Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Slippery grace slips away

It’s fitting that Andy Stanley chose the end The Grace of God with the story of the prodigal son.

It’s a familiar story. The younger of two sons asks his father for his inheritance, squanders it in riotous living, repents and returns home, hoping to work as a servant. The father welcomes him with open arms, and orders the fatted calf to be slain for the celebration dinner. The dutiful older son resents this favorable treatment for his brother, and his father has to take him to taks for his attitude. We don’t learn what happened after that.

When I’ve studied this passage (Luke 15) before, and I’ve heared preached many times. We usually focus on the younger son, or the father, or the older son. For some reason, reading the account as told by Stanley, it struck how like both sons we are.

We are the prodigals, and we are the dutiful sons – and often at the same time. It’s the genius of the story – we can identify with both sons, because we are both sons. We are the prodigal who indulges in sin, and we are the obedient older son who keeps faithfully at what’s set before us.

And there’s tension between these two sons, these two ideas, and Stanley calls it the tension of grace. “It’s this tension that makes grace so slippery,” he says. “Perhaps it’s this tension that has driven churches and Christians through the centuries to add to and subtract from grace. There’s something in most of us that screams, It can’t be that easy. But as much as we want to qualify grace, it can’t be qualified.”

We identify with the prodigal, because we are sinners. And his repentance was genuine, and recognized by that father as genuine.

We identify with the obedient son, because we have all been there. Like Martha washing the dishes and preparing the food while Mary lounges around with Jesus, we wonder why our contribution isn’t being recognized. After all, the older son stayed with the father, stayed at the homestead, and worked beside his father while his brother indulged himself in pleasures (however fleeting).

And there it is – that tension. We want the younger son to be forgiven, because we were forgiven. But shouldn’t he have to prove himself? Couldn’t God make this a little harder?

It’s helpful to remember the context for the story. Jesus had been teaching and preaching, followed by large crowds wherever he went. He was especially popular among the tax collectors and known “sinners,” and that rankled the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.

So Jesus tells them three parables – the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost, or prodigal, son. All three stories have the same point – the importance of the sinner who repents. Telling three stories with the same point punched the point home. Saving the story of the prodigal son for the last really punched it home – there was no evading whom Jesus was talking about.

The interesting thing about Jesus was that his listeners always understood his message, even when it was clearly aimed at them. The Pharisees got the point of the story. They knew Jesus was talking about them.

And no matter which son we chose to focus on, Jesus is still talking about us.

Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading The Grace of God. Today’s discussion concludes the book. To see more posts on this final chapter, “How Sweet the Sound,” please visit Sarah Salter at Living Between the Lines.

Painting: The Prodigal Son by Rembrandt (circa 1669). Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Poet in New York: Federico Garcia Lorca

I’ve been reading a new edition of Federico Garcia Lorca’s Poet in New York, and my understanding and appreciation of the dramatist and poet is deepening.

I'm familiar with the basic outline of his biography – born in 1898, gained a name as a young poet of some notoriety, died at the hands of General Franco’s forces in 1936. More than 20 years ago, I read an edition of his Collected Poems. But I was not familiar with the poem written while he was in New York, from 1929 to 1930.

His time in New York was connected to his attending Columbia University, which was apparently all of one semester. After that, he spent time with an American friend in Vermont and then went to Cuba. His family had sent him to New York to remove him from rumors of scandal circulating around him in Spain – connected to a failed love affair with a sculptor. Garcia Lorca realized he had been used to further the sculptor’s career, and he seemingly went willingly to New York.

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

Photograph by Bobby Mikul via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Time and again

What is it that virtually every one of us wishes to have more of?


We citizens of Western civilization, and likely Eastern civilization, find ourselves living in internet time – when information increases exponentially at warp speed, and our lives often seemed frenzied collections of non-stop activities.

Our mobile phones, our tablets, and our apps allow us to maintain schedules unthinkable even one generation ago.

And if we were asked what we would like to do with extra time, more than few of us would likely say “rest.”

In the concluding chapter of The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time, Judith Shulevitz calls this “mobile time,” as opposed to what for thousands of years has been “mechanical time.” And, she asks, “Mobile time is the time we’re in charge of, and who would want to lose that?”

I read that statement, and I thought about raising my hand.

