Archive for December, 2008

'An Irish Country Christmas'

Patrick Taylor’s latest is a most charming holiday tale

Imagine a quaint country village in rural Northern Ireland in 1964, before the Troubles.
Its characters include an irascible old doctor who never lets his patients get the upper hand, but who’s really a softie, his young protege from Belfast whose first impression of his boss was of him throwing a patient into his rosebushes, another patient who complains of headaches two inches above her head, and a wealthy marquis whose friends include a homeless man who lives in a caravan with his dogs.
This is the world of Patrick Taylor’s series about the fictitious village of Ballybucklebo that began with last year’s bestseller, “An Irish Country Doctor.”
When I wrote my annual books column for 2007, I mentioned that book as my favorite novel of the year. So I was thrilled when Taylor followed it up this year with “An Irish Country Village,” then “An Irish Country Christmas.”
This was the last book I finished this year, and the best by far. It’s also probably the most charming Christmas novel I’ve ever read.
In the latest story, the young Dr. Barry Laverty is fretting over whether his girlfriend will come home from England in time for Christmas, and the widower Dr. Fingal O’Reilly is falling hard for an old flame. The doctors recruit a huckster to rig a raffle to help a single mother who’s lost all her savings,. And Dr. O’Reilly confronts a crackpot doctor whose remedies include giving a patient gunpowder to cure his impotence.
If you’re still in the holiday spirit, I recommend this book. You won’t be disappointed.
During presidential election years, I tend to read more political books than usual, and my favorite this year was Thurston Clarke’s “The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America.”
It’s an exhilarating account of the 1968 campaign that vividly captures the spirit of the era, RFK’s message of healing and hope, and his keen sense of humor, which seldom comes across in other biographies of the hard-charging reformer.
Other good political books I read this year were “McCain’s Promise,” by David Foster Wallace, an account of John McCain’s 2000 crusade by a reporter who was “on the bus,” and “Heroic Conservatism” by former White House speechwriter Michael Gerson. The latter proved to be prescient in its argument that the Republican Party must return to a more moderate and compassionate conservatism, or it will lose and deserve to lose.
As I’ve done for each of the past couple of years, I am sharing my list of the books I’ve read through the year, and invite readers to tell us which books they’ve read in 2008, which ones they liked best, and why.
Here’s my reading list. The notations are F for fiction, NF for nonfiction and V for verse, or poetry:
Heroic Conservatism: Why Republicans Need to Embrace America’s Ideals — Michael J. Gerson (NF)
C.S. Lewis in a Time of War – Justin Phillips (NF)
Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis and “The Chronicles of Narnia” — Terry Glaspey (NF)
Epic: The Story God is Telling — John Eldredge (NF)
Bush’s Fringe Governmen† — Garry Wills (NF)
Scarlet — Stephen R. Lawhead (F)
The Newspaper Designer’s Handbook — Tim Harrower (NF)
Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises and a Revolution of Hope — Brian McLaren (NF)
The Great Divorce — C.S. Lewis (F)
The Way of the Crusades — Jay Williams (NF)
Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality — Donald Miller (NF)
The Spirituality of St. Patrick — Lesley Whiteside (NF)
Wide Open Spaces — Jim Palmer (NF)
Robert Kennedy: The Last Campaign — photographs by Bill Eppridge, text by Haynes Gorey (NF)
An Irish Country Village — Patrick Taylor (F)
Tokens of Trust: An Introduction to Christian Belief — Rowan Williams (NF)
Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection and the Mission of the Church — N.T. Wright (NF)
Walking With God — John Eldredge (NF)
Almost Catholic: An Appreciation of the History, Practice and Mystery of Ancient Faith — Jon M. Sweeney (NF)
The Working Poor: Invisible in America — David K. Shipler (NF)
Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection — John T. Cacioppo and William Patrick (NF)
Justice in the Burbs: Being the Hands of Jesus Wherever You Live — Will and Lisa Samson (NF)
Barack Obama: This Improbable Quest — John K. Wilson (NF)
McCain’s Promise — David Foster Wallace (NF)
Why Courage Matters — John McCain with Mark Salter (NF)
The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America — Thurston Clarke (NF)
The Two-Pound Tram — William Newton (F)
Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail — Robert E. Webber (NF)
Summer People — Brian Groh (F)
The Valley of Light — Terry Kay (F)
Magic Time — Doug Marlette (F)
Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals — Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw (NF)
An Agenda for Change: A Global Call for Spiritual and Social Transformation — Joel Edwards (NF)
The New Monasticism: What it Has to Say to Today’s Church — Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (NF)
Beyond Smells and Bells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy — Mark Galli (NF)
Johnny Cash and the Great American Contradiction: Christianity and the Battle for the Soul of a Nation — Rodney Clapp. (NF)
It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Comin’ — Tony Campolo (NF)
The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why — Phyllis Tickle (NF)
Tolkien: A Celebration — edited by Joseph Pearce (NF)
The Lion and the Unicorn: Gladstone vs. Disraeli — Richard Aldous (NF)
Our Lady of the Forest — David Guterson (F)
Tales from the Perilous Realm — J.R.R. Tolkien (NF)
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight — new verse translation by Simon Armitage (V)
Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers: Prayer for Ordinary Radicals — Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (NF)
Wild Goose Chase: Reclaiming the Adventure of Pursuing God — Mark Batterson (NF)
The Faith of Barack Obama — Stephen Mansfield (NF)
Love Came Down: Anglican Readings for Advent and Christmas — compiled by Christopher L. Webber (NF)
An Irish Country Christmas — Patrick Taylor (F)

