Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Poets and Poems: Carlie Hoffman and "This Alaska"

The word that come to mind when reading This Alaska by Carlie Hoffman are gritty and sometimes jarring. And occasionally dark. Surprising, with a swing towards shocking. Consider “Continuum,” a poem about grief, that begins with “My mother split each day open / like a gutted fish.” Add vivid and arresting to that word list. 

She remembers childhood through not entirely rose-colored glasses, like where she buried the dead gulls. Her explanation for moving to New York City, a city with so many lunatics is that she sometimes becomes one of them. A visit to the zoo becomes a musing about a broken relationship. Eight years after she left, she watches a man sweeping the steps at her high school, and she hates him for not stopping to see her. (This longish poem, “Anniversary,” is my personal favorite in the collection, along with “Pact,” a poem about a desire to offer a small girl hope for the future.)

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

Monday, May 30, 2022

"Power and Liberty" by Gordon Wood

Gordon Wood is the Alva Way University Professor and Professor of History Emeritus at Brown University. He’s won numerous prizes for his books, including the Pulitzer Prize for History for The Radicalism of the American Revolution. His area of focus is the American Revolution and the period of the early American republic.  

Wood is a good author to read in a time when so many calls are arising from the left-of-center to change the Supreme Court, do away with the Electoral College, repeal various constitutional amendments, and perhaps even rewrite the Constitution. His newest work, Power and Liberty: Constitutionalism in the American Revolution, tells the story of how the U.S. Constitution was actually born in the throes of the revolution itself, years before the Constitutional Convention of 1787.


Before the U.S. Constitution existed, the idea of written constitutions, especially in English history, was largely associated with governments. In other words, constitutions were all about governments and how they functioned along with customs, traditions, and common law. It was different in America. “By the end of the Revolutionary era,” he writes, “Americans had come to view a constitution as no part of government at all. It was a written document distinct from n superior to all the operations of government.” Instead, it functioned like a Bible, embodying the principles of government to be sure, but principles derived from the people.


Wood explains how this happened. Before the American Revolution, a debate emerged between America and Britain, which eventually became a debate with the British king. That debate culminated in the Declaration of Independence, which Wood calls “the most important document in American history.”


Gordon Wood

Constitutionalism was thriving during the Revolutionary War. The states were experimenting with a number of different approaches, and if something didn’t work, something else was tried. That constitutional ferment was reflected in the articles of Confederation, and it continued into the Constitutional Convention period. 


The slavery debate at the Constitutional Convention happened in the context of the debate over representation for both large and small states. Slavery was more prevalent in the southern states, but every state had its slaves. Wood includes a reminder that slavery had existed for thousands of years, but the idea of ending it received a major push during the revolution and early republic. He also points to the emergence of the judiciary as a separate branch of government, instead of an extension of royal or executive officers. And this period also inaugurated what was one of the most radical innovations ever – the demarcation between the public and the private. The distinctions between these two spheres did not exist at the time the Constitution was approved and implemented.


Power and Liberty is a relatively short (and highly readable) book – 188 pages of text, excluding notes, bibliography, and index. But it is an important book, important in that it helps explain what was happening at the time the Constitution was written, the vital developments leading up to it, and how it changed American (and the world) forever.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

It's the spirit

After Matthew 5:27-32

Sitting on the hillside,

speaking one mind-bending

statement after another,

he comes to the subjects,

bookended, as it were, 

of universal interest:

adultery, marriage, lust,

divorce, and then

adultery (again). He’s

punching home his

argument about the law:

it’s not only the letter

of the law that’s the issue;

it’s also the spirit of the law.

It’s not sufficient to avoid

adultery and give yourself

a well-earned pat on the back;

it’s also the idea , the action,

of even looking with wrong

motives. It’s as if you want

to be congratulated for not

beating your wife. And

ditto for divorce.


