Sunday, October 20, 2019

The light within

After Philippians 2:12-18

The light within is
not a natural thing, or
a physical phenomenon,
but one deliberately
inserted and planted,
lit from without to light
from within, and so it
needs nurturing and care,
feeding and stimulation.
It is a light that must be
worked out in fear, trembling,
its purpose not warmth
for the lightbearer but
illumination in the darkness
for finding the way home.
The light is implanted
so that others may see.

Photograph by Yeski Kangrang via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Saturday Good Reads

A favorite web site (which, if you’ve seen these Good Reads before, won’t surprise you) is The Imaginative Conservative, an online journal that follows the thinking of Russell Kirk, T.S. Eliot, Edmund Burke, Robert Nisbet, and other “imaginative conservatives.” One of its founding editors is Bradley Birzer, who reaches at Hillsdale College. He writes regularly about J.R.R. Tolkien and his works, and he has two recent articles that are excellent: St. Augustine and J.R.R. Tolkien and Fate and Will in Tolkien’s ‘Beowulf.’ Another regular contributor is Dwight Longenecker, who often writes about T.S. Eliot’s poetry. He’s been looking at Four Quartet, and has an article on Listening to “Little Gidding”

A recent Democratic candidate debate dropped a not-entirely-unexpected bomb by Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman, who supported stripping tax exempt status for religious organizations holding conservative (or traditional) views on marriage. The debate was in Los Angeles, and the audience applauded his comments. O’Rourke’s focus was on churches, but there are likely more than a few orthodox synagogues and Muslim mosques also holding traditional views on marriage. The mainstream news media reported it and quickly went on to other things, but it’s not likely to be forgotten come the 2020 election. Read Rod Dreher at The American Conservative on Democrats Vs. Traditional Christians.

More Good Reads

British Stuff

Fore-Deck as Front Porch – Charlie Nash at Front Porch Republic.

The Coffee Houses of Queen Anne’s London – David Fairer at English Historical Fiction Authors.

Writing and Literature

The Art of the Book Review – Thomas Kidd at The Gospel Coalition.

The Poet in the Pulpit: On the Brilliant, Homely Homilies of Gerard Manley Hopkins – Jim Milliot at The Los Angeles Review of Books.


Until Dawn – John Blase. 

Richard Wilbur, C.S. Lewis, and the Imaginative Power of Poetry – T.M. Moore at the Society of Classical Poets.

The Odd Immortality of John Crowe Ransom – James Matthew Wilson at Forma Review.


A Monk of the Secular Age – Patrick Geary at Humanities / NEH.

Life and Culture

Elites Against Western Civilization – Joel Kotkin at CityJournal. 

The Freedom We Must Never Take for Granted – Os Guiness at the Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics.

How America Went to War Against Itself – George Stanciu at The Imaginative Conservative.

The changing face of abortion in the US – Jesse Johnson at The Cripplegate.

Rhonda Vincent & The Rage: Orange Blossom Special

Painting: Young Boy Reading, oil on canvas by Moise Kisling (1891-1953).

Friday, October 18, 2019

Bent and twisted (men)

After Philippians 2:12-18

It must be a genetic
plague: a time when
all walk bent and
twisted, the world
skewed sideways
and tilted, everything
off center as darkness
gathers and deepens.
Amid the cries for more
and better and spend
that money and expand
that control and all
the while the bending 
and twisting grows worse,
the darkness deeper,
the murmurs and cries
seeking the light.

Photograph by Anthony Dean via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

“The Farming Murder” by Roy Lewis

It’s been two years since attorney / solicitor Eric Ward dealt with the murder at Sedleigh Hall. His early onset glaucoma isn’t any better; in fact, his eye specialist has just recommended an operation that has a 50 / 50 chance of either success or blindness (this is approximately 1980, so laser surgery hasn’t been invented yet). Eric has qualified as a solicitor, and he’s working as such full-time at the firm of Francis, Shaw and Elder in Newcastle.

