Saturday, October 31, 2015

Saturday Good Reads

It’s Halloween, and Chris Yokel asks why ghost stories and tells a tale a Jack Skellington in The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Rod Dreher at American Conservative has been telling the story all week of the Catholic liberal theologians who wrote a letter to The New York Times, protesting a column on Pope Francis by Catholic Ross Douthat. The pixels are flying all over the place; Dreher decided to take a look at one of the academics who signed the letter, and it’s amazing what passes for adacemic scholarship these days.

Good poetry – good stories about writing – and a wake-up call about Planned Parenthood.

And the Piano Guys do what only the Piano Guys can do – combine a fight song with Amazing Grace, way up in Scotland.


Top Ten Spooky Poems for Halloween – Lyla Lindquist at Tweetspeak Poetry.


Through the Windy – Robbie Pruitt.

Perfect Dragonfly – A Cento – Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

The Seven Types of Poetry – Robert Peake at Huffington Post Books.

After the Exile – Corey Mesler at Curator Magazine.

Sylvia Plath Reading Her Poems – via Englewood Review of Books.


A Sincere Thank You – My Final Post – Matt Appling at The Church of No People.

She’s So Lovely – Travis Thrasher at The Journey is Everything.


The Champion Table Build, Part 3: Leg Joinery – Jack Baumgartner at The School of the Transfer of Energy.

Fall Hydrangea – Tim Good.


Why Study Academic Theology? – Rod Dreher at American Conservative.

Refugee Stories: The Straw That Broke the Camel’s Back – David Rupert at Red-Letter Believers.

On Revivalist Christianity – Owen White at The Ochlophobist.

Planned Parenthood

This is Your Wake-Up Call – Betsey Childs Howard at First Things.

Amazing Grace – Scottish Style

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

Friday, October 30, 2015

“Coming Clean” by Seth Haines

I have a friend who is one the sweetest, gentlest men I’ve ever met. He loves his family; he loves his friends; he loves God.

He’s consumed by anger. Certain things – a reference on a blog post, a news story, an off-hand remark or comment – and he blazes into an instant conflagration, and takes no prisoners. He’s irrational at these times and cannot be reasoned with. I’ve seen the anger and, yes, the hatred, pour forth online like a torrent of venom.

It’s as if he is one person with two distinct personalities. I know where the anger comes from; it’s where all irrational and self-destructive anger comes from. It is comes from pain, a pain buried so deep that it may never be excavated without serious and lengthy counseling.

Seth’s problem wasn’t anger. Seth’s problem was alcohol, a pain-driven addiction to alcohol. Alcohol numbed the pain, made it manageable and bearable. The immediate cause was the failure of his youngest son Titus to thrive, a child who physically looked as if he was not long for this world. Doctors in Arkansas couldn’t make a diagnosis. Some things worked, for a time. And then they didn’t.

Seth stopped praying. A leader in his local church, and he stopped praying. He turned to alcohol.

The pain was about the alcohol. And it was really about his son’s health problems. The pain was deeper than that. Alcohol was a preventive measure to keep from touching that pain. Start of 4 in the afternoon with a quick drink in the office. Fix a drink as soon as he arrived home so his wife Amber wouldn’t smell the liquor on his breath. Sneak more liquor when she was out of the room.

She knew, of course. What wife wouldn’t know? She was simultaneously dealing with a physically sick child and an emotionally and spiritually sick husband. Amber Haines must be one tough woman. Or perhaps simply blessed by God’s grace.

Seth’s wake-up call came at a Christian conference in Austin. And it came through a fellow alcoholic. He stepped away from alcohol, and it wasn’t easy. It’s probably still not easy. But it’s better.

Seth Haines
He began counseling. And he kept a journal. That journal has become Seth’s story, Coming Clean: A Story of Faith. It’s not a nice narrative written in chronological order. It’s a story that happens in fits and starts, going backward and forward and sometimes sideways. At times it reads like poetry, beautiful almost stream-of-consciousness poetry. It’s filled with the exploration of pain and some theology and some faith. And a lot of grace, possibly more grace than Seth himself realizes. But I think he knows.

Coming Clean is painful to read. But you should read it. My friend who’s so consumed with anger should read it, because it is really not a story about alcoholism.

Don’t avoid the pain. The pain is going to be where you, like Seth, can find God.

