Friday, February 28, 2020

A storm

After Romans 1:18-32

Clouds build, darken,
threaten a storm; it
breaks, incessant power
and sound, a storm
of destruction, not
a natural storm, but
a storm of punishment,
of retribution, unleashed
against those embracing
ungodliness, those embracing
unrighteousness, those embracing
evil and calling it truth, suppressing
what is true, strangling what is truth.
A storm breaks,
and pours down.

Photograph by Lee Junda via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

"The Shipping Murder" by Roy Lewis

I never thought that a subject like marine insurance could be a fascinating topic. In the hands of former police office-turned attorney Eric Ward, it becomes exactly that.

A body is found floating near the Newcastle, England docks. It’s eventually identified as a first mate who signed on with a ship at a recent port of call. He had been working on a ship that sank in the Mediterranean.

This wouldn’t necessarily affect Eric Ward or his largely commercial law practice. Eric has another problem – his wife has to invest her inheritance, and her young lawyer has already lined up a commercial insurance brokerage. Eric doesn’t like the young lawyer, and he’s suspicious of the brokerage. Through an unlikely chain of events, he ends up on the board of one of the brokerage firm’s subsidiaries, one that acts more like a shell company for moving liabilities around. One of those liabilities is marine insurance, like for the cargo boat that sank in the Mediterranean. 

Soon Eric Ward finds himself battling crooks, shady executives who are borderline crooks, a retired gangster type who isn’t really retired, and what might be a rival for his wife’s affections. He takes some financial risks, and everything looks like it’s going to blow up in his face.

Roy Lewis
The Shipping Murder by British author Roy Lewis is the sixth in the Eric Ward mystery series, and it’s a top-notch tale of fraud, corruption, and murder.

Lewis is the author of some 60 other mysteries, novels, and short story collections. His Inspector Crow series includes A Lover Too ManyMurder in the MineThe Woods MurderError of Judgment, and Murder for Money, among others. The Eric Ward series, of which The Sedleigh Hall Murder is the first (and originally published as A Certain Blindness in 1981), includes 17 novels. The Arnold Landon series is comprised of 22 novels. Lewis lives in northern England.

The Eric Ward mysteries were first published in the 1980s and are now being republished. What you don’t ger are stories heavily dependent upon computers, mobile phones, and DNA analyses. Instead, you get a story that focuses on characters, plot, and enough twists and turns to make you think you’re examining a corkscrew collection. The Shipping Murder is a winner – and you learn a lot about the shipping business.


Wednesday, February 26, 2020

"William Wilberforce" by Kevin Belmonte

William Wilberforce (1759-1833) was born to a wealthy English merchant family. His father died when he was young, and for a time he was cared for by an uncle and aunt who were staunch Christian believers. His mother was concerned about their influence and brought him back into the immediate family. But a seed was planted, even if the soil looked unpromising for quite a number of years.

When Wilberforce did become a believing Christian, it was an event that would transform Britain and its empire. Against all earthly odds – fierce opposition, including from the king and the wealthy aristocratic class – the many who was small in stature but large in faith would lead the drive to end the slave trade and slavery in the British Empire. And he would undertake a reformation aimed at British morality that would transform British culture and society.

William Wilberforce: A Hero for Humanity by Kevin Belmonte is a biography worthy of the man. And it something of an unorthodox biography. Rather than a straight chronological account of Wilberforce’s like and deeds, Belmonte focuses the first part of the book on what the man called his “two great objects” – end the slave trade and reform society. The second part of the book includes biographical information, including information about his family and personal life.

A little unorthodox, yes, but it works. The reader gets the powerful account of the man’s accomplishments up front because those are what his life was so much about. And yet, Wilberforce was also a strong family man, deeply involved with the lives of his wife and children.

The critical account in the biography is what Wilberforce himself referred to as “the great change” – his conversion from nominal Anglican to devout Christian. It happened gradually over a two-year period and was the result, Belmonte writes, of a series of unlikely events. The man he asked to travel to the continent with him couldn’t go, and Isaac Milner, a believing Christian, took his place. The two had ample time for long, extended conversations about faith. A book on faith left behind by a cousin stimulated Wilberforce’s thinking. The discussions and the book led to a crisis in faith, forcing the man to grapple with what was happening in his life. He sought counsel from John Newton, the former slave trader turned minister and slavery opponent. 

The entire account is a compelling part of a compelling biography.

Belmonte is also the author of D.L. Moody: A Life (2014); Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life and Impact of G.K. Chesterton (2011); The Quotable Chesterton (2011); and John Bunyan (2012). Among other works. He received a B.A. in English from Gordon College, an M.A. in Church History from Bordon-Conwell Seminary; and an M.A. in American and New England Studies from the University of Southern Maine. The biography of Wilberforce won the John Pollock Award for Christian Biography, and he served as the lead script and historical consultant for the film Amazing Grace, which told the story of Wilberforce.

William Wilberforce succeeds on any number of levels. It’s is a solid account of Wilberforce’s life. It emphasizes the man’s great accomplishments. It puts those accomplishments into the right perspective; Wilberforce and his thinking influenced a generation of people on both sides of the Atlantic, including many of the American founding fathers. When you finish reading it, you simply say, “Well done, Mr. Wilberforce.” And well done, Mr. Belmonte. 

Related: Counting the Cost of Faith – my post on William Wilberforce at Literary Life.

