Friday, August 18, 2017

Life landscape

After Isaiah 40:1-11

Valleys are lifted up
crooked paths straightened
rivers are bridged
mountains smothered
landscape is changed
geography overcome

and this from the one
tending the flock
gathering the lambs
leading the ones laden
with young
knowing the names
touching the faces
holding the treasure, closely

Photograph by Jean Beaufort via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

“Death by the Book” by Julianna Deering

It’s the summer of 1932, and young Drew Farthering is focused on one thing – getting the beautiful American Madeline Parker to accept his proposal of marriage. She’s in love with him, but she isn’t quite ready to say yes. Nevertheless, Drew is having his will changed in Madeline’s favor, and is scheduled to meet with his lawyer.

Except the meeting never happens. The lawyer is found murdered, with an odd note stuck to his chest with a hairpin. The note, written in a beautiful cursive handwriting on parchment paper, doesn’t seem to make much sense.

And then a doctor is killed on a golf course belonging to Drew’s country club. And a note is found pinned to his chest; same handwriting and paper but a different inscription. And then there’s a third murder.

Something is clearly awry in the village of Farthering St. John. And the murders are getting closer and closer to Drew himself.

Julianna Deering
Death by the Book is Julianna Deering’s second novel in the Drew Fathering mystery series. Published in 2014, the stories are set in 1930s England – and they are meant to remind us of the Golden Age of Mystery (the 1920s and 1930s). Deering’s stories have the slight twist of also having references to faith. Others in the series include Rules of Murder, Murder at the Mikado, Dressed for Death, and Murder on the Moor. A sixth novel, Death at Thorburn Hall, is scheduled for publication in November.

With the help of his friend Nick Dennison, Drew begins to unravel the series of crimes. Madeline plays a somewhat smaller role than she did in the first novel; and she’s almost upstaged by a wonderfully domineering aunt who arrives from America to keep her niece out of the clutches of “those foreigners” like Drew.

Death by the Book is an intriguing mystery, and kudos to Deering for writing a story true to the Golden Age period.


Top photograph by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

“Humility” by Andrew Murray

Humility is not a virtue widely promoted in contemporary culture. In fact, it’s one of the traditional virtues largely dismissed today, in this age of constant selfies, self-promotion on social media, and the near-compulsion to the experience celebrity. Even in the church, we turn our pastors into rock stars, promote ourselves by writing books guaranteed to invite controversy and attention, and read more Christian celebrity self-help books than we do the Bible.

Whether we’re Christian or not, humble we’re not.

To read Humility: The Beauty of Holiness by writer, teacher, and pastor Andrew Murray (1828-1917) is, in a very real sense, to enter an alien landscape.

Murray, the son of a Dutch Reformed minister and missionary, was born in South Africa, educated in Scotland, became a missionary and pastor himself in South Africa, and authored more than 240 books on faith, theology, and Christian living. He lived during the century of Darwin, Marx, and Freud, the triumvirate of thinkers who many believe permanently closed the book on the Christian faith. And yet he remained steadfast in his belief, and wrote book after book to encourage others in the faith.

Humility was one of those books. It’s a series of meditations on the subject (this edition is updated with modern English), and draws heavily from the Bible. And this is how Murray summarizes the framework of humility: “The creature must accept that its main concern, its best asset, its only happiness, now and through all eternity, is to present itself an empty vessel in which God can dwell and demonstrate His power and goodness.” The creature Murray is referring to is the human creature.

Andrew Murray
Our best attribute is being an empty vessel?

Murray goes on to use the filter of human humility to reflect upon the secret of redemption, the humanity of Jesus, the teaching and disciples of Jesus, humility in daily life, holiness, sin, faith, death to self, happiness, and exaltation. He goes about his writing quietly and gently, but with a steadfast purpose – to help us understand why humility may be one of the most, if not the most, important characteristic of a Christian.

Humility may be the most countercultural book I’ve read in years.

Top photograph by Arto Marttinen via Unsplash. Used with permission. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Childhood, Poetry, and History: “The Courtship of Miles Standish”

In a box stored in the basement of our home, I have a record of my school history, grades 1 through 12. It was a box my mother kept, and kept adding to, and included everything from report cards and penmanship books to tests and notebooks. Best of all, my mother put a date on everything.

Longfellow (1859) by Matthew Brady.
And so, from 1958, I find the “November Activity Unit,” about the size of a very thin comic book. We had one of these for each month of the school year, and the units contained topical information about the month, holidays, and similar events, with every page containing illustrations to color. I suspect this was a form of busy work, something to keep the children in my second-grade class occupied while the teacher did other things. By second grade, I was familiar with Thanksgiving dinner, but it was that activity unit that introduced me to the Pilgrims.

A few years later in sixth grade, we read The Courtship of Miles Standish by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and that reading supplemented what we were learning in history. Longfellow took the names of his main characters in the poem – Miles Standish, John Alden, and Priscilla Mullins – from the names of real people who arrived in America on the Mayflower. The poem includes events that are certainly historical – conflict with native Americans and disease – but how much of the love story is factual is open to debate.

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

Painting: John Alden and Miles Standish, as painted by N.C. Wyeth.