Everyone Went- A Hutchmoot Reflection.

2015-10-14 11.21.11In one of the songs on his new album, The Burning Edge of Dawn, Andrew Peterson alludes to Thomas Merton’s “Louisville” epiphany in Merton’s book Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander.  Here’s what Merton wrote:
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud… I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
We gathered at Hutchmoot 2015, 100+ total strangers, unable to be “alien to one another even though we were total strangers.”  It was a weekend of walls coming down, of hearts exposed, of giving and partaking of nourishment from the cool waters of new friendship between old souls.  We drank deep.  We took in story- our own and each other’s, and the one Story which connects us all.
Merton wrote “I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate.”  Perhaps it gives some indication of the Hutchmoot weekend that our keynote speaker, author Walt Wangerin, Jr.  said , “There is entirely too much joy in this place.”
The temptation for me right now is to wax philosophical, to try to ascend to that intoxicating cloud of friendship and pipe smoke once again in immediate nostalgic reflection.  To go step by step through the weekend and parse out its significance.  To mention names met and sessions attended.  And I may do that yet in future posts, but things are still “settling” for me.   Plus the fact that I am in my classroom monitoring an essay test.  Ha.  Sure.  At least my students think I look busy grading.
So let me, for now, explain the title of this post, which attends to a very specific post-Hutchmoot experience.
I met two wonderful friends at Hutchmoot, Jonathan and Laure Hittle.  Thinking my goodbye to them was too short, I resolved to ambush them at Nashville Airport for a final, more leisurely goodbye.  A few Facebook messages back and forth found me waiting outside a small Mexican restaurant just outside their gate for what we quickly dubbed “whiskeymoot.”
I waited, and as I waited, had my own mini-Merton experience.
I was scanning the crowds as they moved toward me, trying to discern the friendly bearded face of Jonathan and the freckled smile of Laure.  As I was doing so, I continuously thought I was recognizing other people who had been at Hutchmoot, even going so far as to nearly waving at (who I thought was) JJ Heller and her husband David.  I got some odd looks.  I think my face had a constant, “Hey, good to see you again!” expression- which in my case, includes bushy eyebrows raised, and overbitten smile beaming.  An apparently awkward, gawky, unofficial greeter addition to the airport staff of Nashville International to the strangers streaming past me.
So here’s the mini-Merton moment:  it wasn’t so epiphanic that I saw everyone in the airport shining like the sun.  What I did recognize was that anyone and everyone who was coming toward me could have been at Hutchmoot 2015.  Which says quite a lot about the community I experienced.  Though there were amazing musicians, artists, teachers, writers, mothers, fathers, and presenters at Hutchmoot, no one really stood out- by which I mean, if they did stand out, it was out of the ordinary, universal, and holy of the day-to day journey all of us are on.  Everyone went.
I relaxed my craning, searching neck for a moment, and bent my head in thanks to the realization.  There are so many stories that matter.  As Andrew Peterson wrote in his welcome letter to Hutchmoot “The bricks and mortar of God’s kingdom are not ideas, but people.  It’s not stories, but characters in the Story.”
Then I spotted Laure and Jonathan.  My overbitten smile returned.  I called out “Let Whiskeymoot commence!”
Smiles were returned, as three characters in the Story sat down and broke bread with each other, and toasted the weekend.

Off to Hutchmoot 2015

Hey!  Did you hear that gasp of air?  Yeah, that’s this blog taking its first breath in a long while.  I’m off to Hutchmoot 2015, brought to you by those wonderful folks over at the Rabbit Room.  Hoping my experience there helps my writing voice- and actually gets me writing again!

Here’s a short video showing you what Hutchmoot is all about:

Chosen, Holy, and Dearly Loved

Jason Gray’s comments preceding his song “I Am New” at the Community Coffeehouse resonated so much with what was on my heart I transcribed it:

“We do really well with the difficult scriptures which tell us we are sinner saved by Grace, with hearts deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.  And we need to reckon  with those, because that’s true, and those are the verses that God uses to reveal our sin, our need for Christ, our need to be saved.

