Friday, December 27, 2013

Salem Radio Network Bond Interview--January 2, 2014

I'll be starting the new year with a Salem Radio Network interview with Janet Mefferd on the nationally syndicated daily talk program, “The Janet Mefferd Show” originating from her flagship station, KWRD-FM, The Word 100.7 FM in Dallas. We'll be chatting about my biography, The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts. The interview will air live January 2, 2:00 pm EST. Follow the link to her site to find out how to listen in. 

There is a curious and interesting twist to this interview; Mefferd is the talk show host in the role of whistle blower who accused Mark Driscoll of plagiarism on his latest Tyndale book while interviewing him--on the air, as I understand it. She has since publicly apologized and retracted her accusation, as I understand it. 

Makes me want to go back yet again (and again, and again, and again) to double, triple, quadruple check sources on my non-fiction books. Never too careful.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Here's some readers' wonderful renditions of my Christmas Carol!

Several musicians received free copies of my new biography, The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts, for their fine work on the musical setting to my new carol. This version is from the creative imagination of Mitch Nutt, composer, musician, extraordinaire. I hope it blesses your celebration of the advent of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

And this version uses the wonderful composition of my friend Vince Treadway, PCA organist and music director in Lake Wales, Florida, here performed so sweetly and beautifully, like an angel is singing it, by friends and fellow-travelers of ours from Connecticut.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Christmas Carol Contest--free Watts biography for winners!

Do you like to make music? Here's a fun Christmas contest for you!

Make a youtube music video of yourself (or with family members or friends) singing my latest Christmas carol and send me the link with permission to post it on my blog and site. You can use the Vince Treadway music written specifically for the carol or compose your own music. Now here's for the prize: Create a warm appropriate version (the best) and I'll post your music video on my New Reformation Hymns website AND ship a free signed hardback copy of my newest book, THE POETIC WONDER OF ISAAC WATTS. Send your youtube link to But hurry! Christmas is coming! Deadline, 12/20/2013

What Wonder Filled the Starry Night (Long Meter, LM,

This hymn/carol took me several years to write. Carols are some of the church's most endearing hymnody, and so it was with fear and trepidation that I set my imagination to work on one. My good friend Vince Treadway, organist extraordinaire and composer, crafted the tune Wonder for it below.

What wonder filled the starry night
          When Jesus came with heralds bright!
I marvel at His lowly birth,    
          That God for sinners stooped to earth.
His splendor laid aside for me,
          While angels hailed His Deity,
And shepherds on their knees in fright
          Fell down in wonder at the sight.

The child who is the Way, the Truth,
          Who pleased His Father in His youth,
Through all His days the Law obeyed,
          Yet for its curse His life He paid.         
What drops of grief fell on the site
          Where Jesus wrestled through the night,
Then for transgressions not His own,
          He bore my cross and guilt alone.

What glorious Life arose that day
          When Jesus took death’s sting away!
His children raised to life and light,
          To serve Him by His grace and might.

One day the angel hosts will sing,  
          “Triumphant Jesus, King of kings!” 
Eternal praise we’ll shout to Him
          When Christ in splendor comes again!

                             Douglas Bond (December 16, 2010)

My Interview With Fellow-Author Morgan Busse

I had a great time interviewing Morgan L. Busse (Author of Follower of the Word Series; 2013 Christy Award and Carol Award finalist) for the Scavenger Hunt (2013) and thought I'd share the interview here on my blog. You will discover all kinds of fascinating things about Morgan's life as a writer, what authors have been her principal influences, challenges and advantages of being a Christian writer, who she would want to sit down with for tea and cake, a peek at one of her favorite passages from her own writing, and much more. Hope you learn lots about Morgan and her writing from our interview together! (To avoid confusion, Morgan is the one with longer hair--and no necktie).

