Wednesday, June 20, 2018

“Why Jesus?” by Ravi Zacharias

In 2012, concerned about how New Age philosophies were increasingly influencing popular culture (and culture in general), Ravi Zachariaspublished Why Jesus? Rediscovering His Truth in an Age of Mass Marketed Spirituality. It’s still a compelling read.

Zacharias, the founder and chairman of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, headquartered in Atlanta, is an author, speaker, Christian apologist, and radio broadcaster. He’s published numerous books, has outreach centers in Atlanta and Oxford University, and publishes a magazine. His purpose in the 2012 book: to point out the shallowness and often fraud of New Age beliefs and practices and to explain why Christianity remains the compelling narrative.

His discussion focuses on two New Age figures, one who’s obvious and one who’s not.

The obvious one is Deepak Chopra, who melds eastern religion with physics and other sciences (often drawing the ire of scientists). The less-than-obvious one, simply because of her global popularity, is household name Oprah Winfrey. The two have often worked together, and both jointly market a 21-day meditation course

Ravi Zacharias
Zacharias includes an extensive examination of what both public figures teach and advocate. He then moves to a discussion of Jesus and Christiantiy, making his case. He explains the core of the Christian message, what personhood and relationship really mean, the loss of Christian faith in the contemporary culture (and what’s replacing it), how we reshape Jesus to suit our prejudices, the problems of Christian mysticism, and how we face a choice between as belief system (or systems) that are built on false assumptions and a belief system built upon “magnificent truths.”

Why Jesus?is a classic Ravi Zacharias book. He speaks compellingly and with often devastating insight; he’s kind but firm. He also clearly calls it as he sees it, and it’s difficult to argue against his reasoning and logic. It’s a solid book.


Top photograph by Scott Webb via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Writing: Follow Your Passion?

We see a lot of advice these days about following your passion. Determine what your passion is, pursue it, and you will find happiness. Huffington Post even has a whole section on the subject. It’s a subject usually but not always associated with “Gen Y” or millennials – those who were born roughly between 1980 and 1995. Yet I’ve heard Gen X-rs and Baby Boomers embrace the same idea. It’s usually tied in with the idea of quitting your existing job and pursing that desire or dream that’s been rattling around in your head. 

However the idea got started, the inevitable pushback has followed. “Follow Your Passion is Not a Career Plan,” says Business Week. George Washington University professor Cal Newport says it’s bad advice. Mashable reposted the Cal Newport video and then elaborated on why it’s bad advice. So did the MinimalistsSo did Fast Company. (That Cal Newport fellow has had a considerable influence.)

To continue reading, please see my post today at Christian Poets & Writers.

The 2017 Walt Whitman Award: “Eye Level” by Jenny Xie

The Walt Whitman Award is given by the Academy of American Poets for a first published poetry collection. The winner is not selected by a panel of judges but instead by a single judge named by the academy. For 2017, poet Juan Felipe Herrera, U.S. poet laureate from 2015 to 2017, served as the judge. And his selection was Eye Level by Jenny Xie.

It’s easy to see why. Just read her poems.

Xie was born in Hefei, China, and grew up in New Jersey. Now a teacher at New York University (NYU), she received degrees from Princeton University and NYU. She’s also received fellowships from several organizations, and her poems have been printed in American Poetry ReviewPoetryNew RepublicTin House, and other literary publications. Xie had previously published a chapbook, Nowhere to Arrive, which received the 2016 Drinking Gourd Chapbook Prize.

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

Monday, June 18, 2018

Dancing King Stories: Michael Kent-Hughes

Michael Kent (married name, Kent-Hughes) started out fictional life as an unnamed priest dancing on a beach in Italy. He was inspired by a song, “Luna Rossa,” sung by Mario Frangoulis. I first heard the song on an airplane flight to San Francisco in 2002. The image of a dancing priest stuck in my head and wouldn’t let go. 

The priest stayed in my head for the next three years. He moved off the beach and into a tourist group. He changed religions, from Roman Catholic to Anglican. He had a mild flirtation with a young American woman who was part of the tour group. The beach, Italy, and the tour group were left behind, and the priest was moved to Scotland. He was finishing his theology studies at the University of Edinburgh. He gained a named, Michael Kent. He gained a reason for being English but living in Scotland – he was raised by guardians.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Dancing Priest

“Send Down the Rain” by Charles Martin

A new novel by Charles Martin is an event. He’s a grand storyteller, one of the nest writing today. He tells stories, and his characters tell stories. It doesn’t matter if it’s broken children trying to survive, or broken adults trying to survive a plane crash in winter mountains or the pain of life, or a husband still trying to show a dying wife how much he loves her. Charles Martin tells stories of the human heart, the broken human heart ultimately touched by grace.

Send Down the Rain, Martin’s latest published work, is a grand story, and then some. Joseph Burns is 62, a Vietnam veteran. He went to Vietnam as a teen, did two tours, and was involved in special operations all over Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. He doesn’t have to talk about those special ops; he still has nightmares in his sleep.

