Thursday, July 2, 2015

Jane Casey’s “Bet Your Life”

Teenager Jess Tennant and her mother have moved from London to Port Sentinel on the English coast to get away from Jess’s father, a divorce, and the shambles of an old life. There barely three months, Jess has found herself in the middle of a second mystery (the first, How to Fall, involved the suspicious death of a cousin). A teenage boy from her school has been beaten badly and left for dead or near-dead.

The boy’s sister asks Jess to find out what happened, and to do that, she has to run smack into the face of the local police chief, a series of high school in-crowds, her old boyfriend and the boy who wants to be the new boyfriend. And her father shows up in all his obnoxious presence.

What Jess finds, in Jane Casey’s young adult novel Bet Your Life, is secrets, dark secrets, and danger.

Bet Your Life was originally published in Britain, and it’s surprising in several ways. First, the scenes and the dialogue, with a few exceptions, sound almost American. Second, the teenagers in the novel act more adult than most of the adults do (adult males, in particular, don’t fare well here). Third, this may be a mystery, but there are more romantic stories going on at any given time that you find in a lot of romance novels.

And, yes, the book kept me interested and intrigued the entire time. It’s a fast-paced read, and it’s easy to suspend belief and follow the story as it develops and morphs downs highways and byways.

Jane Casey
I understand what part of the appeal is, and why a lot of adults are buying young adult fiction. These novels don’t have graphic, gratuitous sex that is required in most popular novels today. Bet Your Life takes a dark turn but contains nothing graphic or gratuitous.

Casey is an Irish crime writer, and this is the second Jess Tennant mystery. She’s previously published five mystery novels in the Maeve Kerrigan series: The Burning, The Reckoning, The Last Girl, The Stranger You Know, and The Kill. A third Jess Tennant mystery, Hide and Seek, is scheduled to published in late August.

Bet Your Life is an easy, entertaining read right to the end.

Photograph: Guy Fawkes Day bonfire by Angie Perkins via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission. Such a bonfire plays a role in Bet Your Life.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Hiding Place: Childhood as Prequel

The retired couple next door to our duplex, giving the three-year-old me squares of Kraft fudge (I liked the vanilla flavor better than the chocolate).

My mother holding me as we watched the man from the dog pound take our Boston terrier away. He had mange, which at the time was incurable.

My father coming home from a business trip to New York, with a jack-in-the-box for me.

A vacation with extended family to Biloxi on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The water tasted (and smelled) like rotten eggs.

Standing in line to get my polio vaccine – a red dot in a sugar cube.

These are some of memories I have from my first seven years of life. Most have to do with family. Our extended family, when it was fully extended, was large – my mother was one of six, and her oldest sister had seven children, so a great deal of my youth was spent going to weddings of what seemed like dozens of cousins. Of all of those weddings we went to, only one ended in divorce.

My father’s family was smaller – he was one of four (it had been five originally, but one sister died as a child). I had four cousins, all of whom were at least 12 years older than I was. For a long time, I was “the kid” on my father’s side of the family. And spoiled appropriately.

My memories of my father’s side are wrapped up in my grandmother – playing hymns on the upright piano, preparing to teach her Sunday School class, me feeding the sheep she kept in her backyard – and my aunts, especially the aunt who lived across the street from my grandmother who made world-class biscuits. And her husband, my uncle, who would let me sit beside him on the back step of the house while he aimed and fired his rifle at any cat that dared to come into his yard.

This was the uncle who introduced me to author James Mitchener. He insisted I had to read The Source, the longest book I had ever read up to that time. He loaned me his copy and said I could take it with me when I ended my Shreveport visit, as long as I returned it after I finished reading it. Which I did.

I was around my mother’s family far more, but it was my father’s family who influenced me the most, who left some of the deepest impressions.

We don’t realize it as children, but these things, good and bad, help shape us in significant ways into the adults we become.

We don’t realize it as children, but these things, good and bad, help shape us in significant ways into the adults we become. 

This is what, I believe, Corrie Ten Boom has in mind in The Hiding Place, when she describes the home life she remembered as a child – the bedroom she shared with her sister, the aunts who lived with them, trips with her father to Amsterdam to meet with watchmakers, her first day of school (when she decided not to go).

In one respect, the childhood she remembered and cherished would not prepare her for the Nazi concentration camps – how could anything prepare a person for that horror?

But it another respect, her childhood did prepare her. Her childhood was where she learned the faith and values that would ultimately sustain her, even as she raved and ranted against God.

William Wordsworth was right:

My heart leaps up when I behold
      A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
      Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
      I could wish my days to be
 Bound each to each by natural piety. (1802)

Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. To see other posts on this chapter, “Full Table,” please visit Jason at Connecting to Impact.

Photograph by Gustavo Di Nucci via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

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.