Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Poetic Voices: Rachel Heimowitz and J.L. Jacobs

We are all from a place. It may be a place we’ve lived all of our lives; it may be a place where we grew up. It may be a place we visited and instantly felt at home. And it may be a place that we’ve never set foot in, yet exists in our minds as something intensely real, which is what good literature can often do.

I was a teenager when I read A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, and Paris became a place of both fascination and fear. When I actually visited the city in 1999, I experienced both fascination and fear, although the fear has less to do with the mob and the guillotine than with pickpockets and the rather thuggish-looking character who followed us from the Metro to the Victor Hugo House in the Marais.

Our sense of place is powerful.

Two poets recently dealt with the sense of place in their collections, one describing life in a very specific place – contemporary Israel – while the other draws upon the places of both childhood and imagination (including, coincidentally, the Holy Land).

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

Monday, June 29, 2015

Against the Flow: How Daniel Speaks to Us Today

The Book of Daniel in the Old Testament is filled with prophecies: the kingdoms which followed Babylon’s Nebuchadnezzar; the desecration of the temple in Jerusalem by Antiochus IV Epiphanes; the rise of Rome. The book also included prophecies of the end-times, dovetailing with the Book of Revelation in the New Testament.

In the last three chapters of Against the Flow: The Inspiration of Daniel in an Age of Relativism, author John Lennox describes the fourth and final vision, a kind of survey of the times that would follow Daniel. The information is detailed and in-depth, once again emphasizing the accuracy of what Daniel saw – and what the angel told him would happen.

Prophecy is an important study, and I’ve read the prophetic Old Testament books, read the Book of Revelation, and studied the Book of Revelation. I’m no expert, however, and if someone asked me what my favorite part of the Bible was, I would have to say it’s not prophecy and the study of end-times.  (If you want to know, my favorite books are the Gospels of John and Luke and the Book of Acts.)

So while I’m interested and intrigued with what Lennox writes about in these concluding chapters, I’m not completely riveted. What interests me most is what he had to say in the earlier chapters.

Despite some 2500 years, Christians today have a number of things in common with Daniel and his times.

Here in the United States, the last 50 to 60 years have seen a phenomenal shift in culture and values. It’s not so much a shift “away from the church,” although that’s certainly part of it. Instead, what more describes what has happened is an enormously significant shift in how we understand individual freedom. That freedom has become our Holy Grail, our expectation, our entitlement, what we demand. And that freedom has come largely through the impetus of the federal government, and especially through the federal court system.

What the Supreme Court says and decides has become so important, so wrapped up in this cultural concept of individual freedom at all costs, that we don’t mind the baggage these decisions brings with them as long as “our side” is vindicated and “wins.” (This also says something about the political polarization happening in the United States as well.)

Some of that baggage includes the court having to make up stuff in order to write the decision the majority wants. Harry Blackmun searched the Constitution long and hard in writing his opinion in Roe v. Wade and finally gave up using the Constitution to justify abortion. Instead, he turned to Roman law. Justice John Roberts was only able to uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act by declaring it to be exactly what the Obama Administration and the Congress that passed it said it wasn’t – a tax. In fact, it was such a badly written law (which even most of its supporters didn’t read) that then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was right – they had to pass the law to find out what was in it. And the administration has had to rewrite key provisions of the law, not once but several times, to make its programs actually function.

What has happened with these court decisions and laws is that gradually, almost without notice, our society has been dismantling anything that could potentially stand between us and the federal government. All of the mediating institutions – the states and state legislatures, cultural and social organizations, even Congress – are becoming increasing superfluous.

I’ve heard many people compare these times to the end of the Roman Empire. If you read Roman history, you’ll find these people are wrong. Our times are not like the end of the Roman Empire; they do, however, resemble the end of the Roman Republic.

And the times of Daniel. Daniel lived under a succession of autocracies, where the king was essentially considered an absolute god. Because of his skill, competence and intelligence, he rose in position under both the Babylonians and the Medo-Persians.

