Book reviews

Dear Friends,

This page is a new feature of the "Virtual Church for the Spiritual Unchurhed" radio shows and web site which I started recently.

I will be reviewing books of religious/political interest to the 'church' (the Judeo-Christian body of believers). I began with "Preston Manning, The New Canada" (Review #1, June 15 below) which was published some years ago, and which is very informative and educational for the neo-conservative movement that is taking place right now in the wake of the Trump victory in the US last year and the Ford's victory in Ontario this month and even the results of the election in Italy which showed a change in 'status quo'. 

Dr. Diane

P.S.: the reviews are written in order of latest on top. 

P.P.S.:  If you are going to buy from Amazon, 
please use my affiliate link  
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Book Review
January 2019

Advice on Politics, Society, Naval Affairs
Short Stories
Written and published by Robert Welland 

This book which I read some years ago and which I have currently been reading again, is very unique in many ways.  First, it is written by one of our own Canadian Naval Officers, second, it has interesting Canadian stories of during WW II, and third, the author is a most distinguished individual that makes us all Canadians very proud.

The book is divided into several chapters of short stories containing personal advice from true experiences lived out by the author during his many decorated years in the Navy, from the age of 18 to his retirement after more accomplishments in business, training and inventions. 

To illustrate one of these short stories I share here one story that I found most fascinating and entertaining which clearly shows the importance of having a good captain at the helm.  This took place on a WW II Canadian destroyer in 1940 that crossed the Atlantic ocean every couple of weeks, escorting carrier ships. 

The war was a year old and the ship had rescued some 860 soldiers off the beaches of France as they were being attacked by enemy aircraft and artillery. The captain at that time was a man the crew considered as their guiding-light whose skill-set and conduct were revered by the men.

He is described by the author as a captain who came alongside wharfs with speed and precision, drove the ship through convoys weaving between the ships, letting them know they were there. When he ordered ‘Open Fire’, he was known to get instant action”. He would get more power from the Engine officer, than the ship was built to give. Morale was high, the crew felt like heroes. 

Then, their beloved captain was appointed to another destroyer and replaced by a new Captain.

There are many humourous stories about life on board which point to the disappointment of the crew in the inept capability of the new captain to assimilate with people. The first occasion of going alongside a wharf at an ammunition depot demonstrated the new captain’s additional inept skills in seamanship…

Through bad ship handling, the captain managed to bang both the bow and the stern against the concrete walls. The 12 tons of TNT depth charges were only feet away from the crumpled stern. At another wharf on the same day, the said captain moved the propellers with a tug-boat alongside, drawing the anger of the skipper to yell degrading words to the captain through his loud-speakers.

At this point the crew seriously suspected their lives was in danger and began to really miss their previous captain.

Then in Londonderry after a crossing from  St.John’s Newfoundland, the ship docked headed inland down the river in order to leave downstream on returning to the ocean. So on departure day the ship needed to move forward and turn to port in order to avoid hitting 3 frigates moored directly ahead of it.  It was a simple manoeuvre, casting off the forward line and letting the current take the bow off…

Using the engines and rudder the ship would twist her way in the half-mile wide river and head downstream for the ocean, toward the convoy they were to escort and the final destination of Newfoundland. The executive officer reported, “Ready to proceed Sir”.

Positioned for the ship-handling beside the gyro compass, the author explains that the new captain appeared grim and uncomfortable in contrast to the joy a commander would normally display at the helm of a destroyer.  The situation was quite unlike the previous captain of the ship who, as described in the book, “ran the show with nods and flicks of  his wrists and the fewest words calmly spoken down the voice-pipe.”

The scene became more and more tense as the new captain stressfully gave his commands and forgot to give others, including the casting off of the berthing wires, which the first officer had responsibly executed by notifying the crew. The ship moved slowly forward, directly toward the plain-sighted sterns of the 3 frigates that contained 30 tons of TNT depth charges.