Top painting: William Wilberforce about 1974, oil on canvas by Karl Anton Hickel

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Wisdom Literature: “Desert Tracings” - Six Arabian Odes

In the Arabian Peninsula before Islam (started 622 A.D.), Bedouin tribes roamed the land. With their roaming they developed a long, rich tradition of oral poetry. After the rise of Islam, many of the Arabian poetic forms were incorporated into the Koran and other Islamic writings. But as the writing of poetry shifted from the desert to the cities like Baghdad, Basra, and Aleppo, this oral tradition declined.

Fortunately, Islamic scholars copied and preserved the old poems of the desert, Michael Sells says in Desert Tracings: Six Classic Arabia Odes. Sells, a longtime professor of pre-Islamic and Islamic literature at the University of Chicago, has collected and translated six of the most famous Arabian odes. The collection opens a door to an oral poetic tradition little known in the West. 

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

Monday, February 24, 2020

Romancing the Cowboy: Three Sage Valley Ranch Novels

Romance novels have a host of sub-genres – historical romances, Amish romances, and Americans-find-love-in-Europe romances, to mention a few. One of the largest sub-genres, both in general and Christian romances, is that of the cowboy. 

The cowboy and the idea of the West loom large in the American imagination. From the colonial period onward, one of the major themes in American history is pushing westward. The idea of “Manifest Destiny” was first raised by President James Monroe in a warning to European powers not to interfere with America. The phrase itself was first mentioned by, no surprise, a newspaper editorial in 1845. But whether it was about destiny or opportunity or the desire to escape, both Americans and immigrants pushed and settled steadily westward. 

In the late 19th century, the “cowboy” as an archetypical American character emerged. The reality of the cowboy lasted some 40 years or so, but books and then movies turned the cowboy into a full-blown American myth. It’s a myth that still manages to hold on to a considerable number of our imaginations.

And if contemporary romances are any measure, the cowboy is alive and doing quite well, thank you, ma’am. Hundreds if not thousands of titles can be found that have the cowboy as the story’s hero. These stories can be standalone novels or novels in a series, usually centered on a ranch in places like Texas or Montana. For a series, a ranch offers a host of different characters with the potential for telling a host of different stories, with the ranch itself as the centering device.

The Sage Valley Ranch series is a good example. Set in the Texas Hill Country, some 300 miles from Houston, the series includes five books by five different authors. Obviously a coordinated group writing project, the series’ books have a few general characters in common and, of course, the ranch property itself. 

Romancing the Conflicted Cowboy by Crystal Walton, the first in the Sage Valley Ranch series, Callie Claston is a writer from New York with a mission. She’s written a cowboy romance, and a major critic has panned it, causing her publisher to withdraw the offer for a second book. She comes to Sage Valley Ranch with her friend Tricia to “soak up some atmosphere.” Tricia also manages to snag an article assignment for Callie – how to romance a cowboy in seven days.

The cowboy turns out to be Reed Allen, the veterinarian whose practice includes caring for the ranch’s horses and animals. Reed is a widower with three daughters, and he has a lot of baggage associated with the accidental death of his wife. The story moves from the funny to the serious, including some severe misunderstandings on the parts of both Callie and Reed.

Wrangled by the Watchful Cowboy by Tamie Dearen is the third novel in the series. Jessica Powell is a granddaughter of the ranch’s owner, and she’s home for summer break from college. Summer break also means a lot of work at the ranch, for which she’s grateful. Not only does it help her pay off her student loans, it also gets her mind off the former fiancée, a relationship that did not end well. Cord Dennison, one her brother’s best friends, is in town from New York City. His father has recently died, and he’s helping his mother sell the family property. He’s also helping Jessica’s grandparents with marketing and accounting; Cord works for a successful tech startup in New York.

He barely recognizes the girl he always thought of as his friend’s kid sister, and he’s instantly smitten. Jess has always had a crush on Cord, even if he never noticed her. But she’s resisting any romance before she graduates, and she’s still hurting from the former boyfriend. Cord thinks his future lies back in New York City, but that just might change. In addition to the romance, the reader also gets to learn a bit about bull riding and rodeos. 

The fifth novel in the series is Inspired by the Creative Cowboy by Bree Livingston, and the cowboy in the story isn’t really a cowboy but an artist. Summer Brown, another granddaughter of the ranch owner, has to restore a barn in three months in time for a wedding. The contractor she’s hired has skipped town with half of her money, and she’s desperate. Julian Wolf happens to overhear their conversation, and he volunteers to do the work. 

Julian is an artist in his late 30s and hails from a wealthy Houston family. He’s reeling from a major critic’s review of his last gallery exhibition, and he’s taking time away to clear his head. He knows some about carpentry, and he takes the project on. But he doesn’t say anything to Summer about his background or his family, setting up an inevitable conflict.

The two other books in the series are Falling for the Younger Cowboy by Liwen Ho and Charmed by the Daring Cowboy by Melanie Snitker. Fortunately, the books can be read in any order and independently of one another. The three that I’ve read are entertaining, fast-paced, and well-written, even if there’s an occasional bending of the definition of cowboy.

Top photograph by Priscilla Du Preez via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Long-distance romance

After Romans 1:1-17

It’s a romance, long-distance,
a longing to touch and join,
to encourage and exchange
gifts, a romance of faith
on both sides. It is 
a reciprocal romance, 
a desire to be together,
to share, to encourage,
to break bread, to be with,
enjoying presence,
enjoying communion.
The romance is more
than a desire, more
than a gift; the romance is
an obligation, joyfully met.

Photograph by Jamie Street via Unsplash. Used with permission.

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.


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.


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.


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,

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.


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.


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.


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.


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)