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!