Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Poets and Poems: Dan Rattelle and “The Commonwealth”

Poet Dan Rattelle reminds us that there is more to the idea of “place” than geographic location. In The Commonwealth, a chapbook of 20 engaging and easily accessible poems, Rattelle accept and explores the broad definition of place – a living, breathing idea that embraces community, memory, people, family, friends, and the natural environment. In this broader sense, place becomes self-definition and self-identity. 

I read these poems and was prompted to do a count. Over the course of a lifetime, I’ve lived in 15 dwellings in six communities, which, compared to some, is only a faint echo of the famous rootlessness of post-World War II America. Yet if you asked me where my home was, my first thought is always New Orleans, where I spent almost all my growing-up years and where I often joined my mother’s large and extensive family rambling over the landscape. Yet I haven’t physically lived there in almost half a century.


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

Monday, June 28, 2021

"The Banished Heart" by Libi Astaire

Paul Hoffman is preparing to defend his doctoral thesis on William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. He’s been navigating his literature department with varying degrees of success and failure. Everything has become political, and even a 400-year-old play can be suspect. His advisor is in one political camp, the department head in another.  

Political violence erupts the day he is to make his defense; in fact, it happens just as his defense begins. Paul is verbally attacked by the department head and severely beaten by radical students. During a period of unconsciousness, Paul has a dream, in which he’s offered a choice. Stand for truth to make a difference, or die.


A story begins. It is a story of a young William Shakespeare, a boy in Stratford-on-Avon. He befriends another boy, whose family is ostensibly Christian and Anglican but are secretly Jewish. According to English law at the time, all Jews are banished from the kingdom. And it is the boy’s grandfather who begins to teach his grandson the Torah in secret. Young Shakespeare finagles his way into the studies, thing the Hebrew words and letters are a secret code.


From there, the story moves to Shakespeare’s London. The young boy is now a playwright of growing fame, one who’s caught the eye of Queen Elizabeth. Political events almost mandate that theater companies produce a play about an evil Jew. Shakespeare, remembering his childhood friend, is loath to do it. Eventually, he writes a play that makes the lead Jewish character seem human. It scandalizes the theater owner and Shakespeare’s patron. 


Libi Astaire

What does this have to do with Paul Hoffman’s decision? Paul is living in 1933 Berlin. Hitler has just been elected, and Nazi violence, like the famous book burning, is on the upswing. During his thesis defense, Paul, who is Jewish, is attacked by faculty and students espousing Hitler’s cause. And he faces a decision.


The Banished Heart by Libi Astaire is the story of Paul in early Nazi Germany and William Shakespeare in a London hostile to Jews. It’s an almost hypnotic tale of anti-Semitism, mob violence, and personal courage. That Astaire combines the two historical periods in one story suggests that she clearly sees parallels.


Astaire has also published the Jewish Regency Mystery series, the novel Terra Incognita, a set of the retelling of Chasidic tales entitled Choose Light!Day Trips to Jewish History: Essays, and The Latke in the Library & Other Mystery Stories for Chanukah


The Banished Heart is a moving story of hatred, violence, mobs, and the courage required to swim against the stream. And it holds many lessons for our own time. 

Sunday, June 27, 2021


After Ephesians 3:17-21

He’s inside, breathing
in the dwelling place,
and it leads to a rooting
and grounding, a rooting
in love, love nourishing
the comprehension,
the understanding (with
your brethren) of
what is the breadth,
what is the length,
what is the height,
what is the depth
of the love outpoured,
a love surpassing
knowledge and
intellect and power
and wealth and
possessions, a love
that leads to fullness
of the One.

Photograph by José Ignacio García Zajaczkowski via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Saturday Good Reads - June 26, 2021

There is one hymn, hands down, that is the most sung hymn in human history. It’s not the one that immediately comes to mind, either, but I sang it last Sunday during our church service. David Mathis at Desiring God has the story.  

