Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The persecution twist

After Romans 12:14

Revenge and retribution

are out. When persecution

comes (and it’s inevitable),

pray for your persecutors,

and bless them. This isn’t

about an eye for an eye,

or one-upmanship or scoring 

one on the opposition,

or making them look

foolish or hypocritical,

even if they are. They do

just fine on their own,

thank you very much, 

and there’s no need

to pour lighter fluid

on their bonfire. Even

if you have the upper

hand, love them, love

your enemies, love

your persecutors, 

bless them,

pray for them.


Photograph by Elijah M. Anderson via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Poets and Poems: Mark Johnson Cole and “Four Texas Quartets”

Mark Johnson Cole loves the poetry of T.S. Eliot. And he loves his state of Texas. And while undoubtedly many Texas share a love of Eliot’s poetry, Cole may have done something unique. He married Eliot’s Four Quartets and Texas history and current events to create Four Texas Quartets. In a time when poetry is being revitalized on Instagram, when novels are being written in poetic form, and collections and even Poetry Magazine often mash up poetry with art and photographs, Four Texas Quartets is a creative standout. 

A native Oklahoman but reared in Texas and currently living near Houston, Cole holds seven degrees. He’s been a working attorney and a local government official. He studied German and then philosophy in graduate school. He studied law and theology in New England, Germany, Liechtenstein, London, and the Midwest. 


Over time, he says, he discovered that philosophy was becoming less personally important and poetry becoming more so. He discovered the poetry and prose of Eliot and the importance of “his thought in the history of the culture of the West.” And from there he began to study writers like John GravesWendell BerryJ. Frank Dobie, and Larry McMurtry.

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

Monday, October 18, 2021

“The Animals in Our Lives,” Edited by Catherine Lawton

If we didn’t have a pet as a child or an adult, we can likely think of animals that left an impression, often a major one. The childhood dog I remember the best was Skipper, a collie-German shepherd mix who was one of the most loving dogs I’ve known. He arrived at Christmas when I was six, and he became a playmate, a friend, a companion, and many times a big tease. 

The Animals in Our Lives: Stories of Companionship and Awe is a collection of pet stories, written by various authors and assembled and edited by Catherine Lawton. It includes 43 stories of dogs, cats, farm animals, unusual pets, and wild animal encounters.


You’ll meet Shelly, the dog who helped Lawton work through empty-nest syndrome; Bogar, the dog who lived through the Holocaust; Grace the therapy dog; Bob the angel cat; the sheep who behaved like a pony; a peacock who served as a sign; the cows who served as the audience for a prayer meeting; singing crickets, Dostoevsky the iguana, and Bo Bo the Hedgehog (who brought cheer and hope to a boy during the Chinese Cultural Revolution), among many others. 


Catherine Lawton

Most of the accounts are stories, but poems are also included. “Heartwarming” is an overused word; these stories and poems are that, but they also serve to encourage, to cheer (and cheer up), and to strike a note of wonder at the ways animals of all kinds find their ways into our lives and our hearts. 


The founder of Cladach Publishing, Lawton is the author of several books – two poetry collections (Remembering Softly: A Life in Poems and Glimpsing Glory); the non-fiction book Journeys to Mother Love; Face to Face, a novel; and the children’s story Something is Coming to Our World. She received a B.A. degree in English from Pasadena College / Point Loma Nazarene University and has worked as a teacher, church musician, editor, publisher, and speaker. She lives in Colorado.


The Animals in Our Lives is a small gem of a book. It reminds us of the animals in our own lives. It certainly reminded me of the animals on my own life, like the spaniel who slept at my feet while I wrote two novels and the bald eagle who flew alongside me while I was biking along the Missouri River. The collection of stories and poems is a delightful reminder of how pets and wild animals can both bring joy into our lives.





Glimpsing Glory: Poems by Catherine Lawton.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

The peace within

After Psalm 122

The peace of Jerusalem

is a thing to be sought,

a thing to be prayed for,

a thing offering safety

to those who love

the city, this city set

apart. It is not the walls,

or the towers, or the houses,

or the streets that define

the city, this city; it is

the people, the people 

whose loves secures

the city, the people

whose peace creates

the city’s defense. And

this peace is corporate,

this peace is individual,

for what is held in common

is held within each heart,

cherished within each person.

