Saturday, February 6, 2016

Four More Hymns

I actually had a whole day off from work today, and I'm still getting used to the loneliness since my parents moved out of state and I'm in my own digs again, so although it was a beautiful day outside I spent swaths of it writing hymns. Here are the results, pushing me closer to my 200-hymn goal.

188. Intercession for the Sick
I couldn't decide between two tunes for this hymn. The first, of Welsh extraction, is CAERGYBI by John D. Roberts, 1883:
The second, from the Slovak tradition, is ROK NOVÝ, from T. Závorka’s Kancional, 1602:
Lord Christ, made known in being kind
To those unclean, lame, fevered, blind,
Those sick in body and in mind:
Be merciful, we pray!

For those now ill or bearing pain,
Show healing mercy once again;
Let patient peace within them reign
Along affliction’s way!

Uphold their faith throughout this test,
Assuring them You mean the best;
Let those who care for them be blest
With faithful words to say!

Give their physicians, nurses, aides,
Skill that becomes their honored trades;
Guide them, with love that never fades,
To do their best today!

Bless those who anxious vigils keep
By loved ones sinking, slow and deep;
Help them accept Your gift of sleep
For that exhausted clay!

Should their affliction end in death,
Take them, O Lord, who gave them breath;
In heaven, gather them beneath
Your throne until that Day!

And so, Lord Christ, Your will be done!
Be they restored to us or gone,
You are the Health of flesh and bone,
Our spirit’s Rest and Stay!

189. Hymn for Troubled Families
For this hymn, I went back to my own tune HOLY BODY, which I wrote in 2014 for my hymn on the fifth commandment, "You shall not murder."
Man and woman You created,
Lord, the parents of our race;
Though unlike, Your purpose mated
Two as one in loving grace.
When a marriage now is troubled,
Cause Your blessing to be doubled
On the bond You set in place!

Grant that he may do his duty
As her shield from shame and harm;
Grant that she, his grace and beauty,
May hold up his heart and arm!
Help them, sharing all together,
Every storm and strain to weather,
Temper cool and bosom warm!

When their first love’s heat is waning,
Let a stronger take its place:
Caring for each other, gaining
Second selves through active grace!
One another’s burdens bearing,
Friendship and forgiveness sharing,
May new love the old erase!

Should their children be divided
Or deprived of homely peace,
By Your word let them be guided;
Bless their conflict with release!
Every grudge with mercy lighten;
Shared respect and patience heighten;
Let Your healing love have lease!

If at last, dear Lord, their severance
Proves to be the lesser sin,
Through their penitential reverence
Pardon them, that they may win
With the church, Your bride, communion,
Till You consummate the union
And we rise, one cherished kin!

190. Hymn for Healing of Division
For this hymn I chose the 15th-century Bohemian tune SÆLIR ERU TRÚADIR, which I associate with Hallgrimur Petursson's Icelandic Passion hymn, "And then the Savior turned," a segment on Peter's denial of Jesus from a most impressive sequence of sacred poems. It was a tough meter to work with, though!
O Christ, the church’s Head,
Heal her divisions,
Nor let her be misled
By lying visions!

When You were bruised and torn,
For her sake bleeding,
The witness thereby borne
Let her be heeding!

You gave a dying thief
The hope of living;
You bore men’s unbelief,
Their scorn forgiving.

Your sin-atoning death,
Our pardon buying,
Is now our ground of faith,
Our hope while dying.

Since You died in our place,
God’s favor sealing,
So surely must that grace
Shape all our dealing!

You bade us, Lord, forgive
Our erring brother,
And as the servant live
Each of the other.

You prayed that we be one,
With joy abounding;
Now let that prayer be done,
From our hearts sounding!

Behold! Your body still
With wounds is weeping,
Its members their own will
And counsel keeping.

Lo! Some Your lambs divide
Through wicked teaching;
Some open points decide,
Our union breaching.

From needless strife preserve
The church; and answer
Through us, with steady nerve,
False teaching’s cancer!

Provide us minds to see
Your wisdom clearly,
And hearts with all to be
United dearly!

Should, Lord, the church remain
On earth divided,
Present us once again,
Above, united!

