Friday, September 4, 2015

Aili and Andres McConnon’s “Road to Valor”

He was a boy who came from a relatively poor family living in a small town near Florence. He was able to go to a school in Florence, but had to buy a bicycle for transportation. He worked and saved his money, and was finally able to buy a fourth-hand bike.

It changed his life. The boy became Gino Bartali, one of the great cycling legends. In Road to Valor: A True Story of World War II Italy, the Nazis, and the Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation, Aili and Andres McConnon tell Bartali’s story.

Actually, they tell three interlocking stories.

The first is Gino Bartali the great cyclist, who won the Tour de France twice – with each win separated by a decade – a record for time in-between wins that’s still unbroken.

The second is Gino Bartali the Italian resistance messenger, who at the behest of the Archbishop of Florence smuggled fake identity documents all over northern Italy, hidden in his bicycle. What he did saved the lives of hundreds of Jews. He even hid a Jewish family from the Nazis in his basement in Florence.

The third is Gino Bartali, the man whose impossible victory in a Tour de France stage in the Alps helped to stop exploding violence in Italy between the Communist and Christian Democratic parties. As one observer pointed out, men who had been trying to kill each other suddenly turned their attention northward, and celebrated Bartali’s victory together. Bartali had been 21 minutes behind the Tour leader, and in one stage erased the difference. He powered on to win the 1948 Tour, despite all of sports journalists and cycling fans who considered him a “washed-up old man” at 33.

The story of helping the Italian resistance and saving the lives of Jews was learned only fairly recently. Bartali, who died in 2000 at the age of 85, never talked about until late in life, when he told his oldest son some of what happened. Others, especially the Jewish families he helped to save, corroborated his story. His cycling around Tuscany, Umbria and other Italian locales could always be explained as “training.” But secreted in the tubes of his bicycle were false identity papers, to help protect Jews and also to help many escape.

The McConnons tell a riveting, wonderful story. Bartali wasn’t a saint; he had his human frailties like the rest of us. But he had great courage, and he acted on that courage – to save lives, and to win an impossible race. Even if you’re not a cycling fan, Road to Valor is an inspiring, moving account of a terrible time in human history.

Photograph: Gino Bartali cycling in a road race.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

5 Strategies for Prolific Reading

In the past week, I’ve read a biography of Gino Bartoli, the Italian cycling champion; two novellas by noir detective writer Dashiell Hammett; three books of poetry; a children’s novel; and a book about a mission project in Uganda.

It was a slow week for reading.

My earliest memory of reading is sitting next to my mother as she read Grimm’s Fairy Tales to me, a child’s reading edition originally published in the 1920s. The story that stood out was “Hansel and Gretel,” with the children getting lost in the woods because the birds ate the bread crumbs they left for a trail. I believe I was three.

I still have the book, an oversized volume with a green cover and considerably “child-worn,” including my Crayola drawings on the inside covers.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Charity Singleton Craig’s place.

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Hiding Place: The Unexpected Kindness of the Gospel

You’re imprisoned for months. You know your elderly father has died, only 10 days after the family was arrested. Your sister is somewhere in the same prison. A few relatives have been released. Your crime: hiding Jews from the Nazi occupation forces in Holland, and helping them escape.

The time arrives, months after your arrest, for your interrogation.

In The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom describes the walk to the Lieutenant’s office. She’s fearful – who wouldn’t be? – and she rehearses various possibilities in her mind. When she arrives, she’s greeted with polite kindness. The lieutenant who is to interrogate her builds a fire and offers tea. She is wary; she knows his kindness may be a strategy to get her to divulge information that would endanger others and seal her own fate.

Unexpectedly, she finds herself sharing the gospel with him. He sends her back to her cell. She’s afraid she had only created more trouble for herself.

When he calls her back, they talk. The Nazi lieutenant says he feels he’s in a prison himself. His family in Germany lives in a  town that has just been bombed, and he doesn’t know if they’re unharmed or not. He is weighed down by the things he has done, the acts he has committed on behalf of the occupation forces.

Corrie tells him that God’s light can shine into the darkest of places. He listens. When he sends her back to her cell, he tells her to walk slowly down one corridor.

She does exactly that. She sees a door has been left open. She knows in her heart what she will see as she passes by – her beloved sister Betsie. Betsie doesn’t see her; she has her back to the cell door. But others in the cell see Corrie. And Corrie can see just enough to see that the cell looks like a home.

For the first time in months, her spirits soar.

Later, when it’s time for the reading of her father’s will, the lieutenant decides to follow Dutch law, and assemble all the family members. Corrie not only gets to see and touch Betsie, but her brother Willem and his wife Nollie as well. She and Betsie are not released, but they do have this precious moment as a family.

This is a blessing, coming from the hands of a Nazi lieutenant who has done evil things for his country and government. Kindness and blessings can sometimes come from the most unexpected of places.

