Sunday, September 20, 2020

Nothing separates


After Romans 8:31-39

Hearing the call, and
responding to the call,
they gathered together.
And once gathered,
nothing could separate
them from the caller.
A whole litany of foes –
disease, war, famine,
poverty, upheaval – 
stood silent, mute,
unable to divide
and conquer. Nothing
separates the called,
nothing separates
the gathered, from
the Caller. From
the Gatherer. 
Nothing prevails
against them,
because of who
the Caller is.

Photograph by Hannah Valentine via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Saturday Good Reads


Years ago, in 1980 to be exact, I read a collection of letters between C.S. Lewis and his long-time friend Arthur Greeves, entitled They Stand Together. They became friends as children and began a correspondence in 1914 that lasted until Lewis died in 1963. Most of the letters in the book are by Lewis, because Greeves kept them. Most of the letters sent by Greeves were destroyed by Lewis’s brother, Warnie, who burnt a considerable amount of Lewis’s correspondence after his brother died. Harry Lee Poe at Desiring God takes a look at Lewis’s teenage years, and those letters to Greeves are an important source.

When it comes to the coronavirus, we’ve all heard more contradictory statements and claims made by experts who all say they “follow the science.” How can science be all over the map when it comes to masks, youth sports, routes of exposure, church meetings, BLM protests, and just about everything else? Patrick Pierson at Front Porch Republic takes a look at “following the science” in a polarized age.

My three grandsons attend a classical Christian school, and I can’t say enough good things about this particular form of education. It’s reminiscent of the kind of education that was common in public schools 50 and 60 years ago; it’s also better than that. It may be important for another reason besides education. Richard Hughes Gibson at Plough Books notes how important Christian education has become for keeping faith alive.

More Good Reads

Life and Culture

Why You Really Ought to Learn about Mongolian Throat Singing – Mark Meynell at The Rabbit Room. 

The Specter Haunting Marxism – Andrew Latham at The Imaginative Conservative.

Suicide of the Liberals – Gary Saul Morson at First Things Magazine

Wildfire Hype, and Hope – James Meigs at CityJournal. 

Poetry

Balancing the Flame – Jack Stewart at Kingdom Poets (D.S. Martin).

Aug. 1, 1966 – Megan Willome.

Faith

God Loves a Good Metaphor – Paul Phillips at He’s Taken Leave. 

All Other Ground – Greg Doles at Chasing Light.

Why Religion is Awkward for Secular Humanists – Andrew Bunt at Think Theology. 

My Favorite Part of the Wedding – Doug Spurling at Spurling Silver.


Reading

How to read fewer books – Alain de Botton at The School of Life.

How Algorithms Are Changing What We Read Online – Russell Smith at The Walrus.

Writing and Literature



History

Finding a Home for the Last Refugees of World War II – David Nasaw at Literary Hub.

News Media

The myth behind BLM's 'peaceful protests' -- Bruce Newsome at The Critic Magazine.

Summer in the Dolomites: Timelapse


Painting: A Woman Reading, oil on canvas by Carl Spitzweg (1808-1885).

Friday, September 18, 2020

It's over and done


After Romans 8:31-39

It’s over and done,
this battle, this war,
it’s over and done
before it even begins.
The forces are arrayed 
so unequally:
on one side, God;
on the other,
it doesn’t matter.
And his people 
as well, those he
called and those
he gathered, so, too,
do they stand
undefeated and
unaccused, because
the accusations
and the charges
and the crimes 
have been paid for,
atoned.

Photograph by Nghia Le via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

"Make Haste Slowly" by Amy Rognlie


Callie Erickson has moved from Ohio to Short Creek, a small town in central Texas. Her great-aunt Dot has moved into a retirement home, and Callie has bought her house and set up a florist/bookstore business. It sounds almost idyllic, except that Callie has brought more than physical baggage with her – the memories of a marriage that was failing, a husband slowly dying from ALS disease, and then his death in an automobile accident. It’s been five years, but Callie is still haunted by what she left behind.