Photograph by Josh Marshall via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Saturday Good Reads - May 28, 2022

What’s old is new again, or maybe it’s always new. On May 21, 1922, Harry Emerson Fosdick delivered his most famous sermon. The pastor of First Presbyterian Church of New York City, Fosdick entitled his sermon “Shal the Fundamentalists Win?” Tension was rising among both Presbyterians and American Christians broadly over very basic theological issues. Fosdick was on the progressive said, and he took aim at conservative beliefs, like the virgin birth and the miracles of Jesus. Kevin DeYoung has the story of that sermon and what happened as a result. Obbie Tyler Todd at The Gospel Coalition has a similar yet different take on the sermon.

Much has been written and spoken about what’s called “woke capitalism” – big corporations (sometimes called the “Davos crowd”) embracing progressive positions on social issues. Think Disney, Big Tech, Target, even longstanding companies like State-Farm Insurance. Ilya Levine at Quillette writes that this embrace is actually entirely rational (i.e., market driven), but that it is also ultimately unsustainable. Read “Woke Capitalism’s Tragedy of the Commons.”


COVID-19 is now yesterday’s news (sort of), and the news media are on to the next new thing, this time, monkeypox. One of journalism’s own arbiters of what’s news, the Neiman Lab at Harvard, says enough already! “Stop googling monkeypox and read this story about cybercondria and the news!


More Good Reads




The Return of the Culture War – Trevin Wax at The Gospel Coalition.


Writing and Literature


Is Reading Fiction a Waste of Time? – Kathleen Mulhern at Plough Quarterly.


You Must Change Your Writing Style: Ward Farnsworth’s Guidebooks to English Virtuosity and Ancient Philosophy – Colin Marshall at Los Angeles Review of Books.




Even McDonald’s Couldn’t Save Russia – Ian Birrell at UnHerd.


War of attrition: The conflict in Ukraine may yet end in stalemate – Daniel DePetris at The Critic Magazine.


Life in Wartime Ukraine: Two Essays – Andrei Krasniashikh at Literary Hub.


Life and Culture


American Madness: On the mass murder of children in Texas – Bari Weiss at Common Sense.


The uses and abuses of nostalgia: The old like to think they had it harder, but secretly feel they had it better, too – Ben Sixsmith at The Critic Magazine.


Covid was liberalism’s endgame – Matthew Crawford at UnHerd.


More Powerful Than the Hate That Divides: A Response to the Laguna Woods Shooting on May 15, 2022 – K.C. Liu at Sola Network.


We Aren't Raising Adults. We Are Breeding Very Excellent Sheep – William Deresiewicz at Common Sense.


British Stuff


London's Elizabeth Line finally opens—a look at the ambitious art commissions across the train stations of the £19bn project – Louisa Buck at The Art Newspaper.


American Stuff


The Bullard Boys – Tragedy for A Mississippi Family – Sheritta Bitikofer at Emerging Civil War.


“Field of Dreams”: Baseball, the Prodigal, & Paradise – Stephen Turley at Imaginative Conservative. 




Latchkey Kids – Kelly Belmonte at All Nine.

Weary Traveler – Jordan St. Cyr

Painting: Girl Reading, oil on canvas by Harold Knight (1874-1961).

Friday, May 27, 2022

Better than Pharisees Part 2

After Matthew 5:17-26

How can you be better

than Pharisees, those

paragons of virtue who do

everything expected and

are master virtue signalers? 

I’ll explain. First, don’t be

Angry. Ever. For any reason.

Even if you’re justified,

Especially if you’re justified.

Second, don’t call anyone

a fool, even if that’s 

exactly what they are.

You can’t even call

them a fool in your head.

Resolve all bad feelings

against you, even if they’re

unwarranted. Reconcile 

with your accusers, even

if they’re wrong or false.


Who can do this, you say?

Who is humanly capable

of doing these things?

Right question. 

Right answer:

No one. That’s the point.