Top photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Red Rover, Red Rover

Send someone right over but
two captains alternate choices
of their teams membership,
not unlike the NFL draft except
no media attention
each time lines up facing each
other at a suitable distance,
not unlike a football kickoff except
no sportscasters’ gratuitous comments
the teams join hands
definitely unlike a football game
imagine sportscasters’ reactions in the booth
one team calls out red rover red rover
send (insert name here) right over
(insert name here) makes a mad dash
to the opposing team with fixed purpose:
break through the joined hands

breakthrough, successful: (insert name here) takes
an opposing team member back to his/her team

breakthrough, failed: (insert name here)
is absorbed into the opposing team

the other team gets it turn,
not unlike what happens after a touchdown
or safety in football
repeat as often as necessary
until no one is left on one side
while the other side celebrates
its scorched earth victory, not
unlike American politics,
another playground game,
just more expensive.

Tweetspeak Poetry is playing games this week, specifically games on the playground. Heather Eure has a poetry prompt for a didactic (teaching) poem on a playground game. So hopscotch right over to Tweetspeak Poetry, where you can either dodge the ball or hide and seek. Tag – you’re it!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

“Arthur & George” by Julian Barnes

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, received thousands, if not tens of thousands of pleas for help in solving unsolved crimes, righting wrongs, and setting justice right. The pleas came from all over the world, from people who believed he could help. Often the pleas were written directly to Sherlock Holmes – a testament to the power that a fictional character could hold over the imagination.

Grieving for his recently deceased wife, grieving more for the guilt he carried for having been in love with another woman for the decade leading to his wife’s death (she suffered from consumption or tuberculosis), he opens the mail one morning to find a plea from a man named George Edjali, a barrister, born in England of a Parsee father (native of Bombay) and a Scottish mother. Edjali had been arrested, tried and convicted of mutilating horses and cows in rural Staffordshire, where his father was an Anglican vicar. 

Doyle immediately sees the miscarriage of justice. Perhaps because of the guilt he was carrying, perhaps because of the need to break away from the depression he has experiencing, perhaps because of the outrage he felt at what had happened to Edjali, Doyle does not give the letter to his secretary to send a polite dismissal. He accepts the request. And because he does, British justice will ultimately change.

This is a true story. In 2006, novelist, essayist, translator and art critic Julian Barnes wrote a phenomenally well-researched novel of what happened, entitled Arthur & George. Earlier this year, ITV broadcast a three-part series in Britain based on the book, staring Martin Clunes (“Doc Martin”) as Doyle and Arsher Ali as George. The series recently aired in the U.S. as well.

The book is a wonder. And it’s also a wonder that the TV series could extract the story it did from the novel.

Barnes tells the stories of the two men from childhood forward, because so much of what their entwined story becomes originated in their childhoods. And he tells it in the present tense, which adds an immediacy and a dramatic effect to the narrative. He gets inside the heads of both of his leading characters, something a television program couldn’t succeed as well as doing and so didn’t try. But the program does succeed at telling the story, focusing on the mystery of what actually happened.

Julian Barnes
Edjali, the barrister, has an almost childlike faith in British justice, a faith that survives his arrest and imprisonment experience, but just barely. Doyle, the writer whose involvement would lead rather quickly to a review and investigation by the British Home Office, is less taken with British justice, and fully understands how it could go off the rails, with biased police investigators desperate to find the culprit and an incompetent trial judge. (Because of this case, Britain would create a court of appeals.)

Barnes has written numerous novels, collections of essays and short stories, and art criticism. He received the Man Booker Prize in 2011 for his novel The Sense of an Ending, only one of his many prizes and recognitions

What is clear from Barnes’ account of Doyle and Edjali is that Doyle needed Edjali as much as Edjali needed Doyle. They would not become lifelong friends, although Doyle did invite him to the wedding to his second wife. But their need of each other at the coinciding time of their lives was mutual and, ultimately, beneficial.

The story of Arthur & George is fascinating. How Julian Barnes tells that story is equally fascinating.

Top photograph: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and George Edjali at the time Doyle investigated his case.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Poets and Poems: Sean O’Brien and “The Drowned Book”

U.K. poet Sean O’Brien is one of only two poets who have ever won both the T.S. Eliot Prize and the Forward Poetry Prize for the same collection of poetry. The collection was The Drowned Book, published in 2007, and it is unusual in that all of the poems are part of a coherent whole. Typically, poetry collections may have thematic sections or some related poems, but it’s atypical for the entire collection to be unified.

