Sunday, October 31, 2021

So it begins

After John 1:1-5

It begins with a word,

it begins with the word,

“word” implying speech

and thought, language

and understanding. And

more: this word is

in relationship,

relationship with God,

this word is God,

and all creation flows

through it.

This word is life,

this word is light,

the word shines

in the darkness,

a light to see,

a light to believe,

a light to defend 

against the darkness

it illumines.


Photograph by Jp Valery via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Saturday Good Reads - Oct. 30, 2021

One of the most difficult jobs today must be public relations for Facebook. The company has faced a long string of bad news. In 2016, it was blamed for helping to elect Donald Trump, but that charge turned out to dubious. (Seriously, $325,000 of Facebook ads made all the difference?) The most recent allegations are far more serious, because they’re based on leaks of actual company documents and the testimony of a whistleblower. Joshua Benton at Nieman Lab lists some of the more important revelations. David Murray at Writing Boots, however, makes a more important point: what’s wrong with Facebook is also what’s wrong with us. And Matthew Lesh at The Critic Magazine says that we forget that the ultimate threat to freedom of speech isn’t Facebook, but the government (which may help explain why our attorney-general is catching so much flak over his school boards letter). 

From a Christian perspective, it often seems that we are indeed living in the last days, and the Apocalypse is imminent. (For comparison, many the early Christians thought the same thing, living as they were in a decadent, authoritarian empire  hostile to attitudes and beliefs that ran counter to those of society’s elites.) Chris Thomas at The Ploughman’s Rest reflects on the concern and says we’re not at the gates yet.


I have my journal; so do countless other writers. A journal can function like a diary, but it’s both more and less than that. I don’t write my deepest fears it it; I use it to make notes, jot ideas, record references to things I need to check later, try out a first draft of a poem or beginning of a chapter. Maria Popova at The Marginalian describes how John Steinbeck used his diary (or journal): as a tool of discipline, a hedge against self-doubt, and helping him keep the creative pace going


More Good Reads




By Waterloo Station – Paul Freeman at Society of Classical Poets.


When I Was a Boy – Pennar Davies at Kingdom Poets (D.S. Martin).


Chasing the Man-Moth – William Logan at New Criterion.


Life and Culture


End of Part 1 and Intermission: The Machine Stops? – Paul Kingsnorth at The Abbey of Misrule.

How My Evangelical Childhood Prepared Me for the Great Awakening -- Samuel James at Insights.


The Tory Interpretation of History – Michel Connolly at The Imaginative Conservative. 


The Brevity and the Beauty – Chris Martin at Terms of Service.


This Valetudinarian World – Ken Colombini at Front Porch Republic.




Live Like You’ll Live Forever – Greg Morse at Desiring God.


Friendship: The Foundation of Paul’s Global Ministry – Caleb Greggsen at 9 Marks.


Writing and Literature


Discover the other Elizbeth Taylor – Malcolm Forbes at The Critic Magazine.


Is Amazon Changing the Novel? – Parul Seghal at The New Yorker.


Shop Talk: Michael Koryta Writes 1500 Words and Gets to Ring the Bell – Eli Cranor at CrimeReads. 


Cormac McCarthy, Cultural Memory, and the Mythopoesis of Fire – Jessica Hooten Wilson at Church Life Journal.


Why is Baseball the Most Literary of Sports? – Lincoln Michel at Literary Hub.


On reading – Tim Suffield at Nuakh.


Scars in Heaven – Casting Crowns

Painting: The Reader, oil on canvas (1888) by George Croegaert (1848-1923).

Friday, October 29, 2021

How things are done

After Luke 2:1-20

With a man’s ego it begins,

a king wanting to know

the extent of his power,

his reach, his grasp,

how many he rules,

how many can be taxed,

a dual vision and

a dual purpose,

but not the reason,

the fundamental reason.

The wheels of the machinery

of heaven begin to turn,

as census counters take

their positions in towns

across an empire, 

to accomplish a king’s will,

not knowing that they

begin the telling of the story,

the story orchestrated 

in tens of thousands

of towns, like tens 

of billions of stars and 

galaxies in a universe

where only one planet

matters, in an empire

where only one tiny town

matters, that this counting

of millions serves only

as backdrop to the drama

unfolding, unseen and

unremarked, in a stable

in the city of David.