We can’t escape who 

we are. We can’t escape

our humanity. That’s why

there’s a law, a whole set

of laws, in detail because

the lawgiver knows how

we twist and turn and

try to find refuge from

our own behavior.


We can’t escape our fate

on our own. Only one

can do that, and do that

for us. The law is 

an impossible standard

because we’re human

and the lawgiver is not.

We can never measure up.

Our hope is in the impossible,

and the impossible has only

happened once.


Photograph by Chris Brignola via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

"The Shell Collector" by Nancy Naigle

This is a story that doesn’t go the way you expect to go.


Amanda Whittier’s husband Jack is a Marine who dies in combat. Left with two young children, she’s devastated. Instead of going home to Ohio where her family lives, she moves to Whelk’s Island, off the North Carolina coast. She buys a small home near the beach, and she and the children are enjoying the summer before school starts for all three of them. Amanda will be teaching fourth grade. 


They meet Maeve Lindsay, long-time island resident. Widowed and without children, Maeve occupies her time with collecting shells on the beach. Amanda and her children slowly become something like Maeve’s family, and if there is a primary narrative in The Shell Collector by Nancy Naigle, it’s how two women separated by more than 50 years, become close friends and the next-best-thing to family. 


A secondary story line concerns Paul Grant, a former Marine who’s taken up residence on the island. He’s opened a dog training / boarding / day care business in a former strip mall, one with a special focus on helping veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. While they don’t run into each other until halfway through the story, Paul and Amanda have a history. He was Jack’s best friend, who promised Amanda he would always watch out for Jack. Amanda blamed Paul for Jack’s death. 


Nancy Naigle

The Shell Collector
 is and isn’t a romance. It is and isn’t a story solely about different generations caring and watching out for each other. It is a story about three people learning to heal, and helping each other do that.


Naigle is the author of a considerable number of books in the romance and romantic suspense genres. Several of her books have become made-for-television movies, and she wrote the novelizations for the first three Christmas in Evergreenmovies for the Hallmark Channel. She began writing while working as senior vice president for Bank of America. Now retired from the finance industry, she lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains. 


The Shell Collector is a sweet story, one about people working through grief and hurt to learn how they get with their lives.


Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Family History as a Source for Stories

A single comment by my father nearly six decades ago led to a story idea.  

“Your great-grandfather was too young to enlist in the Civil War,” he said. “So, he signed up as a messenger boy when he looked old enough to get away with it. And then he had to walk home when the war was over.” My father must have heard that from his father; he was four when his grandfather died, with no memories of him at all.


A year ago, when I decided I wanted to know more, any family member who might have known something was long buried. 


The records in the family Bible provided few clues. One of millions published by the American Bible Society in the 1870s, it included family records inserted between the Old and New Testaments. The earliest recorded date was 1803, the year of the Louisiana Purchase; it noted the birth of my great-great-grandfather. But almost all the entries, stretching from 1803 to the 1890s, were in the same hand, if different inks – my great-grandfather’s handwriting (my great-grandmother had died in the 1880s).

To continue reading, please see my post toward at American Christian Fiction Writers.

Photograph: First Presbyterian Church, Kirkwood, Mo., March 2021.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Poets and Poems: Robert Selby and "The Coming-Down Time"

Something more than physical happens as you age. You become more conscious of art, history, and family. You might discover the joys, and hardships, of family genealogy, and the story of your great-grandmother Leona was said to have killed a man but got away with it. Or that a great-great-great-great uncle fought alongside Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans. As you age, you love hearing and telling these stories, and you realize that family stories have to be told because they make sense of who you are and who your children are. 

Robert Selby is still a relatively young man, but he seems to have grasped this imperative of family stories. His poetry collection The Coming-Down Time, published in 2020, is filled with the kinds of stories that shape and resonate through families. The stories are both large, like those of war, and small, like the commute to and from work that ends with a joyful sense of freedom. 

