Sunday, March 24, 2019

The peace of the city

After Jeremiah 29:7-13

There is a city on a hill
and there is a city at the bottom
of the hill, a city in the plain:
a city of peace, a city without
a city of wealth, a city without
a city of live and kindness
a city without
a city safe and secure
a city of violence
a city that’s home
a city that’s exile.
Seek the peace of the city of exile.
Seek the safety of the city of exile.
Seek this city of exile.
Seek it.
Seek its streets.
Walk its lanes
Visit its homes.
Seek it.

Photograph by Dan Gold via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Saturday Good Reads

This is how the biography begins: “Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services.” Hanson is a conservative and a defender of Donald Trump (in fact, he's just published a new book, The Case for Trump). 

It’s not difficult to imagine Hanson writing about Trump voters; he does so on a regular basis. But imagine my cognitive dissonance to see an article by Hanson on what progressives need to know about Trump voters published on the CNN web site. Regardless of how you feel about President Trump, the article is well worth reading. (I’m still trying to deal with seeing it on a CNN web site.)

What’s old is new again: Identity politics has a rather ferocious grip on the Western imagination, not to mention Western politics. Its roots, says Akos Balough at The Gospel Coalition Australia, go back a couple of thousand years to the heresy of Gnosticism. Solomon was right, there is nothing new under the sun. 

More Good Reads


God, the Playwright – Donald Catchings at An Unexpected Journal.

Monday Morning – Jerry Barrett at Gerald the Writer.

Crashing W.S. Merwin’s Wedding – Edward Hirsch at The Paris Review and Remembering W.S. Merwin: The Poet of Disappearance – Peggy Rosenthal at Image Journal.

The Who I Am– Martha Orlando at Meditations of My Heart.

Theory of the translation of the moon – Kathleen Everett at The Course of Our Seasons.

How I Talk to God – Kelly Belmonte at Literary Life.


How the Sacred-Secular Divide Impacts the Church – Hugh Whelchel at the Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics.

We All Live in Marx’s World Now – Carl Trueman at The Gospel Coalition.

Life and Culture

The Memory Keeper – B. Miller at The South Roane Agrarian. 

Reflections on the Community of Baseball Fans – Zak Schmoll at Entering the Public Square.

Wisdom First, Job Skills Second – Mark Bauerlein at City Journal.

The Marijuana Delusion – Steven Malanga at City Journal.

Writing and Literature

Village Poet – Laura Lundgren at Servants of Grace.

American Stuff

Andrew Jackson Unconquered – Bill Kauffman at Modern Age reviews the new biography by Bradley Birzer.

Of Battles and Memories: A Union Officer’s Springtime Letter – Sarah Kay Bierle at Emerging Civil war Blog.

Art and Photography

Flower Therapy – Susan Etole. 

Walking in Memphis – Marc Cohn

Painting: Room in a Farmhouse, oil on panel (1886) by L.A. Ring (1853-1933).

Friday, March 22, 2019

Sitting at the dealership

Sitting in this nice waiting room
at the car dealership, waiting while
mechanics serviced the car, 
waiting areas didn’t used to be
so nice, this one had coffee, and
bottled water neatly lined up
in a small refrigerator, and popcorn,
with the showroom of new cars
shining and sparkling conveniently 
close by. The gray-haired man
shuffles in, glances at the coffee,
and ponders the pre-packaged muffins,
finally selecting the wild blueberry.
He sits, contented, and opens the book
that had been tucked under his arm.
I’m too far away to see the title, 
but the cover photograph gives it away:
he’s reading Mystery and Manners
by Flannery O’Connor, while he waits
for his car to be serviced, and I think
a good car is hard to find.

Photograph by Daniele Fantin via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

"Black & Blue" by Emma Jameson

One thing you can say about the Lord and Lady Hetheridge mystery series by Emma Jameson is that they are never dull. Things happen. Lots of things. On almost every page. 

