Saturday, November 30, 2019

Saturday Good Reads

My wife loves movies about World War II. She rightly points out that the war offers a virtually inexhaustible supply of stories – heroism and cowardice, resistance and collaboration. Michael DeSapio at The Imaginative Conservative tells one of the stories – about two Dutch girls. One of them became actress Audrey Hepburn, who was the same age as Anne Frank. 

I first heard the music of Harry Nilsson in the movie Midnight Cowboy, the 1969 movie with Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight. The song in the movie was “Everybody’s Talking at Me.” Told by his producer in 1992 that his new songs weren’t all that good, Nilsson decided to prove him wrong, and he worked non-stop for the next two years. His feverish pace of work likely contributed to his death in 1994. The album was never released, until now. Bonnie Stiernberg at Inside Hook has the story

The 2020 national election is upon us, and more than a few of us wish we had the British system of campaigns finished in six weeks. Matthew Hosier at Think Theology has some advice for British Christians in the political upheaval known as the Brexit fight and their own elections in two weeks – and that’s how to pray for the election. It’s actually good advice for us American Christians as well.

More Good Reads

Life and Culture

A Table for Us – Elizabeth Harwell at The Rabbit Room.

The Beauty of the Unexpected – Jason Crye at Front Porch Republic.

American Stuff

The Local Barber – Casey Chalk at Front Porch Republic.

Writing and Literature

C.S. Lewis on Why We Read – Brain Pickings.


Advent-Waiting – Jody Lee Collins. 

Fugue on the Magnificat – Joanne Epp via Kingdom Poets.

My brother’s antique bottles – Henry Hart at The New Criterion.

In the Beginning: A Sonnet – David Russell Mosley at The Imaginative Conservative.

There is a River and other poems – Martin Rizley at Society of Classical Poets.


The Worst Time to Plant a Church – Sarah Eekhof Zylstra at The Gospel Coalition.

Discernment Heresy – Samuel D. James at Pulpit & Pen.

What Was R.C. Sproul’s Favorite Word? – David Murray at Tabletalk.


Rare Film of Monet, Renoir, Rodin and Degas – Chonday (Hat Tip: Danielle Oser).

News Media

The Facebook Armageddon – Matthew Ingram at Columbia Journalism Review.

How the Queen Travels – Half as Interesting

Painting: Portrait of a Man Reading, oil on canvas by Hans Memling (1430-1494).

Friday, November 29, 2019

The call is upward

After Philippians 3:12-4:1

A sound, or a voice, perhaps,
a movement in the heat
and soul and mind, gives
the first glimpse of the prize,
the first time we know
there’s a prize, its possession
a goal and a destination,
even if we do not fully
understand the goal, the destination,
and the journey required to reach
it, the precise steps of the journey
remaining unknown, steps guided
and steps taken in faith. All
we know is that the call is

Photograph by Martin Zimlickis via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

"Midwinter Mysteries" - A Christmas Crime Anthology

Midwinter Mysteries is an anthology of 11 stories set in the Christmas period – but the stories are vary widely in geography and time. Generally, they’re written by authors who have crime series novels and detectives (in fact, what first attracted me to the anthology was seeing it included stories by Cora Harrison and Keith Moray, whose works I’ve previously read). 

“Away in a Manger” by Graham Black is set in Old Town Square in Prague, and police are on patrol, looking for pickpockets and possible robberies in the crowded area. A Christmas theater presentation is going on, and there’s a lot more to it than a simple Christmas play.

“Footprints in the Snow” by J.C. Briggs in set in the England of 1850. Charles Dickens had expected to be at home in Devonshire Terrace in London for Christmas Eve, but heavy snow has trapped him and his fellow guests at Fareaway Abbey, the country home of Sir Gaston Fareaway and his wife, the Lady Adelina. Dickens does what he does best on Christmas Eve – he tells a ghost story. But it’s a story that’s a bit too close to home for one of the guests.

“Lost and Found” by Keith Moray is set in West Uist, in the Orkney Islands of Scotland, in 2012. It’s almost Christmas, and Inspector Torquil Mackinnon is introducing his sergeant Lorna Golspie to his friends and fellow musicians at a party. One of the musicians is found dead the next day, and it appears to have been killed by someone at the party who knew him well.

