Monday, January 31, 2022

"In the House of Tom Bombadil" by C.R. Wiley

Tom Bombadil is one of the most curious of characters in The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. His scene with the four hobbits, early in the trilogy when they are first leaving the shire, almost seems displaced. In the movie version, director Peter Jackson eliminated it altogether. And the singing Tom, along with his wife Goldenberry, have prompted debate among critics and fans alike, many believing that Tolkien should have cut him from The Fellowship of the Ring


Not so fast, says C.R. Wiley. In what is perhaps the most insightful (and relatively short at 112 pages), Wiley argues that Tom Bombadil has a purpose and a meaning, but like all good mysteries, “the truth” the Tolkien’s character will always remain a mystery. Wiley’s In the House of Tom Bombadil is an absolute gem of a discussion.


Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin meet Tom Bombadil in a scene fraught with danger. They have just left the shire and entered the Old Forest. They discover that the trees, and one in particular, aren’t taking kindly to the intrusion, swallowing one hobbit, and almost swallowing a second, when the larger-than-life Tom Bombadil arrives on the scene. The tree is rebuked and promptly coughs up the two hobbits it was capturing. Tim is a master of the Old Forest, and he clearly exercises dominion. But what is he about?


C.R. Wiley

Wiley suggests that, to understand Tom, you need to understand the idea expressed in the biblical Book of Genesis about man being given dominion over nature. And you need to understand it in the way it was intended, essentially the idea of stewardship, and not as it’s often misinterpreted (domination, pillage, and destruction). To explain Tom’s wife Goldenberry, Wiley turns to fairy stories about the spirits of water. Using Tolkien’s other writings about both Tom and fairies, Wiley makes a solid and compelling case in a highly readable style. 


A pastor and former college professor, Wiley has also published The Household and the War for the Cosmos (Canon Press), and the first book in his young adult fantasy series, The Purloined Boy (2017). His short fiction has been published in The Mythic Circle and elsewhere. His articles have been published by Touchstone Magazine, Modern Reformation, Sacred Architecture, The Imaginative Conservative, Front Porch Republic, National Review Online, and First Things, among others. Wiley is a board member of the Academy of Philosophy and Letters, as well as New Saint Andrews College. He lives with his family in the state of Washington. 

In the House of Tom Bombadil is an excellent addition to the canon of literary criticism about Tolkien and his works, and it gives the often overlooked character his due. And who knew literary criticism could also be fun?  

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Are you serious?

After Luke 14:25-33

Before you follow,

know the cost. And

there is a cost, always.

Can you walk away

from your parents,

from your spouse,

from your children?

Can you give up

the life you live now?

Can you bear a cross?

Can you accept the hate

and anger of those whose

ears burn when you speak?

Can you pray for those

who hate you, persecute

you, lie about you,

ridicule you, hurt you

with words, hands,

sticks, and stones?

Can you first

count the cost?


Photograph by Jordan Steranka via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Saturday Good Reads - Jan. 29, 2022

Paul Kingsnorth is a British novelist and writer living in Ireland. I’ve reviewed his novel Beast and two of his poetry collections. I have, but have yet to tackle, his novel The Wave, which is written in neo-Anglo-Saxon (really). Known for his green environmentalism, Kingsnorth became a Christian, and has written about faith and belief. He has a site on Substack called The Abbey of Misrule, some of which is available for free and some by subscription. He’s been writing about what he calls “The Machine,” what he sees as the confluence of culture, technology, government, and consumer society. I’m a subscriber, and I look forward to each article he writes. His most recent subscriber-only article is “The Migration of the Holy,” and it is marvelous.  

My love for T.S. Eliot’s poetry goes back to high school, when I first read The Love Song of J, Alfred Prufrock and especially Four Quartets. Speechwriting as a career brought me to Dylan Thomas, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams (not the emphasis on the so-called “modern” poets). I still read a lot of poetry, and Leland Ryken at Desiring God may have explained why: poetry can awaken wonder.  


These days, poetry can also awaken culture war controversy, as British teacher Kate Clanchy discovered when she was edited a new edition of the poems from her students she’d collected over the years. She explains what happened


More Good Reads


Writing and Literature


The Tranquility and Wisdom of Old Books – Alan Jacobs and Joy Clarkson at Plough.


Why You Need to Read Fiction to Write Fiction – Lincoln Michel at Counter Craft.


Life and Culture


I’m a Public-School Teacher. The Kids Aren’t Alright – Stacey Lance via Bari Weiss at Common Sense.


On trial for a Bible tweet: Finnish MP’s case could set a precedent for “unacceptable” beliefs across Europe – Kittie Helmick and Sofia Hörder at The Critic Magazine.