Then she finds a body on the doorstep of her shop, a dead man clutching a box of what looks like relatively worthless bottles, trinkets, and books. The box seems to be addressed to her, with a note inside one of the books bearing a familiar anchor logo with the Latin words for “Make haste slowly.”

Amy Rognlie
More mysteries develop. The minister of a nearby church begins to behave oddly. The sheriff seems to be suspicious of anything Callie says or does. A neighbor’s granddaughter may be caught up in sex trafficking. Callie herself is knocked unconscious inside the church as she arrives to arrange flowers for a wedding. What’s going on in Short Creek?

Make Haste Slowly is the first in the Short Creek Mystery Series by Amy Rognlie (The second is Where There’s a Willand the third is To Err is Human.) The novel is as much about faith as it is a mystery, and, rather refreshingly, the author doesn’t mask the strong Christian beliefs of many of her characters.

In addition to the Short Creek mysteries, Rognlie has also published two novels in the Miss Opal Series and three historical romances. She had published three works in the late 1990s before taking a break from writing to raise her family and earn her teaching credentials. She lives in Texas.

Make Haste Slowly has more coincidences than might be expected, but it’s an engaging story that tackles sex trafficking, old sins, the things our faith asks us to do, including forgiving others and ourselves. And there’s a touch of romance thrown in as well.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

“The Old American Artist” by Felipe Adan Lerma


Occasionally, you start reading a book and think you’re reliving a part of your own youth. 

Arturo is an artist. He’s living in Italy with his wife Rosetta. Their children are grown and busy at careers back in the States. Rosetta has also been there, visiting, but she’s now due back to Italy. It’s a big day and evening for Arturo – with the evening will come an exhibition of his paintings. Yes, it’s a small town, but it’s still a big deal.

The story of The Old American Artist by Felipe Adan Lerma happens over the course of a day. But it also happens over the course of more than three decades, stretching back to Arturo’s 20s when he lived in Galveston and was just beginning to discover his art.  The story of Arturo’s day, and the story of Arturo’s life, are interspersed to form the story’s narrative. 

The reader moves back and forth, ultimately realizing that one story is being told. And it’s a love story, both the love story of Arturo and Rosetta and the love story of Arturo and his painting. It’s a love story that doesn’t run smoothly. The couple face difficulties and separations. Arturo experiences times of artistic drought and doubt. A question even arises whether or not Rosetta is really returning for the big exhibition. 

Felipe Adan Lerma
The story is a work of fiction, but it is clearly based on Lerma’s life. The part of the story set in Texas is what’s personally familiar to me, with scenes from Galveston and Houston reminding me of my own 20s living in Houston. I know the freeways Arturo drives, and I know the malls where he sometimes sells his work. I even know the “east side” of town where Arturo meets Rosetta; I did volunteer work at a children’s home in that area. 

Lerma is himself an artist and photographer, not unlike Arturo. He’s also a poet, a novelist, a short story writer, and a mystery and thriller writer. He’s written a series of works on visiting Paris, including a day-by-day itinerary in how to visit the city in 5 ½ weeks. Like his fictional hero, he’s lived in Texas, Vermont, and Italy. The Old American Artist is the first of three short novels in a series, the second being Rosetta and the third being The Children.

The Old American Artist is a charming delight to read, the story of an older artist who understands his life and the depth of feeling he has for the two great loves of that life – his wife and his art.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

“30 Poems to Memorize (Before It’s Too Late)” by David Kerns


Writer David Kern tells us that memorization is about love and memory – love for the things we remember the most. My eight-year-old grandson can rattle off sports scores and statistics like the most experienced sports analyst, but then, he loves sports. My wife knows the lyrics to virtually every song from the British Invasion of the 1960s. I can remember daily itineraries for six visits to England, including the first one in 1983. Our own Sandra Heska King even memorized the 131-line “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

My 12th grade English teacher had a slightly different view. She required that each of us in a class of 30 boys had to memorize at least one soliloquy by Shakespeare, because “you’re not educated unless you can recite a soliloquy by Shakespeare.” I chose the dagger scene from Macbeth, and I dutifully (as required) memorized it and recited it before the class. I still remember it today: “Is this a dagger which I see before me, / the handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee. / I have thee not, and yet I still thee still…” 

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

Monday, September 14, 2020

“All the Devils Are Here” by Louise Penny


Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Quebec Surete is back with a new story, except it doesn’t happen in Quebec and none the regular characters from the village of Three Pines are present.

