Friday, July 23, 2021

What you've learned

After Ephesians 4:17-32

What you’ve learned,

assuming you’ve heard

anything at all,

assuming you were taught

anything at all,

is this:


Discard the old self,

owned by the past,

corrupted by desires,


embrace the new self,

with renewed minds,

accepting the image

in which you were made,

for which you were meant,

the life to which you

were called, a life

of righteousness, a life

of holiness.


Photograph by John Schnobrich via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

"The Man by the Sea" by Jack Benton

Slim Hardy is a private investigator. He operates in northern England, doing the kind of work private investigators usually do. Like what he’s doing at the moment – following a man whose wife suspects him of having an affair.  

But if it’s an affair, it’s one of the strangest Slim has ever seen. Every Friday afternoon, the man drives to a secluded bay – and speaks Latin poetry to the waves. And this goes on for weeks, until Chris manages to hide a transmitter nearby and tapes what the man is saying. A friend translates the words. The man is trying to exorcise a ghost.


This part of the bay has a reputation. A woman and a young girl both died here over the years, and the expressions on their faces suggested they had died of fright. Slim does his research, and discovers that a young woman, about to get married, was found dead in this very same stretch of rocky beach – some 30 years before. He digs deeper, to find what connections to living people there might be. As he steps into what looks like a horrific ghost story, he soon finds himself uncovering a long-buried tale of love and revenge.


Chris Ward, aka Jack Benton

The Man by the Sea
 by Jack Benton, a pseudonym for author Chris Ward, is Slim’s story. The first of six Slim Hardy mysteries, it keeps the reader guessing as to whether it’s a mystery, a ghost story, or some other kind of paranormal tale. (Slim doesn’t believe in ghosts, but he does begin to wonder.)


Chris Ward has published the Slim Hardy mysteries as Jack Benton, as well as numerous novels in the Tube Riders series, the Tales of Crow series, the Endinfinium series, the Fire Planets sage, the Tokyo Lost series, five Christmas novels, and two stand-alone novels. A native of Cornwall in the UK, he has lived and worked in Japan since 2003.


Things happen, and they happen fast, in The Man by the Sea. It has murders, attempted murders, car accidents, and arson. If you like a slightly off-beat mystery that will keep you reading, this is it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

"The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Sometimes, you’re remembered for your commercial failures rather than the books the critics celebrate.


In 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) published The Great Gatsby. Following the commercial and critical successes of This Side of Paradise (1920) and The Beautiful and the Damned (1922), Gatsby received generally favorable reviews from the critics, but it flopped commercially. Nine years passed before he published his final novel, Tender is the Night(1934). An uncompleted novel, The Last Tycoon, was finished by a friend and published in 1941. 


Yet of all his novels (and a multitude of stories and articles written for magazines), it is The Great Gatsby that is the best remembered and the book that made his literary reputation. And more than one critic has named it in the running for “the great American novel.”


Gatsby is both a novel of its time and a novel that captured its time. Its heart is a love story, one between a young soldier from a poor farming family in Minnesota and a Louisville debutante. But the love story, mostly existing in the past, only gradually unfolds. 


Jay Gatsby is an extremely wealthy man living in an opulent mansion on Long Island. Next door, in a small, rented house sandwiched between estates, lives Nick Carraway, the narrator of the story, a 30-year-old trying to make his way as a salesman in the bond market. Just across the bay is the home of Tom and Daisy Buchanan. Tom has inherited his wealth from his Chicago family; Daisy is a former debutante from Louisville who was wooed and sought after by man young men.


F. Scott Fitzgerald about 1921

Tom, despite his wealth, is something of a brute. He has little polish and considerable vulgarity; he’s also having an affair with the wife of the owner of the local gas station. The polish and manners seem to belong to Jay Gatsby, who throws ongoing lavish parties that people seem to invite themselves to. Rumors abound about the source of Gatsby’s wealth, including ties he has to the gangster who supposedly fixed the 1919 World Series.


Carraway is a cousin of Daisy, and Gatsby invites him to a party. What Gatsby really wants is to meet Daisy privately, at Nick’s house. He and Daisy have a past. 


Fitzgerald gradually builds the tension of the story, using Carraway as both an agent of narrative development and the recorder of events. The reader senses that this will not end well; some kind of tragedy seems to be inevitably unfolding. The surprise is what and how it happens – and who ends up being the character the reader admires the most.