To seek good for this city

is to seek good for each person

within it.


Photograph by Gerald Schoombs via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Saturday Good Reads - Oct. 16, 2021

I was a subscriber to Christianity Today for more than 25 years. Over time, I grew increasingly uncomfortable with its slow drift away from Christian-centered principles and its tendency to imbibe increasingly from the world’s secular cup. A year ago, I’d had enough, and, sadly, I canceled my subscription. Mark Galli, a former CT editor, wrote something on his Substack site closely related to my concern: The State of Evangelical Leadership.  

In a related vein at First Things Magazine, Carl Trueman, echoed that and went further, The Failure of Evangelical Elites. Thomas Kidd weighs in on the Trueman article at The Gospel Coalition. All three make sobering reading; what’s happening in the secular world of America is being duplicated among evangelicals. And the only way to say this is that our elites are failing us. Bradley Birzer at The Imaginative Conservative adds his concern and asks, is the American Republic dead?


Mark Twain is known as America’s humorist. But he was a deeply troubled man, one who dealt with numerous family tragedies and business setbacks. Jon Tracey at Emerging Civil War discusses Twain’s own internal civil war


Facebook is the social media platform everyone loves to hate, and the tech giant does often seem to go out its way to offend people and do really dumb things (like temporarily banning the satire site The Babylon Bee because it thought it was fake news). Luca D’Urbino at The Ecconomist wrotes that Facebook is nearing the reputational point of no return, with consequences for all of us.


More Good Reads




Nobody’s Perfect (Yet): Introduction to The Home Team – Clint Archer at The Cripplegate. 


The Genius of Jesus’s Teachings – Andrew Wilson at Think Theology.


That Are Not of This Fold – A.W. Workman at Entrusted to the Dirt.


Fisk Jubilee Singers continue to sing spirituals 150 years later – Adele Banks at Urban Faith.


Writing and Literature


Dante is the Elephant in the Room – Angela Alaimo O’Donnell at Church Life Journal.


Children’s books: take them seriously – Editorial at The Guardian.


Tony Hillerman and the Invention of Jim Chee – James McGrath Morris at CrimeReads.




Eighty years after his death, weapons experts now say Kirchner’s suicide may have been murder – Catherine Hickley at The Art Newspaper.


Stunning $30m Van Gogh watercolour resurfaces at Christie’s New York following complex behind-the-scenes deal – Martin Bailey at The Art Newspaper.




Epiphany, 1937 – George Seferis, translated by David Mason, at The Hudson Review.


Poem with a Refrain from LeRoy Chatfield – Frank Bidart at Literary Hub.


Dusk and My house is one fire – Sonja Benskin Mesher (and artwork with each poem).


How to Read Seamus Heaney (Part 1) – Andrew Roycroft at The Rabbit Room.


Life and Culture


An Education That Turns on Affection – Alex Sosler at Front Porch Republic.


British Stuff


What are universities coming to? A specter is haunting British student politics: the specter of the pro-life movement – Sebastian Milbank at The Critic Magazine.


Gabriel’s Oboe – Andre Rieu

Painting: The New Novel, oil on canvas (1877) by Winslow Homer (1821-1896).

Friday, October 15, 2021

Thanksgiving and judgment

After Psalm 122

Odd to think of a city

with a dual nature, 

as if you were telling

two tales of one city.

It was first bound

together, this city,

bound together firmly,

with purpose and intent.

It is a city for giving

thanks, offering

thanksgiving, a destination

reached by a journey,

the place containing

the house, the object

of the journey to the city,

to offer the giving

of thankfulness. And

it is the place of thrones,

where the thrones are set,

the thrones of judgment,

the thrones of the king,

thrones bound together

in judgment, bound 

together in thanksgiving,

judgment and thanksgiving

bound as one.