He has an appointment with the son for a longstanding client of the firm, Amos Saxby. The youngest son Jack wants to talk about the Saxby farms, and neither Eric nor his assistant can find a number of the Saxby files. What Jack wants is to take his father on in court – the farm promised to him (and owned by his mother) has been taken back. Complicating the case is that Paul Joseph, son of the law firm’s principal, had his hands all over the old files and the old case, and neglected to file the proper legal documents.

The firm is at legal and reputation risk, Jack Saxby is determined to go to court, his mother has a stroke, and his father loves grandstanding in the courtroom. And then Jack Saxby is killed late at night in a hit-and run, and one or both of his older brothers might be the culprits.

Roy Lewis
In The Farming Murder by English mystery writer Roy Lewis, solicitor Ward delves deeper into what’s happened, and he discovers a family filled with secrets, large egos, greed, and a desire for revenge. And a new kind of seabed-mining investment proposal seems to be playing a role.

Lewis is the author of some 60 other mysteries, novels, and short story collections. His Inspector Crow series includes A Lover Too ManyMurder in the Mine,The Woods MurderError of Judgment, and Murder for Money, among others. The Eric Ward series, of which The Sedleigh Hall Murder is the first (and originally published as A Certain Blindness in 1981), includes 17 novels. The Arnold Landon series is comprised of 22 novels. Lewis lives in northern England. 

There’s at least one more Eric Ward mystery published by Lewis, although I believe there are others being prepared for publication. The Farming Murder is a classic British mystery, filled with dark motives, unexpected twists, and a sympathetic detective who isn’t a policeman but a lawyer.


Wednesday, October 16, 2019

“C.S. Lewis: A Very Short Introduction” by James Como

C.S. Lewis dies on Nov. 22, 1963, more than half a century ago. His death was obscured by the assassination of John F. Kennedy the same day, but the time since his death has demonstrated that the Christian apologist, novelist, historian, lecturer, teacher, broadcaster, science fiction writer, and more has continued to grow in stature and recognition. Lewis wasn’t simply a man for his time, but a man for our time as well. 

Biographies and literary studies of the man and his works abound, and you might be forgiven for thinking that the world has more than enough books about Lewis. And yet, along comes C.S. Lewis: A Very Short Introduction, published by Oxford University Press, and you realize there’s always something new to learn. OUP has been publishing a host of “very short introductions,” numbering now in the hundreds, covering authors, movements, science, technology, history, and other subjects. One of C.S. Lewis was due.

This very short introduction, coming in at 133 pages including references, further reading, and an index, is written by James Como, regarded as one of the leading scholars of C.S. Lewis in the world. He’s published Remembering C.S. Lewis: Recollections of Those Who Knew HimBranches to Heaven: The Geniuses of C.S. LewisC.S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table and Other Reminiscences, and several other works on Lewis. A founding member of the New York C.S. Lewis Society, he is professor emeritus of Rhetoric and Public Communication at York College (CUNY). 

James Como
Como takes us on a concise yet comprehensive journey of Lewis’s life and works. It’s primarily a literary study, from his writings as a young teen through his final works. Given Lewis’s prolific output, it’s amazing to see how Como packs the discussion of so much into so little space, without the reader feeling like he’s looking at nothing more than a suitcase full of facts. Como tells an engaging story, and he does an excellent job of it. The book is, as advertised, a very short introduction, and it leaves the reader wanting to know more.

And while I know I must have read this before, Como explains how Lewis came to be known as “Jack” by family and friends. He nicknamed himself, taking on the dame of a beloved pet killed accidentally. 

C.S. Lewis: A Very Short Introduction is ideal for those not familiar with the writer and apologist and also for those of us who are.


Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Nature and “Dream Work”: We Had Mary Oliver for a Time

In January, poet Mary Oliver died at age 83. What do you say about a poet who won the Pulitzer Prize (American Primitive, 1983), the National Book Award (New and Selected Poems, 1992), a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a fistful of honorary doctorates, and was a bestselling poet for most of her life? She published 33 poetry collections and four non-fiction or essay collections, and she was recognized as one of the best nature poets ever. And she was one of those rare poets whose work drew brought affirmation from critics and the general public alike. 