Mobile time – internet time – has erased the boundaries between work and the rest of our lives, to the point where work is becoming the rest of our lives. My cell phone was off on Saturday (the battery had died and I had to recharge the new one for 24 hours). When I turned it on, I had 24 new email messages from work, including one unexpected email with instructions for work that had to be ready Monday morning.

Two months ago, I would have spent part of Saturday or Sunday frantically getting the work done for Monday. But now I’m drawing boundaries. The work will have to wait until Monday, replacing work or meetings already scheduled. Or perhaps not happening at all.

Reading The Sabbath World has helped in this drawing of boundaries, but it’s only been a contributing factor. The most important thing has been my stubborn insistence that work is no longer invading every other part of my life. If the work is not important enough to resource properly, then it’s not important enough for me to blow my weekend doing it.

Will there be consequences? Likely not. Internet time forces everything at work to be classified as urgent, and everything to be considered a crisis. I know the work well enough to tell the difference between the urgent and the important.

Internet time also erases any notion of the Sabbath, of taking a day of rest whether we spend that day at church, napping, or getting away from the cell phone.

Why is this important? Why did God rest on the seventh day of creation? Shulevitz has an answer, and it’s a good one: “God stopped to show us what we create becomes meaningful only once we stop creating it and start remembering why it was created in the first place. Or…why it wasn’t worth creating, why it isn’t up to snuff and should be created anew.”

We can’t live for long in a world of first drafts and “good enough to get by for now.”

We’re reading The Sabbath World over at The HighCalling. To see the discussion about this week’s chapter, please visitthe site.

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Water, twice

The child felt the sprinkle
of the few cool drops, wetness,
momentary but slight,
sufficient, however, to elicit
a cry, momentary but slight.

The man felt the water
rush over his head, pushing
downward, then pulled
upward, water pouring
from his hair, his shoulders,
only a moment but sufficient
to remember the sprinkle.

Photograph by Maliz Ong via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Reading a Novel that Stars Your Hometown

Yesterday, I reviewed Litany of Secrets by Luke Davis – the first in what I hope is a long line of mystery stories featuring Cameron Ballack, a disabled police detective. What I didn’t mention in the review, likely because it would have detracted from what I was describing, is how familiar I am with the geography of the novel.

The story is set in the town of Defiance, Missouri, which is about a 40-minute drive from where I live in St. Louis. Defiance is the area Daniel Boone settled in a couple of centuries ago, and it sits near the Missouri River, right on Highway 94, a windy road through the state’s wine country. Every time we go to Augusta (a few miles to the west) to visit the winery there, we drive right through Defiance.

The Katy Trail runs right through Defiance as well, and I’ve biked the trail a number of times. In fact, it was on the Katy Trail where I had my crash in 2009 (four broken ribs and a partially collapsed lung), and right on the wooden bridge crossing the Femme Osage Creek, which is the locale of one of the scenes in the book.

The headquarters the police work out of in the story is “east of the high school and a minor league baseball stadium” in O’Fallon, Missouri. The baseball stadium in question is the T.R. Hughes Stadium, and my oldest son worked there for the minor baseball team after graduating from college. One of the character’s parents lives in Chesterfield, a St. Louis suburb, and the character herself graduated from Parkway West High School.

The references to highways in the book – Highway 94 in St. Charles, Interstates 70, 64 and 270 – are all real roads. Interstate 70 connects St. Louis and Kansas City; Interstate 64 is the main highway through the St. Louis region; and 270 is the “belt” around St. Louis County.

One scene has the detectives talking to a professor at Fitz’s restaurant in University City, the area we call the Loop. Fitz’s is a real place, and something of a St. Louis icon (think burgers, fries, root beer, and malts). And I got hungry reading the references to Ted Drewes Frozen Custard stand in the city of St. Louis.

Litany of Secrets is filled with St. Louis references, but that won’t stop non-St. Louisans from enjoying it. It’s a great story. A bonus for me was to read about places I’m so familiar with.

Friday, July 26, 2013

“Litany of Secrets” by Luke Davis

Funds are missing from St. Basil’s Orthodox Seminary near Defiance, Missouri. The seminary is undertaking an investigation but moving too slow for the diocese in Kansas City. An administrative priest is sent to speed the investigation, and is there only one night when he dies of an apparent heart attack.