But once they do their work, once Jesus saves us, we stay camped out here often, staying in the shame and guilt, [or what becomes] shame and guilt.

But Jesus moves on to a new work- after salvation he begins a new work called sanctification, and when He is doing that work He has new things to say about us, new words- things that are even more difficult: that because of Christ we are now chosen, holyand dearly loved– not that we are going to be holy- but somehow, right now, we are holy, and without blemish, and free of accusation.

And then the most mystifying of all: that because of Christ, we become the righteousness of God.

And I don’t believe it when I look in the mirror.  But it’s right there, in God’s Word.  And I wonder if part of becoming new begins with believing and trusting what the Lord has to say about us.”

Thus my prayer:

Help me trust, O Lord, in what you see.  Shame and guilt have been such a large part of my life, that despite Your promises, despite the robe held out by you O Loving Father to this prodigal son, I’m still used to these rags I wear, and am even still rehearsing my speech of contrition while You call for a feast in celebration of my return.

I’ll admit it- shame is easier sometimes than surrendering to Your will.  I squirm sometimes even when close friends and acquanitences give me compliments, and here You are the Almighty saying I am Your own, forever.  That I am cherished, and loved.  Dearly loved.

What to do with such knowledge?

Then I hear the whisper of the Spirit, asking me to be the hands and feet of thee:

“Tell others the same.”

Hello, reader.

Hello sister.

Hello brother.

Hello, friend

You too.

are chosen

are holy

are dearly loved.

Just passing it along.


A New Year for the Dead Made Living

We are a sick house here, so 2015 came last night amid sniffles, snot, fever, and crying (don’t even get me start on how my wife and kids were doing har har). Reading often relaxes me in these scernarios (in between dispensing medication, tissues, and rocking babies to semi-sleep), and I came across a great passage by N.D. Wilson‘s Death by Living to start the New Year:

“Living means decisions. Living means writing your every word and action and thought and drool spot down in forever. It means writing your story within the Story. It means being terrible at it. It means failing and knowing that, somehow, all of our messes will still contribute, that the creative God has merely given Himself a greater challenge- drawing glory from our clumsy botching of the past. We are like factory workers in a slapstick comedy, standing at our positions beside the too-fast conveyor belt that flings the future and all of our possible actions at us. Corn syrup and food coloring everywhere (along with cheese and ceramic figurines).

Do your best. Live. Create. Fail.

And from it all, from the compost of our efforts, God brings glory- a world of ripe grain in the wind.

By His grace, we are the water made wine. We are the dust made flesh made dust made flesh again. We are the whores made brides and thieves made saints and the killers made apostles.

We are the dead made living.”

Cheers to all of us living into the Great Story this year.  Cheers to more frequent blog posts :-).

Brian Jacques: “Bobby”


Fair warning, readers!  This is a sad one.  Definitely tugs at your heartstrings.  Sometimes better than than the boy meets girl stories are the man meets best pal dog stories, and here’s one of’ ’em for ya by the late, great Brian Jacques, author of Redwall, a reading from his Jakestown radio program on BBC Merseyside.  Have a listen and a read…and get those tissues ready!

Bobby, by Brian Jacques

Now, looking back, he could remember the first time

He had ever seen Bobby.

It was a bitter winter night in min-January.

He’d been coming home from the pub,

The snow was being driven into drifts by a howling wind.

Ice made the pavement slippery underfoot.

It wasn’t a fit night for man nor beast to be out in.


Yeah, that’s when he’d first met Bobby.

The dog had followed him, slinking and cringing,

Always about ten feet behind him,

Right from outside the alehouse, along the main road, and up the street

He stopped and turned to get a good look at it.


It was only a puppy, really, about four months old.