There are numerous editions of the book available. The one I read was recently published by T.S. Poetry Press. With an introduction by poet Tania Runyan, it includes the full text of the story, historical context, fashion notes, vintage illustrations, and a Gatsby poem and poetry prompt. 


The Great Gatsby is a novel of the Jazz Age, a story of rich people whose main occupation seems to be drinking and entertaining themselves. It’s also a story of old money and new money, the decay of values, and the superficiality of what passes as society and celebrity. 

Monday, July 19, 2021

"Reading the Times" by Jeffrey Bilbro

I was trained to be a journalist; my undergraduate degree is in journalism. I was a reporter, news editor, and managing editor for my college newspaper. My first job out of college was with a daily newspaper in Texas. Even after I went into corporate communications, a significant part of many of the jobs I had was working with reporters. 

The journalism I read today in the newspaper or see on television news seems completely different from the journalism I was trained in. I can read almost any story, and I hear the voice of my toughest and best college journalism instructor handing back an assignment with an automatic F on it: “You write the news. Save your opinion for the editorial page.” 


For Christians, and even for the culture at large, the news has become increasingly problematic. It’s not so much the “news” of a news story as it is the 24-hour saturation of what is called news, the almost grotesque one-sidedness of how stories are written and produced, and how every story seems to become a flashpoint of political division. Everything you read in the newspaper seems filtered through a political lens. It has become far too easy to define life in terms of whether you love or hate Donald Trump. 


We may cancel our newspaper subscriptions and turn off television news and television talking heads, but the reality is that news is still important, not matter how badly or biasedly it’s reported. The challenge, and especially for Christians, is how to understand and respond to what’s presented to us as news. 


Jeffrey Bilbro

Jeffrey Bilbro
, editor-in-chief of Front Porch Republic, has an approach specifically aimed at Christians that might help us navigate the culture and the news that informs, shapes, and saturates it. In Reading the Times: A Literary and Theological Inquiry into the News, he considers insights from sources as diverse as Blaise Pascal, Wendell Berry, Henry David Thoreau, Thomas Merton, and Marc Chagall, among others, to show there is a better way than merely to embrace CNN/MSMBS/NBC/ABC/New York Times/Washington Post or Fox because one fits our particular view of the world.


Our view of the world should be something decidedly different. Key to this difference in how we understand and assimilate the news is the two concepts of time, both from Greek words. 


The first is kairos time, referring to “the propitious time, time that is right for a certain act—the time to plant or harvest a crop, for instance. Kairos time is rhythmic, cyclical, seasonal,” Bilbro writes. The second is chronos time, from which we get the word “chronological.” It’s the time we understand the best, because we live it, day by day. It’s time that’s linear and sequential, he says, and it is the time in which news is rooted. When the culture and daily life is engulfed by and obsessed with the chronological, it is the understanding and importance of kairos time that retreats and subsides.


Christians live with both concepts of time. Kairos time speaks to the eternal; chronos time speaks to the temporal. We know this; we know we live in this world but that we are not of this world. We often feel caught between the two – and we are. Our challenge is to understand which is more important, and which to store up our treasures within. And it creates tension, within ourselves, our families, and our churches. (A related concept is the one known as “the already-not yet”.)


Bilbro shows what confusing the two senses of time can lead to – the worship of the temporal, or secular, at the expense of the eternal, or sacred. Knowingly or not, we all do this. We worry that the moral underpinnings of the culture and society are collapsing, or that change to some imagined state of temporal perfection simply isn’t happening fast enough. And the news, with its social media handmaiden, is accelerating that division. It’s also resulting in the ongoing destruction of the idea of local community.


In addition to his work with Front Porch Republic, Bilbro is the author of Loving God’s Wildness: The Christian Roots of Ecological Ethics and Virtues of Renewal: Wendell Berry’s Sustainable Forms, and co-author of Wendell Berry and Higher Education: Cultivating Virtues of Place


Reading the Times is a thoughtful work and a vital work. It should appeal to the culture at large, but it is especially significant for Christians. We are supposed to be the lights in the darkness. Instead, we can get as caught up as everyone else in turning the lights out. 

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Old walk, new walk

After Ephesians 4:17-32

Old walk: futility of mind.

New walk: purpose, clarity.


Old walk: darkened understanding.

New walk: light in a dark place.


Old walk: alienated ignorance.

New walk: engaged relationship.


Old walk: callousness of heart.

New walk: compassionate education.


Old walk: sensuality and greed.

New walk: purity and charity.


