Confessions of an Unlucky Good Girl…

Vilonia, AR.

It is Tuscany yellow. The room where her 
Mind will not stay. His is Othello’s
Rage portending a thousand slaughters. 
The sun has set. Death rehearses
Violent hours. She hopes in sleep,
Perchance to dream, to wish—to be 
No more unsifted. She Knows not 
What she shall be. A battered Bitter’d 
Soul sings a dirge. Weep willow—
For Barbara as she cries. 
“Come all you forsaken and mourn you with me,
Who speaks of a false love, mine’s falser than he
—for I may die with his wound.”  
She fears she does not yet know Who. 
He spoke no words, He heard none too. 
His razor sharp, His cuts heal. 
Made serene in His tempest. Wreck’d by the Quiet.

So begins the prologue of the literary memoir of a formerly good girl. Existential angst? Uh-huh. Crisis of meaning? You bet. Boethian? Most assuredly. “I find your writing is elegant, almost poetic at times—you have a real gift of written expression, it is obvious you are well read,” responded a major publisher. The manuscript outlined the bad fortune of a family overtaken by a number of disorders, betrayal, corporate espionage, AIDS, abandonment, patricide, filicide, suicide, and an eros that dare not speak its name. Like Boethius, who suffered grave injustices through no fault of his own, she was alone in a room with an almost disinterested stranger pondering the unlucky turn of a home destroyed. The misfortune is spiritual fodder for “all things working together for the good.” What is good? Surely, a book deal is good. But, the publisher urged her to “go back through it and make your points a little more starkly, but not luridly.”

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Published in Front Porch Republic:

Domestic Arts and the Mundane

Vilonia, AR. Sarah Orne Jewett was an American short-story writer, best-known for The Country of the Pointed Firs. Like Wendell Berry, she belongs within the tradition of American literary regionalism, also known somewhat condescendingly as “local color” realism. Labelled “the best piece of regional fiction to come out of nineteenth century America,” Pointed Firs is layered with meaning. Feminists laud Jewett’s exceptional abilities as a writer, and modern scholars co-opt her anachronistically to fit postmodern narratives, but her Congregationalist Christianity, which is implicit throughout her work, remains neglected. Jewett emphasizes a concern with caring rightly not only for one another, but for God’s good earth.

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A Graced Grit Eulogy to Charles Portis’ “True Grit”

By Barbara A. Castle

Vilonia, AR. Charles McColl Portis’ funeral was February 25th at the Second Presbyterian Church in Little Rock, Arkansas just thirty some-odd miles from my home. It was an intimate and understated affair, just as Portis might prefer. A close friend reminded us of Portis’ genuine humility; the simple American-flagged draped coffin appeared small compared to the man in repose. His friend’s thoughtful, tender words came after “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” the reading of Psalm 23, II Timothy 1:8-14, a homily, an Affirmation of Faith in Christ and “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.”

Grace Comes by Art…and Art Don’t Come Easy


Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It is in the main about family, and in particular about brothers, and on the side about fly fishing and art. The underline on family and brothers is “help,” on fishing is “religion” and on art is “suffering.” My family is not all together different, except where it counts most—fly fishing is conspicuously absent, as is a father to instruct it and the religion that accompanies it. The void acts as a placeholder for—nothing. No “thing” in the Augustinian sense of evil as an absence of good. I call it “pain” because that’s what fills the empty space that a father once occupied.

Maclean’s gift of story-telling relieves my pain on two counts. First, he gives me insight into the mysterious bond of brothers, the kind that Shakespeare spoke of in denigrating beds and honoring scars. He showed me that rites of passage occur in one-parent households the same as they do in two. The leaves of his book are healing like the leaves of John’s tree in the New Jerusalem. It too is fed by a river that runs through it. Both are open to anyone who wants to fish for words of life, although the Maclean family would say that they can’t be found by bait fishing because “grace comes by art.”

Secondly, the Gospels encourage those who fish and find the words of life to become in turn “fishers of men.” In working through his own tragedy, Maclean’s words invited me to transcend the pain associated with the guilt of single-parent inadequacies. I was caught in his net of words. He ends the novel as an aged man alone on the river with nearly all those he loved and did not understand dead…he hopes for a fish to rise—I did. He tells me:

The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

Finish Reading the Story “Haunted by Grace”

Turning, Planting, and Pulling

Doom is a primitive story though, one that began in a garden with a two-parent family, two boys, bodies bent to the earth, and a downward gaze. It was into this organic matter, this material terra that the first family thrust their hands and turned, planted, and pulled the glory of God — for pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua — Full are heaven and earth of thy glory. It was here we find one of the earliest of many human paradoxes: the earth God used as a self-identified Potter to create man in his own image is also known as dirt.

Castle Back Porch 2Read full article at Front Porch Republic   Mud: Our Alma-Pater

Mary-Mary: The Two Revolutionaries



I commend to your reading the New York Times critique of Charlotte Gordon’s new book Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley.Romantic Outlaws

Romantic Outlaws

Consider how the author of the new book, by the critics admission, gives unsatisfactory weight to the destruction of the feminist worldview – but notice how the critic goes on to “lighten” the impact of the consequences by stating that the same type of havoc occurs in traditional relationships. Does it really?

