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.

Related:




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

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The cover for my new novel, "Dancing Prophet"


Dancing Prophet, fourth in the Dancing Priest series, will be published In October. This is how it begins: "The match that ignited the reformation of the Church of England was lit by three teenagers."

“A Thousand Small Sparrows” by Jeff Leeland


A warning: don’t read this book in public. I did, and everyone at the gym wondered why I was crying.

A Thousand Small Sparrows by Jeff Leeland is about children, and specifically sick children. It’s also about well children, and how an initiative to connect the two came to happen.

It started with Leeland’s own son, Michael, diagnosed with leukemia. Leeland had taken a new job with a school, and his medical insurance was in that limbo land of the new policy hasn’t started and pre-existing conditions won’t be covered (this was before the Affordable Care Act). Students and staff at Leeland’s school began making small contributions toward the family’s need for a $200,000 bone marrow transplant for Michael. The word spread, and eventually all of the needed funds were raised, and Michael received his transplant and went on to live a healthy life.

If Michael, why not others?

Thus began what became known as the Sparrow Clubs, a program to help connect families of sick children with schools. Schools “adopt” a sick child and provide the family with support, encouragement, and fundraising help. Companies and other organizations get involved. People outside the school can hear about the effort and support it.

In effect, it’s a way to bring kindness to a family desperately needing help and a focus on the needs of others for schoolkids. 

Jeff Leeland
Leeland includes story after story of how children in medical crises and their families have been helped. It makes for emotional reading. Not every child survives; in fact, many of the children involved are experiencing what are fatal diseases. The disease, however, is not the point. Helping children and their families is the point, regardless of the eventual outcome. The author tells the story of his own family in an earlier book, One Small Sparrow: The Remarkable, Real-Life Drama of One Community's Response to Save a Little Boy 's Life. He’s also the author of Disarming the Teenage Heart: Helping Teens Navigate Today’s Cultural MinefieldsA Thousand Small Sparrows was first published in 2009.

The book presents stories about the sick children and their families, stories by the school students and classes who get involved in helping, teachers, parents, and others. The stories are encouraging, moving, and often heartbreaking. 

Just don’t read it in public unless you’re okay with people watching you cry.

Top photograph by Piron Guillame via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Abounding Creativity of Middle-earth: An Appreciation of J.R.R. Tolkien


I considerJ.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) and Middle-earth (timeless), and I find myself eventually arriving at Homer.

Tolkien in World War I
I’ve been reading about Homer and his Iliad and Odyssey, and the work that’s been underway for several years on what’s believed to be the tomb of Odysseus, or someone like him. We’re still learning that stories we believe to be myths, in the contemporary sense of that word, may actually be grounded in historical fact. It doesn’t mean they’re completely and historically accurate, but it does mean that the oral tradition they come from may be more historical than we realized.

Homer’s works were considered more fiction than anything else, until 1870, when the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann discovered the site that is now considered the battleground of the Trojan War. Troy turned out to be a real place.

When he was young, Tolkien found himself fascinated with the Edda, the collections of prose and poetry written in Iceland in the 13thcentury. These writings were themselves collections of stories from much earlier times that continued until the Viking Age. The Edda is our main source of knowledge of Norse mythology, and it would exercise a significant influence on The HobbitThe Lord of the Rings, and indeed all of Tolkien’s writings.

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

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Team Player: A Story


Bishop Jeremy Smallwood was so practiced at nodding and smiling that he could have taken a nap while he listened.

Mrs. Brightman-Pennington, referred by many except to her face as Bright Penny, was talking. Droning, in fact, her voice acting like a sedative, a very harsh sedative, as if she could simultaneously put a listener to sleep while dragging sharp nails down his arms. Her voice had an irritating, vaguely condescending quality that, if their meeting exceeded the allotted 30 minutes, Smallwood knew would drive him to a criminal act.

His mind stuck on that phrase – criminal act – and he nearly jumped up from his chair. Instead, he calmed himself, offering a platitude here, a clichĂ© there, anything to avoid alerting Bright Penny that he was coming unglued and his life, so carefully cultivated and constructed, was beginning to unravel.

