Archive for July, 2014

Last night, I received this excellent review of my short story collection and wanted to share it. Jeannie Ewing is quite a lovely lady and blogs at http://www.lovealonecreates.com/

Book Review: Birds of a Feather

Birds_of_a_Feather_FRONT_PUBLICITY_JPGKaye Park Hinkley’s new release, a collection of short stories entitled Birds of a Feather, is difficult to categorize and yet birds of a feather is one of the most artistic pieces of literature I have read in quite some time. Hinkley has been compared favorably to Flannery O’Connor, but I confess I have not read O’Connor’s works and therefore am unable to make an honest and adequate comparison between the two.

Hinkley’s writing in Birds of a Feather is as diverse as literature can get, though her voice is steady, unique, clever and grabs the reader with fascinating and thrilling hooks almost immediately. Each story followed a theme of sin and redemption, peppered with deep spiritual underpinnings and rich with colorful Catholic heritage and imagery. Hinkley’s use of language is innovative and powerfully descriptive; her writing is one of the most vivid and raw depictions of human character and emotion I have read from any modern piece of literature.

The tales in Birds of a Feather are ones of humanity, with our commonality of brokenness and longing for healing threaded throughout; I am astounded at Hinkley’s ability to accurately capture myriad settings, eras, and cultures: from late nineteenth century high society to stereotypical hillbillies, from modern psychological thrillers to tender romances, Hinkley wrestles with the very real and raw emotions, struggles, and darknesses that plague humanity throughout history and time. She is honest, mingling grief and love, life and death, in nearly every story. I was often left processing each one for hours after I read it; her narratives aren’t clean with happy endings, but rather they depict the complexity of our interminable striving for the good while battling our vices.

Hinkley writes from the perspective of the main character – sometimes in first person, sometimes in third, immersing her words into their very psyches and souls, which is what strips this collection of any cliched and stereotyped categories of fiction. For at least a few of the tales, she echoes Edgar Allan Poe with disturbing brilliance, which both stunned and fascinated me.

Birds of a Feather is not written for the novice or recreational reader; it is not for the faint of heart. It is written for the reader who is self-aware, who thinks and feels deeply, who recognizes the interrelated existence among all of humanity. It tugs at the core of one’s soul, begs for a tear or two, and challenges one’s intellect while breaking down layers of personal and social barriers related to religion, personality, age, gender, culture, and socioeconomic status.

In essence, everything written in Birds of a Feather reminds the reader that everyone has a story, every life has value and purpose, and it is impossible to speculate about another person’s life journey. This realization necessitates an increase in humility and empathy for the united struggle of humanity, the fact that no one is exempt from sin and suffering in this life. And yet we are all beckoned beyond ourselves into a realm of eternal hope and joy. This is the ultimate message of Birds of a Feather.

 

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The Ways of the World

Posted: July 31, 2014 in World On The Edge

WOTW(Dec.4-7)EventImage

I’m polishing up a sequel to my first novel, A Hunger in the Heart. In the first chapter of the sequel,  Coleman, the main character, sixteen years old at the book’s beginning,  is preparing to leave home for a boy’s school. If you’ve read the first novel, you know the wisdom of the family’s gardener, Fig:

“We got stuff to talk about before you go off on your own, ‘bout the ways of the world.”

     Coleman laughed. “What do you know about the ways of the world? You’ve never been anyplace but here.”

     “Don’t matter. Here’s got the same worries you gonna find anywhere else. Best to get you prepared.”

The point is the root of all problems follow us  anywhere we go,  because most of our problems are caused by the weaknesses within us. They are humanity’s weaknesses. Catholics call them the seven deadly sins:

Pride, Greed, Envy, Lust, Anger, Sloth, and Gluttony.

And they are the way of the world. Just look around.

Each of the seven deadly sins is a form of Idolatry-of-Self, and we all know people who may be in danger of destroying their lives in selfish ways through one or more of them.

Except, just as we have capability of sin, human beings also have the capability of virtue. The seven virtues are:

Faith, Hope, Love, Prudence, Temperance, Courage, and Justice.

Are these virtues the way of our world today? Good news; many times they are.

Because whenever there is great evil, virtuous people will fight. Sadly, the reverse is also true. If a person is known to have virtue, there is usually someone to tear him/her down–even to crucify him.

So, like my characters Coleman and Fig, each of us  are touched by conflicting ‘ways of the world.’ And the way we choose to take will make an eternal difference, in our own life and in the lives of others.

 

It Comes After the Rain

Posted: July 30, 2014 in World On The Edge

Flower-After-the-Rain-Wallpaper

A hard rain is often cleansing.  Roofs of houses, toys left in the yard, pollen-covered driveways and patios are washed by the rain. And then comes the sun.