Again the voice of the first officer broke the tense silence, “Hard over to Port Sir”.  Four sailors on the fo’c’sle (pronounced folk’sel) moved well over to the port side ready to consider abandoning ship by leaping into the river before being exploded.Taking his first officer’s direction the captain gives the order and they cleared the frigates by just 10 feet. The ship is now in the river being slowly set downstream by the current.

It is past time for the captain to give engine and helm orders to turn the ship but not a word is said. The first officer who has been a destroyer officer for many years, with his unflappable reputation intervenes firmly “You need the engines to turn her Sir”.

By now the captain had given a variety of white-knucle orders down the voice-pipe that resulted, not in the ship heading for the ocean, but instead steering for the opposite shore of the river, a quarter mile away. The pastoral Irish scene dead ahead was quite charming except that the ship is rapidly approaching its shore.

The crew is observing the unfolding and unnecessary drama, wondering whether the first officer’s good judgment will overcome the situation. The ship is going ahead too fast and turning too slowly and the bank of the river is approaching in rapid descent. The captain displays a major struggle and loss for words that could save the day. But again no order is given.

A bit too late the first officer utters : “You had better go astern sir”.The captain finally says “Half astern both engines”. But it is too late. “Let go starboard anchor”, orders the captain. The petty officer in charge does it instantly… but the chain does not clatter out. The anchor ends up on top of the mud.The ship comes to a halt so quickly that the fo’c’sle crew takes six steps forward to retain their balance. They are stopped. They are aground.

The first officer takes over the command and orders: “Stop Engines”, followed by “Full Ahead Both Engines” and the ship is slowly moved out of the mud, and begins to sail professionally down the river…

The whole exhilarating performance had been in full view of a gathering crowd of spectators and a dozen shore-side observing crews.This crew no longer felt like heroes, but as jelly…

The advice from the Admiral here is humourously, "If your captain scares you, jump ship". 

Then there's also another story that fascinated me and that was the one about the same destroyer escorting the Queen Mary from the U.K. port on her way to Halifax.

And there are some 24 more such anecdotal stories on a variety of topics of politics, society and naval affairs.

Dr. Diane


Book Review
October 5, 2018

Right Here Right Now
Politics and Leadership in the Age of Disruption
By Stephen J. Harper
Penguin random House Canada

This timely and insightful new book releases October 9, 2018.

It is timely because we are truly entering a new age of disruption like we’ve not seen before, and insightful because it gives profound insights into the areas of disruptions – some of them we haven’t recognized or thought about until they are pointed out in this book.

The author, Stephen J. Harper, 22nd Prime Minister of Canada is well equipped to go into this daring but confident “blueprint” on economies and politics.  As Canadian Prime minister of a successful term from 2006 to 20015, an economist acknowledged the world over, an entrepreneur, former G7 leader, CEO of a global consulting firm, he is one of the top people to be reckoned with.

The book sets out how pragmatic conservatives should respond to the challenges of the times. It strongly suggests building an agenda that is focused on the many issues facing the “polulist”.

Harper goes into great particulars and facts about the greatly misunderstood words “populist” and “populism” throughout the book.

“Put simply” he says, “it is any political movement that places the wider interests of the common people ahead of the special interests of the privileged few.”

Putting the common people ahead is good. Isn’t that what government is supposed to be: “For the people by the people”.

What populism is not, is the demagoguery the contemporary liberals have equated with political outcomes they disagree with.

That alone was an eye opener for me who would not call myself a political savvy by any stretch of the imagination. But this book has been quite a learning experience.  Not that I agree blindly with everything, but I was enlightened in many things I had never heard or understood before – as a common people. Many pieces of the puzzle have been put in place.

Some of the main issues of concerns to the newly elevated populists, are market economies, international trade, globalization, immigration, good public policies, local and global business, corporate and government leadership, technology, market regulations, and so much more.

All of these to be pro-issues, while keeping a heart for loyalty and responsibility to our own country.