Firing the Canon: On the persistence of bad ideas – New Criterion.




Bach in Heidelberg – Lionel Willis at Society of Classical Poets.


In Paris and Beyond – Merrill D. Smith at Yesterday and today (H/T: Paul Brookes).


Don’t Fight the Shadows – Seth Lewis.


The Demons of the Night – Peter Hartley at Society of Classical Poets.




An Antidote to Anxiety – Clint Archer at The Cripplegate.


The Countries Where It’s Most Dangerous to Be a Christian in 2022 – Joe Carter at The Gospel Coalition.


The God of Mercy in a Time of Plague – Cyril O’Regan at Church Life Journal.


What to Do with News: Learning Wisdom at Walden Pond – Jeffrey Bilbro at Desiring God.


A Message for Young Men – Tim Challies.




Unfinished? Don’t Start! A new project to restore Beethoven’s incomplete symphony borders on pathological necromancy – Norman Lebrecht at The Critic Magazine.


Agnus Dei – Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith


Painting: Vittorino da Feltre (1470s) by Justus van Gent (1410-1480).

Friday, January 28, 2022

Clicking on like

After Luke 14:25-33

The crowds follow,

both for the miracles

(the fish, the healings)

and to see the elites

confounded (what will

this man say next?). 

They are drawn to the light,

but he knows their hearts,

ready to click on “like”

and go to the next miracle,

the next post, the next fad,

the next trending topic,

the next juicy gossip 

masquerading as news.

He stops. He turns. 

He asks, what if clicking

like means hating your

parents or children, or

giving away your 401K,

or walking into an arena

of hungry lions? Would

you still click like?


Photograph by Annie Spratt via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

"Death in Transit" by Keith Moray

We’re back in the Hebrides with Inspector Torquil MacKinnon. Astronomers and astrologists from all over are arriving in West Uist, where MacKinnon and his police team are based. People are coming to experience what’s called the “transit,” when Mercury aligns with Venus and the other planets are in close alignment as well. 

More than the usual rivalry between the groups seems to be at play. The astrologists consider themselves more advanced and free-thinking; the astronomers are more than irritated at what they see as unscientific nonsense about how planets affect people’s behaviors. They all attend a lecture but one of the leading astrologists, a woman with a Ph.D. in astronomy who’s embraced the astrological side.


Words are said. And then more than words. The woman’s body is found floating in the harbor the next morning, and the autopsy shows she was bludgeoned from behind and then fell, or was dumped, into the water.


Keith Moray

MacKinnon and his team get to work. He’s dealing with the usual interference from his boss in Scotland, suspects who kept avoiding telling all of what they know, and a newspaper editor and reporter who think they can solve the mystery themselves. And then there’s a second murder.


Death in Transit by British author Keith Moray is the fifth of six Torquil MacKinnon mysteries. It’s a good story, highlighted by the astronomy-astrology rivalry, but it seems a bit choppy in places and a few surprise developments that come out of left field. But it reads well, and Moray leaves enough hints for the reader to begin to identify the killer.


In addition to the Inspector MacKinnon novels, Moray has also published three historical novels, The Pardoner’s CrimeThe Fool’s Folly, and The Curse of the Body Snatchers; non-fiction books (under the pen name Keith Souter); and several westerns as Clay Moore. When he’s not writing, he practices medicine as a part-time doctor and medical journalist (he studied medicine at the University of Dundee). He lives in Yorkshire in England.





The Gathering Murders by Keith Moray.


Deathly Wind by Keith Moray.


Murder Solstice by Keith Moray.


Flotsam & Jetsam by Keith Moray.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

The Convergence of Social Media and Big Media

A work colleague in a Latin American country sent an email, asking for help. A manufacturing plant had been proposed, and while most people wanted it, a small number of radical environmentalists did not. There had been protests, road blockades, and rallies. And then, when it appeared that both the company and the authorities were going ahead, the ante was raised. 

Using anonymous Twitter accounts, the protestors targeted the company’s spokesman. Scores of people were tweeting. A bounty was placed on the spokesman head -- $5000 US was being offered for the spokesman dead or alive. And the tweets included his home address.

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

Photograph by Olivier Bergeron via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Poets and Poems: Donna Hilbert and "Threnody"

Poet Donna Hilbert has something to say about the idea of lament. And like the fine poet she is, she says it in poetry.


A lament is a poetic type inspired by deep, personal grief. The poetry of lament is as old as poetry itself, cording to the Encyclopedia Britannica, developing alongside the oral tradition of heroic poetry. And it’s found in most languages.


