Tuesday, December 23, 2014

An Irish Country Doctor

An Irish Country Doctor
by Patrick Taylor
Recommended Ages: 14+

Audio-book reader John Keating put on accents from the length and breadth of the emerald isle in this first book of the Irish Country series, featuring a young physician in Northern Ireland who falls in love with the tiny Ulster town of Ballybucklebo.

Fresh out of medical school in Belfast, Dr. Barry Laverty decides to give general practice a try under the mentorship of senior Dr. Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly. The crusty old doctor lives by the motto, "Never let the patient get the upper hand." Together with a motherly housekeeper named Kinky, a pretty engineering student named Patricia and a villageful of quirky characters, he gives Barry a first month of medical practice to remember.

While there is a lot of medical detail suited to the 1960s setting, the book is as much a romantic comedy as a portrait of a family physician at the start of his career. An adult content advisory is in order, not only because of the book's depiction of gross anatomy in all its grossness, but also because of its salty language, fairly frank sexuality, and some social and political issues parents may want to be prepared to discuss with their kids.

Unless the tykes are really into medicine, though, my guess is this book will appeal more to the grown-up reader's nostalgic streak. The spicy, rustic charm that makes Ireland a favorite holiday destination for American tourists may also bring them in, especially since the tension between Catholics and Protestants is toned down to an all but anachronistic mildness.

This 2007 novel is the first of already 10 novels, counting An Irish Doctor in Love and at Sea, which is due to be released in 2015. There are also two books of short stories based on the series. I am already enjoying the second book, An Irish Country Village.

Stepped Over

Here's a photo that was "stepped over," to borrow a phrase from Fredo Corleone. The picture I took of the interview subjects was originally supposed to go with the story I wrote about them. They asked me to use a photo they submitted instead. So, an orphan was created:

Steven Coy, left, and his mother Vicky Coy visit with the Press Wednesday, Dec. 17 at Marriott’s Circle M Cafe in Stover. Stephen is visiting home after his first semester at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Okla.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Scratched and Dented 8

I think this post may wrap up my series of hymns redacted from the sub-par material in my college and high school poetry album. The amount of work required by these updates has ranged from repairing a capitalization issue here and there to rewriting the whole hymn almost out of recognition. I have tried to keep the best word choices, images, and biblical allusions while destroying hideous lapses in taste. I have tightened up bloated prosody and expanded on thoughts that seemed too laconic. I have added stanzas, deleted stanzas, altered the meter of stanzas, and solved technical difficulties I must have given up on twenty years ago when I was thinner in the middle and thicker on top. Here are the last few specimens in the binder... (EDIT: Numbering added later.)

97. Stewardship Hymn

Thanks to Christ our Savior be,
Who has given graciously
Present and eternal treasures
Through His life of poverty.

By His sorrow we are healed,
By His crucifixion sealed
Into life and heav'nly pleasures;
Therefore we all praises yield.

Jesus' misery has earned
Peace for us, who here have learned
Life and wisdom without measure;
What have we in faith returned?

By His word His love is spread
And the lost from darkness led;
Shall we sit at fruitless leisure,
Self-secure and overfed?

Rather let us first-fruits bring,
Thanking Him for everything;
Now proclaim His boundless mercy
And to His rich promise cling!

In the Lord who for us died,
In the God who will provide
Trusting, let us render off'rings
That His gifts be multiplied.

Let the Church proceed unbound,
Bursting forth with joyful sound;
Add our voices to the measure:
Life and light in Christ abound!

98. In the World but Not of the World

Lord, from the shadow of toil and pain
We cry, perplexed and with longing sore,
Praying to fly to Your endless reign
When time and terror will be no more.

This fallen world where today we dwell,
But a dim image of that to come,
Offers no shelter from sin and hell
Nor strength to reach our eternal home.

Is it our office to change this state
Or to endure and obey with grace?
God help us meet this unclosed debate,
Keeping Your word in its rightful place:

Highest, that is, of our norms and rules,
First in our comforts and guides to truth,
In all our labors foremost of tools,
Leading us out of the tears of earth!

Therefore the duty all Christians share
Over all duties is to Your word:
Telling the news that our Savior fair
For love of sinners His blood outpoured.

This news proclaiming, our highest task,
Also will bring us the deepest pain;
For stronger faith, Lord, we humbly ask,
Lest to Your name we bring any shame.

Not of this world, Savior, is Your church;
Yet in this world is our life and care.
Help us, we pray, to complete our work
And help each other his cross to bear.

Lighten our burden and speed the end;
Stir up our prayers with devotion true!
Come, Lord, with thunder our tombs to rend;
To brighter mansions bring us with You!

99. Ponder, heart, this table (dated March 1992)

Ponder, heart, this table
Of fellowship and grace,
Where my solemn spirit
Beholds the Savior's face.
Approach, my soul in fear;
A mystery is here,
Whereby my guilt is lifted off
And faith put in its place.

On the dreadful evening
In which He was betrayed
Jesus, our Passover,
Gave thanks and blessed the bread.
"I share My flesh with you;
This is My body true!
Remember me by doing this,"
Unto the twelve He said.

After they had eaten,
The Savior took the wine;
Giving thanks, He told them:
"This issue of the vine
I give here for your good;
I say it is My blood,
Which I am shedding for your sins,
A testament of Mine."

Thus the Lord completed
What He had long prepared,
Since from death in Egypt
Were Jacob's children spared.
God's sword passed over them
Who sacrificed the lamb,
Among whom by the Lord's command
The victim's flesh was shared.

Even when Isaiah
Before the awful throne
Wept that his uncleanness
He could not cleanse alone,
The sacrificial coal
To cleanse his sinful soul
Was but the altar sacrifice
That for His sin atoned.

All these things were figures
Of the redeeming pains
When Christ gave His body,
And of His outpoured veins.
Lord, let us humbly think
Before we eat and drink
Upon the Lamb of Calvary
Who whitens all our stains!

Precious Jesus, let us
With penitence draw near!
Give us eyes in spirit
To see Your mercy here.
Oh, let our hearts believe
That heart and mouth receive
Your body and Your holy blood,
And grow in godly cheer!

That last one brings back some warm, fuzzy memories. I wrote a musical setting of it that one or two church choirs actually sang, and that was before I knew anything about writing music. And now, to conclude...

100. Advent Hymn

Cry the captives at the river:
Must we sing in bonds forever?
Come, Anointed One, deliver
Us from out the chains of sin!
Let us see Jerusalem
And our rest from sorrow claim;
There with saints and martyrs ever
Shall we glorify Your name!

Cry the slaughtered children, praying:
Shall the day be long delaying?
Soon the trumpet must be playing
Loud the triumph of the Lamb!
Loose Your fury on the land,
Razing mountains with Your hand!
Hasten, from the world's decaying
Spare Your humble pilgrim band!

Cries the church on earth, imploring,
Every challenge fast enduring:
Longer still? Your peace assuring,
Give us strength to pass the test!
Says the Lord, "Wait but a while,
That your faith be proved by fire;
Soon enough I shall be curing
All your sorrows, little child!"

Says the Lord, "Rejoice, you nations!
All your longing expectation
Of the Day of your salvation
Hastens to completion now.
Child, take heart and patiently
Watch and pray, prepared for Me;
All the signs approach completion
For the Day I'll set you free!"

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Scratched and Dented 7

In case you are tuning in late, this post is part of a series refurbishing dreadful hymns that I wrote when I was in high school or college. It consists of a metrical paraphrase of the Athanasian Creed that I actually submitted for publication in a hymnal - which, however, printed a different (and probably better) execution of the same idea by a certain Henry Bartels, whom I once had the honor to meet. His version, if memory serves, begins with the line "Whoever would be saved" and is set to the tune MEIN SCHOEPFER, STEH MIR BEI. Mine was written in a less fortunate meter and had to be set to a tune of my own composition, which I no longer consider share-worthy. So one of my aims in updating this paraphrase is to adjust the meter so it can be sung to a better tune. Actually making it a hymn worth singing in worship may be beyond my powers, especially since the custom in most churches is to confess this creed at most once or twice a year. Oh, well! For what it's worth: (EDIT: Hymn number added)

96. Athanasian Creed Hymn

He who would be saved must hold
To the holy Christian faith
Or incur eternal death.
Now this is the faith of old:
God the Lord is Three in One,
Father, Holy Ghost and Son.
Hailing Him the Trinity,
We uphold His unity;
Essence one yet Persons three
We confess with certainty.

Of the Father there is one;
One Son on the mercy-seat;
One the Holy Paraclete.
Each is fully God alone,
Lord unmade and infinite,
Timeless each, and full of might.
Yet our God and Lord is one;
Uncreate, eternal - one;
Infinite, almighty - one;
Altogether, only one!