Photograph by George Bakos via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Saturday Good Reads - July 17, 2020

Barry Meier, a reporter for The New York Times, has written a book entitled Spooked, in which he describes the mischief (and the wreckage) when the news media get caught up in the world of private spies – like they did with the Steele dossier. T.A. Frank at New York Magazine interviews Meier: “The Steele Dossier was a case study in how reporters get manipulated.” 

Way back in the Dark Ages, aka the 1970s and 1980s, I was a fan of the mystery novels of Dick Francis. His books invariable were set in hors- racing venues with horse-racing plots – and I was no fan of horse racing. But I was a fan of his books. John Fram at CrimeReads “discovered” the Francis mysteries, and he describes how they became the answer to a personal crisis and a mysterious illness.


Father Jonathan Tobias at Second Terrace loves the novel Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry, and he thinks you should read it, too (for the record, I agree with him).


More Good Reads




Hiding – Sonja Benskin Mesher.


Sonnet to William Wilberforce, Esq. – William Cowper at Kingdom Poets (D.S. Martin).


The Falcon’s Eyes – Joe Spring at Hoe Spring Writes.


A Girl in Her Own Words – Eustache Deschamps (1346-1406), translated by Margaret Coats at Society of Classical Poets. 




Standing with the Little Guys – Barry York at Gentle Reformation. 


Let’s Examine Our Motivations for Work – Hugh Whelchel at the Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics.


There’s Too Much Christian Content – Samuel D. James at Insights.


American Stuff


Don’t Take My Photograph! Incidents at the Dedication of the 44th New York Monument at Gettysburg – Sarah Kay Bierle at Emerging Civil War.


Making Missouri: Carving Out a State – Christopher Alan Gordon at Missouri History Museum.


Writing and Literature


Take a virtual tour of Walden Pond – Walker Caplan at Literary Hub.


Art Nourishes Community and Community Nourishes Art – Kyra Hinton at The Rabbit Room.


Writing as a Spiritual Discipline – Daniel Eaton at The Fight of Faith.


Life and Culture


China: Empire: What is China to us, anyway? – N.S. Lyons at The Upheaval.


The Inevitable Capitulation of Conservatism – Samuel D. James at Insights.




Intermission: The Green Martyrdom – Paul Kingsnorth at The Abbey of Misrule.


Those Were the Days – Mary Hopkin

Painting: Portrait of a Man Reading, oil on canvas by Jacek Malczewski (1854-1929).

Friday, July 16, 2021

The path to oneness

After Ephesians 4:1-16

It begins with speech,

or speaking, not merely

uttering words but

speaking truth in love,

which assumes careful

consideration of the thoughts

expressed and words spoken.

Speaking truth in love leads

to growth, growth in every way,

growth into the head, for it is

the head that makes the body

grow, the whole body, joined

and held together, each and 

every part it comes with,

and each part working

as it should, in harmony,

together as one.


Photograph by Lukas Vanatko via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

"Iron Island" by Gareth Griffith

Eleri Gwir, a Briton chieftain’s daughter, is sitting in a monastery, writing her history. She’s an old woman now, but she’s remembering her life when she was much younger, beginning when she returned from voluntary exile after the death of her father, her great love, and her people in a battle against Saxon invaders. She’s returning to the kingdom called Dyfneint, what today is called Devon. It’s 578 A.D., a year after the devastating Battle of Dyrham. 

Eleri is not only a chieftain’s daughter; she’s also a healer, someone in great demand in a perilous time of almost ongoing warfare. She knows the current king, Kadwy, and many of his officers and warriors. Kadwy is relatively young, as yet untested in battle, and he occupies a palace and a land full of intrigue and treachery. Eleri befriends Eilineth, a girl of 12 savagely disfigured by invaders or bandits, which are often interchangeable descriptions. And she befriends Morlais, a stable boy who’s a natural storyteller. 


The three soon find themselves involved in a planned deception by Kadwy, capture by the Saxons, and a daring escape. And a new battle looms, a battle that may mean final defeat for the Britons.


Gareth Griffith

Iron Island
 by Gareth Griffith is the sequel to Glass Island, the thrilling fictional account of the Battle of Dyrham. Griffith has a gift for describing battles and battle scenes, and both books place the reader squarely in the thick of the action. Eleri Gwir is the heroine at the center of the story, and Griffith draws a character who both understands the expectations for women in the period and resists conforming to those expectations. And Eleri threads her way through the story, telling a gripping account of the times, herself, her friends, and her enemies.


