Wednesday, May 31, 2023

"Man of Fire" by Derek Maxfield

“Well we have had a big battle where they Shot real bullets and I am safe. Except a buckshot wound in the hand and a bruised shoulder from a spent ball…” – Letter from William T. Sherman to his wife Ellen Ewing Sherman, April 11, 1862, after the Battle of Shiloh. 

Growing up, I had a grandmother who referred to the Civil War as “The War of Northern Aggression” which had been won for the North by “that drunkard General Useless Grant.” Her father-in-law had been a young soldier in the war; relatives on both sides had fought and died. A century later, the Civil War was still being fought, at least when she was present, wrapped up in loss, memory, and an unshakeable belief in the “Lost Cause.”


But no Union officer received my grandmother’s opprobrium like William Tecumseh Sherman, whom I understood to be a personification of Lucifer. 


And that so-called Lucifer is the subject of Man of Fire: William Tecumseh Sherman in the Civil War, the highly readable, fact-filled, and wonderfully illustrated biography by Derek Maxfield. This is not a comprehensive, “be-all-and-end-all” study of the man; instead, it focuses on his Civil War years and military service.

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

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Poets and Poems: Bruce Beasley and "Prayershreds"

You read a poetry collection like Prayershreds by Bruce Beasley, and the first thing that strikes you is the language. Language should strike you in poetry, but in this case, you find yourself drowning in creativity and imagination. Throughout the entire collection, language appears to pour almost effortlessly like a fountain, and sometimes a flood. You almost think it’s stream of consciousness writing, and then you look closer. It’s anything but that, carefully considered and composed. 

One poem incorporates musical notes. One invents a language like and unlike English, and while it’s at it reinvents physical form. Another uses a photograph of a sculpture by the artist Bruce Beasley (they share the name; I can imagine the poet grinning mischievously off-stage). 

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

Monday, May 29, 2023

“The Wonderful Visit” by H.G. Wells

H.G. Wells (1866-1946) is best known for his science fiction stories, like The Time MachineThe Island of Dr. MoreauThe Invisible Man, and the story Orson Welles made famous on radio (which terrified the listening audience), The War of the Worlds. But Wells wrote far more, including a curious novella called The Wonderful Visit

People living near the Sidderton Moor in rural England begin reporting the sighting of a strange bird. It seems suffused with light, and the bird is typically seen at night. Occasional sightings are reporting, and the local Vicar of Sidderton, a hunting enthusiast, decides he’s going to find and bag this strange bird.


The Vicar is successful, at least to some extent. He wings what he thinks is the bird, only to discover he has wounded an angel.


Mortified by his action, the Vicar (who remains unnamed) brings the angel home to recover. The angel goes by the name of Thomas, and he presents the first shock to Victorian sensibility by appearing in his very slight angel clothes before a group of women meeting at the Vicar’s house. Thomas is a beautiful creature, and the women at first believe the unmarried Vicar has brought an unescorted and scantily clad woman to his house.


H.G. Wells

Other encounters ensue. The villagers grow increasingly incensed, not only by Thomas himself but also the Vicar. What is the clergyman thinking here?


What the story of the Vicar and Thomas the Angel allows Wells to do is offer a humorous if rather biting commentary on how different people would react to experiencing an angel in their midst. The story was published in 1895, at the very pinnacle of Britain’s empire and worldwide influence.


Wells published more than 50 novels and numerous short stories. He’s been called “the father of science fiction,” but fans of Jules Verne might disagree. He was well known for his socialist and pacifist views. He was also something of a futurist and foresaw such technological developments as space flight, nuclear weapons, satellite television, aircraft, and even something resembling the worldwide web. His literary influence was extensive, not only in science fiction circles with such writers as Isaac Asmiov, Ursula LeGuin, Frank Herbert, and Ray Bradbury, but also with literary writers like Vladimir Nabakov, Sinclair Lewis, and Jorge Luis Borges.


The Wonderful Visit is still great fun to read with a bit of social commentary. And it makes one think of how people in our own time might react to having an angel in their midst.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

There is a freedom

After Galatians 4:8-20

There is  freedom

to be shaped by

the Word, the freedom

that leaves death

behind, the freedom

of having the chains

drop from our wrists

and ankles, the freedom

to walk in light,

the freedom to walk

away from the darkness,

the freedom to be changed

from dead to living,

the freedom to see

the scales drop

from our eyes. It is

a freedom to be

treasured. A freedom

to be cherished.