Think of  the  first rays of sunlight after a hard rain, when  the grass, flowers, crops,  and trees are still wet. Recall how the sunlight falls  upon the leaves and petals, causing them to glisten, and in the process,  dries them.

This is similar to what happens after a tragedy, one we desperately pray will not come, yet it does.

The tragedy may be thrust upon us by another person’s imperfections, or it may have come about from our own transgressions.  Either way, it’s often  a long, long time afterwards that we’re  able to catch our breath and even consider drying our tears, and healing.

But we can trust  that God is waiting  for us to notice Him.  When we turn toward Him and accept His grace, that light will dry our tears, and we can begin to heal.

We often notice grace when we least expect to notice it.  It is always there though, because God is always with us.  But our worries,  busyness, distractions,  addictions, sins, and downright refusal to acknowledge God’s mercy; all get in the way–and may even be at the root of our heartbreaks.

But God can bring good out of the ‘not so good.’  It’s possible for heartbreak and tragedy to bring our best self.

For each person on earth, God will show mercy. We only have to ask for it.  And if we chose  God’s grace, we can come closer and closer to Him, knowing Him better and better, until we’re finally able to say: I am in love with a God who is madly in love with me. So, I am able to trust Him, follow Him, and then surrender my life to Him.

This certainly does not mean  we will have become saints. We will still be flawed human beings,  sometimes  ground in the same old sins. But if we continue to ask, we will  be personally shown what we need to do better.

Psalms 51:10 – Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

Fighting for FreedomThe Fourth of July has passed, but today, I’m feeling even more patriotic than on that day a few weeks ago. In the words of my Daddy,  who was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star in WWII— some people in today’s news are “walking on the fightin’ side of me.

…Because I was taught to love America, not to bad-mouth her.

…Because I was taught, and daily declared at school, The Pledge of Allegiance to The United States of America.

…Because I was taught respect for America’s Flag.

…Because I was taught that I was blessed to be an American.

…Because I was taught the history of my country, (in Fourth Grade) and how she courageously fought for her freedom, expressed in the Declaration of Independence, particularly its second sentence:  We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The key words in the above statements are: I was taught. As were many of you. So what’s happened?

Are  today’s children–our children and grandchildren– really taught the correct history of America? Are they being given  positive, or negative, impressions of the wonderful country in which they live? Which rights will have been taken away from them by the time they reach adulthood?

No, America isn’t perfect, but if she doesn’t always live up to the principles created for her, then it’s no one’s fault but ours—each one of us. Freedom is everybody’s job. We simply cannot leave it to others to trample on. And this is what is happening today when it comes to :

Religious Freedom  (which is being usurped by our own government)

Economic Freedom ( we’ve lost 200 years of ranking as the most prosperous country in the world to not even being the top ten today)

Freedom of Speech (think IRS targeting)

Freedom from tyranny (The Framers of the Constitution created a federal government of limited and enumerated powers – leaving everything else to the states and “the people.”

And on and on.

Check out your rights, and think about what is happening to some of them: http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/billofrights

The thing is, we have to KNOW what’s going on. We just can’t get too busy and ignore it, or one day we’ll look up from our busyness and wonder what happened to our America and our rights as Americans.

scottsboro_al-white-fullMy family lived nearly ten years in Scottsboro, Alabama, a small, mountainous, and beautiful town off the Tennessee River. I wonder if neighborhoods like the one I experienced in Scottsboro are able to exist anymore. Today, it’s so important to keep your children close at hand. But then, our children were free to go most anywhere; roaming the woods, riding miles on bicycles, paddling around Roseberry Creek near the neighborhood dock where we had cook-outs, and lots of boating, skiing and swimming (while watching out for cotton mouth moccasins, of course.)

My cousin and her family lived steps away from us, and so did the finest neighbors anywhere. We were blessed to be there at the time we were, with those people, in that place of beauty. Our children loved it, especially the first three. Our last two children were babies then, born when we were living in Scottsboro, but my older children had many adventures with their friends. It wasn’t necessarily what they were doing, but who they were doing it with that made them happiest.

My oldest son was about nine years old when he came to me one night after we’d gotten home from a party with neighbors at the dock. Always a thoughtful child, he liked to size things up. That night was no exception. “Mama, this was a good day. In fact, I really think this was the best day of my life.”

What would make him say that? He was a child, for one thing. And as a child he lived in the present. He did not look back and grieve over something that happened yesterday, and he wasn’t troubled about the future. What affected him most was a particular day, a day he appreciated for what it had given him.

Isn’t this what gives all of us our best days–an appreciation of the present moment? If only we could take that as seriously as a child does.