I'd like to get one thing straight in my own mind as we begin our interview together: How do you pronounce your last name? Busse as in like school bus? Busse as in bossy with an oo sound or an uh sound?  Busse as in the way the French pronounce bus? Or some other way I'm missing? And what is the origin of your surname (taking into account that you married into the name, I presume)?

It's the first one, school bus, with a long e at the end (Bussee). Yes, I married into this name and I believe my husband said it was German. 

Now that we have that cleared up, tell me a bit about your early interest in writing. At what age did you realize you wanted to write? What was the first creative thing you remember writing? Did you show it to anyone, and if so, how was it received?

 Good Question! When I was a kid, I was chosen to participate in a writing workshop with a local author. Each student in the workshop had to write a story. Mine was about a super hero squirrel, complete with illustrations, including the squirrel in a little red cape. I don't remember how the story was received, but I do remember that squirrel! 

A super hero squirrel--I love it! Tell us about the authors who awakened your interest in reading as a young person (I'm guessing Beatrix Potter and her Squirrel Nutkin, which, incidentally, happened to be CS Lewis's favorite book of hers) and which ones have had the strongest influences on your writing? 

I've loved reading ever since I was a young girl. I read everything from Nancy Drew to Sherlock Holmes to Lord of the Rings to Anne of Green Gables. So I guess you could say all those authors (Carolyn Keene, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and others) awakened my interest in reading. Out of all my early reading, it is J.R.R. Tolkien who has had the strongest influence in my writing. I read everything of his I could get my hands on and loved his world of Middle Earth. It was his books that drew me to fantasy in the first place.

My 8 year old daughter is crazy about Anne of Green Gables; I remember so many wonderful hours reading those books aloud with my eldest daughter (she just turned 25 and is now married--still enthralled with Anne; my mother just visited Avonlea and came home with so many wonderful images and stories from where the Anne books originate). What do you think about e-books and the many changes coming to publishing? Are there any self-published e-book plans in your future?

 My daughter just started reading Anne of Green Gables and loves them as well. It is wonderful to share the books I loved as a child with my children now :)

I'm a practical person. When I started running out of shelf space, my husband bought me a kindle. I wasn't sure if I would like reading from an electronic device rather than holding a book, but once I started, I loved it! I read almost everything now from my iPad.

I guess I don't really have an opinion about the many changes coming to publishing. Change will always happen, whether that is in publishing, music, film, etc... If I can use it (like ebooks, audiobooks, etc...), then I will use it. If not, then I won't. God is bigger than the publishing world. I don't need to be afraid of change. He will do what He is going to do with my writing, whether there are changes or not. I can trust in Him.

I've thought about self publishing, but that a long way off. Right now I am content to write one book at a time and continue with my relationship with Marcher Lord Press. It's about all I can handle while raising my four children :)

I'm this anachronism on the hoof and so have constant grapplings with new technology (as I read my Bible on my iPhone and type my manuscripts on my laptop and iPad; teach and lecture using a Smart board, blog, and do electronic interviews on internet scavenger hunts, you know, old-fashioned things like that). Flannery O'Conner has this great chapter in her book Mystery and Manners on challenges facing Christian writers. What would you say are the challenges you face being a Christian and a writer?

 It is challenging to balance all the roles I fill: wife, mother, writer, and pastor's wife. Sometimes I have to put my writing aside to be a mom. Evenings are spent with my husband instead of writing. There are days where all I can focus on is ministry. And then there are deadlines that mean mommy needs to disappear in her room with her laptop for hours. I am blessed that my family and my church understand that I am a writer and juggle a lot of roles. But it is still a challenge to do each one, and each one well.

The biggest challenge to being a Christian writer is the automatic bias I sometimes face just because I'm a Christian. Everyone writes from their worldview, yet Christians are the only ones who seem to be attacked if they put anything into their writing that remotely looks Christian. I don't let that stop me from writing from the viewpoint of my own beliefs, but it does spur me on to write the best I can and let the story speak for itself. Fiction is a story, not a sermon. And so I treat it as such.