A thrill of hope

After a night of freezing rain followed by torrents of warm rain today, the stars came out for Christmas Eve, and it reminded me of this beautiful carol. The music was composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847 for the French poem “Minuit, chrétiens” by Placide Cappeau (1808-1877). It was translated into English by a Unitarian minister, John Sullivan Dwight in 1855.

Merry Christmas to all of you, and glory to the newborn king! — Randy Patrick

'The Nativity Story'

O Holy Night

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! O, hear the angels’ voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night Divine.
Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from Orient land.
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, Behold your King.
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.

Quote of the day

“News is something someone wants suppressed. Everything else is just advertising.”
— Lord Northcliff

Jerry Mitchell: journalist for justice

Journalist Jerry Mitchell

Journalist Jerry Mitchell

Jerry Mitchell will be the guest of “Connections with Renee Shaw” at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 21, on KET1.

If you’ve seen the 1996 film “Ghosts of Mississippi,” about the prosecution of Klansman Byron De La Beckwith for the murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, you may remember the character of Jerry Mitchell, the reporter for The Clarion-Ledger, played by actor Jerry Devine.
If so, put that image out of your mind.
The real Jerry Mitchell is nothing like the arrogant, overbearing journalist who was always in the way of prosecutor Bobby DeLaughter (played by Alec Baldwin).
In October, I met Mitchell in a small classroom setting, at a joint meeting of the University of Kentucky and Bluegrass chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. He came across as a quiet, humble, but dogged reporter who has made it his life’s mission to expose the evil of racial violence and bring the Ku Klux Klan to justice.
Far from hindering the prosecution, it was Mitchell’s investigative reporting that led to the reopening of many of these old civil rights cases.
Inspired by the movie “Mississippi Burning,” Mitchell in 1989 began investigating the murders of several civil rights activists by members of the Klan. His work resulted in new evidence and the arrests and convictions of several Klansmen.
In his roundtable discussion with student journalists the day after his Oct. 21 lecture at UK, Mitchell talked about his investigative work and the profession of journalism.
One student asked him if he had been threatened by the Klan. Yes, he said, but it doesn’t deter him.
“I don’t react well to bullies,” he said. “When people threaten me, it makes me more determined. … A lot of these groups are cowards.”
Asked by one student whether he’s ever gotten emotionally involved in the cases he’s investigated, he mentioned a case of a black man who was falsely accused of stealing chickens and did seven years in Mississippi’s notorious Parchman Prison, where he got sick and died in 1963.
Mitchell cried when he read the transcript of the case.
When confronted with injustice, he said, “you should be outraged.”
Rather than objectivity, reporters should strive for fairness.
“I think the idea that reporters can’t have opinions is misguided,” he explained. “We’re about truth — exposing the truth.”
Probably the thing that most surprised me, though, was when a girl in the class asked him about his belief that he had some help from a higher authority in his work.
Mitchell said that in his investigation, there were so many things that just fell into place at the right time that he came to feel that it couldn’t be coincidence.
“I kind of feel, as a matter of faith, that God’s hand has been in these cases,” he said.
Journalists, as a whole, are among the most secular of professionals, and many are irreverent toward religion. So, for me, it was encouraging to one of the best in the business simply affirm his Christian faith.
If you’re interested in learning more about Mitchell’s life and work, I would urge you to watch an interview with him on Kentucky Educational Television this weekend.
He’s going to be a guest on “Connections with Renee Shaw,” which will air Sunday, Dec. 21, at 1:30 p.m. on KET1. For those who get KET2 on cable or satellite TV, there will also be a broadcast at 4 p.m. Dec. 19 on that channel.