Its tail and ears drooped in the wind-driven whiteness.

It wasn’t a particularly good looking hound, either.

A little mongrel, no pedigree,

Just the usual 57 varieties.

Probably it had been given to some kid as a Christmas present

And slung out unwanted, when the holidays were over.


He’d stared at the dog; the dog had stared back at him.

It took a pace backward, as if expecting him

To aim a boot at it.

Poor little beggar.

You could have played “Rule Britannia” on its ribs.


“Here ya are, come on old fellah.”

He crouched in the snow, held out his hand

To the freezing, half-starved pup.

It hesitated a second.

Then, as if it sensed everything would be okay,

It shook its head, wagged its drooping tail,

And trotted slowly up to him.


He patted it, and scratched behind its ears as he talked.

“Hello there, old fellah- where you from?

Been slung out, have ya?”

The puppy came closer into him,

As if he could protect it

From the cold, hostile world.


That was a lot of years ago now.

He’d taken the puppy home with him,

And named it Bobby.

Not for any particular reason, other than

It looked like a Bobby,

And always came when the name was called.


It was a good little dog,

Quite clean, and didn’t need a lot of looking after, either.

One decent meal a day and a bowl of water-

Oh, and a saucer of tea every morning-

Proper ole fashioned, Bobby was.

Always liked his saucer of tea with his dad.


You know, when you come to think of it, he thought,

It wasn’t much.

A bit of scoff, and a drink.

Somewhere warm and dry for it to kip every night.

But the returns he got from that dog Bobby!


It had been a companion

Always ready to wag its tail and be stroked.

And if he ever felt depressed or fed up,

There was Bobby, gazing at him with those

Soft, gentle dog’s eyes,

The old tail going twenty to the dozen.

It never failed to cheer him up.


Bobby was his mate.

Someone he could tell his troubles and his dreams to.

But Bobby had been dead about six months now.

They’d been inseparable, went everywhere together.


What was it that fellah had said in the pub?

“Dogs are only animals and they haven’t got a soul.”


He smiled to himself, and thought

Just shows how much that fellah knows,

Doesn’t it?

Brian Jacques: “Plonky”




Brian Jacques had a gift for creating a voice for his characters, not only in his Redwall series, but also in his poetry.  And sometimes that voice was quite striking in its forlornness, such as the character of McCann in “Plonky,” a drunk wandering Paradise St. in Liverpool, England, circa 1970s.  Give it a read and listen here.

Plonky, by Brian Jacques


Even the cheapest wine was expensive now

McCann held the bottle out at arm’s length

So he could read the label without putting his specs on

“Fine Olde Port Style Ruby Wine-

Produce of More Than One Country” it said

Heh.  Plonk.


Two pretty young girls passing along Paradise Street

Saw the old man holding the bottle out.

They both laughed.  One of them said “Cheers!”

McCann stared at them

And to discourage further familiarities

He stuffed the bottle back into his Mac pocket

Horked noisily, and spat on the pavement.

The girls hurried off back to work

As he closed his eyes, and leaned back on the bench,

The dappled Shadows from the bushes behind giving

His face a leprous look.


Plonk.  Where’d had he first heard the word?

1944.  On the front steps of that little Italian church-

What was it called now?- Santa Therese de Liscious-

Or something.

He could remember the statue outside.

It was a lady, dressed as a nun, with a face like a Madonna.


Sargent Thomas had translated the Latin inscription

Beneath the statue for the benefit

Of McCann and his mates.

“After my death I will let fall a shower of roses.”
The soldiers had laughed and sang “April Showers.”

They bought rough red wine from a man

Who sold it off the back of a cart.

“Chianti del Classico” it was called.

One of the lads from McCann’s regiment

Said it was only plonk.


McCann stood up and swayed as he took out his bottle again.

“Plonk!  It’s all only plonk!”he told the whole of Paradise Street,

Aloud, with his arms stretched wide.

