Sunday, June 30, 2019

The servant

After Isaiah 42:1-13

So who is this servant
we’re told to behold?
We’re not told his name
or his family or position;
what matters is
who’s upholding
who’s chosen
who creates delight
who will not break
who will not cry out
who will not faint
who will not be 
who will establish
who will not shatter
despite the bruise.
The servant is the Lord
is the servant
is the Lord

Photograph by Gian D via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Saturday Good Reads

“Some people got high behind the wheel, drove drunk, went too fast on curb-less country roads that seemed wide-open. They were heedless of pets and wildlife. Heedless of playing children.” Jennie Cesario at Dappled Thoughts has a recollection of a childhood tragedy.

“To return to the Church of England after floundering in the desperate waters of unbelief is akin to being rescued from drowning by clambering onto a sinking ship. It is neither a satisfactory nor permanent solution to the problem.” Joseph Pearce at The Imaginative Conservative on A.N. Wilson’s poetry anthology England: A Collection of the Poetry of Place.

Have you heard of the writers Susannah Rowson, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Mari Sandoz, Anna Yezierska, Nella Larson, and Martha Gellhorn? I remembered Martha Gellhorn as one of the wives of Ernest Hemingway but drew a blank at the other names. David Mamet at National Review talks about great women writers who are forgotten or ignored today but shouldn’t be (they don’t fit the current academic or critical narrative). He also points out a meaning of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabinthat you never hear about.

A jury lobbed a multi-million-dollar grenade at Oberlin College in Ohio, and the story that began in 2016 reads like a contemporary American morality tale. A number of good accounts have been published; one of the best is “Ideology and Facts Collide at Oberlin College” by Daniel McGraw at Quillette. McGraw covered the story from the beginning. The college, one of its dean, and its vice president of communications didn’t exactly cover themselves with glory.

More Good Reads

Life and Culture

Why Men Can Speak on Abortion – Aaron Brake at Stand to Reason.

Wokeness and Legalism – George Yancey at Shattering Paradigms.

The Crisis in Education Theory – Rafi Eis at National Affairs.

The Coming Millennial Midlife Crisis - Tim Challies.

Writing and Literature

Building Folklore Wealth – Jesse Hake at Front Porch Republic.

Art and Photography

A once-in-a-lifetime look behind Van Gogh’s Sunflowers – Martin Bailey at The Art Newspaper.

Wheels on the Prairie – David Rupert via Facebook.

American Stuff

Four Child-Rearing Practices Ben Franklin’s Father Used to Raise a Great Man – Annie Holmquist at The Foundation for Economic Education.

Building the Transcontinental Railroad – CBS Morning Edition.


Floss – Anna Lena Phillips Bell at Literary Matters. 

Two Days in June – Joseph Mussomeli at The Imaginative Conservative.

Miklós Radnóti – D.S. Martin at Kingdom Poets.


The value of a single soul – Andrew Roycroft at Thinking Pastorally.

In Praise of Religion’s Dark Side – Willis Renuart at Front Porch Republic.

News Media

Why Facebook Failed - Samuel D. James at Letters & Liturgy.

Down to the River to Pray – Bethel College Choir sing in a grain bin

Painting: Man Reading in an Interior, oil on canvas by Isaac Israels (1865-1934).

Friday, June 28, 2019


After Isaiah 42:1-13

An old word: behold;
more than a command
to look, to see, more
than a command to gaze
and consider. It is a word
implying the speaker knows
that the object is something
extraordinary, something
unique, something that
to consider will create
change, profound change,
deep, change everlasting.

Photograph by Rohan Makhecha via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

"The Comedy Club Mystery" by Peter Bartram

Colin Crampton of the Brighton Chronicle is on the case again – but this time without having an official reporter’s job.

A local theatrical agent has been found in his office, stabbed to death with a sword. The Chronicle’s theater critic is found there, too – with his hand on the sword and crying hysterically. The police see an open-and-shut case. Crampton isn’t so sure and begins investigating. When the Chronicle fires the critic, Crampton tells his editor that he quits.

The reporter learns that a lot of people are thrilled to see the agent dead, including most of his clients. The case becomes more complicated when Crampton, leaving a comedy club whose performers vastly outnumber the audience, is set upon by two American goon-types, wielding a baseball bat and looking to use Crampton’s head for a ball. They’re only stopped when Crampton’s girlfriend, Shirley Goldsmith, arrives on the scene, brandishing a fire extinguisher. Who would hire American mobster types over the death of a British theatrical agent?