Griffith was born in Wales and moved to Australia. He’s been a teacher, researcher, and writer, and served as the director of research for the parliament of New South Wales for many years. He’s now focused on writing about Wales and the Dark Ages. 


Iron Island is historical fiction, but it rests on what is clearly extensive research by the author. The reader experiences the smells of the kitchens as much as the smells of battle. The story sits within from what is known of this period of British history, with its remnants of the fumes of Roman occupation, unknown tribes arriving and raging over the land, banditry, the growing presence of the Saxons, and the Britons desperately trying to defend what they have left. It’s a well-told and stirring story.




Glass Island by Gareth Griffith.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

"Watching Crows" by Glenn McGoldrick

Philip spends a lot of time watching the birds by the river. He watches mostly the crows and what they do with the crusts of bread he throws them. 

At home, things are not good. His wife is increasingly flaunting her lovers, reflecting her anger at not having children. She blames Philip for that. She refuses to get a divorce Because she likes the lifestyle. And he’s growing frustrated. Until he remembers the crows.


Glenn McGoldrick

Watching Crows” is another short story in the Dark Teeside series by Glenn McGoldrick. It’s a simple story and a dark story about a relationship with no future – and no present. But them there are the crows.


Writing since 2013, McGoldrick specializes in short stories. He’s worked for both land-based casinos and cruise ships for a time, basing many of his stories on those experiences. His stories are dark, gritty, often involve a twist, and inevitably open insights into the human psyche. And his characters run the gamut of good, bad, and something in between, and often find themselves moving far beyond the boundaries of acceptable behavior. He lives in northeastern England. 




“Yellow Feet” by Glenn McGoldrick.


Three New Dark Stories by Glenn McGoldrick.


“Six Down,” “Somewhere in England,” and “Dark Progresion” by Glenn McGoldrick.


 4 Stories by Glenn McGoldrick.


3+ Stories by Glenn McGoldrick.


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


The Dark Stories of Glenn McGoldrick.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Poets and Poems: Paul Willis and “Somewhere to Follow”

Poet Paul Willis sees life’s everyday, usually-passed-over-without-a-second-thought events, and he finds the sacred. It might be that scouting jamboree where you sit around a campfire singing “On Top of Old Smokey.” Or a football playing helping a tackled opponent to stand. Or young boys digging a hole in an empty lot because, well, they need to dig a hole. Or trimming back a tree grown too close to a building. Or hitchhiking a ride back to college, and only years later realizing that you spent a short time with a man who barely survived the Battle of the Bulge. 

The sacred can surprise you, and it usually does. And it often surprises you years later, because sometimes you see the sacred only years after you actually experienced it.


Somewhere to Follow is Willis’s new poetry collection. It’s filled with poems that tell stories of youth, of young adulthood, of family, of professional life, and of walking and hiking in Yosemite National Park. He writes with awareness of his own limitations and a wry sense of humor.


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

Sunday, July 11, 2021

The point is

After Ephesians 4:1-16

This walk, this oneness,

this training, all these

resources assembled,

all of this has a point:

achieve unity of faith,

achieve unity of knowledge,

become mature (i.e., grow!)

in the maturity of the ideal

of the One, leaving behind

the immaturity of childhood,

the tossing by every wind

and wave by every new thing,

passing fancy, human deceit,

human cunning, schemes

of men (and women too)

masquerading as truth

and light. That’s the point:

maturing enough to leave

all that behind as useless

and unnecessary and

downright counterproductive. 


Photograph by Jukan Tateisi via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Saturday Good Reads - July 10, 2021

One of the key settings in my novel Dancing Prince is a small island in the Orkneys, off Scotland’s northwest coast. It’s an archaeological dig, and what’s discovered is a Viking tomb, where no evidence of Viking habitation had been found. A bit to the east, in the Shetland Islands, what is believed to be a Viking town has been discovered. Life imitates fiction? 

If you’ve seen the movie The Monuments Men, you know the story of how a small band of art experts was created to recover the tens of thousands of artworks looted by the Nazis (the movie is based on the non-fiction of the same title by Robert Edesl). But did you know that the Monuments Men risked court martial by protesting what began to look like the looting of German museums by the U.S. military of a collection of masterpieces that toured the United States? Martin Bailey at The Art Newspaper has the story.


If you’ve experienced fatherhood (or grandfather-hood), you know the joy of holding that child for the first time. Lee Hutchings, writing at Gentle Reformation, experienced first-time fatherhood in a neonatal intensive care unit, and he talks about the lessons he learned. Casey Cep, writing at The New Yorker (of all places), talks about what happened when she read the Old Testament while she was pregnant.