I’m a member of the Facebook group sponsored by The Tolkien Society, an organization founded in 1969 to further the study and appreciation of the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s a good group, with fans contributing artwork, blog posts, cartoons, pictures of first editions, and other items that only we Ringheads would love and cherish. When I saw that the society’s annual seminar was coming up in July, and it would be online, I quickly turned to see what the agenda was. And it was a shock. Andrew Tettenborn at The Critic Magazine has a story and a link to the program page. (As far as I can tell, the seminar has not been promoted in the Facebook group.) (With good reason.)


As the father of two boys and the grandfather of three boys, a post by Michele Morin at Joyful Life Magazine caught my eye. The subject is not only overlooked today; it’s considered almost subversive to mention it in the culture we live in. Morin offers three lessons in how to teach leadership skills to your sons.


Brian Miller is a native Louisianian who lives and operates a farm in Tennessee. He has a keen eye for writing about why “local” is so important, in an era when “global” is the only thing that matters to our political and cultural elites. This past week, he wrote about the landscapes he rambled over as a boy growing up down in Cajun land, and what’s replaced them. 




Christian Nationalism in the United States – Samuel Sey at Slow to Write.


The End of Exile: The Old Testament as Cliffhanger – Matthew Patton at Tabletalk Magazine.


Preachers Gotta Preach – Kevin DeYoung at The Gospel Coalition.


How the Sabbath Prevents Work from Being the Meaning of Our Lives – Hugh Whelchel at the Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics.




Russian Poetry, an in-depth supplement – Belinda Cook at The High Window.


Longfellow’s ‘The Arrow and the Song’ Put to Music – Gunny Markefka at Society of Classical Poets.


Life and Culture


Four Big Questions for the Counter-Revolution – N.S. Lyons at The Upheaval.


Why I’m Leaving Mumford & Sons – Winston Marshall.


Republicans Are Not Responsible for the Democratic Party’s Crime Problem – Noah Rothman at Commentary Magazine.


Where Did the Coronavirus Come From? What We Already Know Is Troubling – Zeynep Tufekci at The New York Times.


American Stuff


Madison’s “Memorial and Remonstrance”: A Jewel of Republican Rhetoric – Eva Brann at The Imaginative Conservative.


British Stuff


Who runs Cambridge? The battle between truth-seekers and social justice warriors at the top of academia – James Orr at The Critic Magazine.


Writing and Literature


No one knows why Ambrose Bierce disappeared, but here are some theories – Dan Sheehan at Literary Hub.




A new Van Gogh work discovered hidden in a book – Martin Bailey at The Art Newspaper.


News Media


US ranks last among 46 countries in trust in media, Reuters Institute report finds – Rick Edmonds at Poynter.


Part of Me – Jenny & Tyler

Painting: Young Woman Reading, oil on canvas by Herman Jean Joseph Richir (1866-1942)

Friday, June 25, 2021

Naming and blessing

After Ephesians 3:14-21

One gives us our names,
and that naming implies
family identity and
ownership, or sovereignty,
if you will, from which
later turns into a waterfall,
a torrential downpour,
an antediluvian blessing
flowing directly into
our souls, so that 
the Son of One moves in,
and inhabits, dwells, and 
occupies our hearts,
cultivates our hearts,
rooting, grounding,
nurturing, growing
us in love.

Photograph by Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

"Dead of Night" by Stephen Puleston

The winter has been brutal. Investigating crimes and suspected crimes has Detective Inspector John Marco and his colleagues in the South Wales Police Service shivering and cursing the wind and snow. They come up against what it means to really shiver in the winter, with the brutal death of a homeless man that is clearly homicide. The victim is one of many of the people “living rough” in Cardiff, and while most city residents might turn a blind eye to the homeless ness problem, Marco is determined to treat this murder inquiry like any other. The dignity of the victim as a human being deserves no less, Marco believes. 

Early on, the investigation takes unexpected turns. Homeless people don’t like dealing with the police, but the ones who knew the victim seem especially wary. They also make themselves scarce, and they know where to go to stay out of the police’s sight. The problem is, the murderer also knows, and the homeless man died for a very specific reason – a reason that will lead Marco and his team into more murders, fraud, and corruption. 


Stephen Puleston

Dead of Night
 by Stephen Puleston is the fifth novel in the DI John Marco series, and it takes a decided turn toward social issues (like homelessness) far more than its predecessors. The reader sees homeless people through the eyes of a policeman who feels compassion for the people experiencing it as much as he feels anger toward the people who take advanrage of them – and sometimes kill them.