Two weeks later, the bishop asks the county police to investigate whether the heart attack might have been something else. The two detectives assigned are Tori Vaughan and Cameron Ballack. And Ballack may well one of the most unusual detectives I’ve encountered in mystery fiction. He’s young, with a photographic memory and a mind like a steel trap. He’s also disabled, confined to a wheel chair because of an inherited gene that is usually fatal long before your 20s. His younger brother died from it.

And in addition to never quite accepting the death of his brother and his own disability, Ballack is struggling with faith, as in, he doesn’t have any but he knows there’s something more.

Ballack and Vaughan set up shop at the seminary, and things begin to happen. What looks placid on the surface is roiling underneath. And more violence is ahead.

Litany of Secrets is Luke Davis’s first novel, and a totally engrossing one it is. It’s one of those books you carve out time for and keep reading in spare moments, because you have to find out what happens next.

Davis has done his homework. The reader learns a lot about the Orthodox faith and its various offices and services. The geography is almost exactly true to life – Defiance, Missouri, in St. Charles County is just west of St. Louis County, and Highway 95, the road to wine country, and the Katy Trail (bicycling!) run right through Defiance. (The only difference is that there is no seminary in Defiance, but there probably should be.)

And he tells a fine story. Cameron Ballack is true to life, and Davis has fully researched his disability, life in a wheelchair, and how technology has helped people in Ballack’s position. But the research is kept restrained in the novel; it doesn’t overwhelm the read. Davis has done it well and done it right. And Ballack’s struggle with faith helps humanize the character, rounding him out so well that it’s easy to forget you’re reading about a detective in a wheel chair.

Davis, who lives in St. Charles County, teaches at Westminster Christian Academy in St. Louis (my youngest son graduated from Westminster). He describes himself as “Presbyterian body, Lutheran heart, Anglican blood, and Orthodox spirit.” (As someone raised Lutheran, now Presbyterian, and who writes about an Anglican priest, I think I understand Cameron Ballack’s struggle with faith.)

Litany of Secrets is well told, well done, and a great story. And I’m hoping the next Cameron Ballack mystery won’t be too long in coming.

Photograph by Larisa Koshkina via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Alan Kessler’s “Shadowlands”

To read Alan Kessler’s Shadowlands is to inhabit the mind of, first, a child suffering both physical and emotional abuse, and, then, a young man and adult who seems apparently normal but is falling what most of us would call madness.

It’s an extraordinary, disturbing, riveting book.

It begins with the adult Steve Goldblatt lured into a boat by a childhood best friend. Goldblatt can’t swim. And the story is shaped around everything that led to Goldblatt drowning.

The Goldblatt family lives in small town, Ohio. Steve’s father owns a factory or, rather, the factory owns him. He never speaks to his son or his two daughters. He disciplines his son with physical abuse – kicking the boy with his leather shoes. The abuse is so much a part of Steve’s life that he equates pain and abuse with love.

A large part of Shadowlands is about Steve’s childhood, and slowly we begin to see the world through Steve’s very distorted eyes, and how his dysfunctional family affects everything – friends, school and teachers, girls, and all of his relationships.

Gradually, as he grows older, Steve begins to emulate his father, wanting the things his father has. Interestingly, his college years receive what he has learned, as he continues his maintenance of a C average though more gifted than that; the C average allows him freedom – the freedom to operate away from attention and interest, the freedom to pursue the things he’s most interested in, things like money and power. He simultaneously begins law school and working for a shady attorney, an associate of his father’s, and soon manipulates the attorney to achieve his own ends.

He’s not a sympathetic character, this Steve Goldblatt. He’s broken in ways that can’t be made whole, and so he constructs his own broken existence, hurting anyone who tries to get close.

There’s likely a bit of that brokenness in all of us, and that’s what makes the story compelling (and difficult to put down). Kessler has drawn his hero, or anti-hero, large, large enough to be uncomfortably recognizable.


My review of Alan Kessler’s The Satan Carol.

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

So whom is church for?

We’re reaching the end of Andy Stanley’s The Grace of God, and I’m hitting my first area of disagreement.

Well, it’s not exactly disagreement. It’s more a case of I think he’s focused on half the picture.

Can I really say that about Andy Stanley? On I plunge.