More Good Reads


Writing and Literature


Mike Mulligan and the Work of Virginia Lee Burton – Kelly Keller at Story Warren.


Psst: Charles Dickens had the secret bookcase door you’ve always dreamed of – Emily Temple at Literary Hub.


The Art and Commerce of the Blurb – Tom Beer at Kirkus Reviews.


Laughing laureate of Western decline: Please take Michel Houellebecq’s mocking critiques of our debased modern world seriously – Ben Sixsmith at The Critic Magazine.


Life and Culture


Nostalgic for Events That Haven’t Happened Yet – Chris Martin at Terms of Service.


The death of the English literature degree – Alexander Larman at The Critic Magazine.


The Left’s War on Gifted Kids – David Frum at The Atlantic.


Abolishing tenure is the least of my proposals – Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution.




Take Up the Tale – Malcolm Guite.


Psalm from the Dollhouse – Carla Funk at Kingdom Poets (D.S. Martin).




If Not Twitter, Then What? – Samuel D. James at Insights.


The Foolishness of Preaching – Jonathan Landry Cruse at Tabletalk Magazine.




The Untold Story of the Expedition to Find the Legendary Ark of the Covenant – Brad Ricca at The History Reader.


British Stuff


All Change: The century that changed London forever – Miranda Malins at History Today.


American Stuff


The Appomattox (or Shenandoah) Parole Passes and Confederate Cavalry After Appomattox – Jon Tracey at Emerging Civil War.


The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face – Peter, Paul & Mary

Painting: Woman Reading, oil on canvas by Jacque-Emile Blanche (1861-1942).

Friday, July 9, 2021

Support logistics

After Ephesians 4:1-16

When we were called up,

and assembled into our unit

formed for basic training,

which could be and often is

rigorous and uncomfortable,

he didn’t leave us leaderless

or without resources.

We weren’t an army

without officers or leaders

or a supply train, 

a formless mass to be

tossed about by every wind

and wave. The call included

rather extensive resources:

apostles, prophets, evangelists,

shepherds, teachers, people

gifted to come along side

and lead the troops for the work

we were called to.


Photograph by Diego Gonzalez via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

"A Fatal Flaw" by Faith Martin

It’s 1960 Oxford, and what could be prosaic than a beauty contest? It’s a stunt to make money for a honey manufacturer, but the winner can go on to compete in the Miss Oxford contest, and possibly Miss World. The contestants pile in. 

One contestant is found dead from ingesting distilled yew berries in her orange juice. It looks like either suicide or a tragic mishap – beauty pagenat contestants are known for all manners of home and folk health and beauty aids to gain a potential advantage. But the reader of A Fatal Flaw by Faith Martin knows what the contestants and the police don’t know – someone is out to murder contestants, and the killer has the smarts to leave behind no evidence that a crime was actually committed. 


But the young woman helping to coordinate the pageant for her employer comes to PC Trudy Loveday of the Oxford Police, claiming the dead woman was simply not the suicidal type. Loveday, more as a favor to an old friend, goes to her frequent co-investigator in crime, coroner Clement Ryder, who just happens to be the coroner in charge of the dead woman’s inquest. 


And with precious little evidence, Ryder and Loveday gradually stumble upon a murderous plot, with motives originating the long-buried past.


Faith Martin

A Fatal Flaw
 is the third in the Ruder and Loveday mystery series by Martin. In addition to telling the story of the beauty pageant deaths, it continues the ongoing development of the young police constable being mentored by the aging and ailing coroner. Ryder quit his highly successful job as a London surgeon because he began to spot the beginning symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.


In addition to the Ryder and Loveday novels, Martin (a pen name for Jacquie Walton) has also published the series she’s best known for – the DI Hilary Greene novels, as well as the Jenny Sterling mysteries. Under the name Joyce Cato, she has published several non-series detective stories. Both Cato and Martin are also pen names for Walton. (Walton has another pen name as well – Maxine Barry, under which she wrote 14 romance novels.) A native of Oxford, she lives in a village in Oxfordshire.


A Fatal Flaw is a clever story on two levels. First is the story itself, and how Martin winds her way among all the characters who are the judges and contestants. And second is the development of the professional relationship between Ruder and Loveday. The Oxford Police in 1960 is no place for a young woman to develop a career, but Loveday is determined. And Ryder sees his investigating partner’s intelligence and potential, and he’s determined to help her.