Book Review. “The Halo Effect” by Anne D. LeClaire

51ZanlM1XLL._SS130_I downloaded this book thinking it was a murder mystery, and it is, but the story starts after the murder and focuses on the way that the murder affects the victim’s family and friends.

Lucy, a teenage girl in a small seaside town is murdered, and naturally her parents are devastated. The father, an artist, becomes angry and turns to drink. The mother eventually leaves him. Her best friend, Rain, becomes obsessed with security and starts cutting herself to let the feelings out. And Father Gervais, tasked by the bishop with commissioning Lucy’s father to paint representations of the saints for a new cathedral, has his own long-buried grief to work through.

This is a well written narrative. The smells and scenery, the people and their surroundings are described so well that you can put yourself into Port Fortune and “see” the people clearly.

TV crime shows like “Midosmer Murders” and “NCIS” rarely examine the effect that death has on the community around the victim. You can’t do that in 50 minutes. This is a book that deals with grief in all its messiness and still appeals as a great story in its own right.




Grammar Nerds, Rejoice! The Power of a Missing Comma

I remember being taught at school that you don’t need a comma before the last item in a list if you use and to separate the last two items. But sometimes you do, especially if you live in Oxford, and now, apparently, in Maine.

From Quartz

A court’s decision in a Maine labor dispute hinged on the absence of an Oxford comma

March 14, 2017

A Maine court ruling in a case about overtime pay and dairy delivery didn’t come down to trucks, milk, or money. Instead, it hinged on one missing comma.

Delivery drivers for local milk and cream company Oakhurst Dairy have been tussling with their employers over whether they qualify for overtime. On March 13, a US court of appeals determined that certain clauses of Maine’s overtime laws are grammatically ambiguous. Because of that lack of clarity, the five drivers have won their lawsuit against Oakhurst, and are eligible for unpaid overtime.

The profoundly nerdy ruling is also a win for anyone who dogmatically defends the serial comma.

The serial comma, also known as the Oxford comma for its endorsement by the Oxford University Press style rulebook, is a comma used just before the coordinating conjunction (“and,” or “or,” for example) when three or more terms are listed. You’ll see it in the first sentence of this story—it’s the comma after “milk”—but you won’t find it in the Maine overtime rule at issue in the Oakhurst Dairy case. According to state law, the following types of activities are among those that don’t qualify for overtime pay:

The canning, processing, preserving,
freezing, drying, marketing, storing,
packing for shipment or distribution of:
(1) Agricultural produce;
(2) Meat and fish products; and
(3) Perishable foods.

There, in the comma-less space between the words “shipment” and “or,” the fate of Kevin O’Connor v. Oakhurst Dairy was argued. Is packing (for shipment or distribution) a single activity that is exempt from overtime pay? Or are packing and distributing two different activities, and both exempt?

If lawmakers had used a serial comma, it would have been clear that distribution was an overtime-exempt activity on its own. But without the comma, wrote US appeals judge David J. Barron, the law is ambiguous as to whether distribution is a separate activity, or whether the whole last clause—”packing for shipment or distribution”—is one activity, meaning only the people who pack the dairy products are exempt. The drivers do distribute, but do not pack, the perishable food.

The debate over the serial comma has long raged and remains unresolved. Proponents of its use (like Quartz, which breaks with the AP Stylebook on this vital matter) say that, when listing things in writing, a comma before the last item is paramount. It separates the sentence “He ate dessert, fries, and ham” from “He ate dessert, fries and ham.” Opponents say that it’s redundant, aesthetically displeasing, and potentially more ambiguous.

Oakhurst, for its part, had argued that “distribution” was separate in the language of the law, meaning its drivers did not qualify for overtime.

In an impressively geeky retort, the drivers responded that all the other exempted activities were listed as gerunds, words ending with “-ing”: Canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing. The word “distribution,” they argued, was therefore not intended to be one of the items in the list.

The first court to hear the case ruled in the company’s favor, but the appellate court disagreed. Wrote Barron, since Maine’s overtime laws are meant to have “remedial purpose,” that is, to help the state’s workers, they should be read liberally. He and the appeals court therefore sided with the drivers, ruling that they should receive their unpaid overtime.