With each of his nods or comments, Bright Penny would smile and continue to talk. 

He didn’t want to listen. Not today. All he wanted to do was to run to his Mini in the cathedral parking lot, drive to the Bristol airport, and hop a plane to Brussels. From Brussels, he would promptly lose himself, somewhere in Europe. Anywhere. His French was tolerable enough; he could find a village in Belgium or perhaps Provence.

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

Photograph by Kiwihug via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Church questions


After John 17: 20-23

What is more beautiful:
the stained glass
or the light
that shines through it?

What is more important:
the stained glass
or the light
that filters through it?

Can we see the light
without the stained glass,
or can we understand the glass
without the light?

Are we the stained glass
that filters the light, that
allows the beauty of the light
to be seen, to be known?

Photograph by Michael Fruehmann viaUnsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

"On Reading Well" by Karen Swallow Prior


It was my great blessing to have had excellent English teachers from seventh grade through college. They each had a gift of teaching, but they each also had a passion for what they were teaching. They took me behind the story so that I could see it was a story, yes, but it was also a lesson about life, an inspiration, a pathway of imagination, a structure through which poured ideas, beliefs, assertions, and principles.

And this was fiction I’m talking about.

I saw courage and struggle in The Old Man and the Sea. I found basic ideas of good and evil in Great Expectations and David Copperfield. I learned about pride and ambition in Julius Caesar. I was taught about people and race in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I fought against impossible odds and experienced what it meant to be the odd man out in Don Quixote. And I read in The Canterbury Tales that human nature was the same in the 20th(and 21st) century as it was in the 14th.

My English teachers have an heir. Her name is Karen Swallow Prior. She teaches at Liberty University in Virginia. She’s published several works, including Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me (2012) and Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More, Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist (2014). And she’s just published On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books.

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

Saturday Good Reads


What’s old is new again. In the days of the Roman Empire, Christianity was forbidden and periodically persecuted for a variety of reasons. The most common reason was “atheism,” because Christians would not worship the emperor. Michael Kruger at Canon Fodder has the details, and he notes what happens when Christians refuse to worship the cultural gods (not that he’s drawing any contemporary comparisons). 

Stewart MacAlpine has an issue with Christian book marketing, and how we Christians are under a constant barrage of books explaining how to unlock the true meaning of the faith that’s been lost in the mists of time. The latest is Andy Stanley’s Irresistible(and this is likely the least of Andy Stanley’s problems).

If I watched “The Wizard of Oz” once as a child, I watched it dozens of times – every time it came on television. But the movie has a back story, and it’s rather ugly, says Peggy Rosenthal at Image Journal.

There are still descendants of French Huguenots who worship at Canterbury Cathedral – in French, reports the BBC. And you may know the parable from the Gospel of Luke about the Good Samaritan, but did you know there are still Samaritans living in the Holy Land?  The BBC has that story, too (Hat tip for both links: J of India). 

The Catholic Church has been taking it on the chin lately, in some cases deservedly so. But there are some good things happening, too. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia recently spoke at the Salinas Men’s Conference, and he had something valuable to say about why men matter.

Early library
Is it Trumpian deplorables, backwater rednecks, and fire breathing evangelicals from whom academics have the most to fear? No, it’s their own colleagues. Theodore Hill at Quillette tells a story in which academic colleagues, scientific journal publishers, and even the National Science Foundation act disgracefully. 

The first circulating library was established in England in 1728. It’s no surprise – literacy rates were rising but the cost of books was high (how about a novel for $240?). Maria Grace at English Historical Fiction Authors describes how the circulating library arose.

More Good Reads

British History

Winchcombe and its Royal Connections – Annie Whitehead at English Historical Fiction Authors.

Faith

Hidden Gems – Nathan Young at New Life Middleborough Church.

Poetry

Randburg Harriers Road Race – Joe Spring.

Donald Hall, 1928-2018 – Ernest Hilbert at The New Criterion.

Cyrillona – D.S. Martin at Kingdom Poets.