Black & Blue, the fourth in the series, starts with a murder of an art dealer, who lives right around the corner from the Hetheridges in London’s Mayfair. Lord Hetheridge is Chief Superitendent Anthony Hetheridge of Scotland Yard, aka the ninth Baron of Wellegrave. Lady Hetheridge is the former Kate Wakefield, a detective sergeant woeking with Hetheridge as part of the murder investigation squad. The third member of the team is Detective Sergeant Deepal Bhar, who has the unfortunate habit of always stepping into things when he shouldn’t.

The art dealer was a nasty bit of goods, irrespective of his Euston Square address. He liked poaching the married wives of well-known men who didn’t take kindly to his poaching. He liked dumping his new girlfriends almost as soon as he had them. He offended neighbors on both accounts, not to mention the awful modern art eyesore he’d turned his house into. And then there’s the drug smuggling business that the art dealing covered for. 

Emma Jameson
Right at the start of the investigation, Hetherbridge is booted from his position, or “allowed to retire.” He takes steps to set up his own private investigations business, although he’s wealthy enough not to have worry about income. Kate and Deepal find themselves reporting to a new boss – Vic Jackson, known for his alcoholism, sexual harassment, and racist comments. Except Jackson seems to have undergone a transformation.

Murder suspects abound, including the woman found in the wardrobe in the dead man’s house (supposedly looking for Narnia) and the Texas boyfriend of Bhar’s mother, who comes close to steal the show for the entire novel. She’s a great comic character. And the Hetheridges have family problems, specifically Kate’s family, her recently-released-from-the-mental-home sister and her former prostitute mother (Kate and Tony were born and reared in very different circumstances).

In addition to the Hetheridge series, Jameson has a second series of novels featuring the amateur detective Dr. Benjamin Bones. The series begins in Cornwall during World War II, and it has a companion series called “The Magic of Cornwall.” Jameson is currently working on the third Dr. Bones mystery.

So much happens in Black & Blue that you’ll feel rather breathless and checking back every few pages to make sure you caught everything that was happening. And you’ll also be highly entertained.


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

“A Stranger on My Land” by Sandra Merville Hart

Adam Hendricks is a private with the 99thOhio Infantry, slowly advancing with his unit up Lookout Mountain in Tennessee. It’s late November of 1863, and after taking Chattanooga, Union forces are working their way towards Georgia. What lies ahead is the battle of Missionary Ridge. But before that happens, Hendricks is wounded in his arm, twice. He loses consciousness; when he awakes, he’s lying by himself in the forest, and his right arm is useless.

Carrie Bishop is a young woman whose family lives in a cabin on the mountain. Her father is with General Lee’s army in Virginia. She, her aunt, and her young brother have taken refuge in a cave. Her aunt had refused to leave the mountain; to protect themselves, their livestock, and remaining food from both Confederate and Union forces, they’ve been in hiding for some time.

Sandra Merville Hart
Searching for firewood, Carrie and her brother find the wounded Union soldier. Her first reaction is to walk away. Her second is to help him. The circumstances that force the two young people together are also the circumstances that may drive them apart – they occupy opposing sides of the Civil War (Carrie’s aunt in particular has a virulent hatred of all things Yankee). What Carrie can medically do for Adam is extremely limited, and she knows that she will have to risk her family’s safety to get him the doctor’s help he needs.

A Stranger on My Land is the story of Carrie and Adam, the first of three Civil War romances by Sandra Merville Hart. It’s an engaging story, backed by considerable research and period detail.

The second novel in the series is A Rebel in My House and the third is A Musket in My Hands. Hart, a member of American Christian Fiction Authors, has also published novellas and short stories and is both a contributor and assistant editor for 

My initial interest in A Stranger on My Land was the Civil War setting. But it took no time for the story to take over and almost compel me to read it straight through in one sitting.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Poets and Poems: Phoebe Power and “Shrines of Upper Austria”

One of the significant themes in contemporary poetry is identity – with an open-ended definition of that word. Poets young and old are exploring what identity is, using their own lives as a prism. The recent National Book Award winner Indecency by Justin Phillip Reed is one example. The poetry of British poet laureate Carol Ann Duffyi s another. 