Gamache and his wife Reine-Marie are in Paris for the birth of their fourth grandchild. His son-in-law and former No. 2 Jean-Guy Beauvoir and the Gamaches’ daughter Anny are having their second child, and the birth is imminent. Jean-Guy is working for a large and globally known engineering firm. Their son Daniel Gamache and his wife Roslyn have lived in Paris for some years and have two daughters. Daniel works in investment banking.

In the previous 15 Gamache novels by Louise Penny, we don’t really know much about Daniel and his family. In All the Devils Are Here, we find out why. Daniel and his father are estranged and have been since Daniel was a boy. Gamache has never understood what happened between them. Paris holds other attractions; it’s the city where Armand proposed to Reine-Marie, and it’s the city where Armand’s godfather, 93-year-old Stephen Horowitz, lived for many years and where he still maintains an apartment. 

Louise Penny
Stephen joins the Gamache family for dinner one Friday night. As they leave the restaurant, Stephen is critically injured by a hit-and-run truck. Gamache suspects the attack was deliberate. When the body of a 75-year-old engineer, also from Montreal, is found in Stephen’s apartment, killed with what was likely a military weapon, Gamache knows that something bad is happening. Over the next three days, the chief inspector and his family will face mystery, danger, and peril. Someone is desperate to find something that Stephen had, something he was apparently preparing to take to a board meeting of the engineering firm where Jean-guy works. 

All the Devils Are Here maintains the core characters – Gamache and Jean-Guy – of the previous novels. It also retains the feel and distinct characteristics of the series – a high-level conspiracy, a story that peels like an onion (often including the smell and the tears), and the dogged determination of the inherently decent Gamache. What’s different, other than the setting and the absence of the regular village residents, is how much we learn about Gamache’s family and his own personal history.

It’s a big story, wonderfully told by a master storyteller.

Related:















Sunday, September 13, 2020

Predestined


After Romans 8:26-30

Before the call,
a purpose.
Before the call,
foreknowledge,
coupled with
a predetermination,
a predestination
of being shaped
and being molded
to the image.
Start there, and
hear the call,
need the call,
and it swirls
and moves
through agency
undeserved,
the agency of grace,
moving to acquittal,
moving to glory.

Photograph by Kristopher Roller via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Saturday Good Reads


Parnell Hall was almost 75 years old, and his health was failing. What he needed was a lung transplant, but at that age, he was not a good candidate. Still, he was in overall good health, so he was put on a waiting list. While he waited, he finally got around to doing something he had put off for 15 years – he finished writing a thriller manuscript

I can remember telling a friend a work that you couldn’t understand why people didn’t like GMOs until you read Wendell Berry. In return, I received a blank look. Berry is an icon in organic agriculture, regional fiction, back-to-small communities circles. He’s also a fine poet. Mary Harwell Sayler at The Poetry Editor has an article about his poetry.

Leftist protestors are becoming increasingly fond of displaying a symbol – the guillotine. Small replicas have shown up in front of the White House, the home of Jeff Bezos, the former CHAZ autonomous zone in Seattle, and in the Portland protests. Cathy Young at Arc Digital has a timely reminder of what the guillotine represents – and how it ultimately came to be used against the crowd who celebrated it.

More Good Reads

Writing and Literature

Chekhov’s 2020 Vision – Kyle Smith at New Criterion.

Why I Walked Away from War and Peace…Forever – John Maher at Literary Hub.

Life and Culture

The Demolition of the Western Mind – Louis Markos at The Imaginative Conservative. 


Punctual Pleasures…and Necessities – David Deavel at The Imaginative Conservative.

Making Sense of Evil: Exhibition on Hannah Arendt – Daniel Johnson at The Critic.