Puleston publishes two series of Welsh police detective stories. Detective Inspector Ian Drake is with the North Wales Police Service, and Detective Inspector John Marco is with the South Wales Police Service. The author originally trained and practiced as a; solicitor/lawyer. He also attended the University of London. He lives in Wales, very close to where his fictional hero lives and works.


Dead of Night is a solid police procedural as well as a good story. The reader experiences not only the occasional excitement of police detective work but the more common tedium of plugging away daily, chasing one lead after another, dealing with uncooperative witnesses and potential suspects, sleepless nights, and police headquarters politics. Puleston tells a good, gripping story.




My review of Written in Blood.


My review of A Time to Kill.


My review of Another Good Killing.


My review of Brass in Pocket.


My review of Worse than Dead.


My review of Against the Tide.


My review of Devil’s Kitchen.


My review of Dead Smart.


My review of Speechless.


My review of Nowhere to Hide.


My review of A Cold Dark Heart.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Poets and Poems: Carl Phillips and “Pale Colors in a Tall Field”

You read the poems in Pale Colors in a Tall Field by Carl Phillips. And you quickly gain the sense of walking into a dream. A vivid dream might happen in vivid colors, crowding out other, paler events and memories. But as Phillips suggests in his poems, those paler images are important, too. In their own way, even as they might recede, they shape not only what we dream, but who we are and how we live. 

That’s the soul of this collection, a dream journey into memory reality, and identity. Phillips works the soft whites, the pale blues, and the light greens, the colors we might often forget but also the ones that make possible what comes after.


It’s difficult to select one favorite poem from this collection. It’s a slender volume of 34 poems, poems that seem deceptively quiet and thoughtful but which also can pack a punch.


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

Monday, June 21, 2021

“The Pieta in Ordinary Time and Other Stories” by William Cook

Dark stories, dystopic stories, and how people fight with and respond to dark and dystopic times – these are the stories of The Pieta in Ordinary Time by William Cook. These are also stories that make you question even thoughts, beliefs, and events that are neither dark nor dystopic. 

In “The Last Refuge,” A man is desperate to get to his family in Seattle, even though he knows a terrorist bomb has destroyed the city. But he has a problem of identity: he is Muslim, like the bomber. In “Drum,” a boy is given a Christmas present that drives his parents crazy. “Oyster Drill” tells the story of a woman, away from her family for years, visits a dying brother. “The Copilot” is the story of many whose life is defined by missed opportunities.


Other stories concern a hitchhiker with serious problems, a fishing trip that goes awry, a woodpecker that is slowly driving a homeowner mad, a child who’s visited by the voices of angels, a young man who unwittingly entraps his politician father, a singer who bores her audiences, a serial killer who keeps showing up to confess his crimes to a priest, a soldier with PTSD who sees a winery as an enemy fortification to be taken, a father and son trying to deal with the consequences of an automobile accident, and more.


William Cook

The title story is a moving tale of a mother desperately trying to come to grips with the death of a wayward son, and she finds a way forward through a memory of visiting the New York World’s Fair in 1964 and seeing Michelangelo’s Pieta in the Vatican Pavilion.


Cook is a former seminarian and mental health worker who has turned to writing. He’s published one previous short story collection, Catch of the Day (2018); the novel Songs for the Journey Home (2014); and four novels in the Driftwood Mystery Series. He lives in Oregon.


Be provoked, be occasionally shocked, be surprised, be thoughtful and moved – these are the emotions evoked by the stories of The Pieta in Ordinary Time.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Every family named

After Ephesians 3:14-21

Every family in heaven,
every family on earth,
or, in shorthand, 
all creation, is named
from One. Odd statement,
noted before, as in being
above every name named,
now, before, and after,
into the age to come. It has
a literal meaning, as in
every family, all of us, and
it has an implied meaning,
as in, everything for all time.
A simple phrase with
a simple meaning, and
a complex phrase with
a complex meaning.
Naming also implies
name it and own it. 
We hear our names
called, like in the garden,
and we tremble.