Writing and Literature

Searching for Walker Percy – Caroline Roberts at The Acton Institute.

Paul Scott’s “Raj Quartet”: The English “War and Peace” – Eva Brann at The Imaginative Conservative.

Art and Photography

Upon the Water – Tim Good at Photography by Tiwago.

Never Enough from The Greatest Showman – Peter Hollens


Painting: Girl Reading at a Window, oil on canvas by Gwen John (1911); Museum of Modern Art, New York City.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Oneness


After John 17:20-23

They will know who
we are, by our love;
we know and understand
that, we have for a long time. 
But there’s more: 
they will know where
we come from, by our oneness,
our unity, our wholeness. 
Because that oneness stands as 
the signpost, they reach past
to the one who erected
the sign. They do know who
we are by our love, and 
they know where we come from
by our oneness.

Photograph by Annie Spratt via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

"Ten Years Gone" by Jonathan Dunsky


Israel Noir. 

It may be a new mystery sub-genre.

D.A. Mishani has his Avraham Avraham police detective novels, set in contemporary Tel Aviv. And now Jonathan Dunksy has published a series of Tel-Aviv-based novels, but with a private investigator as the protagonist and set in the early years of Israel’s modern history, when both the Holocaust and the recently concluded war with the Arab nations hanging heavy over the country.

The first in the series is Ten Years Gone.

It’s 1949, and private eye Adam Lapid spends a good portion of each day at Greta’s CafĂ© in Tel Aviv, drinking coffee and playing chess. Lapid is originally from Hungary, where he was a police detective. That is, until he was sent to Auschwitz. He survived; his wife and two daughters did not. And he blames himself for not getting his family to safety until it was too late.

Lapid also uses violence when he deems it necessary or appropriate. He killed at least two former Nazis in cold blood after World War II ended. The Holocaust changed his views of justice. He’s also something of a war hero, for his heroic actions in taking out an Egyptian machine gun nest that had pinned down his unit in the Negev during the war for independence.

He takes on an impossible case. A woman asks him to find her son, the baby she gave to a friend in 1939 who was leaving Germany to try to get to Israel. The woman herself didn’t make it out before the war started but was able to obtain false identity papers and stay hidden under an assumed (and Aryan) name in Frankfort. She’s trying to find her son. But she doesn’t even know if he and the friend made it to Palestine; the British were ferociously trying to stop illegal Jewish immigration to the British Mandate.

Jonathan Dunsky
Lapid talks to police and a journalist, and he’s eventually able to learn that the friend and the baby made it to Tel Aviv and lived under different names. Yet some months after their arrival, they were both gruesomely murdered. It seems a dead end, but Lapid considers his own murdered daughters. And he decides to do everything he can to find the killer.

It’s a dark, fascinating tale.

Jonathan Dunsky has published four Adam Lapid mysteries: Ten Years GoneThe Dead SisterThe Auschwitz Violinist; and A Debt of Death. He’s also published The Favor: A Tale of Friendship and MurderGrandma Rachel’s GhostsFamily TiesTommy’s Touch: A Fantasy Love Story; and other works. He was born in Israel, served four years in the Israeli Army, lived in Europe for several years, and currently lives in Israel with his family. He has worked in various high-tech firms and operated his own search optimization business.

Ten Years Gone artfully blends history and mystery in a riveting read. 

Related:




Top photo: A bus from Tel Aviv to the town of Netanya in 1949. Adam Lapid takes a bus just like this one to Netanya during his murder investigation. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

“Hurt Road” by Bruce Stewart


It’s 1967. Fifteen-year-old Hank Goodman, his parents killed in an automobile accident, comes to live with his grandparents in Crosscut, Louisiana, not terribly far from Leesville. It’s a small town, he’s from Detroit, and Hank is not impressed. At first. But he meets a girl named Becky Rayburn, he begins to grow fond of his grandparents, and soon finds himself settling in. 

But Hank is the grandson of a Taylor, and the Rayburns don’t talk with the Taylors because of a long-ago tragedy. Becky clearly likes him but tells him she can’t see him. Then an aunt and uncle arrive, and with nothing to keep him in Crosscut, Hank goes with them to live in Denver.