Photograph by Jan Kronies via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

"Lightning Strike" by William Kent Krueger

William Kent Krueger is known for his wonderful coming of novels, stories like This Tender Land and Ordinary Grace. He’s also known for a considerable number of mystery stories featuring sheriff Cork O’Connor, Irish American on his father’s side and half Irish American and half Ojibwe Native American on his mother’s side.  

In his most recent novel, Lightning Strike, Kruger brings the coming-of-age story together with an O’Connor story, except the sheriff here is Liam O’Connor, Cork’s father. And the coming-of-age story is about 12-year-old Cork.


During a planned hike aimed at a Boy Scout merit badge, Cork and his best friend Jorge find a gruesome sight. In a well-known part of the Aurora, Minnesota, region where they live, a family friend and Ojibwe, Big John Manyworks, is hanging from a tree, an apparent suicide. Despite his troubled past, Big John didn’t seem the type to kill himself, but the evidence looks conclusive. Cork, however, is not convinced, and twice he sees a giant, menacing shadow that he believes is the spirit of Big John. 


William Kent Krueger

Cork’s father Liam undertakes an investigation. It still looks like suicide, but there are too many questions going unanswered. Gradually, Liam, with more than a little help from his son, discovers what wasn’t suicide at all but murder. And suspects abound: Big John’s half-brother Oscar; the richest man in town who owns the iron mine; and others. Cork takes counsel with an Ojibwe elder, who tells him to follow the crumbs. And it will lead Cork and friends right into deadly danger.


Krueger’s Cork O’Connor novels 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.


Lightning Strike deftly combines the conflict between white and Ojibwe cultures, the suspicions and mistrust of reservation people (including Liam’s own mother-in-law), a mystery of a staged suicide and a missing teenager, and the times of the early 1960s to create an intriguing, engrossing story. 




This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger.


Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger.


Tamarack County by William Kent Krueger.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

A Conversation about Journalism

We have to start talking about journalism in the United States, and specifically the decline of journalism. Newspapers, television programs, and online news sites have been talking for years about how to fix the problems of circulation, readership, viewership, and competition from social media platforms, but I don’t think they’re going deep enough. 

I’ve been working on a new fiction manuscript for some months now. The story is rooted in a community and the people who live there. An event happens that attracts the news media, both local and national. While the event and the role of the media are only a small part of the story, I’ve spent time researching news media, news, and how (and often why) certain event are covered.


This wasn’t a big stretch; my B.A. degree is in journalism, and I worked with journalists for most of my professional career in corporate communications. For three decades after I graduated from college, journalism remained recognizable. In 2003-2004, I was the director of communications for St. Louis Public Schools, amid a highly controversial reorganization. I dealt with journalists daily. I was interviewed daily, and usually by multiple reporters. (My first interview occurred 15 minutes into my first day on the job, when a TV reporter wanted a statement on a teacher sickout. I hadn’t even filled out my HR paperwork when I was standing before a camera.) 

To continue reading, please see my post today at Dancing Priest.

Photograph of The New York Times by Wan Chen via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Poets and Poems: Brittney Corrigan and "Daughters"

Poet Brittney Corrigan has produced one of the more creative and unusual collections of poetry. I’ve read. She’s imagined herself as a daughter of a broad array of individuals – historical figures, figures from mythology and folklore, and figures from fiction and fairy tales. In describing these imagined daughters, she’s provided insights into the relationships, the subjects, and the works, cultural environments, or historical periods in which they’re situated. 

What else do you call a collection like this but Daughters?


And then Corrigan takes her work an additional and large step further. Each of the 50 poems in the collection is six stanzas of six lines each. Try it for one poem, and then try it for 50. It is no easy task, and she pulls it off with wonder, creativity, a wry sense of humor, and deep understanding.

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

Monday, October 25, 2021

"Cloud Cuckoo Land" by Anthony Doerr

When you have a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and a spectacular commercial success like All the Light We Cannot See, the next book is going to be a challenge. From what Anthony Doerr says in the acknowledgements for his new novel Cloud Cuckoo Land, he had a rather intense struggle on his hands. He credits his wife with keeping him from throwing the manuscript out on five separate occasions as he worked on it. 