This chapter, “Commissioned by Grace,” asks and answers the question, “Is church for everyone or is it just for church people?” Stanley doesn’t hesitate. It’s for everyone, he says, and he paraphrases St. James in that the church sometimes makes church too hard for people. “If the church is God’s primary vehicle for dispensing the message of grace, then the local church is clearly not for church people,” he writes. “It’s for everybody.”

And he’s right. We can slip into our “godly” insistence on form and procedure and “this is the way it’s always been done” and thus tell communicate to any newcomer that they’re welcome as long as they get with the program.

But that cuts both ways.

We can make our church services so “seeker-friendly” that they resemble little more than a toned-down rock concert, or sometimes even a toned-up rock concert. I’ve attended churches where the hymnals had disappeared, replaced by words projected on a screen that had a lot about I and me. And I’ve attended churches where singing anything but what was in the hymnal was considered the equivalent of heresy.

I’ve attended churches where the staff stifled any individual initiative from the congregation, and churches where the congregation expected the staff to do everything.

I’ve attended churches where no one greeted newcomers, and churches that replaced Bible teaching with popular books.

I’ve attended churches that were so focused on “seekers” that they forgot the need to make disciples.

All of these things are signs of something wrong. And the answer may not be a happy medium or compromise but something entirely different. And I don’t have an answer as to what that might be.

One clue might be how so many of us – young and old, disciple and seeker – are drawn to liturgy. So much changes every day in this virtual, 24-hour-news-cycle world that a church worship service, and a church, similar to the one from 2,000 years ago is not only welcome but stabilizing, an anchor in a world built upon transience. Or saying the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm in the language of the King James Bible connects me to believers or 450 years ago, and believers scattered among a wide array of denominations today. (I will often pray the “Jesus prayer,” both aware of and appreciating the fact that the meaning of it, if not the exact words, connects me to Orthodox believers.)

But the church is more than a style of worship, or what words we use in a prayer. Stanley’s right – church is for everyone. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that everything relating to church members should be excluded.

Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading Stanley’s The Grace of God. To see more posts on this chapter, “Commissioned for Grace,” please visit Sarah at Living Between the Lines.

Photograph by Junior Libby via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Now Look Who’s Writing Poetry: Cats

It’s rather startling: a recurring line in a poem that reads “I could pee on that.”

Charles Bukowski, perhaps? Sandra Bernhard waxing softly poetic?

Nope. A cat.

Her new sweater doesn’t smell of me
I could pee on that
She’s gone out for the day and
   left her laptop on the counter
I could pee on that
Her new boyfriend just pushed
   my head away
I could pee on him
She’s ignoring me ignoring her
I could pee everywhere
She’s making up for it
   by putting me on her lap
I could pee on this
I could pee on this

That’s the title poem of I Could Pee on This: And Other Poems by Cats by Francesco Marciuliano. You may have heard of him; when he’s not recording poems by cats, he’s co-authoring the comic strip Sally Forth. Marciuliano writes the strip; Craig Macintosh draws it. The strip has no cats; those are saved for this book.

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

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Martin Luther Did What?

I was raised a Missouri Synod Lutheran. Some of my earliest memories involve a Sunday School class at church, a small room (it was a small, new church) with jalousied windows. Our teacher was Miss Gail. Whether accurate or not, the memory that stands out is coloring scenes from Bible stories.

In seventh and eighth grades, it was catechism class, every Tuesday and Thursday after school. We were taught from Martin Luther’s small catechism. The worship service included communion, a reading from a Gospel and an epistle, hymns and a sermon. To this day there are certain hymns that I always think of as “Lutheran hymns,” because I sang them many, many times over the years at our church. Luther wrote a lot of them.

One might say that by the time I enrolled in college, I had been thoroughly “Lutheranized.” But it was during my freshman year that I discovered another Luther, one I had never heard about.

I should say up front that this was not the typical “Christian goes to college and falls under the influence of evil, pagan professors” story. I was in a small colloquium, mostly about history, literature and culture, and the professor assigned us a paper on the Reformation – specific topic of our choice. I decided to do some reading about Luther, and tripped over the Peasants Revolt of the 1524-1525. Peasants all over the German states and beyond, influenced by the overthrow of the Catholic Church in their areas, decided to attack another source of tyranny – the landowners and the nobles. At first, the revolt has been relatively mild, and Martin Luther openly supported it. Then it spread and turned more violent.