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

Monday, May 23, 2022

"Death on a Summer's Day" by Benedict Brown

It’s the summer of 1925. Seventy-five-year-old Lord Edgington is taking his 16-year-old grandson Christopher on a motor tour of England. When Lord Edington travels, of course, he doesn’t really travel. He migrates with a substantial portion of his household – chauffeur, maid, cook, footman, and even the gardener. 

They’re rather leisurely aiming for Cumbria and the Lake District to visit the Duke of Chandos, a childhood friend of the Edgington’s. Along with two women friends and another friend who’s now a professor, the five have known each other for almost 60 years. It’s a friendship marred by a tragedy – the death of another member of the group, the daughter of the estate manager. The girl had died from smoke inhalation when the conservatory caught fire.


Lord Edgington has always believed the fire was no accident. And he thinks the duke himself did it back when they were all teens. 


Benedict Brown

All of the friends arrive. But it’s not long before tensions rise, and the duke himself is murdered. And almost everyone has both motive and opportunity. Lord Edgington, who was inspired to join Scotland Yard because of the girls’ death all those years ago, undertakes the investigation, helped by grandson Christopher.


Death on a Summer’s Day is the third Lord Edgington mystery by British author Benedict Brown. Brown uses the investigation to expand the knowledge about Lord Edington’s youth, both for his grandson and the reader. And Christopher himself gets some additional development and filling out, with a bit of a love interest.


In addition to the five published Lord Edgington stories, a sixth is scheduled for publication in the summer of 2022. Brown has also written seven Izzy Palmer mystery novels and three novellas. A native of south London, he lives with his family in Spain. The Lord Edgington mysteries are likely aimed at both the general reader as well as the young adult audience. And they’re well-researched stories, full of information about the mid-1920s.




Murder at the Spring Ball by Benedict Brown.


A Body at a Boarding School by Benedict Brown.


The Mystery of Mistletoe Hall by Benedict Brown.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Better than Pharisees Part 1

After Matthew 5:17-26

We know the law exists

for a reason, or perhaps

two or three, like to provide

guardrails, or enshrine

proper behavior by setting

penalties for the improper,

or regulating behavior

by encouraging one thing

and discouraging another.

Law is how we function,

emphasis on “we.” So

it is a surprise to listen

in expectation of how

the law will be replaced,

and, instead, be told

the expected revolution 

won’t overthrow the law

but in fact fulfill it, that

not a single command

or provision of the law

will disappear until what

is ordained is accomplished.

You have to be better than

Pharisees! Even Pharisees

have to be better than Pharisees!

And you say, how does

that make any sense, and

what’s the point of trying

to obey something no one

can obey? The answer is,



Photograph by Bill Oxford via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Saturday Good Reads - May 21, 2022

We humans are storytellers, and we’ve likely been telling stories since we first walked with planet. At Church Life Journal, William Christian Hackett, author of a novel about an escapee from the German concentration camp in Drancy, France, asks the fundamental question: What makes a good story? And what does that tell us about ourselves.  

How do children, caught in terrible family circumstances, human trafficking, abuse, and all the other tragedies of life, break out of the cycle they find themselves in? Rod Dreher at American Conservative visited some friends in New Orleans, and found one answer: Kintsugi Alison.


If you want to know what happened to public education during the pandemic, some researchers at Harvard did an in-depth study. And what they found is that it was just about as bad as everyone suspected


More Good Reads


Life and Culture


A Talk with Paul Kingsnorth – Joy Clarkson at Plough Quarterly.


Professor Barry Mole: Scholarly Obsessive – D.J. Taylor at The Critic Magazine.


The Certainty Trap – Ilana Redstone at Tablet Magazine.


College: A Place for Training Exiles – Ben Phelps at Front Porch Republic.




The Spirit of Ukrainian Resistance: Five Poems – Marjana Savka at Literary Hub.


News Media


The Internet Is More Powerful Than the Printing Press – Chris Martin at Terms of Service.


Defeating the Idolatry of Outrage – Aaron Earls at The Wardrobe Door.