The book begins with a brief insight on the Trump phenomenon that created some of the most instances of disruption in leadership and political entrenchment to date, but that in the short process of the first half-term brought out many things that much more experienced observers had not seen.

Readers are then brought into a myriad of reminders of earlier ups and downs of economic situations that brought us into the state of affairs the world is in today. Discussions on good and bad deals are brought forth with thorough insights; new dialogues are introduced on understanding the effect of local and global cohorts referred to as the "Somewheres" and the "Anywheres";   another good deal is spent on the explanation of nationalism vs alienism and elitism vs populism as compared to other countries style of leadership and approaches to policy failures and successes.

And there is so much more -- a read well worth the investment and time.

With insights into the recent U.S. presidential vote and results of it, and comparisons to international challenges and fluctuations taking place, the author shares his experience, knowledge and suggestions on how to understand, adapt and thrive in this new age of required “forward-looking vision” for our communities and beloved country.

A book much more than excellent in my humble opinion -- much more. I'm going to be reading it again and again. It has awaken in me an increased appreciation and understanding for my country.

Dr Diane


Book Review
July 8, 2018

Tower of Babel to Parliament Hill
-How to be a Christian in Canada Today
By Brian C. Stiller
Harper-Collins Publishers Ltd

 I read this book a couple of years ago and made (as I usually do) numerous notes in the margins as I was reading.

As so much is developing around us, within and without, in the political, religious and other realms of life, it has been on my mind to re-read this book again because there is so much information about Canada, its history and its continuing development since the beginning to now.

I like the way the author, Dr. Brian Stiller has divided the book in three parts:

1.Canadian Language;
2.Biblical Language;
3.Kingdom Language

“Language” being, first, a comparison to the confusion in the Tower of Babel, then the pluralism of Canada’s social diversities, and then the hope of a new language of a Kingdom of God.

In part one, the book talks about the fragmentation of a country; then the question is asked if Canada was ever Christian – then, if so, how did the nation lose a Biblical centre?

From the designation  of “Dominion” by the Fathers of Confederation taken from Psalm 72 (“He shall have dominion from sea to sea…”), a transition has taken place from the public Christian presence and influence in the social life of the nation to an unrelenting pressure to distance itself from the church.

The book reminds the reader of the rich and extensive background history from the first influx of the two European powers of the early mid centuries, to the movements from East to West, confederation in 1867 and the subsequent slow but sure immigration of further languages and cultures that formed what makes up its Canadian mosaic today.

Part two looks at nation building, Jesus and politics and thinking with a Christian world-view.

Looking at the Old Testament for what God might expect a nation to be, the author cautions the people to be careful not to overuse this historical and unique example, pointing out that the lessons there are to be understood as factors of principles rather than direct stories.

To the question of whether or not Jesus endorsed or promoted a political system, the author argues that Jesus’ message was deeper than that. He did not announce another political theory. His kingdom is not of this world… “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” (John 18:36).

In part three the author looks at lessons from the past, what pluralism is, and finally the new language.

The book examines the linking of church to politics, pointing out that many Christians object to getting involved in political leadership because, they argue, they can be drawn into a love of power and worldly behaviours. But, the author also points out that the danger of being compromised does not eliminate the importance of God’s love for the world.  One needs to be living by the principles of God as ambassadors of the Kingdom of God on earth.

The last chapter notes specific actions we can take as disciples of Christ in a secular world where the public sphere is often hostile to spiritual insights and understanding.

Excellent book.

Dr. Diane


Book Review:
June22, 2018 

An Insider's Guide to
Praying for the World
By Brian C. Stiller
BethanyHouse, div.Baker Publishing Group
Minneapolis, MN

In light of the current issue of “immigration” going on particularly at this time in our neighbour nation to the south, I revisited a book that came to me a couple of months ago, “An Insider’s Guide to Praying for the World”, by Brian C. Stiller.