“The Spirit of Christmas” by Cora Harrison in set in London in 1858, and it stars Alfie and his band of orphans who are caring for each other in Victorian England (Harrison has written several mysteries involving the boys). Blind Sammy, with his beautiful voice, is singing for coins in front of Hamley’s Toy Shop in High Holborn when he suddenly disappears, replaced by a man who sings badly and doesn’t look like Father Christmas at all. A crime is going down, and Alfie and his friends have to find Sammy.

In “The Stolen Santa Sack” by Sean Gibbons, cabbie Ben Miller is driving along a motorway at 2 a.m. right before Christmas, and he has a problem. He has a dead Santa Claus in the back of his cab, the same Santa Claus that Police Superintendent had had him pick up at a hotel to bring to an address 17 miles away. Along the way, Santa was murdered.

“Will Power” by Marilyn Todd is set in the London of 1895, photographer Julia McAllister returns home from an assignment to find her home burgled. The only thing stolen was a set of prints from a recent wedding, and Julia desperately needs to get those prints back.

“Christmas Spirits” by Gaynor Torrance is set in contemporary Wales. Detective Inspector Jemima Huxley is looking for a murder suspect and receives a tip he’s been spotted in Cardiff near a church. Their timing is bad; large numbers of schoolchildren are gathered for the singing of Christmas carols. The suspect is a no-show, and on the way back to headquarters she and he police partner make a stop at a shop. She asks a salesperson dressed as an elf for help, but the elf turns out to be something else entirely.

For “The Essex Nativity” by David Field, we’re back to the England of 1895. Detective Sergeant Jack Enright of the Essex Constabulary is anticipating 10 days of leave for the Christmas holiday, but is suddenly faced with dealing with a reported burglary at a nearby farm. And then things get complicated. 

“Secret Santa” by Kim Fleet is set in contemporary England. It’s two days after Christmas, and private detective Eden Grey is grousing about the holiday when a note is passed under the door of her flat. All the note says is, “Who is following me?” Grey is going to find out – and find out who slipped the note under her door.

“Sir Up Sunday” by M.J. Logue goes way, way back – to the London of 1665. King Charles II needs a book found. It’s meant to be a present for his wife, the queen, and it’s up to Major Thankful Russell to find out what happened and get the book back. Or else.

The final story in the anthology is “The Christmas Ghost” by Linda Stratman, set in Brighton, England, in 1871. Mina Scarletti is known for exposing fraudulent spirit mediums, and she’s been called to the home of Mrs. Calverdon. It’s almost Christmas, and Mrs. Calverdon sees her son sitting in the room with them as they talk. The problem is that her son is dead.

These are all fun Christmas mysteries, providing both holiday entertainment and an introduction to 11 mystery writers and their fictional detectives.

Top photograph by Rodolfo Marques via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

“Living the Dream?” by Tristan Sherwin

If a non-believing friend ask you to define or explain Christianity, how would you respond? It might take some thought and some understanding of how much the friend might or might not know, but most of us would likely explain the central figure of Christ, the Son of God, who died for our sins, was resurrected on the third day after his death, and ascended to heaven. But what if the friend went further, and asked you to explain why there are so many denominations, so many variants, so many forms of Christianity, and so many disagreements on basic tenets of the faith?

That might be a more complicated answer. In Living the Dream? The Problem with Escapist, Exhibitionist, Empire-Building Christianity, Tristan Sherwin has a relatively simple answer that itself has a complex explanation. We’re understanding our faith as an extension of our personal dreams. “Jesus didn’t die so that our dreams could come true,” he writes. “He gave his life for the dream of God.” We’ve allowed our personal dreams and ambitions, including how we are shaped by the culture, to shape our faith and how we respond to God. 

It’s no wonder that Christianity is so fractured and splintered, with the breaks and divisions seeming to grow every day. 

Tristan Sherwin and family
Sherwin begins at the beginning, with the book of Genesis and how we generally understand it and what we read into it because we’re either embracing what the culture says or fighting what the culture insists we believe. We often get into the weeds here, and we like to have our own weed patch. Scripture has been used to justify everything from slavery to war. In a self-therapeutic culture like which grips most of the Western word today, we can consider Scripture as the way to make us feel better and loved, or that it gives us special knowledge (and gifts) that others don’t have, or that it justifies political globalism and political nationalism. (Remember Jesus telling Pilate that his kingdom wasn’t of this world?)

