Wednesday, December 21, 2011


RT Reviews Top Pick - ****.5

The Wings of Morning has just received 4.5 stars from RT Reviews and has been named their Top Pick for February, 2012. Das ist gute, don’t you think? Here is part of the review from RT Times:

***Pura has created one of the finest stories of Amish fiction I have ever read. The WWI-era Amish religious practices engage the reader, as does the dramatic love story. It is a story of spiritual intimacy between an Amish man and his beloved. The reader will be applauding the exceptional writing and the cast of characters demands an encore performance.***

I’m grateful! Danke Schoen!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

before the amish were amish

Before the Amish were Amish

One hundred years ago, at the beginning of the 20th century, there was very little to distinguish the Amish from everyone else. Horses, carts, mules, buggies, horse-drawn plows, wood stoves – all rural Americans had them. As for telephones, the Amish used them from the start in the 1890s. It wasn’t until the telephone was perceived as a threat to community, as a means for gossiping about others, that it was removed from Amish homes. But other than that, all people looked pretty much the same in Lancaster County.

Then came the motorcar from Mr. Ford. The Amish debated it and finally rejected it – you could be a passenger in one, but you could not own one or drive one.

And then came the aeroplane. It was bad enough that the car took people very fast on the ground. Now the aeroplane could take you very fast in the air.

And on the heels of the plane and car and phone came electricity – harnessed, run through wires, and ready to hook up to your house and allow you to use electric fridges, electric ovens, electric washers – just about anything that had been done by hand for hundreds of years could now be done more quickly by a machine running on the power of the lightning storm.

No to the phone and no to the car. But what about the plane? What about electricity as a public utility?

The Amish discussed and debated.

Then came 1917. And America entered the First World War.

In a matter of months, it became clear that not having phones did not set the Amish apart – not everyone had them yet anyway. Nor did not owning a car – most Americans didn’t. Planes? Well, who had planes in their backyard? How many people had even seen one? Electricity? The war slowed down its arrival. It would not come to Lancaster County until 1919.

So there really was not so much of a difference between the Amish and their neighbors, not like the sort of differences that would be obvious in the 40s and 50s when most others did have cars, trucks, tractors, radios, electric ovens and, eventually, TV.

It was things that had nothing to do with phones and cars and technology. That was what set the Amish apart. It was what had set them apart all along. It’s just that few of the neighbors had taken much notice.

With the coming of a world war to America, they did.

The Amish did not fly the American flag. Did not celebrate the 4th of July. Did not permit their sons to enlist in the army or navy or in law enforcement. The men did not grow mustaches because that was what soldiers did. They did not support the war effort, did not buy war bonds, because war was wrong. And they spoke German. Just like the enemy.

That was what set the Amish apart in 1917. Not buggies or horse-drawn plows or cooking on wood stoves.

Beliefs set them apart. Their beliefs about how a person should live the Christian life. Which were at odds with how many other American Christians felt a person should live the Christian life.

Americans did not understand why there should be such a difference between themselves and the Amish. And some became angry.

That is where my book, The Wings of Morning, begins.

It will be published by Harvest House in February of 2012.

For those of you who pick it up, I hope it will be a profound and powerful read for you.

God be with you.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

where to find my books in 2012

You will be able to find my books at the following stores in 2012. please support them since they are good enough to support me! Thanks!

Barnes & Noble -

Family Christian Stores –

Lifeway Stores –

Parable Stores –

Amazon –


Books-a-Million –

Monday, December 05, 2011

Publisher's Weekly ****review

Here are some excerpts from a starred review in Publisher's Weekly of my forthcoming book, The Wings of Morning. Published by Harvest House in Oregon it's due to be released in February, 2012.

Pura (Zo) has penned a meaty story dealing with complex issues as the impact of WWI and the Spanish influenza epidemic affect a Lapp Amish community in Lancaster, Pa., during 1917–1919. At a time when the Amish are still considering their position on innovations like the automobile, photography, and electricity in homes, Amish convert Jude Whetstone has been allowed to learn to fly. While his childhood friend Lyyndaya Kurtz dreams of marrying the aviator, his forced induction into the United States Army Air Service and deployment to Europe triggers a shunning that threatens the young couple’s future. Pura, who has been a pastor and author in Canada for more than 25 years, masterfully balances depictions of simple Amish living with the harm that can be caused when religious ideology overrides compassion and understanding. Pura’s nearness to historical and Amish accuracies makes for a plausible and intriguing tale. Pura’s previous works have been shortlisted for several literary awards; this entry into historical fiction is noteworthy as well. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 12/02/2011

Monday, November 21, 2011

no hard truths, please, we're Christians

What is missing in Christian writing is the dark side of the moon, the Psalm 88 stuff. Everyone has gone through some of the same losses & disappointments and it is so beneficial for us to identify with those who admit to the struggles and sufferings. It would do the Church a world - a heaven! - of good to embrace this. But even though the Bible is that real - look at Saul's tragedy - look at some of the grotesque kings and queens in the OT and NT (Herod in the New, Jezebel and Ahab in the Old) and the hurt they inflicted on others - Christians, it seems, are not that real. At least, not when it comes to the fiction they wish to purchase (nonfiction seems to fair better with this sort of life honesty). What a shame. Can't you see how a writer could help us by telling stories where people are hurt in churches, disappointed when God doesn’t answer certain prayers in the way they expect, are lonely and afraid even when they are believers? Hard times don’t go away just because we have faith – no matter what some preachers and Christian movies try to tell us. I think we do the Church an injustice by not being as honest about life as the Bible is – and gives us the liberty and affirmation to be as well. But, alas, we stick to Psalm 23 & 150 and ignore 88 - it cripples us.

Which points out to me that the problem with Christ's Church today is not a need for more dogma and purer doctrine - the need is for more empathy, more compassion, and more reality - all of which are in short supply. If we could be as real as the Bible we could discuss our hard times in light of all the people who had hard times in the Bible, including and especially those who never experienced instant healing, or easy resolution to inner and outer conflicts, or answers to prayers that made sense to them.

My first novel, Mizzly Fitch, has as a main character a gnarly old fisherman who feels his life is a battle between himself and God. The seekers and the secular crowd loved it but much of the Christian crowd didn't know what to do with it, even though it's full of Christness. The book was taught in Canadian high schools for about 20 years (published in 88). To show how God is in this stuff if we give him a chance, a teacher at a college that wasn't a Christian school told me how many students had started to read the Bible for the first time after reading the novel. It actually crossed all kinds of boundaries and I even have a heartfelt letter from a Jewish woman who bought it from a bookstore in New Jersey. It's still in print so I imagine it may come up some day in the next few years in an interview - in which case I'll talk about its place in my writing of other gentler and more upbeat stories. I have nothing to be ashamed of. Or should we cut Psalm 88 and Job out of the Bible along with quite a few other painful and difficult sections?

It drives me crazy - I feel like we've shrink wrapped God and his gospel and that many millions who would believe don't - due simply to our narrow-mindedness about writing and speaking about the hardships in Christians’ lives – in all people’s lives! – that aren’t resolved by a quick prayer or a 30 minute sermon or a five minute quiet time from Our Daily Bread or The Upper Room.

Pretending we do not have these struggles helps no one – the lost or the found. For those who worship God must do so in spirit and in truth. If the truth is diminished by pretense, how real are we before God and how real is our worship? How can a pretend gospel redeem people from real darkness?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

long strong smooth strokes

SO . . . have you ever wound up with too much to do but you still had to do all of it?

I am in a position now where I need to write 3-4 books a year of varying lengths and of different genre types. One in the bunch may be nonfiction, the others will be fiction. Of the fiction titles, one may be literary fiction, the others will be popular fiction, usually historical fiction at this point.

It's one of those times where I am trying to create momentum so I'm doing all that I can the best way I know how. People have asked me, Well, how can you do all that and do it well?

I would not wish to write four books a year forever. But if contracts and opportunities come your way you're crazy not to seize them and try to make something happen. So you discipline yourself, focus, know when to take breaks, and above all else, make sure you enjoy yourself. Especially the final one. If you don't do that you won't last long as a n artist or writer - or anything else.

An image I keep in my head may help you when you have similar extraordinary demands on your time. I see myself as a long distance swimmer.

I might be doing laps. I might be swimming the English Channel or the Hoover Dam (do they let you swim that Dam?) but whatever I'm doing it's not a fast crawl - it's not a one minute race - it's the long, strong, smooth strokes of the long distance swimmer.

You just keep going. One stroke at a time. Measure your pace. Know when to come up for air. OK, now and then you may need to put on a burst of speed - but if you still have a long way to go you can't do that for long or you won't have the juice to go the distance. The best plan is the long, strong, smooth strokes. It's amazing how far you get when you do that and stick to it.

For instance, ten days ago I realized I wasn't getting very far with a manuscript. I was even avoiding the writing. How was I going to rejuvenate my interest in the work again and, coupled with that, actually get somewhere in time for the deadline?

I decided to focus and instead of doing 1500 words a day - a very slow pace - chose to up that to 3000. Day by day I swam the Channel between France and England. I doubled the distance I expected of myself on a daily swim and refused to do less. Of course there were interruptions and minor crises - I'm in real life, not a movie about a professional swimmer in the English Channel that is over in 2 hours. But interruptions or not, I got back in the writing water and began to swim again. And again.

Now, with those days behind me, I am one chapter shy of ten. Which means I'm one-third of the way through the book. A week ago I was hanging back from the work. Now I'm ready to go on Monday morning the 21st. A week ago I'd almost lost interest. Now I'm looking forward to the work - I want to write the next set of chapters. Since these are short devotional chapters 1500-2000 or 2500 words = one chapter. So 7-10 days from now I expect to be at chapter 15 or 16, maybe even 17 - halfway through the book. Not by a sudden flurry of over-the-top activity. Just by a sudden focus and very deliberate discipline on my part.

I still am a father to my son and daughter and help with homework or other issues. I still am a husband to my wife, talk things over with her, and help with the chores - cooking, cleaning, dealing with the weekly garbage, doing the laundry, hauling out the vacuum. I still walk my Alaskan Malamutes twice a day. I even take showers and eat.

But since I am now writing full-time I know I have a certain amount of distance to cover each day. When I cover it I feel that I am going to succeed and pull the book off. The more I feel that, the more interested I am in the book and the more excited I am about writing it and completing it. Sometimes when you don't get far enough in a reasonable amount of time you feel like the project isn't going to succeed and maybe it isn't worth investing your time in. You lose interest and eventually drop out and toss the whole thing. When you keep on top of it though, even if it's a long haul, you stay interested and focused and keen about what you're doing. You finish it. You win. You feel great.

And you know you can accomplish something else which may also require those long, strong, steady, smooth strokes of the long distance swimmer - or writer - or mother - or pastor - or lawyer - or nurse - or teacher - or student. . .

. . . or believer.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

virginia city

This is a blog I've sent over from the website. It's a work of popular fiction I've cooked up and I think you'll enjoy it. The book is available for pre-order and will be ready for purchase very soon. Enjoy!