Photograph by Sander Crombach via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

"Blind Defence" by John Fairfax

Barrister Will Benson is defending a particularly obnoxious client accused of murder. The client is a borderline small-time hoodlum, prone to use his fists, once accused of beating a policeman senseless but inexplicably released and not brought to trial. He’s now accused of killing the young woman he’d lived with for years. She was found hanging by her neck, a blood orange jammed into her mouth. 

Benson has his own deep issues to deal with. Convicted for a murder he said he didn’t commit, and serving 11 years of his sentence, he changed his plea and obtained an early release – and promptly became a barrister, causing no end of consternation in London’s legal and political establishment. An anonymous benefactor has backed him, providing him with funds to obtain his license, set up his practice, and even buy a houseboat, where he lives on one of London’s canals. Benson himself doesn’t know who the benefactor is. 


He’s already had one spectacular jury trial, defending someone everyone thought was guilty (Summary Justice). In this current case, even the DNA evidence says his client committed the murder, not to mention motive, opportunity, and how many times the client has lied to police. Benson has to raise the idea of the victim being a possible suicide, at least sufficient to raise a reasonable doubt. 


John Fairfax, aka William Brodrick

With the help of his legal solicitor Tess De Vere and his loyal office staff, Benson soon finds himself embroiled in a case with roots in organized crime, police corruption, and his own old demons from prison. And the Cabinet-level minister of Justice is pulling out the stops to destroy him, and Benson doesn’t even know it.


Blind Defence (British spelling) by John Fairfax is the second of the Will Benson legal thrillers, It is so engrossing that the reader finds himself on the edge of his seat, holding his breath as he wonders what will happen next. It’s a story in which nothing is ever what it seems to be, with an defending attorney whose fight for his clients is saturated with his own guilt and innocence.


John Fairfax is the pen name for British writer William Brodrick, the author of the Father Anselm mysteries. Under the Fairfax name, he’s also published Summary Justice and Forced Confessions. Brodrick was a friar in the Augustine order before he became a barrister and a writer. The Father Anselm mystery A Whispered Name won the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award in 2009. Brodrick lives in France. 


With Blind Defence, Fairfax has produced a story in which the supposed upholders of law and justice often compromise themselves, villains can emerge from the dark at a moment’s notice, and the ghosts of past crimes return to haunt the living. Including the barrister.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

No pretense

After Romans 12:9-13

Some instructions for the journey,

starting with love, the greatest

of all instructions. No pretense,

people; love genuinely,

from your heart. Hate evil

and hold on to the good

for dear life, your dear life.

Love each other; let your affection

overflow with each other. Honor

each other, because each of you

is made in the same image. Honor

and cherish it, and each other. Hope

is always there, so rejoice and

celebrate it. When trial comes,

endure them, and endure them

with each other. And pray, people,

like all the time. Help each other.

Open your homes, open your doors.

We are family.


Photograph by Gabriella Clare Marino via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Poets and Poems: Ada Limón and “The Carrying”

In The Carrying, the fifth collection of poems by Ada Limón, the poet takes the commonplace and turns it into a meditation about the personal. It might be a dog’s leash, a cemetery visit, a snowy day, a blue jay, roadkill, or a street overpass. She sees the obvious things that we all see but looks beyond or inside them to see far more, grasp more, and understand more. 

That dog’s leash provides an occasion to consider warfare, power, and restraint. Seeing a dead animal on the side of the road becomes a discussion with the doctor at the fertility clinic. The flash of a blue jay’s wing leads to a reflection on always making big deals out of everything. 


And the image of birds screaming in and flying around nearby trees leads to the meaning, if any, of reaching middle age.

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

Monday, October 11, 2021

"Philip Roth: The Biography" by Blake Bailey

The first thing you notice about Philip Roth: The Biography by Blake Bailey is the size of the book – more than 800 pages of biography. Add the acknowledgements, the footnotes, and the index, and you have almost 900 pages. If there was ever meant to be a definitive biography of the American author of 31 works, including Goodbye, Columbus and Portnoy’s Complaint, this is it.  

That it is the authorized biography by Roth himself, giving Bailey access to files, archives, letters, and friends’ interviews, also helps explain the breadth of the book. Bailey covers Roth’s life, and especially his publishing life, in detail. The fact that Bailey keeps the story interesting and engaging is due to both the biographer’s skill and Roth himself. 