While in Christian truth must we
Call each Person God and Lord,
No untruth is so abhorred
As to say three gods there be.
God the Father, made of naught,
Ere the world or time was wrought
Sired His uncreated Seed;
Son and Father, one indeed,
One in force, in will agreed,
Caused the Spirit to proceed.

Lest in error we be caught,
We affirm one Lord to be:
But one Father, never three,
Nor three Sons but one is taught,
And one Ghost, no more nor less.
Thus we heartily confess
Equally, eternally
Each Person full God to be;
For without the Trinity
No flesh would salvation see.

Likewise, he who would be saved
Must correctly understand
How God's Son became a man.
Out of love the Father gave
His Son into sin's domain,
That He might destroy death's reign.
Mary's Son is God and Man;
He who laid creation's plan
Breathed our air and walked the land,
Sinless bore God's chiding hand.

Substance of His Father, now
Born into His mother's flesh,
Born in time from timelessness:
Mortals cannot fathom how
Perfect Godhead ever can
Join Himself to perfect Man:
Joined to human flesh and soul,
Less than God as man below,
Equal to the Father's whole:
Yet such is the Christ we know.

Christ is One, yet not because
Manhood into God assayed;
God into a man was made
To fulfill as man God's laws,
That as all-sufficient Lamb
God might die for sinful man.
As men's souls in flesh abide
Are these natures unified;
Even after He had died,
God and Man could none divide.

Jesus suffered for our sin
And descended into hell,
His completed work to tell;
He arose and rules in heav'n,
Whence He shall return with dread
To arraign both quick and dead.
All shall rise, their works to tell,
Some for sentencing to hell,
Those who trust in Christ to dwell
Where, with Him, all will be well.

Scratched and Dented 5

Still more hymns from my college poetry album of the mid-1990s, somewhat refurbished. Note that the posts are numbered out of order because this was saved as a draft when I posted the sixth installment. Oops! (EDIT: Hymn numbers added)

86. Exsurgat Deus (Psalm 68)

Let God arise! He routs the foe,
That those who hate Him flee in their distress;
They melt as wax, as smoke they blow,
Choosing destruction over righteousness.

They cling to works, disparage grace,
Themselves they judge unfit for life in heaven;
So are they judged, though in their place
Once and for all a ransom had been given.

Therefore rejoice, His name exalt,
All who are righteous in the Father's sight!
He sees in you no stain or fault,
By His Lamb's blood made blemishless and bright.

Through Him forgiveness is declared.
By Moses can no flesh be justified,
But those who trust in Christ are spared,
Receiving life from Him who for them died.

By grace alone, O Lord, we trust!
By faith alone can we this gift receive.
Through Christ alone, bowed to the dust,
We beg your pardon and in hope believe.

87. Freedom Song

Our salvation is God's will!
Let no tongue or heart be still;
All the world with praise must fill,
For our salvation is God's will.

We are loosed from Satan's chains
By our Savior's mortal pains;
Tell him, tell him who complains
That we are loosed from Satan's chains!

What should make the Christian mourn,
Now our veil of gloom is torn?
Christ has blunted death's sharp thorn,
So what should make the Christian mourn?

Jesus Christ has set us free!
When He comes in glory, we
In our flesh His day shall see,
For Jesus Christ has set us free!

88. Sign or Norm

If I must have some sign or norm
Upon my heart impressed,
Let me to Your pure Word conform;
Your will, Lord, is the best.

All men live in conformity
To patterns of some kind;
Dear Savior from eternity,
Pray make Your mercy mine.

If I must be some master's slave,
And if my will be bound,
From Satan's chains, Lord Jesus, save;
Let me in You be found.

My will enslaved to Yours, O God,
Your Spirit to obey -
What joy! that cleansed by Jesus' blood,
I'd serve You night and day!

Your cross shall be my daily guide,
My model and my stay.
By faith I would in You abide;
Permit it, Lord, I pray!

If I must have a resting-place,
An endless home somewhere,
I know a house built by Your grace;
Dear Savior, lead me there!

89. Law and Gospel Hymn

Thank God, His word shall never fail:
Both chast'ning rod and suit of mail,
Whereby He batters me with threats
And sets me free from all my debts.

Had I not felt His Law's reproach,
No grace my icy heart could broach;
But once it crushed me to the ground,
How sweet became the Gospel's sound!

Built on this Rock, what will I fear?
The devil cannot steal my cheer.
His wiles are but an empty jest;
In this true Rock is all my rest.

I lift my voice to Christ the Lord,
Repeating all that I have heard:
His voice of thunder, dread and might
Becomes my refuge and delight.

With this Bread I am satisfied;
Filled with His fullness I'll abide.
This living Water, fresh and pure,
Shall be my thirst's eternal cure.

Dear Word that kills and makes alive,
Both wounds and heals, I now derive
A life worth living, full and free:
Not of myself, but Christ in me!

90. Magnificat Hymn

Soul, declare: The Lord is great!
Spirit, praise your mighty guest!
He has seen His servant's state;
All the world will call me blest!

Let all men His mercy sing:
Holy is God's name! For He
Has done such a mighty thing,
Such a mighty thing for me!

Mercy He returns for fear
Faithfully from age to age;
He shows favor to the poor,
All their hunger to assuage.

Pride He routs in its conceit;
Humble ones He lifts on high.
Kings He topples from their seat,
Rich ones' wealth He sends awry.

He gives plenty to the poor,
None to selfish hypocrites.
He rewards His servants for
Trusting in His promises.

Thus He spoke to men of old
Through the fathers' covenant,
And the ancient prophets told
Of the Savior lately sent.

Even Abram's sons are we
By the faith we now confess,
Trusting God eternally,
Credited with righteousness.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Scratched and Dented 6

I continue going through my college (mid-1990s) poetry album and airbrush some of the theological and literary enormities out of them. Here are a few more... (EDIT: Hymn numbers added)

91. Inheritance Hymn

Son from on high, of all things the Heir,
Maker of all, creating Word:
Under our flesh You humbly appeared;
No lie Your lips have spoken,
Yet our bad faith and sin You bear,
Willingly bleeding and broken.

Through this last testament in Your love
Triumph and life to us bequeath!
Seal our inheritance by Your death,
Our Kinsman and Defender!
All record of our sins remove,
All Your good legacy tender!

92. Palm Sunday Hymn

We welcome You, who humbly enter,
Crying hosanna, save us!
Hail to the King, in whom now center
All that the prophets gave us!
On a young donkey mounted
You ride in vict'ry and acclaim;
When the last hail is sounded
Will You establish Your great reign?

What steed is this for One so daunting,
Coming to save our nation?
Can He indeed bear shame and taunting
Who owns so high a station?
Deathward You ride, all-knowing,
Destined for Calv'ry's bloody hill;
Under the lashes bowing,
Can You be Lord and Victor still?

This week defeat and anguish gory
Shall be Your love's repayment;
Therefore why come You as in glory,
Though clad in humble raiment?
Here waits Your strife laborious,
Death but the last foe You will face;
When you arise victorious,
Lead us to dwell in You by grace!

93. Job 3:20-26 Hymn

Why then has the light been given
To the sore and bitter soul,
Longing for a rest from living
And all trouble, care and toil;
Digging for it as for gold,
Joying when the grave's sure hold
Quenches pain at last?

Why then has this life been given
Him whose way is ever hidd'n?
Do I not roar as a river?
Do I not wax feeble, thin?
All my dreads are coming true;
Days of ease are precious few
Ere the crisis comes!

Now amid the deepest shadows
My way through dark vales has turned;
Yet the Lord counts all my sorrows,
Lets none steal what He has earned.
I know my Redeemer lives!
Though my flesh worm-fodder gives,
I shall see His face!

94. Citadel Hymn

Almighty God, unto Your flock
Send shepherds plenty, bold and true,
That Your strong Word may be our rock.
While calling many, choosing few,
Your Word returns not void to You.
Lord shatter every stumbling block
The foe would lay upon our walk;
For faithful teachers, Christ, we sue.

Lord, turn the heathen from the grave,
And raise the worldly from their sleep;
The weak and foolish also save!
Dear Father, both forgive and keep
All who for strength and mercy weep.
For Jesus' sake, both Lord and slave,
We trust one seed: the Word He gave.
What You have planted, likewise reap!

Preserve Your church from all discord;
Let every heart in peace obey!
Lord, still the tongues that mock Your word,
For You are with us all the way.
As You in death's vile durance lay,
Yet rose, we too shall be restored;
So let Your grace on us be poured,
And send with haste that shining day!

All breathing life must sing and shout
The news that every tongue must tell;
And when the tidings have gone out,
Even the very powers of hell
Cannot the love of God dispel.
Astonish all the foe, and rout
The sneering armies round about;
Your Word, Lord, is our citadel!