Examples of lament poetry have been found in ancient Sumeria, in Homer, in Roman literature, and in Anglo-Saxon England. Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Man of Laws Tale” in The Canterbury Tales is a lament, as is John Milton’s “Samson Agonistes.” Wordsworth, Keats, and Shelley wrote lament poems, as did Sir Walter Scott and Thomas Hardy (“The Darkling Thrush”). With In Memoriam, Tennyson may have written a lament epic. Dylan Thomas and Pablo Neruda wrote poems of lament.

Hilbert, in Threnody: Poems, her new collection of 62 poems, continues that tradition of lament, demonstrating that the modern lament is as contemporary as its older and ancient predecessors.

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

Monday, January 24, 2022

"Murder for Money" by Roy Lewis

A reporter for a scandal-sheet newspaper is found dead in the entrance hall of the home he was renting in Yorkshire. He’s been beaten to death with a poker. At first, the murderer seems obvious – the outraged common-law husband of a local barmaid.  

But as Inspector John Crow of Scotland Yard investigates, that neat (and easy) solution looks less and less certain. Crow begins to consider why the reporter was in Yorkshire, why had had hired a car and chauffeur to drive him all over the region, and why a local tramp seemed to know more of what was going on than he possibly should.


Roy Lewis

Murder for Money
, the fourth Inspector Crow mystery by Roy Lewis, takes Crow and his assistant Detective Inspector Wilson into the murky area of Nazi war criminals, CIA and British secret agents, and secrets long buried in the past. And that original neat, easy solution to the crime becomes anything but.


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


In this fourth Inspector Crow mystery, Lewis continues to develop his detective, adding more information both about his work, his background, and his private life. The solution to the mystery turns out to be considerably more surprising than the actions of an angry husband.




A Lover Too Many by Roy Lewis.


Error of Judgment by Roy Lewis.

A Cotswolds Murder by Roy Lewis


Sunday, January 23, 2022

Hothead speaks truth

After Matthew 16:13-20

Asked the question

who do you

say I am,

it is the hothead

who answers first.

The Christ. The Son.

The Son of the Living God.

And for this act of faith

revealed not by human

understanding but by spirit,

by confession,

Simon becomes Cephas,

Cephas becomes Petrus,

Petrus becomes stone,

the foundation stone

upon which will be built

the body, the ones

called out from the crowd,

the ones who will tear

down the gates of hell,

the ones holding

the keys of heaven.


Photograph by Barrie Johnson via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Saturday Good Reads - Jan. 22, 2022

In recent weeks, many major media have published articles about what they see as a looming civil war in the United States – the real thing, not just red and blue sniping at each other over stolen elections or potential stolen elections. Not so fast, says journalist James Pogue, writing at UnHerd, pointing out that there’s much that the major media overlook or don’t understand.  

In a similar vein, a lot of conservative media have been publishing stories about the creating of the wokeness wave, that wokeness has run its course and a self-correction is underway. Not so fast, says N.S. Lyons at The Upheaval; the revolution isn’t over.


If you were asked where most writers might fall on the political spectrum, you would probably not be far off to say liberal / progressive / radical. Micah Mattix at The Spectator has a different take, and he writes about writing’s conservative impulse


More Good Reads


Life and Culture


What Secularization Did to the Self – Angela Franks at Church Life Journal.


Why I Dislike the Word ‘Capitalism’ – Dr. Anne Bradley at the Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics.


Enter the Metaverse: Unlike the Internet, the dawning digital environment promises autonomy from the physical world– Bruno Maçães at CityJournal. 


The global war on religion – David Landrum at The Critic Magazine.




Five Things I Learned as a Pastor’s Kid – Samuel James at Insights.


Good Bad Art and Bad Bad Art – Jonathan Rogers at The Rabbit Room.


Vulnerable conversation with TobyMac about grief and loss – 99.1 Joy FM.


3 Simple Ways to Flatten Your Neighbor – Trevin Wax at The Gospel Coalition.


Writing and Literature


Don Quixote: Saintly Knight – Brittany Guzman at The Imaginative Conservative.


Crossing the River Zbrucz: A short story by Isaac Babel, translated by Peter Constantine – Narrative Magazine. 


Mapping fiction: the complicated relationship between authors and literary maps – Veronica Esposito at The Guardian.




The port – Sonja Benskin Mesher.


Lockdown – Caitlyn Venniker at Society of Classical Poets.


To the Reader -- Vijay Seshadri at Literary Hub.


American Stuff


7 Iconic Figures of the American Frontier – Kyle Hoekstra at History Hit.


News Media 


Bitter Fruit: Marshall McLuhan and the Rise of Fake News – Graham Majin at Quillette.