Phoebe Power
British poet Phoebe Power, in her first collection Shrines of Upper Austria, explores a different facet of identity, and that’s an individual’s understanding of national identity. The collection received the Forward Prize for Best First Collection and was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize. 

Power’s starting point is her grandmother, who arrived in England as a new bride married to a British soldier in 1946. Her grandmother was an ethnic German from Austria, which just the year before had been part of Nazi Germany. Imagine her British neighbors, and her new British family. Imagine what she had left behind. The experiences and heritage of her grandmother becomes Power’s by family inheritance. 

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

Monday, March 18, 2019

Poetry at Work, Chapter 10: The Poetry of Beauty in the Workplace

The worst view I ever had from my assigned office at work was of the building’s designated smoking area. I had the most coveted type of office – a closed-door office, with a window. Except the window faced the smoking area outside the building, with its awning-like protection and clouds of smoke.

The best view I ever had from my assigned office at work was that same office – after smoking was banned entirely from the campus. No more plastic awning. No more clouds of smoke. Just an uninterrupted view of nearby woods.

If someone asked you to describe beauty at your workplace, you would likely think of architectural structures, window views, fountains, waterways, or woods. You might think of people, but today’s cultural and work environments require that great care be taken when talking about people. 

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

“City of a Million Dreams” by Jason Berry

New Orleans, the city where I was born and grew up in, turned 300 years old last year, rather old by American standards. Founded by the French, managed for a time by the Spanish, incorporated into the United States with the Louisiana Purchase, then a part of the Confederacy before it was dragged back into the Union with Reconstruction, the city has a history that’s colorful, turbulent, diverse, and still being lived.

These days, I usually approach books and articles about New Orleans with doubts. How much of what I read will be ideological? How much does political correctness seep in? Will I recognize my hometown in what I’m reading, or will it come across as some alien place, unrelated to anything I know?

City of a Million Dreams: A History of New Orleans at Year 300 by Jason Berry captures a considerable amount of the city’s color and turbulence. It’s an account of a city that’s includes usually forgotten elements and people but also manages to avoid the traps of ideology. In short, I recognize my city in this story of its history. The problem I have is that I don’t recognize enough of it. 

Berry is an investigative reporter who lives in New Orleans and who’s written some 10 books, including on subjects as diverse as the Catholic Church crisis, the power of money in the Catholic church, a history of New Orleans music, a novel about Louisiana politics, and others. He is a producing City of a Million Dreams as a documentary film, expected to be released this year. 

The book begins at the beginning, with the founding by the French in 1718, specifically by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, the man known for his snake-tattooed body that always impressed the native tribes. Berry tells a good story of Louisiana’s first 100 years, covering the French, Spanish, and early American periods, along with the powerful influences on the city by the French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte, slave rebellions in the West Indies, yellow fever, and French national and colonial politics. 

Jason Berry
It was during the discussion of the period leading up to and including the Civil War and Reconstruction eras that I began to see the book’s strong point – the emphasis on the city’s musical history – was also its weak point. The emphasis on music allows an enhanced discussion of the history of the city’s African-American people, including both slaves and “free people of color.” But it also means that other elements are crowded out. The reader gets an extended discussion of specific musicians and a funeral home operator, but not a single reference to John McDonough, the philanthropist who shaped the lives of hundreds of thousands of people through the public schools, and few references to the importance played by city’s position as a leading seaport.

Aside from the discussion of colonial history, the book does provide solid background on how the city’s neighborhoods developed, where Congo Square came from, the original of "second-lining" funerals, and how New Orleans’ musicians, like Louis Armstrong, became part of the city’s musical diaspora across the United States and into Europe. But you will find very little on the city’s contribution to World War II and the space program, and the role of businesses and industry, including cotton. 

City of a Million Dreams is uneven, and its emphasis on music likely reflects the author’s previous work in that area. The music is a fascinating and important aspect of the city’s history. But other aspects are important as well, and Berry could have his excellent storytelling style to those as well. 