The book contains a prayer guide country-by-country, inspiring faith stories, on-the-ground insights and up-to-date maps from the travels of the author who is our own Canadian ‘Global Ambassador of the World Evangelical Alliance’.

I was particularly interested in learning more about South and Central America from where most of the immigration activities are coming from. I was only able to find a limited amount of locations from within the countries of south and central America which gives some idea of the situations in these places.

The first one I read about was Honduras, from the central region, which is known for its struggle against poverty, violence and political instability. It has a population of about eight million at time of writing, with 79% Roman Catholic and 19% Evangelical.

The author tells of his experience in visiting the capital city of Tegucigalpa where he was told to find another way to exercise other than jogging in the outdoors because of the unsafe situation there. This challenging way of life for its society is a reflection of the instability of its government which has developed for many years.

The author spends five pages telling of the general and some detailed historical background of the country which is very helpful in knowing how to pray for this nation.

The next country that I found in the book within this area of the world below us is Colombia, with a population of 48 million. Here also the author tells of the background as a place that was discovered way back in 1499 by the Spanish. It won independence in 1819 and was declared a republic in 1856.

During the last half of the twentieth century, at times, it experienced increased armed conflict.  In the 1950s liberals and conservatives conflicted with the result of 180,000 Colombians being killed.  In the 90’s more conflicts took place between the right and the left groups and the government troops. In 1991 a new constitution was adapted.

Again five pages are dedicated to giving background historical facts about the challenges and growth of the nation. Here also we find a large population of Roman Catholic, 82% and Evangelical Christian, 12%.

The next country that I found in the book still in my focus on South and Central America was Nicaragua with a population of 6 million, made up of 70% Roman Catholic and 29% Evangelical Christian.

We read about its background also of conflicts as we recognize some of the names involved from back in the 70’s – the Sandinistas, Daniel Ortega, the Somozas where the contras attempted to unseat the Sandinistas but lost. Some 30,000 people died during this period.

Then I read also about Venezuela and its background of colonization by Spain in the 1500s. Population 30 million made up of Roman Catholic, 96% and Evangelical protestant 2%.

It declared independence in 1811. It was ruled for decades by military strongmen until a number of democratically elected governments came to power beginning in the late 1950s. There too are written a number of political conflicts, including the historical times of the military officer Hugo Chavez.

About six pages are dedicated to stories of the area as the author visited, and of faith found within a center of pending collapse at time of writing.  Venezuela apparently has the world’s largest oil reserves which I did not know.

And then my last finding in the book of countries specific to South and Central America is about Mexico, from the viewpoint of prisoners whom the author visited in his travel to the area. It is said that there are 25 million people in various prisons there, out of a population of 113 million.

The author refers to the work of Charles Colson who founded the Prison Fellowship International. He tells of life within these prison walls and the work that Christians are doing to reach the inmates for Christ. He describes life in these difficult and crowded facilities.

But not too much is written about the historical and political background. However the little that is said has given me a curiosity to look up other sources of reading about this country that we have been hearing so much about in these last couple of years, especially now with the immigration issues moving northward into the U.S.A.

These are the countries I have read so far in the book, being my primary interest for reasons I mentioned at the top of this article.

However the book goes on to cover many more countries around the world, in 275 pages, including those countries we are hearing about on another political plane which take up the Middle East and Asia where so much more political noises are being stirred up in these last days. Its good to know the background of these places in order to pray effectively for them.

Those will be my next group of countries to read about.  I found the book to be very informative, as I said before, especially if we as Christians are inclined or called to pray for those and their people.

As it says on the back cover, “Nothing fuels prayer like seeing a need with your own eyes”, and Brian Still gives us that birds eye view that we need to make our prayer more specific and  understood.  

Dr. Diane


Book Review:
June15, 2018

“The New Canada”
by Preston Manning
Published by Macmillan Canada

As a result of my increased interest in the political aspect of our country, and particularly our province and local ‘living abode’ within our country, I began to read more about our nation’s history, background and current political likes and dislikes, and of course, that of our neighbour to the South and around the world.