Nobody was taking any notice,

So he broke out into song.

“St. Therese Of The Roses”

The panda car stopped at the curb alongside,

And he found himself looking into the face

Of a young policeman.


Immediately, McCann straightened up

And threw the constable what he imagined

Was a smart military salute.

“It’s s’alright.  S’Alright, Sarge!  Just goin’…” he mumbled,

As he pocketed the bottled and retreated

Along Paradise Street in the direction of Duke Street


The young copper watched him go,

Shook his head in disgust

And climbed back into the car.

“Another plonky,” he said to his mate.


McCann wandered aimlessly, staggering

And talking to himself.

People avoided him, and crossed over the road

When they saw him coming.




McCann didn’t worry, he didn’t care.

Let ‘em move out of the way for him.

He fought and bled for the likes of them.

Yeah- fought and bled!

I caught shrapnel in me left leg

And a silver plate in me skull.

Let ‘em move out of the way!


He wished he hadn’t sold his medals-that’ve showed ‘em!

Oh he still had Marty’s medals, but…

They belonged to Marty, not him.

I’ll bet he didn’t get much plonk out in Korea-

That was where Marty was buried- by the 39th Parallel.

Betcha no one even remembers that-

The 39th parallel.

That was where his son, Corporal Martin McCann was buried.



It was never the same after that.

Mary left him, and went to live

With her sister and her mother.

Plonky, she’d called him.

Said he lost all his self-respect,

Especially when she caught him taking the rent money

Out to the bars on the dresser.

He hadn’t seen her since.

Probably wouldn’t recognize her now.


McCann looked around at the doorway he was leaning against.

It was a church.

Let’s go in and ‘ave a look around.

He liked churches.


The parish priest was in the vestry,

Composing Sunday’s sermon

When the little altar boy walked in.

“Hello, Father!”

“Hello, John.”

“Hey, Father- there’s some old man out there-

Sitting by St. Therese’s statue

And he’s drinking out of a bottle and singing

“St. Therese of the Roses.”


Ah, that’s alright John, he often does that,

Poor fella.

He’s only a plonky ya know.

There’s no harm in it.


Brian Jacques: “The Do”

Another great poetry reading by the late great Brian Jacques, author of the Redwall series, and host of Jakestown on BBC Radio Merseyside.  Here Jacques waxes lyrically and nostalgically on the old “do’s” (street parties) from back in the day in Liverpool.  Makes you want to break out a few Guinness and some Sinatra.  Take a listen and have a read:

The Do by Brian Jacques

When houses were houses

And streets were streets.

The cobbles, and dogs, and kids,

And washing lines piled up with jammers and sheets,

And cats looked in bins or out beds.


Remember the do’s on a Saturday night.

And the alehouses closed at ten.

Jars out the window, and a bob for the light.

Of course, families were closer then.


You could hear the lads crossing over the road:

“Hey Billie, will ya carry that crate?”

Stout Brown and Mild

Sharing the load.

“Which house is the do in, mate?”


“Which house is the do in? Are you off your head?

The one with the door opened wide!

You know Tony’s sister?  Well it’s her Uncle Fred’s.

Pick that ale up and get inside!”


The back kitchen set up like the Iron Lung Bar.

There’s butties, and ribs, and shanks.

“Come in, son, and take us as we are.
“I’ll have some ribs and a Guinness, thanks.”


In the front parlor, the Joanna’s playing loud.

There’s snogging on the stairs up the lobby,

And the woman next door’s shouting

“Hey you crowd, stop that now or I’ll call the bobby!”


“Come in, girl, you’re one of ours!

Two to each side and no spittin’!

The bobby’s been here the last two hours,

He’s helpin’ me gran with the knittin’!”


Big Paddy’s singin’ the Rosa of Tralee,

Mrs. Jones murders Ave Maria.

Mr. Brady plays the banjo he brought home from sea.

I think the whole street is here.