You’d be surprised.

Peter Barttram
The Comedy Club Mystery by Peter Bartram is the newest installment in the Colin Crampton of the Chronicle mysteries, and it’s just as funny and fast-paced as its predecessors. Set in 1965, in rings with authenticity of newspapers of the time, and for good reason. Bartram has had a long career in journalism, including being a reporter on a weekly newspaper, an editor for newspapers and magazines in London, and freelance journalism – all of which have been utilized in creating the character of Colin Crampton. Bartram is also a member of the Society of Authors and the Crime Writers’ Association.

Bartram fills the story with vivid characters. Frank Figges is the balding, chain-smoking editor who is constantly running interference between his staff and his publisher. Crampton’s landlady pounces faster than a vulture on roadkill. The police captain is a recognizable type, more than ready to lock the theater critic away because of a bad review the critic gave his wife. And Crampton himself is the cynical, wisecracking reporter who barely keeps himself out of the law’s reach.

The Comedy Club Mystery is a fun, entertaining story, and something of an indulgence for those of us who remember what newspapers and reporters used to be like.


Wednesday, June 26, 2019

"A Twist of Faith" by Pepper Basham

Adelina Roseland, Ph.D., works at the University of Virginia – Charlottesville. She works in speech and accent modification. She’s been assigned for a year to Blue Ridge University in Ransom, in Virginia’s Appalachia country. She’ll be working on a joint project managed by both schools, as well as another project.

A colleague has also challenged her to help transform a local Ransom man for an interview in Chicago in 12 weeks. And it’s a bet – if she wins, she gets to make a big conference presentation, which will help her immeasurably in getting a tenured position at the University of Virginia.

Adelina brings considerable psychological and spiritual baggage with her. Her father died in an automobile accident when she was 14; her mother had already been an alcoholic before his death. She’s still mad at her father for dying, and she’s remained angry and distant from her mother. She’s also carrying significant prejudice about the colleagues she’ll be working with and her expected clients, including the man, Reese Mitchell, who has the Chicago interview.
Pepper Basham

Initially, her impressions conform to her prejudices. Reese Mitchell may be tall and lean but his bushy beard and his accent, not to mention his grammar, seem like something out of Deliverance. Only slowly does she look beyond her prejudices and her ambitions, to learn about Reese the man, his extended family, his charm, his faith, and his depth.

And, yes, A Twist of Faith by Pepper Basham is an American Southern Christian take on Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. Emphasizing the connection are quotations from Pygmalion at the beginning of each chapter.

Basham is the author of numerous historical and contemporary romance novels, novellas, and stories. A Twist of Faith is the first in her Mitchell Crossroads series; the second is Charming the Troublemaker. She and her family live in Asheville, North Carolina.

It’s a sweet, engaging story, and it fits well with our current national conversation about coastal America and flyover country and the prejudices of the educated classes.  

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Poets and Poems: Ilya Kaminsky and “Deaf Republic”

Deaf Republic, the new collection of poetry by Ilya Kaminsky, is striking on at least two counts, and possibly a third.

First, it is a story, a narrative “in two acts,” that uses the poetic form. The 59 poems are a collective whole, tightly connected to the point where it’s difficult to imagine any of them apart from their fellow poems. The poems work like a narrative thread, weaving together people and events into a coherent whole. The narrative’s two acts read almost like a play, and to emphasize that connection the work includes a

The second striking feature is what the story is about – a time of trouble in an occupied country, set in the town of Vasenka. The occupation might be from the political left or the political right; the orientation is not important. The occupying soldiers are present; the people are feeling a kind of suffocation. Freedom and citizens’ rights are no longer functioning words and ideas. A command is given; all the people obey, except for a child, a boy who is deaf.

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

Monday, June 24, 2019

"Beyond the Point" by Damien Boyd

Detective Inspector Nick Dixon of the Avon and Somerset Police has a bad habit. His intuition, his guesses, his sense of how investigations are going and should go inevitably turn out to be right.

This isn’t a characteristic that endears you to colleagues and superiors, who may be more concerned about police politics and career advancement.