Are we post-platform? – Eileen Isagon Skyers at Dirt.




Loving Across the Ideological Fence – Blake Long at Theology & Life.


No Ordinary Life – Susan Lafferty.


Recovering an Erased Gospel: How the earliest Greek New Testament commentary manuscript has been restored by modern imaging techniques – H.A.G. Houghton at Text and Canon Institute.


Writing and Literature


A Map of Dante’s Purgatorio in Three Touchstones – James Matthew Wilson at Church Life Journal.


Cracks in Creation: An Essay from 'Wild Things and Castles in the Sky' – Ashley Artavia Novalis at The Rabbit Room.


Orwell’s Humor – Jonathan Clarke at CityJournal. 




Poetry and Modern Culture – Joseph Pearce at The Imaginative Conservative. 


The Flood – Seth Lewis.


Culloden, April 16, 1746 – Jeff Eardley at Society of Classical Poets.


The Blessing (Symphonic Version) – Passion City Church

Painting: Man Reading a Newspaper, oil on canvas by Max Scholz (1855-1906).

Friday, May 20, 2022


After Matthew 5:10-16

To be called a light
in the world is to be
called to a singular
purpose. A light is
intended to shine,
not hidden under
a bush. A light is
like a city on a hill,
because it’s visible
to miles to anyone
who looks up.
A light is a lamp
for the world and
a lamp for the house,
and it shines to all
and for all within.
The children sing
this little light of mine,
but the fact is we are
the light,
the lights. 

Photograph by Kevin Finnerman via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

In praise of gentleness

It’s difficult to look at almost anything online these days and not be offended. It seems worse when the person doing the offending is someone you know, a Facebook friend you’ve actually met in person, say, and you know them to be kind, compassionate, and caring. And then on Instagram, POW, a bowlful of anger gets dumped on a specific target but splashes all of us. 

It was ugly. I was stunned. I knew the person leaned leftward politically, but I never expected what I saw. It’s not only the leftward leaning; the rightward crowd does it as well. And I’ve caught the tendency in myself, when you see something or read something that takes you from a calm-and-collected zero to a red-hot 90 in 4.3 seconds.


It’s not an attractive characteristic. It’s fueled by frustration and anger. It’s heightened on social media, which we seem to think gives us license to behave badly. 

We forget the call to be gentle, with others and ourselves.


Gentleness has been on my mind this week; it was part of a sermon by our pastor Sunday, when he preached on Galatians 6:1-10, in which the Apostle Paul exhorts us to be gentle in reproof, not to become weary in doing food, and do good to everyone, “especially those of the household of faith.”


The target of my friend’s ire was a well-known conservative commentator, who also happens to be a Christian. And I wondered what might be the outcome if my friend, instead of heaping outrage and condemnation, had instead prayed for this individual, not that they would come around to my friend’s thinking, but instead would experience God’s grace, God’s blessing, and God’s encouragement. And what if my friend prayed daily for this person for a week.


And what if my conservative friends selected someone they disagreed with – Rachel Maddow, Elizabeth Warren, Stephen Colbert – and prayed for that person for a week, that they would experience God’s grace, God’s blessing, and God’s encouragement. 


In either situation, nothing might happen. But I suspect that, if nothing else, the heart of the person praying might change. And that may be one of the unexpected benefits of prayer.


A gentle word


If I would choose

my word, it would not

be power or glory, 

it would not be pride

or control, it would not

be wealth or position or 

title. Instead, if I could,

I would choose gentle,

the word I’d want 

to describe my demeanor,

to describe my actions,

to describe my spirit.

Gentle is accepted

in all situations, 

sometimes used and

abused but accepted

nonetheless. Gentle

is a being word. Gentle

is an action word. Gentle

is a word, a life that’s

learned, a condition

that’s taught. And

it is so hard.


Photograph by Godwill Gira Mude via Unsplash. Used with permission.