You can say a lot of things, but it might be best simply to recognize her for the eminence in the poetry world she was and be done with it. And yet that seems too abrupt. 

I went looking for one of her works to read and discuss. I passed by the award winners and instead settled on Dream Work, the collection she published after winning the Pulitzer Prize. That first post-award collection would be a challenge for any poet; expectations would be high and the critical knives might be out if it doesn’t seem to measure up. 

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

Monday, October 14, 2019

“Cometh the Hour” by Annie Whitehead

Blame it on Petrarch.

The Italian scholar (1304-1374) is credited with coining the phrase “Dark Ages” to describe the period from the fall of the Roman Empire to the early Renaissance. The idea of “dark” (backward and violent) contrasted with the “light” of his own day. The term was especially popular during the so-called Enlightenment (roughly the 17th-18th century) which gave us both great learning and the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution. It’s at least arguable which era was actually the darkest (and none of them may hold a candle to the death, destruction, and violence of the 20th century). 

Historians today generally avoid using the term “Dark Ages,” but it persists in popular culture. In Britain, the period includes the departure of the Romans (about 400 A.D.), the Anglo-Saxon invasions, the Viking invasions, and the Norman Conquest, to about the time of Chaucer (14th century). Some of the most familiar icons of British and English history were created during this period, including the Tower of London, the monumental castles, and the great church buildings like Westminster Abbey and the numerous cathedrals. 

It’s this era that historical fiction author and historian Annie Whitehead has focused upon for her books. Her novel To Be a Queen is set in the 870-918 A.D. timer period. Her history of Mercia is about one of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms that dominated England for a few hundred years. She writes with deep insight of the era and the people, making extensive use of both the original documents that exist and scholarly research. 

Based on that same kind of in-depth research, Cometh the Hour tells the story of four kingdoms in the seventh century A.D. – Mercia, Bernicia/Northumberland, Deira, and East Anglia. And while it is largely a story of kings and their struggles against each other and often their own siblings, it is also a story of the women, who often had to run kingdoms while their husbands were off fighting (and the husbands are often off fighting). The various kingdoms in this period (and there were more than these four) seemed to stay in almost constant warfare, with a few brief years of peace in between. 

England about 600 A.D.
The major characters in the story are all historical figures. Because the story and the interaction between the characters is complex, Whitehead includes a helpful royal genealogy for each of the four kingdoms and a list of the major characters. She’s telling four primary stories; how they merge, diverge, interweave, and sometimes abruptly end are what make the genealogies and character lists so helpful.

And what stories she tells! Princesses used as political pawns, revenge for the deaths of fathers and sons, double-dealing and treachery, and the occasionally real love story all make for an absorbing read. This is also the period during which Christianity was making major inroads among the various Anglo-Saxon tribes, and Whitehead tells that story, too. Favorite characters are Penda, king of Mercia, and his wife Derwenna. Penda resists Christianity to the very end, even though he doesn’t oppose his subjects hearing and accepting the message, but he behaves as more of a Christian king than most of his believing peers in the other kingdoms.

Of particular note are the battle scenes. This author knows how to write a vivid, realistic battle scene. She does it so well that you find yourself ducking to miss the swing of a sword or an ax. 

Annie Whitehead
Whitehead, a member of the Royal Historical Society and the Historical Writers Association. She has published three novels set in Mercia: To Be a Queen (2013); Alvar the Kingmaker (2016); and Cometh the Hour (2017). Her non-fiction work, Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom, was published in 2018. Her books have won a number of prizes and recognitions, and she is a frequent contributor to anthologies on English history and a lecturer. She blogs at Casting Light upon the Shadow and Time Traveler.

Cometh the Hour is fiction, yes, but it is fiction that provides a factually based understanding of what actually happened during this period of English history. By the story’s end, you’ll come out with a deeper understanding of the times and a deeper appreciation for just how well Whitehead told her story. These ages won’t remain dark while we still have such great storytellers.


Top illustration: A stained glass window in Worcester Cathedral depicting the death of Penda at the Battle of Winwaed is 655 A.D., via Wikimedia Commons. Map of England in 600 also via Wikimedia Commons.