Poetry

Before the Plague – Daniel Kemper at Society of Classical Poets.

Chief Who Listens to the Poor – Afua Kuma at Kingdom Poets (D.S. Martin).

The Robin and the Oak Tree – Seth Lewis.

American Stuff

What Domed the Crew of the CSS Hunley? – Dwight Hughes at Emerging Civil War.

Hill and North Main Streets, Hannibal, Mo. – Chris Naffziger at St. Louis Patina.

British Stuff

The Globe at Borough Market – A London Inheritance.

The future of Britain’s stately homes – Eleanor Doughty at The Critic.


News Media

Media Gaslighting – Maggie’s Farm.

Faith

When Peace is Like a River – Amber Thiessen at In the Vine.

This is the Record of John by Orlando Gibbons, performed by George Clifford


Painting: The Old Man Reading, oil on canvas by Ivan Kulikov (1875-1941).

Friday, September 11, 2020

There's a process


After Romans 8:26-30

There’s a process involved,
even if we think it’s all
spontaneity. It begins
with weakness, ours;
weakness so profound
that we’re at a loss
to know even what
to pray for.

But then, and next, 
the groaning,
the groaning too deep
for words, the sign
of intercession,
of help, the sound
of wind and fire
searching, seeking,
ferreting out
the hearts of weakness.

And so: our prayers are made.
And so: our prayers are heard.

Photograph by Suzanne Williams via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

"Fire in the Barley" by Roger Longrigg


Dan Mallett wasn’t always a poacher. In fact, Dan went to school and trained as a banker. He was even employed by a bank, and seemed to be doing very well, much to his mother’s delight. She was married to a poacher, and she knew the highs and lows of that occupation. And then Dan’s father died; Dan threw over the banking business, moved home, and followed in his father’s footsteps.  

Dan is certainly wily, finagling his way of scrapes and near apprehensions. He’s got more ways of slipping through the police’s fingers (and those of irate Yorkshire farmers and his neighbors) than anyone can quite believe. But a series of vandalisms at farms and garden greenhouses has the police’s eyes trained on Dan, and only on Dan.

Someone is blackmailing farmers and rural homeowners: pay up and pay monthly, or you’ll lose a crop, a barn, a greenhouse, or worse. It’s a protection racket, operating under the shadowy name of “AgriSecurity.” Dan, forced to “go to ground” because both the police and local farmers are after him, has to learn who’s behind this. He figures it our soon enough; what’s more difficult is gathering the evidence to prove it, and perhaps exacting some revenge.

Roger Longrigg
Fire in the Barley by Roger Longrigg (writing as Frank Parrish) was first published in 1977. It’s the first in the Dan Mallett series, and it may be the only mystery series where the detective is a poacher. The story has lost none of its charm and mystery; the poaching scenes almost sound as if they were based on the author’s own experience.

Longrigg (1929-2000) wrote numerous mystery and suspense novels under different pseudonyms. He uses Frank Parrish for the Daniel Mallett novels, and Ivor Drummond and Domini Taylors for others. He’s also published under his own name, both fiction and non-fiction, about foxhunting and horse racing. Other Daniel Mallett novels include Snare in the DarkSting of the Honeybee, and Fly in the Cobweb.

Fire in the Barley is a well-told tale and just as fresh as it was 43 years ago. And a protagonist like Dan Mallett makes you want to read immediately the next book in the series.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

"Engaging Mr. Darcy" by Rachel John


Jane Austen might be surprised, but more than two centuries after her death, she’s responsible for a large and growing publishing empire.

Not only do her own novels remain popular, they have spawned countless offshoots: contemporary retellings, science fiction Austen, mystery Austen, television Austen, movie Austen, non-fiction studies Austen, and even Zombie Austen. If nothing else, this publishing and popular media outpouring is a tribute to how much her books are still loved and admired.

Engaging Mr. Darcy by Rachel John falls into the “contemporary retelling” category. It’s Pride and Prejudice, updated as a contemporary romance. It includes all the familiar characters and the familiar story line, even if they’re in unfamiliar roles. 

