Proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ

Movie and Book Reviews

Exclusive to TNE: Book Review of Chuck Peek’s “Where We’ve Managed Somehow To Be”

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When J. V. Brummels responded to an inquiry from Chuck Peek that, yes indeed, Wayne State College Press would be interested in publishing a chapbook of Peek’s poems, the news came close on the heels of his fifth rejection letter from Prairie Schooner and the news that another chapbook had been a finalist but not the winner at another press. You can believe that Brummels’ note was received as pretty good news!

The result several months later is Wayne State Press’s publication of Where We’ve Managed Somehow to Be. This is Peek’s first chapbook, although some of his individual poems have won previous poetry competitions around the country, including one judged by one of Ireland’s best-known poets, Desmond Egan.

The volume cites other poets who praise the quality of the poetry. New Nebraska State Poet Twyla Hansen wrote, “Peek leads us on a journey through all stages of life . . . in poems that . . . dance to the tune of love.”

The volume also includes a short introduction tracing in brief how Peek came to write it. One contributing factor is performing in “Prayers for the People: Carl Sandburg’s Poetry and Songs,” including the Heartland Emmy award-winning NET production that included Ted Kooser.

Peek says that publishing poems requires a lot of patience. “You send off a poem, and sometimes you don’t hear back for not just months but years! You have to believe in what you are writing and keep on trying,” he said. “I took my models in this from poets like Nancy and Hargis Westerfield, Don Welch, Charles Fort, Bill Kloefkorn, and J. V. Brummels, and songsters like Mike Adams, the Salestroms, and Todd and Lois Thalken.

Peek says, “It’s a wonderful little volume, and a lot of the credit goes to the great folks at Wayne State College Press, including my editor Abby Rodriguez.” He also credits the managing editor Chad Christensen.

“I thought I was a careful editor myself,” Peek said, “but Rodriguez’s first set of ‘author notes’ numbered 41 items that needed attention.” (Author Notes cover correcting simple typos to deciding how to say something in a clearer way.)

During the course of production, the number of poems went from 25 to 45 to 17 to 30—and much of that depended on the how the thinness or thickness of the paper affected type “bleeding through” the page or the ability of the spine to hold the volume together. “I can’t think of a detail Abby didn’t think of,” the author said.

Peek made his selection from poems he has written over the past decades. The earliest came from the mid 1960s, the latest from just a year ago. The title of the chapbook suggests the theme that holds the poems together—life is sometimes perilous and always fragile and yet somehow we make it through. The poems celebrate our survival, highlight some of the joys and brief victories along the way, and cast a warning light on some of the dark corners along the journey. The cover photo shows the precarious perch of a wildflower on the Cather Prairie near Red Cloud.

Some of the poems arise from life on the prairie, a poem entitled “Haunted Prairies” noting:

“times here are not what they used to be.
They never were.”

 

Three of Peek’s favorite poems come out of his experience of the Sandhills. Others arise from his childhood. In “Salida” he recalls sitting below the white rock of the initial “S” on a foothill outside of Salida, Colorado, just as his family is preparing to move to McCook, Nebraska, recalling being:

 

                                 midway up

The mount, glad for the warmth of

Summer coming on, the snow melted

Away, the mountain passes clear again,

The grades, third, fourth, fifth,

Slipping by like the little clouds.

 

Another, “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” recalls finding himself in a coffee shop run by fundamentalists near Christmas time where the manger scene stood next to the video rentals: “nearby the sign promising ‘Overnite Rentals, One Dollar’.”

Three poems in particular celebrate Peek’s family. “Land Ho!” depicts a scene in the life of his son George and daughter-in-law Laura Grace’s children, Will, Greta, and Henry (on the way); “Declaration of Independence” takes up Peek’s wife Nancy’s life-long affection for dance; and the occasion for “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” is his grandson Rowan’s speculation about the birth of his brother Brody, sons of Peek’s daughter Noelle and her husband Harlan Ptomey.

Part of the charm of chapbooks is that they are printed in limited quantities. Peek’s run was a bit larger than usual at 160 copies. The book is available for purchase at Wayne State College Press, the Museum of Nebraska Art gift shop, and the bookstore at the Red Cloud Opera House.

