Let the Lower Lights Be Burning

Mother’s Day–Let the Lower Lights Be Burning

It is no wonder that one of my mother’s favorite songs was the hymn, “Let the lower lights be burning,” composed by Philip Paul Bliss, a nineteenth-century musician and evangelist.

Living and growing in Wesleyville, one of Newfoundland’s poor but hearty outports on the island’s northeastern Bonavista Bay, and with a father who captained a fishing schooner, my mother was well educated (formally, she finished the equivalent of eighth grade) about the importance of the “lower lights.”

The history of Bliss’s 1871 hymn suggests he wrote it after hearing a sermon by the evangelist Dwight L. Moody that included a story of a ship running aground while entering Cleveland harbor (on Lake Erie) because the lighthouse had failed.

Moody made the distinction of the upper lights, God’s starry heaven, the navigation aid to mariners worldwide, and the “lower lights” provided by coastal lighthouses that warn ships of danger as they approach shallow rockbound coasts. These lower lights–the strong beams from the lighthouse–were critical beacons of warning and guides to safety for ships approaching their berths. The lower lights provide sailors their way to safe harbor.

Moody’s story noted that God takes care of the upper lights, but it is the Christian’s duty to “let the lower lights be burning” as a means of guidance and rescue—and for Moody and his evangelist friend, Bliss, for the saving of souls.

Here are the inspired verses Bliss wrote after hearing Moody:

“Brightly beams our Father’s mercy

From his lighthouse evermore,

But to us he gives the keeping

Of the lights along the shore.


“Let the lower lights be burning,

Send a gleam across the wave.

Some poor fainting, struggling seaman

You may rescue, you may save.


“Dark the night of sin has settled,

Loud the angry billows roar.

Eager eyes are watching, longing,

For the lights along the shore.


“Trim your feeble lamp, my brother,

Some poor sailor, tempest-tossed,

Trying now to make the harbor

In the darkness may be lost.”


I never really appreciated how much that hymn awakened the lived experience of my mother, though I often noted she sang it lustily and mostly from memory during the frequent church “singspirations” at our Baptist church in Brooklyn. As a young girl, my mother had worked at a waterfront department store—the only job for which she drew pay during her 93 years–and became familiar with the ways and wares of a life dependent on the sea.

Bliss’s words are meant to inspire us to serve others, especially those in peril. I believe my mother, who later in life, when her four children were grown and gone on their own voyages, became a Red Cross volunteer, and who, as she aged became a devoted reader of the Book of Psalms, was inspired to be a keeper of the “lower lights.”

I recall as a young man being inspired along similar lines after reading J. D. Salinger’s classic novel, Catcher in the Rye. I was particularly impressed with Holden Caulfield’s dream story of him serving as a guard for children playing in a field of rye close to a dangerous precipice. It was the protagonist’s job to watch over the children and catch any who wandered too close to the perilous edge. He was the “catcher” in the rye. I recall telling a church study group focusing on “ministry” that I’d determined I too wanted to become a “catcher in the rye.”

I’ve learned that sentiment has been inspired as much by my mother as by Salinger.

Faith Floss: Does God require a login?

Does God require a login and password?

I returned today after a long absence to the meditational prayer Website of the Irish Jesuits known as “Sacred Space” http://www.sacredspace.ie, where I was surprised to learn that there was a problem with my username or password.

Then a spiritual quandary confronted me: Does God require a login and password when we come to pray? I suspect not. The sacrifices of God are a broken and contrite spirit, the scriptures say (Psalm 51:17).

So I guess the universal login for signing on with God is: brokenspirit; and the universal password must be: havemercy. And if the password must be unique or encrypted or something like that, we could make it haveJohn316mercy.

Not a bad password anywhere, I think; although, I’ve never particularly understood that verse’s popularity on placards at sporting events. Perhaps those placards should read “Jesus Saves,” a bit of graffiti that was a favorite of a young woman I knew growing up and one of the frequent signs in the Baptist church we attended.

