Sunday, October 17, 2021

The peace within

After Psalm 122

The peace of Jerusalem

is a thing to be sought,

a thing to be prayed for,

a thing offering safety

to those who love

the city, this city set

apart. It is not the walls,

or the towers, or the houses,

or the streets that define

the city, this city; it is

the people, the people 

whose loves secures

the city, the people

whose peace creates

the city’s defense. And

this peace is corporate,

this peace is individual,

for what is held in common

is held within each heart,

cherished within each person.

To seek good for this city

is to seek good for each person

within it.


Photograph by Gerald Schoombs via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Saturday Good Reads - Oct. 16, 2021

I was a subscriber to Christianity Today for more than 25 years. Over time, I grew increasingly uncomfortable with its slow drift away from Christian-centered principles and its tendency to imbibe increasingly from the world’s secular cup. A year ago, I’d had enough, and, sadly, I canceled my subscription. Mark Galli, a former CT editor, wrote something on his Substack site closely related to my concern: The State of Evangelical Leadership.  

In a related vein at First Things Magazine, Carl Trueman, echoed that and went further, The Failure of Evangelical Elites. Thomas Kidd weighs in on the Trueman article at The Gospel Coalition. All three make sobering reading; what’s happening in the secular world of America is being duplicated among evangelicals. And the only way to say this is that our elites are failing us. Bradley Birzer at The Imaginative Conservative adds his concern and asks, is the American Republic dead?


Mark Twain is known as America’s humorist. But he was a deeply troubled man, one who dealt with numerous family tragedies and business setbacks. Jon Tracey at Emerging Civil War discusses Twain’s own internal civil war


Facebook is the social media platform everyone loves to hate, and the tech giant does often seem to go out its way to offend people and do really dumb things (like temporarily banning the satire site The Babylon Bee because it thought it was fake news). Luca D’Urbino at The Ecconomist wrotes that Facebook is nearing the reputational point of no return, with consequences for all of us.


More Good Reads




Nobody’s Perfect (Yet): Introduction to The Home Team – Clint Archer at The Cripplegate. 


The Genius of Jesus’s Teachings – Andrew Wilson at Think Theology.


That Are Not of This Fold – A.W. Workman at Entrusted to the Dirt.


Fisk Jubilee Singers continue to sing spirituals 150 years later – Adele Banks at Urban Faith.


Writing and Literature


Dante is the Elephant in the Room – Angela Alaimo O’Donnell at Church Life Journal.


Children’s books: take them seriously – Editorial at The Guardian.


Tony Hillerman and the Invention of Jim Chee – James McGrath Morris at CrimeReads.




Eighty years after his death, weapons experts now say Kirchner’s suicide may have been murder – Catherine Hickley at The Art Newspaper.


Stunning $30m Van Gogh watercolour resurfaces at Christie’s New York following complex behind-the-scenes deal – Martin Bailey at The Art Newspaper.




Epiphany, 1937 – George Seferis, translated by David Mason, at The Hudson Review.


Poem with a Refrain from LeRoy Chatfield – Frank Bidart at Literary Hub.


Dusk and My house is one fire – Sonja Benskin Mesher (and artwork with each poem).


How to Read Seamus Heaney (Part 1) – Andrew Roycroft at The Rabbit Room.


Life and Culture


An Education That Turns on Affection – Alex Sosler at Front Porch Republic.


British Stuff


What are universities coming to? A specter is haunting British student politics: the specter of the pro-life movement – Sebastian Milbank at The Critic Magazine.


Gabriel’s Oboe – Andre Rieu

Painting: The New Novel, oil on canvas (1877) by Winslow Homer (1821-1896).

Friday, October 15, 2021

Thanksgiving and judgment

After Psalm 122

Odd to think of a city

with a dual nature, 

as if you were telling

two tales of one city.

It was first bound

together, this city,

bound together firmly,

with purpose and intent.

It is a city for giving

thanks, offering

thanksgiving, a destination

reached by a journey,

the place containing

the house, the object

of the journey to the city,

to offer the giving

of thankfulness. And

it is the place of thrones,

where the thrones are set,

the thrones of judgment,

the thrones of the king,

thrones bound together

in judgment, bound 

together in thanksgiving,

judgment and thanksgiving

bound as one.


Photograph by Sander Crombach via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

"Blind Defence" by John Fairfax

Barrister Will Benson is defending a particularly obnoxious client accused of murder. The client is a borderline small-time hoodlum, prone to use his fists, once accused of beating a policeman senseless but inexplicably released and not brought to trial. He’s now accused of killing the young woman he’d lived with for years. She was found hanging by her neck, a blood orange jammed into her mouth. 

Benson has his own deep issues to deal with. Convicted for a murder he said he didn’t commit, and serving 11 years of his sentence, he changed his plea and obtained an early release – and promptly became a barrister, causing no end of consternation in London’s legal and political establishment. An anonymous benefactor has backed him, providing him with funds to obtain his license, set up his practice, and even buy a houseboat, where he lives on one of London’s canals. Benson himself doesn’t know who the benefactor is. 


He’s already had one spectacular jury trial, defending someone everyone thought was guilty (Summary Justice). In this current case, even the DNA evidence says his client committed the murder, not to mention motive, opportunity, and how many times the client has lied to police. Benson has to raise the idea of the victim being a possible suicide, at least sufficient to raise a reasonable doubt. 