Today is my oldest son’s birthday.(Happy Birthday, Chris!!) He is, of course, an adult. And as an adult, I’m certain his idea of what constitutes a “best” day has changed, as it does for all of us. As adults, more and more bad days seem to appear on the plates of our individual lives, days we have to deal with that are not so happy as a youngster’s day on the dock.

However, as adults, we have a distinct advantage over a young child. When a bad day happens, we can see it for what it is and learn from it. Often, it’s the worst day of our life that lets us know what our best day really is. But most important, as adults, we realize that tomorrow can produce just the opposite sort of day.  And this is a divine virtue we receive through the grace of God, called hope.

Hope is what keeps us going. Hope is the possibility of change.  And if we honestly want to ‘size things up,’ and if we truly trust in what we say we believe, then we’ll realize that with hope, even the worst day has power enough to  become the best day of our life.

Mama’s Love

Posted: July 25, 2014 in World On The Edge

IMG_5553“Mama’s Love”  is not a noun with a possessive adjective preceding it.  It’s an action, one that lasts a lifetime. I know this from loving my own children. But I also know it from the love of my  mother.

I was a shy child, always I wanted my hand in the hand of my mother. And her hand was always there. Sometimes not physically–after all, I had to grow up, be courageous, lose my timidity. She helped me do that. She saw that I loved to draw and gave me art lessons. Everything I drew or painted, she was proud of and showed it off–especially to her Bridge Club, a group of ladies who ended up playing bridge together, once a week for fifty years!

But still,  the idea of  her hand in mine, and the knowledge she would be there for me, no matter what, was  pasted into my thoughts. It gave me security. SHE gave me security. She gave me confidence in myself.

And she prayed for me, and for our family and friends. I remember kneeling around her bed at night for the rosary. Many times I wanted to do something else. For those who are not Catholic, the five decades of the rosary usually end with a prayer to the Blessed Mother, “Hail Holy Queen.” But not for my mother! She went on, with prayers to St. Jude for the sick and hopeless, prayers to St. Michael for our protection, prayers to the Holy Spirit that we might have courage, and on and on. And me? I used to pray for the phone to ring!

My mother was a beautiful woman—really. She received many compliments for that, but she knew people, too.  She knew when words were just show, and when they were sincere.  “People will sometimes tell you what they think you want to hear. Use your head to determine the truth.”  Not to be taken in by everything I read or heard was another thing she passed to me.

My mother had an ability to read people. And sometimes I thought she read them a little too harshly.  She was honestly compassionate, but occasionally, she dug her heels in when it came to who I was allowed to be around, or date. My mother had standards, and in her mind, people would either accept her principles,  or –should I say?–depart from  her company—because she changed her deepest principles for no one. One more characteristic she set into me.

As far as her Faith–it  was simple. Simple,  yet astounding at times. She grew up Catholic in the Protestant South, one of only three or four Catholics in her high school. She never denied it. She never shrank from it around her Protestant, and Jewish, friends–and she had many, caring about each one.  But it was  her church she loved and was faithful to, the same little white church I grew up in. One more precious gift–my Faith.  So, thank you, Mama. You were and always will be, my Rock.

previewTaking someone for granted is the act of not appreciating what that person does for us. Sometimes it means ignoring a person we say we love, by thinking more about ourselves than them. And sometimes, we don’t even realize we’re doing it.

We often take our loved ones for granted. We think we’ll always have their support no matter what, so we put off, or sometimes don’t even think about, telling them how much we love them, or how grateful we are for all they do for us.

But what if someone we love dies suddenly and we’ve never taken the time to express our love and appreciation? Or what if a friend who was always there for us, moves away, or finds someone they like more? Or what if the job we gripe about every day is taken from us?

Love is not one-sided. If love is real, it is shared equally–no taking the other for granted.

I think we should remember this, too: Nothing is guaranteed. A single day can make a huge difference in our life.

Now is the time to act lovingly. Now is the time to show appreciation. Not next week, not on vacation, not even tomorrow. Now.

Showing our love and gratefulness for others not only makes them feel good, it makes us feel good, too. When we see the same love and gratefulness returned in their faces, we can be certain we are sharing the goodness of God within us.

010-gregorian-chant-for-church-and-schoolI’m such an admirer of Gregorian Chant! Those not familiar with it are truly missing an opportunity for a calming solace.

Here’s how it came about. In the three centuries following the death of Saint Benedict, there emerged in the Western Church a marvelously unified tradition of liturgical music known as Gregorian Chant, taking its name from the sixth century Pope Saint Gregory the Great, who did much to promote the use of the chant.