Virginia City

Virginia City used to be the capital of Montana in the territory’s gold rush days. About midway through 1875 Helena became the capital in its place. From a roaring boomtown Virginia City became a ghost town in a few decades later once the gold had played out.

Put yourself in the Montana Territory of 1875. The Civil War’s been over for only ten years.The James-Younger Gang is on the rampage. So is John Wesley Hardin. General James Armstrong Custer is still alive – The Battle of the Little Bighorn won’t take place until June 25th at about three o’clock in the afternoon. Wyatt Earp is still alive too and so are all his brothers. Dodge City is bursting at the seams. The President of the United States is not a Bush or a Barack – it’s a Grant, the Union war hero. The Old West is at its peak.

Suppose you’ve taken in a boy and a girl who are the survivors of a massacre. Suppose the outlaws who perpetrated the massacre are looking for the boy and girl because they’re sure the kids saw their faces and can identify them to the law. Suppose you feel responsible for keeping the boy and girl alive but no one else feels they can help you do that, even the marshal, and you’re advised to get the pair out of Montana and all the way back east to Pennsylvania. Suppose you’re a young single woman who’s trying to pull this off and the only one who will help you is a young single rancher who likes you well enough to risk his neck. Suppose the four of you decide to make a run for it with the gang hard on your heels?

What happens next???

A lot.

To find out exactly what plan to pick up a copy of the book I call Virginia City (for short) that will be available from your favorite bookstore or online dealer very soon. Published by Barbour its full title is A Bride’s Flight From Virginia City, Montana. I think you’ll like it and have a great time saving the kids and getting away from the bad guys.

But what, you may ask, does this have to do with the Amish (since this is an Amish blog)?

Well, they are running all the way to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania – that’s one clue. And the young single woman has a past buried in Lancaster County she swore she’d never return to – that’s another clue. And the boy and girl know Pennsylvania Dutch as well as English – there’s your third clue.

It’s a wild and exciting ride. I hope you decide to get in on it. And ja, some new Amish friends will be waiting to help you when you get off the train at Bird-in-Hand in Lancaster County.

We pray you get that far.

Friday, November 11, 2011

sequel to white birds of morning

I have many writing projects going on but I made sure I found time to begin the sequel to The White Birds of Morning this past week. Unnamed so far, it is the third book in the series that began with the award-winning Zo and covers the years in the story between 1943 and 1945. I have an excerpt for you here BUT, as it is carrying on from the story in White Birds, it does contain spoilers, so you may not want to look at it until you've read White Birds through. (Yes, people tell me White Birds is long, but so is the Bible, and many of them have read that. You read long books the same way you read the Bible or short books - a chapter at a time! Thanks, by the way, to those who have finished White Birds and sent their notes of appreciation.)

The Hour of Darkness
1943 - 1945

† † †
I carried her through the snow. In all that time on the train she had scarcely stiffened. They tried to convince me to leave her at the station in Vinnytsia but I was determined to go on. We came to a stop two hundred kilometres east of Lviv. There was a village. We were in Galicia so I climbed off the train with her in my arms. The snow was coming down so thickly her body was white in a few minutes. I kept wiping it off her face. I wanted to see her eyes. I had not closed them. There was no loss of colour. They were clear.

I headed through the snowdrifts towards the woods. I did not know that thousands of Jews had been shot under the trees. When I found out later it did not matter. She would have been proud to be buried among them. I could see there had been digging so I realized there had been executions and burials. I found a hole that was half-filled with snow and ice but nothing and no one else. She settled into it very easily. I was worried about the wolves so I spent some time prying up rocks from under the snow and frozen dirt and placing them one by one over her body until I was satisfied she was safe.

By then my fingers were raw and bleeding. I welcomed the sensation. I was grateful I could bury her with some pain and some blood. I think there was a prayer too. A good atheist’s prayer for a saint. Yes. I did that.

† † †

I am here on behalf of the Vatican because, quite frankly, Brother Nahum, your testimony is riddled with inconsistencies – I think I may call them that.

If the Holy Father feels that is so why – why didn’t the archbishop come?

He is a cardinal now. Much too busy to fly to America in order to iron out a few wrinkles.

So he sends a woman.

A sister in Christ.
What order?

Your sister is set to be beatified next month by the Holy Father. I am only here for a day. You can look up my order on your search engine after I’m gone.

Sister Afanasii.




Russian Orthodox?

Yes. Can’t you tell by my robe and my klobuk – my head covering?

A Russian Orthodox nun. And you sit there – you sit there and tell me you are sent by the Vatican?
There is no record of what happened between the end of December 1943 and the summer of 1946 when you suddenly appear in Canada.

There is nothing to talk about. The German war machine broke apart. Berlin fell. Eventually I was repatriated and I returned to North America.

Even though you had served with the SS?

I served – with the armored units. Not death squads.

There is no record of you having served with the SS tank corps, the Panzerwaffen, as you claim. But there is something about an interview on a Nazi newsreel. That ought to have been enough to keep you out of Canada. Some would consider a pro-Nazi interview an act of treason. There is also information about you serving with the 14th Waffen SS, the Galician Division, although the file is incomplete. I am surprised you were not detained or arrested on suspicion of war crimes.

I committed no crimes.

What about the monastery at Pidkamin? In March of 1944?

The Canadian Commission of Inquiry on War Crimes ruled that the 14th Waffen SS should not be indicted as a group. Charges of war crimes against the Division have never been substantiated.

You appear well versed on this, brother.

It comes to my mind that there are no monastic orders within the Orthodox Church. You must be what they call a Schema. But not a Great Schema.

What makes you think I am not a Great Schema?

You are too young. And you are not dead. It seems to me that the very old and the dead are the ones who achieve that level of spiritual honour.

Perhaps I am older than you think.

Your head covering would be different if you were a Great Schema. And I see by your face you are not above 40 – am I not right?

There are other problems with your testimony. Sometimes little things: survivors report the music playing during the village of Mir’s destruction by the Red Army was the opera Boris Godunov, not Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

Beethoven is how I remember it.

There are greater issues than this. You say your sister Zoya shot and killed enemy soldiers. Even the wounded. All other witnesses deny this, including those closest to her who survived the war. You say Zoya and the young woman, Zhanna Yeva, whom you buried east of Lviv, often quarreled – others, all others, tell us they adored one another and were almost always in agreement.

An old man’s memory is often sharper than that of the young.

They are all old now as well as you. Perhaps your sister did not want you to make something of the miracles of healing attributed to her. Perhaps she made you swear an oath to alter her story to prevent anything like beatification or canonization from taking place.

Do you think she was that humble, Sister Afanasii?

Not according to your version of events. But if she asked you to change everything, how would we know? You did slip up once. You said she thrust your hand into a candle and made you promise never to talk about the healings that took place during the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

I think that was a false memory. The archbishop – the cardinal – had me talking for long stretches. I began to imagine things, conjure up events that never transpired.


My mind was wheeling round and around. And they were recording all that sacred music at the same time as the cardinal and I met. It was hardly possible to think clearly.

You mention Ukrainian partisans you say were Jewish. But our investigation reveals they were a mix of Arabs and Jews. All killed in 1948. Not fighting each other. As a group they supported the formation of a Palestinian state and also an Israeli state. Arabs killed the Arabs among them and Jews killed the Jews.

I did not know. I did not know what happened.

Eyewitnesses deny Zoya was ever married. Ever had a lover. Ever bore a child.

A perpetual virgin.


I have eyes. I too witnessed. She was my sister. I have no legend or mythology to promote.

So you’re sticking to your story.

I am only telling you the truth. I was there. She had a boy. He still lives.

I want to return to your time with the 14th Waffen SS and the alleged war crimes.


Did you serve with them? Were you at the Battle of Brody?

The Vatican sends a pitbull – but why? Why are you here? Rome has all the information it needs. At least half-a-dozen miracles have been documented, haven’t they? You do not believe the things I tell you. They are not convenient for the sainthood you are trying to weave into existence. So why come again? And again and again? What do you want? There is nothing else you need.

We need to know what happened in 1944 and 1945. If someone came up with evidence that compromised Zoya’s beatification it could be awkward. I would rather we knew about it first. Before the devil’s advocate got a hold of it.

There is nothing from those two years that will place the Holy Father in an awkward position.

Let me be the judge of that.

There is no point to this harassment. Let me die in peace.

But you are not at peace. Are you?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

the radical amish

The Radical Amish

With all the tumult the Occupy movement has caused lately it’s interesting to compare the sort of uproar they create compared with the uproar the Amish don’t create.

The Amish don’t fly the flag. They won’t join the military or the police force. In wars past they have never purchased war bonds and they have never enlisted or taken up arms.They won’t celebrate the Fourth of July.

Due to this they have been considered not only unpatriotic by some but treasonous by others.

In the First World War they faced some pretty severe persecution for their pacifist stance. So did the Mennonites, the Quakers and the Hutterites, among others.

Churches were vandalized or burned down. People harassed. Some Amish were forced to enlist, drill with rifles and go through boot camp in the hopes of getting them to convert to a warlike mind set.

Some were imprisoned and beaten. Some were killed.

Despite this, none of the Amish of 1917 and 1918 retaliated. Nor did they stop loving America or praying for their country.

The stance they took 100 years ago is a stance they maintain today. It is just as radical now as it was then and just as likely to cause offense. Yet they do not stand on soapboxes or march or occupy buildings or snarl up traffic. They do not shout slogans or lash out in anger or hurl verbal abuse at those who disagree with their pacifism. They do not shake their fists in the air and curse. They live their radical lives quietly, trying not to draw attention to themselves. They live what they live without demonstrations or speeches or marches on Washington.

Unquestionably many people do not agree with the stance the Amish take. The Amish understand that. But they are not running for Congress or trying to win a popularity contest. They are simply trying to live out their faith in Jesus Christ. Agree or disagree with their views on the flag or July 4th or enlistment in the military, it is hard not to respect them precisely because they aren’t screaming out their point of view or handing out pamphlets on street corners or driving into town with MAKE LOVE NOT WAR painted in white letters all over their buggies.

If they are introduced to a man in uniform they will not snub him. They will shake his hand. Despite their beliefs about wars and armies, the Amish do not hate those who do what the Amish do not like. That also is radical. Most people cannot befriend those with whom they strongly disagree. They might be able to do it for a friend or family member but not for a stranger. The Amish do it all the time.

It would be nice, wouldn’t it, if more groups of people who had sharp disagreements with their country on certain matters adopted the Amish approach? We all know what they believe. The nations of America and Canada (who have Amish in Ontario) are well aware not only of the Amish commitment to pacifism but their avoidance of most modern technology. Yet this awareness is not due to Amish attacks on military bases and service personnel or destruction of iPods or iTabs or farm tractors or pickup trucks. There is no violence against what they dislike.

We know what they believe because they live it out in peace

So we watch. And wonder. Then go about our business. Which may include flying an F-18 fighter jet or driving a Buick.

Sometimes, if they want to, people join the Amish who are not born into the faith.

When they join they do so quietly. And are welcomed quietly and with warmth. The Amish do not make a show of it or market it or use converts for propaganda purposes.

