Category: books and reading

a great resource on Jewish-Christian writings

A few years ago, I was researching the life of Denise Levertov, one of my favorite poets. I read in one of her book introductions about the spiritual influence of her mother, described as a Welsh mystic–but I wanted to know more about her name which seemed Jewish. It turns out her father Paul Levertoff was a Russian Jew who emigrated to England and became an Anglican priest, leading one of the first (if not the first?) Jewish-Christian congregations in England. At the time I was researching, I could find little information on him anywhere except a small scholarly article by a seminary student (guess it’s time for someone to write a Wikipedia article?!).

I saved the links and hoped the scholar would dig up more. Levertoff had apparently written some intriguing-sounding books like Shekinah and Christ and Love and the Messianic Age, but they were out of print and nowhere to be found.

Today must’ve been my lucky day because I was thinking about Paul Levertoff again and my google search turned up a Facebook page completely dedicated to his writings and life. The page has several videos explaining his life story and teachings; tbey’re done in such a way that really translate Hassidic rabbinical stuff to a gentile Christian like me. The page also has information on where to buy those aforementioned intriguing books–just republished this year!

Facebook page on Paul Levertoff

Also, the page is published by Vine of David, a site dedicated to scholarly works by early Messianic writers (i.e., Jewish texts on Jesus) from a variety of periods. It seems like a new project by scholars and translators. But it’s a motherload of stuff that hasn’t been out there before! I love their donation page statement:

Imagine that you are standing in front of a deep well of fresh, cool water. You are parched and thirsty, but “you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?” (John 4:11).

Though the water is right in front of you, it might as well be on another continent. If you were thirsting to death, how much would you give for a bucket and rope?

There is a deep well of living water in front of us, but it has been locked away from millions of Jews and Christians. That well of water is the literary heritage of Messianic Judaism: Hebrew Gospel studies, apologetics from Messianic rabbis, Chasidic teachings of Jewish believers, the Messianic Siddur and Machzor, Messianic Jewish history, stories, testimonies, and teachings that connect believers with the past and build a bridge to the future of Messianic Judaism.

But most of this pre-holocaust wisdom and spiritual wealth is written in Hebrew, German, Yiddish, and other eastern European languages and presented in genres of Jewish learning and logic which are largely incomprehensible to most modern readers. The Messianic Jewish heritage has been forgotten in old European libraries and remains completely inaccessible to  English readers. It remains like water at the bottom of a deep well from which no one can drink.

Vine of David was created to draw spiritual water out from those depths. Our goal is to collect these lost writings, transcend the language barrier and make the living water of early Messianic Judaism available to English readers.

from a park in berlin

Sipping Champagne in berlin

It’s not easy sipping champagne in berlin

Or anywhere really now,

But this day I had to.

Like a thousand Sunday afternoons-this one

Crystal-toned on my skin by now, or burnt

On my bones, or pressed into my palms, is

A Berlin park by water.

No one can imagine this gift-

Verdant city park, agleam in history

Shelled by shrapnel, and now fashion shows

Still brazenly gleaming as if nothing

Could kill it! And me sipping joy

In the midst of her

As if the sun were not enough,

The father Himself shows up

downloading glory for free–apple trees

and fresh cherry blossoms-a young girl dipping her hands

in the stream beside me.

the wisp of me, floating in the metallic memory of Germany

He, refusing to leave Himself or this city

Or me, instead tells us our story-

Gory parts not excluded. Glory parts


As if the Father refused

To leave this mighty place of being

in Himself!

So, for me,

This park is a poppy resting in my palm, or His,

after boots have trampled orange petals into blood

what is left is love of us

for some unseen reason, and

On a Sunday afternoon, this park quietly proclaims:

Something within waits,

Regardless of wars, to burst forth!

This flower dust on my fingers today

(if that is what it is)

Is worth all the ink in the world!

And these bubbles in my crystal glass

are worth all these troubles.

a little book on poverty and glory

I am terribly un-promotional. And a terrible ‘networker’ to boot. When it comes to publishing, something I love, the actual “publishing to an audience” part somehow eludes me. I like to write it, print it, or put it on the web but “publishing” implies that one is actually announcing and disseminating, telling others, cultivating an audience. As a writer, I’ve always found myself both in awe of and terrified of an audience. When I had a regular weekly newspaper column, sometimes with my picture included, people would recognize me, and I would sometimes cross the street to avoid them. It’s such a horrible instinct!

All of this to say, over five years ago I wrote a book. It is called A Little Book on Poverty and Glory. I spent a few months writing it, cultivating it, then I spent nearly a year laying it out and designing it. I commissioned an artist friend of mine, Linnea Spransy, to illustrate the cover. And paid a good penny to have a talented designer at Jolly Design in Austin to put it all together. And then I worked with both an independent letterpress in Chicago and an independent hand-sewing bookbinder in Madison, Wisconsin to bring it all together.

The result is a wonderful book, hand touched from start to finish. The cover won a national design award from AIGA, and is now included in the permanent collection of their design archives in the Denver Art Museum and in the Rare Books collection in Butler Library at Columbia University. How’s that for an unannounced book! And this hand-touched quality reflects the message, which is at its core about something quite mystical but missing from so much Christian spirituality: desire.

Because I put so much into the book, I was tempted to hide it for a long time. And I apologize for that. So here it is, an announcement, better late than never. I have about 125 copies left of first edition books. They are numbered and signed and for sale at Bread and Tongue Press. If you can’t wait to buy one, you can do so right here:

Bread and Tongue Press was a small press I decided to start with a vision of producing handmade quality books and zines. There are future projects coming. In the meantime, I am working on a new book. It is bigger in scope than “Poverty” but I’ve recently discovered that I have actually been writing this book all along. My computer is stuffed with essays that have never been published anywhere but are tied together by a strong thematic string. Hopefully this book will not take so long to reach readers. Sometimes artists like me need a push, need an engine–an agent, a manager, a publisher–who stands outside of them and says “lets take this to people now and stop fiddling with it.”

I am thankful for friends like Andrew Jones who just do it and don’t think twice. He wrote a kind blog about my book. I guess I’d say it’s my only promotional blurb!!

making time to write

A lot of people have asked me about writing recently, especially how to make time for it and what it takes to write a book. I genuinely enjoy writing, and always have since I was a child. So I always processed my thoughts first through writing, and then through other things. (I used to make up plays and songs, and always set up stages as a kid… I’m not sure where this performing part of me went but I did try being in two bands when I was in my 20s.)

Anyhow, writing for me is a second nature. But there is a difference between writing spontaneously and writing in a more disciplined way. And I think the disciplined part is what people want to know about. It’s not easy. There is something about writing that seems inherently solipsistic; when you sit down to do it you have to get past all the thoughts in your head that say, “I have to be doing something else right now” or “someone else needs me”. No one else can do it for you, and you have to be alone to do it.

Usually when I sit down to write, the first ten minutes to an hour are filled with every thought but the thing I want to be writing about. I have sat in front of my computer just staring for as much as an hour, maybe typing one word, erasing it, and typing again. The dreaded writer’s block.