Saturday, February 23, 2019

Saturday Good Reads

Another week, another hate crime hoax that the news media embraced hook, line, and sinker. Scott Adams (Dilbert) may be right – the only people who benefit from these hate crime hoaxes are – the news media. Hate sells newspapers, catches eyeballs on TV, and prompts clicks. Hate separates us into tribes. It pushes us into our bubbles. It’s one reason that I stopped looking at Apple News on my iPhone – I realized it had become nothing less than curated outrage. 

The Covington high school boys, Jussie Smollett, and the seven-year-old black girl in Houston who wasn’t shot by a white man are a reminder that isn’t just the Trump deplorables who swallow fake news. Highly educated and otherwise intelligent people are equally capable of doing the very things they accuse Trump supporters of doing. On Facebook, I’ve seen Christians leap into this pit as well. 

John Horvat at The Imaginative Conservative writes that, with the Covington High School blowup, American crossed a Rubicon, and there may be no going back. Rod Dreher at The American Conservative looks at the Jussie Smollett case, and says we are the enemy, and each of us is fully capable of evil – no matter whom we voted for in the last election.

More Good Reads


The Ruined Saint – Jack Stewart at Image Journal.

Art and Photography

The Art of Book Covers (1820-1914) – The Public Domain Review.


The First Mexican Protestant Loved the Bible – Eric Rivera at Christianity Today.

Writing and Literature

8 Things to Do While You’re Waiting – Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent.

News Media

The Cairncross Review admits what America won’t about journalism – Emily Bell at Columbia Journalism Review.

A Witch-Hunt on Instagram – Katherine Jebson Moore at Quillette.

American Stuff

A Baptist Abolitionist Appeal to Thomas Jefferson – Thomas Kidd at The Gospel Coalition. 

The Man Who Wasn’t Gershwin – Terry Teachout at Commentary.

The Newby Family Fights for Freedom – Jon-Erik Gilot at Emerging Civil War.

Apollo 11’s Journey to the Moon, Annotated

Painting: Man reading a letter to a woman, oil on canvas by Pieter de Hooch (1629-1684).

Friday, February 22, 2019

The Book of Ours

After Luke 12:13-21

It’s not the possession
it never is
it’s the motive,
the inspiration, the impulse:
as if we earned it
we paid for it
we own it
and it’s our rock
it’s our insurance
our security our hedge
not the least of which,
because we earned it
and we want more,
because it’s never enough
we want more
we need more
we earned it
it’s ours
our Book of Ours.

Photograph by Marie-Sophie Tekian via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

3 Shorts: A Novella and 2 Short Stories

Sometimes I need to read things that are short and relatively light or entertaining. I read a lot of poetry collections, which are usually short, but they require close, often intense reading. Or I’ll read a biography or other non-fiction work, and those, too, have to be read closely (and they are usually not short). Novels come in all sizes; some are entertaining and escapist, and others have to be read slowly. Even mysteries can be involved; I’m reading one right now that’s almost 500 pages long. 

I’ve come to appreciate shorter works that offer a break from normal reading fare.

In the novella Falling for Grace by Janet Ferguson, Grace Logan works for an Atlanta lobbying firm. She’s still not over her divorce, and the hurt is magnified when she sees that her former husband has married her former best friend. Her boss sends her to Florida, to do some work but also to enjoy a little R&R at the beach. The boss’s house there is definitely not a condominium. 

Next door, Seth Gibbs is getting over his own divorce that followed the death of his baby son from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. When he sees Grace slip and fall near the beach (Grace is prone to slipping and falling), he comes to the rescue. And while he’s attracted, he’s not interested in any kind of new relationship.

Soon Grace and Seth discover their mutually attracted, but there are problems, on both sides. The reader knows the story has to end well (it better had end well!), but the fun and interest in Falling for Grace is seeing how it’s going to end.

Good Deeds & Bad Intentions is a short story by Irish writer Caimh McDonnell. Set in New York City at Christmas, it’s about Bunny McGarry, a self-appointed vigilante who watches out for women who are actual and potential victims of abuse. (McGarry is also the detective in several crime novels by McDonnell.) Since it’s Christmas, he’s disguised as Santa Claus, and he’s especially interested in a woman and her young son who are the targets of the woman’s ex-husband, recently released from prison.  

McGarry employs a small network or people to help him and follow both the intended victims and their would-be assailants. At times the story becomes almost a comedy with how McGarry deals with the bullies, not to mention a kind of Christmas Eve break-in at a toy store.

Jonathan Dunsky is an Israeli writer of noir mystery novels, sent in post-Independence 
Tel Aviv (1948-1949) and usually featuring his private detective Adam Lapid. However, Lapid is not the protagonist of the short story The Favor. That honor belongs to Mickey, an hourly worker and former prison inmate who is still good friends with his old buddy Paul. Paul has happened to strike it rich when his software firm is bought. Despite the difference in circumstances the two still meet for drinks. 

Paul’s problem is that he’s insanely jealous about his trophy wife and is convinced she’s cheating on him. Mickey devises a plan to put Paul’s wife under surveillance; the plan, however, includes targeting an innocent man as the would-be lover and then taking care of the “problem” for Paul, this earning a huge hunk of Paul’s money for the fee. Or blackmail. What could go wrong? As it turns out, plenty. And Dunsky does it with a contemporary twist. 

Short reads make nice breaks.