95. Hymn for the Struggle against Sin

O Bridegroom, I await Your feast,
And long to see it ushered in;
I thirst and hunger for a taste,
Famished without and parched within.

Of Sin's vast table, spread worldwide,
I want not, yet I daily take;
Help me, my Bridegroom crucified,
To spurn her doubly poisoned cake!

Her first taint sours me to Your law;
Each morsel sears my conscience more.
Disgorging grace, Sin's second flaw,
Mocks and forgets the wounds You bore.

O wretched creature that I am!
Where must deliverance be found?
Praise to the slain yet living Lamb,
With whose pure righteousness I'm crowned!

You, Bridegroom, baptized in my shame,
Bore on the cross my guilt and sin;
So I am baptized in Your name,
Buried with You and raised again!

In You I can do anything;
To sin I'm dead, to Satan slain.
The world, the flesh yet daily bring
Their fatal charms to bear again.

What vigil can I keep for You
When sins, O Bridegroom, so abound?
But thanks, O faithful God, to You,
My guilt and death are also drowned.

Today Your blody and Your blood
Both heal my flesh and feed my soul;
Today I taste the heavenly food,
Tomorrow You will feed me full.

As You now live in me, I pray,
Let me so live in You, till I,
Kept in Your faith by grace each day,
Wake to Your banquet in the sky!

Out of Oz

Out of Oz
by Gregory Maguire
Recommended Ages: 14+

The final volume of The Wicked Years concludes a quartet of books set in the Oz universe created by children's author L. Frank Baum. Maguire, whose first book in this series inspired a popular stage musical, only thanks Baum in passing in an afterword, not to say an afterthought, following the acknowledgments at the end of this book. If it does not seem to me a very gracious expression of indebtedness to the creator of Oz, particularly after forcing his world of lighthearted nonsense to carry the burden of a very dark and very adult fantasy, it at least isn't as ungracious as Frank Beddor's reimagining of Wonderland, which casts Lewis Carroll as a mild pervert who got the story wrong. But I sense that both series come from approximately the same place: a feeling of grievance against the inherent falsehood of storytelling as traditionally practiced, combined with an ironic realization that the point is best made by building on its tropes. In another irony, both authors seem to find inspiration for their most original creations in the work of previous authors. This suggests their grievance may be misplaced, and a little more gratitude may be in order.

I suppose, though, one might also read gratitude toward Baum between the lines of this quartet. What Maguire has done here could be regarded as an homage, honoring the world Baum created by making it deeper, bigger, more complex and true to life. It's all a matter of how you read his tells. One tell may be the way he portrays Dorothy as an irritating misfit. Dorothy returns in this book, six years later in Kansas time and eighteen years later in Oz time, a little sadder but not much wiser, and finds herself on trial for her life for the murder of the Wicked Witch of the East. Separatist Munchkinland is at war with the rest of Oz, and both sides are having a rough time of it, and nothing boosts morale at a time of national crisis like a nice, juicy show trial.

The war ultimately hinges on the shoulder joints of dragons, which in turn hinge on the binding of a book of magic called the Grimmerie, which both sides want in order to get the upper, er, wing. Committed to keeping the book out of the wrong hands (namely, whichever side of the war would use it against the other) is a mismatched group of outsiders: the Cowardly Lion and his human wife, Elphaba's grown-up son Liir and his wife Candle, the dwarf who curates the prophetic Clock of the Time Dragon, and a runaway from a religious community who remembers the first time Dorothy arrived in Oz. They are joined by a silent, strange girl named Rain, and later by a boy named Tip whose true identity you should already know if you've read Baum's Oz books. I won't spoil the revelation here, except to note that it's even more awkward and painful than what Baum fans may recall.

Glinda is in this book too, in a segment that dramatizes the grimness of military occupation, and so are many other characters from earlier in the series. Maguire seems to have taken great pains to find all the loose ends from the first three books and tie them all up, to the extent his philosophy of story allows. In his acknowledgements he mentions someone who helped him index the first three books, which sounds like a bright idea for the author of a complex, multi-volume epic. Other familiar touches will include his riffs on Oz catch-phrases such as, "There's no place like home," and his love-knows-no-gender brand of explicit sexuality that earns an emphatic Adult Content Advisory.

In spite of himself, however, Maguire tells what turns out to be his most satisfying story in the series. His commitment to blowing up the reader's expectation of a tidy ending somehow doesn't prevent him from crafting a tale in which a raft of moving pieces come together in a well-timed climax and a convincing solution to the magical problems that afflict a magical world. And though he doesn't tell us that anyone lives happily ever after, the chance that they may find happiness somehow, sometime, remains. And that, in Maguire's storytelling space as well as the real world, is about as much as we can really hope for.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


Doesn't this look gorgeous? It's my stepmom's recipe for Italian salad. We whipped it up this morning so I could take it to the office Christmas party this afternoon. It's got cauliflower, broccoli, red onion, grape tomatoes, whole black olives, mushrooms and Italian dressing in it. Simple, but yummy!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Scratched and Dented 4

Aaaand still more hymns rescued from the abysmal mediocrity of my high school and (mostly) college poetry album. After a bit of touching up, maybe they're just a tad less mediocre. More on the order of "better than expected under the circumstances." (EDIT: Hymn numbers added)

80. Te Deum Hymn

To God we lift our song of praise,
Father and Lord from endless days:
All earth is raptly praying.
All angels cry aloud and sing,
Sun, moon and stars and everything,
Cherub and seraph saying:
Holy art Thou, Lord God of Hosts!
Earth, sky and all within them boast
Thy regal pomp and majesty;
The good apostles bend the knee;
The prophets also worship Thee
As one, Thy light displaying.

All who were slaughtered in Thy name
Laud, honor and adore the same,
Gathered beneath Thy great throne.
Thy holy universal church
That in Thy given scripture search,
Trust and confess Thee alone:
Father of endless majesty,
Author of life in verity;
Thy lovely, true and only Son,
By whom redemption's work was done;
And Spirit, Thou consoling one;
As One in Three art Thou known.

Thou, Christ, art King of majesty,
The Father's Son eternally,
True God of true God Thou art.
Thou undertook to rescue man,
Stooping, in Thy redeeming plan,
Of human flesh to take part.
In bands of death then wast Thou draped,
Yet from its sharpness Thou escaped,
Thus making wide Thy glorious hall
For all who heed Thy joyous call,
That mortal man need fear no pall
With faith in Thee in his heart.

At God's right hand art seated Thou,
Filled with His splendor even now;
Soon wilt Thou come returning,
Glad as the sun when ends the night;
Then shalt Thou judge us all aright,
Our deepest thoughts discerning.
Help us, Thy servants therefore pray,
For whom in bleeding Thou didst pay;
Count us among Thy blessed ones
O'er whom Thy tender mercy runs;
Strike out the evil we have done,
For which we should be burning.

Lord, save the people of Thy flock;
Bless their inheritance, O Rock;
Lead them, uplift them ever!
Each day, Thy greatness we proclaim,
Endlessly worshiping Thy name,
World without end, forever.
Keep us this day from sin, good Lord;
Thy will be done, Thy grace outpoured.
Lord, let Thy mercy be on us,
For in Thy kindness is our trust;
Grant, then, that hoping as I must,
I be confounded never.

81. Humiliation Hymn

Almighty God in lowly form
And frailest human flesh appears,
Unto a simple virgin born,
Fulfilling what of ages seers
Beheld across the chasm of years.

Among His sinful creatures dwelt
Their sinless Maker, yet His own
Spurned Him with spite, and evil dealt
God's holy and all-knowing Son,
By chosen Israel all unknown.

Our Prince in beggar's garment came;
In weakness came the Lord of might.
When earthly despots sought the same,
The King of kings and Lord of light
In midnight's darkest hour took flight.

Without a place to lay His head
Sojourned the God of providence;
With prostitutes and robbers fed
The Holy One, that penitence
Might starve their pride and decadence.

The voice that quelled the surging tide
And stilled the tempest by command
Turned not the waves of pain aside
Nor justice's unjust demand,
But, sinless, bore sin's reprimand.

Upon the cursèd tree was slain
The Righteous One in place of man,
Enduring all the sinner's pain:
God suff'ring by God's timeless plan
God's wrath, as God's unblemished Lamb.

In life brought low, and crushed in death,
Guiltless He bore our guilt and shame;
Therefore all having life and breath
Exalt the humbled Savior's name;
The glory of His cross proclaim!

82. Baptism Hymn

Purify this child, O Holy Ghost!
Ordinary water
Cannot save, for all in sin are lost
From our eldest father.
Yet this flood, infused with grace
Now regenerates our race.
Consecrate this child, O Lord,
Born by water and Your Word.

Blind and dead in sin we all would be,
Dead to our dear Savior;
From the womb and to eternity
We were lost forever!
As the flood once drowned our race,
Here You cleanse us by Your grace,
That the new man might arise,
Opening anointed eyes.