Now Dixon is tracking, or trying to track, a serial killer, who’s left a few bodies in his wake and is intent on taunting the police detective. The investigation leads into a wholly different kind of case, one seemingly bungled by Dixon’s old police foe, and then into a case of bribery and corruption in the construction business. And Dixon keeps sensing and guessing correctly.

Damien Boyd
Beyond the Point by British writer Damien Boyd is the ninth Dick Nixon mystery, and it may well be the best one yet – which is saying a lot, because there hasn’t been a miss in the entire series. Boyd uses his own experience as a legal solicitor and a member of the Crown Prosecution Service to frame his stories, and then infuses considerable research in just the right way. In this story, for example, the reader will learn a lot about big construction projects, like bridges and nuclear power plants, but will never feel like this is a data dump to impress with how much the author knows.

What Boyd has done in these mysteries is no small feat. He’s mixed intriguing premises, a diabetic hero who often has to stifle himself when he’s dealing with superiors, the ongoing romance between Dixon and policewoman Jane Winter, and the fascination of solid police work punctuated by Dixon’s tendency to try the unexpected and the unorthodox. It’s no surprise that the detective often finds himself in trouble at police headquarters.

Beyond the Point is an exciting, well-researched, and well-written mystery.


Sunday, June 23, 2019

Gates besieged

After Micah 5:1-5

The troops besiege
the gates, the city
trembles, seeking
deliverance as
the soldiers scream
and shout and shake
the gates.

A cry goes up:

Who will deliver us
who will save us
from the locust army
surrounding us, ready
to devour us

A voice:

From the small
from the tiny
comes salvation
and the source is

Photograph by Hakon Sataoen via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Saturday Good Reads

The first time I tried to visit the Charles Dickens House Museum in London was in 2012. It was the 200thanniversary of his birth. Through an inexplicable act of bad timing, the museum was closed for renovation. But I did go back, four times, in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2017. If I return to London, I’ll visit it once again. Yes, I’m a Charles Dickens fan.

Not so fast, David Heddendorf at Front Porch Republic might say. He makes an argument for the fiction of Anthony Trollope over Dickens, and even this Dickens fan thinks he has some good points to make. You can read about it in Puppets and Portraits: Two Victorians.

Josh Hawley, a U.S. Senator from my state of Missouri, barely had time to catch his breath as the state’s new attorney general before he was catapulted into the U.S. Senate. A Republican, he’s struck something of an independent path, criticizing the tech giants before it became fashionable in Washington and opposing a Trump-nominated candidate for a judiciary position. He also surprised a lot of people with his maiden speech in the Senate – calling for a revitalization of the “great American Middle” (guaranteed to offend both parties but especially Republicans).

Imagine my surprise to discover a column this past week in Christianity Today on The Age of Pelagius – on how an ancient heresy continues to plague contemporary culture. And it was written by U.S. Senator Josh Hawley. 

Exactly 130 years ago, Vincent Van Gogh was in an insane asylum, and in the space of one week painted five pictures, including two of his most famous works, Starry Night and Olive Trees with Les Apilles. Martin Bailey at The Art Newspaper tells the story of that week.

More Good Reads

Life and Culture

Competence of Character – Matthew Hosier at Think Theology.

What Really Happened to Malaysia’s Missing Airplane – William Langewiesche at The Atlantic.

Touch – Stewart McAlpine.

Writing and Literature

Preserving the pleasures of the bookshop – Alexander McCall Smith at The Scotsman.

Sherlock Holmes, Hardboiled Detective – Alexis Hall at CrimeReads.

Noir Tropes Are Alive and Well – and Powerful as Ever – Kelsey Rae Dimberg at CrimeReads.


On the banks of a quiet creek (poetry as prompt) – Kelly Belmonte (and others) at All Nine.

Sugar on Snow – David Yezzi at The Atlantic.

American Stuff

Seeds of Home: The Story of the Real Miss Rumphius – Elizabeth Harwell at Kingdom Come.


Foot Washing Words – Eileen Knowles at The Scenic Route.

Art and Architecture

Patrick Dougher – Maureen Doallas at Escape Into Life.

This 16th-Century Italian Church Is Built into the Side of a Cliff – Jessica Stewart at My Modern Met (and see the video below).

Santuario Madonna della Corona

Painting: Woman Reading the Newspaper, oil on canvas by Carl Vilhelm Holsoe (1863-1935).