But such public displays came to be a joke around New England when I was in college. The joke went like this: “Jesus saves–and Esposito slaps in the rebound!” Of course, it helped to appreciate the quip if one were a Boston Bruins fan–or at least a fan of ice hockey–and knew that Phil Esposito had a habit of hanging around in front of the goal and exploiting rebounds to become one of the game’s premier scorers.

The point of my whimsical meditation, of course, assures me that God’s Website encourages free access. By the way, it’s Jesus who slaps in life’s rebounds.


I have always favored breakfast. And, I love to eat breakfast food for lunch and dinner, too.

I think this has been true since childhood when my mother served me scrambled eggs and then later taught me how to scramble my own. One of her little tricks was to add a quarter teaspoon of sugar, pancake syrup, or vanilla extract to the scrambled batter. Or, as my wife and her parents insisted: add a dollop of mayonnaise.

One of the great surprises of nutrition research as far as I’m concerned was the conclusion that eggs are good for us. This ranks second or third only  to those nutritionists’ assertions that coffee is beneficial in restricted amounts as is dark chocolate.

As a younger writer, I often ate breakfast at a restaurant counter and finished my coffee and toast while writing in my journal. In college, my dormitory mates and I often drove across the river to the next city for all-night breakfast served at a local diner. I can remember at that time thinking my avocation in life might be to become a short-order cook at a diner.

Restaurants such as Ihop, Dennys (which was a favorite when my family lived in Tokyo), Waffle House (despite the jokes it engenders, it makes the best home fries–and there are three of them within a mile of our house in Georgia**), Perkins, Sonic, Bob Evans (which much too late in life I learned was my late older brother’s favorite eating place–well, after all, Mom probably taught him to scramble eggs, too) and Cracker Barrel all specialize in serving breakfast all day.

A development in the restaurant world is the growing popularity of gourmet breakfast shops. A recent article by list-maker Malika Harricharan* rates the ten best breakfast shops in Atlanta; I’m certain there’s a similar list provided for a major city near you.

I’m told that sometime before the end of this year (2015) McDonald’s will be serving breakfast all day in many locations. About time is all I can say.

Whether eggs are served with ham, bacon, sausage, grits, fries, or even fish, they always comfort and enrich me.

And, be at ease, my friends. Breakfast was apparently important in the life of Jesus.

The gospel of John tells us that the resurrected Jesus instructed the disciples who were fishing offshore to heave their nets to the other side, and moments later as his followers with their new huge catch moved ashore toward the fire he had built on the beach, Jesus invites them with the words: “Come and have breakfast.”***


**After his victory in the 2014 Masters Golf Tournament, golfer and big-tipper Bubba Watson apparently treated his family and staff to a meal at Waffle House (as per waitress at restaurant).

*** (John 21:12).

Planting Spiritual Sequoias

Planting Spiritual Sequoias

A friend and colleague, who retired from his school superintendent’s job just a few years before I left the same school, was killed in May in a three-car pile-up on an Interstate highway in southern Wisconsin.

Larry Dean Kooi and his wife Gail were en-route to family celebrations with their children and grandchildren in Minnesota, having driven from their retirement home in northern Georgia. Larry slowed for a construction delay on the highway and his vehicle was rammed from behind and pushed into the car in front of him, according to press reports. Larry died instantly apparently, and his wife was hospitalized for several days after the crash.

From every place Larry had ever led or advised a school, messages of sympathy came to his family underscoring his reputation as a wise, thoughtful, fair, caring, listening and loving man of Christ.

Larry, a native Iowan, as far as I know had never lived in the vicinity of big Sequoia trees, which are native to the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California and among the largest and oldest known trees on the earth. He and Gail did travel quite a bit and may have visited the national park that is home to the gigantic trees.