O’Brien, a native of Ireland who is currently a professor of creative writing at Newcastle University, is the author of several poetry collections. In addition to the Eliot and Forward prizes, he’s also won several other awards and recognitions. In addition to his 11 collections of poetry, he’s a critic, essayist, short story writer, novelist, and playwright. He’s also a member of the Royal Society of Literature.

In the case of The Drowned Boat, O’Brien says that a major influence on the collection was the translation of Dante’s Inferno he was undertaking at the time.

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

Photograph: Poet Sean O'Brien.

Monday, October 26, 2015

“Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death”

It is England the early 1950s. The ravages, personal and national, of World War II are still visible and felt. A young bachelor canon is assigned to the small parish of Grantchester , near Cambridge. He still experiences flashbacks to the war, where he served with distinction. He finds a bit too much solace in the bottle. His sermons tend to be largely about love, trust and forgiveness, but he seems to have trouble trusting and forgiving himself.

Unexpectedly, he finds himself embroiled in murder, and discovers he can go places and talk to people in ways the police cannot.

If you’re a fan of The Grantchester Mysteries, you will recognize the story line. The first series has shown on PBS here in the United States; the second has recently completed filming in the U.K. and will be aired in 2016 on ITV and (it’s hoped) PBS. Actor James Norton plays the title character of Canon Sidney Chambers.

The series is based on the short story collections of author and film producer James Runcie. The first book in the series is Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, a collection of six mystery stories featuring the canon, four of which were filmed as episodes in the PBS series.

In “The Shadow of Death,” what looks like an obvious suicide turns out to be something else entirely. In “A Question of Trust,” an expensive engagement ring goes missing at an engagement party. “First, Do No Harm” concerns the suspicions of the local coroner about elderly people dying a little too soon before their times. In “A Matter of Time,” a young woman is strangled in a London nightclub in Soho, apparently in full view of everyone there (including Sidney, who loves jazz). “The Lost Holbein” concerns the forgery and theft of a valuable painting of Anne Boleyn. And in “Honourable Men,” a local aristocrat is killed during a performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Casear.

In the first story, Chambers develops a friendship with the local police inspector, Geordie Keating, a friendship that becomes a central feature of each of the stories.

The first four stories formed the basis of the four television episodes of The Grantchester Mysteries, but as television producers tend to do, a number of liberties were taken with the written stories. Relationships were condensed and combined; story lines were greatly simplified. And few of Sidney’s occasional spiritual ruminations are included on television. While a fan of the TV series, I found myself liking Runcie’s stories more – they’re more thoughtful, more nuanced, and a bit more provocative. And a one-night stand between Sidney and a jazz singer in London that is featured in one of the television episodes is nowhere to be found in the written stories.

James Runcie
Runcie has published two other Sidney Chambers mysteries – The Perils of Night (2013) and The Problem of Evil (2014), with the fourth in the series, The Forgiveness of Sins, being published this year. He’s also written four novels. In 2014, he explained in an article for the Telegraph how the inspiration for Sidney Chambers came from his father, the late Robert Runcie, the former archbishop of Canterbury.

If you’re familiar with the format of John Mortimer’s Rumpole of the Bailey stories, you’ll be comfortable with the format of The Grantchester Mysteries – a collection of short stories that share characters and themes and come to seem like a novel.

Related: The trailer from Grantchester’s introduction in 2014:

Top photograph: James Norton as Canon Sidney Chambers in The Shadow of Death.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

I, Crispus

After Acts 18

A person of note in Corinth,
I, Crispus, synagogue ruler,
respected, heeded, sought for advice
and counsel, a benefactor welcomed
in the homes of Jews and Gentiles,
my wife acknowledged among the women,
and I have today thrown all of it away
because of the Tarsian, what he said,
what his words burned
into my heart there in the place
I ruled, the synagogue. The others
dismissed him, disparaged him,
laughed at him, ridiculed him,
gnashed their teeth at him and
tore their clothes, mocking outrage.

I did not.
I could not.
I followed him
to the house
next door,
sitting with
Greeks, me and
my household,

I am lost.
I am found.

Photograph: The ruin of a Roman fountain in Corinth.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Saturday Good Reads

The disaster refugee crisis still unfolding in Europe has all the world’s attention, but there is another, related refugee crisis that hasn’t – and that’s the one of Christians displaced by ISIS, the Syrian civil war, and related crises in the Mideast. My friend David Rupert is in Jordan, interviewing Christian families who escaped ISIS and civil war to find themselves in oblicion. His reports are sobering.