By this bath is joined in Jesus' grave
A corrupted nature;
By His rising all the world to save,
Rises a new creature:
Transferred to our Lord's domain,
Sanctified and born again,
Freed as none elsewise can be:
Freed to live eternally.

Welcome now this member of the Lord,
With us to be numbered;
Help it grow in knowledge of the Word,
Never to be sundered!
Bless and keep (him/her) in Your grace,
That this child may sing Your praise!
Granting angels to attend,
Mark and keep (him/her) to the end!

83. Confession Hymn

With heavy heart I kneel before You,
Bearing a load of guilt and shame.
In deepest sorrow I implore You,
Have pity, Lord, in Jesus' name!

My nakedness cannot be hidden;
My works avail but filthy rags.
Though I had used my hands as bidden,
My heart digs in its heels and drags.

On my account I beg no pardon,
So loathsome are my works and vain;
They only serve my heart to harden
And to the gates of hell amain.

O that Your justice might ignore them,
Turning to Jesus' work instead!
Cast them away, Lord, I deplore them;
I lay my hope on Him who bled.

Pray send Your Spirit now to move me
Each morning to repent and trust,
And every night correct, reprove me,
Bowing my pride into the dust!

I ask no license to keep sinning,
But grace in grace to persevere.
Therefore each day from dawn's beginning
Unto the dusk, O God, be near!

So to the Lord I cry, confessing,
Since such a sinful man am I
That if my works foretold my blessing,
I would be cursed indeed and die.

Take up my life, and do Your pleasure!
It would be lost in my frail hands.
On Golgotha I find my treasure
And my release from Satan's bands.

Each day, each hour the devil's scrimmage
Would push me back from off the field;
So long therefore as Jesus' image
Is formed in me, I shall not yield.

Convict me, Savior, that forgiven
I be by mighty word and sign,
That rather forward I be driven
Till in Your crown of stars I shine.

84. Remnant Hymn

A remnant, Lord, in mercy save
Of this Your body's sickly limb;
From Israel true, from Abram's sons,
Shine light where now our path is dim.
In fashion of Your heavenly love,
Preserve Your heritage!

With strife, alas, Your church is torn;
With worldly hearts Your earthly flock
Puts lust and greed before Your word
While hirelings herd them from their Rock.
As oft before, again restore
Your faithful heritage!

The hour is late; Lord, hear our prayer,
And lead us from these crumbling walls
To everlasting mansions where
No sorrow any soul befalls;
From leaning spires to perfect choirs
Redeem Your heritage!

Till then may we in godly zeal
Cast out hypocrisy, despair
From heart and life, and move to heal
The breach within Your precincts fair.
Enrich our soul and make us whole,
A lively heritage!

85. Mission Statement

We are forgiven in Christ Jesus,
Gathered by the Savior's voice
In His Spirit to rejoice,
To hear the Word of Him who frees us,
Study, and the same to share,
One another's griefs to bear;

Now in His sacraments united
We, rejoicing in God's love
And commissioned from above,
In this good purpose have delighted:
To convey the Gospel call
And salvation's joy to all.

To this end it is our intention
To birth children of the Lord
Through baptism and the Word,
And draw them onward by extension
Of the sin-absolving food
Of His body and His blood.

Therefore we place above all treasure,
Power, favor, fame, and ease,
Christ's own office of the keys.
And though He send us grief with pleasure,
Inward gain with outward loss,
We grow, trained upon His cross.

I find, more and more often as I revise these old, dubiously successful attempts at hymnody, that a reliable way to improve on them is to trim syllables out of the meter, and sometimes lines out of the stanza structure. I have scratched whole stanzas (and, frankly whole hymns), and I have also added stanzas where I felt they were needed.

The end results range from "so close to the original that you have took close to tell the difference" to "all but unrecognizable." There are many, many more to come. I can't believe how prolific I was at this period - by which I mean the vicinity of 1994, a date noted in the manuscript of at least one of these hymns.

Scratched and Dented 3

More revisions of hymns long buried in my high school and college poetry album... They're still not great, but they're better than they originally were, I think! (EDIT: Hymn numbers added)

73. The Royal Wedding Feast

Father, who have spread a feast,
Calling men from east and west
To Your Son's high day;
Spurned by greatest and by best,
Now invite the worst and least:
Even us, we pray!

Draw us near to celebrate
With the Lord of life who died
His triumphal hour.
Grant that, with the church His bride,
We with readiness might wait
Till He comes with power.

Make us worthy to partake
Of the living Lamb once slain,
Feeding soul and flesh.
Keep us till he comes again,
Bridegroom's bread with us to break,
All things to refresh.

Come, devoted Paraclete,
Keep our vigil in Your care
Till that day appears!
Guide the wise, the foolish spare
Lest the Lord on stealthy feet
Find us unawares.

Come, beloved Bridegroom, come,
Claim Your bride in spotless gown
Whitened with Your blood;
Who for us stooped meekly down,
Draw us to Your own high home
In the realm of God.

74. The Confessional Church

United by one truth, confessed
In faithfulness and love,
We know our fellowship is blessed
By Him who reigns above.

On this we base our fellowship:
Where Christ is rightly taught,
His sacred ordinances kept
In prayerful deed and thought.

Those yoked by other means may find
Their life harnessed to death;
Let us therefore be of one mind
On matters touching faith.

We seek and cherish harmony
Above all else but truth;
We walk together peaceably,
Our hearts as one in sooth.

If any brother would abide
In error or in sin,
In love be fellowship denied
Till we be one again.

The unexamined from our meal
Our love bids us exclude,
Lest they come under judgment's seal
For touching heavenly food.

From love and faith, not prejudice,
Proceeds our unity;
And union, not division, is
The end we hope to see.

A stronger bond of faith and love
Is now our theme in prayer;
We long to join the church above,
And fully see it there.

Till then, God grant His Word to hold
Our single heart in thrall,
That of our bond the tale be told:
All one, and One in all.

75. Nunc Dimittis Hymn

Lord, now let Your humble slave
Go in peace, for I have seen
And believed Your pledge to save
All who trust from guilt and grave.

I have tasted and believed
That Your grace is full and free;
I have trusted and received,
And my burden is relieved.

Christ, to all the nations Light
And to Israel glory true,
You have won the dreadful fight;
Is the kingdom not in sight?

Praise the Lord! We near the end;
Soon the birthpangs cease, and then
Christ in glory shall descend.
All God's people say, Amen!

76. Trinity Hymn

Lord, who in Christ has punished sin
Lest we bear our own sentence,
Now by Your Spirit dwelling in
Our hearts, we pray, call us each day
To confident repentance!

Immanuel of wondrous light
Whom prophets long expected,
With pardon counsel us aright,
That heavenly peace in us have lease,
Our hearts to You directed!

Spirit of God, to weary hearts
Bring rest from woe and terror;
Draw us to Christ by coaxing arts,
And so become our sweetest balm;
No comforter is fairer!

The Father glorifies the Son,
Christ glorifies the Father;
Always distinct yet always One,
The Spirit loath to take from both
The glory due each other.

Help, God! No mind can comprehend,
Whether of man or spirit,
How You have neither part nor end,
And yet can be both One and Three;
Reason rebels to hear it!

Therefore take captive every thought,
Lord, to Your higher wonder;
Draw us where we have never sought,
That we Amen may answer when
You speak with voice of thunder.

77. Lord's Supper Hymn

What is the bread on which we feed?
Christ's body broken for our need!
What is the cup, as Jesus said?
His blood, for our forgiveness shed!
O nail-pierced hands, now draw us near;
O thorn-crowned head, bend down Your ear!

Upon Your hands we now depend,
And into them our all commend;
Unto Your brow we look for God
To give us His accepting nod.
We thirst for grace that from You drips:
Lord, place forgiveness on our lips!

You carry on your stripe-marred back
Our vile excess, our guilty lack;
With nail-scarred foot, Lord Jesus, feel
The serpent crushed beneath Your heel!
Now, Lord of life, shrug off men's scorn
And stride forth from the dead, firstborn!

The cloak of night is spread about
Our world with shame and shades of doubt.
False shepherds lead astray Your sheep;
The faithful daily fall asleep.
Protect, O sower Lord, Your seed;
Feed us the object of our creed!

In Your spear-riven flesh we hide,
And by Your blood are purified;
In what You give, so let us steep
That we may share Your holy sleep
And, rising when You bid us rise,
Drink in Your beauty with our eyes.

78. Prophet, Priest and King Hymn

No greater prophet has ever declared
Judgment or promise from heaven
Than God's own Son, who no sorrow was spared
Till He full measure had given.
He undertook every word to fulfill
Of Law and prophet, proclaiming
Peace in our time by God's merciful will,
Calling the lost, the proud shaming.