191. Hymn for Courage
I was tempted to call this "Terrorism Hymn," but I didn't want to seem to be promoting terrorism. The tune, which I don't think quite works with this hymn (see particularly Line 2 of Stanza 1), is HEALING, and I wrote it in 2011 to go with this hymn for an occasion of grief.
O Lord, our Strength and Song,
Deliverance You give;
Since Your right hand is strong,
We shall not die, but live.
As war and terror seek
All nations to possess,
Surround the poor and weak
With walls of righteousness!

Christ, sprinkle Your true blood
On those called forth to serve
In evil times with good,
In dens of fear with nerve!
Lend courage to our hearts,
That we Your works may tell;
Defend us from the darts
Hurled by the prince of hell!

O Spirit, of whose gifts
The fear of God is one,
Give us a fear that lifts
Our eyes to Christ, His Son!
When all alarms are past
And we have fought the fight,
Draw us on high at last
With all the sons of light!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Two Hymns

186. Hymn for the Despised and Rejected
Here is another hymn that I planned to submit to one my hymn-composing friends for a brand-new, original tune. I had Isaiah 53 open before me as I wrote it. The designation "despised and rejected" describes three parties in this poem: first, Christ Himself; second, the faithful; and third, those whom Christ bids His church to serve in love. And yes, I know I got the rhyme scheme flipped around in stanza 3. I consciously decided to do that, partly out of necessity and partly because I thought it might be a clever way to signify the exchange aspect of the gospel.
To Christ, by men rejected,
Well-versed in scorn and grief,
For discipline elected
By blows without relief,
The prayer of the afflicted
Be now and e’er directed:
Let mercy be perfected,
And strengthen our belief!

Behold, what rage surprising
Meets them who trust You so:
The devil’s foul devising,
The world’s allure and woe,
False brothers’ ill advising,
Men’s lies, kings’ terrorizing,
Our very flesh comprising
An arch and bitter foe!

You, Lord, were not exempted,
But through all sorrows went,
Like us in all things tempted
And for that purpose sent.
God’s justice thereby vented,
Your sacrifice has scented
Our way of woe; contented,
We bear the world’s contempt.

And so in You believing,
In whom we find God’s grace,
Help us to walk, receiving
The outcast of our race;
To gather in the grieving,
The need of all relieving,
Our beggarhood perceiving
Before Your holy face!

187. Timothy Hymn: For Faithful Youth
This is one of those hymns from the "Heroes of the Faith" section of my hymn-book, but unlike some of the others, it doesn't recite the deeds of the biblical character. It simply uses him as an illustration of the concept of faithful youth, which should be a major theme in the church's prayer in every generation, not only because we want our kids to be saved but also because the next generation will need faithful leaders of its own. The women named in stanza 3 are Timothy's grandmother and mother, held up by Paul in 2 Timothy 1 as witnesses of the sincere faith in which Timothy, his spiritual son, was brought up from childhood. Again, although I have written a tune that will fit these lyrics, I do not want to re-use it for what would be the third time; so I am floating it among my hymn-composing brethren (and sistren) to see what original tunes they can cook up.
Hold fast, younger sisters, brothers,
To the true faith you received
Through your godly fathers, mothers,
Who passed on what they believed
And for you with tears have prayed!
Your salvation’s price is paid;
On a Rock unlike all others
Is your faith’s foundation laid!

Even if your way seem humble,
Other ways more smooth and broad,
And your footsteps sway or stumble,
Lean on Christ, the Word of God!
For God’s power, joy and light
Are of faith and not of sight;
While earth’s edifices crumble,
His forgiveness sets you right.

Though your Lois, Paul, or Eunice
May be long in years, or sleep,
They yet share the wondrous newness
Of God’s mercies broad and deep.
For the gospel dares to say
Christ took sin and death away;
Now we count with pressing fewness
Days remaining till His Day.

Lord, we therefore pray, send latter
Timothies, such faithful youth,
Whose late vintage will not matter,
Only that they know the truth!
Form them for your church’s need,
Future youth in You to lead,
Gathering where others scatter,
On sound words Your lambs to feed!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

185. Hymn for a Cheerful Heart

Here is another hymn I am farming out to my hymn-writing friends to supply it an original tune. I wrote it with one of my own tunes in mind, but I've already over-used that tune, so an infusion of fresh melody is in order. Plus, I think something is needed to lighten up the tone of the planned hymn-book a bit... but just a bit.

Dear Lord, whose presence fills the heart with joy,
Give us the gift no trouble can destroy:
To know Your promises with pleasure keen;
To grasp by faith the kingdom not yet seen!

A broken heart You, God, will not despise;
Yet lest our bones grow dry, lift up our eyes!
Grant us the fruit Your Spirit can impart:
To taste that healing draft, a cheerful heart!

To bring us joy, O Christ, you gave your word;
That it may be complete, let it be heard!
As You blessed merry Cana with good wine,
In what You bid us drink, let gladness shine!

Poured out for us, You drank the cup of woe,
That all who taste Your cup Your death might show;
And so as we Your cross and nailmarks bear,
Let us as well Your Easter triumph share!

Though past may haunt and present may annoy,
Sustain in us the hope of future joy
That, grasping even now the life to come,
We might with joy draw near our heav’nly home!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Iron Trial

The Iron Trial
by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Recommended Ages: 12+

Shortly after his birth, Callum Hunt was the sole survivor of a massacre in a magical war. His father, arriving too late to witness the carnage, found him badly injured in an ice cave near the body of his mother, whose dying act was to scratch the words "DESTROY THE CHILD" in the ice.

From that gruesome beginning, Call grows up being taught to hate the world of magic by a father who blames magicians for the loss of his wife. When the time comes for him to take the entrance exam to the Magisterium, the underground school of magic where his parents met, Call is convinced his only option is to throw the test. But even though he tries to fail it, he gets accepted as one of three apprentices to Master Rufus, the senior mage who trained his father.

His next hope is to get thrown out of the school, but against his father's dire warnings and in spite of Rufus' tough approach to teaching, he is soon caught up in a feeling of belonging like none he has ever felt before. His fellow apprentices include Tamara, a legacy student who has a hard time living down her family's past mistakes; Aaron, an extremely powerful young mage who has never known a family of his own; Jasper, a snotty rich kid cut out of the Draco Malfoy mold; Celia, a pretty girl who seems attracted to bad boys; and Drew, who seems slow to accept the fact that the Magisterium isn't a pony school.

Call is a fun main character, full of mischief and prone to hilarious pratfalls. When he isn't making trouble, he shows promise of being an important wizard in the fight against evil someday. But then again, somebody at the school is up to no good, and just when a new champion is revealed in the war against the enemy who massacred Call's mother - an enemy who believed to be biding his time during the long years of a truce, gathering forces for another attack - Call learns a terrible truth about his own truth in all this, a truth that may affect which side of the line between good and evil he comes down on.

By this time, readers will care enough about Call and his friends to be on pins and needles as the five-book Magisterium series moves on to Book 2, The Copper Gauntlet. This series is a collaboration between two New England based teen fantasy authors - one known for the Spiderwick Chronicles and such Modern Faerie Tales as Tithe, the other for the Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices series. If the series lives up to the promise shown by this book, it may be their biggest success.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

184. Onesimus & Philemon Hymn

The full topic/title of this hymn is "Onesimus & Philemon; Honor in Humble Service." These "heroes of the faith" were a runaway slave and his master, both of whom (while separated) came to Christ through the apostle Paul, who then reunited them. The whole story is sketched out in Philemon, the briefest of Paul's New Testament epistles. As a last resort I could pair the hymn with a tune I have used before, CHRISTE, WAHRES SEELENLICHT; but I am hoping I can stir up one of my hymn-writing friends to contribute an original tune, and one better structured to make sense of the rhyme scheme.

Christ, to serve all men You came,
Lashed and bound to set us free,
Crowned with thorn, arrayed in shame,
Kissed with whip, enthroned on tree,
Forced a bitter wine to drink:
When on humble tasks we think,
Call to mind Your lordly fame
Set aside on Calvary!

One Onésimus, a man
Useful more in name than deed,
Fled his master, ere God’s plan
Bade Paul plant the gospel seed.
Thus did Christ, their Lord and Slave,
Choose both slave and lord to save;
What in uselessness began
Was for useful service freed.

Well the one served Paul in chains;
Yet though slave and free are one,
Paul commended him with pains
To his lord, Paul’s other son:
Both begotten by one word,
Equal grace on each conferred,
Cleansed alike of vice’s stains,
Aught between them pardoned, done.

Lord, as with Onesimus,
Make us willing, patient, true,
Brave, devout, industrious,
Fruitful, useful unto You.
Like Philemon, let us live
Fellow sinners to forgive,
And to those be generous
Who the deeds of service do!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Three Robbie Stories

When I begin a phone call to my mother with the words, "I have a Robbie story for you," I can be sure the conversation will end with her wiping tears of laughter off her cheeks and saying something like, "I really needed that."

For those tuning in late, "Robbie stories" are what my mother and I call the tales of my own stupidity and bad luck, which either happen only to me or are just remembered that way because I make a point of telling them well.

When she introduced me to her current fiance, the first thing she wanted me to do was tell him some of my Robbie stories, the way that always makes her laugh.

I have had three Robbie stories for her since I moved into my present rented house in Versailles, Mo. By way of remembering them for future chin-wags, here they are.

Robbie and the Sauerkraut Sandwich

Don't cry.
So I was lying in bed one night, torn between wanting to sleep and fear of continuing to have the same dream that had been plaguing me for hours. It wasn't a frightening dream; it was, in fact, a very boring dream. A very, very, very boring dream. It was a dream about being at work, struggling through a task so tedious that it should have put me to sleep, but instead it kept waking me up out of sheer horror that anything could be so dull. Every time I started to drift off, the same dream came back.

I finally decided I would rather lose a night's sleep than put up with that dream any longer, so I got out of bed and went - where else? - to the kitchen. Perusing the contents of the fridge, I realized it contained an unopened jar of sauerkraut which, with some ketchup and salad dressing and a couple slices of bread, could make a meatless, cheeseless Reuben. At 3 a.m. in a night turned topsy-turvy by stupid dreams, that somehow seemed a good idea. While I was making it, I thought, I'll brew a cup of chamomile tea to help me sleep afterward.

I took out two slices of bread. I smeared ketchup on one slice and salad dressing on the other. Then I started trying to open the sealed jar of sauerkraut. I strained at it. I changed my grip. I sweated. I grunted. I gnashed my teeth. I banged it on the counter. By no amount of effort in my power could I break that seal. And then, suddenly, it popped; I was so surprised, I lost my grip on the jar and it went flying.

My one stroke of good luck is that the jar did not shatter when it landed on its side across the slices of ketchup- and salad dressing-smeared bread. It did, however, eject a third of its contents all over the counter and into the sink. Sauerkraut and sauerkraut juice everywhere. I had to pick up everything on the counter and mop under it with paper towels. I had to wash ketchup and salad dressing off the outside of the jar. I had to pick up globs of sauerkraut and throw them away. I also had to throw away a cereal box that had been standing on the counter, and that was now saturated with sauerkraut juice; the cereal, safe inside a waxed paper bag with a chip-clip holding it shut, survived.

I also had to fish sauerkraut out of the kitchen drain. I'm afraid some of it got away from me. To this day, weeks later, that drain is still blocked - mostly, I suspect, with slices of fermented cabbage. And that's after being treated with two bottles of gelatinous blocked-drain solvent. When I wash dishes or utensils, it takes half a day for the sink to empty. It goes nicely with my oven, which is still so filthy from the previous tenant never having cleaned it that I have yet to bake anything in it. (I emptied a can of foaming oven cleaner into it once, but it didn't foam up and I gave up the idea of cleaning it.)

Of course, the sauerkraut juice soaked into the bread, and I had to throw that away too, uneaten. But luckily, my cup of chamomile tea was still brewing, and it looked all right. I carried it to the wastebasket to dispose of the teabag - whereupon I fumbled the teacup, spilling two-thirds of the beverage over the outside of the wastebasket and on the floor. Now I had to get down on hands and knees, with wads of paper towel, and mop up yellow, sweet-grass scented tea.

When my work was done, all I had to show for it was a third of a cup of chamomile tea, room temperature, and a blocked kitchen sink. I definitely should have stayed in bed.

Robbie and the Bed Casters

You know. These.
Part of my excitement about moving out of my parents' guest room and into my own house was based on the realization that, after 15 months on a mattress and box spring that lost their ability to support a grown person's weight years ago, I could finally sleep on my own bed again. But then I couldn't find the casters that went with my metal bed frame. I knew where they should have been - at the bottom of one of two RubberMaid barrels I used to store lawn and garden supplies, such as hosepipe and hedge trimmers - but they didn't seem to be there.

I looked and looked, but did not find. So in desperation, I went to a hardware store and spent more money than I wished on two pairs of cheap little casters. When I inserted them in the holes in the bed frame's legs, they immediately tried to slide out again, but with only a little difficulty I managed to get them all on.

Over the next couple of weeks, I found sleeping in my own bed less comfortable than I had expected. Partly this was because I seemed to be lying on a slope. One side of my bed stood distinctly higher than the other. I wanted to roll off it toward the right, and had to hang on for dear life toward the left. I partly put this down to the unevenness of my house's floors, which in places was so pronounced that I reckoned it only a matter of time until I stumbled, for example, head foremost into the toilet, or collided with the grandfather clock in the hallway. But I also suspected the new casters weren't seated quite right.

One day I got down on my knees and looked at the casters. And behold, the one at the lower right corner of the bed (as I lay on it face-up) had actually buckled under the weight. I pulled all four casters off and threw them in the garbage, then dug in that RubberMaid barrel one more time and, amazingly, fished out the original, heavier-duty casters.

I'm glad they're on, though the bed still feels tilted. A drawback of both sets of casters, however, is that the bed likes to roll around on the bedroom's hardwood floor. I get on the bed at night and it moves. I get out of the bed and it moves. I make the bed in the morning and it moves. This can be a good thing, as I need to move around the bed to tuck sheets in and so on. But it can also be a bad thing, as I learned one night when I had propped myself up in a sitting position, using every pillow I own, because of headache and acid reflux.

Sometime in the middle of that night, my weight leaning against all those pillows, leaning in turn against the wall at the head of the bed, caused the bed under me to move away from the wall. Most of the pile of pillows then dropped into the gap between the bed and the wall. And that is where the excellent builders of my house located the power outlet where I plug in my bedside lamp and alarm clock.

I haven't mentioned it before, but all the power outlets in my house lack the ability to grip prongs of an electrical plug. I've had to experiment with bending the prongs, balancing the plugs just so, and sometimes just pushing things against them to keep appliances like lamps and space heaters plugged in. I guess it's the head of my bed that keeps my alarm clock plugged in. The way my bed rolls freely on its casters and the hardwood floor, this has often been a concern to me. But that night it wasn't the bed's movement but the collapsing tower of pillows that pulled my alarm clock's plug out of the wall outlet.

So, because of those bloody bed casters - without which my bed frame would be gouging cracks in those nice floorboards - I had to get out of bed in the middle of the night, rearrange all the pillows, make the bed, and re-set the alarm clock. I'm starting to think about shopping for a hammock. Or at least bed-frame caster cups.

Robbie and the Hanging Clothes

Last Saturday I spent the morning at what I later learned was the more grungy of the two laundromats in Versailles, Mo. Nevertheless, I managed to get all my clothes cleaned, dried, and neatly folded or hung on hangers. I put the hanging pants in one basket, folded over, and hanging shirts in another, and loaded them into the car with the baskets of folded clothes.

When I reached home, the first thing to happen when I opened the back door of my car is that the basket of hanging pants rolled straight out onto the unpaved driveway, landing open-side down.

I immediately picked it up and brought it into the house, where I inspected the damage. Somehow every pair of pants had picked up a coating of dirt, dried grass clippings and fragments of dead leaves, etc. So had the inside and outside surfaces of the basket. I had to brush dirt off both sides of every single pair of pants and brush out the basket. I cannot begin to explain how, in one brief contact, all that dirt got into all those places. The closest thing I can get to an explanation is, "Of course it would, because I'm Robbie. This is the kind of thing that always happens to me."

Two by Alexander McCall Smith

The Good Husband of Zebra Drive
by Alexander McCall Smith
Recommended Ages: 13+

In the eighth novel of the Number One Ladies' Detective Agency, that series of charming diversions set in the African country of Botswana by a Zimbabwe-born Scottish writer, Mma Ramotswe lets her husband, a good man and a good auto mechanic, try his hand at detection. She also has a near miss with losing her trusty assistant, for since Mma Makutsi became engaged to the heir of a successful furniture store, she has started to chafe against being a mere assistant.

Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni is assigned to help the rudest woman in Botswana find out if her husband is cheating on her. Partly because of her brusque refusal to give him a clear description of her husband's car, he inadvertently follows the wrong man in an embarrassing mistake that, by luck, turns out for the best.

Both Mma Makutsi and Charlie, the older of Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni's two silly young apprentices, try their luck with other careers. Mma Makutsi's rash resignation lasts half a day before a humiliating encounter with her secretarial-school nemesis sends her running back to the detective agency. Charlie's attempt to launch the Number One Ladies' Taxi Service comes to an ignominious end before it has even started.

Meanwhile, the agency solves a couple mysteries in the low-key, down-to-earth way typical of the series. Mma Makutsi flushes out a thief who is stealing from his employer by offering a piece of advice based on a flawed understanding of human nature. Mma Ramotswe discovers the crime behind the unexplained deaths of three hospital patients and, surprisingly, it isn't murder. Even Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni foils a criminal conspiracy. But as in their other adventures, the most interesting discoveries they make are about their relationships among each other.

I am slowly but steadily working my way through this series and one or two others by the same author. I enjoy them for their economy of language, their gentle insight into human character, their sense of humor, and their flashes of lyricism shined upon a culture and a country of largely unsung beauty.

This review was based in part on an audiobook read by Lisette Lecat, and in part by a hardcover copy, both borrowed from the local public library. The next book in the series is The Miracle at Speedy Motors.

Friends, Lovers, Chocolate
by Alexander McCall Smith
Recommended Ages: 14+

In the sequel to The Sunday Philosophy Club, Isabel Dalhousie of Edinburgh, Scotland reflects, as moral philosophers do, on duty, weakness of will, and even whether memory may be seated somewhere other than the brain. Along the way she is diverted by a mystery in which a heart transplant recipient seems to have received, as well, the donor's dying memory of the face of his killer.

For one thing, her niece Cat returns from attending a wedding in Italy, followed by a handsome Italian suitor who is closer to Isabel's age. While she considers trying to seduce Tomasso and enjoying herself a bit, she struggles with concern about Jamie, Cat's ex-boyfriend, for whom she harbors inappropriate feelings while he only wants Cat back. Her advice, when bassoonist Jamie tells her he plans to turn down an offer from the London Symphony Orchestra in order to stay close to Cat, is both hard for her to give and nearly the end of their friendship.

In the midst of these personal dilemmas, Isabel agrees to help a man named Ian explore the meaning of the painful flashes of memory that he fears will lead him to reject his new heart. Not for the first time, her sleuthing - what someone with a less finely calibrated sense of ethical duty might even call nosing into other people's business - puts her in possible danger, when she recognizes the man following her on the street as the possible killer of Ian's heart donor. As in her previous case, though, the real solution turns out to have more to do with the pain of a young man's surviving loved ones, with the healing of guilt and grief.

In this series, the Scottish author of the Number One Ladies' Detective Agency series displays more of his proprietary blend of humor, scenic and cultural charm, reflection on matters of character, and mystery-suspense that simmers on low heat. McCall Smith hits notes I have heard him play before, including references to en brosse haircuts and akrasia (cf. 44 Scotland Street), but these references have a comforting familiarity, much like how fans of his Botswana-based novels might take comfort in their repeated references to Mma Ramotswe's "traditional build" and Mma Makutsi's "difficult skin," etc. The Edinburgh setting has its own palate of colors that the artist uses in all the books he sets there, until certain phrases simply evoke Edinburgh. When I tire of them, I will stop reading them. For now, though, I just hope the local library system can supply me with the third book in this series: The Right Attitude to Rain.