Six more books and notes

DownloadedFileThis weekend in The Globe and Mail, Ian Brown wrote, glowingly, “Why I read a six-volume diary by a Norwegian novelist,” on his experience of the first volumes (the article title is a bit of a misnomer, as not all six volumes are available in English yet) of Karl Ove Kanusgaard’s My Struggle. I recently finished the first volume of Knausgaard and have to agree, it’s mesmerizing, this attempt to speak of everything, to recall the mundane, the truth of himself and others, memoir-like, but without the narrative arc of fiction or memoir. I’m glad I read the first 441 pages of the project, to see what the fuss was about, but presently am not inclined to continue. To me, it invites a kind of voyeurism I’m not willing to sustain. Continue reading

Watching bread rise

So I’m reading merrily along in an article about the “foodie” movement by Ian Brown, one of my favourite Globe and Mail writers, when I hit a Mennonite joke I haven’t heard before.

Describing activity in the pastry kitchen of a Canadian chef school, Brown writes,

[other students] were standing in front of the…bread oven, injecting puffs of steam and watching baguettes rise through its glass doors – ‘Mennonite TV,’ they called it.”

I’m not sure if that’s a dig at Mennonite connections to food (of the Mennonite Girls Can Cook or the More with Less variety) or – more likely – at the stereotype of Mennonites as “anti-modernist,” as technology-free. Well, either way, ha ha.

I can now confess that it’s been a long time since a TV program held my interest beyond a single episode. The miracle of yeast in bread, however, hasn’t lost its charm, and that’s going back to my first batch of buns at age 13. Just this morning, in fact, I got my hands into dough and made up this pile of them, because it’s nice to have home-made buns in the freezer.

Seriously though (we may laugh but not too long!), it reminds me of something else that Mennonites (a.k.a. Anabaptists) are alert to, ideally at least, and that’s the kingdom of God as something already begun, participatory, and as mysterious as the Spirit. And it reminds me of a small kitchen parable Jesus told.

What shall I compare the kingdom of God with? It is like the yeast a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour till it was leavened all through. Luke 13:20-21.

I mix and knead and cover the dough, and when I look again, it’s risen to a lovely mound. As if a fluke, I push the dough down, and pinch it into balls on pans, cover them and leave. And when I check, those irrepressible balls of dough have risen again. Stuck in the heat of the oven, they insist on swelling even more, until they turn brown and are deliciously done.

This Lenten season I’m trying to offer attentiveness to what God may be up to in my world. Watching bread rise, as it were. Last week that meant entering deeply into a number of stories of significant pain. But there was something moving and alive in them too, something good, something very vulnerable but real. Kingdom growth, like the yeast miracles of the kitchen.

Parable of the leaven, etching by Jan Luyken

More stories on sports

There’s a great article in today’s Globe and Mail on the Bilodeau family, by Ian Brown. It picks up the heartwarming story already familiar to us about how oldest son Frederic, who has cerebral palsy, inspires his brother Alexandre, Canada’s first gold medallist of the current Olympic games. But Brown pushes a little deeper — not to undo the inspiration, but to give it greater nuance, greater complexity. He asks, for example, if Alexandre also inspires Frederic. And he gives Frederic, now something of a celebrity himself, a presence for readers that includes but is greater than his disease.

I always enjoy Ian Brown’s writing, and here I appreciate — and also marvel a little — at how directly he pushes into Frederic’s reality, more boldly than many journalists might, I think. I’m guessing this is because Brown has a son with severe disabilities and is not, therefore, uneasy or afraid of him. I haven’t yet read Brown’s book, The Boy in the Moon: A Father’s Search for His Disabled Son, which recently won both the Charles Taylor Prize and British Columbia’s National Award, but I remember the compelling honesty of the series in the Globe that became the book. (A good review of it here.)

Today’s story also reveals how much Alexandre’s win is affecting the family. The change doesn’t feel entirely good. The father, Serge, insisted two nights after the win that they have a meal as a family again. He didn’t want to let the media “steal Alex from us.” But, of course, he’s already been taken. When the family arrived at the hotel to eat, hundreds of people were there, clamouring for Alexandre’s autograph.

It makes me wish we could all just leave him alone now; he has his medal; we Canadians have ours. But as soon as I write this, I realize the irony. I’m feeling quite free to discuss him and his family, as if, in fact, they belong to all of us. This too is part of the complexity of sports.


Speaking of which, I’d like to draw attention to a comment by Leona written to my earlier post, reacting to Christopher Hitchens’ cynical view of sports. Comments add a welcome and unique dynamic to a blog, but I want to highlight this one in particular. It counters Hitchens’ grumpiness with a personal witness to the sporting event featured in the movie Invictus. Leona and her husband were living in South Africa at the time. Invictus is a good movie, and so is her story.