Top photograph by Gaelle Marcel via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

"The Finale" by Calvin Miller

Calvin Miller’s trilogy The Singer, published in the 1970s, took the basic accounts of the books of the New Testament and turned them into epic myth. The Singer was based on the gospels. The Song was set in the world of the Book of Acts and the epistles. And The Finale is a mythologized account of the Book of Revelation, although it must have been something of a challenge to take a text that already existed in almost-mythic language and extend it.

What Miller did in The Finale was to simplify the story of Revelation to its most basic narrative. The old world of Terra is dying, and a new Terra is being born. Before that can happen, there will be a final battle between the forces of the Singer and the forces of the World-Hater. The story includes horrific battles and destruction, but the Singer overcomes evil and darkness, and New Terra is born.

Miller (1936-2012) was a pastor at Westside Church in Omaha, Nebraska for 25 years and then joined the faculty of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for seven years and later the Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. He was the author of some 40 books on popular theology, writing, and other subjects, but was best known for The Singer Trilogy

The trilogy was extremely popular, remaining in print for some two decades and then republished in the first decade of this century. But the cultural context for its first publication was very different from contemporary times. The Jesus movement was at full tide, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were enjoying a huge burst of interest by young Baby Boomers (there was even an animated movie based on The Lord of the Rings), and the first Star Wars movies were released shortly after. 

Politics and the world economy were in broad upheaval as well. OPEC had implemented the first oil embargo in 1973, inflation and interest rates were in double digits for most of the decade, the Watergate scandal had brought a President down, and the decade ended with American hostages being held more than a year by Iranian Islamic radicals. That was the environment Miller’s mythic trilogy was born into and likely somewhat propelled by.

Calvin Miller
It’s also worth noting that the trilogy had both a direct and indirect influence on Christian literature. While most writers of Christian fantasy today will point to Tolkien or the King Arthur stories as primary inspirations, Miller’s epic stories (told in a kind of poetic form) have been an influence as well. I was surprised at how much Miller’s epic reminded me of the stories of C.S. Lakin and similar authors.

The Singer Trilogy is both a period story, very much the child of the decade in which it was born, and a more contemporary story as well. Using the mythic or epic narrative format allowed Miller to escape being forgotten. And it is still a good story, and an interesting story, even if you don’t know the New Testament.


Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Poets and Poems: Benjamin Myers and “Black Sunday”

It began as a drought. Farmers in 1930 looked up at the sky and wondered where the clouds had gone, and with them, the rain. For an area the size of three-fourths of the state of Texas, including the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, the western half of Kansas, the eastern half of Colorado, and parts of Nebraska and New Mexico, the rain wouldn’t return until 1939. At times, most of the United States was affected by the drought, but no region experienced what the southern Plains went through.

Benjamin Myers
The land dried up. The wind blew. Dust storms reached the East Coast. By the end of the 1930s, some 2.5 million people had migrated west to escape what came to be called the Dust Bowl. It was the agricultural counterpoint to the Great Depression, and it was part of an era when hunger became familiar to millions of Americans.

Poet Benjamin Myers uses the 54 poems of Black Sunday to explain, interpret, and illustrate what happened in those years. You read these poems in somber stillness. You look out your window and consider what your own landscape would be with grass dead, gardens parched into sticks, the limbs of trees reaching upward like unanswered prayers.

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

Monday, February 18, 2019

Poetry at Work, Chapter 6: The Poetry of the Organization Chart

I was sitting with a woman in the Human Resources Department. There had been a reorganization of our department, part of a general reshuffling across the company, and I’d been assigned to sit with her to work out the new organization chart. 

You would think this was something of a useless exercise. Shouldn’t it be a simple matter of “here’s the boss, here are his or her direct reports, and here’s who reports to them.” But it was anything but simple, and I was to get a lesson in the Byzantine art form of corporate organization charts.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Literary Life.

“The 1000-Year-Old Boy” by Ross Welford

Alfie Monk is 11 years old. He lives with his mother in a secluded house in the middle of some woods in northern England. A town is nearby, and it’s been growing steadily closer.

Alfie is 11, and he’s been 11 for more than a thousand years. He and his mother broke open two life pearls provided by his father and mixed it in their blood. They’re not immortal, but their bodies did stop aging.

They meet two children who live nearby and who are themselves 11 years old. Roxy lives with her disabled mother. Aidan lives next door, and his family has just moved to the area. When Alfie’s mother dies in a fire (never-aging bodies aren’t immune or resistant to death by accidents, like fire and drowning), Aidan and Roxy have to make two decisions. Do they help Alfie? And do they believe his story about being a thousand years old?
Ross Welford

The 1000-Year-Old Boy by British children’s writer Ross Welford tells the story pf Alfie, Aidan and Roxy, and what a cracking good story it is. Aidan and Roxy have to help Alfie navigate normal life, and help him escape of another of the “Never-Dead” on the scene – Aidan’s Uncle Jasper. When Alfie decides to find the one-remaining life pearl, the one he and his mother hid long ago and the one that will start the aging process again, Aidan and Roxy begin the adventure of a lifetime.

Welford is the author of three other children’s novels: Time Travelling with a HamsterWhat Not to Do If You Turn Invisible, and The Dog Who Saved the World. He was a business editor and writer and television program producer before turning to the writing of children’s stories. He lives in London.

The 1000-Year-Old Boy is a delightful story, full of twists and turns, and describing what friendship truly means.