Published earlier this year, Philip Roth received widespread and enormous critical praise – until accusations of sexual harassment, assault, and impropriety were leveled against Bailey (including via The New York Times). Eventually, the controversy led the publisher, W.W. Norton, to announce it was stopping the shipping of the book. Bailey had just run smack into cancel culture. At last report, no criminal charges had been filed against Bailey. The author has denied the accusations.


The biography tells Roth’s story – and it is indeed Roth’s story. That said, it is also a factual and objective story. The Philip Roth in these pages is the Philip Roth who was a major literary figure in American letters for more than half a century, winner of both a National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize. And it is the Philip Roth, the flawed man who made bad marriages and was unfaithful to his wives. He moved in literary circles, and at times the biography reads almost like a who‘s who in American literature. People like Norman Mailer, Saul Bellow, William Styron, George Plimpton, Wallace Stegner, Bennett Cerf, John Updike, Francine du Plessix Gray, Alfred Kazin, Bernard Malamud, and many others move through the story. So do celebrities like Claire Bloom, Roth’s second wife, and Mia Farrow, Roth’s close friend.


Blake Bailey

To read the story of Philip Roth is to read the story of American literature in the second half of the 20th century. And Roth’s importance can’t be underestimated. He broke literary taboos. He influenced countless writers. He helped shape the course of literary culture for two generations. And Bailey more than does justice to that story, describing each of Roth’s works and how they were received both critically and popularly. 


The biography also covers the influence of Roth’s Jewish-American roots and family. Many of his novels were about Jewish-American characters, and his work more than once offended Jewish readers and religious figures. Roth considered himself an atheist and was not observant in the Jewish faith. He also visited Israel several times and met with leading political and cultural figures in the country. He was also close to his family and especially his older brother.


Bailey has published biographies of John Cheever, Richard Yates, and Charles Jackson. He’s received numerous literary awards and recognitions, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Award in Literature from the American academy of Arts and Letters, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Francis Parkman Prize from the Society of American Historians, and others. He lives in Virginia. 


In short, Philip Roth is a masterful biography, and Bailey has accomplished likely even more than Roth himself would have hoped for. The Roth who emerges here is a complex and complicated man, capable of both spite and extreme generosity and well aware of his failures and shortcomings. 

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Days like grass

After Psalm 103

Our days are like grass,

short, sometimes spectacular,

sometimes not, but no matter

as all grass withers.


We are a flower in the field,

Exquisite, beautifully wrought,

springing from a small seed

bursting alive, then decline.


What we have,

before grass withers,

before flower fades,

is only this:

the steadfast love of the Lord.


Photograph by Francesco Ungaro via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Saturday Good Reads - Oct. 9, 2021

The Facebook app Instagram has been credited with a serious revival in poetry. Poets such as Nikita Gill, r.h. sin, Rupi Karr, Neal Sehgal, and others often have hundreds of thousands of followers who not only like their posts but also buy their books. Instagram ha clearly had a major impact on the reading (and buying) of poetry. Kyle Chayka at The New Republic asks a different but related question: has Amazon changed fiction? 

How to make yourself the election issue: Billionaire George Soros is the political right’s favorite villain. He gives money to leftist causes and candidates, and many people argue that his giving is sparked by a hatred of the United States (he does hold U.S. citizenship). And he and his various organizations have contributed to the elections of numerous city prosecuting attorneys in St. Louis, Philadelphia, Chicago, and other places. (The one in St. Louis is so controversial that even the progressive St. Louis Post-Dispatch routinely calls her out for office turnover, legal missteps, and bad policy decisions.) And now Soros has gone a step further – he’s contributed $500,000 to fight a ballot measure in Austin, Texas, that would require certain levels of police staffing. The contribution was made after the deadline for submitting contribution reports, which meant it wouldn’t be included in the final published report before the election. 


Big Tech censorship is a hot discussion item, and Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube often seem to go out of their way to make stupid decisions (mistakes) guaranteed to get conservatives mad. Chris Martin at Terms of Service turns his attention to another group that sees censorship lurking behind every smile of Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg – Christians. And Mart argues that censorship isn’t Christians’ biggest social media problem.