Our individual faith is directly affected. Consider worship services that are emotionally charged. “All this stimulation may help to explain why many of us struggle with prayer and contemplation in the privacy of our homes, and why so many of us struggle to sense God during our own periods of suffering.” Despite what we experience on Sundays, he says, “God-moments” aren’t hyperactive or adrenaline-fueled. 

God, he says, is “at home in the stillness; we’re the only who get restless.”

One of the most beautiful images Sherwin uses in the book is the idea of soliloquy, that “Jesus is the soliloquy of God spoken into the dissonance” of our struggle to fully understand and explain our experience of God. There is a wonderful stillness about that idea, a freshness that speaks to our deepest souls.

Sherwin is a teacher at Metro Christian Centre at Bury, England, near Manchester, where he lives with his family. He’s previously published Love: Expressed

If you’re looking to challenge or test your own ideas about Christianity and your personal faith, the well-written and engaging Living the Dream? is a good place to start. You will rethink how you understand many parts of scripture and discover how you read your own cultural context into what you believe about God. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Poets and Poems: Edward Holmes and “Bravery ( Brevity”

Bravery & Brevity, the new poetry collection by Edward Holmes, almost defies description. 

Is it poetry? Absolutely; Holmes writes in both a poetic form and style. 

Is it reflection? Yes; you can find deep reflection in every poem. 

Is it a mediation or devotional? No question here; Holmes is reaching for something larger than what a poetry collection is usually about. 

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

Monday, November 25, 2019

"Adjustments" by Will Willingham

Will Phillips is an insurance adjustor, working in the plains, hills, and valleys of South Dakota. He lives in a room of what was once a mansion but is now more of a boarding house. He has a give-and-take relationship with his 70+ landlady, Pearl Jenkins, who is part friend, part mother, part judge, part advisor, and full-time matchmaker who usually cheats at cards. So far, Will has resisted the matchmaking and gone along with the card cheating.

Will’s work, like most work, involves a daily sameness. After a few years, insurance claims become similar. A fire is a fire, and Will can usually sniff out when it was accidental and when it isn’t. Same thing for a stolen truck; even doctors are known to report a truck stolen when it’s time for a replacement. Will investigates a fire claim; the house is owned by a man unmarried to the woman and her children living with him. Will knows how this will end – the house will be replaced or rebuilt, the man will get a new girlfriend, and the woman will find herself and her kids homeless. 

It says something about Will that, even as he sees the sameness, it doesn’t numb him to people’s anguish and pain. It may be that Will is still dealing with his own, even as he masks it from himself. That mask begins to fall when he investigates a claim by Joe Murphy, a 73-year-old widower originally from Chicago. Joe and his wife had moved to the area when Joe retired from the fire department in Chicago; his wife had grown up in the area and wanted to go back. After her death, he stayed, and Joe senses something in Will that needs to be reached. Hoe begins to try to reach whatever it is in Will through literature and music.

Landlady Pearl already knows this about Will, too; it’s why she keeps at her matchmaking. Her latest project to match Will to the new woman in town Cameron Julian, who’s moved in across the street. Will, however, keeps slipping away from everyone’s grasp, or trying to. He’s still bearing the scars, figurative and literal, from a woman from long ago. It’s why he left Chicago, where he grew up, and moved to South Dakota. It’s why he resists relationships. Will has trapped himself in his past.

Adjustments by Will Willingham is the story of Will Phillips. It is filled with humor and poignancy, insight and emotion. The reader sees into the soul of an inherently decent man who knows he’s broken and has found a way to live with that, until he can’t. 

Will Willingham
The novel has wonderfully memorable characters. Pearl Jenkins is an original that’s immediately recognizable; some of the funniest moments in the book revolve around her. Joe Murphy is a wise, literate uncle; he reminds me so much of the uncle who introduced me to writers like James Michener that I almost thought the author must have known my uncle, too. Even the unseen but fully experienced presence of Barbara Roberts, the reason Will left Chicago, is drawn so well that she’s familiar, too; many of us have had a Barbara Roberts in our lives.

This is the author’s first novel, and it’s a profoundly beautiful one. Willingham is an editor at Tweetspeak Poetry, and so it’s no surprise to find discussions about poets and poems like “Endymion” by John Keats and fairy tales like the wild swans in the novel. Even the name of Cameron Julian is a likely tribute to Julia Cameron, whose book The Artist’s Wayhas been featured at Tweetspeak. Willingham is also an insurance adjustor and lives many of the stories that Will Phillips can tell. 