By ‘political aspect’, I don’t mean the vertical focus of politics -- because I’m not really a political animal by any stretch of the imagination -- but more in a general sense as it is important in our responsibilities as voters and citizens.

Since I am involved in the conservative side of politics, particularly at the local level, I went back to a book that was written by Preston Manning – whom many of you will remember as leader of the new, then, Reform Party – titled “The New Canada”, published by Macmillan Canada, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Written in 1992, “The New Canada” is very informative and educational for the neo-conservative movement that is taking place right now in the wake of the Trump victory in the US last year and the Ford's victory in Ontario this month – and we could even add here the recent election in Italy which was an anti-establishment expression from the two-third population.

The book is particularly interesting for those from the Judeo-Christian point of view, covering the founding and development of the Reform Party of Canada right up to the 1988 federal election and before the dash for the bold expansion into Eastern Canada.

As Preston said back then, “Canada is a country divided”.  I think we are today even more divided.

From the front jacket of “The New Canada”, the book was written to set the record straight on the origins, development and goals of the Reform Party and on the life and personality of its leader.

I was particularly impressed with all of what it takes to start and run a political party. I found it fascinating to be reading about the background of Preston Manning as a man of strong Christian convictions as well as his training and extensive working in management consulting and conflict management which he was able to apply professionally to the new Party.

It is of course impossible to cover all of a book within a review, in this case 373 pages including the index at the end, but I wrote down some notes which I share with you following:

Christian Philosopy in politics:

One of the eye-opening statement in the book is how the trustworthiness of elected people is becoming a major issue in Canada. And this corroborates with the sentiment of ‘anti-establishment’ of voters we’ve been hearing about in many western countries.

Manning says, "It is quite appropriate for people trying to understand where I am coming from to ask, “What does a contemporary evangelical Christian believe?” It is also appropriate to ask how my evangelical faith affects my life in general and my politics in particular.

Manning believes that voters have every right to inquire of a candidate for public office, such as “What are your most deeply held values and beliefs, and how might these affect your personal and political behaviour?”

He says that voters asking such questions should not accept many of the superficial and incomplete answers that have been given to such inquiries in the past. It is insufficient, for example, for politicians to respond to such questions by saying, “My most deeply held values and beliefs are a private matter and have no bearing on my political behaviour.”

And what he says next is very interesting and informative for those of us in the Judeo-Christian courtyard :

“When I am asked for a definition of my most deeply held values (that is, for a statement of faith), I could respond by reciting the Apostles’ Creed or the statement of faith of any of the various churches (Baptist, and Christian and Missionary Alliance) that my family and I have attended.

“Such a statement would not be very meaningful, however, to Canadians who have abandoned or who have never subscribed to this country’s Christian heritage.  When asked to define my Christian beliefs, therefore, I try to do so in terms that will be intelligible to non-religious people as well as to those of other faiths.

"I start with the proposition that the most important thing in life is relationships – the relationships between God and humankind, parents and children, husbands and wives, employers and employees, and so forth – and that strained and broken relationships are the principal sources of frustration, pain, and despair in our modern world.”

So true. As I mentioned in one of my earlier radio programs covering the political side of our Judeo-Christian beliefs, we have to remember that when we get involved in political issues, we don’t’ get in there to preach but we get in there acting our faith in integrity and professionalism, remembering that most people in the political theater are not people of faith necessarily…

Yet, our nation depends on our united determination to make it work in the best and safest way possible.

There is so much to gain from the book, if you want to begin to understand politics. I would recommend to start right here with this book. Buy it from your local book store or borrow it at your local library. 

Great indeed, from the childhood of the author growing up in a strong family of faith, with parents simultaneously involved in Christian radio, as well as government politics in Alberta, at a time when new political forces that would eventually end the Cold War, dismantle the Berlin Wall, and reorganize the Soviet Union...

Dr. Diane


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