I Just Called to Say I Love You – Pentatonix

Painting: Maid Reading in a Library, oil on canvas by 
Edouard John Menta (1858-1915).

Friday, January 21, 2022

The city of Pan

After Matthew 16:13-20

It is the city of Pan,

and of Baal before that,

a city replete with statues

to worship, now the city

of Caesar, of the deity

of man and self, this city

of Greeks and Syrians and

a dash of ruling Romans,

a gentile city. It is here

that he asks them

who he is, who do people

say he is. Answers vary:

the reborn cousin, the man

who rode a chariot of fire,

the prophet sawn in half

for speaking truth.

He persists: 

But who

do you 

say I am?


Photograph by Sarah McCutcheon via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

When Journalism Began to Change

When I read Breaking News: The Remaking of Journalism and Why It Matters Now by former editor of The Guardian Alan Rusbridger, I was struck with how much his experience at the newspaper tracked with my own experience in corporate communications. The worldwide web and what followed was upending his world at the newspaper at the same time it had begun to change mine – and for the same reasons. We began to deal with it earlier, while The Guardianand other newspapers were affected more quickly, but we were grappling with many of the same issues and at roughly the same time (1995-2015). 

I left corporate communications for a time – almost four years. I felt worked to death, spun off, and finally laid off, and I was done. I set up my own consulting firm, and I was focused on two areas of communications – writing speeches and community relations. In late 2003, a friend dared me to apply for the top communications job at St. Louis Public Schools, which I did, thinking I’d never hear anything. I was wrong. They called, I interviewed along with nine others (we were all told to report at the same time and sat in the same room until we were interviewed). I got the job and started work the next morning.

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

Photograph by Markus Spiske via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

"Discipl-ish" by Mike Duran

Mike Duran took an unconventional path to Christian faith and ministry, but it was “unconventional” only in the sense that it wasn’t the usual coming-to-faith “cartoon” that’s presented as common to all believing Christians, as in, “I was a sinner, and I was saved one night.” 

What Duran’s memoir, Discipl-ish: My Unconventional Pilgrimage thru Faith, Art, & Evangelical Culture, conveys more than anything else is how coming to faith lasts a lifetime. It includes breakthroughs, setbacks, problems, upheavals, victories, discouragement, and growth. Faith is life, and it’s messy and hard and sometimes painful, but it is also unbelievably rewarding.


Duran was raised in the Catholic Church, including attendance in Catholic schools and serving as an altar boy. But he always had a rebellious steak, a streak that took him at a relatively young age into drugs, the occult, and delinquency. What he didn’t know then was that he was on a pilgrimage to Christian faith.


He describes how he first experienced the call to faith; how he discovered gifts he didn’t know he had, like teaching and preaching; the churches he attended, including a heavy metal church; how he became and served as a pastor and how he left the pastoral ministry; and how he rediscovered ministry through working at a painting company, construction work; and becoming a maintenance painter at the local public school district.


Mike Duran

He casts an honest eye on himself and the people who influenced his pilgrimage, for good and for bad. And he comes to recognize that “for good and for bad” is a misleading description of what happens to him and his faith over a lifetime.


Duran is a novelist, writer, former pastor, and speaker. His novels and stories occupy an unusual spot in Christian fiction – that of Christian horror and speculative fiction. He’s known for his penetrating insights into Christianity and its critics, both inside and outside the church, and he blogs regularly about issues and events (I’ve included his blog posts more than 50 times over the years on Saturday Good Reads). He’s also an artist, known for his wall crosses and other works. He lives with his family in Southern California. 


Discipl-ish is honest, and often painfully honest. In telling his story, Duran doesn’t spare himself and his own actions. And this is what makes this story real and familiar: we ultimately see the reflection of ourselves and our own faith pilgrimages.




My review of Mike Duran’s Subterranea


My review of Mike Duran’s Christian Horror: on the Compatibility of a Biblical Worldview and the Horror Genre.


My review of Mike Duran’s The Resurrection.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Poets and Poems: Daniel Leach and "Places the Soul Goes"

If you’ve ever wondered about the places the soul might go, poet Daniel Leach has some possible, and possibly suggested, answers.  

Old houses. A church in Fredericksburg, Texas. Canyons in the American West. Devil’s Hole in the Niagara River.  The windows peered through in dreams. A woodland pond. Forests of night. The Pergamon altar in modern-day Turkey (or the Pergamon Museum in Germany). The air full of history in Berlin. Woodstock in 1969. The realm of fairies.


Leach’s latest collection of poems, Places the Soul Goes, is an interior travelogue of thought, belief, exploration, and imagination. 

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