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These Nameless Things, by Shawn Smucker: A Review

There are a few writers out there who come up with an original idea, flesh it out well in their first book, and then churn out more stories that are nearly identical to the first one. Shawn Smucker is not one of those writers. His newest, These Nameless Things, is the third Smucker book I have read, and each has been great, and none of them are alike. That's a great thing.

Of course, it means I cannot help you out by comparing it to any of his earlier novels. If I were to compare it to any other stories, the closest I could come is that it contains elements of Dante's "Inferno",  "The Lord of the Rings" (because there's a journey with obstacles to overcome--no elves or wizards), "Lost" (the TV series), and "The Fisher King," a 1993 movie starring Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges.

I mention "The Fisher King" because that one is a story about how we can simultaneously have to face the consequences of our actions while receivi…
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Outbound Train, by Renea Winchester

In "Outbound Train", Renea Winchester takes the reader on a journey into a small town, during a simpler time. But don't let that description let you get too complacent: hurtful things happened to innocent people 50 years ago, just as they do today. The wounds went just as deep then as they do now, left the same kind of scars,  required the same kind of care, and carried the same hope of redemption, as similar events in modern life (or in bigger cities).
In other words, "Outbound Train" has a particular setting, but the story is a universal and relatable one.

Winchester's novel begins with a pretty difficult-to-read act of violence, then explores the consequences of that violence in the lives of the victim, Barbara, and her family members. Beyond that fateful night, and the enormous changes that it brought into the life of Barbara, the book describes a certain hopelessness that can set in to residents of the town of Bryson City, North Carolina. Perhaps "h…

7 Things I Hate About the Covid 19 Situation

"A hug is good for the soul."
Many years before reality TV was a genre with a name, I was watching "Love Connection" (a dating show) late one night. The host asked the man and the woman how the date went, and whether it ended with a kiss. They both said it had not, and there probably wouldn't be a second date. However, the man said it had ended with a hug. The host turned to the woman and asked "Was that OK? Was a hug appropriate?"  She answered: "A hug is always appropriate. A hug is good for the soul."

It took me a decade or two to appreciate the wisdom in that powerful statement, but it's very true: a hug is, in fact, good for the soul, whether it's between two people who just met, or two longtime, intimate friends or loved ones.

I was reading the details of a widow of a Covid 19 patient this week. They had been married for 4 decades, and were living in a retirement home. When he was on his deathbed, Covid 19 was suspected; natura…

Learning From Josiah

Let's start by asking you to think of one great man from the Old Testament. Who comes to mind?  When I ask myself the question, the first man who comes to mind is Moses, or possibly David. Or Daniel or Isaiah. Maybe Samuel, Elisha, or Elijah. These guys are pretty much the upper echelon of God-following men in the years prior to the arrival of Jesus. They are Hall of Famers.

If, instead of those men, you thought of Josiah, pat yourself on the back. Josiah doesn't get as much attention as the others, but his actions and dedication to God were remarkable. He was a true hero of the faith.

To understand why, you'd need to recall what events led up to Josiah. Go back to the Exodus: the Israelites, after years of slavery, were led out of Egypt by Moses. When they arrived at the edge of the promised land, Joshua led them into their new/old homeland. Once they fully occupied the land, Joshua gathered the leaders of each tribe together, and gave them a talking-to.  This is in Joshu…

But I Had No Idea

Like most Americans, I grew up with some idea of what the birth of Jesus looked like: a hotel with a "No Vacancy" sign, a barn out back, three Wise Men outside, bearing gifts. I thought I knew what it was like, but upon further review, I learned that I had no idea. Jesus was most likely born, not in a barn next to an inn, but in the part of a house where the animals are kept. The Wise Men may not have shown up till Jesus was a year old, or older. There weren't 3 of them.
I thought I knew what it was like, but I had no idea.
And if you think we have no idea what went on, consider Mary and Joseph; though they had more revelation than any other human at the time, they had no idea what they had signed up for, and what their lives would be like as a result of being entrusted with this particular baby. 
I recently re-watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I love the Council of Elrond scene, the one in which several leaders, wizards, and soldiers discuss the need to transport the…


Like most who watched the Golden Globes this past Sunday, I came away with stronger memories of host Ricky Gervais' comments than who the winners and losers were. Gervais' remarks took many in the room by surprise, and resulted in stifled laughter, nervous facial expressions, and gasps from those in attendance.

His jokes were surprising because, when it comes to awards shows, there are some unwritten rules about what's acceptable, and the host broke most of them. But upon closer examination, the attendees' shocked reaction wasn't so much based on the particulars of the jokes themselves, but on the fact that he told them in that setting, in that room. This group of people thinks a certain way, and takes certain stances, on the topics Gervais joked about, and they're used to being around those who think the same way.

Of course, it's fairly easy to find another room full of people who hold opposing views on those very same topics. Sadly, there aren't a lot …

Book Review: Light From Distant Stars, by Shawn Smucker

Nearly 3 years ago, I watched a brand new NBC series called "This is Us", and its unique format got my attention. What set this show apart was its practice of devoting a large portion of each episode to flashbacks. This innovative method of storytelling allowed the viewer to see cause and effect: what happened to Randall at age 8 has shaped him as an adult and informed his attitudes, motives, and actions as a 37-year-old.

Unfortunately, the network's marketing arm decided to downplay this distinction, and instead focus on how many times the show could make viewers cry. Not to belabor the point, I'll just say that I really wish they hadn't. The best thing that "This is Us" brings to the table is its decision to alternate between depicting its characters today and back then, but the network decided to focus on something less substantive.

When reading Shawn Smucker's newest, "Light From Distant Stars", I couldn't help but draw a connecti…