Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Poets and Poems: David Whyte and “The Bell and the Blackbird”


David Whyte is my unexpected workplace godfather.

Whyte, a poet, consultant, speaker, and even tour guide, published a book in 1996 called The Heart Aroused : Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America. He asked a question that no one else was asking at the time: can poetry save the corporate soul?

My experience at the time was workplace convulsion after workplace convulsion, the bad and the good of the old ways swept out replaced by what was often and only the bizarre. And I mean bizarre – meditation rooms (bring your own pillow), senior executives playing with Legos, wandering minstrel and choral groups serenading employees in their offices, self-directed employees (like the one who decided a great job was to read novels for seven hours a day and teach them for an hour at lunch in the corporate cafeteria). 

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Monday, September 24, 2018

“Be’askaas” by Nicholas Kerkhoff


It’s a fantasy novel that doesn’t read like a fantasy novel; that’s the first surprise.

The second surprise is that I can’t quite figure out why. 

And the third surprise is that I decided it doesn’t matter; this is a fascinating story.

Be’askaas is a land comprised of mountains and hills, plains and valleys, a big land full of farms and towns, kingdoms, open spaces, forests, and various kinds of people who may, or may not, be like each other. It is a land of wizards and necromancers who can do strange things, like create zombies. It can be terrifying or at least scary to run into one, but they’re not really all that common. And occasionally farmers have use for zombies as well, like when a bull dies right before the ground was to be plowed for planting. The farmer can ask the local wizard for help in raising the bull to the undead – at least until the plowing is done.

Be’askaas is the title of a novel by Nicholas Kerkhoff, a fantasy story (sort of) that doesn’t sound a bit like most fantasy stories. Many contemporary fantasy stories seem derivative of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Even with its wizards (and an intelligent dragon), Be’askaas does not. 

Thirteen-year-old Rafe and his younger brother Gywn face tumultuous change. Their family is breaking up; the family farm has been lost. One older brother joins the army, another goes to make his way in the city, a sister is marrying the local blacksmith and two other sisters are headed for the nunnery. The two boys are apprenticed to a wizard, a necromancer who lives several days journey away. And so, they make their way to their new master.

Nicholas Kerkhoff
They’re greeted by the wizard’s servant, a decayed zombie, and soon find themselves doing the familiar work of a farm. Then the wizard begins their training. They learn the casting of rudimentary, simple spells (like the raising of the dead bull) and they find they’re enjoying the work. At least they’re being fed well.

And then, one day, the soldiers arrive, and the real adventures begin.

Kerkhoff is a writer and filmmaker who lives in Santa Cruz, California. In addition to a number of short films (he has a YouTube channel), he has written a sequel to Be’askaas entitled Fates of the Dead and a collection of short stories, poetry, and other writings, Art, Age, and Alcohol.

Be’askaas is a well-written novel; it includes discussions of philosophy and science, the meaning of life, the proper way to learn, and other subjects. It is a fantasy story, but it has a contemporary sense to it that marks it as something different and exceptional in the genre.

Top photograph by Ethan Hoover via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Ebook version of "Dancing Prophet" can be preordered right now


From the back cover of Dancing Prophet: "Newly crowned King and Queen, Michael and Sarah Kent-Hughes are ready to get down to business, serving the people of the United Kingdom to the best of their abilities. Unknown to them, looming scandals in the Church of England and beyond are about to begin a cascade of events that threaten to destroy the Church, their family and society's ability to function. Michael, Sarah and those closest to them will be forced to confront destructive and predatory sins in an attempt to save the Church and the future of the country."

The ebook version of Dancing Prophet goes on sale Oct. 1, and can now be preordered at Amazon.  The paperback version will be available in mid-October. As a special promotion, the paperback version of book 3, Dancing King, is $3.07 right now.

An odd gift


After John 17:26

It’s a gift, to be sure,
but an odd one for all that.
It’s a gift that, as soon
as you receive it, you are
to give it away. And yet
it remains, even as 
you give it away;
it doesn’t disappear,
it doesn’t diminish as 
it’s handed away; even 
more oddly, the gift grows
as it’s given away, and 
the more it’s given away,
the more it grows for the giver.
It may be love.
It may be light.
It may be both and likely is.
But the point is the giving,
the whole point, and
nothing but the point.
This sounds like a riddle.

Photograph by Joanna Kosinka via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Saturday Good Reads


We know that Snopes, the internet’s official fact checker, has occasionally been wrong and occasionally let its political bias slip. No one’s perfect, especially in the fact-checking department. Justin Taylor took a look at a well-known fact-checker, Professor Buzzkill, and how he “fact checked” an article about John Newton and “Amazing Grace.” The moral of the story is that fact-checking is difficult in this internet age of instant news, social media, and online experts, and the fact-checkers themselves need fact-checking. 