All the Light We Cannot See gradually fused together two separate stories, that of a French girl and a German boy, during World War II. Cloud Cuckoo Land uses that same approach – fusing separate stories that gradually merge. But this time, Doerr is managing three narrative threads, and they are separated by hundreds of years. It’s a more complex, and more ambitious, undertaking than his previous novel, and it requires close reading until the reader masters the threads. 


What binds the three stories together is an old, decayed codex, only parts of which have survived. The codex is a novel called Cloud Cuckoo Land, the subject of the ancient Greek play The Birds by Aristophanes. To live in Cloud Cuckoo Land is to live in a crazy, absurd place, where the impossible might happen, or you think it might, like being turned into a donkey, a fish, and a bird. People who believe in such a place tend to deny reality, or so we might think. The interesting idea running through Doerr’s novel is that Cloud Cuckoo Land is often the absurd reality we have to live within.


One narrative thread concerns Anna and Omeir. Anna is a young girl, an orphan living in the last days of Constantinople before the fall to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. She and her sister work in a a sewing shop, where young girls and older women sew and embroider, usually fine, threaded clothes for priests and the wealthy. Omeir is a young boy from the area that is now likely Bulgaria, pressed into service as a teamster when the family’s oxen are requisitioned by the sultan for the final siege of Constantinople. Anna finds an old, moldering manuscript in a ruined monastery, and it is the codex of Cloud Cuckoo Land.


A second thread centers on Zeno Ninis and Seymour Sturbridge, who live in present-day Idaho. Zeno is 86, with a hard-won gift for translating ancient Greek. When the Vatican Library announces the discovery of a new technology allowing scientists to decipher old codexes, and that it is putting one online, Zeno is thrilled, and he begins a translation. Seymour is 19, mesmerized and radicalized by an online personality, and he’s planning to blow up the town’s library, which sits adjacent to the major area property developer. Inside the library are Zeno and five kindergarten children, working on a planned production of Zeno’s translation of Cloud Cuckoo Land.


Anthony Doerr

The third thread is Konstance, a 10-year-old girl on board the spaceship Argus, traveling an impossibly far distance to reach a planet much like Earth. Earth has become almost uninhabitable. It’s sometime in the 2060s, or thereabout. Life aboard the Argus is highly regulated, centered on a central digital presence called Sybil, who’s wired into everyone and everything. Konstance’s father keep a blue-bound book by his bedside; the book is Zeno’s translation of Cloud Cuckoo Land. 


Two things you can be sure of with all three threads. Nothing is ever as it appears; reality can often be as absurd as anything in Cloud Cuckoo Land. Second, never to be underestimated is the power of books, or a book, to extend across centuries and bind people together is real, tangible ways.


Doerr won numerous prizes for All the Light We Cannot See, including the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, the Carnegie Medal, and the Alex Award. He’s also published two short story collections, Memory Wall and The Shell Collector, the novel About Grace, and the memoir Four Seasons in Rome. His other recognitions include five O. Henry Prizes, the Rome Prize, the National Magazine Award for fiction, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Story Prize. A native of Ohio, he and his family live in Idaho.


Cloud Cuckoo Land is, as Doerr acknowledges, a tribute to the power of books. It is also a very human story of people across centuries, unknown to each other but bound together by a book (or codex). It initially takes patience on the art of the reader to keep track of the threads and subthreads, but the reward for doing so is ultimately a rich one. 




Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Mary's song

After Luke 1:46-56

Her soul trembles as

it magnifies the knowing

of what’s been done,

a spirit rejoicing

within a girl, a peasant

of no account,

chosen to be,

chosen to bear.

And this girl knows,

and this girl sings,

a great thing has been done,

that great blessing flows,

that great mercy floods,

a generational grace is won.

She sees the new strength,

an unexpected power,

scattering the proud,

dethroning the mighty,

filling the hungry,

dismissing the wealthy, 


And this girl,

this peasant girl,

carries the promise made,

bears the promise kept,

for generations back,

for generations onward.

And so she sings.


Photograph by Janko Ferlic via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Saturday Good Reads - Oct. 23, 2021

The Art Institute of Chicago, one of my favorites museums, made news recently with the firing of all 122 of its docents, the volunteers who go through extensive training to lead groups and individuals on tours of the museum’s collections. These people are unpaid; they volunteer from a love of art, a desire to help the museum, and likely some philanthropic and personal impulses. They were dismissed, and told not to talk with the news media, because they apparently failed the museum’s diversity test. New Criterion (among many others) published an editorial about what it thought of the museum’s action: Education apocalypse now. 

