One Simple Act

First, my thanks to Nanci for recommending this book!

Second, the name of the book, which is One Simple Act (with the subtitle Discovering the Power of Generosity), reminds me of the since-cancelled series No Ordinary Family, probably because the structure of the title is the same. Actually they have nothing in common, but every once in a while it's nice to associate freely.

The edition from which I will be quoting passages was published by Howard Books (a division of Simon & Schuster Inc.) in 2009. Not that I have read any of Debbie Macomber's fiction, but she strikes me as the evangelical Protestant Jan Karon (Jan Karon is the author of the Mitford series of books, some of which are about an Episcopal priest) - not that I've read any of Jan Karon's books, either.

As the book's subtitle indicates, its subject is generosity, and as Macomber is an (evangelical) Christian, she addresses her subject from that perspective - so, for example, she cites Scripture in support of being generous and notes that one important means of being generous is to tithe to the church. One of the things I like about the book is its deepening structure. We all struggle to be generous sometimes (or, what is worse, believe ourselves to be generous when in fact we are not), and Macomber does not set out to overwhelm us from the get-go; rather, her focus is on, as she puts it, 'simple' ways of practicing generosity, not all of which (in fact, very few) involve giving money to organisations or causes.

Being a relative novice at true generosity, I would like to focus on the earlier chapters of Macomber's work, as I think I will have the most fruitful commentary there. I don't know how generous any of you readers are, but if you have ever felt you would like to be more generous, perhaps some of what Macomber has to say will be of help to you.


Dark Night of the Soul

First, my thanks to my friend Matt for recommending this book!

Dark Night of the Soul is a treatise on a phenomenon which occurs during the course of Christian spiritual devotion. I should point out that the 'dark night' to which John of the Cross, the author of the treatise, refers has nothing to do with what is commonly thought to be the 'dark night of the soul', which is a profound experience of depression. While the image of a 'long dark night of the soul' is apt as a metaphor for depression (it is almost as good as Winston Churchill's 'black dog'), that is not to what John of the Cross refers in his treatise on the 'dark night of the soul'. Part of what I will be doing, then, is clarifying what John of the Cross means when he talks about the 'dark night'.

In addition, Dark Night of the Soul is a companion of another of John's treatises on spirituality, The Ascent of Mount Carmel. I will have little to no recourse to that work in this marginal commentary, however.

The edition of Dark Night of the Soul in my possession and from which I shall quote passages is part of a collection of John's works, published in 1979 by the Institute of Carmelite Studies, and translated and edited by a pair of Carmelites (of the Order of Discalced Carmelites), Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D., and Otilio Rodriguez, O.C.D. (I should mention that in this collection, the work is entitled The Dark Night) John of the Cross, a Spanish mystic, is considered one of the founders of the Discalced Carmelites. Incidentally, John of the Cross, along with Teresa of Avila, is commemorated in the Anglican Church of Canada on October 15.

And now, on to discover what is the dark night of the soul.


The Golden Compass

First, my thanks once again to dee for recommending this book!

Not having read The Golden Compass, or any of the other books in the 'His Dark Materials' trilogy, I am not quite sure what to expect. I saw the film version with members of my extended family back in the day, but the other titles were never produced as films, for what reason (or reasons) I don't know. I have heard that the book is very well written.

The edition from which I quote passages was published by Dell Laurel-Leaf, an imprint of Random House. Although the copyright notice is for 1995 (I had no idea the books had been around for so long), I expect that this edition was printed much later. Interestingly, according to the page on the back of the title, The Golden Compass was originally published in Britain under the title His Dark Materials 1: Northern Lights. I should point out that I will be making reference to various events and personages in the work, and if you haven't read the book, you might want to do so before you read this marginal commentary.


August Selections

For the month of August, I have chosen at random three books from among those listed as 'On the Back Burner'. I have not forgotten my selections for July; they are in progress.

First, my congratulations to those whose previous recommendations were selected for the month of August!

The books selected are:

Hitman, by Bret Hart.

Lamb, by Christopher Moore.

The Mistress of Nothing, by Kate Pullinger.

A big thank-you to Chris, dee (two months in a row! lucky), and Peter, whose recommendations on previous occasions were selected for August.

I will select three books at random from the list of those 'on the back burner' for September; those will be the last I choose from that list for 2011. Beginning in October I will once again be canvassing for recommendations!