Photograph by Abhishek Koli via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Saturday Good Reads - May 27, 2023

In my novel Dancing Prince, I included a standalone novella at the end. It’s set in Viking times, and, while it’s strictly fiction, it’s about certain Viking groups becoming Christian well before most historians thought. John Ehrett at Mere Orthodoxy has a post about Vikings, and how they became more civilized and less, well, Viking. See “The End of Viking Vitalism.” 

Way back in 2003 and 2004, I spent time working at the director of communication for St. Louis Public Schools. One program that was highly regarded was Teach for America – an organization that recruited recent graduates from Ivy League-type universities to teach in inner city schools. One of the most moving stories I read this week was “Taught for America” by Andrew X. Evans (a pseudonym). The tragedy that is too many inner-city schools is a story of the disintegration of inner-city culture and life. 


In high school, I was a member of my school’s debate team. It was a considerable amount of work, with the bonus (?) of traveling to debate and speech tournaments in small cities across south Louisiana – Hammond, Lake Charles, Lafayette, and once, Baton Rouge. That was more than 50 years ago. There are still debate teams and debate tournaments, but times have changed. James Fishback at The Free Press explains that debate is no longer really allowed at debate tournaments.


More Good Reads


Writing and Literature


Rediscovering Martin Amis – Ben Sixsmith at The Critic Magazine.


Martin Amis’s death is the end of a great British comic tradition – Alexander Larman at The Spectator.


The 100 Greatest Children’s Books of All Time – BBC.




Why has Ukraine owned up to Russian assassinations? – Mark Galeotti at The Spectator.




The Whole World Gone Blind – Greg Doles at Chasing Light.


15 Things About John Calvin You May Not Know – Michael Patton at Parchment and Pen.


Cynicism Isn’t a Spiritual Gift – Daniel Darling at For the Church.


American Stuff


How Abraham Lincoln Broke the Barrier Between Church and State – Joshua Zeitz at Politico.


A Local Look at the Meanings of the Founding: A Review of The Nation that Never Was by Kermit Roosevelt III – Max Longley at Front Porch Republic.


The campaign against the Supreme Court’s legitimacy – The Spectator.


Life and Culture


Christopher Dawson & the History We Are Not Told – Jeffrey Hart at The Imaginative Conservative.


The anatomy of cancellation: How speech ends up being suppressed – Charley Bentley-Astor at The Critic Magazine.


Is American Theater Really Dead? – Daniel McInery at The Imaginative Conservative.


Is there anything left to conserve? The chickens of modernity have come home to roost – Paul Kingsnorth at UnHerd.


Does Maturity Still Matter? – Samuel D. James at Mere Orthodoxy.




Poetry Showcase: Elena Kotsile – Fevers of the Mind. 


Take Shelter – Keith & Kristyn Getty and Skye Peterson

 Painting: Woman Reading, woodblock print (1852) by Utagawa Kuniypshi (1798-1861)

Friday, May 26, 2023

My heart breaks

After Galatians 4:8-20

I know how far

you traveled, how

far you came, and

my heart breaks.

I know the death

you rejected, 

the death you left

behind, and

my heart breaks.

I know the light you

traded for darkness,

the light you rejected,

and my heart breaks.


Come back.

Heal my heart.


Photograph by Marah Bashir via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

"The Crossing" by Matt Brolly

Detective Inspector (DI) Louise Blackwell has been exiled to the police station in Weston-super-Mare, about 20 miles from her former headquarters in Bristol. Her police partner lied about what happened during a confrontation with a killer, and Louise had shot the man. It turned out that the killer wasn’t armed, the opposite of what the partner had told Louise. An investigation cleared her, sort of, she was transferred to the smaller and less active station, and her partner got the promotion Louise should have had. And everyone in her new police office knows she’s under a cloud. 

A body is found on the beach; it’s clear the elderly woman had been tortured before being killed. Then a priest is murdered in the confessional. Few would have made the connection between the two cases, but Louise did. And the link was an old fire at the church decades before.


The reader knows what the investigating police do not know. The killer is a man in his 30s, seeking to gain revenge. What the reader doesn’t know is why – and it’s the “why” that Louise must unravel to find the killer before he murders again.


Matt Brolly

And chomping at the bit to take over the case is her old partner, who would love nothing better than to drive Louise out of the police force.


The Crossing by British writer Matt Brolly is the first in the DI Louise Blackwell series, and it’s an edge-of-your-seat story filled with tension (and the hope that the former partner will get his just desserts). As a character, Louise Blackwell is a nice blend of sharp-as-a-tack police officer with a number of human frailties.


Brolly has written several mystery novels in the DI Louise Blackwell series, including The Crossing, The Descent, The Gorge, The Mark, The Pier, and The Bridge. He’s also written several novels in the DCI Lambert series and the Lynch and Rose series. He lives in London with his family.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

“The Summer of ’63: Vicksburg & Tullahoma,” edited by Chris Mackowski & Dan Welch

There are few more momentous years in American history than 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation. The Battle of Gettysburg, ending Robert E Lee’s invasion of the North. The Fall of Vicksburg, which effectively cut the Confederacy in half. More than 30,000 books have been written on the Battle of Gettysburg alone. 

And there are few more actively maintained and managed Civil War web sites than Emerging Civil War. With 28 contributors and seven editors (all of whom also contribute), the site is updated daily and often several times a day. 


Chris Mackowski serves as editor-in-chief, and Dan Welch is one of the site’s contributors. Together, they have edited some 40 articles about the Civil War summer of 1863, focusing ontwo major campaigns – Vicksburg in Mississippi and Tullahoma in Tennessee. Usually works about that momentous summer address the Battle of Gettysburg; The Summer of ’63: Vicksburg & Tullahoma are about the other two campaigns whose outcomes had as much to do with the defeat of the Confederacy as did Gettysburg. In fact, one might argue that Vicksburg had at least as great an impact on the war as Gettysburg did, and perhaps more.

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

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Poets and Poems: James Sale and "StairWell"

I’ve never said that I’m eagerly awaiting the publication of a new poetry volume or collection. I have said it about a novel by a favorite author, or a new mystery in an enthralling series. Perhaps it’s because poetry has always been something more cerebral or quietly emotional, perhaps.  

Then came poet James Sale and his contemporary epic structured like (and written in open homage to) Dante and his InfernoPurgatorio, and Paradiso, the three parts of The Divine Comedy. Sale began writing what he called The English Cantos in 2017, and the first volume, HellWard, was published in 2019. Then came the COVID pandemic and Sale’s own health issues. 


Four years after HellWard, we now have StairWell, Vol. II of the English Cantos, corresponding to Dante’s Purgatorio. And, yes, I’d heard it was coming. I can now say I eagerly anticipated a work of poetry. I can also say it bully justified my eagerness. StairWell is a marvel of imagination, insight into the human condition, and social commentary. 

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

Monday, May 22, 2023

“Renewal: The Church That Expands Outward” by Luke H. Davis

Until now, about the only thing I associated with the famous minister Jonathan Edwards was the sermon often mentioned (and often reprinted) in American history books. The title and the substance of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” gives an impression of a fiery sermon, with much shouting and a voice that was threatening and perhaps scary. The way it’s portrayed in history books certainly gives that impression. 

Then I read Renewal: The Church That Expands Outward by Luke H. Davis, and I discovered how wrong my understanding was. Edwards didn’t give fiery sermons; he spoke in a monotone and low-key voice because he believed the content didn’t need dressing up with theatrics. He faced concerns from his own church leaders. And Edwards eventually became a missionary to Native Americans in Massachusetts and president of Princeton University.


So much for the stereotype.


Renewal is the fourth in Davis’s series on church history for young people. It focuses on the years 1600 to 1900, what Davis calls the Age of Expansion. The chapters are generally organized around people; Davis writes an engaging story based on fact about each and then follows with a short factual paragraph. He also inserts “Fact File” chapters, where he provides more in-depth background on events, movements, and periods of church history. 


Luke H. Davis

The people covered include Edwards, John Bunyan. George Whitefield, William Wilberforce, Charles Spurgeon, Sojourner Truth. Hudson Taylor, Dwight Moody and several others. The structure is similar for each; I found myself particularly taken with the fictional stories based on real events.


Davis teaches at Westminster Christian Academy in St. Louis and chairs the Bible Department there. He’s also taught at schools in Louisiana, Florida, and Virginia. He describes himself as “Presbyterian body, Lutheran heart, Anglican blood, Orthodox spirit,” all of which have served him well in writing the Cameron Ballack mysteries. He has published three Ballack mysteries, Litany of Secrets (2013), The Broken Cross (2015), and A Shattered Peace (2017), and the first book of a new series, Joel: The Merivalkan Chronicles Book 1 (2017). He blogs at For Grace and Kingdom.


Renewal, like its predecessors, is aimed at young readers (roughly 10-14) but, as in my own case, even adults who think they know a lot can discovered they know – well, less that they thought. It’s an engaging way to teach church history and whet the interest for more.


Last WeekReform: The Church at the Birth of Protestantism by Luke H. Davis.




My review of Redemption: The Church in Ancient Times.


My review of Reign: The Church in the Middle Ages.


Reading a Novel that Stars Your Hometown.


My review of Litany of Secrets.


My review of The Broken Cross.


My review of A Shattered Peace.


My review of Tough Issues, True Hope by Luke Davis.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

The cancel crowd

After Galatians 4:8-20

The cancel crowd

doesn’t want you

blessed. It wants

you cursed, tossed

out, locked out

from the light, from

what you know is

true. And they do

this not for you but

for themselves, to be

made much of, made

powerful, important.

They use your destruction

to elevate themselves.

Turn to the light you 

know, not the death

you left behind.


Photograph by Andre Hunter via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Saturday Good Reads - May 20, 2023

Four years in the making, the report by Special Prosecutor John Durham on “Russian collusion” was released this week. Predictably, the mainstream media (like The New York Times and The Atlantic, not to mention my own hometown newspaper) decided it amounted to nothing. If you’re still trying to deny your own culpability in promoting a hoax that tore the country apart, it’s a good position to take. Roger Kimball at The Spectator gives a better overall summary, while his colleague Peter Van Buren says the report unmasks the Deep State. Eli Lake at The Free Press says the FBI actually protected Hillary Clinton (four investigations were stopped from the top-down).  

If you don’t trust the pundits on either side (and pundits are all we have left), you can read the Durham report for yourself.


Would you like to be the Corporate Vice President of Belonging? Something is happening in the DEI industry: strategies and tactics are changing, writes Abe Greenwald at Commentary Magazine. Pushback is rising, and some corporate executives are realizing that many DEI programs at their companies are making matters worse.


I can remember when The Wizard of Oz finally made it to television. I was five years old, and my mother and I watched it together (she’d seen it when it was first released in movie theaters in 1939). Even on a black-and-white TV, it was magic. Mark Malvasi at The Imaginative Conservative says the movie is something more than a film – it’s a fable of modern America.


More Good Reads


Life and Culture


Christopher Lasch’s forgotten utopia – Ashley Colby at UnHerd. 


The Shattered Image of the Thirteenth Century – John Mark Reynolds at The Imaginative Conservative. 


One Homeschool Year: A Local Story in Four Seasons – Nadya Williams at Front Porch Republic.


Anatomy of a medical scandal: How not thinking can infect a workplace, community or entire culture – Victoria Smith at The Critic Magazine.


We’re All Bored of Culture – William Deresiewicz at Tablet Magazine.


American Stuff


The Girl of the Endless Summer: How ‘Gidget’ helped to put surfing on the map – Kevin Mims at Quillette. 


Ewell’s Letter to Grant in the Wake of Lincoln’s Death – Chris Mackowski at Emerging Civil War. 


Are Americans Better Off? – Jon Schaff at Front Porch Republic.




An unreviewable album: The music is beautiful; the context is not – Norman Lebrecht at The Critic Magazine.


Beyond Metaphor: Inside the First Month of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine – Serhiy Zhadan at Literary Hub.




Why is the SBC Membership Declining? – Ryan Burge at The Gospel Coalition.


The Doom of Choice – Jake Meador at Mere Orthodoxy.


People Walking Away? We Are NOT in Unprecedented Times – Eric Geiger.


He Drew Me Through Agony: My Painful Path to Faith – Kathryn Butler at Desiring God.




The Power of One – Roy E. Peterson at Society of Classical Poets.


Writing and Literature


What recent publishing controversies say about the industry – Nathan Bransford.


Readers Aren't Flocking to Chatbot Novels Just Yet – Lincoln Michel at Counter Craft.


Take Heart – 20schemes Music

Painting: Reading the Scriptures, oil on canvas by Thomas Waterton Wood (1823-1903)

Friday, May 19, 2023

The siren's call

After Galatians 4:8-20


You walk through the door

and stood in the light, free,

turning your back on the weak,

worthless beliefs of the world,

free at last. Yet now you turn

back to slavery, back to what

you left behind, back to what

is worthless and destructive.