No priest has given such full sacrifice
To reconcile man with heaven
As God's own Son, who Himself would suffice
When He full measure had given.
Both priest and victim He perfectly proves,
God's sanctuary unveiling;
His blood the sin of all races removes,
Once and for all time availing.

No higher king reigns on so high a throne
As Christ, ascended to heaven;
No longer thorns but all glory alone
Him in full measure is given.
Thence to all corners He reaches with grace,
God's might upon our need bearing.
Where One has gone all men shall come with haste,
Robes of His righteousness wearing.

79. Wedding Hymn

As with one voice we praise the Lord
That two of us are made one flesh,
One blood, one bone by plighted word,
With one hope, mercy daily fresh.

Today the oath this woman swears
Bids Christ with them as one be bound:
To brighten joys, to soften cares,
That proofs of pious love abound.

Today the man who takes this wife
Christ's love for all believers shows;
To love her more than very life
And live to honor her he vows.

Now what our God has joined as one
Let none but timely death divide,
Until the Bridegroom, Christ His Son,
Presents us spotless as His bride.

There is still lots more to come, including a hymn paraphrase of the Te Deum and another of the Athanasian Creed. To which, mindful of all the hard work of rewriting I have had to do already, I say: Kyrie eleison!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Scratched and Dented 2

More of those "scratched and dented" hymns, salvaged and revised from my high school and college poetry album... Again, if you think these are bad, you should see what I originally wrote! I get the horrors when I think that I once submitted their original versions to a hymn selection committee. Maybe with a little rewriting, they can be of more use. (EDIT: Hymn numbers added)

65. The Child in Christ

Suffer every son and daughter
Unto Jesus Christ to come,
Born to him through word and water
That they may behold the Father
Through His sole begotten Son!

Only such as these can enter
Heaven's kingdom, safe from death.
Christ, faith's object and inventor,
Calls them to the cross, the center
Of their childlike love and faith.

Would, Lord, that we too might trust You
As the simple babe believes!
For in Christ by faith we must be
If we would before You just be
And the due of sons receive.

Would that You like babes would nurse us
With the pure milk of the word,
And in saving grace immerse us
Lest the enemy disperse us
From Your guiding hand, O Lord!

As a child clings to its father
Let us trust and follow ours;
As He loves us, love each other,
Every mother, sister, brother,
Trusting in His ample powers.

Oh what grace, that at His bidding
Even infants can believe!
Therefore it is good and fitting
Every little babe permitting
Grace baptismal to receive.

Children of the realm of heaven,
Let it be our first concern
That each child to Christ be given
And unto His cross be driven!
Suffer them to come and learn!

Every little one's formation
May we hold in high respect,
That each one may know salvation
And with joyful expectation
Meet the day of the elect!

66. Dilexi Quoniam (Psalm 116)

I love the Lord, for He has heard
My voice of supplication.
Hence I will call to Him in all,
In sorrow and elation.
The pains of death encircled me,
The flame of hell a certainty
Till He brought me salvation.

The Lord is just and holy, yet
His mercy lasts forever;
The sinner who repents and trusts
In Him will perish never.
The humble God preserves in love;
The hungry He provides enough.
His grace can fail me never!

Return, O heart, to rest, for God
Has kept my feet from falling,
My eyes from tears, my soul from death,
My limbs from chains enthralling.
In God I'll walk in yonder land
Where all who live in Him shall stand,
Nor pain nor tears recalling.

What can I render to the Lord
For Christ's redeeming treasure?
I take salvation's cup and sing
His mercies passing measure.
I am your servant, God, your saint;
From this bleak world at last to faint
Will be my fondest pleasure.

67. Burial Hymn

To earth we commend in grief our friend
Who from this dark world departs in peace;
Your Spirit, Lord, send, our heart to mend,
That in us despair may not have lease.

Of sin all men die; Lord, grant that I
May number my days and live for You.
When my time is nigh, to you I'll cry,
Relying on You to answer true.

In sin we were found, for torment bound,
Till Jesus' blood cleansed us in Your eyes;
Let praises abound, a hopeful sound,
For life but begins when this shell dies.

Low spirits, begone! A lamb is home,
In glory surrounded, free from pain.
Its course is now run, its labor done;
Safe in Jesus' arms will it remain.

Dear brothers take heart; soon we depart,
Dear sisters, to stand in perfect light.
The Lord will impart what Jesus bought
And free us from death's uncharted night.

To life was my Lord, I know, restored,
And soon all who died in Christ shall stand.
Fear not the grave's cord; trust in His word
That our flesh shall stand at His right hand.

Come, Lord, and console our hearts, and pull
Our spirits from vain and hopeless gloom:
For body and soul shall soon be whole,
Arising in triumph from the tomb.

68. Confitemini Domino (Psalm 118)

O give thanks unto the Lord;
Our good Master is He.
Let us sing with one accord
To His love, faithful, free.
When I called in sore vexation
He responded with salvation.
With such Advocate on high,
What can daunt in earth or sky?

Our strong refuge He remains
Though all fortresses fall.
While like bees swarm earthly pains,
In His name I rout all.
Though my sin to hell had pulled me,
Jesus rescued and consoled me,
Has become my Strength and Song,
My Salvation swift and strong.

Whose strong arm do we now praise?
God who valiantly wins!
In His Son is righteousness
Who was slain for my sins.
Praise the Lord, whose vict'ry freed me,
Who from death to life will lead me;
Though I feel His chastening rod,
I've found favor with my God.

Gates of justice, open wide!
Full of thanks, I come in!
Only those can here abide
Whom God clears of all sin.
I give thanks to you, dear Master,
Who have heard my prayer and answered;
You have stoppered up my tomb,
My Salvation have become.

What the Lord has done this day
Is in His scripture shown:
What the builders cast away
Is the chief Cornerstone.
We rejoice now in the Lord's day;
For salvation let us now pray.
Blest is He who is come forth
In the name of God the Lord!

From His temple we have praised
Christ the Lamb slain for us,
To redeem us bound and raised
On that altar, the Cross.
To my God, my Savior holy,
Praise and thanks I offer solely;
O give thanks unto the Lord
Whose love lasts forevermore!

69. Venite Hymn (Psalm 95)

Come, let us sing to the Lord God of Hosts,
To salvation's rock let us kneel;
Come, let us thankfully enter His courts,
And joyfully let anthems peal.

He is our God and great heavenly King,
Who made both the height and the deep;
His is the sea, and the dry land is His;
So come, bow at our Maker's feet.

He is our Shepherd and we are His folk,
The flock pastured under His hand;
Never forget His great glory and love,
Who holds up the sky, sea, and land.

70. Morning and Evening Prayers

Heavenly Father, as dawn spreads her light,
We thank You for Jesus' sake
That You have brought us by grace through the night,
Keeping us till we awake.
From sin and evil now graciously keep
Us, that we live to please You.
Guard us with angels till once more we sleep,
Satan's strong wiles to undo.

Merciful Lord, as the shades spread their length,
We thank You in Jesus' name
This day for keeping us from Satan's strength;
Pardon our sins in the same.
Likewise tonight shield us from his foul schemes;
O'er us cause angels to bend;
And should You call us from out earthly dreams,
Take us where day never ends.

71. Micah 7 Hymn

Let all the nations rage and roar,
Let vanity consume the horde;
But as for me, come drought or war,
I wait with hope upon the Lord.
I watch with firm unshaken eye
For Him who hears my faintest cry.

Do not so mock and jeer, O foe!
Though I have fallen, I will rise.
Though darkness fill my dwelling so,
The Lord illuminates my eyes.
His Word is light unto my steps,
A light that no vain sage accepts.

Yet I will bear His rod, for I
Have sinned against Him day and night,
Until He pleads my case on high
And carries me with awesome might,
Acquitted, to His shining skies
Where I stand righteous in His eyes.

O Shepherd, tend us with Your power
And lead us to the promised land;
Defend us in the evil hour,
Afflict the wicked with Your hand.
The world will see Your might and faint,
While You protect the humble saint.

What God but You would pardon sin,
Redeem the remnant of Your church,
Cast anger out, bring kindness in,
And cast our guilt beyond all search?
With truth and love, Your ancient vow,
You keep Your remnant even now.

72. Passion Hymn

Jesus, weighed with sorrows deep,
Coax your lads from heavy sleep.
Some bright eye the watch should keep
On so dark an hour.
Trembling, sighing in Your fear,
Knowing that the time is near,
Pray that God the Father bear
Mitigating power:

"Father, now be glorified,
As I will be at Your side;
Even after I have died,
Glorify Your Son.
Let Your Word, the truth for all,
Sanctify whom You will call.
If You will, spare me this gall;
Yet Your will be done."