Joseph lives in a cabin with his dog Roscoe in the mountains of North Carolina. He hears a child’s scream and goes to investigate. A woman and her two children, all illegal immigrants, are trying to escape a Mexican drug lord, right there in North Carolina. Joseph tells them to wait in his cabin, while he leaves for a while. He comes back with the drug lord’s knife. The police later find his body tied in the back of a pickup truck.

He helps the woman find her brother in Florida, not far from where he and his brother Bobby grew up at Cape San Blas, a coastal peninsular in the Panhandle. He and his brother don’t see each other; they occasionally talk. Bobby is a U.S. Senator, a decorated war hero, living the stereotype of the powerful Southern U.S. Senator with connections all over Washington D.C. and the U.S. military. Someone else lives at Cape San Blas – Allie, the girl next door, the one Joseph loves and the one who loved Joseph. 

When Joseph came home from his first tour, he arrived just in time to see Allie and Bobby getting married. He considered killing his brother; instead, he returned for a second tour.

Charles Martin
Bobby and Allie have been long divorced, and Allie is remarried to a truckdriver, man who has just incinerated himself in a tractor-trailer explosion right at Cape San Blas. 

Joseph is still in love with Allie. First loves aren’t easily cast aside, at least for Joseph. But there are complications, a lot of complications. And Joseph Burns is going to confront the demons, real and imagined, pursuing him.

Charles Martin doesn’t write bad stories, or even mediocre ones. He writes about recognizable people, people we know or think we know. Send Down the Rain is filled with these recognizable people, broken and searching for grace, and possibly finding redemption.


Top photograph: The shoreline at Cape San Blas, Florida.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Completing the circle

After I John 4:13-5:5

I stand here, holding
a final piece, an arc,
staring at the pieces
already in circular place.
All I need to do
for completion is to let go
and allow the piece to fall
into place. The question,
if there is a question,
is whether I can love the one
standing next to me,
his piece of arc already
dropped into place.
I know who he is,
this neighbor, but it is not
the question for me to ask.
That he’s dropped his arc
Into place is sufficient.
My arc pulls toward
the circle, and I let go,
allowing it to fall
into place.

Photograph by Yannis Papanastasopoulos via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Saturday Good Reads

Michael Anton, a lecturer at Hillsdale College and a Senior Fellow of the Claremont Institute, reviews a book on America’s founding by Thomas West. It is a long-form review, an essay as much as it is a review, and it’s about how we all get it wrong about America’s founding and America’s founders.

Thomas Kidd at The Gospel Coalition writes about the problems of polls, and especially polls involving what evangelicals think or don’t think (he takes issue with one published by USA Today). I’m reminded once again how all the political polls got the 2016 election exactly wrong.

Adam Ford was the founding editor of the The Babylon Bee, the satirical evangelical counterpart to The Onion. He tells a story about when the Facebook content police came looking for him the second time after Snopes claimed The Babylon Beehad published fake news. Snopes didn’t realize it was satire; the story went viral and Facebook was forced to apologize.

And before there was ISIS destroying cultural monuments, there was – the German army in World War I. James Clark at History Todayhas a sobering story about the destruction of medieval churches. 

And a lot more.

Writing and Literature

The Spiritual Art of Speechwriting– Rabbi Sais Taub at the European Speechwriters Conference (Hat Tip: David Murray).

The Education of the Hobbits in The Lord of the Rings– Andrew Seeley at The Imaginative Conservative.


Evangelicals and the Problems with Polls– Thomas Kidd at The Gospel Coalition.

Does Following Jesus Lead to the Public Square?– Greg Ayers at The Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics.

Lessons from a Prayer Warrior– Mike Phay at Gospel-Centered Discipleship. 


Peace on the Peninsula– Tim Good at The Naked Alien.

At John Keats’ House– Spitalfields Life.

Striped– Prasanta Verma at Altarwork.


War Among the Ruins– James Clark at History Today.

British Stuff

6thCentury Britain – Questions without Answers– Gareth Griffith at English Historical Fiction Authors. 

Hot-beds of fake news and misogyny? The rise of the Coffee Shop in 17th century London– Kate Braithwaite at English Historical Fiction Authors.

American Stuff

Founding Philosophy– Michael Anton at New Criterion, reviewing The Political Theory of the American Foundingby Thomas West.

Life and Culture

When the Content Police Came for the Babylon Bee– Adam Ford at The American Conservative.

Who’s on the Right Side of History?– Joseph Pearce at The Imaginative Conservative.

Is Jordan Peterson on a Suicide Mission?– Grayson Quay at The American Conservative.

Watching Our Words in an Age of Outrage– Scott Slayton at One Degree to Another.

On Cultivating Friendship– E.D. at Image Journal.

Art and Photography

Peony Passion– Tim Good at Photography by Tiwago.

In Fleet Street– Spitalfields Life.

Jerusalem – the Cadet Glee Club of West Point

Painting: Another World (Man Reading a Book in Public Library Amsterdam) by Gerard Boersma (2011).