Maine has a style guide for legislation, and Oakhurst had argued it expressly instructs law-writers not to use the serial comma:

Do not write: Write:
Trailers, semitrailers, and pole trailers Trailers, semitrailers and pole trailers

But, as the appeals court argues—and the style guide shows—clarity is of the utmost importance when a list is ambiguous. From the appellate court ruling:

The manual also contains a proviso—”Be careful if an item in the series is modified”—and then sets out several examples of how lists with modified or otherwise complex terms should be written to avoid the ambiguity that a missing serial comma would otherwise create.

Reflection on Matthew 4:1-11




Then Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.


Jesus is driven by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness for the purpose of being tempted by the devil. He fasts for 40 days and nights.

The devil then comes to Jesus with three temptations. First, he suggests that Jesus turns stones into bread to relieve the hunger from fasting. Jesus rebukes him with the scripture about man not living by bread alone.

The devil takes Jesus to a high place, telling Him to throw Himself down and trust angels to save Him. Again Jesus rebukes the devil with Scripture.

Finally the devil tries to appeal to Jesus’ human pride. He tells Jesus to worship the devil and all the glories of the world will be His. Jesus replies by telling the devil to leave, for God has commanded that we are to worship Him alone.


Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted. The word translated as “led” literally means to “cast out.” The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness in order to be tempted.

It is often said that the Holy Spirit is a gentleman and will not make us do anything against our will. In some ways this is generally true, but there are times when the Holy Spirit is insistent, almost violent.

If I am serious about following Jesus, there will be many times when I feel pushed into doing things I would prefer not to.

Here, Jesus is pushed into a confrontation that everything in His human nature must have recoiled from. A long period of fasting followed by a full-on battle with satan is not something anyone would willingly embrace.

It is also said that God does not lead us to temptation. Maybe not, but here the Holy Spirit drove Jesus to a place specifically to be tempted by satan.

God allows us to face temptation in order to strengthen our resolve to follow Him. Standing firm against concerted testing enables us to know that we have won a victory in Christ. Failing under temptation shows that we need more of the Holy Spirit. Temptation is a win- win, even when we lose!


Holy Spirit, when testing and temptation come to me, help me to look to you for the answer. Please make me stronger in my faith. Amen.

Reflection on Matthew 17:1-9




After six days, Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.


Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a high mountain by themselves. There His appearance is changed so that His clothes and face shine like the sun. Then Moses and Elijah also appear with Him.

Peter babbles on about building shelters, but he is interrupted by a voice from the cloud which says, “This is my Son whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to him.”

The disciples are terrified, but Jesus tells them not to be afraid.


Jesus led a small group up a mountain for a revelation of His true nature.

Our culture, including our church culture, is obsessed with big events. Bigger, it seems, is always better.

But here we have a small group of believers, Peter, James and John, on a small group retreat (a leadership retreat, perhaps) whose sole purpose is to receive a revelation of Jesus.

He leads. They follow. He reveals.

This is a model for discipleship everywhere:

  • Jesus leads us step by step

  • We follow the best way we know

  • He gives a new revelation of His nature and His purpose for us.

  • The cycle is repeated.

This cycle of discipleship applies also to cell groups. This passage shows that revelation comes most clearly in the presence of a small group of people who are determined to follow Jesus together.

We don’t know much about the journey up or back down the mountain. There would have been talking, banter, fellowship and teaching. They were on a journey together, and in the middle of the journey there is given a new insight into Jesus.

We need one another. The church is meant to be a community of people who encourage and build one another up along the way. That community building happens most effectively in small groups.

Big meetings are great for their own purpose, but we also need small groups of believers seeking God together.


Lord Jesus Christ, I thank you that in our walk with you there is always more to discover. Thank you for the people you have put in my life who help me to learn more of you and to see more of who you are. Amen.


Reflection on 1 Corinthians 3:16-23




Do you not know that you are God’s temple, and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?


Together we are God’s temple. The Holy Spirit dwells n us. If anyone tries to destroy His Temple, God will destroy them.

Those who think they are wise in the world’s ways should become fools because God’s standard of wisdom is different to the world’s. We must not boast about our human leaders because we belong to Christ.


We are God’s temple. Together the church “contains” or become a place of habitation for the Holy Spirit.

We read this verse and think it means “I am a temple of God.” But Paul says “You (plural) are the temple of God.” He does not say “You are temples of God.”

It is when we worship and work together in the unity of the Spirit that God is manifest amongst us.

This is not to deny that each individual christian has the Holy Spirit. Three is a special anointing that comes when the people of God come together and worship with one heart and one mind.


Holy Spirit come and fill me. Empower me to worship you in unity with my brothers and sisters so that we truly become the temple of God. Amen.