, Myself & Bob

Me, Myself, and Bob: A True Story About God, Dreams, and Talking VegetablesLike Veggie Tales? Have a dry sense of humour? Are you a computer nerd or a business person? Wonder how "Christian" companies are run? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, then this book - Me, Myself, and Bob: A True Story About God, Dreams, and Talking Vegetables - is for you.

Phil Vischer's true tale of how he came to build - and bust - his Veggie Tales empire is alternately funny, painful, and thought-provoking. He takes us through each step along his journey of making his dream of telling computer-animated, wholesome and Bible-inspired stories to American children en masse, giving us his years-later, rearview mirror commentary about what was really happening all along, but he hadn't noticed at the time.

Veggie Tales fans will love the story of how those beloved characters, Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber, came to be. Computer geeks will lap up the first half of the book, with its exploration of the technology of the day, while business whizzes will appreciate the company-building (and busting) final half of the book. All the while, Christians and those curious about Christianity alike will get an insider's view of someone trying his best to live out a dream - while simultaneously having to put out managerial and ideological fires among his brilliant but often-in-conflict staff, both Christian and not.

Perhaps most valuable of all is Mr. Vischer's honesty about the loss - and subsequent re-forming - of his lifelong dream. His conclusion is that although dreams can be good, giving us vision and excitement, they can get out of hand if they master us. He ties all of this into his quest to know God better:

"Beware of your dreams, for dreams make dangerous friends...Why? Because God is enough. Just God. And he isn't 'enough' because he can make our dreams come true - no, you've got him confused with Santa or Merlin or Oprah. The God who created the universe is enough for us - even without our dreams."

- written by J

Jun 13, 2010

Review of Israeli film - Ushpizin

Our film & faith discussion group in Arborfield just viewed this excellent and entertaining film today. Here's Julie's review:

This delightful film will be especially appreciated by Jews, Christians and anyone who's curious about how believers in the Judeo-Christian God think he interacts with them. In the film, a devout couple is forced to confront an uncomfortable past, when obnoxious old friends come to visit. As these guests overstay their welcome, both the God-fearing couple and the guests come to a new understanding of God, and whether or not he can really change people for the better. While there are no easy solutions to these questions - and even more difficult is the living out of life in the in-between time - all come to see that God really does work in people's lives, sometimes by invitation and sometimes against our best efforts to shut him out...but always for good. This would be an excellent discussion film for a movie group, particularly for (but not limited to) those interested in how story and theology intersect. It would also be a great film for those who are curious about God but aren't yet ready to check out a synagogue, church or other "officially" religious place.

Jun 12, 2010

Review of "Did You Hear About the Morgans?"

Steve says:
A Rom-Com that's both sweetly romantic and charmingly funny. The "witness-relocation" excuse to relocate 2 urbanites to small, rural, western America was a bit forced, but their fish-out-of-water reaction was very believable, humorous and consistent with my own experience. 1st film I've ever seen SJP in, and was pleased with her range. HG was funny if a bit one-dimensional. A fun couple hours.

Julie says:
This charming romantic comedy offers surprising substance and realism, along with the love story and laughs.

The characters are an older-than-average couple for this genre, and already married for several years when the story takes place. In an impressive and courageous move, they decide to forgive each other's infidelity and pursue making their marriage work, instead of opting for divorce like so many people (even in films) these days.

While their foray out of the Big City and into rural life is fun to watch, the story takes a gutsy turn at the end of their stay. Instead of the fairy-tale ending of having them come to love their new town where they obviously don't fit, they take the lessons they've learned and happily go back home to New York. For me, it's always more impressive when characters put what they've learned to work in their own "home" circumstances, instead of having a permanent, rather unbelievable and overly dramatic change of situation put them on the right path.

Another really fun part of this movie is Hugh Grant's actual encounter with a real, live grizzly bear. Check out the special feature on DVD and see how he does it - without becoming lunch.

This is one of the best romantic comedies I've seen in a long time - and I don't generally go in for chick flicks, so that's saying something. I would definitely recommend it.