I so totally agree: Fiction is a story not a sermon (yet the best sermons recognize the power of story, which is after all what the Bible is, a story--just saying). What would you like readers to conclude from your books about your legacy as a writer and as a Christian--after you are dead and buried? Put another way, what will be the reoccurring world view impressions readers will take away from reading your books?

 The two themes of my books are the gospel and what it means to follow God. The human race is broken and filled with darkness, and there is nothing we can do to save ourselves. So God, in His great love, does what we cannot do for ourselves: He sets us free by taking that darkness upon Himself. We are transformed the moment our lives are touched by God. But the path we now follow is not easy. Sometimes God asks us to do hard things, sometimes He is silent, sometimes He seems to have disappeared. Faith is not about blindly following, it is about choosing to follow because you trust the one you follow. This doesn't happen instantly, it is a growing process, with tears and prayers and scrapped knees along the journey.

So well put, Morgan. I've had a lengthy discussion with another author, and based on that discussion, I'd like to play Devil's advocate with you, if I may. Isn't being a Christian author and having gospel objectives in your writing--as you have so articulately described them above--isn't that going to lessen the authenticity of real fiction? Maybe this is the attitude and assumption, the automatic bias, you were referring to earlier. The Hollywood version of C. S. Lewis's life, Shadowlands, has Anthony Hopkins say about his (Lewis's) Narnia fiction, "Is just what it is." There seems to be significant pressure placed on young fiction writers who are Christians to diminish their Christianity, to downplay their world view, to depict graphic violence or sexual situations, or to use swearing or coarse language as as an obligatory way of legitimizing themselves as a real writer. Have you felt any of this pressure and what would you say to a young (or older) author who is a Christian but seems to want no Christian message to be implicit in his or her writing; it just is what it is?   

 Great question, Doug! I actually teach a class about how to incorporate the gospel into your story without preaching. I think we see too many stories where the gospel is spelled out (hence why the authenticity of the story seems to be less than real). You're reading a great story, then all of a sudden there is this salvation moment that seems to come out of nowhere. The problem is, the gospel is not a one time moment, but a lifetime event, from the moment we are conceived (I believe we are born with a sin nature, thus the beginning of our darkness) all the way into eternity. That is why that one salvation scene seems to stick out of the story like a sore thumb.

The gospel needs to be spread out throughout the entire story. Let me give you an example. One of my characters is an assassin (and funny enough, the character is the one almost everyone loves the most). Caleb isn't really evil, but he's definitely not good. He's a man who gets things done, is good at what he does, and enjoys the pleasures his job affords him. However, he is plagued by nightmares where his victims kill him. He knows deep down he will need to pay the price for what he has down and is secretly terrified of his final judgement.Then he meets the Word and realizes the time of his reckoning has come.

This kind of subconscious prodding happens in real life. I can't tell you how many people's testimonies I have heard where God was slowly waking them up to their sin. That's another way to add authenticity to story: read or hear real stories. It doesn't get any real than that! How did people come to God? The stories are as varied as the people themselves.

When the scene between the Word and Caleb finally happens, it's in book 2. The seeds were planted and now Caleb makes a choice, and chooses what the Word offers. He's now going to become this amazing, godly man, right? Wrong. Again, pointing at real life, salvation is like a spark of life that grows over time and changes us. Caleb is still Caleb, but through book 2 and 3 you seem him change (but not sissified, he's still that same get things done, action oriented man).

The gospel, spread out over 3 books, but in an organic way. And that is one character's journey. There are three more characters, including the main character Rowen.

I think another way to have authenticity is to show good people who don't believe. I hate books where there seems to be an "us vs. them' feel, you know, the good guys are Christians and the bad guys aren't. That's not the way it is in real life. I've been some very nice, friendly people who don't believe in God. And I've met people who follow God and are vicious.