Ms. Nehring only touches on the brokenness and despair in the lives of these two women –  and the men in their lives. But Shelley’s monster speaks the unspeakable for her (and her mother). Where she could not utter the horror unleashed on her family via sexual revolution – Frankenstein did. Where Wollstonecraft is merely left standing in the blood of the French Revolution in this critique – in real life – she was drenched in it.

“No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.”

“If I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear!”

“I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.”

“I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel…”

“Solitude was my only consolation – deep, dark, death like solitude.”

“There is something at work in my soul, which I do not understand.”

“How dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to be greater than his nature will allow.”

“When falsehood can look so like the truth, who can assure themselves of certain happiness?”

― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

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My Mother, Myself

The most memorable moment in my life as a teenager was the day I snooped through my Mother’s dresser drawer and found a dingy white baby book, the cover read Our First Baby. Eagerly, I opened it up and found it was for my birth.


Imogene and Barbara, circa 1962.

Written on the introduction page was my name, and my parents name. The pages were scant, lacking detail other than the names of the grandparents and date of birth. Typical, I thought, for my mother, a women of few words. And that was a source of contention between the two us – me being a girl of many words, writing my first mini novel at age 12. I had hoped for something…any written record or hint as to who she was – a girl of 19 having a baby. Finally, near the back of the book in a note section was a paragraph she jotted down while she was still pregnant. I read the few sentences over and over – (as if they might sprout and make more words when watered with tears…)

She wrote about how wonderful it was to have a baby growing inside of her, how she felt movement…it made her joyful. Those few sentiments did grow – inside of me. To have evidence – some tangible proof that you were wanted, loved  even before anyone set eyes on you…before you were known to the world. When God states that He knew Jeremiah (1:5) before he formed him in his mother’s womb – there tends to be a sense in which we all desire to be known. It was a divine secret – just between Mom and I.

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Hail, Caesar! Much Ado About Nothing or Everything.


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Hail,_Caesar!_Teaser_posterOk, so I confess, Hail, Caesar!, the Coen brothers’ just released comedy about old Hollywood, beckoned me come for one reason…True Grit.

I’m not one for the brothers’ dry-witted, odd-ball, unreal life depictions – but I hoped for something soul-feeding in the way that Arkansan Mattie Ross’ hell-bent journey to find justice for her Papa’s murder via Rooster Cogburn was – or at least some modicum of appreciation for a well told story with an interesting worldview. Caesar falls way short on the story-telling, but on worldview…well, let’s just say that it requires some thought – though not worth the expenditure.

Hearing that Caesar gave some sort of homage to the glory days of MGM, and, more importantly that the theatre had just been upgraded with new motor-reclining seats, the place was packed. We stood with popcorn in hand (or in my case, pretzels in purse) as the previous patrons exclaimed Caesar’s praises on exiting (Lord knows why) – the majority of which were baby-boomers and beyond (we tend to long for the Hollywood of It’s a Wonderful Life). True to Coen form, they wish to dash any wistful dreams we may have about the once and former “goodness” of movie makers…sort of.

Whether intended or not, I found the plotline to be mostly truthful about humanity and the worldviews in which we trade. The Coen’s reflect into the story the deification of the movie industry by the audience; a subtle point that Joel and Ethan appear to mock (because it is mock-worthy). Continue reading

Surprised by Epistemology: Pt. 2



Cowering at Sovereignty

First, I would have to intellectually deal with the problem of sovereignty before the problem of pain. The doctrine of grace would be settled by necessity. No more claims to the convenient middle ground in which I could keep present company. Either tomorrow was determined by my choices or I would agree with Homer and grant that power to the plan of God. Too much was at stake to risk the former.

Life had become a frightful labyrinth of shattered glass beneath bare feet. My journal entries for over a year began with the words “today there is a feeling of impending doom…” It would be a decade before I read the Iliad, yet instinctively that “rage” against the father was about to wreak murderous doom with “countless losses, hurling down to death.” That loss came immediately and so did my repentance.

The thought of losing more than we already had was the one inconsolable grief that paralyzed my faith, causing me to cower at His Sovereignty. The next blow would be final, if there would be one. Bloodied and broken, metaphorically speaking, there was no room for error. John Bunyan wrote,

It came burning hot into my mind, whatever he said and however he flattered, when he got me home to his house, he would sell me for a slave.

Was the worse yet to come? Our tragic epic had only just begun and the Proem declared the end, ….or so it seemed.

Greek Thoughts: Wine Dark Sea


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iliadPhilosophy, though important in bringing one to the light of truth (small t), is a discipline in which we are shown to be shivering and naked in the cold, though now we are a much improved mind, instead of the last piece of disassembled machinery. We nitpick ideas, reduce logical complexities, exchange thoughts in forums, read dense obscure narratives, and reason consequences out to a hundred years. All the while, the worldview knowing that culminates in what Francis Schaeffer referred to as true truth or Truth (with a capital T) is a ten year old reclining in an easy chair with wide-eyed amazement at the just read passage in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

In Angels in the Architecture, Dr. George Grant posited,

Worldview is as practical as garden arbors, public manners, whistling at work, dinner-time rituals, and angels in the architecture.

Unlike the Greek philosopher Plato, Homer doesn’t leave us shivering in the cold reality of discovering the chair in relation to chairness. Nor does he invite us to the light to realize our failure to know the difference. Instead, Homer delivers to us a stain glass window in which we can enjoy the beauty of the light. We have escaped the cave in order to learn that words have wings, that the sea is wine dark, and Odysseus’ horses are like sunbeams.