Saturday, February 22, 2020

Saturday Good Reads


Browsing through some of your old textbooks (in my case, really old textbooks) can offer some surprises. I have a few from college and two from high school, and the college texts have markups in the margins that I recognize as my own handwriting. Kelly Belmonte was looking through a textbook on 17th century British literature, and discovered she still remembered a poem by George Herbert she had memorized

What’s old is new again. I had seen a few references, or people muttering, about secession sentiment in various states – Oregon, Illinois, California, New York, and Virginia. What seemed to give the muttering a bit of a push was 91 of the 95 counties in Virginia declaring themselves “sanctuaries” for gun ownership rights – that anything the new Democratic legislature did to restrict gun ownership rights would not be enforced. That led to a large demonstration in Richmond, which apparently was significant enough for several Democratic senators to vote against a gun restriction bill. Then West Virginia’s governor offered to accept the Virginia counties into his state, something of a reversal of when West Virginia broke off from Virginia during the Civil War. 

We may think this is all highly amusing, but the culture wars seem to be entering a new phase. John Devanny at The Imaginative Conservative writes about Virginia’s new secession crisis, and Valerie Richardson at the Washington Times considers the new secession sentiment taking hold

Tim Challies lost his father last year and discovered that grief isn’t a one-time thing. Read his lessons learned through grief.

Writing and Literature

The Mystical Vision of G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown – Sean Johnson at Forma Review.

“Travels with Charley”: America as Experiment – Rick Wilcox at Literary Life.

Beowulf: The Mound and the Dragon – Mark Patton at English Historical Fiction Authors.

Poetry

Red-throated wryneck – Joe Spring at Joe Spring Writes.

“The Gravel Walks” by Seamus Heaney – read by Amanda Holmes at The American Scholar.

Everlasting Youth: The callow genius of Percy Bysse Shelley – Algis Valiunas at The Claremont Review of Books.

Culture

The Power of Guilt – Mark Loughbridge at Gentle Reformation.

Fidel was Robin Hood. Fidel was a Monster – Karen Alea at Narratively.

Pathmaking, Forgetfulness, and the Recovery of Memory – Drew Miller at The Rabbit Room.

To Anyone Who Thinks Christianity is Hateful or Bigoted – Bruce Ashford at Lifeway Voices.

Why Are There So Few Christians in Academia? – Thomas Kidd at The Gospel Coalition.

Faith

Can I Walk by Faith if My Faith is Small? – Michele Morin at Living Our Days.




News Media


Trump and Sanders vs. the Elites – Jesse Sumpter at CrossPolitic Studios. 

Fields of Gold – Sting (1993)


Painting: A Seated Old Man Reading, oil on canvas by Jacques-Henri Sablet (1749-1803).

Friday, February 21, 2020

At the center


After Romans 1:1-17

A group, likely small,
but noticeable, because
of how they behaved,
sitting at the center
of the world, the center
of empire, ruling
with iron and fist and
law created on the banks
of the Tiber, a group
whose faith is proclaimed. 
Small, yes, but visible,
attracting interest and
curiosity, perhaps suspicion,
and they are prayed for,
always.

Photograph by Verne Ho via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

"A Deadly Act" by Jonathan Dunsky


It’s 1951 Tel Aviv. Israel’s War for Independence is four years past, and the Holocaust of World War II a few years older, but both events loom large in the new country’s everyday life. They also loom large in the life of private investigator Adam Lapid. 

Lapid had been a police detective in Budapest until 1944, when the German army moved in and took over the country. Lapid, his wife, his daughters, and more than 400,000 other Hungarian Jews are loaded onto cattle cars and sent to Auschwitz. His wife and daughters died on the day of arrival. Lapid is one of the few who survived. Before emigrating to Israel, he spends two years traveling around Germany, murdering Nazis who believed they had successfully evaded war crimes.

He arrives in Israel just in time for the War for Independence. He joins the Israeli army and becomes a national hero for his almost suicide-like mission that saved his company. He also nearly dies but is carried to safety and army doctors by his best friend. After he recovers, and after the war is over, Lapid becomes a private investigator based in Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv of the early 1950s is a noir kind of city, with nearly every citizen a minor criminal for evading rationing. And some citizens do far worse – smuggling, fraud, corruption, and murder.