The light shines in the darkness

It must have caused quite a scandal in the barrio when neighbors learned that Maria was pregnant. The girl was only 15, and was engaged to a man who was a few years older — a carpenter from Juarez named Jose.
Jose had not slept with the girl before their wedding, so he was hurt and angry when she told him she was expecting. He considered breaking up with her to avoid the ridicule they would encounter in that culture. But he loved her, and after a strange dream, he decided he would not leave her, and would love the child she was carrying and bring him up as if he were his own.
Maria was a poor campesina, but descended from a noble family. She was a deeply spiritual person, but not in a haughty way. She was also a woman of the people. She believed in a God of liberation, one who defended the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
Before Emanuel was born, Maria gave an incendiary speech denouncing the social order in which small farmers and sweatshop workers were heavily taxed, and corrupt leaders had members of their own families assassinated to get what they wanted.
Maria believed God’s revolution would right such wrongs, and that her own son would have a role in bringing about this new order.
Speaking without fear, Maria said of her Lord: “He has accomplished great works and scattered those who are proud. He has brought down the powerful and lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his followers and shown them mercy, just as he promised.”
It was easy to see where Emanuel got his passion and compassion, as well as his piety.
Maria may have been a sweet girl, but she was a little rough around the edges, as was her son, from the beginning.
He was, after all, born in a barn while the couple were traveling to a little town just south of the capital, Mexico City. They couldn’t find a hotel to stay in, and there was no hospital, so Maria gave birth to Emanuel amid the stench of manure, wrapped him in some cloth and laid him in a feeding trough lined with hay.
That night a bright comet was visible in the sky, and Jose and Maria wondered whether it had some strange meaning.
Like his adoptive father, Emanuel grew up to be a migrant worker, a carpenter. He was also a sort of itinerant preacher, spreading his liberation theology among the people.
Emanuel was often homeless, wandering from one desert town to another. With his long hair and beard and dusty sandals, he wasn’t much to look at — nothing about him that would mark him as special. But people were oddly attracted to him, and he gathered about him an unlikely assortment of friends, from Pedro the headstrong fisherman to gentle Juan, who was something of a mystic.
He had a cousin, who was also named Juan, who appeared to some to be a little loco. He lived outdoors and ate grasshoppers and honey. That Juan was a street preacher who had a dangerous habit of criticizing corrupt officials. No one was surprised when Juan was murdered in jail, although the way it was done was shocking; he was beheaded.
Emanuel, too, was a troublemaker. He didn’t advocate violence, only resistance to injustice. But one day when he was at the cathedral in the Zocalo, he became so incensed about loan sharks preying on the faithful that he couldn’t control his anger, and he started yelling at the swindlers and kicked over their tables.
“This is a house of God, and you’ve turned it into a den of thieves!” he shouted.
That kind of behavior didn’t sit well with the establishment, and some tried to discredit him, saying he was a drunkard and glutton because he drank wine and ate with outcasts. He befriended prostitutes like Magdalena, as well as AIDS victims and other untouchables and tried to help them.
About the only people he lacked patience with were the self-righteous preachers and fundamentalist hypocrites who had close ties to the some of the country’s worst politicians and their wealthy benefactors.
Emanuel defended the poor, called for the release of captives, fed the hungry, cared for those who were ill and envisioned a godly society of love and justice that would turn the selfish values of the old society upside down.
He advocated peace, but he met a violent end. A former friend betrayed him for money to those who couldn’t stand his egalitarian message. They had Emanuel tortured and executed. He was taken to a garbage dump on a hillside, where they fastened him to a wooden post, stabbed him in the side with a machete and left him to die.
Yet some say he isn’t dead — that his spirit lives on among the people who love him, and that at this time of year, when his birthday is celebrated, he is reborn into the hearts of all who believe in what he stood for and follow his example of a life of forgiveness and sacrificial giving.
His light still shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Quote of the day

“If ever the Chicago Tribune’s renowned staff of reporters, cartoonists, editors and columnists … were needed — or were sorely missed — it is now. Not that those still standing don’t do a heroic job, but they know what I mean. Staff cuts and shrinking news holes make it hard to keep pace when the enemy is communing with one’s own generals, as seems to be the case here.”

— Columnist Kathleen Parker of The Washington Post on a report that a financial adviser for the Tribune Co. was reassuring toward Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who allegedly demanded that members of the Tribune’s editorial board be fired in exchange for state assistance for the financing or sale of the Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field.