And Martin Luther, the Martin Luther who wrote the hymns I sang and the catechism I had studied, turned against the revolt and began preaching sermons with themes like “destroy the peasant vermin.” (The nobles obliged.) I also discovered he could use rather earthy language, something else we never heard in catechism class. I wrote a paper filled with youthful indignation. My professor told me I was being too hard on Luther.

One thing I didn’t understand was what Luther’s nailing of the 95 theses on the Wittenburg church door had triggered. It wasn’t only what would be decades of religious wars and turmoil. Whether cause or catalyst, Luther helped blow up how people understood the world. And it didn’t take long for Luther himself to challenged and “broken away from.” Groups and sects appeared all over Europe. Some of them, as Judith Shulevitz points out in The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time, had very different notions about what constituted the Sabbath, what day it should be observed, and how it should be observed. (Luther got involved in this, too. Luther seems to have gotten himself involved in everything.)

In two chapters, “People of the Book” and “Scenes of Instruction,” Shulevitz recounts how the understanding of the Sabbath began to change and reshape itself in the 16th century, the Puritans in the 17th century (and it’s not what you might expect it to be), Rousseau and the Romantic poets in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the contribution made by Charles Dickens (who urged everyone to get physical exercise on Sundays), and on to writers like George Eliot and D.H. Lawrence. The 19th century saw something of a counter-reaction to the Rousseaus and the poets, largely under the influence of the evangelical movement, and the explosion of Sunday Schools (and how some of those evolved to non-religious activities).

It’s a fascinating account, but its importance is more than just satisfying intellectual curiosity. How we understand the Sabbath also relates to how we understand God. Seeing how the Sabbath has been influenced by culture also points to understanding our beliefs about faith and god have been influenced by culture.

I’m a Presbyterian today, and no longer casting aspersions on Luther’s character for urging the extermination of rebellious peasants. I believe I understand what was actually happening, and have set my youthful outrage to the side.

But then Shulevitz says John Calvin, the patron saint of Presbyterianism, had people burned at the stake in Geneva. Wait! Stop! Only the Catholics did that, and in Spain. You know, Cervantes and Don Quixote and the Inquisition and auto da fe and all that. Certainly the Presbyterians didn’t do that. Not John Calvin! Arrgghhhh!

We’re reading The Sabbath World over at The High Calling. To see the discussion about this week’s chapters, please visit the site (and don’t tell them about Calvin).

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Hymnals and Prayers

We don’t use hymnals in church
any more, the songs are all there
in the bulletin or on the screen,
but hymnals do make good back
support in uncomfortable pews
so we keep them at the ready.

We don’t say the Lord’s Prayer
or the Apostle’s Creed like we
used to say it, the way I grew up
saying it, using those words
King James heard, but I stubbornly
keep saying art and hallowed and thy
and trespasses and imagine the King
smiling with his divine translators.

Photograph by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Paul Rude’s “Significant Work”

Some 22 years ago, I joined a newly formed group called The Salt and Light Fellowship. Led by Jerram Barrs of the Francis Schaeffer Institute at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, we were focused on the idea of being salt and light right where we were.

Barrs taught a number of sessions about work, and specifically to the idea that everyday work – no matter what kind of work it was – mattered to God, and that “secular” work was just as important to God as “spiritual” work. In fact, all work was “spiritual,” no matter if it were preaching on Sunday, serving in the mission field in India, or being a speechwriter for a Fortune 500 corporation. Or a waiter. Or a scientist. Or a business executive. It all mattered.

Two decades ago, that wasn’t the most accepted of ideas in the church. Most of us still believed that “church” work was somehow more spiritual, more holy, and more acceptable to God that “secular” work. Because we differentiated between the two, we could easily take the next step, and decide that what we did in our 9 to 5 jobs didn’t really matter – and we could act just like everyone else in our workplace.

What Barrs helped all of us understand was that all work is actually “church” work.

Today, the idea has broader acceptance. All kinds of organizations (including The High Calling, with which I’m affiliated) exist to champion the idea that our everyday work matters. And a number of books can now be found on the subject, but none so comprehensive (and easily readable) as Significant Work: Discover the Extraordinary Worth of What You Do Every Day by Paul Rude.