Who would think to share the gospel with an official who is not only going to interrogate you, but holds life and death authority over you? As Corrie describes it, she didn’t plan to do this; it simply happened. And the sharing of the gospel resulted in a small miracle.

All of us have faced times and situations where the sharing of the gospel would make us look foolish at best and potentially cause serious problems at worst. Perhaps we should remember the example of Corrie ten Boom, who blurted out the gospel unexpectedly, and received an unexpected blessing in return.

Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading The Hiding Place. To see more posts on this chapter, “The Lieutenant,” please visit Jason at Connecting to Impact.

Photograph by Anny Cecilia Walter via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Finding Eliot in St. Louis

I’ve been reading Young Eliot: From St. Louis to the Waste Land by Robert Crawford, a biography of T.S. Eliot’s life from 1888 to 1922. The period encompasses what are perhaps his greatest and best known works – The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock; The Hollow Men; and The Waste Land.  For major works, only Four Quartets lies outside this period.

I knew he was born and raised in St. Louis, where I’ve lived since 1979. But he is something on a non-entity here, this city that continues to celebrate its past (it’s almost a legal requirement to know about the 1904 World’s Fair) while it tries to find new ways to sabotage its future.

Little physical evidence of Eliot remains in the city. There is the house on Westminster Place in the Central West End where his family moved when he was 16. He was only there a year before he headed off to school in the Boston area, first a year at a prep school and then Harvard. And there is a medallion in the sidewalk in front of the place where the house he was born and raised in once stood.

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

Painting: Tom Eliot at 13, oil on canvas by his sister Charlotte Eliot.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The High Calling: A Path Paved with Poetry

Today marks the end of The High Calling as an ongoing web site focused on work and faith.

My personal path to The High Calling was paved with poetry.

In the summer of 2009, I was having a conversation on Twitter with two people I had never met face-to-face. One was Jim Wood, who had a blog called Shrinking the Camel (now a Patheos/High Calling blog) and wrote on faith and work. The other was L.L. Barkat, who had a blog (or two, perhaps three) called Seedlings in Stone and was the managing editor of a web site I had just begun to visit, called High Calling Blogs (HCB).

We were talking about making sandwiches, wine, poetry, and a movie called Bottle Crazy. Within a few minutes, I composed a short poem encompassing all of those elements within the character count of one tweet. We laughed, but something had changed. An awareness, perhaps a bond, had formed with a poetic tweet that connected us.

Later that summer, I was in a bike crash and spent the night in a hospital so the doctors could watch my four broken ribs and partially collapsed lung. Unable to sleep with an oxygen mask on my face, I read Laura’s Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places straight through. It was rare for a book to speak directly, almost personally, to me, but that one did.

Eventually, I screwed up enough courage to start participating in the HCB poetry prompts. I started writing occasional articles. And then L.L. asked me (and Jim Wood, too), to be contributing writers. I made my first trip to Laity Lodge in the fall of 2010 – joining the rest of the “virtual” staff at the writer’s conference. I attended the poetry seminar, and so The High Calling, Laity Lodge and poetry came to be even more bound together in my mind.

In 2012, I became the Twitter editor and discovered The High Calling network, comprised of all of the people who had signed up with The High Calling and had an official network entry on the site.

I went exploring and realized The High Calling’s reach expanded beyond the site and beyond the virtual staff I had come to appreciate and love. It expanded beyond the office in Kerrville and that almost sacred place called Laity Lodge.

I discovered poetry in the network—not actual poetry and poems, although there was some of that, but poetry in the much broader sense of God’s people. To discover this network was, at times, to be overwhelmed by faith. A significant portion of the Bible is written in poetic form, and perhaps for that reason I find a strong connection between poetry and faith.

So, on behalf of The High Calling, I tweeted this network of God’s people, using Twitter to promote the links for their articles and personal blog posts. To tweet all network members all the time would have taken a staff of several people. But I tried.

Who is, or was, the High Calling network? Diana Trautwein. Lisha Epperson. Brock Henning. The Center for Faith and Work. Mari-Anna Stalnacke. Ed Cyzewski. Billy Coffey. Jen Sandbulte. The Theology Work Project. 4 Word Women. Jolene Underwood. Lynn Mosher. Zechariah Newman. Megan Willome. Linda Chontos. Jen Avellaneda. Maureen Doallas. Chris Peek. John Blase. Tanya Marlow.

And hundreds and hundreds more. My RSS reader overflowed with the blog postings of the network. I had to develop a second list of blogs to visit.

I read people who struggled and celebrated. People who hurt. People doubting their faith. People overcoming their doubts. People with seminary degrees. People with a high school education. Single people. People struggling to have children. People struggling to manage families. People who had published books, and people trying to publish books. People with addictions.