Friday, June 21, 2019

The promise

After Genesis 3:1-19

To be promised a bruise,
a bruise on another’s heel,
is odd, I know, and unusual,
I know, for somehow a bruise
on another’s heel becomes
the sign of the way out,
our way out,
the light at the end of the tunnel,
our light at the end,
and it’s where the bruise happens,
on that heel.

Photograph by Fabrizio Verrecchia via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

New Sherlock Holmes Stories by Craig Stephen Copland

Craig Stephen Copland is a man with a mission –to write 60 new Sherlock Holmes stories. He’s well on his way. Two of them take Holmes and Dr. John Watson well away from England – to the United States and Japan. 

In The Hudson Valley Mystery, Holmes and Watson (ably assisted by Mrs. Watson) travel to New York to investigate what appears to be an open-and-shut case. Charles McCarthy, who had made a considerable fortune in the California Gold Rush, has been murdered, and his nineteen-year-old son James has confessed, pled insanity, and is now confined in a prison for the criminally insane. The widow (and mother) has retained Holmes, not believing that her son could have committed the deed.

Involved are the nearby neighbor and Gold Rush partner John Turner and his daughter, and Holmes and Watson soon learn that few of the people in both families are telling the truth. Something is being hidden, and Holmes is determined to discover what it is.

In The Yellow Farce, Holmes and Watson travel to Japan at the behest (actually, the demand) of Holmes’ brother Mycroft. It is 1905, Japan and Russia are at war, and the Russian fleet is sailing around the world to battle the Japanese fleet. The head of the British legation in Tokyo is married to an American who happens to be a former Russian, and it looks like the woman is up to no good in trying to tilt the British toward supporting the Russians. 

Craig Stephen Copland
It’s a vastly different culture from England or the United States, and the detective duo find themselves confronting gun smuggling, spies everywhere, and even what looks to be a planned assassination. The climax will come at the summit of Mount Fuji.

Copland is a longtime fan of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. After he retired, he set himself a goal of writing a new Sherlock Holmes mystery related to and inspired by each of the 60 stories published by Conan Doyle. He’s also written monographs on Holmes and two non-Holmes mystery stories featuring a detective in the Old American West, the Reverend Ezekiel Black. He currently lives and writes in Toronto, Buenos Aires, New York, and the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. 

The stories are great fun, but readers should not expect an exact reproduction of Holmes and Watson. Copland’s Holmes make mistakes, and he often has to directed on to a better path by Watson and his wife. That said, it makes for a more realistic detective, one that is still paying homage to the original stories.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

"When Winter Breaks Softly" by Jim Burnett

Jim Burnett has written a considerable number of novels set in the Old West, and now he’s published a collection of short stories, also set in the Old West and with a strong theme of faith. When Winter Breaks Softy includes five stories that are simple and straightforward tales of good, evil, and redemption.

In “Blind Love,” a young couple have struggled for years to have a family. When a baby finally does come, their joy is cut short when they learn their little boy is blind. Not helping at all is the young woman’s mother, who’s constantly criticizing and belittling her daughter.

“Fiona’s Redemption” is a kind of Hatfield-McCoy or Romeo and Juliet kind of story. Two families have hated each other for a long time, and one family in particular has more than its fair share of bad men and bullies. Fiona Darcy finds herself attacked and raped by Clay Miller, an attack that leads to the birth of a child. It will be another Miller, however, who will fall in love with Fiona.

Jim Burnett
In “Fit to be Tied,” the Jackson family has four boys until the birth of their daughter Annabelle. They live on a big ranch in Wyoming, and as Annabelle grows up, she takes special delight in aggravating Danny Elder, the son of the ranch foreman. They always seem at odds, until an abandoned calf changes their lives.

“Maria’s Stubborn Love” is set in Texas. Maria Sanchez and her mother work at the Lazy D Ranch, where they are both the occasional object of ridicule by the ranch hands because of their Mexican heritage. But the son of the ranch owner will discover a very different kind of relationship with the beautiful girl.

“The Man Behind the Hammer” is Jess Slade, who once had been a farmer but had turned to blacksmithing after the accidental deaths of his wife and young son in a wagon crash. He’s never gotten over their deaths, and he seems to take his anger and guilt out on the iron and meatal he’s pounding in the shop. But Sarah Jane Nickels, the daughter of a cattle buyer and entrepreneur, has set her sights on the blacksmith. 