Rude leads an organization called Everyday Significance, devoted to helping individuals and organizations “overcome the sacred-secular divide.” It started when he spoke at a church missions conference, and discovered the desire of people to connect their temporal, everyday lives to what they believed. Today he’s a speaker, consultant and counselor, and has distilled what he does into Significant Work.

“The truth is stunning,” he writes. “The truth is that the regular, everyday, earthly life of our lives holds a breathtaking significance bestowed by the touch of God’s magnificent glory alone. The daily grind of our lives leaves far more than a tiny fingerprint on eternity. It strikes cosmic hammer blows that forge the very shape of eternity.”

What follows from that rather astonishing statement is not a roadmap, not a how-to guide, but an explanation and understanding if the true significance of work. Rude doesn’t tell us how to live our work for God, but instead explains why our work matters, and why it has eternal significance. How we go about living that understanding is part of the journey each of us is on.

Rude divides the book in two parts. The first, “The Lie,” describes how and why we came to accept the belief that “ministry work” is both more important and more spiritual than “secular work,” what he calls the Sunday-Monday divide. And he walks the reader through a considerable number of misconceptions we have about work.

The second part of the book, “The Truth,” explains what God created work to be, and what God created us to be in the work we’ve been given to do. It’s eye-opening and encouraging, even for someone familiar with the ideas and concepts. Rude has thought through his subject, studied it, spoken about it, helped others understand it – and now put it together in one place.

Significant Work is itself a significant work, because this misunderstanding we’ve embraced about work isn’t some theoretical idea. It has had real consequences, not the least being how we act and behave in the “secular” workplace can distort who we are and what God intends for us to do.

It’s one of the best business books I’ve read. Ever. But its application reaches far beyond business, because work is something every one us does.


Photograph by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

“Dragonfyre” by Ian Thomas Curtis

I’ve come to the conclusion of the three-part fantasy series called The Canticles of Audurun, and I’m not ready for it to end. This is one fabulous story. This is Dragonfyre, by Ian Thomas Curtis.

This epic tale of Justias Eventine, a young man barely more than a boy whose village is destroyed by the clerics of the ruling dragons. But he’s not just any boy; he’s the anointed one, the one selected by the One God to slay the dragons and free humanity from their control. Justias is to be king.

At the end of the second book, Dragonmarch, however, there’s a problem – Justias has been killed through treachery by people he trusted. His body lies in state, and he is undoubtedly dead. But things happen. And battles are looming – the war of the Dragon Clerics’ army, led by Julias Darkmayne, against the much smaller forces of the Old Nobility at the city of South Deep. The aim is to destroy the city and the inhabitants. And behind the clerics is the army of the Gorgons prepared to destroy the clerics and the Old Nobility of South Deep. Treachery within treachery.

Hopelessly outnumbered, the defenders of South Deep prepare to fight to the last. And the battles begin. Looming in the background is Gildaryss, the chief dragon, desperately desiring the complete annihilation of humanity. She’s especially outraged with Justias, the young king who has slain dragons.

As the initial battle gets underway, the great walls of South Deep are pounded again and again, and begin to crumble. Outnumbered and surrounded, the city’s defenders fight men, beasts, and machines of war. It is what could be the final battle in the final war in the fight to save humanity.

It is a fabulous story, and an epic story, full of excitement and betrayal, loyalty and determination. The character of Justias demonstrates repeated faithfulness in the face of overwhelming odds. He is determined to fulfill the mission he has been called to – to break the power of and destroy the dragons.

The novel is filled with Christian imagery, but it’s not overdone. Curtis maintains a tight control over the narrative, with its numerous plots and sub-plots and broad array of characters. He masterfully weaves the main story with the side-stories, and delivers one thoroughly enjoyable read.

This is the kind of book, and series, that I want my sons and grandsons to read, to encourage them to stand for what’s noble and right.


Dragonsong, the first novel in the series.  My review of Dragonsong.

My review of Dragonmarch, the second novel in the series.

My 2011 interview with Ian Thomas Curtis: Part 1 and Part 2.

Canticles of Andurun on Facebook. 

Image courtesy of Dark Wallpapers.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Take Your Poet to Work Day!