S&J Rate This Film: 3.5/5 Stars

Jun 11, 2010

Update: Bruised Golf to be Healed

When we struck the deer, we were on the last leg of our trip home from Minnesota, just south of Esterhazy. We came through the accident unscratched, and felt very protected, both by God and by the car's fine German engineering. It's easy to imagine things being so much worse if the impact was a split-second earlier or later. As it was, I (Steve) didn't even spill my coffee, the impact on the cabin occupants was so little.

Our worry of how and when we'd get home was relieved when we discovered that (1) our Insurance provides some loss-of-use coverage for wildlife collisions, and (2) the body shop in Esterhazy (and I have nothing but good things to say about how they've treated us!) had a 2006 Pontiac Pursuit (now called a G5) they could loan us. Not many rental car agencies in these small towns... So we got home just 4 or so hours later than expected.

We sometimes moan about the BIG distances with little population here in Saskatchewan. One wrinkle that results was that our insurance company's adjuster only travels to the Esterhazy area once a week, so it was a full 7 days after the accident before they got there to take a look.

They approved the repairs (estimated at $5200). Then the body shop estimated another week to get the parts in - not many VW parts in small-town SK, after all!

So we expect to have our beloved "Happy-Silver" VW Golf back by the end of next week! YAY! In the meantime, we're mobile, although every day the list of things I dislike about this cheap Pontiac loaner grows... It might be half the price of a Golf but that's because a Golf is at least twice the car!

Jun 7, 2010

Petits gâteaux au fromage au cappuccino

Ça fait longtemps qu'on poste quelque chose en français ici sur notre blog...alors, c'est le temps de nous exprimer encore dans la langue de Molière. :-)

On a trouvé la recette suivante sur un paquet de yogourt. On ne l'a pas encore essayée, mais on voudrait bien le faire. J'imagine que ces petits gâteaux seront délicieux! Voici la recette:

Petits gâteaux au fromage au cappuccino

Ingrédients pour 12 portions :

• 1 ¼ tasses (300 ml) gaufrettes au chocolat émiettées
• 1/3 tasse (80 ml) beurre fondu
• 1 paquet (8 oz / 250 g) fromage à la crème, ramolli
• 1 tasse (250 ml) yogourt naturel
• ¼ tasse (60 ml) café fort ou espresso
• 2 œufs à la température de la pièce
• ½ (125 ml) tasse sucre
• 1 ½ c. à thé (7.5 ml) fécule de maïs


1. Préchauffer le four à 325 F (160 C).
2. Bien mélanger les gaufrettes émiettées et le beurre.
3. Déposer 1 ½ c. à soupe (22.5 ml) du mélange de gaufrettes dans 12 moules à muffins tapissés de moules en papier. Presser le mélange fermement au fond de chaque moule.

Garniture :

1. Fouetter le fromage à la crème à l’aide d’un malaxeur électrique jusqu’à ce qu’il soit crémeux.
2. Ajouter lentement le yogourt, puis le reste des ingrédients. Répartir le mélange de fromage à la crème uniformément dans les croûtes.
3. Cuire au four pendant 20 à 30 minutes, ou jusqu’à ce que les gâteaux soient fermes. Pour une présentation élégante, garnir d’un filet de chocolat fondu ou de poudre de cacao.

Bon appétit! :-)

Jun 6, 2010

Minnesota - Murder, Mayhem and Munchies?

Minnesota on my mind...OK, so the real song is about Georgia, but we just got back from Minnesota, so Minnesota it is! ;-)

While in Minnesota, we were visiting Chris & Steph (our bro & sis-in-law) and their two girls, Aimée and Olivia. (We'll be posting pictures soon. You can visit Steph's blog by clicking here.)

Steph was interested in a recipe for mini cheesecakes (there are the "munchies") that we'd found in a Minnesota murder mystery (there are the "murder and mayhem"). The book's title? Why, Cherry Cheesecake Murder, of course. But don't worry, no cheesecakes were harmed in the writing of this post.

The recipe comes from the Hannah Swensen mystery series that we've mentioned before on the blog, by Joanne Fluke. Hannah is a 30-something cookie bakery owner in small-town (you guessed it) Minnesota. The books are a light, fun read in the "cosy" mystery genre, perfect fare for curling up with a cup of coffee or tea and some goodies.