Jonathan Dunsky
Lapid is hired by a stage actress who was once famed for her performances but now almost a cripple after receiving serious injuries in a hit-and-run accident. She wants him to prove that her husband, a stage actor and director, murdered an actress five years before. She believes he’s the murderer in the unsolved crime because she lied to give him an alibi. The cold case looks almost unsolvable, and the police aren’t exactly happy with Lapid for attempting to do what they couldn’t. But he finds a loose thread here, a slender lead there, and soon the private eye is unraveling a carefully orchestrated series of crimes. He’s also putting his own life at risk.

A Deadly Act is the fifth Adam Lapid mystery novel by Israeli author Jonathan Dunsky. It’s a solid, often mesmerizing evocation of a place and time almost 70 years in the past. It fits well in the tradition of noir mysteries, where almost every character carries a past they’d rather forget and you never know when a gun will be fired or a knife thrown. And it explores the theater in Israel’s early modern history.

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

Like the good noir novel that it is, A Deadly Act throws one twist and turn after another. It’s a story where the facts keep changing, and no one is who they appear to be.

Related:





Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Five Things You Can Do After the Writing Storm


The manuscript sits with the publisher. A fifth novel, it’s the last of a series. The story arc that began with listening to an airplane music program in 2002 is coming to an end some 18 years later.

You’ve lived with the characters for almost two decades. Sometimes it feels like you know the characters better than your family and friends. You know their history, their quirks, and their strengths and weaknesses. You know their pasts. You know their stories because you’ve written their stories, and you’ve written the ongoing story they’re part of. You know how an agnostic, what today might be called a “none,” became a believer. You know when the hero was ridiculed and disparaged. You know when characters had nothing but faith and courage to go on. 

Now the story is ending. The story you had to tell, that dominated your waking hours and many of your sleeping hours, that story that often drove you crazy, is now finished. The characters who seemed so real to you and your readers are now turning out their lights.

To continue reading, please see my post today at the ACFW blog.

Photograph by Radu Florin via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Top 10 Reasons Why “Grandfather” is the Best Job in the World


In March, I will mark an important anniversary – my tenth year as a grandfather. Little did I know how much I would enjoy what I would come to realize was the best job in the world. 

I knew neither of my grandfathers. My mother’s father died when she was 11; the state of medicine at the time had difficulties diagnosing the difference between a stomach upset and appendicitis. My father’s father died when I was nine months old; I relied on my grandmother to tell me stories about him. I had no doubts about how spoiled I would have been had he lived longer. 

It was a different world, and at the time of his death I was the only son of the only son. Many times, both my grandmother and father told me the story of how, dying at home, he held on until my family could arrive. He was mostly delirious, and he kept asking for the baby. My father put me on the bed with him, and he smiled. It was enough. A few hours later, he was gone.

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

Photograph by Stephanie Young

Monday, February 17, 2020

Research a Contemporary Novel?


The four, soon to be five, novels in the Dancing Priest series are set in the near future, at least far enough away from the actual present to avoid any notion that the characters are based on real people. But they’re essentially contemporary fiction, falling into the space between general fiction and Christian fiction.

Why would contemporary novels require extensive research? Lots of reasons.

You’re writing about a country or culture not your own. You’re writing about people who do things you’ve never experienced. You write about a painter when you’re not one. You’re writing about an institution you’ve never been part of. You’ve put your characters into a geography, even if ever so briefly, you’ve never visited. 

Many people – historians and novelists alike – write about the American Civil War, or World Wars I and II, but were never part of it. Some write mysteries set a generation before they were born. Some write about peoples and cultures that aren’t their own (an often-dangerous thing to do these days).

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

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Not only a call


After 2 Timothy 1:9

It wasn’t only a call,
a sounding in the night
or day, a voice speaking
into a heart, hearts.