This is not about adherence

to ceremonies and laws and

incense and requirements. This

is about freedom, breaking free

from slavery. Don’t turn back.

Go forward, into the light.


Photograph by Leandro Mazzuquini via Unsplash, Used with permission. 

Thursday, May 18, 2023

“A Christmas Shadow” by H.L. Marsay

It’s the Advent season, a few weeks before Christmas. Detective Chief Inspector John Shadow finds himself, rather grumpily, at an Advent worship service at York Minster. He’s with friends and colleagues; his assistant, Detective Sergeant Jimmy Chang, is getting married in a few days to the assistant medical examiner.  

The Minster has a new dean, a woman, which hasn’t set well with some in the York community; the dean’s been receiving hate mail. At the reception following the service, she collapses after drinking some wine; her husband recognizes an allergic reaction to nuts and uses the EpiPen he always keeps nearby. The dean recovers, but DCI Shadow also noticed something off about the wine.


The wine itself is something that is personally painful for Shadow. It’s made the family of the girl he loved and lost in a pedestrian traffic fatality decades earlier. Shadow never married; he was never even much interested in relationships at all after the death of his fiancée. He’d left London after her death and moved to York; he still lives in the boat they shared.


He and DS Chang investigate where the wine came from – a relatively new shop run by two young men who seem to know little about the wine business. Then a young woman from Slovenia who worked at the shop as a cleaner is found dead, the investigation of watered down or fake wine became a murder inquiry. And this one seems to have ties to organized crime.


H L Marsay

A Christmas Shadow
 is the sixth and, so far, last in the DCI John Shadow series by British author H L Marsay. It has all the elements of its predecessors – an interesting mystery, a DCI who likes his food (he eats out a lot), an overly enthusiastic assistant who often drives Shadow to distraction, and an abundance of suspects. It also has more of the back story on Shadow’s ill-fated romance, with his former fiancee’s younger brother coming to York to help deal with what is happening with his wine. And there’s a hint of a future mystery, with Shadow accepting the brother’s invitation to spend Christmas in Italy with his family.


Marsay is the author of six mystery novels in the DCI John Shadow series. Set in York, the characteristic features of each of the stories are a curmudgeonly DCI, his irrepressibly cheerful sergeant, a culinary tour of the city restaurants, café, and pubs (some of which actually exist), and an introduction to York’s colorful history and present. A member of the Crime Writers Association, she lives with her family in the city of York in England. 




A Long Shadow by H L Marsay.


A Viking’s Shadow by H L Marsay.


A Ghostly Shadow by H L Marsay.


A Roman Shadow by H.L. Marsay.


A Forgotten Shadow by H L Marsay.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Why Poetry Can Make You a Better Writer

Like most of my generation, I read poetry in English classes in high school. It wasn’t until I was a high school senior that I read poetry that stuck in my head. And it was T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and “Four Quartets.” I read poetry in college as well, but my English literature professor gave brutal tests that put me off poetry for years. 

My professional career eventually led me to corporate speechwriting. I enjoyed the work, the executives I wrote for liked what I did, and I had that sense of “this is what I was meant to do.” It was a good friend, one who wasn’t a speechwriter, who suggested that if I were really serious about it, then I needed to read poetry. He sent me three books – the collected poems of T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, and Dylan Thomas. He told me to read them and others on a regular basis.


And I thought, seriously? No speechwriter I knew read poetry regularly. Most then and now would read books about current events, developments in science, politics, and a lot of speeches written by others. But poetry? Really?

To continue reading, please see my post today at the American Christian Fiction Writers blog.

Photograph by Nick Fewings via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Poets and Poems: Catherine Esposito Prescott and “Accidental Garden”

It’s an age-old question – are we here as part of a cosmic or divine plan, or did all of what we call life and existence happen by accident? Or as Catherine Esposito Prescott asks in the title poem of her new collection, “Did we plant a butterfly garden or did monarchs stumble on  / the heirloom tomatoes that needed pollen to transfer from pistol to stamen?”  

Perhaps because, as she writes, she was “raised in a religion with many answers,” Prescott doesn’t come to a conclusive answer to the question. But she explores it in a wide array of ways in the 42 poems of Accidental Garden.


The title itself suggests the question. A garden, any garden, is planned; otherwise, it would be wildness. “Garden” suggests design and stewardship. But can such a creation happen by accident?

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