The stories of When Winter Breaks Softly seem a bit old-fashioned, but that’s what gives them their charm. Good and evil are clearly drawn, and broken people find redemption and love.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Poets and Poems: Harry Clifton and “Herod’s Dispensations”

Herod the Great (74/73 B.C. – circa 4 B.C.) lived 2,000 years ago, but he still causes arguments among historians. He built the second temple in Jerusalem, the port at Caesarea, fortresses, and palaces. He reorganized Judea’s social hierarchy. He rather artfully managed his Roman overlords. 

Yet he was among the most violent and ruthless of kings, including within his own family. He’s most infamously associated with the slaughter of the innocents, the killing of the young children and babies to eliminate the king foretold to take his place. Some scholars doubt that story, recorded in the Gospel of St. Matthew, but Herod certainly had the reputation to be credibly accused of it.

Irish poet Harry Clifton uses the idea of Herod in his latest poetry collection, Herod’s Dispensations.

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

Monday, June 17, 2019

“The Secret Orphan” by Glynis Peters

It’s 1938. Eighteen-year-old Elenor Cardew lives on a farm in Cornwall with her two brothers. Life is mostly drudgery, with her brothers’ expectations of her central role of taking care of them. And then an aunt, her dead mother’s sister, requires her to come to Coventry to take care of her as her health is failing.

At first, the aunt and her attitude seem little better than that of her brothers. A couple, George and Rose Sherbourne, and their five-year-old daughter Rose live in the home, Victoria serving as housekeeper and George behaving boorishly on a good day. He’s a tutor, and he’s often away. Rose, however, is bubbly and almost irrepressible, although she’s treated rather coldly by her parents.

As the months pass, the aunt warms to Elenor and arranges for her to buy some decent clothes. The aunt’s sternness gives way to genuine affection. Elenor grows close to Rose, while George and Victoria remain somewhat odd. And the clock is ticking toward September 1939 and the prospect of war. Elenor meets a young Canadian airman stationed near Coventry and finds herself falling in love. The aunt dies in the spring of 1939, and Elenor learns she’s her aunt’s heir.

The city centre of Coventry after the Move,ber 1940 blitz
The war starts; Elenor’s brother both enlist in the army and are caught at Dunkirk. Assigned to be the remained guard fighting the Germans while the main army escapes, neither brother returns. Elenor goes back to Cornwall to care for the farm and undertake a general rehabilitation of the property, farmhouse, and farming practices. Her brothers left a mess. 

Coventry experiences the firebombing of November 1940; only Rose survives of her family. She’s brought by a friend to Cornwall; Elenor had been listed as next of kin. It’s after she arrives that Elenor discovers the little girl carries a dangerous secret with her.

The Secret Orphan by Glynis Peters tells the story of Elenor and Rose, and what happens when Elenor determines to protect the child at all costs. It also tells the story of Coventry, of life on an English farm during wartime, the ongoing prospect of enemy bombing, even on farms, and the romance between and English girl and a Canadian airman.

Glynis Peters
The novel is Peters’ first, and when it was published in 2018, it reached several international bestseller lists. The author lives in Dovercourt, Essex, England. A grandson lives in Canada – and that’s why she introduced a Canadian pilot as one of the novel’s characters.

It’s a good story of England before and during wartime. It might have done to exclude a character or two; the Land Girl assigned to the farm was interesting but doesn’t really advance the narrative. And an epilogue that ended as the book began – with an elderly Rose reliving some of her memories – would have tied it together. But The Secret Orphan is still an enjoyable story.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Blame: a trilogy

After Genesis 3:1-19

The questions fly:

Who did this
what have you done
did you do what
I told you not to do
who told you
you were naked

It was the woman 
you gave me
(clever: a double denial,
a double shift: blame
the woman and blame
the One who gave 
the woman)

It was the serpent
who deceived me
with his slithering
words (aka, the devil
made me do it)

The serpent says nothing
but he smirks.

The condemnation flows
in reverse order:
   a curse of position
   a curse of pain
   a curse of labor, of work
   of toil, of sweat

a curse of dust
raised from dust
returned to dust

and a promise:
to be continued.

Photograph by Frederica Giusti via Unsplash. Used with permission.