Adjustments is more than a good novel; it is a fine novel. It is, simultaneously, moving and real and surprising and true. We see ourselves and our personal histories in Will Phillips, Joe Murphy, and Pearl Jenkins. Like Will, we bear scars. In Joe, Pearl, and Cameron, we experience offered hope. This is a story about what matters, and it’s told beautifully well.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The i's are dotted, the t's crossed

After Philippians 3:4-11

The i’s are all dotted:
I have done it all,
fulfilled every plan
and dream, attained 
every position I set out
to attain, every honor,
every award.

The t’s are all crossed:
I’ve been exactly what
I was supposed to be:
a follower of rules,
tireless worker, a giver,
a tither, a teacher,
I have a pedigree
I’ve even taught
junior high boys
in Sunday School
and lived to tell
the tale.

And it all counts
for exactly 
worthless, not
even worthy
of a paving stone
in the courtyard.
What matters isn’t
what I’ve done,
what I’ve believed,
what I’ve accepted,
what I’ve fought for.

All that matters
is knowing the carpenter,
is knowing the fisherman.

Photograph by Jonatan Becerra via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Saturday Good Reads

This past week was the 156th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, considered one of the finest speeches in American history. In 1876, at the unveiling of the Freedmen’s Monument in Washington, D.C., Frederick Douglass paid tribute to both Lincoln and the speech.

Seth Lewis is an Alabama boy, who did something of a reverse migration – he left America and settled in Ireland. And he has some observations on what it’s like to be an immigrant.

Audiobooks are all the rage, but few people realize how difficult they are to record and produce. Tim Dowling at The Guardian talked with some of the stars of the “recorded book.”

The election season has long been upon, and it seems it never stops. Even before the impeachment hearings began by the House Intelligence Committee, most of us were already suffering impeachment fatigue. Bruce Ashford has some advice on how Christians can see through a politician’s distortion techniques (these actually can apply as well to how the news media cover news) and Michael Kelley discusses three commands the election season gives Christians the opportunity to obey (and it’s not bad advice for non-Christians as well).

More Good Reads


Memory, Love, and Eternity in Tennyson’s “In Memoriam” – Paul Krause at The Imaginative Conservative. 

For When My Sons Yell at God – Jacob Stratman at Kingdom Poets.

Life is Sweet – Gleb Zavlanov at The Chained Muse.

‘Theatre,’ ‘Opera,’ ‘Sculpture’ and Other Poems – Michael Coy at Society of Classical Poets.

Torso – V.P. Loggins at First Things Magazine.


Empathy is Tearing Us Apart – Robert Wright at Wired.

Robots to the Rescue? – Stephen Michael Crane at Orbiter Magazine.

On the Soviet virtue of cruelty: How the Great Truth Dawned – Gary Saul Morson at New Criterion.

American Stuff

The history of Arlington National Cemetery – Hugh Earnhart at Farm and Dairy.

The Roots of American Polarization – John Horvat at The Imaginative Conservative.


The Garden Unguarded – Matthew Cyr at The Rabbit Room.

Writing and Literature

Look, Latin Is Not Useless, Neither Is It Dead – Nicola Gardini at Literary Hub.

Blessed Assurance – CityAlight

Painting: Woman Reading at a Desk, oil on canvas by Thomas Anshutz (1851-1912).

Friday, November 22, 2019

Not the dogs

After Philippians 3:1-3

We are not the dogs,
not the evildoer; we
are separated from that
and more, the dogs
gobbling and scavenging,
consuming any and all
they find, breathing in
and inhaling what they eat,
evildoers mutating
themselves in faint
imitation of the remnant,
sounding an appeal
but delivering death.

Photograph by Smit Patel via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Five Mysteries: 2 Short Stories, 2 Novellas, and a Long Story

One of the benefits of the internet and digital fiction publishing is the ability to publish works of widely varying length, and have them stand on their own, without the surrounding imprimatur of a magazine, a web site, a journal, or a formal publication. This puts a burden o the author as well; your work isn’t going to tag along with works from other authors. Here are five recent mystery stories, of varying length, that I’ve read that can stand on their own.

Eighteen Months, a short story by British author Glenn McGoldrick, is one of the author’s “Dark Teesside” story series. By chance, a man sees a woman in a store and realizes she’s been released from prison, serving only 18 months of her sentence. Her crime: a hit-and-run, where she hit and killed a young man. This was the man’s son, and he begins to plot an appropriate revenge. It’s a chilling tale.