Crushed by all the guilt of man;
Sinless, yet for sin in pain;
Marked out by the Maker's plan,
Marked for sacrifice:
Blood falls from Your fevered brow,
Though Your angels help You now.
Mortal men can never know
How You pay their price.

Sold to enemies at arms
By the traitor's poisoned charms,
See with grief what gloom alarms
Jude, Your straying Lamb!
Yet, before the Lord of Hosts
Yields in peace to mortal foes,
They fall prostrate at the boast
That You are I AM.

First before the priests You stand,
Who already have a plan
How for all a single man
In their place may die.
Had they but the Scripture known,
They would hail You as the Son
Sent to die for everyone,
Life for all to buy!

By Your closest friends denied,
By false witnesses belied,
Scourged and mocked from every side
And in purple dressed,
Place to place in shackles led,
Thorny wreath upon Your head,
Even now how You have bled,
All for Pilate's jest!

Pilate asks, "Are You a king?"
"I rule not an earthly thing,
But to truth My subjects cling."
He sneers, "What is truth?"
Even Pilate, all along
Knowing you had done no wrong,
Says in terror of the throng,
"Treat him as you choose."

Not a single angel fought.
Not a loyal word was brought.
Can a stranger thing be thought?
God in such defeat!
As you lay aside your powers,
Facing death's most bitter glowers,
Can one find in such bleak hours
Victory complete?

What a fearful mystery:
Your defeat my victory!
In the battle fought for me
You, Lord, bled and died!
When in scorn Your people gazed
Where You hung, by woe amazed,
Though in shame for sin upraised,
You were glorified!
There are lots more. I really had a prolific few months in 1993. Too bad it wasn't married to more developed skills and judgment. Oh, well. That's what experience is for!

Scratched and Dented Hymns

While hunting for hymn tunes and harmonizations that I wrote years ago, I found an album of my old poetry that I haven't looked at for a long time. Some of them were sacred poems. And other than the few I selected for my book of Useful Hymns, having carried them forward in my "live" collection of poetry all these years, they're not particularly good. But some of them are close enough to halfway decent that with a little unwrinkling, they might be of some use.

Here are some of those selections, dating most likely from some time in the early 1990s, if not the late 1980s, and freshly edited if not downright rewritten to improve content and resolve metrical awkwardness. (EDIT: Hymn numbers added)

58. Hymn to Enter

In peace let us honor the One who gives peace,
To Him who gives all things return our increase.
There's no higher praise than to trust in His care,
No sacrifice sweeter than penitent prayer.

In faith let us hope on the Spirit of faith;
For works avail nothing, for sin causes death.
He calls us by name, clothes us in the Lamb's blood,
And saves us by baptism's sin-drowning flood.

In joy let us worship the King who brings joy.
He saved us from death; let us therefore employ
No mere songs or praises, but lives set apart,
A hale Hallelujah of hands and of heart.

In love let us walk with the God who is Love;
In dying, bear witness to heaven above.
Afflicted, we triumph; our power is meek;
His strength is made perfect in those who are weak.

59. Thee and Only Thee (Mediation of Christ)

Christ, Mediator, intercede for me;
I raise my prayer to Thee and only Thee:
Atoning Lamb of God, have mercy!
All that has been, that is, and that will be
Owe life and weal to Thee and only Thee:
Creating Word of God, have mercy!
To wear the form of man Thou camest down
And lived in deprivation;
Pierced for our sake, worest as well the crown
Of death and desolation.
Thy blood for me now testifies;
Thy holy death now justifies
Before God's throne the sinner, even me.

Christ, Mediator, intercede for me;
I place my trust in Thee and only Thee:
O Lover of my soul, have mercy!
By my most grievous fault I stray from Thee,
Yet Thou dost seek and homeward carry me;
O Shepherd true and good, have mercy!
When I return for Thy self-giving love
Dead works and insurrection,
Call into evidence at court above
Thy death and resurrection.
Clothe me in Thy pure robe, I pray,
And fit me for it till the day
I rise to follow Thee and only Thee.

60. Inspiration Hymn

We bless You, Spirit of the living Word,
For blowing life into our nostrils when
It pleased the counsels of the changeless Lord
To furnish space and time with changeful men.

We bless You, Spirit of the Crucified,
Once yielded up as He expired in pain,
For pouring forth on them for whom He'd died
When He arose to breathe on them again.

We bless You, Spirit of the Lamb enthroned,
For rushing mightily on those below
Who, soon to be beheaded, burned or stoned,
Went boldly forth, your presence glad to know.

We bless You, Spirit of the hidden truth,
For breathing revelation into men
Who, whether full of years or lean with youth,
Declared Your word as You moved tongue or pen.

We bless You, Spirit who in mercy binds
Your mysteries to dead and blinded hearts,
For shining light into our darkened minds
And proofing them against the devil's arts.

We bless You, Spirit of eternity,
For guiding us in truth these many years.
So blow us forward till the ages flee
And, seen at last, You wipe away our tears.

61. Sola Gratia Hymn

Your grace alone, O living Word,
Has saved my soul from sin;
For through the gospel taught and heard
Your Spirit entered in.

All who for hope and comfort pine
Must to Your feet be driven,
For there alone by grace divine
Is life eternal given.

My works and prayers can nothing mend,
But grace my sentence stays.
Such fruits of faith I humbly send
To You, my God, in praise.

For if I built on my own deeds
I were on shifting sand.
Christ, to Your grace my spirit pleads,
The Rock on which I stand.

62. Cleansing Hymn

Christ my Savior, God and Man,
Who set forth creation's plan:
All my efforts, all my pains
Cannot cleanse my guilty stains.

Christ my Light, my Life, my Lord,
Broken for me and outpoured,
By that stream my conscience rinse
That my soul may hail You Prince.

Christ my Prophet, Priest and King,
Who has ordered everything:
Let Your Spirit make me new
That my steps may follow You.

Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
I have none whereof to boast
But your all-sufficient grace;
Keep me in Your safe embrace.

63. Proverbs 30:5 Hymn

In the world's tumult and snare,
Where shall we seek truth, O where?
Not in sayings of the loud,
Nor the wisdom of the crowd,
But the foolishness of God
And the path the feeble trod.

What the wise behold as wise,
Darkening their carnal eyes,
Shrinks as shadows from the sun,
So beneath the Holy One.
His strong Word is tested, true;
Swollen man has not a clue.

Favored are the poor in heart,
Yearning for the better part,
Who can pay nor debt nor toll;
Only such will save their soul.
He who sets the sinner free
Shall their shield and refuge be.

64. Isaiah 55 Hymn

Come, you thirsty, to the water!
Come, you needy, come eat!
Cost and payment do not matter,
Free the wine and choice meat,
All things fresh and all sweet:
Alleluia, alleluia!

Should you pay for what is not food,
Buy what does not nourish?
Heed the word and eat what is good;
Eat, delight and flourish!
Such food shall not perish:
Alleluia, alleluia!

Listen well, and God will save you;
Listen that you might live!
All the promises He gave you
He full measure will give;
You He never will leave:
Alleluia, alleluia!

Faithful is His grace forever,
As He showed to David,
Who bore witness of His favor
Unto whom He gave it,
Who by faith receive it:
Alleluia, alleluia!

Thus shall every foreign nation
Join in praise and gladness,
For your Lord has made salvation,
Piercing sin's dark madness,
Breaking fear and sadness:
Alleluia, alleluia!

Seek the Lord while He is by you,
Call on Him repenting!
Come, lest He at last deny you,
While his wrath's relenting;
Come, and leave lamenting:
Alleluia, alleluia!

Let the wicked quit his sinning
And the fool his lusting!
Trust the Lord; from the beginning
He redeems the trusting,
Their frail hearts adjusting:
Alleluia, alleluia!

Pardon freely He announces,
Mercy overflowing
To the one who sin renounces,
His redemption knowing;
Pardon freely flowing.
Alleluia, alleluia!

"My thoughts are not yours," the Lord says,
"Farther than the stars are
From the earth, so far are my ways
Over yours, and farther;
Higher than yours and wiser."
Alleluia, alleluia!

"As the rain to me returns not
Without feeding your soil,
So My word its purpose spurns not,
Nor nor returns to me void;
It works faith and gives joy."
Alleluia, alleluia!

So rejoice with exultation,
You who life have tasted!
Bear in mind the Lord's salvation,
Pray the day be hastened
And the wicked chastened:
Alleluia, alleluia!

Uff da. There isn't much helping that last one. The meter is a liability. But I had a tune in mind for it that I can't shake off, so I could only do so much.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Lion Among Men

A Lion Among Men
by Gregory Maguire
Recommended Ages: 14+

The third book of The Wicked Years focuses on Brrr, the cowardly lion who was with Dorothy when she melted Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. Now on an errand for the witch's brother, who has become the Emperor-Apostle of Oz, Brrr visits the Mauntery of St. Glinda on the eve of a battle between the Emerald City army and the secessionist Munchkins. His mission is to interview the crone, and possibly oracle, known as Yackle, and find out why her history connects with that of the late Elphaba. But before he can prise Yackle's story out of her, he must give up his own.

It's the third of four volumes of a grown-up reimagining of the Oz series, with sexual content, political themes and an outlook on life and life stories that embraces disappointment, disillusionment, and the tendency of true stories to lack the simple lines and tidy endings of fairy tales. It is, in summary, a textbook case of an Adult Content Advisory.

Brrr doesn't know much about his origins except that he has never truly belonged anywhere, he has a gift for botching things, and his reputation for cowardice and betrayal is at least partly deserved. Yackle, meanwhile, seems to have come into existence as an old lady, and in spite of all the magical contributions she has made to the fates of Elphaba and her relatives, she does not really understand what she is doing. She can't even seem to die, which is what she most wants to do by the time Brrr finds her.

The two odd characters circle each other, psychologically speaking, and size each other up. Yackle hopes that Brrr may prove worthy of a trust that may enable her finally to move on. Brrr hopes to learn from her what happened to a mysterious book of magic called the Grimmerie, which the Emperor Shell wants above all things. The real question ends up being what Brrr will do with the book if he gets hold of it.

Meanwhile, loose ends of the story of Liir, the witch's son, and his green daughter are still dangling, as are the fate of his half-sister Nore, the mission of the mysterious Clock of the Time Dragon, and the perilous pivot point on which the fate of Oz totters as two armies converge on the abbey. The journey through memory, the exploration of guilt and failure and solitude, the peril of war and oppression, and the strange magical powers of both book and clock combine to make this a funny, moving, thought-provoking, immersive, world-building extravaganza of a book, with plenty of character tension and plot momentum to keep readers hooked to the end and into the succeeding book.

For the first two installments in this series, see Wicked and Son of a Witch. For the conclusion of the series, see Out of Oz. And for an excellent listening experience, listen to the audio-book version of this book read by John McDonough.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

How to Write Newspaperese

There's a big difference between the kind of writing I've been doing most of my life and the style I am expected to write now at the newspaper. My father faces a similar struggle. Writing like Hemingway isn't for everybody. For some it may seem as if they have to strip all the individual character out of their writing style and create flat, simplistic prose. But there really is a knack to getting out of the story's way, of becoming an transparent, or at least translucent, barrier between it and the reader.

Here are some tips. I think it's time to put them out there, in case anyone is reading who might consider going into the newspaper biz, or might want to submit their writing to a newspaper. Some of them are amazingly simple and easy to learn. Amazingly, that is, when you consider how far off target the average writing submitted to the paper is. Learn this stuff and you will save some poor editor a ton of rewriting.

First, forget about the Oxford comma. Don't take it personally. I'm all for the Oxford comma. I learned it and used it all my life. It makes sense to me. In the sentence "Bob, Carol, Ted, and Alice are coming over tonight," the Oxford comma is the one immediately after Ted. But it's not crucial. The sentence is correct with or without it. In writing for newspapers, it is customarily omitted.

A few commas may seem like a small thing, but in the era of movable type it could make a serious difference in the amount of lead type on a page. I know, "commas save lives" and all that. And besides, nobody prints with movable type any more. But it can still mean a big savings in ink alone, not to mention the extra column-inches of space resulting from the difference in line breaks and whatnot. And besides, tradition is not something to trifle with. Newspapers are hard enough to read without switching things up all the time.

Other standard uses of the comma may also go out the journalistic window. I was brought up thinking the sentence "The committee will meet at 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 30, in the school library" should have two commas in it. That's probably still the best practice for writing outside newsprint. But in the newspaper racket, the comma after Oct. 30 may be dismissed. Or take the similar case of "Smith moved to Tulsa, Okla., this weekend." The comma after Okla., though exactly correct in formal writing, may be banished from newspaper prose.

Of course these guidelines are not to be applied mechanically. Watch out for independent clauses and parenthetical phrases, like "though exactly correct in formal writing" in the paragraph above. These may still be set off by commas. And sometimes you may simply feel a comma is needed to point up the structure of a particularly long and punctuationally unregulated sentence. Just be alert to the strong probability that you are going to feel that way more often than you should.

Some conjunctions and adverbial phrases, especially at the beginning of the sentence, seem to cry out for a comma to set them apart. Do not listen to their siren song. In sentences like "Later, the dog took a nap" and "In spite of poor weather, the team played well" do not need those commas. And sometimes what would have come before the comma can be sacrificed as well. Many sentences can get by without the rhetorical throat clearing words and phrases we writers like too much. "Be that as it may, etc." "For whatever reason, etc." "Indeed, etc." "Nevertheless, etc." The burden of proof is on them to defend their right to add lines to the story.

Newspaper writing can also dispense with many verbal commas, like the word "that" as it is often used. Two examples are in the sentence "The reason that Johnson left early was that his house was on fire." The word "that" doesn't add anything. The sentence would make the same sense without it, though the second "that" may sharpen the definition a bit.

I used to work for a magazine with a very strict style guide. Few of its rules resulted in more work than the one governing dashes and hyphens. Some poor editor or other (sometimes yours truly) had to go through every paragraph and make sure hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes were properly employed. The rules were something like: In a hyphenated word, use a hyphen. Between two numbers representing a range of numbers, use an en dash. As an alternative to a colon or parentheses, use an em dash. In any case, heaven forbid there should be a space on either side of the hyphen or dash.

Newspaper style is much simpler in some ways, but nastier in others. You may have to look up whether the word should have a hyphen in it in the AP Style Manual. And I'm sorry to say, the book has never been indexed properly, so you're probably just going to be wrong until somebody who knows the rule points out your error. But as a general rule, instead of an en dash you can use a hyphen. Instead of an em dash, you can use a hyphen with a space to either side of it. For many groups of words where you might expect connecting hyphens, none is really needed. Write "the third grade class" instead of "the third-grade class." Write "the seven year itch" instead of "the seven-year itch." And so on.

I could go on and on about the proper deployment of semicolons, apostrophes, single and double quotes - did you know, for instance, that only single quotes are used in headlines? - parentheses (avoided as a rule)(irony intended), when commas should be inside or outside quotes, etc. You know what, though? The best way to learn this stuff is to pay attention to the red marks you get from a seasoned proofreader and try to assimilate the rules they are applying to your work.

Five Ws
Forget about answering the questions "Who, what, when, where, why" and "how" in the first paragraph, if not the first sentence. That type of opening gambit is old hat. The successful news lead will tell your reader just enough to get what the story is about. You can answer a couple or three of the W words in the first graph, then fill in the others in the next graph or two.

If you're really going to say who did what when and where in one sentence, it should ALWAYS be in this order: "Don Perkins won the grand prize in the pie eating contest at 9 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 9 at Mack's Heart Attack in a Sack Shack on Elm Street in Centerville." Rule 1: Get to the subject of the story (who) with as little preamble as possible. Rule 2: Put the main verb of the story (what) as close to the subject as possible. Rule 3: As for when and where, put time, date and place in that order and move from specific to general in each case. But again, err in favor of pulling details down into subsequent paragraphs in preference to packing too much information into the lead.

Unless you have to edit non-professional writers' prose for a regular publication, you probably cannot imagine how irritating it is to get paragraphs full of Scrambled Eggs, Sausage Patties, Hash Browns, Biscuits and Gravy, Coffee, and Orange Juice. None of those words is supposed to be capitalized. You would probably be surprised how few of the words the average person casually capitalizes are capitalized for good reason. It's an abuse of big letters that, again, used to be the bane of typesetters in the era of movable type and that, again, still leads to unnecessary expense in ink and column inches. Just stop it. You're better off assuming the word shouldn't be capitalized and letting the proofreader correct it if it should.

In general, a word should be capitalized if it's at the start of a paragraph or sentence, introduces a new thought after a colon (though not if it's just a list of items), is part of a proper name, or serves as someone's title immediately before his or her name. If it's longer than a word or two, the title should rather be placed after a comma to the right of the person's name, in lowercase letters. The AP manual draws a number of finer distinctions. Be receptive to them when your proofreader dings you on them. Or, if you never actually see their red marks, reflect on what's changed about your work since you sent it off to be published. Notice the ways it looks different and try to grasp the reasons for that.

Lord, have mercy. The rules governing which numbers are to be spelled out and which can be represented by Arabic numerals, or even (gulp) Roman numerals, are crazily numerous and riddled with exceptions. And as I mentioned before, the AP manual is badly indexed. Its cross references direct you to topics that do not exist, and fail to mention entire realms of inquiry that you may have overlooked. I, for one, only recently discovered that ranges and ratios, like "7 to 13," should be written that way and not, as the "numerals" section in the manual suggests, as "seven to 13." Also, children's ages are always given in Arabic notation - "9 years old" or "age 9" - in spite of AP's general rule that whole numbers under 10 should be spelled out. It had never occurred to me to look up a section on ages because I would have thought the section on numerals would cover such exceptions.