As far as swearing, sexual situations, etc... I think that is between the writer, God, and his or her editor. My book is for adults and although I don't have outright swearing or bedroom scenes, you know they are there because people like Caleb (my assassin) don't use words like darn. But there are ways to let the reader know the background and nature of a character without wading through all the darkness. I would also ask why such things need to be added. I personally don't believe in shock value. There needs to be a reason for showing the darker side of life. If not, it should be cut.

Young Christian writers do not need to downplay their worldview; their are many young writers out there who have no problem displaying their worldview within the pages of their stories. But there is a difference between spouting the faith you've learned in Sunday school and the faith you've learned in real life. One is a head knowledge, the other comes from living it. It is the faith that is lived and refined by fire that comes across as most authentic. Strive for that one.

So well put, again! I think there are writers and artists who are Christians but they have accepted the rhetoric of secularism, which essentially tells us, "Not your religion, but mine." And so we contort ourselves to create crossover stories that won't offend secularists (which we'd all be were it not for the extravagant grace of God in Christ), and we then measure the authenticity of our work by how much it is like what unbelievers write or paint or whatever. I think that the insistence that unbelief is the centrist position, the middle way, has done more to intimidate many of us Christians into silence than anything else. And I completely concur, on the other hand, that the superficial token Christian message pasted-in to assuage our conscience so we can get back to what we really want to write about is not only bad fiction, but it is bad theology. I remember reading something Elizabeth Elliot wrote on writing, "Never strive for style; strive for authenticity." There's nothing more real, more authentic that the good news of what Jesus has fully accomplished in the gospel; maybe it's because it is so difficult to depict authentic goodness without sentimentality that we have such a problem here. But your comments on the gospel being integrated into the entire story is the key. Well said.
How about if we change the pace for a bit? If you could sit down with any three people from the past who would they be, why would you choose them, what would you want to talk about with them, and what would you want to eat and drink with them? 

 Hmm, I think I would like to talk to Peter's wife (the apostle Peter), Jeremiah (the prophet), and L. M. Montgomery (author of Anne of Green Gables). Peter's wife because I would love to know what it was like to be married to Peter and be part of the first church. What advice would she give me as a pastor's wife? I would like to ask Jeremiah how did he not lose his faith after serving Israel for 40 years and see nothing earthly for it. And Ms. Montgomery for advice on writing. I think we would all sit down for tea and cake :)

Would you be willing to give readers a peek at a favorite description of a person or place or a favorite dialogue exchange from your writing? And then a link to where readers can find out more about your books?

 Here is a passage early on in Daughter of Light where Rowen's power first appears (she finds out later she is a Truthsayer and possesses the ability to see inside the human soul).

Cleon stopped and turned to face her. “You must know why I’ve asked you here.” He stood so close that Rowen had to look up. She could see each dark curly strand around his face. Her heart began to thud inside her chest. Perhaps coming with
Cleon had been a bad idea.

Cleon didn’t wait for her to answer. Instead he placed his hands on her shoulders.

“Cleon, wait.” Rowen took a step back. He was moving too fast—

Cleon moved in close again. “You must realize that not many men in our village would think of bonding with you.” Cleon looked down at her. Rowen could smell the smoke of the smithy on his clothing. “But times have changed. Your father has died—” Rowen scowled at his calloused words— “leaving you all alone. But I can change that.”

He placed a rough, thick hand on her cheek. Rowen turned away. Cleon forced her face back. “I want you to bond withme.” He moved his head down to kiss her. Rowen tried to twist away. Cleon forced her face still and pressed his lips hard down on hers.

Rowen jerked out of his grasp. “Cleon, no!”

His head followed her movement. “I can take care of you, Rowen. And you know no other man will have you.”

“Let go!”

Cleon tightened his grip on her shoulders. Rowen grabbed his wrist and—Time slowed.

A strange sensation rose from deep within her, racing toward her right arm. It surged out where her palm held his wrist.