However, Larry told me once in our casual conversations that he had a favorite poem, and it was about Sequoias, but he couldn’t remember who had written the verses. I researched a little bit and came up with the poem “Planting a Sequoia” by Dana Gioia. Larry was thrilled to have rediscovered the text.

It is well worth reading Gioia’s poem so I have copied it below:

Planting a Sequoia / by Dana Gioia

All afternoon my brothers and I have worked in the orchard,
Digging this hole, laying you into it, carefully packing the soil.
Rain blackened the horizon, but cold winds kept it over the Pacific,
And the sky above us stayed the dull gray
Of an old year coming to an end.

In Sicily a father plants a tree to celebrate his first son’s birth—
An olive or a fig tree — a sign that the earth has one more life to bear.
I would have done the same, proudly laying new stock into my father’s
A green sapling rising among the twisted apple boughs,
A promise of new fruit in other autumns.

But today we kneel in the cold planting you, our native giant,
Defying the practical custom of our fathers,
Wrapping in your roots a lock of hair, a piece of an infant’s birth cord,
All that remains above earth of a first-born son,
A few stray atoms brought back to the elements.

We will give you what we can — our labor and our soil,
Water drawn from the earth when the skies fail,
Nights scented with the ocean fog, days softened by the circuit of
We plant you in the corner of the grove, bathed in western light,
A slender shoot against the sunset.

And when our family is no more, all of his unborn brothers dead,
Every niece and nephew scattered, the house torn down,
His mother’s beauty ashes in the air,
I want you to stand among strangers, all young and ephemeral to you,
Silently keeping the secret of your birth.

(“Planting a Sequoia” by Dana Gioia from The Gods of Winter, Graywolf Press, 1991.)

Dana Gioia’s website is at:  http://www.danagioia.net/poems/sequoia.htm

Even if Larry never visited the Sequoias, they held a place of admiration in his consciousness. And I had the privilege of knowing and working with this poetry appreciating educator who planted spiritual Sequoias everywhere he lived and worked.

It seems humorously poetic to me also that Larry, with three successive vowels in his four-letter last name, admired a poem by a poet with four successive vowels in his five-letter surname writing about a tree with four successive vowels in its name.

I chant those vowels as a prayer for Larry: ooi-ioia-uoia!

Lent Madness 2014–Part 1

I’m in the midst of following my tournament bracket—not the March Madness of the NCAA, but the LentMadness.org selections leading to the Golden Ring crown.

This morning I chose Simeon (of the Gospel of Luke and the Nunc Dimittis of Evening Prayer) over Phillips Brooks (19th-century Episcopal bishop of Massachusetts and long-time rector of Trinity Church in Boston, popularly known for penning the Christmas hymn, “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem”).

Unless one knows of the Forward Movement [www.forwardmovement.org], a devotional (Forward Day by Day) and publishing arm of the Episcopal Church operated in Cincinnati, Ohio, LentMadness.org is a stranger. For about five years two priests of the church, the Rev. Tim Schenck and the Rev. Scott Gunn, have been running this tournament of spiritual champions during the days of Lent. They see it as a fun and educational way of providing Episcopalians (and others who enter) a casual means of getting to know some of the saints.

In the Episcopal Church, saints have been honored and recorded in a volume known as Lesser Feasts and Fasts, edited and reissued every three years, and most recently revised, reedited, and published as Holy Women, Holy Men.

Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church has no formal process of canonization of saints so the General Convention, which meets triennially, decides who gets into the publication and is honored with a commemorative feast day in the church’s calendar.

The Revs. Schenck and Gunn, both avid basketball fans, grasped the idea of the NCAA’s March Madness and turned it into a tournament game featuring stars such as Alcuin, John of the Cross, Anna Cooper, Thomas Gallaudet, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nicholas Ridley, Johann Sebastian Bach, and John and Charles Wesley. Schenck and Gunn act as a selection committee and set up the brackets with 64 chosen saints. Those who sign up vote on a daily basis to determine a victor, who is crowned as the Golden Halo Winner during Holy Week. Throughout Lent, the tournament goes through a Round of 32; a round of the Saintly 16; a round of the Elate 8 (that’s not a typo; look up the word elate); and a Faithful 4.