Photograph by Tyler Nix via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Saturday Good Reads - June 19, 2021

A commonly used phrase during the time of the pandemic was “Follow the Science!” – and heaven help you if you even expressed a tentative doubt about the reigning orthodoxy on COVID. If you were so foolhardy, you could be banned by Twitter, suspended by Facebook, abused by the news media, or canceled by Google. Now we learn that it wasn’t so much “Follow the Science!” as it was “Obey the Scientist – or Else!” Author Mike Duran questions this “cult of the expert,” and says we need to question scientists, academics, researchers, and journalists – and do it routinely.   

BBC News (of all people) had the audacity to disclose what a lot of people have been noting privately – that most diversity training is ineffective, and despite that, it won’t go away


Samuel James has been writing a series of thoughtful articles about faith and cultural engagement. His most recent post, “Our Cultural Engagement Needs More Heaven,” is a good example. 


More Good Reads




Life with a Star – J. Hoberman at Tablet Magazine.


News Media


The Media Didn’t ‘Get It Wrong’ On Lafayette Park, They Lied to America — And They’re Still Lying – Christopher Bedford at The Federalist.


What makes a news story trustworthy? Americans point to the outlet that publishes it, sources cited – John Gramlicj at Pew Research.




Meditation – Gillian Allnut at Kingdom Poets (D.S. Martin). 


Of Schools, Movements and Manifestos: Where Are the Poetry Wars of Yesteryear? – Stephen Kessler at Los Angeles Review of Books.


‘No Letters’ and ‘Decay Again’ – James Sale at Society of Classical Poets.


Writing and Literature


C.S. Lewis’s Role in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ – Harry Lee Poe at Crossway.




The Most Notable Effects of the First and Second Great Awakenings – Thomas Kidd at For the Church.


The Ark of the Covenant in its Egyptian Context – David Falk at Biblical Archaeology.


Prolegomena to Poetry – J. Brandon Meeks at Mere Orthodoxy.


Sometimes I Think I Hear Singing – Andrea Sanborn at A View of the Lake.


Christians, Beware the Blame Game – Carl Trueman at First Things Magazine.


Life and Culture


“Cancel Culture” and the Great Men of the West – Mark Malvasi at The Imaginative Conservative. 


Dear Mom: A Letter on Time – Doug Sikkema at Front Porch Republic.


Is He Worthy / Agnus Dei / We Fall Down – Maverick City

Painting: Portrait of Victor Segalen, oil on canvas (1909) by George-Daniel de Montfried (1856-1929). 

Friday, June 18, 2021

I am a steward

After Ephesians 3:1-13

I am a steward, 
a minister entrusted
with a gift, chosen
to bring the gift,
to bring the light,
to those previously
cut off, walled off.

I am a minister,
not through education
or training or merit
of my own, but only
through the gift
of grace given me.

The task set before me:
to preach those those
previously unreachable,
to bring the gift
into the light for all.

And if I suffer,
it is by grace.
And if I suffer,
do not lose heart.
And if I suffer,
rejoice in the gift
that is yours.

Photograph by Markus Spiske via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

"A Fatal Mistake" by Faith Martin

It’s 1960, and Trudy Loveday, almost 20, is a woman police constable, or WPC, in Oxford. That is, a probationary WPC because she’s still learning on the job. Her bosses and colleagues at the police station don’t like the idea of a woman policeman; they think she should be doing filing work and bringing them tea and coffee. But WPC Loveday is bright; in fact, she’s brighter than almost everyone she works with. And she’s determined to succeed at her chosen career. 

She has had the good fortune of working with one of Oxford’s coroners, Clement Ryder, 57, on a case where they solved a murder. Ryder sees Loveday’s potential, and he knows she won’t get the mentoring she needs. So, he takes her under his wing. A former celebrated surgeon in London, Ryder learned he was developing Parkinson’s disease. He quit performing surgeries and get himself a coroner position. Most of the Oxford policemen can’t stand him because he’s smart, relentless, and isn’t afraid of calling them out when they deserve it. They’re all more than happy to let WPC Loveday work with him.