Of course, one number I can't help noticing is the number 1978, which is the year my copy of the manual was printed.

Other stuff
In the middle of a sentence, the E in e-mail doesn't have to be capitalized, but it should have a hyphen after it.

When you mention a website in a newspaper story, feel free to leave off the "http://" bit - though I personally like to leave the "www." bit on.

There is no such thing as italics in AP style. If you're wondering whether something like the name of a ship or the title of a book should be italicized, the answer is no. Underlining is right out. The only question, then, is whether or not to put the title of something in quotes. My strategy, when I'm thinking clearly about things like this, is to look up a website that lists what kinds of titles AP does or doesn't like to enclose in quotes. Most of the time, when I don't do this, I'm probably wrong. It's important for me to remember, though, that if my mistake gets past the proofreader, it's still my mistake.

We don't convey thanks, congratulations or invitations in a news story. People who want to invite so-and-so or thank such-and-such should take out an ad. This can be tricky because sometimes the fact that, say, the Chamber of Commerce voted to thank the City Council for something is actually part of a news story. Reporting the fact without violating this taboo can be anything but easy. Your choices are either to skip it or to phrase it in a totally neutral way. Telling news sources they can't say such things in a story can become even more tricky when they are also advertisers.

Maintain the appearance of journalistic objectivity by confining editorial remarks to the editorials and purging them from other stories. This can also be quite tricky. Sometimes a tint, or taint, of the first or second person sneaks into a story in a non-obvious way. Obvious things to look for, of course, are the pronouns "I, we, you," except within a direct quote. But there are also less obvious artifacts of an editorializing journalist who can't help putting himself in his own story. Imperative verbs are among them. References to the weather, without attribution to a character in the story, are as well. Saying everyone "enjoyed" something (without polling every single person involved), or evaluating a sale as "cheap" or a meal as "delicious," can transgress the bounds of what an objective journalist can report. If you have never experienced the frustration of being told something you wrote cannot be stated in a news story, you haven't been writing for a newspaper more than a week.

Speaking of that, always write "more than" and never "over" an amount. Always write "approximately" so much and never "about" so much. Always say an event "is scheduled" to take place at such and such time, date, and place (in that order, right?), never that it "will" happen and most definitely not that it happened, even if it falls within that awkward twilight time between the deadline for the paper and the publication date. Why? Because we are reporters, not oracles of the future. We report facts, not assumptions.

Whenever possible, end the story by saying when the next event is scheduled to take place and/or whom to contact (and how to reach them) for more information. And if at all possible get somebody close to the story to fact-check it for you before it goes to press.

Your photo looks nice, but it's no use to a commercial weekly newspaper without local faces in the frame and local names in the cutline. When you submit it, please identify everyone in it by name and please, PLEASE get them spelled right. The two most common sequences of names in a caption are "Mildred Smith, left, Ethel Johnson, Violet Burns," and so on toward the right in a single row, and "Front row: Mildred Smith, left, Ethel Johnson, and Violet Burns; second row: Eunice Collins, Beatrice Wilkins," and so on to the right, all the way to the back row. Occasionally, if the nature of the photo calls for it, we'll do something like, "Clockwise from top: Mildred Smith," etc. Your alphabetized list is no use to us. We might as well just say, "A bunch of people," or "Members of the quilting club," etc.

All these tips have to do with things I have learned about newspaper writing within the last three or four months. I have learned many of them by making mistakes and growing from them. So an appropriate closing move is to discuss that most dreaded feature of journalism: the correction.

There are two methods. Method 1: The headline is "Correction," or if necessary (and God help you), "Corrections." It should appear somewhere around where the mistake happened in the previous edition. It should explain where the mistake was and the nature of the error, then give corrected information, if possible without repeating the mistake or (heh!) adding a new one. Then it should apologize for the error and any inconvenience it may have caused, full stop. Example: "On page 2 of the Nov. 5 issue, a story about the Board of Elections incorrectly stated the date and location of the board's next meeting. The Board of Elections is scheduled to meet at noon Friday, Dec. 5 at the Last Chance Saloon on High Street in Centerville. We apologize," etc. Only repeat the erroneous information if a clarification is really necessary, such as: "Mona Swanson was incorrectly identified as the chairman of the board. Actually Swanson is the secretary-treasurer. Joanne Brown is the chairman." Or: "The meeting will be Friday, Dec. 12, not Dec. 5 as previously reported."

Method 2, to be used especially when correcting a photo caption, a wedding or birth announcement, or an obituary, is to re-run the whole story or photo with the facts corrected and an editor's note explaining the situation. For the really atrocious mistakes, of which I have made plenty in a short time, there is nothing for it but to grovel in abject apology in the editor's column.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Skin Game

Skin Game
by Jim Butcher
Recommended Ages: 14+

It's the fifteenth book of the Dresden Files. I know some avid readers who say the series has long since become same-old, same-old. Weirdly enough, I'm still engaged. In the latest few books author Butcher has shaken the formula up by killing off key members of his admittedly huge cast of characters. He has unrepentantly thrust Harry Dresden, wizard detective of present-day Chicago, into situations that redefine his role in the world of magic. He has let the passage of time catch up on many of the mortal characters, and we have watched as the changing alliances and power structures have changed the dynamics between them. And he continues to do that in this book, in which anything can be expected to happen. Even while I can spot a joke about, say, big monsters not cornering well from a sentence or two in advance, there are still moments when I tense up, wondering whether it's all over for this longtime character or that. And sometimes it is.

Harry has been dead and got better. He has become a father, but has not yet really embraced the role of Dad. He has lost everything he owned, but he is more powerful than ever. No longer just a chump wizard who always has the White Council breathing down his neck, he is a full-fledged warden of the Council (for quite a while now), a member of its magical law-enforcement branch. No longer housed in a cramped basement apartment, he has become the warden of a demon prison on a Lake Michigan island you won't find on any map. No longer a consultant with the Chicago Police Department, his on and (mostly) off romance with former Detective Karrin Murphy is throwing off more sparks than ever. No longer just a target of a vampire vendetta, he is the guy who wiped out an entire court of vampires. No longer just the Za Lord whose offerings of pizza buy the loyalty of a band of little people with wings, he is the Winter Knight, champion of Queen Mab herself. No longer the guardian of the swords of the angelically protected order of Knights of the Cross, he now finally chooses the next knight worthy of bearing the sword.

But before he does that, he has to navigate one of the trickiest, stickiest courses of traps, double-crosses, and conflicting agendas ever. Get this: by command of Queen Mab, he has to help one of his bitterest enemies, Nicodemus Archleone of the Order of the Blackened Denarius, break into the second most secure vault in Chicago. Not only does this mean working with a virtually indestructible villain, a casual murderer who shares headspace with a genuine fallen angel and who commands a coterie of squires who have willingly agreed to have their tongues cut out. It also means violating the sanctum sanctorum of Gentleman Johnny Marcone, a vanilla mortal gangster so dangerous and resourceful that he managed to become Baron of Chicago under the Unseelie Accords. Even that is only the first step in a heist of an even more unassailable stronghold, belonging to an order of being before whom mortals cower and blubber. And the nature of Mab's deal with Nicodemus is such that Dresden has to honor it, though he would like nothing better than to put a spike in the denarian's wheel. Mab, in fact, expects him to stab Nicodemus in the back. She insists on it. Only, if he values his life or his sanity, he must not do it until Nicodemus stabs him in the back first.

It's the kind of tight spot that forces a fellow to keep strange company, like the thief who stole the Shroud of Turin in an earlier installment, and a couple of renegade warlocks he has dealt with before, and a creature that combines the physique of Bigfoot with an immunity to magic and a mind of pure evil. He has to bring a former Knight of the Cross, long sidelined by injuries in the line of duty, back into the game and somehow get him to work on the same team as a fallen angel, for a while. And he has to run a gauntlet of things that can slice, dice, puree, and charbroil human bodies, all while his skull is about to split open from a mysterious entity growing inside. It's the kind of caper Dresden specializes in, a caper fraught with conflicting loyalties, with mental, physical, and moral traps and puzzles. It's the kind of caper in which failure is not an option, but success might be just as bad. And before it's over, the little girl who owns his heart will be in terrible danger.

Like I said, still engaged. I'm also impressed by audio-book reader James Marsters, the actor who played Spike on Buffy. Not only does he own the voice of Harry Dresden, but he has the versatility, knack for accents, and downright acting chops to sell any character, human or otherwise. As for Jim Butcher, he keeps starting blockbuster fantasy series by trying to write a stupid novel and failing. May he continue to fail just as miserably!