Elsie Bennet lives and works with her sister Jane in a small California town. They’re operating an increasingly successful mail-order T-shirt business out of their home; Elsie also works part-time at a pizza parlor famous for its bad food. They have three other sisters who live with their parents. One sister, Lydia, is a flighty spendthrift who’s convinced she’ll make it big in movies.

Rachel John
Into the pizza parlor one night wanders Will (short for Fitzwilliam) Darcy, who is renting a home in town for a few months with his best friend Charlie Bingley. Will and Elsie clash immediately over a pizza order, and the relationship stays frosty after Charlie begins to date Jane. Charlie’s something of a butterfly – dating girls for a short time and then moving on. Charlie’s sister Caroline is intent on landing Will, but Will remains steadfastly uninterested. He does find himself becoming interested in Elsie, but the two are oil and water. 

Elsie’s mother hopes that Elsie will settle down with that nice Will Collins, who’s just won the lottery and become filthy rich. Will’s finances are being managed by Will’s aunt, Catherine DuBourg, a financial planner. Catapulting into this sea of romantic stories in Jeff Wickham, who seems intent on pursuing Elsie and Lydia simultaneously and aggravating Will Darcy as much as possible. 

John has written several romance novels, including two others derived from Jane Austen books, including Emma the Matchmaker and Persuading the Captain. Other novels are grouped in the “Matched by Mistake” and “A Change in Plans” series. She’s also written several children’s stories.

Engaging Mr. Darcy ends predictably, just like the original story it’s based on. But it is a fun romp through Jane Austen retold as (somewhat) California cool. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Poets and Poems: John Balaban and "Empires"


With Empires, the latest poetry collection by John Balaban, there’s a way to start it that helps bring clarity to what he’s writing about in the 31 poems included. Start with this poem, found about halfway through the work.

The Uses of Poetry

The poets descend like locusts
wings filmy, bright, whirring ambitions

with mandible greed for green expanses,
for tended lushest leaf, all foliage,

the fury of their wingbeats
sickening and familiar…

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

Monday, September 7, 2020

"A Man" by Keiichiro Hirano


Akira Kido is a lawyer in Japan. He handles a variety of cases, ranging from criminal to divorce and negligence. He represented a woman in a remote city in a divorce case whose life had taken on the tragic. After a younger son dying from cancer, she filed a divorce action against her husband. The decree was final a year later.

She contacts Kido again, a few years after the divorce. She remarried, but her second husband had been killed in a logging accident. The problem was not the man’s death; the problem was that the man turned out to be someone entirely different than he said he was. She had contacted his brother, who visited her, looked at photos, and said the dead man was most certainly not his brother.

Kido’s assignment: find out who this man really was, and why did he assume the identity of another man? Kido soon finds himself plunging into the world of family registries, exchanging identities, slimy middlemen, and old, almost forgotten crimes.

Keiichiro Hirano
A Man by Keeichiro Hirano may sound like a mystery or a thriller, and it certainly has some aspects of that genre. But it really is serious, literary fiction, exploring how fluid identities can become (even in this ago of digitized identification) and the deep desire people often have to change who they are. (To be clear: this isn’t a novel about identity and gender.)

Not only does the situation become more opaque as Kido investigates, he finds himself sometimes yearning to escape an unhappy marriage. Once, while traveling on business, he will try on having a different identity, and he discovers just how seductive that can be.

Hirano received a law degree from Kyoto University in Japan. In 1999, he submitted his unpublished novel Eclipse to a literary competition, and it won the Akutagawa Prize, going on to sell more than 400,000 copies. His novels include Farewell to the DepartedRipples of the Dripping ClocksDawnFill in the BlanksThe Transparent LabyrinthAt the End of the Matinee, and others. He’s also published several collections of essays and interviews, and he’s been deeply involved in art and music. A Man won the 2019 Yomiuri Prize for Literature.

Hirano’s A Man, translated by Eli William, is a fascinating novel of identity and responsibility, juxtaposed against a culture that can easily embrace fluidity in both.