It wasn’t because of works,
acts, deals, accomplishments
that we had done, it was
never about us, ultimately.

It was a call,
a call to a holy calling,
what we were given
from before the time
of the first page,
a call to a purpose,
not ours, but called
by grace.
Not ours.
Never ours.

Photograph by Rose Lamond via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Counting the Cost of Faith


Years ago, more than 40 to be precise, I was reading The Habit of Being, the collection of selected letters by Flannery O’Connor that had been recently published. Checking now, I see that my copy was from the third printing. And the book in various forms is still available on Amazon.

It’s a marvelous book, filled with so many great quotations and observations that they’re difficult to keep track of. One that I memorized, and sometimes used in Sunday School classes, was something she said about faith: “What people don't realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.”

It is the cross. That observation keeps coming to mind over and over as I read William Wilberforce: A Hero for Humanity by Kevin Belmonte. Three chapters in particular demonstrate the truth of O’Connor’s statement – the three that describe the “two great objects” Wilberforce said God had set before him once he had experienced the “great change’ and became a believer.

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

Painting: William Wilberforce by Karl Anton Hickel, about 1794.

Saturday Good Reads


I’ve been reading The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne, part of a determined effort to read more of the classics. It seems these days that the classics are being thrown out in so many literature classes, and it will take time but eventually we’ll discover that is was a cultural disaster to do so. Italo Calvino, author of If on a Winter Night a Traveler and the most translated Italian writer until his death in 1985, write an article published posthumously in The New York Review of BooksWhy Read the Classics? It’s still well worth reading today.

An even older document is worth your time to read, and it speaks to how Americans understand what their country is. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on the same day, July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. They were eulogized by no less a speaker and a great American by himself, Daniel Webster: They live forever in the American constellation

Movies, television shows, documentaries, and numerous books have been produced about one of the most fascinating topics of the 20th century – the looting of Europe’s art by the Nazis. Lawrence Dudley at CrimeReads at why: Stolen Art, Nazis, and the Eternal Search for Justice

More Good Reads

Writing and Literature

The Ghost of Dickens Past – Cicero Bruce at The Imaginative Conservative.

Simple Truths for Writers – Terry Whalin at The Writing Life.

Poetry

The Durable Art of Elizabeth Bishop – David Mason at The Hudson Review.

Summon – John Sibley Williams at Juxtraprose.

Reversed Thunder – Malcolm Guite at Literary Life.

In Flight from the Fugitives – Mark Jarman at The Hudson Review.

Toward a finished poem – Robert Rife at Rob’s LitBits.

Life and Culture

The Past as Battlefield: The Power of Historiography – Michael Connolly at The Imaginative Conservative.

Understanding Why Religious Conservatives Would Vote for Trump – Andrew Walker at National Review.

Faith

The 4 Books You Probably Shouldn’t Write – Samuel D. James at Letters & Liturgy.

Why the Church Needs Artists – Micah Harris at Mere Orthodoxy.

Who Are We? – Kyle Sims at Gentle Reformation.

The Art of Preserving – Gina Sutphin at The Rabbit Room.

Art

Relief Carving the Spiritual Mechanics of Labor and Rest – Jack Baumgartner at The School for the Transfer of Energy.

Sacramentality on the Western Front – Josh Noem at Church Life Journal.

Swampland Sublime: The Landscapes of Louisiana – Zachary Fine at The New York Review of Books.

News Media


21 Years – Toby Mac



Painting: Young Woman Reading a Book of Hours, oil on panel by Ambrosius Benson (1532)

Friday, February 14, 2020

Threading its way


After Matthew 6:9-13

It threads its way
from the salutation,
acknowledging
the kingdom,
acknowledging
the jurisdiction
of the kingdom, 
threading its way
forward and upward,
to the supplication,
the asks,
for bread, daily,
for forgiveness, daily,
as we forgive, daily,
and onward
the needle sews 
and embroiders,
to be delivered
from evil,
the evil one.
And we come back
to what was added,
a doxology of song,
a psalm, 
from the first years,
kingdom, power, glory,
amen.
The threading ends.
The embroidery is done.
Our hearts are sewn,
Embroidered together.
Amen.