Something else that is radical about the radical Amish.

I wrote a book about all this, in a 1917 and 1918 setting, and made it into a story. THE WINGS OF MORNING will be published by Harvest House of Oregon this January, 2012.

I really hope you will get your hands on a copy, read it and let me know what you think. I also hope you will enjoy it and that it will mean something to you.

The Amish of 2011 and 2012 are the same as the Amish of 1911 and 1912.

And 1917 and 1918.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

a movie worth watching

an article reposted from The Winnipeg Free Press online

Eccentric, but maybe not a lunatic, after all
By: Katherine Monk

Wiebo Ludwig is a name that conjures all kinds of thoughts in Canada. Convicted of vandalism resulting in millions of dollars in damages in 2001, Ludwig has often been cited as one of Canada's most noted "eco-terrorists."

He's been on the radio. He's offered sound bites to TV. He's waged an all-out war of optics against the Alberta oil and gas industry -- and lost every single time.

Ludwig always looked like a crackpot, and, thanks to the deep pockets of his biggest foe, there were endless experts available to dissect his supposed psychosis.

Ludwig never stood a chance, and in this new documentary from David York, we're given a front-row seat to the drama behind his media execution.

Picking up the rather long narrative thread that begins with Ludwig deciding to buy a little piece of paradise in northern Alberta, York takes us into the Ludwig compound for the first time.

Just making it inside the farmhouse is a huge victory, because it lets us lay eyes on Ludwig and his family without an imposing agenda. This is key, because Ludwig was always painted as a religious extremist who lived in a closed community where incest almost seemed unavoidable.

He and his best friend started the farm, and all their kids married each other. Now in their third generation, the Ludwigs appear to have kick-started their own Eden. At the beginning, it's a little weird seeing the women in head scarves and gingham dresses, but once we see them address the camera without fear, and with assertively pronounced opinions, we realize they are no Stepford Sisters, nor Big Love babies. They are smart, engaged and responsible women who want to keep their families safe. This is what mothers do, and what fathers are supposed to protect.

So what do you do when all your animals start dying? How do you cope with mass abortions among the flock, and the sight of malformed fetuses all over your fields?
More urgent, what on earth do you do when your own family starts to abort? What if your daughter was pregnant and someone put up a sour-gas well within spitting distance of your house? What if you knew, for sure, that your developing grandchild was destined to be born with birth defects, or worse, dead on arrival?

This is the situation Ludwig was forced to face for years. As he watched the life on his farm slowly die, he felt he had to do something.

But no one seemed to care. And no one listened.

York, a veteran filmmaker, could have immediately taken on the perspective of the disenfranchised farmer, and painted the whole film into an issue-specific corner. But he keeps his distance.

We are observers in this drama, and this is the film's particular strength, as well as its weakness because the facts are simply laid before us, without any specific editorializing.

Eventually, once we realize the futility of Ludwig's complaints, and the individual's place in relation to the oil and gas industry, the viewer becomes undeniably invested, because we imagine what might happen if this were our farm or our children.
When York pulls out the emotional trump card -- the funeral for one of the stillborn infants, whose head was crushed like an eggshell in delivery -- the viewer has to sit there with the horror of it all and realize this actually happened, and in our country.

Nothing less than a tragedy from a human perspective, Wiebo's War is also a cohesive and logical argument against the status quo that puts people and the environment second to profit.

Postmedia News
Movie review
Wiebo's War: A documentary
Directed by David York
93 minutes

Sunday, October 09, 2011

german pancakes?

German Pancakes – Where’s the Recipe?

My mom was a Dressel (or Dressler). She used to make these pancakes that were a foot across that we all loved. How did she do it without tearing them? I’ve made pancakes, sure, but small ones, at the most five or six inches across. Was there a special recipe? Maybe. But it never showed up in her cookbooks or recipe cards after her death.

I’ve gone to German restaurants, Dutch restaurants (not yet Amish restaurants) but I’ve had no luck. Sure, they have lots of nice pancakes but not those foot diameter ones mom made. Most of the time when I say I used to add jam and peanut butter or honey and peanut butter, and then roll them up and cut them, waiters bring me crepes sort of pancakes. No, no, no. Nein, nein, nein. Mom’s were thick – crepes are paper thin. Solid, an eighth of an inch thick or a bit more, they could handle heavy fillings before being rolled. Crepes cannot handle peanut butter and bananas – mom’s could.

In my mind’s eye, there she is, standing over a hot stove, cast iron frying pan on the element, flipper in one hand, batter in a bowl nearby, frying these wonders up. Sometimes, to our delight, she’d add big chunks of chopped apple – of course, these babies could handle whole orchards of apples and laugh. Pancake ready, she’d scoop it out of the pan and place it on a plate and put it in the oven to keep warm.Pour more batter liberally into the pan and cook another. They never stuck and she had no PAM in those days. How was this accomplished? I don’t know.

But maybe someone out there in the big wide world knows. Maybe the Amish of Ohio and Michigan and Pennsylvania know. Or the Amish of Ontario. Maybe you know. I’d love to find a restaurant that cooked these or a recipe that told me how to mix the batter and get the thickness and flip them without ruining them. This site often has recipes, doesn’t it? Well, then, this blog is my contribution – except I don’t have the recipe. You have to find it and post it.

I only know it must exist somewhere because I’m sure mom learned it from her mom and her mom was born in “the old Country” – she carried a Swiss passport, there’s a town in Switzerland named Pura, yet Madegeburg in Germany figures into her story too, as do Alsace and Lorraine. So who knows where the recipe originated? With Charlemagne? Martin Luther? Bach? The Swiss Brethren? Jacob Amman?

Who knows? Wer weib?

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

this is what's happening today

want to write some new blogs soon but:

Last night I signed a contract with Baker Publishing in Michigan for a book about Christian spirituality and the wilderness. I need to write it this winter. It's due in March, 2012 and set for release in 2013.

Meanwhile I've been putting the very last touches to my PhD thesis so that I can submit it for examination by All Saints Day. The viva voce - the oral defense of the thesis - follows 1-3 months later. My school is the venerable University of Liverpool in the UK. (All you need is love.)

On the horizon is the release of two books in January - The Wings of Morning (set in 1917) and Virginia City (set in 1875). They are from publishers in Ohio and Oregon.

This summer I finished my ACW novel (American Civil War). It is due for publication in 2013 just like the wilderness book.

I have at least one other book out there looking for a home and one other proposal for a book out there looking for a taker.

I spent Sunday reading the galleys (next to last version) of Virginia City. I spent yesterday (Monday) and today (Tuesday) going over the galleys for The Wings of Morning. Then I phoned my editor for Wings and went over the errors I had found with him. This took 2 hours and 5 minutes. But he's a nice guy so that made it go better.

I was at a local authors event last week and met a few people and sold copies of The White Birds of Morning. I wonder if I will hear from the Kobzar Award committee that White Birds is short-listed for the 2012 contest? Maybe. Maybe not.

Lots going on in your life and mine.

But I am looking for space to think more deeply and pray more deeply and hope more deeply . . .

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

another response to israel

Another person I know who makes Jerusalem their home has responded to the Newsweek article just below. This also is worth reading.


Hey Murray,

Thanks for the article and my comments shall proceed.

Regarding the Issue of poverty, housing, etc. Yes, it is a problem, but simply, I would disagree with some of his "large assumptions" that make it sound like all of Israel is breaking down and "everyone" is unhappy. Sure, people are feeling pressure, a lot of pressure, and some more then others. But there is still a majority that believe defense and security to hold back the hateful tide at its borders to preserve their very lives is better then having cheaper housing, and cheaper food. The situation isn't completely unbearable, people do struggle, but Israel is stretched thin, budget wise, because of all the problems surrounding its borders. That is my general feeling of the whole situation, seeing the protests, reading articles, and researching surveys.
My second thing are all his comments on the whole "occupied land of West Bank and Gaza" which is a crock because once again the whole story is not told and "word usage" is twisted giving into the same lie and trap people everywhere fall into when dealing with this area. So, a few of my points are, after 1948 war, Gaza was occupied by Egypt and Jordan captured the west side of the Jordan, and most of Jerusalem. Jordan then expelled Jews and oppressed them as well as Egypt. Then, in a defensive war in which these Arab countries sought to annihilate Israel, Israel conquered this territory as well as the Golan Heights. Now to be factual, while Gaza, Westbank and Golan Heights were occupied by Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, these lands were never recognized in the 19 years of occupation by the UN to be part of these countries. Plus, these lands were in the original plan by the UN and Pan Salma to be a part of the Jewish Homeland!!!! So, by every right, Israel is the legitimate holder of these lands, not an "occupier". This term was coined because of two things, Israel chose not to fully annex these lands because of defensive reasons, and the whole Palestinian plight which is mumbo jumbo because during the British Mandate, TransJordan or modern day Jordan was created for the Palestinians as a homeland. Plus, Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005 and so there already is a Palestinian State and it is besieged not by Israel, but by Hamas, who is the real enemy. Israel just secures it because of the lawlessness, weapons smuggling, and terror threat. So, I really did not care for Morris' bad generalizations, skewed comments, etc. It also goes to show you even if someone lives in Israel and calls themselves a historian they can skew the facts. I know many professors, Members of Knesset, rabbis, journalists, and other people who would firmly disagree with Morris' statements.
Having said this he does paint a good picture of some of the struggles in Israel, the threat and complication of the surrounding nations, and Islams threat in countries like Egypt that really were never "liberated" through these riots (which mainly are staged and paid for by rich Arabs....last riot at Israeli Embassy in Cairo was set up by an Arab multimillionaire who paid people to riot. Plus, if you look carefully there really isn't any women or children at these riots and the soldiers are in control. Strange?) Anyway, those are a number of my thoughts, Murray, maybe very opinionated but gathered through years of study.

Anyway, thank you once again for sending the article. I trust you and Linda are doing fine and blessings.


Monday, September 19, 2011

is israel over?

A Newsweek article asking if Israel was finished as a nation was published recently. I decided to ask a friend who has lived in Jerusalem for many years to comment on the piece. You will find his thoughts interjected at the appropriate points in the article below. An important and provocative read! (the comments are highlighted by asterisks)


Hey – Moshe!!

A few comments interspersed in the article. Not much to say; the problems are huge, but I’ve little doubt that there’s progress here in the face of virtually
incomprehensible hostility and isolation – not all of Israel’s making as suggested by the tone of the articles.

Also, I’m a little perturbed by the generalizations throughout both articles.

Anyway, this is from my for-what-it’s worth mind-evolving understanding of this incredibly perplexing place.!

I’ll be paying a little bit more attention to some of these issues and see whether I can become a little more decisive, specific – whatever.

Toda Raba,
Laila Tov – it’s way past bed-time.

In Newsweek Magazine

Is Israel Over?