The Denial of Death: Becker's Heroes

In my series on The Denial of Death, I did not comment on those chapters of the book which focussed on Becker's analysis of individual writers (namely, Søren Kierkegaard or Freud), because they constituted supporting arguments for Becker's thesis, rather than continuing his analysis of human motivation and behaviour.

In this latest post on The Denial of Death, however, I am going to look at Becker's treatment of psychoanalyst Otto Rank, a disciple of Freud, whom Becker lionised in the introduction to the work. In this chapter (entitled 'Otto Rank and the Closure of Psychoanalysis on Kierkegaard'), Becker appropriates Rank's work with respect to his own project of discovering how (he says) we try to fulfill our most basic desires. This chapter has a lot to say about what kind of loci Becker argues are appropriate for transference in order to secure the kind of 'creative projection' and 'life-enhancing illusion' which, as we saw at the end of the last chapter, were, Becker claimed, necessary for human flourishing. I am, therefore, going to comment upon it. It also has a lot to say about what aren't suitable objects of transference. I should mention that Becker refers frequently to Kierkegaard in this chapter, but since he doesn't cite his work, I don't have much to say about Becker's use of him. In any case Becker doesn't really have much to say about Kierkegaard, as we shall see.

On we go.


The Denial of Death: The Nexus of Unfreedom

This is the next post in my series of marginal commentaries on The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker.

If this is the first time you have seen a post on The Denial of Death, here are the links to the previous posts in the series:

The first; the second; the third; the fourth.

Also, in summary, Becker's primary assertion is that the knowledge that we are creatures whose fate is to die is too much for us to bear; therefore, we do one of two things: either we attempt to be causa sui, as it were self-caused - that is, we try to make our own immortality project - or, either when the former project fails or from the start because of our lack of courage, we allow ourselves to be swallowed up in the cultural norms for heroism and immortality. For Becker the problem of the knowledge of existence and of death is a problem of heroism.

Before I begin the marginal commentary, let it be said that Becker has come up with some impressive chapter headings: that for this chapter (the seventh) is 'The Spell Cast by Persons - The Nexus of Unfreedom'; another good one is that for the fourth chapter, 'Human Character as a Vital Lie'. I guess those are really the only two that stand out on their own, but 'The Psychoanalyst Kierkegaard' stands out, too.


In the Meantime

I have decided to write a marginal commentary on a book the subject of which is of considerable personal interest to me. As some of my readers may know, I am undergoing the process of formation and preparation to be ordained as a minister in the Anglican Church of Canada.

This process has involved a great deal of thought, discussion, debate, and questioning about my vocation. The question of vocation, of, that is, being called to a particular form of ministry by God, is an important one with respect to ordained ministry, although not to ordained ministry alone. All Christians, of course, have a vocation by virtue of their baptism.

At any rate, I think it would be helpful for me, and, perhaps, enlightening for others, if I ruminated on the question of vocation in general and on my vocation in particular. In light of the purpose of this blog, I will do so by examining books I have read on the subject of vocation.

I will begin with a book called In the Meantime, written by Rob Brendle, who is the associate pastor of a large American church; so large, in fact, that it has its own publishing imprint. The edition from which I quote passages was published in 2006 by WaterBrook Press. (As an aside, it is fashionable for evangelical Protestant denominations to entitle all of their organisations, products and services using allusions to the Bible, something which I suppose should be encouraged in theory but which in practice looks a bit pretentious.)



It is about high time I gave the work of a philosopher so eminent as Aristotle its due by writing a marginal commentary about it. I employed Aristotle's Poetics in my post on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, as you may recall, in which I compared Barty Crouch, Sr., to a tragic protagonist, as defined by Aristotle in Poetics.

Since drama and theatre have long been interests of mine (although it has been too long since I pursued them in any active role), I have had some experience with the Poetics, and of course I read it through last year - for the first time, mind you - and used it (skilfully, I hope) in my literary criticism of The Goblet of Fire.

Thus I would like to write a marginal commentary on one of Aristotle's most famous, not to mention one of his shortest, works, the Poetics, in which he writes about the nature and purpose of drama, and of the elements of tragedy.

The edition I am using is the translation made for Penguin Classics by Malcolm Heath, published in 1996. The references for citation will be page number (from the Penguin Classics edition) and the convention of referring to the Bekker numbers. Here we go: