Oh, to be cloned, times two

Synod 2018The week of June 11 was one of those times when I wished I could be cloned so I could be in two places at the same time. Actually, it would have been nice to be in four places at the same time.

The United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA) and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) held their major, annual ecclesiastical meetings concurrently on the campus of Wheaton College, near Chicago, from June 11-15, 2018. As a regular contributor for Christian Renewal, I’d been anticipating and planning to attend this event for several years.

But having recently reported on concurrent regional meetings of a URCNA classis and an OPC presbytery, I knew how difficult it was to go from meeting to meeting and catch the most important discussions. Thus my desire to be clones.OPC

It addition to that, the annual Write-to-Publish conference was held from June 13-16 at–you guessed it–Wheaton College. Three members of my local writing group attended it, two of whom I’ve gone with in the past, but I couldn’t register. There was just no way I could immerse myself in the WTP networking and learning experience at the Billy Graham Center, while trying to stay on top of ecclesiastical action up the hill in the Edman Chapel and Coray Alumni Gymnasium. Therefore my desire to be in three places.

But there’s more, I’m working on a writing project with Leland Ryken, prolific author and long-time professor in Wheaton’s English department. Being in Wheaton gave me opportunities to discuss the project face-to-face with him, which is infinitely superior to email. Hence, my desire to be in four places at the same time.

Despite not being cloned two times, I had an amazing week bursting with blessings. I heard important discussions in both ecclesiastical meetings and greeted many pastor friends I hadn’t seen for years or had never met in person. I also touched base with my editor, John Van Dyk, whom I’ve seen only a handful of times.

Diane and Pete Smith, organizers extraordinaire

While I didn’t participate in the Write-to-Publish experience, I ate lunch with writing friends three times. Over one noon break, the Three Amigos visited my favorite place on Wheaton’s campus, the Marion E. Wade Center, which houses fascinating memorabilia and books written by seven British authors: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers, G.K. Chesterton, George MacDonald, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield. Most of these would make my list of favorite authors.

Leland and I talked through several issues at this important stage of our project, and I enjoyed wonderful conversations with his wife, Mary, as well. I enjoyed fellowship with many other women, especially when I had the privilege of leading devotions for the Ladies Afternoon Tea on Tuesday in the Todd M. Beamer Student Center.

And I signed a lot of copies of my nine published books. As usual when I sign Little One Lost, God provided meaningful interactions when dear women shared their stories of loss. I’m both honored and humbled by these moments, which make me feel as if I briefly function as the ears and arms of Jesus.

Who needs to be cloned?sign



Makoto Fujimura’s recommendations on creativity

Picture on World magazine’s website.

Well-known artist Makoto Fujimura recommends on the Christianity Today site his top five books on creativity. If you click on that last hyperlink, you’ll see his five are:

The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World by Lewis Hyde

On Beauty and Being Just by Elaine Scarry

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle

The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy L. Sayers

Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot

Sayers’ The Mind of the Maker has been one of the most influential books I own, shaping my concept of creativity as mirroring the Creator. I’m also familiar with Eliot’s Four Quartets, but have yet to read the others.

In 2006, I interviewed Makoto for Christian Renewal. A slightly edited version of that interview, “Refracting Light and Reflecting Grace,” appears here.

In addition to being an extraordinary artist, commissioned to do the artwork for The Four Holy Gospels, ESV Bible, Makoto is the author of Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art, and Culture. He’s the creator of the innovative Fujimura Institute, currently featuring the QU4RTETS project. As the founder of the International Arts Movement, he’s the catalyst for creative and cooperative efforts to resist the alienating effects of today’s fragmented society.

His recommendations on creativity certainly have value. Of the three I haven’t read, Walking on Water most intrigues me, but each piques my interest differently and I’m eager to read all three.

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

Confident and capable heroes sprint through John Buchan’s action-packed novels.  If you’ve never read any of Buchan’s work, this first of his novels about Richard Hannay is a great starting gate.

In the introduction to The Thirty-Nine Steps, Robin W. Winks writes that the book is “often said to have established the basic formula for the spy (or conspiracy) thriller” and that it shows “the formula at its most pure.” 

Take an attractive man, not too young–Hannay is thirty-seven in Steps, two years younger than Buchan when he began to write the book–and not too old, since he must have the knowledge of maturity and substantial experience on which he will draw while being able to respond to the physical rigors of chase and pursuit. Let the hero, who appears at first to be relatively ordinary, and who thinks of himself as commonplace, be drawn against his best judgment into a mystery he only vaguely comprehends, so that he and the reader may share the growing tension together. Set him a task to perform: to get the secret plans, let us say, from point A to point B, or to bring the news from Ghent to Aix. Place obstacles in his path–the enemy, best left as ill-defined as possible, so that our hero cannot be certain who he might trust. See to it that he cannot turn to established authority for help, indeed that the police, the military, the establishment will be actively working against him.

Then set a clock ticking: the hero must bet from point A to point B in a sharply defined time, a time-frame known to both pursuer and pursued.

John Buchan’s novels reflect only a small facet of his prolific writing career, which spanned a wide range of fiction, nonfiction, and biography. He maintained his writing career simultaneously with an illustrious diplomatic and governmental career that included serving from 1935-1940 as Canada’s Governor General, after being elevated to the peerage as 1st Baron the Lord Tweedsmuir. You can read more about John Buchan/Lord Tweedsmuir here. And you can order The Thirty-Nine Steps here.

I recently read The Thirty-Nine Steps for the second time and was struck with Buchan’s literary skill as well as his ability to craft heart-stopping action scenes.

Since one of my favorite characters in his Hannay novels is Sandy Arbuthnot, I was surprised to find a character named Freddy Arbuthnot when I subsequently picked up for the second reading Thrones, Dominations a novel begun by Dorothy L. Sayers and finished by Jill Paton Walsh.

Are the names of those two characters sheer coincidence? I’d like to know if Sayers or Walsh chose that character’s name and if he’s related to Buchan’s suave spy.

Discovering Ngaio Marsh

One of the best things about synod meetings is chatting with old or new friends over meals or on walks between buildings. And one of the most interesting conversations for me this year at Synod Nyack 2012 was a brief discussion about writers with Rev. Leo DeVos, the fraternal delegate from the Reformed Churches of New Zealand (RCNZed).

He and I had each recently visited Wheaton College, and I talked about the fascinating objects and books housed in the Marion E. Wade Center (including the desks of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers’ eyeglasses, and much more).

Dame Ngaio Marsh, 1895-1982
from the Dame Ngaio Marsh’s Home website

Sayers is probably my favorite mystery author. In fact, I would have said “favorite” without any qualifiers a week ago, but that was before I read my first book by Ngaio Marsh, recommended by Rev. DeVos. Now I’m not so sure; Marsh’s literary quality equals Sayers and surpasses Agatha Christie’s, while her writing seems more accessible than either.

Since I’ve read only one of Marsh’s books, Died in the Wool, my opinion may change. But I’m eager to discover if my first impressions are confirmed by further reading.

Born in Christchurch, New Zealand, as Edith Ngaio Marsh, she chose to write as “Ngaio,” a Maori word that means “light reflecting on water.” With Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, and Margery Allingham, she’s know as one of the “Queens of Crime.” The home in Christchurch were she lived for 77 years survived recent earthquakes and remains open to visitors.

Summer is prime time for mystery reading in my mind. I’ve long been a big fan of British cozies. Ever since I was in high school, I’ve used the summer months for light reading, primarily mysteries. My definition of summer vacation is reading a mystery while sitting on the front porch swing, as its gentle motion matches an undulating breeze and white clouds float in a bright blue sky above vivid green grass.

What’s your favorite summer reading? When and where do you like to read mysteries?