Comparisons between C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters and Thomas Davis’s The Devil Likes to Sing are inevitable, but I can’t go there. When I tried reading Screwtape years ago, I just couldn’t get into it. (Let me assure the Lewis fans who just gasped in horror that I have read many of his other books.)
My educational background is in the humanities; my exposure to the sciences has been almost nil. The closest I come to the sciences is through my daughter and her husband, both high school biology teachers. However, I've become interested in the conversation between science and religion.
The book publishing world depends on buzz. The best kind of book buzz is created by readers who tell their friends about the books they love. Anyone who is part of a circle of reading friends knows that, despite dire predictions about the demise of book publishing, the appetite for reading books is alive and well. But readers have to find out about a book somehow, and that is where promotion comes in—either by publishers or by the authors themselves.
I understand the growing need for writers to promote their own work.
Rahila Muska, a teenage girl, lived in the Helmand province of Afghanistan, a Taliban stronghold. Muska was known for regularly calling into a radio program on which women share landays, a traditional Pashtun form of poetry. Like most women who do this, Muska shared other people’s poems, not her own—to acknowledge authorship would have endangered her life.
When our family lived in western Pennsylvania we had a rather large yard. It was like a magnet for kids in the neighborhood, which was okay with us. That way we knew where our own children were. It was also neat to see how the older kids would let the younger ones participate as they played whatever sport was in season—football in the fall, soccer in the spring, baseball in summer.
In 1920, not long after the Great War, a little-known agitator gave a speech in Munich on the topic, "Why Are We Anti-Semites?" The speaker concluded that it was important to prevent Germany “from suffering a death by crucifixion."
Of course this agitator became quite well known—it was Adolf Hitler—and we know what his antisemitism led to.
The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War, by Stephen Kinzer. Kinzer has written several books about foreign interventions by the United States, including All the Shah’s Men, about the 1953 CIA-engineered toppling of the elected government in Iran. In this dual biography he provides a portrait of two of the men behind that coup.
When writer Philip Caputo was almost 69, he took a road trip across the country—diagonally, from Florida to Alaska. The United States seems to be fracturing politically and socially, and Caputo wanted to ask people along the way what holds us together—what makes the pluribus unum? He wondered at first whether such a trip was madness.
Driving in northern Indiana one recent evening, I came to the conclusion that religious broadcasters pretty much own the FM band in this part of the country. One station was playing contemporary Christian music, another gospel music. And three different stations were airing James Dobson’s radio program. Dobson, formerly of Focus on the Family, was touting a new novel he has coauthored, which fictionalizes all the bad things supposedly resulting from a decline in the American birthrate.
In an era when homeless people can be seen sleeping on city sidewalks and park benches, Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz wanted to convey the idea that Jesus too was homeless. It was said of him: “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Schmalz didn’t anticipate that his sculpture would be controversial. St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York expressed interest in displaying the work but were overruled by diocesan officials. Schmalz said he was told that the image was not “appropriate.” Schmalz is negotiating with another church in New York City for a permanent home.
Hanna Varghese is a Malaysian artist who often works in batik, as she does with this image of the ascension. Varghese was born to Christian parents, and she remembers her mother taking her to a different worship service every week: “My parents encouraged me to attend different churches so that my siblings and I would appreciate the liturgy and traditions of the Christian believers of different denominations. Christians are a minority in Malaysia so we continue to struggle for our identity in a Muslim society.” The ascension reminds Christians everywhere of the coming of God’s Spirit and that the reign of God is a universal one not bounded by nation states.
I don't like un-vetted books, aka self-published books or books printed by so-called vanity presses. I’m aware that this is where much of the publishing world is headed in this digital age. There is a growth industry of firms that will be glad to publish your book, in print or in digital format. Amazon even has such a service.
I laud many aspects of the digital world. But this is one development I see as a big negative.
After two years of civil war, the Syrian refugee crisis is reaching a boiling point. The United Nations estimates that 2.3 million Syrians are displaced within Syria and that another million have fled to Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt according to Daryl Byler, a Middle Eastern representative of the Mennonite Central Committee.
Many people are still inspired by the figure of St. Francis (d. 1226), who gave up a life of relative ease to become a simple follower of Jesus and a friend of all God’s creatures. Millions of tourists and pilgrims flock to Assisi, St. Francis’s hometown in central Italy. The garden at St. Anthony’s Guest House in Assisi, run by the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement, has two modern sculptures. The Dancing Francis, by American artist Paul T. Granlund, is based on Francis’s canticle “Brother Sun, Sister Moon.” It portrays him dancing with God and holding up a sunlike disc containing a cutout of Jesus. Light passes through it and onto Francis. St. Francis and the Birds, by Dutch-American artist Frederick Franck, is based on legends about Francis befriending and even preaching to birds and other animals.
Twice in the past two years I've taken a hard fall on ice: once at night walking on a dimly-lit sidewalk and another time on black ice in broad daylight. The first time no one was around. The second time I was in a public parking lot. My first act after the fall—before getting up—was to look around to see if anyone had observed my embarrassing fall.