Photographer Tom Hussey has created a photo essay on elderly people – looking at younger images of themselves. It’s wonderful. Andrew Sullivan at The Dish has a column on America’s most important Christian writer, and it’s not who you think it might be. It’s a story that resists classification – I could have placed it here under faith, poetry, or writing. Or all three.

Doug Spurling changes a flat tire, Monica Sharman writes a letter, Seth Haines has a confession, and Maureen Doallas writes a breathtakingly beautiful anniversary poem. And more.

David Rupert’s Reports on the Christian Refugee Crisis


Blow a Kiss – Jerry Barrett at Gerald the Writer.

Rotary Guillotine and The Box – Brendan MacOdrum at Oran’s Well.

Gerard Manley Hopkins – D.S. Martin at Kingdom Poets.

Anniversary – A Cento – Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Graffiti Guy – John Grey at Curator Magazine. 


Fragrance – Jeanne Damoff at The View From Here.

Her Heart’s Desire – Lynn Mosher.

How to change a flat tire…and a life – Doug Spurling at Spurling Silver.

Open Letter to the Generations Before Me – Monica Sharman at Know-Love-Obey God.


Der Champion Tabelle Des Aufbaus Teil 2: Rand – Jack Baumgartner at the School of the Transfer of Energy.


Elderly People Look at Their Younger Reflections – Tom Hussey at Digital Synopsis.

Vanishing Land – Cate Colvin Sampson at Oxford American.

Party Clothes – Tim Good at Pixels.


How I Learned to be Human – Mick Silva.

Are Your Book Sales Discouraging? – Sarah Bolme at Marketing Christian Books.

Finding the Words for Faith: Meet America’s Most Important Christian Writer – Andrew Sullivan at The Dish.

Life and Culture

The Shroud of London – a review of London Fog: The Biography – Amy Henderson at The Weekly Standard.

Photograph by Christine Owens via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Friday, October 23, 2015

“Every Little Thing” by Deidra Riggs

We live in an age of brittle celebrity. You can become famous for, well, being famous. Some of the most popular shows on television are aimed at catapulting unknowns into stardom, and while these shows may be about the people we see on the stage, we know it’s really about us. You don’t publish a book, a play or a song without a pre-existing platform, and in the circular reasoning of book publishing, you gain a platform by first being famous. And what is the evolution of prayer books and rosary beads to smart phones if nothing else but a search for personal meaning? We have all become journalists and photographers and our subjects are ourselves.

The Christian community is marginally in a better place but not immune, although one could argue we should be. Mega-church pastors become Christian celebrities; some Christian authors sell books simply by putting their names on the covers. And we buy and consume according to Christian fads, trends and what’s hot at the moment, much like our secular cohorts do. And perhaps we wonder if only Christian celebrities are the ones who can accomplish the big things for God.

And then comes along a book, a small book, a book about the small things, the little things, the small steps, the people whose names will never be plastered across a mega-church marquee, a book that says what we Christians know to be true: it’s not about who you are, or how big your following, or how big your platform, or how recognizable your name is in George Barna’s polls. It’s about your willingness to serve right where you are, because God doesn’t care how famous you are.

“Most of us will make a difference in this world,” writes Deidra Riggs in Every Little Thing: Making a World of Difference Right Where You Are, “but not because of some grand or large-scale initiative. No, most of us will change our corner of the world and make an impact that stands the test of time through the small and seemingly insignificant (to us) interactions and decisions and conversations of our average days. We make a difference where we live, and incrementally, that place begins to shift (emphasis added).”

Deidra Riggs
The lady knows of what she speaks. She writes from life experiences – jumping from an airplane, the chopping down of a beloved cherry tree, fear of the water (as in ocean), moving from a comfortable Philadelphia suburb to what looks like the end of the earth (flyover country, aka Nebraska), a baby daughter rushed to the hospital. She ties each life experience to Scripture, and she does it in a conversational way, a real way, like you’re sitting with her at the kitchen table and she is telling you her story and it turns out to be your story at the same time.

Riggs is a writer and editor, and she’s also the wife of a pastor. That move to Nebraska? Her husband accepted a position at a church in Lincoln. Initially, things didn’t go well, whether it was the mice in the pantry or parishioners leaving the church with no explanation. She will tell you, and she does: she was miserable, and kept questioning herself, her husband, and God. Seven years passed before she reached the point she did when riding her bike one day: “This is good.” And she could see what God had seen – the difference she and her husband would be making.