Here is a link to the first two books in the Follower of the Word series:

Thanks so much, Morgan L. Busse!
And thanks to you readers.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

HELP! Imagination overload and getting characters and plot right at the start

Northwest botanist, David Douglas
INKBLOTS: Four gentlemen, Old vine red, chilly air and the de-icing crew already hitting the streets outside. Turns out to be a PNW regional evening (excepting, or is that including, the Martian sci-fi deal? You decide).

Alan leads off with new piece he's working on. Blogging ( it out), this one leading off with Jonathan Edwards, then off to Pacific Northwest locale and the oddities that begin with the actual name of the region. Douglas fir tree on the Sounder's banner, Cascadia flag, called "The Doug." Alan even had visual aids for us, a picture of the Cascadia flag, a symbol of a secessionist movement. Chinook jargon was a trade language, combining French, English, and Indian language (Chinook being one Indian settlement on the Columbia River but now the name representing a vast region where trading brings varied cultures together). This is overlapping with my PNW region research for my next book, David Douglas, the Scottish botanist, called
Largest Douglas fir in America
"The Grass Man" by local Indians in the early 1800s.

We talked about why we blog and the ideal length of blogs (300-500 words) and frequency (4 times a week), as the experts say. Alan then shift gear and reads a poem, biographical verse on the stages of a man’s life. What News, What News of Timothy the Fair, a gentle wheat-caressing verse, read with tenderness and appreciation of our dentist poet from our fair Washington State jutting defiantly like a chin out of the Left Coast of the rest of the states. And then Alan rounds up, pointing to Christ who seeks the lost and heals the halt and lame and raises up the needy (Tim was found
helpless with a broken leg). Enchanting lyric, about a family in our church whose son went hiking last year and was missing for five days. Alan, friend of the family, was beside himself during those days and didn’t know if he was writing a poem for joyful gratitude--or for a funeral. Thankfully, it was the former. The young man was found with a broken leg, restored to his family with great joy. This was a beautiful piece, indeed.

Patrick got inspired by John’s suggestion last ‘Blots to enter this writing contest. Reading where he left off on his Mars story from last time. Two people talking on space ship, thought everyone had been wiped out, but they just found women, the men having left with the children. Taejon is the main character, Korean inspired name. The clash of a tough-minded wronged female and a commander who wants to fix everything, and who has an enormous amount to learn about interacting with women. I’m intrigued (and I don’t typically read sci-fi). What did happen here? You’ve hooked me on this yarn. There’s an authenticity and honesty about this interaction. Patrick tried to stop reading. We would not allow it. I do think there was a shift that began to get too narrative without a human perspective, telling us rather than showing us. Could someone be telling us this, complete with human gesture and interaction. Alan commented that this is an interesting and intriguing reworking of the old Martian stories that seem to have fallen out of taste now. This yarn make me wish it hadn’t. We talked about Asimov and Bradbury, who said that with space travel we can live forever. Star Wars happened and introduced Science Fantasy. The genre has shifted to internal computer, rarely old-school social commentary and actual space travel and life. Gene Wolfe is the old school sci-fi that Patrick prefers, creating a new culture, a new world somewhere, navigating the clash of your old culture with the new, the role of men and women. The gesture toward the un-opened door is inspiring to Patrick. Alan asked if this is postmodern, pre-modern says art reflects reality and God, modernism prefers randomness, then form precedes the meaning as in existentialism, interpretation then gives meaning. Patrick is of course crafting this from a Christian and biblical world view. Fascinating, with three of the stories finished and two others started. Does Patrick have a master plan, a series of stories strung around zombies as an analogy to the sin nature. Which made him think of his Adam and Steve story…