It’s a case of what looks like accidental drowning during an end-of-term celebration by a group of students. The problem, for Ryder, at least, is that, when called to testify at the inquest, all of the students are vague about the dead man being there, and vague in the same way, as if they’ve been coached. Ryder suspects something’s not right, and he leads the coroner’s jury to return an open verdict, meaning he’ll continue to investigate. With the help of WPC Loveday. 


And when they start turning over rocks to find out what happened, the coroner and the young WPC will find all manner of sleaze – and a murderer. 


Faith Martin

A Fatal Mistake
 is the second of seven Ryder and Loveday mystery novels by Faith Martin, and it’s every bit as good as its predecessor, A Fatal Obsession. It’s a mystery, a bit of social history (when women were first breaking into police work), and one good story.


In addition to the Ryder and Loveday novels, Martin 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 a number of non-series detective stories. Both Cato and Martin are pen names for Jacquie Walton. (Walton as 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 Mistake is about rotten personalities, prejudice against women, ruthless ambition, and a coroner trying to disguise his growing physical affliction. And murder, of course.




A Fatal Obsession by Faith Martin.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Was Tolkien Only Influenced by the Middle Ages? Holly Ordway Says No.

Holly Ordway takes issue with some of the received wisdom about J.R.R. Tolkien. Specifically, she rejects the notion that Tolkien saw nothing of merit of anything written after the Middle Ages, that his Middle-earth saga was influenced only by literature and history prior to Chaucer. In Tolkien’s Modern Reading: Middle-Earth Beyond the Middle Ages, Ordway respectfully disagrees, and makes her case. And a compelling case it is.  

The Cardinal Francis George Fellow of Faith and Culture for the Word on Fire Institute and a visiting professor of apologetics at Houston Baptist University, Ordway received a Ph.D. in English from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and is a subject editor for the Journal of Inklings Studies. She’s published two previous books, Apologetics and the Christian Imagination: An Integrated Approach to Defending the Faith (2017) and Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms (2014). She’s written numerous articles and chapters of anthologies on Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, literature, philosophy, the Inklings, and related subjects. 


In studying Tolkien and his writings, Ordway discovered that the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings read deeply and widely, and not only about the Middle Ages.


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

Monday, June 14, 2021

"Tamarack County" by William Kent Krueger

It begins with a murder. A 70-year-old woman in Tamarack County, Minnesota, is driving home on a cold, snowy day. As she pulls into her long, winding driveway, she sees someone she knows, kneeling in the snow. Minutes later, she’s dead. Her car is found miles away, but she’s believed at first to be missing. 

A beloved dog is killed, and his head is missing from the body. Two teenagers are followed by a mysterious pickup truck and eventually run off the road, nearly dying. All of these incidents seem unrelated and random, by former sheriff and now private investigator Cork O’Connor begins to sense connections. 


O’Connor has his own personal problems. His great love has gone to Arizona to help her son. His youngest daughter unexpectedly returns home from her Catholic religious order, refusing to say anything about why she’s home. His teenaged son is smitten with a new love. And O’Connor himself finds himself attracted to the mother of his son’s new girlfriend.


William Kent Krueger

Tamarack County
 is the 13th Cork O’Connor mystery by William Kent Krueger. Reading the 13th mystery novel in a series of 18 a bit disorienting, because you quickly realize there’s considerable back story. Krueger does well, however, to write the book so that the disorientation is kept to a minimum. It’s a fascinating story, with the reader kept wondering (and reading to find out) how all of these seemingly disparate events (and crimes) can possibly be connected.


Krueger’s Cork O’Connor series are all set in the North Woods of Minnesota. He’s also published three standalone novels: Ordinary GraceThe Devil’s Bed, and This Tender Land. He’s received a number of awards and recognitions, including the Minnesota Book Award, the Loft-McKnight Fiction Award, the Anthony Award, the Barry Award, the Dilys Award, the Friends of American Writers Prize, and the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. His last nine novels were all New York Times bestsellers. Krueger lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.


Krueger has created an engaging, sympathetic hero in Cork O’Connor. He’s a flawed man, but he’s instinctively the kind of man we want around in a crisis – or a crime spree. Tamarack County is so good that I plan to go back and read the first 12 in the series.




This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger.


Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger.