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:
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, holy, and 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.”
are dearly loved.
Just passing it along.
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.
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,
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
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-
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.
“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,
He’s only a plonky ya know.
There’s no harm in it.
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
The ole do’s.
Hey, they were all right.
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
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.”
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.