The globalization chickens have come home to roost, and most of us are yet to discover what “supply chain issues” really mean. The roots of the problem go back decades and can be said to have officially started when Ronald Reagan embraced the idea of free trade. Subsequent presidents and assorted congresses) kept the ball rolling, to the point where just about everything sold in the United States comes from China or India or Southeast Asia. Like toys. And clothes, and manufactured goods. And every does of penicillin. And just about everything else. John Murdock at Front Porch Republic explains what Ronald Reagan, Sam Walton, and the Amish have to tell us about the problem.


John Banville is known as one of Ireland’s leading literary writers and also as the author of a number of detective novels. At CrimeReads, he turns his eye to a holiday horror: How Bram Stoker’s Dracula Became a Surprising, Deathless Classic.


More Good Reads




The Week Coleraine Stood Still – Warren Peel at Gentle Reformation.


Can We Make a Biblical Case for Limited Government? – Dr. J.P. Moreland at the Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics.


Silence is Not Violence – Craig Thompson.




The Generative Influence of Q on John’s Gospel – Brad Davis at Kingdom Poets (D.S. Martin).


Read Ezra Pound’s extensive revision to T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’ – Vanessa Willoughby at Literary Hub.


‘Ballade for His Lady Deceased’ – Charles d’Orléans, translated by Margaret Coats at Society of Classical Poets.


Eight Poems from Heine’s ‘Buch der Lieder’ – Sibyl Ruth at The High Window (Hat tip: Paul Brookes).


Writing and Literature 


Writing from Home: Lessons from a Novelist-Slash-Small-Town Newspaper Columnist – Nickolas Butler at Literary Hub.


How the “Victorian Mystery” Was Born – Otto Penzler at CrimeReads.


Ghostwriting (and the myth of the lone creative genius) – Alex Sujong Laughlin at Study Hall.


American Stuff


Fallen at Cedar Creek: Charles Russell Lowell – Sarah Kay Bierle at Emerging Civil War.


Felt As If a Horse Had Kicked Me – Chris Heisey at Emerging Civil War.


Life and Culture


Beauty is also contagious – David Murray at Writing Boots.


Hymn of Heaven – Phil Wickham

Painting: A schoolboy sleeping on his book, oil on canvas by Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725-1805).

Friday, October 22, 2021

Two moms

After Luke 1:39-45

The older sings

a song of praise

to see the younger come.


The older knows

the younger bears

a blessing in her womb.


The signal first,

the hint at once,

the leap for joy inside.


The tribute paid,

from old to young,

a joy so deep, so wide.


Photograph by Omar Lopez via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

"Death the Halls" by Adam Blumer

This is one Christmas that doesn’t go exactly as planned. 

Lauren Henry is arriving at her family’s cabin, preparing to celebrate Christmas. 

With her are her mother and grandmother; Lauren and her grandmother are barely on speaking terms after a spat. Soon to arrive are Lauren’s father and her boyfriend, veterinarian James Coleman, who’s meeting the family for the first time.


At the cabin, the three women discover intruders. Within minutes, Lauren’s mother and grandmother are lying on the kitchen floor, shot and presumably dead, while Lauren is speeding down the mountain on a snowmobile, a killer’s arms holding on to her waist. And the man claims to be her brother.


Adam Blumer

Death the Halls
 by Adam Blumer is a Christmas novella that you don’t want to start reading as you prepare to go to bed. You’ll want to find out what happens next, and so you keep reading. 

And you just may get yourself wired enough to have a sleepless night.


Adam is the author of Fatal Illusions, The Tenth Plague, and Kill Order. A print journalism major in college, he works as a novelist and freelance writer and editor after serving in editorial roles for publishers more than 20 years. He was the editor for my first two novels, Dancing Priest and A Light Shining. Adam lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with his family.


Death the Halls has a bit of romance in it, but it is more a combined thrilled and mystery. It may not get you into the Christmas spirit, but it’s definitely an entertaining read.





Talking about The Tenth Plague.


Adam Blumer’s Fatal Illusions


Talking to Adam Blumer about Kill Order.

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.