Top photograph by Robson Hatsukami Morgan via Unsplash. Used with permission

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Hearing the call

After Luke 14:12-24

I heard the call
to the feast and wow
what an opportunity 
what a great opportunity
let me check my calendar
on my phone, oh no
it’s packed, I had no idea
how scheduled I was, 
with events, things, stuff,
responsibilities, appointments,
meetings, conferences, gatherings,
luncheons, dinners, filled
with all the important things,
the things signifying importance,
so I have to say sorry, things to do,
places to go, people to see,
maybe next year
in Jerusalem.

Photograph by Tom Plouff via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Saturday Good Reads

During my junior year in college, I took two semesters of Russian history. The second semester focused on the 19th and 20th centuries, and one of the books we read was a really, really bad 1863 novel called What Is to be Done? by Nikolai Chernyshevsky. It was a political novel, written by a member of the Russian intelligentsia (he was a literary critic, among other things), and it sought to explain why intellectuals needed to take the lead in the struggle between socialism and capitalism. Surprisingly for the time, its lead character, a woman, advocated free love, an end to marriage, an end to private property, and creation of socialist industrial communes.

In response, Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote Notes from the Underground, which ridiculed Chernyshevsky’s book. Later, Leo Tolstoy wrote a response as well. Intellectuals, however loved the book, not least for how it cast them as social and political heroes. One person completely impressed by the book was Vladimir Lenin, who went on to implement much of what What Is to be Done?advocated. And we know how well that worked out.

Two years ago, Northwestern University professor Gary Morson gave a lecture at the Heritage Foundation, speaking on this 19thcentury “great authors versus intellectuals” battle. He likens it to contemporary American society, but he points out that we have no great authors – no Dostoevsky, no Tolstoy, no Anton Chekhov – to engage the battle today. What the lecture does tell us is that all this stuff flying around about socialism, green new deals, soaking the rich, and ending capitalism is nothing new. We’ve seen it before, and we know exactly where it will lead.

More Good Reads

Writing and Literature

Twelve Rules for the Bookish Life – Doug Sikkema at Comment Magazine.

We Write by Faith – Jennifer Oshman. 

Why Charles Dickens Makes Me Cry – Christine Norvell at The Imaginative Conservative.

New Media

What the Washington Post Debacle Can Teach Christians – Zak Schmoll at Entering the Public Square.

Life and Culture

The Equality Act Accelerates Anti-Christian Bias – Andrew Walker at The Gospel Coalition.


Three Sonnets on the Temptations of Christ – Malcolm Guite at The Imaginative Conservative.

Why are we so worried about “Instapoetry”? – Anna Leszkiewicz at New Statesman.

James Tate’s Last, Last Poems – Matthew Zapruder at The Paris Review.

Leaf blowing – David Solway at New Criterion.


The Surprising Humanity of the Westminster Confession – Jake Meador at Mere Orthodoxy.

Farewell Francis – Jordan Standridge at The Cripplegate.

British Stuff

England and France: Sibling Rivalry – Erica Laine at English Historical Fiction Authors.

It is Well with My Soul – Audrey Assad

Painting: Woman Reading, oil on canvas by David Park (1911-1960).

Friday, March 15, 2019


After Luke 14:12-24

The feast prepared 
and ready, the call goes out 
to come to the beast, 
this would have been 
the second call, the first 
asking if people would come,
and this second call meets
excuses, no I’m too busy,
too many responsibilities,
too many things to take care of,
sorry my wife is calling
sorry I have other plans,
maybe next time. A third call
goes out, instead,
to the poor, the blind,
the crippled, the lame,
the sick, the dregs,
the ignored, the deplorables,
the pariahs, the uneducated,
t6he rubes, the rednecks,
and they come
and they feast.

Photograph by Ryoji Iwata via Unsplash. Used with permission

Thursday, March 14, 2019

"The Division Bell Mystery" by Ellen Wilkinson

Ellen Wilkinson (1891-1947) was a Labour member of the British Parliament and, at the time of her death, Minister of Education in the Cabinet. She was associated with a number of worker, education, and women’s causes, including what became known as the Jarrow March, a demonstration by the unemployed that culminated in a march from the Manchester area to London. 