John has been doing some reworking on his Saving Grace manuscript (Grace is the girl whose life has come apart in significant ways—I like this title [smile]). Her bleeding was not clear to me, her lip from the fall. Alan commented that John has done a really outstanding job at creating the characters. Did the guy’s stance about the abortion change throughout their conversation? Is his tenderness confusing his resolve to have the abortion or is it underscoring what a jerk he actually is. Patrick likes the faux tenderness, so typical of a manipulative male who really doesn’t care much at all about the girl whom he has impregnated. Alan felt that John (a male writer) managed to get inside the girl’s head in a remarkable way.  It was a realistic portrayal of the guy trying to dodge responsibility, seduce the girl (again), all while caring absolutely zip for the life of the child and of Grace. She is
Huge Scottish presence in PNW history
spiraling down, her mother willing to pay off the jock biological dad if he will just go away. Patrick likes the devil appearing as an angel of light in this interaction, so well done, and authentic, the way a guy tries to make himself likeable, and to a degree, succeeds. This is true to life, his own confusion, his massaging the situation for his advantage—John has avoided stereotyping the characters, showing the complexity and self-deception that makes for such.

So I map out my thoughts on my HBC and PNW yarn. Multi-ethnic region, Scottish, Indian, Black, Hawaiian, American settlers, US Army--north and south mounting tensions. Inter-racial marriages common. We discussed the differences between what men mean when they affirm in conversation and what women mean, and in Washington flaky vagueness, ya, ya, we should do that. Regional non-committal, can't-say-no Pacific Northwest gluck. Maybe Postmodernism on the stump.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Mr Pipes and the German hymn, Now Thank We All Our God

The cheering gradually subsided; the musicians began playing another tune, and soon the entire village sang a lofty melody together.
“Now, I don’t understand much German,” said Drew. “But the tune—it has that sound, like a hymn—it sounds like praise to God; it just sounds like it’s got to be for praising God.”
Mr. Pipes dug in his knapsack and pulled out his hymnal. “‘Nun danket alle Gott.’ Martin Rinkart’s great text, ‘Now Thank We All Our God,’ set to Johann Crüger’s thanksgiving melody—an exquisite, near-perfect hymn.”
Drew pulled out his Hymns Ancient and Modern and turned to the index. “Hey, it’s in here!” he said, flipping pages until he found the text.
“This hymn is used at most German festivals and it appears in every single German hymnal and nearly all our English hymnals; it has definitely stood the test of time. Follow along as they sing.”

Now thank we all our God
With heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things hath done,
In whom his world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms,
Hath blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love,
And still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God
Through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts
And blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in his grace,
And guide us when perplexed,
And free us from all ills
In this world and the next.

All praise and thanks to God,
The Father, now be given,
The Son, and Him who reigns
With them in highest heaven,
The One Eternal God      
Whom earth and heav’n adore;
For thus it was, is now,
And shall be evermore.
The music came to a close and Annie and Drew watched the crowds slowly drift away.
“Mr. Rinkart must have had lots to thank the Lord for,” said Annie at last. “His hymn is so full of joy, and with words like ‘bounteous’ it just sounds content and even cheerful. Please tell us more about him, Mr. Pipes.”
Mr. Pipes raised his eyebrows and looked thoughtfully at the departing villagers before replying. “How about a visit to that bakery before I begin?”
“Now you’re talking!” said Drew. “Lead the way.”