Heart of my Heart” and “Barefoot Days


“There’s no work in the mornin’, ya know!”


I’ll be Loving You Always


“Allo, Queen, how’s your Joe?”

“Hey ya, gerroff, will ya have a dance?”

“It’s as good as the Grafton in here!”

“Someone spilt ale on ‘Arry’s best pants.”

“Better get him another beer!”


You’re Cheatin’ Heart Will Tell On You.”


Are you watching the telly tonight?

Or would you sooner be at a do

Long ago?

The ole do’s.

Hey, they were all right.

Brian Jacques: “Heaven Is”

Brian Jacques not only wrote the Redwall series, he was also a poet.  He would occasionally do poetry readings over music which he would present on his radio show Jakestown on BBC Merseyside.

I figured the old boy’s in heaven now, so I drummed up a slideshow of Brian with his reading of his poem “Heaven Is.”  Text of the poem is below the video.  It’s a brilliant, upbeat, blue-collar vision of what’s beyond the pearly gates…

Heaven Is by Brian Jacques

I imagine heaven to be a place

Where old ladies go ‘round

Mugging teenagers.

And employers roam ‘round in a mob

Grabbing older people and sayin’

“Hey lad,  ya wanna job?”

Where you can walk in a pub

And sit yourself down

Anytime after half-nine;

And the manager shouts

At twenty to eleven

“No worries!  There’s plenty of time!”

Heaven’s a place

Where pensioners have cottages;

Where they’re allowed to own

Ten dogs or ten cats.

And only city planners

Have to live in high-rise flats

Heaven is a place

Where they don’t have Mondays;

And it only rains late at night.

And when two people argue

They always win…

‘cause it turns out, that both of them’s right.

Heaven’s a place

With no alarm clocks;

And twenty seven miles

Of working docks.

Where nobody has to pay fines

For leaving their cars on two yellow lines.

Where both teams are at Wembley every week,

And the kids don’t give their mothers no cheek.

Where everyone has a deep freeze

Full of lobsters and steaks;

And the poor people

Have no bread to eat…‘cause the cupboards are full of cakes!

Yes, I reckon heaven must be a place

Where the street parties last for a year;

And the people say

“Come and sit down, lad.

It doesn’t matter

If you’re not from ‘round here.”

What Happened to the Magic?


Two years ago today, author Brian Jacques (pronounced “Jakes”), creator of the Redwall series, passed away.  He authored 22 books of series in all, which featured the mice, otters, moles, hedgehogs, squirrels, and hares of Mossflower Country and Salamandastron, and their epic struggles against all manner of villainy.  Inspired by the memory and actions of their resident spiritual guide, Martin the Warrior, the goodbeasts of Redwall strived to create a place of peace in a hostile world full of rats, weasels, stouts, and other vermin.  Readers come away from reading Redwall with the satisfaction of having read a darn good yarn, full of feasting, fighting, riddles, cliff hangers, and songs.

I got addicted to these tales not too long ago, after getting sick and tired of contemporary “literary fiction ,” with its typical loner protagonists and navel-gazing ruminations.  I, like Brian Jacques at point, was wondering “What happened to the magic?!”

Jacques went off and wrote his own magic, and the gift he receives is in the giving, and with all the humility in the world.  As he once stated it:

“I don’t worry so much about the prizes for books, the accolade for me is the kids.  And the librarians, who’ve had an education, who are looking at a scalawag, who’s conned his way in—an exlongshoreman, ex-seaman, ex-truckdriver, who’s suddenly popped up as an author — and they say, “Oh, Mr. Jacques, we love your books.” I think, isn’t that nice, here are these people with this great education speaking to me as if I’m somebody—it’s a big thing.”

I thank him for creating magic and sharing it with the rest of the world,  especially late  thirtysomethings like myself who need some reminding.  His death two years ago today left many heartbroken.  But take heart, I think Jacques would say: join me anytime between the pages of Redwall.