*It’s a question doing the rounds here as well. Question: is what sense over?
Over the barrel?! The Zionist dream of an independent state where Jews can be free of anti-semitism? Or the idealism of Kibbutz socialism? Or does this question reflect a pessimism that once again the Jews will be dispersed as has happened many times in their 3000+ years of existence, and the land destroyed?*

No longer the liberal, democratic, egalitarian society it once was, Israel is fighting the Arabs—and itself.

*POINT is: Israel is fighting more than the Arabs! They’re fighting the lies about their legitimacy, their aspirations, to say nothing about the antisemitism/antiZionism in the West. Fighting the Arabs? Of course. Not to do so, in a sense, is to be annihilated.*

*What’s to be said about Israel fighting itself? It has certainly been it’s own worst enemy down through the ages – and there’s no let up! The in-fighting is incomprehensible to me. Here they are badgered on every side, almost Universally, and yet they can’t agree on anything. It’s the old notion of two Jews, three or more opinions, or synagogues.*

Israel is under assault. On Sept. 20 the Palestinian Authority plans to unilaterally declare statehood and go to the United Nations for recognition. This is a rejection of all efforts for a peaceful compromise. In its wake will come waves of Palestinian violence. And yet this is just the latest manifestation of an embattled Israel that is being threatened from the outside—by Muslim Arab states and societies, Egyptians storming the Israeli Embassy, a nuclear-arming Iran (with its local sidekicks, Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Hizbullah in Lebanon), and a besieged President Bashar al-Assad in Syria—and from the inside by domestic upheaval that led to the largest mass protests in the country’s history.

*QUESTION: how seriously is this assault been taken by the West? Where is the legal and historical perspective on both the people and the land? Where are the security-related concerns? Why the blind political correctness? Arafat’s plan of taking over the entire area piece by piece is what it’s all about. As long as there’s no Arab guarantee of an Israeli State, there can be no peace. Thing is, we all know that the ultimate issue is not land; it’s religious colonialism tied to the Islamist belief that they are to dominate the world. Anyone not of Islam is an infidel and must either convert or be executed. (Of course even the Christians pursued such policies in the Middle Ages.)*

More than 50 years ago, Israel’s leaders, headed by David Ben-Gurion, believed and hoped that they were creating a social democracy, with all the requisite egalitarian accoutrements (socialized national health care, progressive income tax, child benefits, subsidized cheap housing). Ben-Gurion, who owned almost nothing and retired to a primitive hut in the Negev Desert, typified the austere lifestyle, and greatness, of the state’s founders.

*No doubt much of the original vision is blurred by rampant materialism and high-tech wealth in the land which Ben-Gurion, of course, knew nothing about. As is so often the case with capitalist freedom, a few hold the reigns of power and wealth – and exercise great control. Nevertheless, the original goal of providing an equality of service to all citizens – remains, as far as I can tell. Also, many surveys have confirmed that the Arabs in Israel are far better off economically than their cousins in the disputed territories – under the PLO – to say nothing of Gaza – even although apparently there are many improvements in those areas. An interesting poll among the Arabs in Judea and Samaria showed that while many support the PA statehood bid, far less of them wanted to live in such a state!*

This is no longer Israel. A profound, internal, existential crisis has arrived. It stems in part from the changing nature of the country, more right wing, more restrictive, far less liberal, and far less egalitarian. Many moderate Israelis fear the country is heading for ruin. Indeed, the country’s ruling class, including Benjamin Netanyahu and his predecessors Ehud Olmert (now on trial for corruption) and Ehud Barak (a former head of the Labor Party and current defense minister), live in opulence, and the feeling is that they are out of touch with reality. In Tel Aviv, where some 350,000 gathered in protest, a widespread chant, set to a popular children’s ditty, was “Bibi has three apartments, which is why we have none.”

*Define “Israel.” A homeland for the Jews; a refuge for those in the diaspora? A hope for the disenfranchised Jews in Arab states – where persecution has been and is virtually beyond the telling of it? Thousands are still streaming into the country and they are all helped financially, with housing, language studies, schooling, employment, medical services free of charge.*

*Yes – the present coalition is more right wing – especially in terms of defence and social issues....*

*Opulence of the leaders? I don’t know anything about that – and have never read such criticism in either of the English language dailies – J Post or Ha’aretz. Of course Bibi lives in the PM’s residence. Opulent? No idea, but somehow I can’t imagine that it is.*

*Egalitarian? The social services here seem exemplary in many respects. The medical services are open and free to all – Jews and Arab Israelis. Gita has often talked about the treatment of Arabs she has observed in the hospitals and has always been impressed by its quality. This goes for any from the so-called West Bank who need meds not available there. Just last week I went to an Eye Clinic in East J for a check up because it’s apparently the best one in Israel – and was attended to by an Arab opthalmologist. I don’t know whether there were any Jews there – and the place was packed – but the reception was wonderful and the treatment faultless. Gita’s dentist is Arab. All this to say that in the professions there certainly seems to be an unhesitating respect and a working together.*

*It’s generally acknowledged that Israel invests tremendously in education across the board – and has the highest per capita rate of university degrees as it does in books and academic papers published.*

Tent cities popped up as the demonstrators—20- to 45-year-olds, with a healthy contingent of older people—rallied against nonprogressive taxation, low wages, and the high cost of housing and consumer goods, which have made it nigh impossible for families to make ends meet. A full 20 percent of Israelis (and 15 percent of Israeli Jews) live under the poverty line, and the top decile of Israel’s population earns 31 percent of the country’s total net income. The lowest decile earns a mere 1.6 percent. Last year Israel was elected to membership in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of the world’s 32 most-developed countries. Among them, Israel ranks as one of the worst (alongside Mexico and the United States) in terms of wealth polarization.

*Again – yes, a distinct polarization in wealth. As in South Africa, there is a great deal of wealth in this little splinter of land, and it is controlled by some sort of capitalist elite. Housing costs are prohibitive in TA and Jerusalem (although cheaper here). Food stuffs are also quite expensive – although at the Shuk, one can find reasonable alternatives to the chain grocery shops.*

*However, the protests were a great example of civil liberties, the freedom of expression, assembly, dissent. You name it, Israel is a remarkably free society, a fantastically multicultural society and equality before the law. Even the so-called Palestinians are free to petition Israel’s High Courts.*

Israel suffers from a steady brain drain, with tens of thousands of university graduates and wannabe academics moving abroad for lack of adequate positions or pay. Berlin has a community of more than 10,000 young Israelis, many of them working in the arts, who found creativity in Israel impossible. In a recent interview, one film director said that in Israel her energies were spent on making commercials and fashion trivia in order to subsist; Berlin enabled her to pursue her passion. In Tel Aviv, kindergartens charge $700 to $1,000 per child per month; in Berlin, the cost is $120; a kilo of cucumbers costs $1 in Tel Aviv, half that in Berlin.

*Brain drain? Maybe – although again, I don’t see anyone crying about it in the press (as they do in South Africa). I have chatted with several academic types about a variety of concerns, but this has never come up. University research facilities seem to be top of the range – and I’ve met several Ph D students who have no intention of moving elsewhere. But specifics – stats and so on, I don’t know.*

*Again, no stats, but this place seems totally energetic in terms of the arts. Just below us in the Gehennon Valley are concerts, film festivals, art shows, book fairs, crafts fairs – and so on. Theatres and symphonies are to be enjoyed – so I don’t know where this artistic repression is.*

*I also have no data on kindergarten charges – except that there are many “private” ones which are expensive. Certainly in the Haredi areas, all such services are free. But, like everything else, if you want really good education, you have to pay for it by going private. As far as I know the public school system is pretty good and open to all residents of Israel.*

*All I’ll say here is that there is definitely a political tsunami coming. Exciting stuff!*

*Of course, I’m trying to sort it all out in terms of prophecy and so on – which is dicey at best – but interesting.*

In the 1950s, Israel was an under-developed country filled with ideologically motivated Zionists willing to sacrifice for the collective good. Today’s Israel has a burgeoning economy, driven by sophisticated and internationally competitive high-tech industries, and a population driven mainly by individuals who want the good life. They see that too much of the national pie goes both to the West Bank settlers (who tend to be religious and ultranationalist) and to the ultra-Orthodox (who contribute almost nothing to the economy and avoid mandatory military service).

Worse, this hard-core contingent is making babies at a rapid clip; they tend to have five to eight children per family, versus two to three children in secular homes. This gives them disproportionate clout in Parliament. And that translates into political power—and economic benefits. (Paradoxically, the ultra-Orthodox remain the poorest sector in Israeli Jewish society, mainly because most of them don’t work.)

The other side of the coin: Israel’s own Arab minority is emerging as a potential major problem, too. The Israeli Arab landscape is increasingly dominated by minarets and veiled women; and its leaders, identifying with their Palestinian cousins outside, vociferously call for Israel to shed its character as a “Jewish state” and give its Arab citizens collective minority rights and perhaps some form of autonomy.

Since the West Bank and Gaza were conquered in 1967, successive Israeli governments have failed to fully withdraw from them, either unilaterally or with a peace deal. The Arabs may have been largely at fault—in 2000 Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat turned down an Israeli offer to withdraw from 95 percent of the West Bank and 100 percent of the Gaza Strip—but Israel retains its stranglehold over these people and continues to expand its settlement enterprise.

Israel is a deeply troubled democracy. A democracy it still is, for its citizens—both Jewish and Arab. But Israel is no democracy when it comes to the semi-occupied 2.5 million Arabs of the West Bank and the 1.5 million semi-besieged Arabs of the Gaza Strip. And all this is now congealing

Now there looms the even greater threat of resurgent Islam, not just within Israel’s borders or the Palestinian territories, but across the region, where it is spreading like a brushfire. Many in the West have taken heart from the so-called Arab Spring, viewing the upheavals as heralds of democratic transformation. Israelis are less optimistic. The Islamist message that is coming out of Ankara, and moving to center stage in Cairo, includes a hard core of anti-Zionism usually accompanied by anti-Semitic overtones. (Egypt’s deposed president Hosni Mubarak is now denounced as a “stooge of the Zionists.” A photo of Netanyahu, dressed in an SS uniform, with a Hitler mustache, making the Nazi salute, appeared on the cover of the popular Egyptian weekly Octoberon Aug. 28. Inside, the journal carried an article called “The New Nazis”—and it isn’t even an Islamist publication.)

Netanyahu is creating a series of bureaucratic salves for the country’s economic ills. But they will be swamped, and rendered irrelevant, in the tide of Palestinian activism and anti-Zionism that will be set off by the Palestinian statehood bid. It will then trigger shock waves around the Arab and Islamic worlds. Months ago, Ehud Barak predicted that Israel will face a “political tsunami.” Here it comes.

Morris is an Israeli historian

Sunday, September 18, 2011

so why are the amish growing?

Why are the Amish Growing?

Not so many years ago I remember doing some research on the Amish and it was quite evident that a number of writers felt the Amish were on their way out due to declining numbers. Well, if it ever was the case it is not so any longer. A friend just returned from Michigan and told me there were Amish where there had never been Amish before and he had enjoyed making the acquaintance of several through his father. In Montana, not far from where I live, there are now Amish. If I did a bit of digging I wonder where else I might find they had popped up – Germany, Brazil, Ireland, France – and whether there were Amish who were of Hispanic background, or African-American, or Asian?