Mr. Pipes led the children along the pavement bordering the sandstone wall of the ancient Lutheran Church. The remaining merrymakers tidied the streets and one young girl offered her flower crown to Annie.
“Danke,” said Annie, beaming with pleasure as she bent over and the little girl placed it on her head. Lady Kitty batted playfully at the colorful wreath.
Moments later, pausing in front of a window filled to overflowing with pastries to stop the heart, Mr. Pipes said, “Ah, splendid, here is just the place.”
Inside the little bakery they ordered three golden, flaky, raspberry crisps smothered in whipped cream, and a mug of coffee each. Behind the bakery, they mounted the ancient battlements of the town wall and found a bench overlooking the rolling Bavarian countryside just outside the village. Near the bench stood a cannon poking ominously through the crenelated battlements.
Drew bit hungrily into his pastry and, closing his eyes, emitted little groans of ecstasy as he chewed. “Not quite—gulp—a Mrs. Beccles,” he said, pausing only briefly between bites, “but not bad—chomp, hmm—no, not bad.” Mr. Pipes and Annie laughed at him as they began eating theirs.
When the last crumb had disappeared, Annie asked Mr. Pipes if he would finish Martin Rinkart’s story.
“I love the sounds of his words,” she said. “‘Bounteous’ and ‘wondrous,’ he clearly had lots to thank the Lord for.”
“Yes, he did,” said Mr. Pipes slowly. “But you and I will marvel at the trials and devastations out of which he offered such thanksgiving. Martin was born in 1586 in the walled city of Eilenburg. As a young, musically gifted teenager, he went on to be a scholar and chorister at St. Thomas School a few miles away in the city of Leipzig, where years before Luther first debated his Ninety-five Theses. Nearly 125 years later, the great German composer and Christian, Johann Sebastian Bach, would become the Kapellmeister, or choir director, at St. Thomas. There, he wrote most of his immortal cantatas—nearly one per week,” he paused. “Drew will learn Bach’s cantatas soon.”
“I will?”
“Naturally, my boy.”
“Where did Martin go from St. Thomas School?” asked Annie.
“He secured a music teaching position at a school in Luther’s birthplace, the town of Eisleben. Poetry and music were his passion, and in 1614 he received public acclaim as a poet. In 1617, the year before the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War, he was called as pastor to a pulpit in his hometown of Eilenburg. He died there in 1649, the year after the war ended.”
“So his whole ministry was during a war?” asked Annie soberly.
“And a most devastating war, indeed, my dear.”
Drew walked over to inspect the cannon. The gaping barrel projected through a notch in the wall over the moat far below.
“You must understand, my dears, that the Thirty Years’ War was, root and branch, a religious war waged for the survival of Protestant Christianity in Germany. Mr. Rinkart’s walled village became a place of refuge for Christians who survived the ruin of their homes in other towns destroyed by imperial Catholic troops like Tilly’s. But a great sickness spread throughout the overcrowded village and many died. Rinkart outlived all the other ministers and found himself conducting upwards of fifty funerals a day.”
Mr. Pipes set his hymnal on the bench and walked over to the edge of the wall. He thrust his hands into his pockets, and Annie watched a far away expression come over his face; his eyes looked sad as he continued.
“Martin’s own wife grew very ill,” he took a deep breath and expelled it slowly, “and one day in 1637—she too died.”
“Imagine it,” said Drew, “on the same day he buried his wife, he probably buried forty-nine other people.”
“That wouldn’t leave much time for mourning,” said Annie softly. “The poor man.”
“The pestilence raged on,” said Mr. Pipes, “finally taking the lives of some 8,000 people. Meanwhile, outside the walls the Thirty Years’ War waged on, food grew short, and—a year later—more of the remaining townsfolk died of starvation. Mr. Rinkart spent nearly all of his own money desperately trying to feed people. To make matters worse, Swedish soldiers sur-rounded the walls of the town and demanded payment for protection against the imperial forces.”
“How could they?” said Annie, her cheeks flushed in anger. Lady Kitty jumped off her shoulder as Annie rose and looked down the stone wall into the moat. Her head began spinning and she quickly backed away.
“To fight,” said Mr. Pipes simply, “soldiers must eat. It was expected in those days that villages would give food and housing to soldiers fighting for freedoms the town hoped to enjoy when peace returned.”