Every Little Thing is more than a good book. It’s something that even many Christian books aren’t: it is a true book. It is the experience and wisdom of one woman speaking our common language of the heart, our common language of faith.

Photograph by Lode Van de Velde via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Monica Sharman’s “Behold the Beauty”

It’s an invitation to engage with ordinary, simple, familiar things.

A painting in an art museum. A young boy building a light-bulb circuit. A migraine headache. Searching for thimbleberries. Family rituals, like reading stories aloud. Cooking from a friend’s recipe. Reading a much-loved story from your childhood.

It is in those simple familiar things that writer Monica Sharman finds beauty, and more than beauty. In the beauty of the ordinary she finds metaphors for Bible reading, and has collected those metaphors in Behold the Beauty: An Invitation to Bible Reading.

Her invitation is as simple as the beauty she writes about: “Come with me. Come to that which our ears can hear, our eyes can see, and our hands touch. Extend your hands. Take hold of the Bible, the very words of God Himself.”

This is not a call to excitement and thrills. This is a call to a deliberate, thoughtful walk, a walk with senses alert, yes, but a walk in the quiet things of the everyday. It’s an important call, because we spend most of our lives in the quiet things of the everyday.

And it is there that is the best place to read the words of God.

Monica Sharman
In addition to reading about God’s word, Sharman provides small anecdotes about herself and her family – a hike, a vacation by train, an over-stimulated baby, her own experiences with God at CalTech, where she majored in physics. Each anecdote is carefully woven into the fabric of the story she is telling. And Sharman is a storyteller, a storyteller who seems familiar because she is telling our stories as she tells her own. (Be sure to read the preface by writer Jean Fleming; she knows about Sharman and her storytelling abilities.)

Each relatively short chapter includes practical, simple suggestions – what Scriptures to read, questions to ask (and answer), ideas to try out. She suggests paying special attention to how Scripture uses metaphors and repetition, how conversations develop, how details help tell the story, why the setting is so often so important, and other helpful practices.

Behold the Beauty is written by a woman who loves God’s word and is eager to share that love in practical, familiar ways.

Painting: A Girl with a Broom, oil on canvas; artist unknown but possibly Carel Fabritius, about 1651; National Gallery, Washington, D.C. This is the painting that so captured Monica Sharman’s imagination, as she describes in Behold the Beauty.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Ode to London

A global city, one of the world’s great cities, this place we call and know as London. It has given birth to empire and great literature, houses the oldest continuing monarchy, has created innovative office architecture (The Shard, the Gherkin and the Walkie-Talkie, to mention three) to decorate its skyline, and expresses itself as a contemporary metropolis while more than 2,000 years of history lie beneath it.

It is only fitting that London should have a collection of poems devoted to it. Jane McMorland Hunter’s Ode to London: Poems to Celebrate the City is a small volume but with exactly the right poems to recognize and celebrate the city.

McMorland is a writer and gardener, and works at Slightly Foxed Books on Gloucester Road in west London. She’s published three additional poetry anthologies: First World War Poems, Favorite Poems of England, and Classic Readings & Poems: For Weddings, Christenings, Funerals and All Occasions, in addition to several books on gardening.

Published in 2012, Ode to London includes poems and writers familiar and unfamiliar, historical and contemporary, all of whom celebrate the city. The poems are not in chronological order but rather organized by six categories – its industry, shipping and the Thames, nature, architecture, seasons and people (McMorland gives each section more poetic titles).

Jane McMorland Hunter
The poets include Lord Byron, John Dryden, Mary Robinson, William Blake, Rudyard Kipling, Wilfred Owen, Eleanor Farjeon, Robert Herrick, John Donne, Alfred Noyes, Carrie, Etter, T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, John Betjeman, A.A. Milne, and William Wordsworth. They write of summer mornings, arriving in London, the Great Fire (1666), the streets, riding a bus, the Thames and its bridges, the gardens and trees, the weather, Londoners, the statues of Buckingham Palace, and cats (in the case of T.S. Eliot).

The book’s numerous illustrations are all taken from posters published over the years by Transport for London, the government agency that runs the city’s underground and bus systems. Many of the posters are available through the London Transport Museum.

Here is one familiar poem from the collection:

Composed Upon Westminster Bridge
By William Wordsworth

September 3, 1802
Written in the roof of a coach, on my way to France

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, Theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glimmering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendor, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! The very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

Ode to London is a small, readable collection of poems that celebrate a great city.

Photograph: Westminster Bridge, London.