I’ve read that 85% of those born and raised Amish (though you’re not really Amish until you’ve taken your vows and been baptized) choose to remain Amish. Even with large families that still doesn’t account for the sudden spread of the Amish faith (which was not that strong in other generations). Clearly there is growth from converts. But what are the reasons someone would convert to the Amish faith in this day and age? As I mentioned in my last blog, I know some good reasons why I could be Amish but I also know a number of good reasons why I couldn’t. What are the reasons people might be joining the Amish faith in the 21st century, reasons that overwhelm their hesitancies and objections?

Well, the only way to really know all the reasons would be to interview the hundreds of new converts. Since I don’t have time to do that this Sunday night I thought I might speculate and that maybe you could respond and speculate with me. Then maybe another day I could find some research on the topic and find out if the actual reasons dovetailed with the ones we thought up together.

I think one reason for the growth of the Amish faith is the loss of community in the world around them. Many people no longer have strong connections with their neighbors or social groups or even their families. (Or even their churches.) Lonely and feeling increasingly cut off from meaningful relationship these people gravitate towards the close-knit Amish community.

Another reason is the fast and stressful pace of our society. People are sick of the running and having to live as if they’re machines with computer brains, sick of the financial strain, sick of fighting to make ends meet. Wouldn’t it be nice to live at a slower pace and have time to lean on a fence or a hoe handle and talk with a neighbor as if were 1875 again? Go at a horse’s pace when you travel rather than in a hurtling steel gas guzzler that fights for space with thousands of other hurtling steel gas guzzlers? Not be hassled by the need for money, money and more money?

Then there is the living out of the Christian faith. Some feel their churches are too big, too busy, too full of programs, too impersonal. They look at the Amish and find a faith in Christ where people know your name and care about your life and struggles, they value your family and children – not as numbers to fill the pews and chairs, but as members of an honest-to-goodness up-close-and-personal spiritual church that honors Jesus Christ as Redeemer and Lord.

Others agree with the pacifist stance of the Amish church, a stance they have taken for hundreds of years. In a world afflicted by a constant stream of wars, terrorist acts and violence for many – for most – it is refreshing to be among a people who eschew the way of the sword for the way of the plow. It is a community of Christian faith truly committed to peace.

As I mentioned a couple of blogs back there is the fact the Amish don’t swallow technology whole like the culture around them, they discuss and debate it. While it’s true humans seem to be a creation easily addicted to technological innovation down through the ages it’s also true there are those who question it and avoid it down through the ages. The big question for the Amish is whether a new technology enhances community or erodes it. If the latter it is not adopted. (In case you think nothing new has been added since the era of Wyatt Earp or Little House on the Prairie some Amish use cell phones at certain times and for very specific reasons.)

Then there is a reason I actually came up with after reading an Amish farmer talking about it (so it’s not a reason I thought up at all). He simply said that some people are called to be Amish, called by God, in the same way people are called to be pastors or missionaries or to join a specific church or denomination. Which makes sense to me. Some people feel they belong with the Baptists or the Methodists or the Pentecostals or Vineyard or the Greek Orthodox Church. And some feel they need to be Amish because God has put it in their heart. Warum nicht? Why not?

Or maybe you would like to live your life with God out among horses and barns and livestock and fields and wooden carts and carriages, and people with a like heart for such things, without the screech of TVs and car brakes and amplified music.

I don’t know for sure, but I wonder if some of the reasons I’ve laid out here might be the reasons some people have converted to the Amish faith and the Amish way in recent years.

What reasons do you think people have who discard suits and jeans and skirts and the driving of Camaros to dress plain and ride in one-horse buggies and grow beards or wear prayer kapps and sit down to platefuls of Shoofly pie?

What would your reasons be?

Why not leave a comment and let me know?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

could you be amish?

Could You Be Amish?

Now and then I have wondered how I would make out as an Amish convert. After all, the movement is growing and not just by means of childbirth.

While my wife loves using power tools I have a number of tools that came down to me from my father and his father. It’s amazing how these saws and drills and hammers of wood and steel have retained not only their functionality but their rugged beauty. The wood takes on that special aged hue. I love using them. So that’s one point for being comfortable with being Amish.

I like horses too and have owned and cared for quarter horses. It’s true I haven’t worked with Percherons or the other large work horses but I’d be willing to learn. Just as I’d be willing to learn how to handle a buggy properly. And pick up some of the farrier’s trade. So that’s another point.

Chopping wood? Do that already for my wood stove. Candles and oil lamps? Love ‘em. Lived up north for two years where that’s all some people had for light at night. (Electricity hadn’t reached a number of remote locations.) Quilts? Well, who doesn’t like snuggling up under a well-made quilt on a cold winter’s night?

And then I also share the Christian faith with them. And I have a smattering of German picked up from my mother’s side of the family I can start out with.

Ah, but then there are the challenges. I like photography and I like art. The Amish consider those the forbidden making of graven images. I like lively worship music but the Amish hymns are hundreds of years old and often focus on themes of suffering in Christ set to slow tunes. I don’t always want to dress plain but dressing plain is what I’d have to do. I’d rather not be a farmer 24/7 but farming is the preferred profession unless I can excel as a blacksmith, farrier or furniture maker.

But wait! Suppose I want to be a pastor. Well, that is chosen by lot and no remuneration is offered to those chosen – you still must work at something else. So can I make a living as a writer? What if I wrote adventures and romances about the Amish people? Hmmm . . .

What if I want to fly the flag? The Amish don’t do that. Suppose, in 1942, I thought it was right to resist the Nazis in Europe? No, the Amish do not enlist and they do not fight. Can I have a picnic and let off fireworks on July 4th? Nay, the Amish do not celebrate Independence Day.

So converting to the Amish Way is perhaps not so easily done even though I admire and respect the Amish culture and faith. If I was serious about it much prayer would be required on my part as well as a willingness to lay down a number of my desires and preferences.

Also, I don’t like wearing a beard. What would I do about that? And would my wife like to put on a prayer kapp and kiss a man with a beard for the rest of her life? I know she wouldn’t mind all the 19th century Little House on the Prairie ways but she’d have to give up her power tools. What about that? And probably stop being an RN.

You see, it’s not so easy for me to be Amish. How about you?

Friday, September 02, 2011

arguing in amish

At the request of one of my publishers I've been asked to blog on things Amish at If you're interested in The Amish Way you might want to Google it. Here's one of the things I have written recently to give you an idea about the site.

Arguing in Amish

One of the most fascinating things about writing Amish fiction is listening to their ongoing debate with technology. This has been going on particularly since the arrival of the telephone. You might think Alexander Graham Bell’s invention was rejected outright but no, it was actually used by the Amish for a number of years, until the Amish realized it was being used as a means for spreading gossip. Thus the problem was not that it was a new technology to be rejected out-of-hand, the problem was it could be used to destroy Christian community.

The motorcar was rejected because it adversely affected the sacred community as well – some could afford to own one, some couldn’t, it could become a source of pride and prestige and, in so doing, ruin equality among the members of the Amish church and community. You can ride in one for short distances but not drive one or own one. Not because the Amish don’t like cars – they don’t like what ownership of cars can do to their people. The same is true of airplanes. And motorboats. And a lot of other things.

The Amish are not striving to live in the 1800s although to some it looks that way. Why, some Amish communities have telephone booths that can be used in emergencies. No, the Amish are fighting to keep their communities intact despite the onslaught of technology that, in their eyes, divides communities and breaks up families and relationships. While, for the most part, the world outside their farms is eager to snap up whatever new technology floods the market, be it iphones or ipods or six foot long HD TV sets, without debating the human consequences of any of it, the Amish do debate and they debate the consequences of all of it.

What a difference it would make if society as a whole learned from the Amish that some precious things about humanity are threatened by the promiscuous use of technology and that there should be more debate going on about what technology is appropriate and what is not. A few discussions might be going on in churches and religious organizations and among other groups but not much. It seems that only the Amish are arguing and praying about this issue with any kind of seriousness and consistency. Which might be one explanation for their growth over the past decade – not only that some people are fleeing the turmoil of a fast-paced, hi tech society where there is no longer time to sit and think – but that some want to debate what technology is good for us and what isn’t. Few others are engaged in such an argument or discussion and some 21st century citizens apparently wish to be part of those who do argue, do discuss, do pose the important questions and objections. Even if it means learning to argue and debate – and listen! – in Amish.

Monday, August 29, 2011

what facebook is and isn't

I can survive on Facebook if I bear in mind it is a place for touching base, sharing plans and events, talking about recent experiences and showing pictures - all as quickly as possible. That's what it's good at.

I have problems when I want it to be more than that: conversations that last more than a few sentences, weighty subject matter that requires people to pull out of the fast lane and slow down and think, bringing up topics that take time to respond to. Yes, I've already been frustrated this summer by expecting all those things from Facebook but, the truth is, when people log on, that's not what they're there for. They don't want heavy - Facebook is lightweight. They don't want something that's time-consuming - they want instant, they want fast. They aren't looking to discuss the issues of the eternal ages - they want to laugh and skim and, if necessary, succinctly express sympathy (no less heartfelt for that).

So you touch base on Facebook, stay aware of what's happening in people's lives, connect with people you haven't seen in years and whom you wouldn't be able to stay connected to without Facebook. That's what Facebook is good at. The long talks, the weighty talks, are best done by phone (usually a land line as opposed to a cell, since a cell is also about FAST and INSTANT, unless a cell is the only phone you've got) or face-to-face.

Of course, the worry is that people will freeze into the Facebook Way forever and that long talks, listening, thinking and wondering will cease to be part of their lives. The worry is that the whole human race will go that way and that the human part of human being will be greatly diminished.

But I find that people who talk on Facebook still talk a lot in person. There may be those who are withdrawing into their virtual worlds but most people, I think, want hi touch along with hi tech - they want to be with real people in real time, face-to-face, as well as chat with them online. Maybe by 2050 it will be different but I don't think so. Regardless of the technology that's come our way over the past century, from cars to airplanes to computers, people still want to mingle with people, touch people, kiss people.

So let Facebook be Facebook. And when you want Face-to-Face move away from Facebook and get it.

If I just use Facebook three days a week to touch base, I'm okay. Then I don't expect it to give me what it won't give me - deep relationship.

For that we all need to go elsewhere.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

the final cut

Publishers live in the future. Books I am writing at the present time are scheduled for release in 2013. Books I wrote last year or early this year are coming out in 2012. If I pen anything this fall it will come out in 2013 or 2014 if I get a contract. Anything written in 2012 and picked up by a publishing house won't be released until 2013, 2014 or even 2015, depending.

So this month I am doing the final editing on two books for US publishers. I worked with a freelance editor for the Barbour book and that final cut is done and delivered. Now Barbour is fine-tuning the covers and asking what I think. Also asking if I can suggest endorsers. I start the Harvest House edit, with a senior editor from the firm, in about a week, next Tuesday.