“But they didn’t have any food,” protested Annie.
“Yes, of course. So it fell to the minister, Mr. Rinkart, to negotiate with the troops. By his courage and good sense, he was able to bring their demands more within the feeble means of the remaining villagers.”
Drew leaned against the cannon, a troubled scowl on his face. “Doesn’t sound so—so noble,” he said.
“What’s that, my boy?” asked Mr. Pipes.
“Ah, the nobility does rather fade when children and wives and mothers die by the thousands. Little nobility in that.”
“Yes, but Dinkelsbühl children survived,” said Annie, hoping to dispel some of the gloom.
“Mr. Rinkart’s hymn,” she went on, “he must have written it after peace returned to Germany?”
“One might expect so,” replied Mr. Pipes. “Fact is, Mr. Rinkart found time to write a good deal of poetry, including sixty-six hymns, and a series of Reformation dramas celebrating the centenary of the Reformation; much of it produced while war and disease closed in on every side.”
Annie picked up the hymnal and looked again at Rinkart’s hymn. “It says next to his name, ‘1636.’ Was the war still going then?” Lady Kitty playfully followed a trail of ants working their way along the wall.
“Yes, war raged on for another twelve years,” replied Mr. Pipes.
“How could he write,” asked Annie, “‘Who wondrous things hath done,’ and talk about ‘blessed peace’ and ‘countless gifts of love,’ when little children, his own wife, and thousands of people were suffering and dying all around him? I don’t get it?”
Mr. Pipes ran his fingers through his white hair, then stroked his chin in thought before answering.
“Peace and joy mean very little, my dear,” replied Mr. Pipes, “unless they follow trouble. Mr. Rinkart had his share of trials, that is certain; but his prayer that God would ‘guide us when perplexed, and free us from all ills,’ is a prayer for faith to see beyond the troubles and trust in God when human understanding fails us. Make sense of a war that some historians say killed off half the population of Germany? You and I can never make sense of that; we must lean not on our own understanding, but trust in God who does all things well. Only then can we with Martin Rinkart offer ‘All praise and thanks to God’ in every trial—no matter how costly.”
Drew stared unblinking at Lady Kitty’s play. No one spoke for several minutes.
Finally Annie broke the silence.
“Who was Catherine Winkworth? I’ve seen her name with Johann Franck, and—oh, let me see—”
“Yeah, Neander, Nicolai and some others,” added Drew.
“Right,” said Annie. “Did she help write some of these hymns?”
“In a manner of speaking, my dear,” said Mr. Pipes, sitting back down on the bench and crossing his legs. “Catherine Winkworth, born in 1829, contributed to the great literary accomplishments of many other Christians living in Victorian England. It is said that she was a person of remarkable intellectual and social gifts, especially distinguished for her combination of rare ability and great knowledge, charmed with a certain tender and sympathetic refinement. Her spiritual piety, adorned by poetic and foreign language skills, enabled her to become the most well-loved and faithful English translator of German hymns.”
“It’s gotta be tough translating poetry,” said Drew. “The rhyme gets all messed up, doesn’t it? I mean, German uses different sounding words than English, so it wouldn’t rhyme when she’s done translating it, right?”
“I should say so,” said Mr. Pipes. “Great hymn translation requires poetic skill of the highest rank and, of course, mastery of foreign language. It takes near genius to convey all the original nuance of meaning while still keeping the poetry intact. I say, not at all an easy task.”
“So Catherine Winkworth really did help write Mr. Rinkart’s hymn—for English speakers, anyway,” said Annie.
“She deserves our admiration,” said Mr. Pipes. “We are deeply in her debt for giving us these wonderful hymns in English.” He paused, then added, “After a fruitful life, she died near Geneva in 1878.”
“Where’s Geneva?” asked Drew.
“Switzerland,” replied Mr. Pipes, rubbing his hands together and smiling. “Lovely place; I shall take you there soon.”
“Oh, look at Lady Kitty playing on the cannon,” said Drew with a laugh, pointing at the kitten crouching on the huge barrel. “Fire when ready, sergeant Kitty,” he said with a salute.
“Stop!” screamed Annie as the kitten crept gingerly along the shiny bronze barrel toward the notch in the wall. The sheer drop to the watery moat extended below her.