More importantly, he had to learn how to navigate those autocracies and still remain faithful to God. He managed, through his own skill and wits as well as more than a little supernatural help. He had to make choices and decisions, hard ones, facing problems that could have been solved so easily – just bend the knee to the king; just worship the king for 30 days – that’s all, just 30 days.

Daniel couldn’t, and didn’t. He understood the consequences. He decided that being thrown into the lion’s den was less onerous than worshipping a false god.

He was a man of conviction and courage. He accepted God at His word. And he knew that God could save him, or not, but that regardless, he would still remain faithful and accept God’s plan.

In the times that are coming, that are now just arriving, we Christians will need the conviction and courage of a Daniel. That, to me, is the significant lesson of the Book of Daniel.

For the past several weeks, I’ve been discussing Against the Flow. This concludes the discussion. But the lessons learned go on.

And we do have another example, one closer to our times, that's worth considering. In February of 1974, a man was arrested by his country's secret police and then expelled from the country. This is what he was writing the day he was arrested: Live Not by Lies

He was blessed in that he lived long enough to see the downfall of the regime that arrested him. That, however, is not always the promise, as Daniel well knew.

Photograph by Xoan Seoane via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The heart shakes

After Acts 4:31

After Acts 4:31

I sit with them
and listen, hearing
what happened, how
the nations raged
and the people plotted.

The words turn sideways.
The room fills. A presence
wells up, overcomes.

The shaking begins:
the shaking of the room,
the shaking of the heart.

He speaks:

The gospel is my opinion
of you. The gospel is
my definition of you.
The gospel is my destiny
for you. The gospel is
your journey to me.
The gospel is my reality
for you. The gospel is
your reality of me.
The gospel is
your journey,
your destination,
your life.

The gospel is extended
from my hand,

Photograph by Alex Grichenko via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Saturday Good Reads

If there’s anything I found most striking about the internet last week, it was how many people turned to poetry – to help understand the shootings in Charleston, on the passing of a grandmother, and even the normal things poets write about.

Last fall at Laity Lodge in Texas, I heard Marilyn McIntyre speak several times. She’s a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, and she was just interviewed by Curator Magazine on “renewing the dialect of the tribe.” It’s about writing.


Prose poem for Father’s Day – Mary H. Sayler at the Poetry Editor.

Sergiu Mandinescu – D.S. Martin at Kingdom Poets.

Crisis of Faith and State of Affairs – Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Franz Wright: Solving the Problems of Poetry – Morgan Meis at Image Journal.

Black Florida Night, White Smoke – Brendan MacOdrum at Oran’s Well.

Deleted Scene – Hannah Stephenson at The Storialist (Hat Tip: Maureen Doallas).

Grandma’s Chickadees – Kelly Chripczuk at A Field of Wild Flowers.

It hurts to be present – John Blase at The Beautiful Due.

Join the Navy: Ask Me About It – William Doreski at Curator magazine.


Merton on Contemplation – Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk.

Commitment – M. Tuckey at Openhanded.

Words Made Flesh: Literature And The Language Of Prayer (Flannery O’Connor) – Juan Vidal at NPR Books.

Life and Culture

Shutting out the world, if only for awhile – Billy Coffey at What I Learned Today.

I Don’t Want My Son to Inherit This Culture’s Fragile Masculinity – Matt Appling at The church of No People.

Loving the South – Rod Dreher at American Conservative Magazine.



Voice and Intimacy in Robertson's "Lila" – Dana Ray at Curator Magazine.

Renewing the Dialect of the Tribe – Curator Magazine talks with Marilyn McEntyre.

Photography and Art

Images from the Prairie and Ox-Eye Daisies – Tim Good at Photography by Tiwago.

Feast for the Day: Dialogue with Georgia O’Keeffe – Patricia Meek via Jack Rabbit Hollow (Hat Tip: Aaron Cornett):

Top photograph: No, that’s not a photograph of our backyard after all the rains, but it’s close. Actually, it’s a photo by Steve Bryant via Public Domain Pictures, taken at Sands End near the port of Whitby in North Yorkshire, United Kingdom.