A few years and two tours of duty in Vietnam later, Hank returns to Crosscut. His grandfather has died; Becky was married and had a child but is now a widow. One thing that hasn’t changed was Carl Walker, the son of the man who controls the parish (county). Carl gets into often serious trouble as fast as his dad pulls strings and gets him out of it. And now Carl wants Becky. Hank, however, is standing in his way – and that means trouble.

Bruce Stewart
Hurt Road by Bruce Stewart is the story of Hank Goodman, struggling to get past the death of his best friend in Vietnam, rediscovering his love for a girl whose family wanted no part of him, and trying to find how to create a life. It’s a heartwarming, engaging story about small-town life with its goodness, badness, and everything in between. (It’s especially engaging for some like me whose father came from a similar small town in Louisiana.)

Stewart grew up in Louisiana, and for 28 years he served as a Louisiana State Police trooper, retiring in 2009. He was also deployed to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He is also the author of the novel Sing Me Something Happy (2017).

The tension between Carl and Hank slowly builds and then begins to ratchet upward, making for a tense conclusion. Hurt Road combines suspense, romance, and an appreciation or small-town life into a successful story.

Top photograph: The Vernon Parish, Louisiana, courthouse. Vernon Parish is similar to the fictional Lee Parish inHurt Road.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Last of the Tolkien Tales: “The Fall of Gondolin”


Gondolin is a city created by elves, hidden away in the mountains, the last outpost of light in the First Age of Middle-earth, when the evil forces of Morgoth have conquered almost everything else. Morgoth knows this city must exist, and he regularly sends search parties of orcs to find it. Its end is almost inevitable, and the story of that end is told in The Fall of Gondolin, the last of the unpublished tales of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Opposing Morgoth is Ulmo, the god of the sea, who raises up Tuor of the race of men. Tuor undertakes three great journeys in his life. 

The first is his journey from his own homeland toward the sea, subconsciously hearing the call of Ulmo. 

The second is his journey to Gondolin, where he comes to live and marry Idril, the daughter and only child of the elvish king. Tuor and Idril have a son, Earendil, who, outside the arc of this story, will have a son named Elrond of Rivendell, a main character of The Lord of the Rings.

Tuor’s third great journey will be to lead his family and a small remnant of the elves of Gondolin to safety, after the destruction of the city. 

And thus ends one of the great publishing stories of modern times.

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

Monday, September 10, 2018

“Glass Island” by Gareth Griffith


While it’s not as common as it once was, the use of the term “Dark Ages” had some justification behind it. The period from the fall of Rome to the 700-800s was “dark” because written records had largely ceased to exist. Historical records were carried largely in oral storytelling, through the use of myth and stories. What accounts of the period exist do so in records written 200 to 300 years later. 

After Rome withdrew the last troops and authority from Britain late in the fourth century, the island was subject to repeated invasions that continued off and on until the Norman Conquest in 1066. Saxons, Angles, Jutes, Frisians, Irish, Scots, and Vikings all found their way to Britain. The Saxons in particular invaded and fought the last of the native Britons; survivors were pushed in Wales, Cornwall, and what came to be called Brittany. What’s known about this period, and especially the 6thcentury, is what’s been gleaned from archaeology and legends.

One story concerns the Battle of Dyrham, thought to have been fought in 577 A.D. close to the city of Bath. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says three British kinds were killed in the battle, but little is known other than the names listed and the areas they likely ruled. It was a fierce battle, with the British defending and outnumbered by a large Saxon force. 

In the novel Glass Island, author Gareth Griffith builds a story around the battle, and a fascinating one it is. He tells the story of Eleri Gwir, the daughter of Arawn, king of the Summer Land in western England and eastern Cornwall. Arawn and his people face the inevitability of fighting the Saxons, who are drawing ever closer. It is a story about warfare, strategy, diplomacy, and treachery, and suggests that the British were as much defeated by their mutual suspicions and squabbling as they were by the Saxons. 