For a brief time in the late 1920s and early 1930s, she was out of office, and one of the things she did was to write a mystery novel, The Division Bell Mystery, published in 1932. The British Library recently republished the novel as part of its Crime Classis series. Wilkinson had been a fan of murder mysteries and especially those of Agatha Christie, and she tried her hand at writing one. It’s not a perfect mystery, but it an entertaining one, and it’s filled with details about the workings of Parliament.

Robert West is a young Member of Parliament who serves as Personal Private Secretary to the Home Office Secretary. He’s showing an old friend around Parliament, and they’re near the private dining rooms when the division bell rings, signifying the need for MPs to return to the House of Commons for a vote. It’s 9 p.m.; Big Ben begins to chime at the same time. And so does what clearly sounds like a gunshot.

Ellen Wilkinson
West and his friend discover the body of an American financier, who had been having dinner with the Home Secretary. At first, the death appears to be suicide, but the police come to realize that it’s murder. Then they learn that the dead man’s flat had been burglarized at the same time, and a security man killed there. 

Because of his position with the Home Secretary, West finds himself helping to investigate the murder and burglary and navigating romantic entanglements at the same time. And it’s through West’s eyes that we come to see not only a large number of suspects but also some of the inner workings of Parliament. (There’s even a character who’s an MP and has the same political inclinations as the author.)

The identification of the killer gets a little hurried at the end, but The Division Bell Mystery is still a worthwhile and rather fun read. This new edition by the British Library includes a preface by Rachel Reeves, MP for Leeds West, and a solid introduction on politics in Golden Age detective fiction by crime writer Martin Edwards.

Related: Red Ellen, a biography of Ellen Wilkinson, by Laura Beers (2016).

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

"More Than Friends" by Autumn Macarthur

Catriona Maclean is a nurse and the daughter of an Edinburgh pastor. She has a servant’s heart, and her role model is Martha, sister of Mary, of the Gospels. Catriona is almost obsessive in her desire to serve; she’s convinced herself that she will never marry, and it relates to a family situation from years before where, she believes, her selfishness cost her brother.

She’s organized a day at the beach for disabled children, and she has a problem. The man who had promised to help couldn’t go, and she needed a man for the boys, and specifically a man cleared to work with disabled children. The only man who fits the requirements is Alastair Murray, who works in the orthopedic unit at Catriona’s hospital. The problem with Alastair: he was the reason for her act of selfishness years ago; she had to go on a youth group trip because he would be there as well. He’s the best friend of one of her brothers, and Catriona knows she is still in love with him.

Alastair also catches the eyes of the other nurses and woman workers at the hospital. Catriona, who studiously avoids makeup and really caring about her appearance, is convinced he doesn’t think twice about her.

Autumn Macarthur
Except he does. Alastair has always been in love with Catriona, but he senses her desire for distance and non-involvement. He goes out of his way to protect himself as well. He agrees to be her last-minute substitute on the field trip. Complications ensue.

More Than Friends by Autumn Macarthur is the story of Catriona and Alastair, and if and how they will finally realize their mutual love. Told in alternating viewpoints, most of the short novel occurs in one day, the day of the field trip. It’s a lovely little story that focuses the reader on how these two people will come to recognize their feelings for each other.

Macarthur has written numerous books in the Christian inspirational romance genre and inspirational non-fiction. More Than Friends is book 2 in the Macleans Series. She lives in London.

The novel is a quick, easy-to-read romance that sounds all too real when two people go out of their way to ignore, excuse, and explain away their feelings.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Poetry at Work, Chapter 9: The Poet in the Culture of Control

For most of the 20thcentury, the structure of corporations was based on the technology of mass production. It was a command-and-control model, with managers directing workers, who had a very specific task to accomplish. It was not unlike the military.

In the 1970s, that structure began to break down. It was almost odd – an organizational model that had survived two world wars and the Great Depression was breaking down for what appeared to be smaller factors. Inflation raged almost out control (I remember a prime lending rate of 21 percent); oil embargoes were turning major industries like petroleum refining, chemical manufacturing, and automobiles on their heads. National psychological blows happened as well, contributing to the disruptive environment – the Watergate crisis, the end of the Vietnam War, and the Iranian revolution that led to Americans being held hostage for more than a year. The reckoning started in the 1980s, as company after company reorganized (over and over again), laid people off (over and over again), and often went out of business altogether. At the end of the 1980s, Tim Berners-Lee invented what would become the worldwide web.

