Saturday, February 23, 2019

Saturday Good Reads


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

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

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

More Good Reads

Poetry

The Ruined Saint – Jack Stewart at Image Journal.


Art and Photography

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


Faith


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

Writing and Literature



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

News Media

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

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

American Stuff

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

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

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

Apollo 11’s Journey to the Moon, Annotated


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

Friday, February 22, 2019

The Book of Ours


After Luke 12:13-21

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

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

Thursday, February 21, 2019

3 Shorts: A Novella and 2 Short Stories


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Short reads make nice breaks.

Related:




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

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

"The Finale" by Calvin Miller


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related:


Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Poets and Poems: Benjamin Myers and “Black Sunday”


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

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

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

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

Monday, February 18, 2019

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Is it that simple


After Luke 11: 5-13

Ask, seek, knock.
Is it that simple?
That’s all – three simple acts?
Ask for help.
Seek the help.
Knock: a hand raised
to a door.

the ask begets a gift
the seek begets a find
the knock begets an opened door

ask seek knock
the door opens
the wind blows
the answer comes

is it really that simple

Photograph by Federico Guiterrez viaUnsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Saturday Good Reads


Earlier this week, we finished watching The ABC Murders on Prime Video, starring John Malkovich as Agatha Christie’s famous detective Hercule Poirot. It was a dark version of the original story, with an origin for Poirot that wasn’t in the author’s books. But it was an excellent production. 

I must have been 10 or 11 when I started reading mystery stories by Agatha Christie. She wrote some 66 mystery novels and 14 short story collections, and even three collections of poetry. But it’s her novels for which she’s best remembered. Today, the Christie mysteries are classified in the genre of “cozy mystery.” Lucy Foley at CrimeReads argues for a different classification, that the stories told by the grande dame of mystery are anything but cozy. She makes a good case.

There’s a lot of talk about socialism these days, and a lot of talk about green new deals and whether it’s less about green and more about socialism. Michael Kruger at Canon Fodder looks at what is being criticized – capitalism – and asks whether capitalism is really based on greed, or whether it comes from something else. At Christianity Today, Eric Miller reviews a new book about theology and capitalism that takes on what the author calls “finance-dominated” capitalism.

In the Department of "Best Laid Plans Oft Go Awry," Jan Askonas at The New Atlantis has a longish discussion of what happened when algorithms replaced people in curating news and social media. And the short answer is - a fostering of tyranny.

More Good Reads

Art and Photography


In London, a Sculptural Offering to Gods Old and New – Justin Hopper at Image Journal.

Poetry

A Song to the Mansions of Heaven – Nicholas Samaras at Image Journal.

George Moses Horton – D.S. Martin at Kingdom Poets.

Cuckold – Joe Spring.

All the Hollowed Shells – James Matthew Wilson at The Imaginative Conservative.

Life and Culture

The Machine Stops – Oliver Sacks at The New Yorker.

Reading in the Age of Constant Distraction – Mairead Small Staid at The Paris Review.

American Stuff

Andrew Jackson: Our First Populist President – Jeff Taylor at The American Conservative.

Defining America – Mark Malvasi at Imaginative Conservative.

Faith

On the Road with Thomas Merton – Fred Bahnson at Emergence Magazine.

Embracing the Dignity of Human Life – Zak Schmoll at Entering the Public Square.

How to Handle Temptation at Work – David Winters at the Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics.

British Stuff

Meet My Friend Selina – Tim Challies.

Writing 

9 Reasons to Quite Writing – Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent.

Tumbling Tumbleweeds: Sons of the Pioneers with Roy Rogers
(from the 1944 movie Hollywood Canteen)



Painting: Oil Woman Reading, oil on panel by Jan Lievens (ca. 1628-1633).

Friday, February 15, 2019

Loaves at midnight


After Luke 11:5-13

Midnight. A knock.
A voice, not insistent yet firm.
Food. Some basics.
Nothing fancy or involved.
Just bread, if you have it.
Just bread, for a friend,
a friend on a journey.
And a grumbled no.
Go away. It’s midnight.
I’m in bed. Don’t bother me.
Do you know what time it is.

The plea is heard.
Heeded finally.
Loaves handed over.
Still grumbling.

Ask.
Seek,
Knock.

Photograph by Jordane Mathieu via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Ring


“How do I say I love you,” Michael said, “that I’ve loved you from the first moment I saw you in Fitzhugh’s class? That I want to be at your side for always. I want you painting in that artist space in the loft and then coming into my arms and making love with me? I suppose I just said it, didn’t I?”

Sarah nodded.

“So, Sarah Hughes,” he said, “if you’ll have me, I’m asking you to marry me, to join me in whatever God has in store for us.” He placed the ring box in front of her.

-      From Dancing Priest


Photograph by Esther Tuttle via Unsplash. Used with permission.