Photograph by Anna Auza via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

"The Brief" by Simon Michael


I’ve been looking for another good British detective, and, by golly, I found one. 

Meet Charles Holborne, originally born as Charles Horowitz. It’s 1960s London, and Holborne is a member of chambers in the Temple. Much to the dismay of his fellow attorneys, he practices criminal law almost exclusively. In that line of work, you meet a lot of villains. And you come to discover that not all villains are hoodlum types. Some of them, in fact, have university degrees. And law degrees.

Holborne was born in the East End of London, the one of a furrier. His family is observant Jewish. He was disowned when he married a non-Jewish girl, Henrietta, the daughter of a viscount he met at Cambridge. He hasn’t seen his family in more than a decade. He still loves his wife, but their marriage is unraveling. She’s having affairs, including with some of Holborne’s colleagues in chambers.  He’s been faithful, but he’s concluding a divorce may be in the offing.

And then his wife is found murdered, her throat slit. And Charles has been fitted up as the No. 1 suspect, with enough evidence to be overwhelming.

Simon Michael
The Brief by British author Simon Michael is the first of the Charles Holborne mysteries. And it’s a gem. The pages crackle with action, surprises, twists, and turns. Holborne is an attorney who knows the criminal scene so well that he knows exactly what he has to do to achieve justice – this time for himself. He;s also not adverse to using his fists when he has to.

Simon is the author of five novels in the Charles Holborne Legal Thriller Series, of which The Brief is the first. He studied law at Kings College, London University and was called to the Bar in 1978. He worked primarily in the field of criminal law until the late 1990s, when he focused his practice on clinical negligence. He began writing in the 1980s and resumed it when he retired from legal practice.

The Brief is a great read and a fully enjoyable and satisfying mystery. And there are four more ready to read.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

"That Hollister Man" by Margaret Desmond


Sage Dolan is a young 20-something, leaving Boston and headed for Montana. Her 17-year-old brother Danny is reluctantly with her; it’s because of Danny that they’re headed west. A brush with the law after getting involved with the wrong people has convinced Sage she needs to get him away. They’ve used the money left by their late grandfather to buy a home with a barn and acreage in the Sweet Grass Valley of Montana, realizing a dream Sage has always had of living out west.

She’s bought the house along with a restaurant from one of her online pie-recipe-sharing friends, Gigi Rinard, who’s now on her way to Arizona for the birth of her first great-grandchild. She leaves a casserole and some instructions, which include a kind of warning to “pay no mind to that Hollister man.” That Hollister man is Spence Hollister, who operates the ranch that mostly surrounds Sage and Danny’s new home. Gigi has informally promised Spence she’d sell him the property when the time came, and the Dolans turn out to be a huge and rather unwelcome surprise.

Margaret Desmond
Spence is the almost-stereotypical image of the modern cowboy. When she first sees him (riding a horse, no less), she’s knocked for a wallop, never having experienced that kind of reaction before. Spence is polite and friendly, but he wants the property. As it turns out, Spence is a widower in his mid-30s with a 15-year-old daughter, and he’s determined he will never fall in love and remarry after the pain of losing his first wife. But people begin to notice that something is changing Spence Hollister, and the only difference is Sage Dolan.

The reader knows where the story of That Hollister Man by Margaret Desmond has to go. The fun is watching it go there.

Desmond is the author of numerous romance stories set in Montana, including Her Ordinary JoeTrusting TravisAnnie and JakeEthan’s BrideReturn of Devin Wakefield, and The Wrangler’s WishThat Hollister Man is the first in her Sweet Grass, Montana series. A native of northern California, Desmond lives in Montana.

That Hollister Man is an engaging story of two people who fall in love but areboth  afraid of what falling in love means. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Poets and Poems: Aaron Brown and “Acacia Road”


Chad is a landlocked country in north central Africa. Once a part of France’s colonial empire, it gained independence in 1960. But it’s been torn by civil war, an invasion by Libya on the north, and the civil war in Sudan which sent tens of thousands of refugees to Chad. About 55 percent of the country is Muslim, and about 41 percent is Christian. It’s also split geographically between an arid north and a tropical south. 

