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.

Poetry

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.

Faith

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.

Related:


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.

Related:








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.

Related



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.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Life in three steps


After Philippians 2:5-11

What is this life
what is the definition that
cuts away the fluff and
the adverbial adjectives,
that brings the truth
forward into the light? It
begins with equality – 
the idea that equality is
not to be grasped, not
to be sought. That’s step 
one. Step two: empty self 
of self, allow it to drain 
away, self replaced by 
servanthood, service, 
serving others, with serve
being the opposite of self.
Step three: humility, not
without a point or purpose,
but to be obedient, sitting
in the lifelong classroom
called obedience. Like
the author of good news,
we give up the right
to be right.

Photograph by Jake Hills via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Saturday Good Reads


This past week (specifically Oct. 7) marked the 170th anniversary of the death of Edgar Allen Poe. His stories (and poems) are still widely read today, and he had an impact upon everything from the detective story to movies and films. Christine Norvell at The Imaginative Conservative explains how Poe ensured that Gothic stories will never die

The news media generally has trouble covering religion, even when it spills over into politics (everything is politics, it seems). A new $23 million Anglican church was dedicated recently in Arlington, Va., and the media coverage was zilch, finds Julia Duin at Get Religion – despite the huge back story behind the church.

The Jewish observance of Yom Kippur began this past week, and, as usual, something extraordinary happened in Israel – an entire nation (or most of it) went silent. Doug Spurling at Spurling Silver asks what would happen if something like that happened closer to home

More Good Reads

Poetry

I could say that – Robert Rife at Rob’s Lit Bits.

It’s Time to Rediscover the Power of Poetry – Ellen Condict at The American Conservative.

Walking on Water – Mark Jarman via D.S. Martin at Kingdom Poets.

Autumn Sonnet – David Whippman at Society of Classical Poets.

On Reading & Reciting Poetry – Jody Lee Collins.

The answer is no – Emily Livingston at Fathom Magazine.

British Stuff


Wakefield Chantry Chapel – Barb Drummond at Curious Historian.

Writing and Literature

An Irish Author Takes the Global View – Tobias Carroll at CrimeReads. 


Faith

Institutionally Challenged? Obadiah to the Rescue – David George Moore at Front Porch Republic.

Grace is the Currency of the True Economy – Dan Grubbs at Front Porch Republic.

Be Patient with Us as We Learn – Joe Holland at Tabletalk.

Life and Culture

I’m here for them, too – Charity Singleton Craig at Redbud Writers Guild.

Ghosts in the Rubbish – Seth Lewis.

Islandia – Vadim Sherbakov


Painting: Woman Reading, oil on canvas by Isaac Israels (1865-1934)

Friday, October 11, 2019

Hunger


After Philippians 2:1-4

The hunger for glory
is an illness, a consumption
laying waste, a conceit
of soul, or heart, a desire
to be elevated. It is
the hunger never sated,
because glory is
an addiction, by nature
never enough, always
coupled with the need
for more, because more
is never enough,
an opiod of the soul
that requires more
and more, insatiable,
a craving overwhelming
that leads to paralysis.

Photograph by Jason Hogan via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Three+ Stories by Glenn McGoldrick


It is a dark, almost noir world that the characters of British author  Glenn McGoldrick’s stories inhabit. Life is short and gritting, and often brutish. Appearances can be and usually are deceiving. People behave in often unexpected ways, and they often have something to hide. Crime rarely pays.


In Cod Beck & Other Dark Teeside Stories, McGoldrick has three stories set in the northern England region of Teeside. In the title story, “Cod Beck,” a man finds the only way he knows of mourning his recently deceased wife. In “Just Keep Walking,” a man has to figure out what to do about an alibi he provided for a friend. “Nightmare Waiting” concerns a man almost being haunted by a drunken driving incident.

Head Count is a single story published as a separate publication. A casino cruise ship has to stop operations and ask passengers to return to their cabins for a head count – a woman is believed missing and overboard. But like all missing person stories, there’s a story behind the story.

Glenn McGoldrick
Little Dramas is a collection of eight dark and occasionally wry stories. A robbery where appearances are deceiving. A bank extortion plot with the resolution in a crossword puzzle. A mother trying to protect her son from the expected wrath of his father over a car accident. A man who’s supposed to get fired but doesn’t, and how that’s bad news for his friend. A letter asking a young man to meet and accept forgiveness. A son follows his mother’s live-in boyfriend, because she believes he’s cheating on her. Residents on a street unexpectedly and anonymously receive a thousand pounds each, and one couple decides to use it for a vacation to New York City. And a bomb scare at a casino is both more and less than a bomb scare. 

The writing in these stories is spare; not a single word seems wasted or unnecessary. You want to find out what’s happening, and what happens next, because you know it will be deserving and surprising. McGoldrick has a definite talent for hooking you into the dark stories of his world.