I read people who mourned the deaths of loved ones, and one way they had to deal with it was to write. I read people who laughed. I read people who suffered debilitating illnesses, and some who were dying. People who supported the right to bear arms and people who ardently believed in gun control. Political liberals, conservatives, moderates, and independents.

I read the incredible diversity that is God’s church. And I found poetry everywhere I looked, the poetry of faith, the poetry that is faith.

And I learned that, for all of our differences, for all of our politics and denominations, for all of our hopes and dreams and occasional nightmares, we are one in Christ Jesus.

Like all other human endeavors, The High Calling may pass, but that unity will always be.

Photos: Various pictures of The High Calling staff activities during the past five years, all taken at Laity Lodge in the Texas Hill Country.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The soldier

(Based on Acts 12)

We stand swords sheathed
guarding this Jew or whatever
it is he calls himself some say
blasphemer these people
are a plague.

We stand guarding him
waiting for the word to come
to slice his stubborn neck
separate his stubborn head
from his body

They say he is one of the first
who followed the rabble rouser
they’re all rabble rousers
no one can tell the difference
one from the other

When they come he speaks
his hard words softly explains
who he is what he is
what he believes ripping
scales from my eyes tearing
scales from my soul slicing
my heart asunder

The order is given
the sword strikes cleanly
I kneel beside the headless
body give my confession
and ask for my sword

I see light as it swings

According to tradition, when James, the brother of John, was executed at the order of Herod Antipas, one of the Roman soldiers guarding the prisoner was so convicted by James’ final words that he asked to be executed as well. His request was granted.

Illustration: Death of St. James the Apostle, from a 19th century woodcut.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Saturday Good Reads

I’ve read a number of good posts on writing in the past week – from how to generate ideas, resources for writers and poets, writers for writers to read, telling a respected and perhaps beloved teacher goodbye, and what we can learn from penmanship (remember when they used to teach that in schools?).

Kronos Media recently assembled video footage from a number of sources of what Berlin looked like in July, 1945, two months after the end of World War II in Europe. Included are scenes of the “rubble women” (who worked to clear bombed sites), the area around Hitler’s bunker and the ditch where his dead body was burned, the Mosaic Hall of Hitler’s Chancellery (painted by Anselm Kiefer), and a city trying to come to grips with a very different world. The video is below.

The eighth Planned Parenthood video has been released by the Center for Medical Progress, and if you’ve ever doubted that abortion has become a big business in the United States, then watch the video. Executives with StemExpress, the company buying organs of aborted babies from Planned Parenthood, talks about how important it is that Planned Parenthood profit, too. And in something straight out of George Orwell’s 1984, one of the executives has the title of procurement manager.

In that regard, Joe Carter and Time Challies remind us that we don’t need to take the words of Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, out of context, and there is a lot of that happening on social media. The things she said and believed are damning enough in context.


How to Generate Ideas for Writing - @annkroeker

Resources for Poets and Writers – Mary Sayler at The Poetry Editor.

We are slaves to the printed word, but only handwriting conveys real beauty – Simon Jenkins at The Guardian (Hat tip: J of India).

The Little Spec-Fic Conference That Could – Mike Duran at Novel Rocket.

Five Questions with Author Karen Swallow Prior – (Hat top: Mike Duran and Maureen Doallas).

A Goodbye of Sorts – Jake Lee at Very Much Later.

Writers to Read: 9 Names That Belong on Your Bookshelf – Mary H. Sayler at In a Christian Writer’s Life.


‘Only His Hands, Quiet On The Sheet’ - 3 poems by Wendell Berry via @roddreher at @amconmag

Sandra Duguid –D.S. Martin at Kingdom Poets.

The Torrentials – Brendan MacOdrum at Oran’s Well.

Inside Ship Windows – Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Art and Photography

Artist Watch: Noel Paine – Maureen Doallas at Escape into Life.

Hummingbirds – Tim Good at Photography by Tiwago.

The Katrina Decade – David Spielman at Oxford American.

November Dusk and New Mexico Watercolors – Randall David Tipton at Painter’s Process.


How to put an end to stupid job interviews – Nick Corcodilos at PBS (Hat tip: Janet Young).

Commerce – Jack Baumgartner at The School of the Transfer of Energy.


A letter for my daughter who is all growed up – Troy Cady at T(r)oy Marbles.

That was a Man – Rod Dreher at American Conservative.

Planned Parenthood

The 8th Video from the Center for Medical Progress – Justin Taylor at The Gospel Colation.

9 Things You Should Know About Margaret Sanger – Joe Carter at The Gospel Coalition.

The Truth About Margaret Sanger – Tim Challies at Informing the Reforming.

Witches Can Be Right, Giants Can Be Good – Jody Lee Collins at Three Way Light.

Berlin – July 1945 – Kronos Media

Top photograph by Francisco Faris Jr. via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.