This is the place where poet Aaron Brown grew up. Born in Texas, he spent his childhood and teen years in Chad. It’s both his country and not his country. In the 47 poems of Acacia Road, Brown allows his eye and his heart to range over Chad’s people, its geography, its seasons, and its customs.

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

Monday, February 10, 2020

“Dancing Prince” - the Fifth Novel in the “Dancing Priest” Series


The news is rather bittersweet.

The sweet news: The fifth novel in the Dancing Priest series is in editorial production. Tentatively entitled Dancing Prince, it’s the story of the youngest child of Michael and Sarah Kent-Hughes. The story covers almost two decades, from the time Thomas Kent-Hughes is four until he’s 23. It’s also the story of Tommy’s father, Michael, and the relationship the two have over the course of those two decades. 

This story was never planned. Early in 2019, it began as something entirely different. But this young boy nicknamed Tommy kept sticking his head in the narrative. He wasn’t being very helpful, because I was having a lot of trouble with the writing. At first, I fought the writing and the unwanted character; I told myself that Tommy could wait until later. As a sop, I gave him a small part. That was a mistake. Or perhaps it wasn’t.

I don’t recall a specific “Aha!” moment, but sometime in the early spring, I realized Tommy was the story. I went back and rewrote the draft. That’s when I realized that Tommy had been lurking there the entire time. The story clicked in my head, and more than that, my understanding of the entire series clicked at the same time.

And that’s the “bitter” part of the bittersweet news, for me at least. Dancing Prince is the last in the Dancing Priest series. It’s the right conclusion to the idea that started in 2002 on an airplane to San Francisco and was first published in December 2011. It’s coincidental, but the 18-year development of the Dancing Priest series almost exactly tracks the 18 years of Tommy’s life covered in this final series entry. 

I’ve lived with these characters for a long time. Michael Kent-Hughes first started as an image, an image of a Catholic priest dancing on a beach in Italy. In my head, he became an Episcopal priest for a short time, and then I moved him to Scotland and made him an Anglican theology student who was also an ardent cyclist. Sarah Kent-Hughes was originally imagined as a young woman in a tour group, who are sitting at dinner when they’re joined by a priest. Gradually she became an American exchange student at the University of Edinburgh, trailing in the wake of her twin brother David Hughes.

David has always been a relatively minor character. But I always inherently liked him, and I wanted to do more with him. He gets a much larger and more important part in Dancing Prince than he’s had in the earlier books. He comes into his own as a character.

Dancing Prince also has something of a pleasant problem. One of the characters writes a story. The story is about novella-length, and it’s too long to include in the main narrative. We’re trying to figure out what to do with it. It might become a bonus section at the end of the novel, or it might be a standalone. The subject is unrelated to the main narrative to the Dancing Priest novels. The writing of it plays a significant role in the development of two characters. I think I wrote it to get it out of my head.

Look for the new book in late spring.

What’s next after Dancing Prince? There’s a possibility of a collection of short stories and two novellas. I also have four standalone novels in various stages of development, ranging from a long outline to 40,000+ words. They’re unrelated to and completely different from the Dancing Priest series and each other.

I will say this: I’ll miss Michael and Sarah Kent-Hughes and their friends and families. You don’t live with characters for almost two decades without coming to learn a lot about them. And learning a lot about yourself.

Top photograph by Jenny Hill via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The prayer


After Matthew 6:9-13

It moves toward the end,
steadily rising, elevating
the voice, the head, the eyes,
as it moves toward the climax,
the grand conclusion,
the whole point of the prayer,
the whole point of the praying,
the whole point of the supplication,
the one presiding at the pinnacle,
the one who rules the kingdom,
the one who rules in power,
the one who rules in glory,
forever
and ever,
amen.
This is why you pray.
This is what you pray for.
This is the point of your prayer.
Hallelujah.
Amen.

Photograph by Tom Barrett via Unsplash. Used with permission.