The funny thing about the Barbour edit is I wrote the book as a kind of lark more than two years ago in the winter of 2009. By the time it comes out on January 1st, 2012, it will be one month shy of three years since I sat down to accept the challenge of writing a good genre piece: one that engaged the reader, entertained the reader and enlightened the reader. Bear in mind this is in the footsteps not of Harlequin romances or Grave Livingstone Hill but of writers like Jane Austen, Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens, H.G. Wells, Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker. Mary and Bram wrote in the Gothic horror genre, Jane in the pastoral romance genre that ended happily with women being wedded to wealthy men, Conan Doyle wrote in the detective/mystery genre of Sherlock Holmes, Dickens the comic or tragic stories written in serial format in magazines that were published week after week after week, and Wells published in the sci-fi genre. My genre? Historical fiction romance. The trick is to play the genre game well so that it truly is an interesting tale, and perhaps a bit of a page-turner, but also has many layers of plot and story and character development so that it begins to actually transcend the genre. I have no idea if I have pulled that off but it is what I wanted to do. Readers will let me know to what degree I may have succeeded.

Of course I'm a different person in some ways than I was when I sat down to the keyboard in February, 2009 to produce the book that Barbour decided to publish on January 1st of 2012. And I've moved on to other different stories (I've written four other novels since then). So it was almost archaeological to go back to that first book and edit it two weeks ago. I still like the story and its characters but now my head is full of many other people who have come to life in my imagination whereas back then I had only a couple of novels out and comparatively few heroes and heroines bumping into one another in my head. When you help the editor make the final cut you are not doing it as the person who wrote it two or three years before. You are older now, you have written more things, so you approach the edit as a writer older and with more experience. So parts of the original story get changed because of that.

On the other hand, not much got changed in the Barbour book, not really. The story is substantially the same as what I produced in 2009. I did add a whole new chapter and that is the biggest alteration. An addition, not a deletion. I find that interesting - just because we're older doesn't mean something we created when we were younger needs to be treated as something less or inferior or substandard or in great need of extensive revision.

At any stage in our life things we do can have lasting significance, not just the stuff we do when we are older and perhaps wiser (or perhaps not). Youth has its own wisdom and courage as do projects we complete sooner in our earthly journey rather than later.

Despise nothing good you have done. Examine all. Weigh it against the balance of truth and depth and integrity. You will soon see how much of the core ought to be retained. You may be surprised at how much you knew once that you have since forgotten. But the words, spoken or written, are still weighted with the force they once had and are not lost. You may come to something you wrote once and say: "Oh, is that what I put in the young hero's mouth? How did I come up with that? Not a bad line of dialog. Hmm. I wonder if I would have had the same ability to write that today as I did then?"

At every stage of our life, we are somebody. And we have things to say that matter.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

so you think you can multitask???

When Deresiewicz looks at the research around multitasking, things become interesting,

“A team of researchers at Stanford wanted to figure out how today’s college students were able to multitask so much more effectively than adults. How do they manage to do it? The answer — they don’t. The enhanced cognitive abilities the investigators expected to find .. were simply not there. In other words, people do not multitask effectively. And here’s the really surprising finding: The more people multitask, the worse they are not just at other mental abilities, but at multitasking itself.

The researchers found that multitaskers are worse at every kind of cognitive function. “They were worse at distinguishing between relevant and irrelevant information.. they were more easily distracted. They were more unorganized, unable to keep information in the right conceptual boxes and retrieve it quickly. And they were even worse at the very thing that defines multitasking: switching between tasks.”

Deresiewicz continues, “Multitasking, in short, impairs your ability to think. Thinking.. requires concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea of your own… My first thought is never my best thought. My first thought is always someone else’s..

From here Deresiewicz goes on to talk about concentration, attention and the importance of solitude...

what the internet is doing to our brains

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

In this short but informative, thought-provoking book, Nicholas Carr presents an argument I've long felt to be true on a humanist level, but supports it with considerable scientific research. In fact, he speaks as a longtime computer enthusiast, one who's come to question what he once wholeheartedly embraced ... and even now, he takes care to distinguish between the beneficial & detrimental aspects of the Internet.

The argument in question?

- Greater access to knowledge is not the same as greater knowledge.

- An ever-increasing plethora of facts & data is not the same as wisdom.

- Breadth of knowledge is not the same as depth of knowledge.

- Multitasking is not the same as complexity.

The studies that Carr presents are troubling, to say the least. From what has been gleaned to date, it's clear that the brain retains a certain amount of plasticity throughout life -- that is, it can be reshaped, and the way that we think can be reshaped, for good or for ill. Thus, if the brain is trained to respond to & take pleasure in the faster pace of the digital world, it is reshaped to favor that approach to experiencing the world as a whole. More, it comes to crave that experience, as the body increasingly craves more of anything it's trained to respond to pleasurably & positively. The more you use a drug, the more you need to sustain even the basic rush.

And where does that leave the mind shaped by deep reading? The mind that immerses itself in the universe of a book, rather than simply looking for a few key phrases & paragraphs? The mind that develops through slow, quiet contemplation, mulling over ideas in their entirety, and growing as a result? The mature mind that ponders possibilities & consequences, rather than simply going with the bright, dazzling, digital flow?

Nowhere, it seems.

Carr makes it clear that the digital world, like any other technology that undeniably makes parts of life so much easier, is here to stay. All the more reason, then, to approach it warily, suspiciously, and limit its use whenever possible, since it is so ubiquitous. "Yes, but," many will say, "everything is moving so fast that we've got to adapt to it, keep up with it!" Not unlike the Red Queen commenting that it takes all of one's energy & speed to simply remain in one place while running. But what sort of life is that? How much depth does it really have?

Because some aspects of life -- often the most meaningful & rewarding aspects -- require time & depth. Yet the digital world constantly makes us break it into discrete, interchangeable bits that hurtle us forward so rapidly & inexorably that we simply don't have time to stop & think. And before we know it, we're unwilling & even unable to think. Not in any way that allows true self-awareness in any real context.

Emerson once said (as aptly quoted by Carr), "Things are in the saddle / And ride mankind." The danger is that we'll not only willingly, even eagerly, wear those saddles, but that we'll come to desire them & buckle them on ever more tightly, until we feel naked without them. And we'll gladly pay anything to keep them there, even as we lose the capacity to wonder why we ever put them on in the first place.


I agree with the premise regarding what the internet is doing with our brains, but the author is not addressing the right question. The important questions are why are people falling for hype that the computer age is benevolent and why do people spend so much time with the internet. To discuss what neuropsychological changes in the brain occur by changing our symbol system the media ratios in our environment is easy.

What's hard is figuring out why people will do something that isn't good for them. I could describe the chemical and biological effects of various ways to commit homicide, but that isn't going to answer why anyone decides to do so, or I could describe the delivery systems of various weapons, but that won't explain why countries go to war.

Technological determinism is really just a small part of the equation, and note that the subtitle of the book is 'What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.' A better inquiry would be 'Why are we actively doing bad things to our brains by using the internet,' unless, of course, you believe there is no human volition that enters the dynamics of culture and communication.

Unfortunately, the volition that appears to exist is that of the people that exploit the medium for profit by creating such things as Facebook, twittering, and other overrated communication modalities. Sure, twittering is good if you're reporting on a revolution against an oppressive censor-ridden country, and facebook might be nice for scattered families, but most 'messaging' on these platforms is simply 'phatic communication.'

Why people spend their time with ways of interacting and thinking that are comfortable and lack any challenge is what should be looked into. And such ventures are profitable mainly due to trivial usage. The strength of the book is that the author tackles the subject. And being a fairly new argument, hopefully better books will come along in the future. I'd recommend any of S. Turkle or N. Postman's books for good, succinct evaluations of the important questions this book doesn't address.

Monday, August 08, 2011

i'm on facebook

I'm on Facebook now. If you'd like to connect with me there please send me a friendship request. In addition, if I don't know you, please send a message along with the request saying you visit my website and read my blogs or books so I know where you're coming from.

I have a writer's page as well as a regular page with a profile. I encourage you to drop by.

Thanks. God's vividness to you and in you.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

to the wild country

to the wild country - experiences and thoughts in God's wilderness

It was meant to be a deer hunt.

There were a few rules: between the power lines and the highway, no deer stands, no does, shotgun only, 00 buck.

I knew the area well from running my dogs. Lots of brush and trees, saskatoons and huckleberries growing in patches, old logging roads, rocks and boulders, not much open country.

The shotgun I picked out was nothing special but it was sturdy – a single shot 12 gauge built like a tank with a 28 inch barrel. The full choke would keep the pattern of the 9 pellets tight. I put it in the back of my jeep with a box of shotgun shells, threw on my olive drab fly fishing vest with all its pockets and headed for the hills.
The weather was a tossup – some cloud, some sun, a hint of rain, no wind. I parked to the side of a logging road well below the power lines and their towers. Put some 2 and 3/4 shells in one of my vest pockets and a bag of trail mix. Loaded the shotgun. And set out.

I moved slowly and silently along overgrown roadways and paths. I never saw anyone else. Crept a half-mile one way and crept a half-mile back another way and never saw any deer either. Then I decided to hide myself behind a boulder at a spot in the bush where several deer trails converged. There were fresh tracks so I was hopeful.
Hunting whitetail with a shotgun is a very different challenge from hunting them with a rifle and a scope or crouching all morning in a stand – you have to get in very close. Even a traditional blackpowder rifle will give you more range than a shotgun with 00 buck. The chances of getting within 30 to 50 yards of a stag without him picking up your scent or movement are slim but it can be done. Sometimes you are just plain lucky to surprise one. Or blessed.

After an hour and a half cramped up behind the boulder I decided to try for higher ground. I was basically in a kind of foothills environment, with white-capped mountains to the west, and I knew there were several rocky outcrops in the hunting zone that might offer some success with a buck. I began to move along the trails again, stepping slowly and quietly, until I reached the first knoll. I scanned it carefully and began to climb, stopping every few moments to look and listen. But I saw nothing in the way of deer. So I ate some trail mix, climbed down, walked a couple of hundred yards, and tried another knoll. Nothing.

On the third a whitetail lifted its large tail and bounded from a thicket. I aimed my shotgun. The distance was less than 50 yards. But it was a doe. I lowered my weapon and watched the whitetail disappear in the thick brush of the slope. I decided to finish my climb to the top anyway.

One of the beauties of hunting is the fact I don’t have to bag game to feel the time spent was worthwhile. The forest, the hills, the weather, glimpses of various birds or other wildlife all combine to give me a sense of God’s craftsmanship and diversity and his own very real presence. It’s like an ultimate worship experience, where I’m praising God for what I see and hear, while all around me animals and insects and reptiles are making music to heaven: I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is them, singing. (Revelation 5:13, NIV)
I ascended a final ridge. I didn’t think it was going to be my day to harvest a buck but I stepped carefully up a trail of gravel and scree just in case. At the top was a thick bush and I came around it softly. I expected to see more bare rock. A grizzly bear, startled, gave a snort and lifted its head from where it was feeding on a patch of clover. There was no more than 20 feet between us.

My mouth went dry. Instantly. The hairs on the back of my neck rose just as quickly and I could feel them poking against the collar of my fishing vest. Everything suddenly became walled in and the grizzly was at one end of a short corridor and I was at another.

Saliva evaporating from your mouth. Hair standing up at the back of your neck. Tunnel vision. These were all things I’d read and heard about but considered exaggerations. Now I was experiencing the truth of those sensations first-hand on a remote hill where I faced an 800 pound bear.

I didn’t move. Neither did the grizzly. In one second, with one or two bounds, it could be on top of me. The law did not permit me to hunt a grizzly without a special tag however it did permit me to shoot in self-defense. But I was not holding a Holland and Holland .700 Nitro Express in my hands and had no illusions about a charge of 00 buck stopping a grizzly. It would have the same effect, Kit Carson once wrote, as grains of sand.

The bear did not take its small eyes off me. I knew that grizzlies were believed to be notoriously nearsighted. That only if I ran would I be in trouble because it would see the movement, consider me prey and attack. But I’d been told as a child they couldn’t climb trees either and one had recently gone 60 feet up a tree in Alberta, hauled a woman down who had scaled it to save herself, and killed her.

I remained motionless. I felt that if I moved backwards it would lunge. That if I dropped and rolled into a ball it would still lunge. There was no sign of cubs in the vicinity but that didn’t mean they weren’t there. They could be in the brush and frozen into immobility just like their mother.

I had never felt so trapped or confused in my life. I couldn’t think of a single solution to my dilemma. It’s one thing to scope a grizzly from half a mile away or watch it from your pickup. It’s another to be so close you can smell the reek of its fur.
A charge could come at any second. I wouldn’t survive it. Even I turned to run, it would be on me, clamping its powerful jaws on my head or neck. If I dropped down to feign death it would swat me with its paw before I was halfway to the ground. The six inch claws, let alone the force of the blow, would open me up.

I felt like a man who has only a fraction of time left to live unless he can come up with something fast. But every plan that sprang to mind I rejected as useless or too risky. This was not a TV show with a prearranged script. I really could die.
I prayed but my prayer was very basic Sunday School stuff: Lord, help me. I don’t know what to do. There’s nothing I can do. God!

Maybe a minute went by. It could have been two. Our eyes remained locked on each other. I was not about to so much as twitch a finger, blink an eye or move a foot in any direction. The grizzly did not shift its weight or shake its head or attempt to take a step either but that didn’t mean it couldn’t change its mind in a flash, roar like a mountain wind, rush forward and tear me apart.

Suddenly it put its head down. Turned away. And moved slowly and heavily into the thicket behind it. I listened to the snapping of branches for a few moments. Then all was quiet.

I had read about bears pretending to do one thing, with an eye on their quarry, and then, when an opportunity presented itself, move against their target with blinding speed. So I waited and watched and listened. Just because I couldn’t see the bear didn’t mean it couldn’t see me. My turning and half-running down the slope might be just the sort of activity it was hoping for.

I’m certain I remained there at least another five minutes. Then I took one step backwards. The brush did not explode and a brown bear did not come hurtling out at me, jaws wide and spewing saliva. I took another step, not daring to avert my eyes from where the grizzly had gone into the thicket, trying to feel with my boot for a safe place to bring my foot down. One more step. Then I was behind the large bush that I had rounded when I first made my way to the top.

I hesitated for several seconds, straining to hear the sounds of a big body moving fast over rock and clover. Finally I made my way down the trail of loose stones as swiftly and safely as I could, trying not to turn my ankle or fall and crack my head against a boulder or the trunk of a tree. Once I reached the bottom I got away from the ridge as quickly as I could and out of sight into a tangle of aspen and bushes. I headed in the direction of my jeep.

I never felt it was over. I never relaxed and the saliva never returned to my mouth for the longest time. Every now and then I stopped to listen – was I being pursued? When I reached the jeep the after effects of adrenaline made my hands tremble and I dropped my keys in the dirt twice. Finally I got inside and locked the doors, staring through the windshield to see if a bear was thundering through the trees and down the logging road at 35 or 40 miles per hour. After a few moments I leaned my head back and closed my eyes and whispered, Thanks.

When Jesus was born there were animals present and when he was tempted by Satan in the wilderness the animals were there for him too. Except at his birth they were domestic animals and in the desert they were wild. What sort of relationship did he have with the wild ones?

At that time in Israel and the Middle East there were still lions and bears as well as deer, gazelle, ibex, wild boar and leopards. Considering that he was the Son of God does that mean they might have been tame with him? Would they have lain at his feet? Let him touch them?

Or could it have been more like my experience? They went about their business all around him and let him be. He watched them, they watched him, but no harm was done. He could see their beauty and strength and be part of their world without fear, just as they had no reason to fear him. It seems like a glimpse of the world to come, of heaven on earth, of Eden before man’s fall into sin, where animals and humans roamed about freely without threat.

Of course I did fear the bear though I have no idea if the bear feared me. Still, in the wilderness, it watched me, saw that I meant it no harm and permitted me to live. At the time I could not savor the experience. Now, because I was not hurt, I do. I saw a magnificent creature up close, close enough to touch, and it let me be. It was an extraordinary moment of God’s grace.

There are, I suppose, all kinds of reasons the grizzly left me alone. I will never know them all and neither will anyone else. Nor will I ever understand how much of a part God played in it, not on this side of life. Perhaps there was an angel. It sounds far-fetched but who knows? When Jesus was among the wild ones the angels were there too. He was with the wild animals and angels attended him. (Mark 1:13, NIV)

It could not have been a coincidence that the Son of God had the wilderness animals with him. Jesus’ life was not a life of coincidences. And I doubt my experience with the grizzly was a coincidence either. Do the children of God live out lives that are strings of coincidences any more than their Lord and Master did? The Bible says God knew me before I was born and that he was well aware of all the days of my life before one of them came to be. So my day of the grizzly is there too.

But what does it mean? I have thought about it many times and I really can’t say. Except there is one thing – the encounter did not make me value God’s creation less, I came to value it more. I did not love it less, I loved it more. I did not return to it in fear and anxiety but in anticipation of something greater because I had been so near to one of the most powerful creatures in North America and allowed to walk away unscathed.

The experience did not take from me. It gave to me and, in those minutes of my greatest fear and vulnerability, made me much more a son of God.

All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
(Psalm 139:16, NIV)

Monday, July 18, 2011

heaven on earth

It is 150 years since 1861 when the American Civil War began. For the next several years, right through to 2015, Americans will be commemorating various battles and events that occurred between 1861-1865.

I have been contracted by a publisher in the USA to write a book on that war. I presented my plot outline and they accepted it without my having shown them a single chapter - the first time in my life. Of course they have seen other things I have written so they are basing their contract commitment on that.

I was eager to write the book. With family on both sides of the CAN-US border, and being trained as a historian by my second Masters degree, I felt I could do a creditable job (see, I am talking 19th century talk). Moreover, I have been reading about that war and how it affected America since I was about ten years old. I have a lot of research in me and I have seen some of the battle sites. I intend to see more before I am done.

I want it to be one of the best books I have written. This is chapter one. I won't be posting any other chapters. But please let me know what you think of the first 3000 words and whether or not the story interests you.

God bless. I pray he will help me find not only the words I need but the depth I need for this important book.


Chapter 1

Whenever she thought back to that morning years later, or told her children and grandchildren how it was before the whole world changed, it was the warm spring sunshine Lyndel spoke of the most and the brightness of the sky. That and the green scent of the grass over which a morning rain had just come and gone, the opening of red snapdragons, and the talk of the men on the porch being lost to her ears as robins and larks opened their throats for the second of April, 1861, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

“Was it beautiful, Mama?” her children asked when she would tell the story around a fire on a sharp winter night cut open with stars.

“Tell us how beautiful it was, Nana,” her grandchildren pleaded when she was older and they sat together on the summer grass while the sun fell slowly from the sky.

“It was very beautiful,” she always responded, laying a hand on each of their heads, “and I was very young.”

“And beautiful also,” Sarah would say, “just like the month of April.”

“Yes,” she smiled, “I think so. That is certainly what Nathaniel King always told me.”

Lyndel remembered that the cows had already been milked and that her three younger sisters were hard at work with the butter churn in a room just off the kitchen. She was heading to the barn to open the doors and lead the dairy herd out to their spring pasture. A sudden pause in bird song allowed the men’s voices to reach her as she crossed the yard.

“Jacob, they have seized the federal forts in South Carolina and Mississippi and Georgia. Their intent is clear. I see no hesitation on the part of the states that have left the Union. They mean to have their own country.”

“Wait. It is only a ploy to force President Lincoln to take their demands seriously. All will be right as rain by summer.”

“I am not so sure, Jacob. They mean to keep their slaves and Lincoln made many speeches against slavery.”

“So you say it was wrong for the President to make speeches against slavery, Samuel?”

“I did not say it was wrong. Only I do not think they are spinning tops and playing games. They will have their slaves and they will have their own country.”

Lyndel was surprised to find the cows pushing against the barn doors. Once she opened them the herd rushed out, almost knocking her to the ground. Without Lyndel having to say a thing Old Missus rapidly led the way to the pasture gate so that the young woman had to run ahead and swing it wide. The cows shouldered through side-by-side, a few of them bawling, and traveled at least a hundred yards before deciding to stop and crop grass. Latching the gate Lyndel went back to the barn to see if she could find out what had disturbed them. Perhaps a snake had found its way in among the straw.

Picking up a pitchfork to chase away any pest she encountered she began to walk through the barn, glancing often at her feet as she stepped through the dirty straw. Looking into the first stalls she found they were empty of anything like porcupines or skunks or badgers. She stopped and listened a moment but heard nothing. Slowly she made her way to the back of the barn holding the pitchfork at chest height. Sunlight trickled between cracks in the walls and through a dusty skylight so that she could make out what was in the corners and by the time she reached the end of the barn there was still nothing. She didn’t bother taking a look at the last two stalls and turned to head back. Whatever had spooked the milk cows was long gone. But suddenly she heard a groan of pain.

She whirled, fear pricking her chest. Brandishing the pitchfork she stepped towards the last stall on the left, expecting to see a wild dog or a coyote or fox. In the dim light she saw two sets of human eyes and a lot of blood. Then teeth as a face grimaced, struggling to breathe.

“Don’t hurt us!” a voice cried and a hand shot up to ward off a blow.

Lyndel immediately lowered the pitchfork and stepped closer. “You’re slaves!” she said in astonishment.

“We’re men.”

“How long have you been here? What has happened to you?”

One man was holding the other in his arms. He was the one who spoke to Lyndel while his friend could only fight for air and wince. “We’ve been on the run from the plantation in Virginia for three weeks,” he said, holding the wounded man close to his chest. “We made good time riding the boxcars. But we had to jump while the train was moving last night and Charlie got hurt pretty bad.”

Lyndel was wearing a traditional Amish dress of navy blue over which she had tied a large black apron. Leaning the pitchfork against the wall, she knelt and took the apron off. Charlie had a deep cut at the side of his chest and she folded the apron twice and pressed it against the wound to slow the flow of blood. She used the apron strings to tie it tightly.