“The Belting Inheritance” by Julian Symons


Christopher Barrington comes to live with the Wainwright family at their home Belting in southern Kent when he’s 12, following the death of his parents in a plane crash. The family is dominated by Lady Wainwright, Christopher’s great-aunt only surviving relative. The boy knows it’s something of an odd family; Lady Wainwright still mourns the loss of her two older sons, Hugh and David, in World War II; her two younger sons, Stephen and Miles. Completing the family is Clarissa, Stephen’s wife, who seems far more interested in her dogs than anything else. 

The years pass. Now 18, Christopher completes school and wins a scholarship to Oxford. Lady Wainwright is aging and increasingly unwell, and Miles and Stephen seem to be waiting for her to die to get their inheritance. And then a letter arrives, from a man purporting to be David Wainwright, his mother’s favorite who was shot down in a bombing raid in Germany and presumed dead. The letter is soon followed by the man himself. Stephen and Miles don’t believe the man is David, while Lady Wainwright accepts him immediately and moves to rewrite her will.

Julian Symons
And then there’s murder.

The Belting Inheritance was first published by Julian Symons in 1965, and remains one of the best examples of the “return from dead” mystery novel. It’s been republished as part of the British Library’s Crime Classic Series, and it’s an excellent story. 

Symons (1912-1994) was a well-known mystery and crime writer, poet, literary critic, and biographer. He wrote some 29 mystery novels, several short story collections, and a veritable host of non-fiction works, including studies of Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens, Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, and many other subjects.

Well-written and well-plotted, The Belting Inheritance is Symons at the top of his crime-writing career.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

"The Song" by Calvin Miller


The first volume of Calvin Miller’s mid-1970s The Singer Trilogy was a retelling of the Gospel story in mythic or epic form. The second volume, The Song, focuses on the period covered by the New Testament books of Acts and the epistles, and especially the persecutions in Rome. 

The Song tells the story of four characters – Sarkon, whom we met in The Singer when he was called World-Hater; Madman, the character from The Singer who was liberated from the demons that possessed him; and a new character, Everyman, a young man much enamored with science and who rejects any notion of a Creator; and Anthem, an original follower of the Singer. The story begins in the Great Walled City, the place where the Singer was killed and rose again. Soon a persecution against the Singer’s followers breaks out.

Calvin Miller
Everyman and Anthem sail to Urbis, capital of Terra, “the shining temple-city of all the mountain gods.” One of the passengers is Praxis, known as the Builder, who is designing a great temple for Urbis and soon will be commissioned to sculpt a statue of its greatest god – one that bears the likeness of Sarkon.

The Song reads almost like a fantasy story, and one wonders how much Miller may have influenced whole generations of Christian fantasy writers. And while it may be tempting to identify the fictional characters with New Testament counterparts, the author did not write an exact transposing of the events and people of the New Testament.

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

The Song is an entertaining and thought-provoking volume in its own right, apart from its predecessor or its successor. Miller had an essential grasp of human nature, and his characters seem almost stunningly contemporary.

Next week: “The Finale” by Calvin Miller.

Related:

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Poets and Poems: David Bottoms and “Otherworld, Underworld, Prayer Porch”


To read the 45 poems in the new collection by David Bottoms is to take a step backward into childhood. And then you come forward again to caring for a parent in a nursing home. You realize your memories don’t stay in the past but instead come with you, influencing, shaping, and directing. And you often don’t see it except in hindsight.

Otherworld, Underworld, Prayer Porch reminds you of that extended family that exists now only in memory and your submerged DNA. It’s about grandfathers waiting to catch the fox sneaking into the pasture at night, the aunt who made the famous biscuits with no recipe, fishing in the bass boat, and the mother who now sees you as a stranger. And remember the small gator the fisherman caught in 1960?

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

An Incredible Review of "Dancing Prophet"


Writing a novel is a hard, lonely work. You often struggle through a story, writing and rewriting and editing and deleting whole sections because, well, they're just bad and aren't going the way they need to go. And when you finish writing a novel, if there ever be such a thing, you have all the worry and anxiety and disappointment of how people will respond. 
And then you read a review, like “A Prophet Raised Up for Such a Time as This” by Luke Herron Davis.  And you tell yourself this is why you write. 

Monday, February 11, 2019

Poetry at Work, Chapter 5: The Poetry of the Boss


More than 40 years ago, I was handed my college diploma and, two days later, showed up for work at my first official job. I didn’t realize it until much later, but I walked into the doors of my employer that day carrying an assumption. I believed that people in positions of authority – bosses – always knew what they were doing. Why else would they be bosses?

Slightly more than a decade later, my assumption continuing to take body blow after body blow, I was presented incontrovertible evidence that my assumption had been flat-out wrong.

A group of us were sitting in a conference room, waiting for the news to go public that one of the company’s top products had a problem. The first indication would be the stock market. We all knew the news was imminent, and we had prepared for it as if a tsunami was about to strike, which, metaphorically, turned out to be true. The call came, confirming that the news was public, and for a very brief moment we experienced a silence.

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