At Christianity Today, Christine Purifoy reviewed poet Christian Wiman’s new book, He Held Radical Light, and discovers how poetry can quiet the “pandemonium of blab.” And over at The Imaginative Conservative, Mitchell Kalpakgian looked at how Gerald Manley Hopkins did something similar in the Victorian era

Once the news media develops a narrative, no matter how wrong, it simply won’t let go. The scandals involving the Catholic Church and Pope Francis is just one more example. The media need to seed this as a conservative vs. progression theology fight (the news media generally likes Francis), when it is much larger and more familiar – the lengths an institution will go to protect itself and its leadership. Canadian David Warren has two articles, one about the crisis itself and one on what it means to be men, not destroyers. Jonathan Last at The Weekly Standard explains why he sees the Catholic Church breaking up. This story is much bigger than most of us Protestants and the news media realize.

Paul Krause at Front Porch Republic reviews Yoram Hazony’s The Virtue of Nationalism, and he finds some things to praise about what nationalism can provide (and you don’t have to be a supporter of President Trump or pro-Brexit to see the benefits). Thomas Kidd at the Gospel Coalition considers how some of the most devout religious Americans live out their faith in secular ways (and this isn’t a swipe at evangelicals supporting Trump; he notes this happens on both sides of the political aisle).  

My gentle, kind friend Charity Singleton Craig is giving up on social media and explains why in a blog post. Molly Page at Thin Difference discovered how she was allowing social media to stoke her outrage, and then took steps to deal with it.

More Good Reads

Poetry

Field – Benjamin Myers at Image Journal.

Shadows and What Lies Within? – Tim Good at Photography by Tiwago.

An Intolerable Sound– Joe Spring.

Faith

On Humility and Going to a Robin Mark Concert – Zak Schmoll at Entering the Public Square.

The Battle Cry of the Reformation and the Surrender of Greek and Hebrew – Daniel Wallace at the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts.

American Stuff

How the War of 1812 Changed the Republic – Bradley Birzer at The Imaginative Conservative.

Life and Culture


British Stuff

‘This fast is kept four times in the year’ – Eleanor Parker at A Clerk of Oxford.

The Cymbal Master Crafting the Perfect Sound


Illustration: Man Reading (Portrait of Gustav Dahlstrom), etching on paper by Frances Foy (1932); Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C. 

Friday, September 21, 2018

The reason


After John 17:26

You are filled with light
for a reason. The light
shines; they can see it
even if they do not
understand it. They see it
and are filled with desire
for it. This love I have
for you, this love you have 
for me, shines to touch 
them, shines to envelop
them, shines to embrace
them. Whenever that light
shines, especially at darkest
times, darkest places,
they see it.

Photograph by Maxime Valcarce via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

"Death in High Provence" by George Bellairs


A high British ministry official visits Inspector Thomas Littlejohn at Scotland Yard, asking him to look into the recent death of his brother and sister-in-law. They were killed in an automobile accident in Provence in southern France. The French police and investigating authorities concluded it was an accident and closed the case, but the official isn’t satisfied. Something seems wrong.

If Littlejohn investigates, he has to do so unofficially; he has no jurisdiction in Provence. And so he and his wife take a vacation. Their surface story is that it’s a holiday and she’s looking for places to sketch and paint. And no sooner do they arrive in the small village nearest to where the accident occurred when they discover they’re being spied upon, people who say the official investigation was wrong either disappear or nearly get killed, and the local marquis – who seems to know everything going on – tells Littlejohn that he knows the Scotland Yard connection.

What Littlejohn gradually comes to understand is that what looks like accidental deaths is anything but, and the answers lie in a shooting incident from before World War II.

Originally published in 1957, Death in High Provence by George Bellairs combines local geography, secrets buried in the past, a marquis who may – or may not – be evil, suspicious villagers, and even good food to create an engaging mystery. 

George Bellairs
George Bellairs is a pseudonym of British author Harold Blundell (1902-1982), who was first a banker and philanthropist before turning his hand to writing mystery stories. He wrote more than 50 Inspector Littlejohn mysteries, and also wrote four other books under the pseudonym of Hilary Langdon. He also wrote comedy for radio and was a newspaper columnist and freelance writer. His Littlejohn mysteries, many set outside London, provide a perceptive look at small towns and minor cities.

Littlejohn is nothing if not relentless in tracking down what happened and who’s responsible, and it may be more than one “who.” It’s a case where nothing is what it looks to be, and the Scotland Yard detective has to kept sifting and resifting clues and information. Death in High Provenceis an engaging, intriguing mystery.

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Top photograph by Sam Bark via Unsplash. Used with permission.