To date, more than 5,000 voters have made daily selections in the 2014 tournament by clicking on a winner after reading informative and educational biographies of each competing saint. Many of those who sign-up also post comments on why they voted as they did; why they think a certain person should have been included; or why some other’s choice is unwise. Buried in the comments are lots of theological, worship, and social justice debates. (By the way, nothing bars one from entering the tournament at any time and voting in the remaining rounds.)

For me, this Lent Madness tournament coincides with my own developing interest in knowing more about the saints.

As one baptized a Methodist (as an infant) and a Baptist (as a teenager) and confirmed an Episcopalian (as a young adult), I’ll discuss my discovery and growing interest in the saints of the church in Part II.


A Little-known Martyr and Saint

I have spent time of late learning about some saints.

Take, for example, Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian peasant, born in 1907 and beheaded in a Nazi prison in 1943.

Jägerstätter was 36 years old when his life was taken, but I never heard of him until 2013. He was a conscientious objector tried in Berlin for refusing conscription into the German army and executed as “an enemy of the state.”

Jägerstätter, a farmer and church sexton, reported as ordered for military induction rather than flee as many of his friends advised. He refused to serve and spent the next five months in prison before being murdered.

The story of this little-known martyr is documented in a 1964 book by Gordon Zahn: In Solitary Witness: The Life and Death of Franz Jägerstätter (Springfield, Ill.: Templegate Press, 1964, 1991).

For more information than I can provide, I suggest you view the embedded video presentation below from the Institute of Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.

(This is a lecture by Notre Dame historian and theology professor Robert A. Krieg, and the video runs for almost one hour; it starts with too much banter in the lecture hall (skip ahead to 3:55).

The video is readily available on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QdxBBLXhAJA


I learned of Jägerstätter in Robert Ellsberg’s 1997 collection, All Saints: Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses For Our Time (NY: Crossroad, 1997).

Ellsberg is editor in chief of Orbis Books in New York City, and he is the son of Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame.

Interestingly, Daniel Ellsberg’s decision to copy and disclose the secret papers of the U.S. government in the wake of the Vietnam War was influenced by his learning of the experience of Franz Jägerstätter in World War II Germany and Austria.

Later, the younger Ellsberg, after learning that Jägerstätter’s letters and papers had been published in german in 2007, and knowing of Jägerstätter’s influence on his father, arranged for their translation and publication by Orbis in 2009. His choice of translators was Notre Dame’s Krieg.

As Krieg quips in his lecture: “The Holy Spirit is alive and well.”

Pope Francis and the radical theological importance of leisure

Pope Francis converses with two Argentinian journalists on “his life in his own words” in a new book released last month by Putnam (Pope Francis: His Life in His Own Words. 2013).

New York Times reviewer Mark Oppenheimer says the conversations reveal “cute facts” about the new Pope but “not much interesting theology.”

Oppenheimer is sharp enough, however, to see a slight “radical note” in the pontiff’s words. That note, which has to do with faith at ease, lies in Pope Francis’ admonition for us to “relax.” And contrary to Oppenheimer’s assertion that these conversations contain “not much interesting theology,” they may point to the single most important theological consideration addressing the overwhelming consumer culture in which we toil.

Asked by his interviewers, “Do we need to rediscover the meaning of leisure?” the leader of the world’s Roman Catholics responds: “Together with a culture of work, there must be a culture of leisure as gratification. To put it another way: people who work must take the time to relax, to be with their families, to enjoy themselves, read, listen to music, play a sport.”

The Pope lays the blame for modern culture’s inability to truly relax largely to the destruction wrought by the culture’s creeping elimination of a day of rest—a Sabbath.