Without further ado, here is the easy-cheesy, yummy recipe, for Steph and all the other cheesecake aficionados out there.

Mini Cheesecakes

Preheat oven to 350, rack in middle.

  • 2 x 8-oz pkgs softened cream cheese (room temperature)
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 24 vanilla wafer cookies
  • 24 cupcake papers
  • 1 can pie filling, any kind
  1. Line muffin pans with papers. Put one vanilla wafer in the bottom of each, flat side down. Meanwhile, chill the unopened can of pie filling.
  2. Mix softened cream cheese with sugar until thoroughly blended. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each. Mix in lemon juice and vanilla, beating until light and fluffy.
  3. Spoon batter into muffin tins, dividing it as equally as you can. When you’re through, each paper should be between half and 2/3 full – they will look a bit empty but will rise in the oven.
  4. Bake at 350 for 15-20 min, or until top has set and has a satin finish. If the centre sinks a bit, it’s OK, as the topping will cover it.
  5. Cool mini cheesecakes in pans on wire racks.When cheesecakes are cool, open can of pie filling and spoon some onto each cheesecake. Refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving; overnight is even better.
These mini cheesecakes are a great alternative to making one large, baked cheesecake. They're less finicky to make, there is no messy cutting involved, and the portions are just right for dessert or snack time.

Jun 4, 2010

Going postal

Julie weighs in with her opinion of Canada Post's parcel rate scales.

I've always been a great fan of Canada Post.

I've been hooked on penpalling since the age of 10, and I currently have 150 penpals (give or take a few) around the world. Steve and I (and Gryffin, too) have also lived in 4 different regions of Canada, so we've got heaps of friends and relatives all over, with whom we keep in touch through the mail. Besides that, my grandmother was a postmistress in her town - so you could say that Canada Post is "in my blood."

The local Canada Post staff here in Hudson Bay is super-friendly and very accommodating when I do all my mass mailouts, and I can't say enough nice things about them and the excellent service they provide on a daily basis.

But something is definitely amiss in the parcel pricing structures of Canada Post these days. And I think that in his out-of-the-box thinking, Gryffin (pictured above) has the right attitude toward Canada Post's parcel services. Let me explain...

I send a lot of books around the world, as a member of bookmooch, a free book exchange website. Recently, I sent a book to another part of Saskatchewan, and one of similar size to Brazil. Guess which one cost more to send...unbelievably, the one going to Brazil, and by a substantial amount, too!

That didn't make sense, so I did a little research...and here's what I found out about the prices to mail a pocket novel of 400 pages, weighing 200 g or .44 pounds, from my house here in Hudson Bay,to several different destinations:

Mailed from my house in Hudson Bay, to:               Cost (including taxes)
My parents' house in New Brunswick, Canada              $13.67
The next town down the road from Hudson Bay             8.53
Anywhere in the USA                                                   5.44
Any other international destination                              6.44

It's actually cheaper to send the book outside of Canada, than to send it within our own country! And the price difference is significant, too...in fact, it is more than twice as expensive to send the book to my parents' house on the other side of Canada, than to send it to Australia, England or South Africa!

This seems ridiculous to me - how can it possibly make sense? There seems to be no correspondence at all between the distances & times travelled between the destinations, and their associated costs. Does Canada Post need new accountants? Or some maps?

All I know for sure is that I'm looking for more economical ways to send parcels. It makes me annoyed, but more sad than anything. I think that our stamps in Canada are some of the most creative and interesting in the entire world, and I hate to criticize my longtime friend, Canada Post. But their package deal has pushed the envelope just a little too far this time. They just might be receiving a Dear John letter sometime soon.

Jun 3, 2010

Oh Deer!

Our getaway holiday week to Minnesota and back was a great trip. Four days of solid driving, framing four days of fun visiting. We'll post lots of thoughts and photos in coming days. But the scariest part was the final bit.

We hit a deer about 3 hours from home.

The deer was killed on impact. Thanks be to God there was nary a scratch on Julie, Steve or Gryffin. More thoughts and reaction to follow.