New chapter for library

The new meeting room in the Lynne Boxley Library for Young People is spacious, but it was barely big enough to hold all the patrons who came Monday night to celebrate the opening of the Clark County Public Library’s new addition.
The library has come a long way since it was in a railway box car, something a few of those who were present for the grand opening could remember.
“This is something I held in my heart and prayed for since my mother passed,” Mary Lynne Boxley told the audience, saying the event Monday night was more of a memorial to her mother, a long-time Clark librarian, than her funeral was.
If you haven’t visited your public library lately, you must. It is one of the nicest ones in the Bluegrass.There’s so much room now, and it’s quieter.
For Julie Maruskin, the library director, the board of trustees and everyone else who helped make this new expansion and improvement of the library possible, a big thumbs up!

Books for children

Speaking of books, thumbs up to Betty Berryman and the Partners in Education program for their holiday book drive.
When we think about children being needy, we tend to think about them not having new clothes or enough food or adequate housing. But many children don’t have books of their own, and a new book is a treasure every child should have. Last month, PIE collected donations for individuals and businesses to provide Clark County children with books. Let’s hope this leads to a life-long love of reading and learning for these kids.

Quote of the day

National Geographic

National Geographic

O come, O Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by thine advent here
And drive away the shades of night
And pierce the clouds and bring us light

— from “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”

Who reads syndicated columnists?

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker

After The Winchester Sun published a letter to the editor last Thursday from one of our readers, Carol Goodrich, telling us how much she despised our new syndicated columnist, Kathleen Parker, I posted a Friday night online poll asking readers which of our Washington Post Writers Group columnists they like best: Parker, Michael Gerson or E.J. Dionne. What was surprising was not who won (Gerson), but the fact hardly anybody cared.

Usually when we post a poll on our Web site, even if it’s a noncontroversial issue (such as “Will you spend more or less on Christmas shopping this year?”), we generally have anywhere from 100 to 200 people go online to vote. This time, as of 1 p.m. today, only nine people had voted.

The results were: Parker, 2 (22.2 percent), Gerson 4 (44.4 percent) and Dionne 3 (33.3 percent).

Actually, the results shouldn’t have been astonishing. They mirror the results that were included in a comprehensive reader survey our parent company did for us in 2006, which showed that hardly anyone was reading the national syndicated columnists on our editorial page (only 11 percent said they were very interested.)

At that time, we had a plethora of national columnists, and they were all ultraconservative: James Kilpatrick, Mona Charen, Charlie Reese, Thomas Sowell, to name just a few. We temporarily added Helen Thomas, once the dean of White House correspondents, to add a little liberal balance, and because she lived here as a child and had Winchester family ties. But she didn’t seem to be any more popular than the others.

So, for reasons of reader interest, ideological balance and cost-efficiency, I decided that if we would have only two national political columnists and that one would be a moderate conservative and the other a moderate liberal. I settled on Washington Post columnists Gerson, a former speech writer for President George W. Bush, and Dionne, a popular commentator and progressive Catholic. The fact that Gerson and Dionne are both unabashed Christian writers (Gerson’s grandfather was a Nazarene preacher from Kentucky) was another reason for my choosing them because Winchester is that kind of community and we’re that kind of paper.

I also started writing more columns myself and added some Kentucky writers, Don McNay, Jim Waters and most recently, Al Cross; recruited a couple of Clark Countians, Chuck Witt and the Rev. James Williams, to be community columnists; and started publishing more free op-eds, mostly from Kentucky.

A few weeks ago, the Washington Post Writers Group offered to let us publish Parker’s column free of charge on a trial basis through the end of this year. I was getting bored with Dionne and Gerson writing nonstop about nothing but the presidential election and thought Parker’s acerbic humor and conservative, commonsense perspective might enliven the page a little, but hardly anyone has noticed other than Ms. Goodrich, and she wasn’t amused.

So, I’m seriously considering dumping all of our national syndicated columnists (or all but one) after the first of the year (including Peter McKay whom we moved to the Saturday Communities page), unless enough of you tell me not to do it.

It’s really up to you. Do you want to read national perspectives in the Sun’s opinion section? Or would you prefer that we have more columns from Clark County and Kentucky? Feel free to share your comments below.

Brits discover Newer World

In this business, it’s good to get noticed. As someone who’s new to blogging, I get excited when I realize that someone’s actually reading what I’ve written. So I was impressed today that a Web site in Britain that’s collecting Web posts about the 2008 U.S. election noticed my Election Night (and day after) blogging.

In a comment approved this morning to the “Odd election odds and ends” post, the site picked up on the parts about the unsuccessful Republican candidate in Louisiana who was named John Kennedy and the fact that Virginians seem to have a penchant for U.S. Senate candidates named Warner (Democrat Mark Warner will succeed Republican John Warner).

It’s likely they just picked up the RSS feed, but I’m still pleased they chose to include it, and it may help drive Web traffic to this site and others on

December 2008
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