The novel is also a love story. Eleri Gwir, known as the Truth Speaker, is a close friend with Gwion, the boy she grew up with. But then the Red Cloaks arrive – the descendants of the Romans who are still trying to bring some semblance of authority and stability and fight the Saxons. And she meets their captain Macsen.

Gareth Griffith
It’s a time when the old religion, while never having been fully eradicated by the Romans, is still around to vie with the new Christian religion. Eleri is an adherent of the old religion, with its place gods and its sacred island in the Water Land. The island is known as Ynys-Wydr, or Glass Island (and gives its name to the novel). The interim fights and battles include Eleri and other woman warriors, a tradition known from pre-Roman times.

Griffith was born in Wales and moved to Australia. He’s been a teacher, researcher, and writer, and served as the director of research for the parliament of New South Wales for many years. He’s now focused on writing about Wales and the Dark Ages. 

While we know how the great battle will end for the British, that doesn’t stop Griffith from telling a great story, a great national story, in Glass Island, a story about the original British, what they endured, what they sacrificed, and how a remnant managed to survive. 

Top photograph: The site believed to be that of the Battle of Dyrham, just north of Bath in England. The battle was fought between Britons and Saxons, with the Britons defending the hilltop.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Tombs


After Luke 8:26-39

I wander among the tombs,
rocks in the desert, stones
and scorpions for my companions;
I mutter and moan, tearing
at my clothes, my skin; the voices
within me shouting, clamoring,
accusing, laughing, ridiculing, 
denigrating, destroying what little
is left until the legions are silenced,
suddenly, forced into pigs, drowned,
leaving a nearly dead husk behind.

And he tells me not to follow but
to go, go to my city, proclaim what
has happened. I walk, then run,
through the fear, leaving them behind,
following instead the command.

Photograph by Loubos Houska via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Saturday Good Reads


The Catholic Church scandal continues to grow. The Nebraska attorney general has now asked three dioceses for records. The Missouri attorney general has started an investigation. Cathiolics are beginning to see this as more than a crisis, says Canadian David Warren. A bishop resigns from his diocese in Kansas and submits his resignation from the priesthood – at 78 years old. The Get Religion blog continues to look at the international mainstream media, and isn’t, covering the issue. These are dark days for the oldest Christian church.

My favorite character in The Lord of the Ringstrilogy was and remains Sam Gamgee, Frodo Baggins’ faithful friend. At An Unexpected Journey, Zak Schmoll writes about the heroism of the ordinary in Tolkien’s great work, and Sam has a large place in that. 

Clive James on his new epic poem, Ann Kroeker on writing tight, Michael Perry on the value of the old family snapshot, Daniel Luttrell on the impact of Facebook on local politics, some color photos of pre-Revolution Russia commissioned by the tsar, and more.

Art and Photography

Flowers Seen Darkly and Smallscale Wildlife – Tim Good at Photography by Tiwago.

Russia in Color: Photos of Life in Russia Before the Revolution – Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky via Getty Images.

Faith

Something More than a “Crisis” (at The Catholic Thing) and What to Do – both by David Warren.



Bishop Morrie resigns from diocese amid tears – Michael Leach at National Catholic Reporter (Hat Tip: J of India).

Why Archbishop Vigano is almost certainly telling the truth -- Edward Feser.

Complexity is Sometimes Necessary – Zak Schmoll at Entering the Public Square.

Life and Culture

How did Lewis and Tolkien Defend the Old West? – Bradley Birzer at The Imaginative Conservative(Hat Tip: Zak Schmoll). (Article published in 2015.)


The power of the old family snapshot – Michael Perry at the Wisconsin State Journal.

On Death and Grief – Andrew Gardner.

Poetry

September 2nd – Chris Yokel.

Haiku #46 – Helen at His Refuge Wings.

‘The story of a mind heaving into oblivion’ – Clive James at The Guardian.

Writing and Literature

The Heroism of the Ordinary in The Lord of the Rings – Zak Schmoll at An Unexpected Journal.



Be Thou My Vision – Nathan Pacheco


Painting: Man reading, oil on canvas by Albert Ranney Chewett(1877-1965)