“Have you had anything to eat or drink?” she asked the man who was doing the talking.

“There’s plenty of water in the streams and rain barrels. But we haven’t had anything to eat. Not for two days.”

“Let me fetch you something.”

A hand grabbed her by the wrist. “Don’t tell anyone. I know they’re hunting us. This is the third time Charlie’s tried to escape. They said they’d hang him if they caught him running again. They’ll cross the state line and comb this county.”

Lyndel, still kneeling, fixed her eyes on the frightened man. “I will only tell people I can trust. I won’t tell anyone who would go to the sheriff in Elizabethtown. He would feel bound by law to tell the slave hunters if they showed up here.”

“They’ll show up here.” For the first time a smile came over the man’s face. “We may not look like it right now but we’re worth a lot of money.”

Lyndel paused. Smiling back, she patted the man on the arm. “Then we must take good care of you.”

He released his grip on her wrist and she stood up. “I will be a few minutes,” she said. “Please don’t worry. I will not betray you.”

He was still smiling. “I believe you.” He extended a hand while with the other he held the folded apron to his friend’s chest. “My name is Moses Gunnison.”

She reached down and clasped his hand in hers. “I am pleased to meet you, Moses. I am Lyndel Keim.”

“Pardon me for saying so but you have large hands for a woman, ma’am. And some strength in them.”

“So I have been a farmer’s daughter all my life, Mr. Gunnison.”

“Do you have a husband, ma’am?”

“Oh, no. There’s been no time for that. But I do have a brother. He is the one I will go to. He will help you. We will both help you.”

“Thank you, ma’am. God bless you.”

Lyndel straightened and brushed the straw off her dress. “Why, God bless you too, Mr. Gunnison.” She adjusted the black prayer kapp on her head and looked down at Charlie. “You are going to be all right.” He stared up at her, his eyes exhausted from fear and pain. “I will be right back with my brother Levi as well as food and drink.”

She thought quickly as she walked through the barn and out into the morning sunlight. The men were still seated on the porch and still talking politics. Her father, the bishop of their Amish community, sat in the middle of them, tall and slender, his beard night black, listening carefully to the different opinions, now and then leaning forward and interjecting. She loved her father, indeed, she cared for all the men seated with him, several of whom were the church’s ministers. But she also knew how law-abiding they were. If she told them about Moses and Charlie they would offer as much assistance as they possibly could. Yet they would also feel bound to hitch up a wagon and drive into Elizabethtown and inform the law there were two runaways hiding out in the Keim barn.

Instantly she decided against confiding in any of them, including Papa. She smiled as she walked past them for the stable where she knew her brother was doing the work of a farrier and trimming their horses’ hooves now that it was spring.

Levi was wiping his face with a red handkerchief, sweat running down into the collar of his white work shirt. He was speaking to someone who was bent over and holding a horse’s hoof between his legs and fighting to get the nipper in position to cut. Lyndel hesitated. Even though the man with the hoof nippers had his back to her she recognized his build and when he answered her brother she knew for certain. Levi’s best friend, Nathaniel King, was the one wrestling to trim Dancer’s left front hoof. One of her hands went to her mouth. She had not expected to see him today but Levi must have asked him to come over and lend a hand with the horses.

Her brother glanced over and grinned as she came into the stable. “Hello, Ginger. You’re just in time to help. Nathaniel can’t get Dancer to agree to a manicure and she’s your mare, isn’t she? Can’t you reason with her?”

“I can try.”

She walked over and stood in front of Dancer who whinnied and allowed Lyndel to hold her head and scratch her between the ears.

“That’s better,” grunted Nathaniel. He moved quickly with the nippers and the mare was done. He released the leg and stood up, stretching his back and smiling at Lyndel. “Danke.”


“May I call you Ginger too?”

“No, you may not. I don’t like it. Only Levi gets away with it.”

“So just plain old Lyndel?”

“Yes, just plain old Lyndel. You make me sound like one of Levi’s horses.”

“My apologies. You certainly deserve better than that. Hair like fire. Eyes like sky.”

Lyndel felt the heat in her cheeks.

Levi laughed. “Are you going to court my sister? I thought you came over to help me.”

“I did,” smiled Nathaniel. “But now we’re finished.”

“Ja, well, how about sitting down for a coffee before you ask her to go for a ride in your buggy?”

“Sure, a coffee would be good right about now.”

Lyndel walked Dancer out of the stable and into a bright green paddock with two other horses. “You don’t need to talk as if I’m not here, you two,” she said over her shoulder. “And the older men are still sitting on the porch.”

“Still here?” groaned Levi. “What do they find to go on about for so long?”

“The South.”

“Oh, the South. These things work themselves out.” Levi glanced at Nathaniel. “If we want coffee we will have to run the gauntlet. They’ll probably make us sit with them and offer up our opinions.”

Nathaniel shrugged. “I don’t have an opinion on the South. They live what they live and we live what we live.”

Lyndel turned from closing the stable gate. “And what if others can’t live, Nathaniel King? What is your opinion on that?”

The strong tone in her voice made Levi and Nathaniel stare at her.

“What do you mean?” Nathaniel finally responded, wiping his hands on a large blue rag.

“Would you favor slavery for yourself or your family?”

Nathaniel met her gaze. “No. I would not. I have read about these things and thought about these things. That is why I am still Amish and still a Northerner.”

“How is it you have been coming to our house for years to visit my brother but I have never heard you express these thoughts?”

“Why, the occasion for it has never occurred in your presence.”

She kept her eyes on him, turning what he said over. Ever since she had seen Nathaniel in the stable she had been debating with herself about what to do – should she tell him about the men in the barn or not? Now she made up her mind to find out what sort of person he really was behind his soft brown hair and shining green eyes. “I need your help, both of you. Two men are in the barn. They have run away from a plantation in Virginia. One of them is wounded. I am afraid to tell the elders. I do not want them to go to the law.”

“Slaves?” asked Levi in shock.

“They do not like to be called that.”

“What are they then?”

“What you are. What Nathaniel is. Men who are hungry and thirsty.”

Nathaniel kept his eyes on her. She wondered if he was looking at her red hair and blue eyes or waiting to hear what she had to say. For a brief moment she realized she hoped it was both. Then her thoughts returned to the crisis at hand.

“Levi, can you get a sausage from the smoke house? I don’t dare go into the house for bread, Mama will ask what I’m doing.”

“Why can’t we tell her?” Levi demanded.

“Because then everyone will find out and someone will speak with the sheriff. And if slave hunters come the sheriff will tell them two men are in the Keim barn.”

“Are they headed for Canada?” Nathaniel spoke up.

“I did not ask,” Lyndel replied, “but that would only make sense.”

“All right.” Nathaniel reached for a bottle on a shelf. “You said they had wounds? This alcohol will help with that. Can I draw some water from the well for you while Levi gets the sausage?”

She gave him a small smile, wanting to make up for some of her harshness. “That would help.” Then she glanced around her. “My problem is bandages. I can’t go into the house. And I already gave the man who is wounded my apron to staunch the blood.”

Nathaniel nodded. “I have a clean shirt in my wagon. To change into after helping your brother. It is just under the driver’s seat.”

She did not mean to give him her full smile but it opened upon her face before she could stop it. “Thank you so much, Nathaniel.”

“My pleasure. And an honor.” He gave her a long look. “You know, you really are something, Lyndel Keim.” Then he walked out of the stable in the direction of the well.

A feeling went right through her like light.

Lord, what is all this about?

She went out to the King wagon that was parked near the house and was surprised to see that the porch was empty and all the visitors’ buggies gone. She patted Nathaniel’s bay named Good Boy who stood patiently in the shade of a crab apple tree and reached under the seat for the shirt. It was wrapped in a thin blanket to keep it clean. She ran her hand over it a moment and thought of Nathaniel wearing it, a young man so tall, so strong, so pure. Then she tucked white shirt and blanket under her arm and walked towards the barn doors where he and Levi were already waiting for her. They entered the barn together.

As soon as he saw them Moses said to Lyndel, “There are three of you.”

“Yes, Moses. This is my brother Levi. He’s brought you meat from our smokehouse. And this is his best friend Nathaniel who has brought you a pail of water.”

Moses stared at Nathaniel. “Can we trust him?”

Lyndel knelt and began to rip Nathaniel’s good cotton shirt. “Well, he gave me this for Charlie’s bandages. Let us give him an opportunity to prove himself, ja?”

Nathaniel set down his bucket. “I have some well water. And a tin cup. Can I give your friend a drink?”

“Give me the cup,” growled Moses. “I’ll give Charlie the drink.”

Lyndel dipped a square of Nathaniel’s shirt in the water and mopped Charlie’s forehead and face. “How is he?”

“Now and then he starts to shake. The blood seems to have stopped coming out of his wound though.” Moses put the tin cup to Charlie’s lips. “Come on now. You got to take some of it in.”

Lyndel pried the folded apron from Charlie’s side. It was thick with blood. She reached her hand towards Nathaniel. “May I have that bottle of alcohol now?” He tugged out the cork stopper and gave it to her. She poured some alcohol onto another cloth and pulled Charlie’s shirt back from his wound. She began to clean the gash and the sting made him cry out once and then clench his teeth together. Sweat covered his forehead again.

“Levi?” Lyndel asked her brother. “Could you take another piece of Nathaniel’s shirt and wipe Charlie’s face?”

Levi had been standing there taking it all in. He squatted down and, not knowing where to put the two large rings of sausage, placed them on Charlie’s lap. “Are you hungry? It is very good sausage. My mother’s recipe and her mother’s also.” Then he splashed water over a cloth and patted Charlie’s face and neck. “How is that? Is that all right for you?”

“Perhaps I should go back to my house,” said Nathaniel, “and get some blankets and pillows. We need to make them comfortable here. They will need a few nights of rest before they move on.”

Lyndel glanced up at him. “That sounds like a good idea.”

Moses shook his head. “No. They’re on our trail. Reason we jumped from the train was we could see a whole gang of them waiting on the station platform a quarter mile ahead of us– bloodhounds, rifles and rope.”

“But we have to get Charlie’s wound closed up first,” protested Lyndel. “He’ll bleed to death if you run too soon.”

“They’ll hang him from the tallest tree on your farm if we run too late.” Moses looked around at their faces. “I appreciate what you’re trying to do. I’d heard there were good people hereabouts, good Christian people.” He gripped Lyndel’s hand. “But they’re going to hunt until they find us. One more night here and then we have to get up to New York and Ontario. I tell you, we’ve got to move on no matter how bad Charlie is.”

Nathaniel nodded. “In that case we have to make sure you have a very restful night. I will fetch bed linen for you and Charlie from my home. And a poultice recipe of my mother’s she swears can close any wound.”

“No need to go all the way back to your home when there is a spare bedroom here.”

Lyndel jumped to her feet. Her father was standing behind them. His eyes cut dark and sharp right into her.

“You should have told me daughter,” he said. “You should have trusted me.”