Related:

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

“Wish Upon a Shell” by Kay Correll


Julie Farmington operates a bakery and café on Belle Island, a small island off the Florida coast that boast quiet living, a walkable community, beautiful beaches, and a lighthouse. She’s been here since she was 18, where she found a refuge with two older women, Tally and Susan. Tally operates the Magic Café, and Susan the local inn. Julie has seen one relationship end badly and is determined not to make the same mistake again.

Reed Newman lives in Seattle, and his boss has ordered him to take a month’s vacation. He sees a TV program on nest beaches and decides to spend his month on Belle Island. Reed is carrying more baggage than he checked on the airplane; he blames himself for his wife’s death in an automobile accident and had refused to drive at all since she died. His decision to head to Florida is completely out of character – he doesn’t even bring the right clothes for laid-back beach vacations because he doesn’t own any.

Kay Correll
Julie, meet Reed. Reed, meet Julie. They’re going to learn just how many mistakes and misunderstandings people can experience, and how they decide to stand by each other through all of it.

Wish Upon a Shell is the first novel in the Lighthouse Point series by Kay Correll, author of numerous novels in the women/s/contemporary romance genre. Correll has published five books in the Sweet River series, six in the Lighthouse Point series, and eight in the Comfort Crossing series. She lives in the American Midwest.

Reed and Julie are two people who’ve constructed tall and thick walls around their hearts. Wish Upon a Shell describes how those walls begin to break down, and whether two people will take the risks needed to tear the walls completely down.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Poets and Poems: Aaron Belz and “Soft Launch”


Poet Rae Armantrout calls fellow poet Aaron Belz the “Comic of the Apocalypse.” After reading his new collection Soft Launch: Poems, I discovered that she was right, but not entirely right. Yes, there is a strong sense of comedy in his poems, evoking smiles, grins, and the occasional out-loud laugh. And yes, some of the poems are about the Apocalypse. But take a plunge below the surface, and you find something else.

Take this poem, for example, “The Importance of Self Care During the Apocalypse.” It has comedy. It’s about the Apocalypse. But it’s also telling us, whether we confront the crackup of Western civilization, imminent climate disaster, or the complete breakdown of political and civil discourse, we should always remember to take a deep breath.

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

Monday, October 7, 2019

“The 21: A Journey into the Land of Coptic Martyrs”


The story begins with a video in 2015. It’s difficult not to remember the line of 21 men in orange jumpsuits, their hands tied behind their backs, being marched along a beach by masked men in black. The 21 were Egyptian Copts who had been working in Libya; their captors were self-proclaimed members of ISIS. Each of the captive member were forced to kneel in the sand, and then beheaded by the masked captors standing behind them.

The highly-staged and professionally-produced video was meant to terrify; what it did was horrify.

German writer Martin Mosebach watched that video, and the expressions on the victims’ faces overwhelmed him. The faces did not show terror or fear. Instead, what Mosebach saw was acceptance and calm. These men were prepared to be martyred. And he asked himself, who were these men, where did they come from, and what kind of tradition and culture led to an acceptance of martyrdom?

He’s answered those questions in The 21: A Journey into the Land of Coptic Martyrs. He traveled to Egypt, specifically Upper Egypt, to the villages where 20 of the 21 men came from. He talked with their priests, their bishops, their families, and their neighbors. He talks with the Coptic pope in Alexandria. He talked with Copts working in Cairo. He understands that his Western European cultural tradition will make it difficult for him to understand why the 21 seemed to go peacefully into martyrdom.

Martin Mosebach
What he finds in Egypt is a flourishing Coptic community, a reality very different from what little is presented in the news media, which focuses on Muslim atrocities and bombings of Coptic churches. Those threats exist, but so does a massive church building program, hospitals run by Coptic Christians and often employing both Christian and Muslim doctors, and people who live their daily lives unafraid because of their faith.

And what he learns is that Coptic Christianity has survived nearly 1,500 years of Islamic domination, and one way it has is the acceptance of martyrdom as a fact of life.

Mosebach, born in 1951, is a novelist, short story writer, scriptwriter, playwright, and poet. His novels translated into English include The Heresy of Formlessness and What Was Before. Also available in English is his 2019 collection of essays, Subversive Catholicism: Papacy, Liturgy, ChurchThe 21 is his first non-fiction work and was translated from the German by Alta Price.

The author seems surprised and attracted by much of what he finds in the land of the martyrs. What he describes seems solidly in context with the history of the early Christian church, and readers familiar with that history will be less surprised. Mosebach in The 21 tells the stories of those men martyred for their faith on that Libyan beach. He also tells the story of how martyrdom was an integral reality of their faith. Many Western readers may find that hard to accept, but many Western Christian readers will not.