Gregorian Chant conveys the sacred to the secular. “Contrary to the agitating sounds of hip hop, hard rock and heavy metal, Gregorian chant is instead a soothing balm for weary souls and a source of comfort for unsettled hearts. Inspiring and edifying, simple and poignant, this music of paradise slows our racing minds, renews our vigor, and eases the tensions of a harried world. It ethereal quality elevates us from the temporal and transports us to the spiritual.” Judy Keane, The Catholic Exchange

Gregorian chant involves the early Christian liturgical music that originated in medieval times and forms the roots of Western classical music. Consisting solely of melody, the chants are sung unaccompanied and generally by small choral groups–and through the ages have continuously supplied listeners of all circumstances with a soothing sense of solace.

Usually performed by monks, the chant is now being taught in some school programs.  Check out: Gregorian Chant for Church and School By Sister Mary Antonine Goodchild, O.P., Rosary College, River Forest, Illinois (picture above)

“The kind of singing that we do calms the spirit and helps us live in peace with our world and with one another,” says Abbot Philip Lawrence, a scholar of chant who also leads the Monastery of Christ In The Desert – home to an American order of Benedictine monks from Abiquiu, New Mexico. “Chanting has some strange effect on the brain waves according to various studies,” continues Abbot Philip, but this effect is certainly not the Monks of the Desert’s objective; rather their goal, and that of Gregorian chant, notes Abbot Philip, is “to focus on the words rather than the challenge of voice production or sight reading. It is always our hope that our singing will bring others to peace, inner tranquility and an appreciation of beauty. These values can help create a world in which peace and tranquility prevail.”

So, close your eyes and  listen. Enjoy a few moments of peace and tranquility.

Bad Mouthing?

Posted: July 22, 2014 in World On The Edge

The-Fall-Feasts3We’ve all heard the advertising slogan “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas.” In other words, no one will bad-mouth a person for what they do there.

Having been part of the advertising community for nearly twenty years, I think it’s a great slogan for a place where people often lose their inhibitions and would like to keep that secret. But it’s just that–an advertising slogan. It attracts with a promise, a wish, but no one honestly believes it.

But how does that slogan work on a personal level? Have you ever been instructed to “keep it to yourself” after a friend or family member confided in you? Yet, you didn’t? Sadly most of us are guilty.

Or maybe we know people who keep nothing to themselves. Maybe they can’t wait to spout off all your business, as well as the business of everyone they know, too? Worse, maybe they even maliciously make false statements to injure another’s reputation. Many people’s lives have been destroyed because they were falsely accused of something they had nothing to do with.

We ought to think about that–ruining other people’s lives can definitely come from bad-mouthing–whether what we say is a lie, or the truth.

So here’s another “Slogan” one that you can believe.
God’s Commandment: Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

Shouldn’t we remember that those words are not a suggestion, but meant to be followed?

BellThe Bell and The Switch

As a child, I didn’t want to hear The Bell. It resonated through the pine trees of the woods where I was building the perfect straw house; it caught me dunking a glass jar in the creek to catch the biggest tadpole I’d ever seen; it caused me to brake my Blue Schwinn bike on a red dirt road after I’d peddled all the way up a hill so I could fly down it again. The Bell instructed me to stop all that. The Bell meant, “Come home.”

A child, of course, comes into the world with irritating abilities. One of them is the ability to close her ears to what she doesn’t want to hear. A child wants to finish the straw house. She wants to capture the tadpole. She wants the excitement of flying down a hill, fast as the wind. A child wants what she wants. Still, The Bell calls. And in the course of its annoying jangle, a child considers consequence.

For me, the consequence of not answering The Bell was The Switch. At first, I was able to choose The Switch. My mother, the bell ringer, pointed a stiff finger. “You will obey the rules of this house. Now, go get me a switch off the Redbud.” This command, I chose to hear. Except I brought back the wimpiest branch I could find. When I laughed and told her it tickled, she resorted to finding The Switch on her own. A little stronger, a little longer, it laid as a symbol of consequence on the top shelf of the bookcase in our den.

As adults, we are busy. Obeying the rules, or even standing by our own beliefs, is a hard thing to do. Today, the rules are watery; we dilute them to suit ourselves. Our beliefs are spineless; we rarely consider their depth. And sometimes we call consequences of our own making, ‘unfair.’ We spout off platitudes, meant to show that we’re ‘okay’ people, but we don’t realize that we’re called to be much more than just ‘okay.’ The Apostle Peter (2 Peter 1:4) says that we “participate in the Divine Nature.” No matter who or what we are, we’re called to this holiness. And that’s a bell-ringer with consequences.

We can recognize, or not, that we’re part of the Divine. Like a child hearing a bell she doesn’t want to hear, we can close our ears. We can ignore the consequences. As for me, I can still see The Switch on the bookcase, and hear The Bell calling me home.