Friday, June 26, 2015

“Paul’s Letter to the Philippians” – Dan King et al

When I became a Christian, I was given a verse as “my verse,” and it has stuck inside my head for more than 40 years. It’s from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (1:6). Every time I read it or have cause to remember it, I think back to a cool night in January in the basement of one of the main classroom buildings at LSU.

A few decades later, I returned to the classroom where it all happened. That’s the photo above, taken in 2010.

When I saw that a group of people, many of whom I knew in person or online, had created a Bible study for Philippians, I had to see what it was about.

I was not disappointed.

Paul’s Letter to the Philippians is designed as a guide for a group Bible study. To punch that point home, it’s a guide designed by a group for groups. In fact, the individual chapters were not so much edited as curated by Dan King and Crystal Rowe.

In the foreword, King explains how the study and guide were developed: “this community commentary was compiled through an online group study on the epistle, in which we worked through the entire book one passage at a time. Bloggers and writers from various backgrounds led us through the discussion as if we were sitting in someone’s living room together talking through this amazing piece of Scripture.”

The guide includes the historical context for the letter, and then 11 discussions, covering the letter’s major sections. Each section follows a similar format: discussion of the passage, a Greek word study, and an English word study. The word studies focus on a particular word in the passage, providing definitions, synonyms and word origins. Word studies, including their origins, are not superfluous – they provide depth of understanding and often open a study or discussion into a new direction.

As King says, this is a Bible study by “real people,” trying to work out what the epistle teaches and how it applies to life. The writers involved in the discussion and the guide include King, Rowe, Marty Duane Scott, Mark Lafler, Rachel Slough, Lyla Lindquist, Dave Moser, Ryan Tate, Diana Trautwein, Joshua Gillies, Ayomide Akinkugbe, Eric Swalberg, Sheila Lagrand, Asjlet Pichea and Evan Dawson. (I’ve actually met Dan King and Sheila Lagrand in person, both at Laity Lodge near Kerrville, Texas. Online, I’ve “met” Marty Duane Scott, Lyla Lindquist, Ryan Tate, Diana Trautwein and Eric Swalberg.)

The writers represent different Christian faith traditions, from evangelical to Episcopal. They bring their faith traditions to this discussion, and it enriches and deepens our understanding.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Kent Haruf’s “Plainsong”

Tom Guthrie is a schoolteacher, struggling to deal with his wife leaving him and their sons.

Ike and Bobby are Tom’s sons, ten- and nine-years old, trying to understand why their mother left.

Victoria Roubideaux is a high school student, 17 and pregnant, ordered out of the house by her mother..

Raymond and Harold McPheron are aging brothers and bachelors, raising sheep.

They all live in small-town Holt, Colorado. Their lives, and those of a number of minor characters will crisscross and intersect in Plainsong, the novel by Kent Haruf (1943-2014) first published in 1999. It was the first of three novels is what is now called The Plainsong Trilogy, which includes Eventide (2004) and Benediction (2013).

Plainsong is a beautiful novel. It has an enchanting simplicity, enhanced (or perhaps resulting from) the use of simple, uncomplicated language and the absolute lack of quotation marks. Disconcerting at first, this deliberate omission serves to focus on the quiet kind of novel this is.

Kent Haruf
Quiet, but things happen. Tom experiences conflict with a student and his parents, and finds himself sought after by two women. The McPheron brothers unexpectedly welcome the pregnant Victoria into their home. The boys learn much about the town and its people from their paper route. The characters are drawn fine and well. Even the minor characters are drawn with an almost reverence.

People matter in Plainsong because they are all image bearers. They all give and experience grace.  Broken people living broken lives come together in a picture of small-town life that has likely vanished in most places. Yet it is no rose-tinted portrayal, but rather a painting of a town and its people with all their flaws, made the more beautiful because of them.

The novel was a finalist for the National Book Award for fiction.


Top photograph by Ken Kistler via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Before It Was the Hiding Place

The winds of change are underway in the United States, and yet, for most of us, life goes on each day as normal. The change is happening across most of society – economic, social, educational, religious, national, and local. Like most change, it began almost without notice, although the critical period was likely the 1960s.

While it’s easy to point to the Beatles, the sexual revolution, three assassinations, the Great Society, college protests, the explosion of the drug culture, and other headline-grabbing events as examples of the change, the fact is that not all of what happened was bad. Some of it was good, and necessary, like the civil rights movement. And for many people, perhaps most, the change didn’t immediately affect them, but came only years and decades later.

So it must have seemed in countries like Holland, Belgium, Poland, France, and the United Kingdom in the 1930s. The world as it had been known had shifted dramatically with World War I – whole empires had been swept away, new countries carved from them, millions of people killed. And then came the Great Depression, which Europe struggled with as much as the United States.

In 1937 on a quiet street in Haarlem in Holland, Ten Boom Watches celebrated its 100 anniversary in business. It was a joyful occasion for the Ten Boom family, the neighborhood and the community. The business was something of a local institution; the business had been started in 1837 by the father of Corrie Ten Boom’s father, “the grand old man of Haarlem,” as he was known.

There were flowers, lots of flowers, for this was Europe, after all, and Europe loves flowers. And food. And visits by relatives and neighbors. This was life, normal everyday life, marked by a special occasion like a business anniversary.

Signs of change were becoming a little visible, even on that street in Haarlem. Jewish refugees were arriving or passing through from Germany. Watch suppliers in Germany, who made some of the best watches in the world, were no longer shipping to Ten Boom Watches. They were mostly owned by Jewish families, and life was changing drastically for Germany’s Jews.

But despite these occasional shadows, in Holland, quiet and picturesque Holland, normal life continued, the life families like the Ten Booms had known for much of their lifetimes. (And Holland had not been a party on either side to World War I.)

“I know that the experiences of our lives,” writes Corrie Ten Boom in The Hiding Place, “when we let God use them, become the mysterious preparation for the work He will give us to do. But I did not know that then.”

The change would come to that street in Haarlem, and to that little shop known as Ten Boom Watches. And the wind would become a whirlwind.

So, too, we are prepared – mysteriously – with the routine of the everyday for the work He will give us to do.

Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’re beginning a discussion of The Hiding Place. I first (and last) read it four decades ago, and I’m looking forward to read it again. Consider reading along; you can see other posts on this first chapter, “The One Hundredth Birthday Party,” by visiting Sarah at Living Between the Lines.

Top photograph: The Ten Boom sisters: Betsie, Corrie and Nollie as young girls. Bottom photograph: The Ten Boom shop and house in Haarlem, now a museum.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Twitter Party: Slivers of Plum at Midnight

It’s been a while since we last hosted a poetry party on Twitter, but it finally happened. Nine Twitter poets participated, responding to prompts by @tspoetry taken from Dave Malone’s (that’s @dzmalone in the vernacular of Twitter) most recent poetry collection, O: Love Songs from the Ozarks. Our review of the collection was posted here at Tweetspeak Poetry back in February.

Tweetspeak Poetry was born as a result of series of poetry parties on Twitter. For a while we posted the resulting poems on my personal blog, but finally created a site just for that purpose. Over time, the site grew, additional additional features like Poetry at Work Day and Bring Your Poet to Work Day, literary tours, poetry reviews, poetry prompts and more.

Like every previous poetry party, the lines for poems developed on a number of different levels, some people following the prompt and others responding to each other; while some kept closely to the timing of prompt as others were more considered in their responses. It’s great fun, but it takes some detective work on the part of the editor (me) to identify which lines belong with which poem. But I think you’ll like the resulting poems.

To continue reading (and to see the poems), please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Illustration by jks Lola via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Against the Flow: Ideas Matter

My wife and I were both trained in journalism. In fact, that’s how we met – in the newsroom of the student newspaper at LSU. We would both tell you that we had good teachers and not-so-good teachers.

A required course for a journalism degree was “History of Journalism.” And one of the things I remember most from that course was the man who shaped 20th century journalism, Walter Lippmann (1889-1974).

If you’re not familiar with Lippmann, you should know that he was the man who coined the term “Cold War,” gave us the concept of “stereotype” that we understand today, and articulated the modernist view of what journalism was about – the idea of objective, fact-based reporting.

Walter Lippman
While most journalists today would say their reporting is fact-based, fewer would claim “objectivity” as a guiding principle. The influence of post-modernist thinking laid siege to and largely obliterated the idea of objectivity.

This is why you get news stories today that read more like editorials and opinion columns than news. With the possible exceptions of business and sports news, my hometown newspaper, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, is a good example. And even the sports and business stories sometimes are more opinion-based.

Ideas matter. And ideas can linger, often for a very long time.

In Against the Flow: The Inspiration of Daniel in an Age of Relativism, John Lennox describes in great detail the vision the prophet Daniel received as described in chapter nine of the Old Testament book. It was a vision about the future of Jerusalem, so close to Daniel’s heart, and it was a vision about the future.

It’s not a simple vision to explain. Daniel reads in the Book of Jeremiah that the desolation of Jerusalem will last 70 years. The angel Gabriel tells Daniel that the “70 years” is actually 70 sevens – 70 weeks of years, or 490 years. At the end of 62 sevens, or 434 years, an anointed one will be put to death. And in the 70th and final week, a ruler will implement an “abomination of desolation” that will lead to the end-time.

The end of the “62 sevens” happens to coincide with the time of Christ. After that, for those last seven “weeks,” interpretation is not clear-cut. The story picks up again in the Book of Revelation in the New Testament, and that last week becomes the seven years of tribulation under the Antichrist.

There is this thing called history that has played out between the time of Daniel and our own time. Lennox does a good job of arguing the case for the interpretation of Daniel’s vision that coincides with the one (largely the evangelical understanding) that I’ve been taught and accept. But there are others. And we laymen along with our theologians can get easily caught up in discussing (and arguing) the details as well as the overarching theme.

Lennox’s point about all this, however, isn’t to prove himself or his position right. But to point out that many ideas have been around for a long time – thousands of years – and still have consequences today.

“Those future events,” he writes, “are but the harvest of seeds sown by the ideas, attitudes, movements of thought and ideologies that have permeated society throughout history, even from ancient times. In our own time secularist naturalism in particular, with its marginalization of God and devaluation of human life and dignity, is no innocent thing. We need to recognize it for what it is, and spell out its implications for everyone who is prepared to listen.”

Ideas matter; they have consequences, good and bad. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels articulated a view of history, economics and philosophy that eventually gave birth to Soviet communism. Nietzsche influenced Adolf Hitler’s thinking. Lippmann shaped 20th century American journalism. John Dewey’s thinking shaped what we know today as public education.

And ideas can last for a very long time.

For the past several weeks, I’ve been discussing Against the Flow, in which Lennox argues (rather successfully, I think), that there is much we can learn from the Book of Daniel and apply to many issues we face today. This post is taken from chapters 18-20: “Jerusalem and the Future,” “The Seventy Weeks,” and “The Seventieth Week.”

Top photograph by Ave Lainesaar via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

They come together

After Acts 4:23-31

They come together,
and hear, and speak
unplanned, unscripted
words, going up fastened
to hearts and souls.
The words speak first
to creation, origins,
the beginning of all
things ordained,
things ordered,
to overwhelm darkness,
void without form,
shaped into creation.

This is the point
at which we start, praying
for boldness, for signs
and wonders.

The prayer ends,
sound begins,
room shakes,
ground moves,
souls fill, words
are spoken

Photograph by Ron Carlson via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Saturday Good Reads

It was an evil week for news. What happened at the church in Charleston, South Carolina, is inexplicable, unless you accept the fact that sin distorts everything in human life, even the best of things. Nine beautiful people were killed, but I will not, cannot, accept any idea that they died in vain.

There was beauty this week, too, and good writing, startling photographs, fears, and joy. And humor. When life weighs us down, we need all of these things.

Art and Photography

The Apex of Spring – More Plein Air – and Rothko – David Randall Tipton at Painter’s Process.