Yes, today, July 17, is the official Take Your Poet to Work Day. The folks over at Tweetspeak Poetry  (which I suppose includes me) created this, and so far it’s caught on in Australia, Holland, the United States and a few places in between. The Atlantic Monthly promoted it. And the Paris Review. And the Rotterdam Poetry Festival.

The idea is to select one of the conveniently created cutouts – Eliot, Dickinson, Poe, Neruda, Teasdale, Rumi or Basho – print it, cut it our and color it, paste to a stick, and then insert your poet somewhere in your work space. And tell a story.

OK, so I don’t do cut-outs. But, as you can see from the photography above, I did bring some poets to work today: Wallace Stevens (a favorite), Billy Collins (close to a favorite), Wendell Berry (a favorite even if he would hate my politics), and Edgar Lee Masters (who has been THE favorite since high school and given the fact he’s lasted this long as my favorite, it’s unlikely he will be dethroned anytime soon).

Oh, yes, that’s the current (July/August) issue of Poetry Magazine. This issue includes three poems by Scott Cairns (I should have brought him to work today, too) and one by James Galvin, among others; an article by the late film critic Roger Ebert; and four remembrances, including one of Richard Wilbur by Donald Hall.

I inserted the four books directly into my work space – the computer screen (yes, that’s Tweetdeck showing on the screen). And in one way or another, all four or these poets, and a few others, have helped me understand the poetry in work – and the poetry at work. That’s the story here. Perhaps that’s always the story here.

So if you’re in the mood for poetic cut-outs, or even if you aren’t, head over to Tweetspeak Poetry and see what’s happening. And it’s not too late to Take Your Poet to Work.

Raining Grace: Stephen and Saul

The very early church had a problem. The “Grecian Jewish” believers perceived that the Hebrew Jewish believers favored their own in caring for the widows. Today, we would immediately split off and form a new church, but the elders of the early church handled it differently. They listened, agreed, and then told the church to choose seven men to serve. (It’s interesting that they didn’t appoint the seven themselves but instead told the church to choose them.)

The seven they chose, Luke tells us in the book of Acts, were Stephen, Philip, Procurus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism. Stephen is specifically singled out as “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit.” Of the other six, only Philip is ever mentioned again – Philip the Evangelist of Acts 8 and 21.

We don’t know any of Stephen’s background or even when he joined the church. He might have been one of those “thousands” who heard the disciples preaching in the temple courtyards and came to faith. We have the impression he was young, although that’s not explicitly stated.

A few verses later, Stephen is singled out again. Luke describes him as “ a man full of God’s grace and power, and did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.” Luke, of course, is setting the stage for what is about to happen. Stephen makes a speech to the Sanhedrin, tells the truth, and is dragged out to be stoned. As he’s dying, he asks God to forgive his murderers.

Watching the stoning “in approval” was Saul.

Stephen’s death was one of the significant events of the early church: he was the first martyr; it was the start of the first persecution; the church was scattered into the surrounding territory; and it was a significant step into what eventual became the spread and triumph of Christianity on the Roman Empire.

And then there was Saul, who helped lead the persecution in Jerusalem, and did so well that he decided to carry the campaign to Damascus. And on the road to Damascus, Saul became Paul.

Several times in his epistles, Paul refers to his role as persecutor of the church. And I can’t help but think that the image of Stephen crying out to God to forgive his murderers must have been remembered by Paul every time he mentioned his role.

Both Stephen and Paul were forgiven. Stephen did not do the terrible things Paul did, but both were forgiven. Both experienced the ful measure of God’s grace.

As Andy Stanley points out in The Grace of God, grace is also poured out over us. It’s a kind of unruly, unpredictable thing, this grace of God, confounding our human notions of fairness. Whether we believe as a child and work our entire lives for the Lord, or sincerely accept faith on our deathbeds, the grace of God pours down.

Grace poured down on Paul; it poured down on Stephen. Believers might want to identify more with Stephen, but most of us more closely approximate Paul’s early experience.

It is something to grateful for, this grace that pours down. There’s nothing we do that can earn it. It just pours down.

Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been discussing The Grace of God. To see more posts on this chapter, “Saved by Grace,” please visit Sarah at Living Betweenthe Lines.

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.