More Good Reads




‘The Shepherd Who Remained in the Fields’ and ‘On Falling Asleep While Praying’ – Duane Caylor at Society of Classical Poets. 


Poetry and Holding the Center – Glenn Arbery at The Imaginative Conservative.


The Test – A Spoken-Word Poem – Seth Lewis.


Snow Moon over Singer Island – Paul Mariani.


Life and Culture


Wendell Berry and Rebuilding Rural Communities – James Decker at West of 98.


Autumnal Reflections on America – Mark Malvasi at The Imaginative Conservative.


The classroom culture war – Frank Furedi at The Critic Magazine.


The sorrows and occasional joys of speaking while masked (and being spoken to) – David Murray at Writing Boots.


Writing and Literature


My Life as a Ghostwriter – Jonathan Kay at Quillette.


On the Invention of Fiction – Lee Child at CrimeReads.




Redemption Gives Us a Glimpse of True Shalom – Hugh Whelchel at the Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics.


The Stubborn Love of Imagination – Millie Sweeney at Story Warren.


Cultural Christianity Gave Us the Golden Age of CCM – Samuel James at Insights.


American Stuff


The Key to Richmond – Edward Alexander at Emerging Civil War.


The Boone Family, the Struggle for Kentucky, and the Kidnapping That Rocked Colonial America – Matthew Pearl at CrimeReads.




Desperate and in hiding, Afghan artists beg international community for help – Sarvy Geranpayeh at The Art Newspaper.


Lessons from Kabul – Robert Kelbe at Gentle Reformation.


This is My Song (Finlandia) – VOCES8

Painting: Portrait of Fred Uhlman, oil on canvas by Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948).

Friday, October 8, 2021

The resume

After Psalm 103

Credentials, qualities,

accomplishments, strengths:

all the usual categories

for a resume. But then

it’s submitted for review

and your consideration:



Heals diseases.

Redeems your life.

Crowns you with love

   and mercy.


Renews your strength.

Provides justice.

Transparency (another way 

   of saying: makes known

   his ways.



Slow to anger.

Abounds in love.

Shows grace to the undeserving.



Definitely not the usual,

or the expected.


Photograph by Marcus Winkler via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

"With or Without Me" by Esther Maria Magnis

When she was 15, Esther Maria Magnis learned that her father had terminal cancer. He was given anywhere from three weeks to three months to live. 

Magnis was the middle child of the family, with an older sister, Steffi, and a younger brother, Johannes. The three of them spent the next two years (their father lived longer than the doctors’ prognosis) trying to be supportive, dealing with their own pain, supporting their mother, and often taking care of themselves as their parents tried everything to find a cure, including traveling to doctors and clinics both in Europe (the family lived in Germany) and the United States. 


But With or Without Me: A Memoir of Losing and Finding, translated by Alta Price, is not so much a cancer journey as it is a story of a faith journey. Magnis had had faith as a child, lost it as a young tee, and then struggled, and struggled mightily, once the family knew her father’s diagnosis. 


This is a journey that is often raw, angry, hopeful, searing, sacred, and profane – and often all at the same time. Magnis would come to cling to God even as she screamed at him, doubted his existence, and raved and ranted at him. It’s not an easy story to read, but then it was almost an impossible story to live. 


Esther Maria Magnis

Several years after her father’s death, her beloved brother Johannes was diagnosed with melanoma. Things looked promising after a surgery on his face; they doctors had gotten it all. But there was more to come, and she would eventually lose him as well.


Most of us can’t even imagine a journey like this, the pain of losing both a father and a brother to a harsh disease that seems to offer no pity or respite. She experiences when it didn’t even seem like she was enduring. “If God is love,” she writes, “it’s a kind of love I do not understand.”


Magnis, born in 1980, studied comparative religion in Germany and Italy and has worked as a journalist. She now lives and works in Germany. 


With or Without Me is intensely personal. It will tear at your heart, mind, and soul. It will bring you to tears. And it will astonish you with its honesty and depth.