John Fairfax, aka William Brodrick

With the help of his legal solicitor Tess De Vere and his loyal office staff, Benson soon finds himself embroiled in a case with roots in organized crime, police corruption, and his own old demons from prison. And the Cabinet-level minister of Justice is pulling out the stops to destroy him, and Benson doesn’t even know it.


Blind Defence (British spelling) by John Fairfax is the second of the Will Benson legal thrillers, It is so engrossing that the reader finds himself on the edge of his seat, holding his breath as he wonders what will happen next. It’s a story in which nothing is ever what it seems to be, with an defending attorney whose fight for his clients is saturated with his own guilt and innocence.


John Fairfax is the pen name for British writer William Brodrick, the author of the Father Anselm mysteries. Under the Fairfax name, he’s also published Summary Justice and Forced Confessions. Brodrick was a friar in the Augustine order before he became a barrister and a writer. The Father Anselm mystery A Whispered Name won the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award in 2009. Brodrick lives in France. 


With Blind Defence, Fairfax has produced a story in which the supposed upholders of law and justice often compromise themselves, villains can emerge from the dark at a moment’s notice, and the ghosts of past crimes return to haunt the living. Including the barrister.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

No pretense

After Romans 12:9-13

Some instructions for the journey,

starting with love, the greatest

of all instructions. No pretense,

people; love genuinely,

from your heart. Hate evil

and hold on to the good

for dear life, your dear life.

Love each other; let your affection

overflow with each other. Honor

each other, because each of you

is made in the same image. Honor

and cherish it, and each other. Hope

is always there, so rejoice and

celebrate it. When trial comes,

endure them, and endure them

with each other. And pray, people,

like all the time. Help each other.

Open your homes, open your doors.

We are family.


Photograph by Gabriella Clare Marino via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Poets and Poems: Ada Limón and “The Carrying”

In The Carrying, the fifth collection of poems by Ada Limón, the poet takes the commonplace and turns it into a meditation about the personal. It might be a dog’s leash, a cemetery visit, a snowy day, a blue jay, roadkill, or a street overpass. She sees the obvious things that we all see but looks beyond or inside them to see far more, grasp more, and understand more. 

That dog’s leash provides an occasion to consider warfare, power, and restraint. Seeing a dead animal on the side of the road becomes a discussion with the doctor at the fertility clinic. The flash of a blue jay’s wing leads to a reflection on always making big deals out of everything. 


And the image of birds screaming in and flying around nearby trees leads to the meaning, if any, of reaching middle age.

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

Monday, October 11, 2021

"Philip Roth: The Biography" by Blake Bailey

The first thing you notice about Philip Roth: The Biography by Blake Bailey is the size of the book – more than 800 pages of biography. Add the acknowledgements, the footnotes, and the index, and you have almost 900 pages. If there was ever meant to be a definitive biography of the American author of 31 works, including Goodbye, Columbus and Portnoy’s Complaint, this is it.  

That it is the authorized biography by Roth himself, giving Bailey access to files, archives, letters, and friends’ interviews, also helps explain the breadth of the book. Bailey covers Roth’s life, and especially his publishing life, in detail. The fact that Bailey keeps the story interesting and engaging is due to both the biographer’s skill and Roth himself. 


Published earlier this year, Philip Roth received widespread and enormous critical praise – until accusations of sexual harassment, assault, and impropriety were leveled against Bailey (including via The New York Times). Eventually, the controversy led the publisher, W.W. Norton, to announce it was stopping the shipping of the book. Bailey had just run smack into cancel culture. At last report, no criminal charges had been filed against Bailey. The author has denied the accusations.


The biography tells Roth’s story – and it is indeed Roth’s story. That said, it is also a factual and objective story. The Philip Roth in these pages is the Philip Roth who was a major literary figure in American letters for more than half a century, winner of both a National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize. And it is the Philip Roth, the flawed man who made bad marriages and was unfaithful to his wives. He moved in literary circles, and at times the biography reads almost like a who‘s who in American literature. People like Norman Mailer, Saul Bellow, William Styron, George Plimpton, Wallace Stegner, Bennett Cerf, John Updike, Francine du Plessix Gray, Alfred Kazin, Bernard Malamud, and many others move through the story. So do celebrities like Claire Bloom, Roth’s second wife, and Mia Farrow, Roth’s close friend.


Blake Bailey

To read the story of Philip Roth is to read the story of American literature in the second half of the 20th century. And Roth’s importance can’t be underestimated. He broke literary taboos. He influenced countless writers. He helped shape the course of literary culture for two generations. And Bailey more than does justice to that story, describing each of Roth’s works and how they were received both critically and popularly. 


The biography also covers the influence of Roth’s Jewish-American roots and family. Many of his novels were about Jewish-American characters, and his work more than once offended Jewish readers and religious figures. Roth considered himself an atheist and was not observant in the Jewish faith. He also visited Israel several times and met with leading political and cultural figures in the country. He was also close to his family and especially his older brother.


Bailey has published biographies of John Cheever, Richard Yates, and Charles Jackson. He’s received numerous literary awards and recognitions, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Award in Literature from the American academy of Arts and Letters, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Francis Parkman Prize from the Society of American Historians, and others. He lives in Virginia. 


In short, Philip Roth is a masterful biography, and Bailey has accomplished likely even more than Roth himself would have hoped for. The Roth who emerges here is a complex and complicated man, capable of both spite and extreme generosity and well aware of his failures and shortcomings.