McGoldrick’s Redcar Collector is a dark tale about an unemployed man, downsized from his job, who’s having trouble finding a job. He’s walking along the beach when he finds a severed foot. His grown son advises him to tell the police, but he was ridiculed by the police before and wants no part of that. He decides to do something else.

Sherlock Holmes remains one of the world’s most popular detectives, and Craig Stephen Copland is doing his bit to keep that popularity going. He’s written some 30+ novellas starring Holmes and Dr. John Watson, and while they differ somewhat from Arthur Conan’s Doyle creation, they are close enough to stand as a solid tribute.

In Copland’s The Adventure of the Spectred Bat, Holmes and Watson are called upon (in the dead of night) by a young woman, whose sister has died and she herself attacked by what she describes as a vampire bat. As they investigate, they discover reports of attacks all over Britain, and they all seem to have something in common. The story mixes a bit of Holmes and perhaps a bit of Bram Stoker, or at least the feat inspired by Stoker’s Dracula

The Return of Napoleon has Holmes and Watson called to the ancestral home of Admiral Horatio Nelson, where his descendants are preparing for the 100th anniversary of the great victory at Trafalgar. The family is concerned about all the Nelson artifacts and possible theft; the young mother of the manor also doesn’t seem quite right, and relatives may be trying to gain control of her children and the estate. And then the game’s afoot, Watson, as family problems lead to something much more momentous going on.

The “mini-mystery” (or long story) of The Case of the Attic Door by Christopher Greyson is the first of the currently published eight works in the Finn & Annie mystery series (Greyson has also published a number of the Detective Jack Stratton mystery/thriller books). Finnian Church is a crime scene investigator, who is dealing with an artificial leg. Annie Summers is the new crime scene videographer, and she risks Finn’s ire by showing up late and then ignoring his commands for photos – until Finn discovers she’s deaf. 

They’re investigating a well-kept home, where the body of a man had been found in the upstairs hallways, and detectives were assuming it was a home invasion or burglary gone bad. Finn and Annie together figure out something else entirely had happened. It’s a fun story that shows you should never rely upon first impressions, either about people or crime scenes.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

"Not by Sight" by Kay Lyons

Navy SEAL Ian MacGregor thought he was helping his brother Duncan out when saved a kidnapped girl, but Ian was shot. During the surgery that followed, a blood clot went to his head, and now Ian is blind, frightened, and embittered.

Duncan turns to Bruce Dibbs, a family friend, for help. Dibbs suggests hiring his niece, Emma Wyatt, who works as a waitress in her father’s diner. Duncan can’t imagine what a pretty, 28-year-old waitress could do to help his binge-drinking and angry brother, until Dibbs points out what Duncan didn’t notice about the young woman.

She’s blind, too. When she was 14, an automobile accident killed her mother and left Emma without sight.

Duncan agrees, and offers Emma enough money for her to realize her dream of opening an animal shelter. But working with Ian is no walk in the park. Slowly, Emma begins to bring Ian out of himself. He discovers he’s falling in love with her, but how can he offer love to a woman he can’t protect?

Kay Lyons
And then there’s something bad lurking in the background, dogging both Emma and Ian. Bad things begin to happen. And family secrets are starting to ooze out from where they’ve long been hidden.

Not by Sight by Kay Lyons tells the story of Ian and Emma. It is the first of seven books in Lyons’ Stone River series, described as “sweet and clean romances.” Lyons has another series in the same category, Secret Santa. Under the name Ivy James, she’s published 11 “slightly sexier” romance stories.

Not by Sight is a heartwarming story about a man struggled with a sudden disability, a young woman who doesn’t let blindness stop her even as she experiences its limitations and problems, and how they eventually come to help each other. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

W.H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939” - The Biography of a Poem by Ian Sansom

British writer Ian Sansom has been working on a book about the poet W.H. Auden (1907-1973) for 25 years, and he finally published it. It’s ostensibly about a poem Auden wrote, a poem that Auden himself didn’t like very much. Sansom calls it September 1, 1939: The Biography of a Poem.

I say that it’s “ostensibly” what the book is about. It’s about the poem, and Auden’s life. It’s also about the author, the author’s life, and what happened during those 25 years he didn’t write the book about Auden. It’s literary criticism, too, but this book is unlike any kind of poetry analysis, literary criticism, or biography that I’ve ever read.  I don’t think I can tell you what that difference is, but I can show you.

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