Lines in the Dark – Tim Good at National Geographic / Your Shot and Leaf in Rain at Photography by Tiwago.


His Murderer and His Keeper – Richard Chess at Image Journal.

My Dysfunctional Relationship with God - Damaris Zehner at Internet Monk.

Dealing with Secular Extremism – Mark Galli at Christianity Today.

A cross to bear: the vanishing Christians of the Middle East – Giles Fraser at The Guardian (Hat tip: J of India).

The Church is dying and I couldn’t be more excited – Richard Beck at Experimental Theology.

Mark – Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk.


Writing for the “country club” – Mike Duran at deCompose.

Songless – Lanier Ivester at The Rabbit Room.

Let the Work Do Its Work – Mick Silva.

On Being a Writer from Jackson - Katy Simpson Smith at Oxford American.

So Why Write a “Christian” Novel? – Rachel Hauck at Novel Rocket.

100 Years to Build a Library – Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.


Boy Again – Seth Haines.

In the Year of the Simultaneous Savior – P.S. Dean at Curator Magazine.

Life and Culture

Magna Carta and the Law that Governs Government – Mark Fitzgibbons at American Thinker.

Before the Fall of Baseball – Chad Johnston at Image Journal.


Timelines Converge – F.C. Etier.

Only in Louisiana

Farewell, Fannie Bell – Rod Dreher at American Conservative.


Lindsey Stirling rocks Phantom of the Opera (Hat tip: Laura Barkat).

Photograph: “Night Vision” by Mark Coldren via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Douglas Boin’s “Coming Out Christian in the Roman World”

My masters program at Washington University in St. Louis involved a series of seminars that focused heavily in the history and religion areas. Two courses, “Athens and Jerusalem” and “History of the Early Church,” shared a number of themes and readings. And one of those themes had to do with persecution of the early Christians in the Roman Empire during the period from Nero (circa 64 A.D.) to Constantine and the legalization of Christianity in 312 A.D.

The persecutions tended to be local or regional, and they tended to be sporadic. They were certainly not ongoing and empire-wide, with a few exceptions, notably toward the end of the period, when the Emperor Diocletian did authorize a persecution across the breadth of the empire (his wife and daughter, as it turns out, were Christians). But most of the persecutions were local or, at most, regional. (I can recall doing a research paper on the persecution in 177 A.D. at Lugdunum, what is now Lyon in France.)

As Douglas Boin notes in Coming Out Christian in the Roman World: How the Followers of Jesus Made a Place in Caesar’s Empire, Christianity didn’t just “emerge” legally with the Emperor Constantine at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 A.D. Nor was Christianity the cause of the empire’s fall, as Edward Gibbon (and others) argued. The story is more complex,
and Boin takes a painstaking view of rather disparate events and people from all over the Roman world to help explain what happened.

An assistant professor of Ancient and Late Antique Mediterranean History at Saint Louis University, Boin received a B.A. in Classics from Georgetown University and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Classics from the University of Texas at Austin. He’s does extensive archaeological research at Ostia, once the seaport for the city of Rome.

He relies upon the writings of the early church fathers Tertullian, Cyprian, Ignatius of Antioch, among many others; original Latin / Roman sources, including like Tacitus, Trajan, and Cicero; and Jewish sources like 2 Maccabees and Philo of Alexandria. He ranges the empire, from Ostia and Rome to Alexandria and what is now Iraq.

Douglas Boin
And he goes beyond the period of Constantine and Christianity’s legalization, coming to the question of how Christianity, once an illegal and unpatriotic “cult,” managed to outlaw traditional Roman and other religions within a century of its own legalization (Ambrose of Milan, a figure connected to St. Augustine, plays a significant role in influencing imperial policy).

Coming Out Christian is an academic work but written in an accessible, sometimes almost entertaining style. And because it’s an academic work, and not a theological one, Boin does not accept traditionally ascribed authorship of a number of parts of the New Testament.

But even from my own evangelical perspective, I find it a valuable book, not the least reason being how contemporary scholarship is employed to understand ancient questions and events.

Photograph by Enzo Abramo via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.