Fr. Peek retired from St. Stephen’s, Grand Island, in 2012. He had previously been rector of St. Luke’s, Kearney, and at various times priest-in-charge at Calvary, Hyannis; St. Joseph’s, Mullen; and Christ Church, Central City. He began his priesthood at St. Mark’s on the Campus, Lincoln. Although he continues to supply (most recently at St. Alban’s, McCook; Christ Church, Beatrice; and Grace Church, Columbus), he has focused his retirement on writing, beginning with editing his father’s childhood memoir, Loneliness Is a Train Whistle (available on Amazon/Kindle). He continues to shepherd various poems and poetry collections through submission to other presses, some of which will appear in collections this fall, and his current project is a set of stories as well as the publication of the homilies he has given at the Willa Cather Spring Conferences in Red Cloud over the past 30 years.

Fr. Peek and Nancy live in Kearney where they attend St. Luke’s and enjoy Fr. Jerry Ness’s pastoral care, and where Chuck teaches occasionally for Senior College on the same campus (UNK) where he taught for 21 years. He will also offer a short course this fall in Lincoln for the OLLI program.

 

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Movie Review: The Butler

Review of Lee Daniels’ The Butler by a loyal Tri-Faith member.

For the past several days, a fellow member of the Episcopal Tri-Faith community and I have been exchanging email messages about this past week’s Gospel: Luke 12:51-53. Paraphrased (by me) it reads:

“The simplistic ‘feel good’ message of many contemporary preachers is flat wrong. God did not send me here to gift unto you Peace. I do not come to bring peace on earth. I did not come to simply increase Average Sunday Morning Attendance figures. To the contrary, with intention, I have come to bring division and angst—especially within the family unit. I assure you that I will divide families and cause great turmoil within your family. I will set father against son and son against father.”

What is Jesus saying? The total body of the Gospels’ writers works ought to leave all Christians with the firm conviction that the Prince of Peace commands mankind to reform and be individually transformed so that we love and take care of the least among us—not to continue running over the poor and disenfranchised.

Fresh on the heels of rummaging around with this week’s Gospel, I attended a showing of The Butler.

What is the director saying? This fictional family story is raw with father-against-son and son-against-father tension. In the end, it is a story about the transformation (individually and for all of mankind) that comes out of the division that Jesus intentionally brings to our lives.

So, my take: study last week’s Gospel. With that study fresh in mind, go see The Butler. I am drawn to Carl Sandburg’s poem that may be saying something similar. Perhaps something along the lines of: God does not want us to simply follow in our father’s footsteps and/or (more to my stage of life), God most certainly does not want our children to follow in the messy foot prints we have left.

Lay me on an anvil, O God.
Beat me and hammer me into a crowbar.
Let me pry loose old walls.
Let me lift and loosen old foundations.

Lay me on an anvil, O God.
Beat me and hammer me into a steel spike.
Drive me into the girders that hold a skyscraper together.
Take red-hot rivets and fasten me into the central girders.
Let me be the great nail holding a skyscraper through blue nights into white stars.

– Carl Sandburg

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Book Review: Rich Church, Poor Church

Review of Rich Church, Poor Church — Keys to Effective Financial Ministry, by J. Clif Christopher. (Nashville; Abington, 2012) 108 pgs.

In the introduction to his short book on church financial health, “Rich Church, Poor Church,” author Christopher shares some startling statistics on charitable giving:

  • Religion used to receive 60 percent of all charitable gifts in America. Today it receives 32 percent.
  • United Methodists and Presbyterians give an average of 1 percent of their income to the church. Episcopalians and Lutherans give 1.1 percent. Baptists give 2 percent. Orthodox and Catholics give less than 1 percent.
  • In the past decade the number of financially healthy churches has dropped from 31 percent to 14 percent of all churches, a drop of over 50 percent!

Christopher, a former United Methodist pastor and current CEO of Horizons Stewardship Consulting, then goes on to describe the ideas, characteristics, and behaviors that his research has shown to differentiate between financially healthy and financially unhealthy churches.

In doing so, Christopher makes a compelling case that there are specific, indentifiable characteristics that affect a church’s financial health, and offers hope that any church, paying attention to the right things, can move from one category to the other. In other words, struggling churches are not bound to continue to live in financial uncertainty, but can create a new future by gathering their leadership and applying their resources in ways that follow the successful patterns of others who have made that transition.

Each of the eleven chapters lists and contrasts specific points that churches can attend to. Not very point applies to every church, and not every church will agree with every point the author makes. However, I found myself agreeing with most of what Christopher writes, and I recommend this book enthusiastically to every parish, regardless of their financial position. It is not a stewardship program or campaign, but is rather an invitation for parish leaders to study together some church health and growth information based on the author’s substantial experience working with churches, both financially troubled and sound.

Fr. Mark Selvey

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