It was an unsettled time to work for a large company.

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

“Robert Graves” – A Biography of a War Poet by Jean Moorcroft Wilson

I have a personal definition of what makes a good biography. Solid research and an understanding of the subject are a given, but what separates exceptional biographies from good ones is whether or not I find myself believing that I’m there with the subject, living the scenes, and experiencing the trials and triumphs. A simpler way to say it is, do I identify with the story being told about this person’s life?

Robert Graves: From Great War Poet to Good-Bye to All That 1895-1929 by Jean Moorcroft Wilson is one of those exceptional biographies. Almost all I knew about Graves was that he was the author of I Claudius and Claudius the God, written in the 1930s and popularized on PBS in the 1970s. Derek Jacobi starred in the title role. I was so mesmerized by the TV series that I read both books, learning that Graves had based his fictionalized story on the gossipy account by the Roman historian Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars

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

Monday, March 11, 2019

"Before the Fall" by Noah Hawley

What a story!

Scott Burroughs lives on Martha’s Vineyard. He has a small cottage with a barn, where he paints. At one time, he had hoped to become a great painter. But he’s now in his late 40s, his painting career demolished by self-doubt and alcoholism. He’s reached deep down inside to find what may be a last burst of effort, and it looks to be paying off. He’s painting some of the best pictures he’s ever done.

He has to go to New York to meet with a gallery owner. A woman he’s met at the local farmer’s market, Maggie Bateman, invites him to fly with her and her family back to New York. Her husband, David, is head of a network that sounds a lot like Fox. They have two children, Rachel who’s 9 and J.J. who’s 4. Also on board are a banker and his wife and three crew members. Scott’s taxi doesn’t show, and he takes the bus, almost missing the waiting plane.

The short flight turns out to be a lot shorter than expected. Eighteen minutes after takeoff, the plane crashes into the ocean. Scott, disoriented, finds himself in the water. He doesn’t remember what happened but he knows the plane has crashed. It’s night. He knows he must be miles from shore. He starts preparing himself to swim. And then he hears a cry. There’s one other survivor – four-year-old J.J., who’s clinging to a seat cushion. Scott will make his swim, with J.J. clinging to his back. He becomes a national hero.

But the lead news commentator on David Bateman’s network is suspicious. So are some of the government agents involved, especially the FBI. The news commentator begins to make insinuations and accusations. And what grows increasingly clear is that the plane crash wasn’t due to mechanical problems or failure. 

Noah Hawley
Before the Fall by Noah Hawley is a riveting, can’t-put-it-down novel published in 2016. Haley tells the story using backward and forward looks at the people on the plane – a powerful network mogul and his wife; their daughter Rachel who was kidnapped (and found unharmed) when she was 2; the banker and his wife who had just discovered he was to be indicted for money laundering; the Israeli-born bodyguard for the Bateman family; the pilot, co-pilot, and flight attendant; and the painter. Somewhere in the stories of these people lies the reason why the plane crashed. And the author spools the story out like scenes from a movie.

A sub-plot and sub-theme of the book is contemporary journalism, or what passes for journalism. Published before the 2016 national election, the book quietly focuses at how news is made and how it’s often manufactured by the very people who are supposed to be reporting it – something often referred to today as “fake news.” The FBI agent also doesn’t come across as completely professional, either.

Hawley has published three other novels: The Punch,The Good FatherOther People’s Weddings, and A Conspiracy of Tall Men. He is also a screenwriter and producer, best known for being the creator of Fargo. He’s received Emmy, Golden Globe, Critic’s Choice, and Peabody awards for his work.

Before the Fall is something of a popular fiction contradiction. Not only is it fast-paced and a terrific read, it’s also profoundly thought-provoking. It raises questions about what news is, how it’s reported, the biases of investigators, and the free rein given to so-called news commentators. And it’s a story of how a lost, broken man finds himself again.