Oppenheimer’s review provides a capsule history of Sabbatarianism in America, noting that it has been “a Protestant thing,” but his survey indicates that in America keeping the Sabbath has largely been a social and legal debate, not a theological one.

I began this blog, “Faith at Ease,” six years ago by calling attention to the exposition of German philosopher Josef Pieper’s 1948 book, Leisure, the Basis of Culture, in which the author suggests that the oft-quoted admonition of Psalm 45, “Be still, and know that I am God,” is more appropriately translated as: “Be at leisure, and know that I am God.”

Leisure, from Pieper’s perspective, is not just a time-out or a break from the usual action; it is a celebration of creation and its commands; it is, as Pieper’s title says, “the Basis of Culture.” Contrary to Oppenheimer’s “slight” aside, leisure is theology at its most basic, what John Dominic Crossan reminds us is the culmination of the Biblical Creation narrative in the book of Genesis.

[Readers may want to view my earlier posts on this topic.
Regarding Pieper: http://wp.me/p86oI1-3
regarding Crossan: http://wp.me/p86oI1-1b

Incidentally, the new book reveals that a favorite movie of Pope Francis is “Babette’s Feast,” a Danish film that won the 1987 Academy Award for Best Foreign Motion Picture.

I heartily urge you to see this film if you have not yet watched it. The story is a tale of grace and giving, and it will undoubtedly encourage you the next time you partake of a leisurely and sumptuous meal.

All is Grace — Brennan Manning

Recommended reading: Brennan Manning’s All Is Grace, with John Blase. [Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2011].

I’m not going to review Manning’s memoir; there are many such reviews on the Web. A good start might be with co-author John Blase’s review in the Huffington Post.

Manning is almost 80 years old and is receiving constant care as he suffers from what is described as “liquid brain,” a thiamine deficiency associated with alcohol abuse. Its formal name is Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. Most commentators see All is Grace as his final publication. [*see note at end of post.]

For me, ever since I read his signal 1990 book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, Manning represents a life of faith at ease even though his biography illustrates someone whose tortured life is hardly at ease–unless one considers the gift of grace.

Others have seen this. A preliminary chapter of All Is Grace entitled “Reader Testimonies,” contains a brief note by the spiritual writer-editor-teacher Robert Benson, who nails the influence of Manning:

“I learned the truth of the gospel from Brennan, the same gospel you will find in this book: That in the end, my sin will never outweigh God’s love. That the Prodigal can never outrun the Father. That I am not measured by the good I do but by the grace I accept. That being lost is a prerequisite to being found. That living a life of faith is not lived in the light, it is discovered in the dark. That not being a saint here on earth will not necessarily keep you from being in that number when the march begins.” (emphasis mine–ara)

Want to hear the jazz of faith at ease? Read Manning’s memoir. And pray for his ease as he deals with his disease.

*[On Friday, April 12, 2013, Richard Francis Xavier (Brennan) Manning died.] 


“Fear not”: A reminder I need every day

Those who do such counting tell us the Bible uses the phrase “Fear not” or some permutation of that sentiment more than 300 times. One counter has suggested these words are mentioned 366 times, once for each day of the annual calender (including leap years).

If we were to include phrases such as, “Be at peace,” the number goes higher; in fact, one Bible reference suggests the word peace appears more than 500 times and if we add the notion of quiet, the number increases still more.

Peace, quiet, and “Fear not” suggest to me that my faith should be at ease.  Yet, I fear.

Yesterday was World Peace Day, urging particularly that all pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Watch and listen while praying:


Dream Muse

Dream Muse
           by Allan Roy Andrews 
I seek the diction for my poem
and lonely as a cloud I roam
the pages of anthologies;
but finding there no words to please,
I gentle go to that good night
and in my dancing dream I write
a poem as clear as ear has heard
then wake–and can’t recall a word. 


Posted on the Website “Author Amok” 

April 3, 2012, with permission.


It’s always a wonderful and somewhat serendipitous pleasure to find others wanting to post my poems on their Websites. This poem was actually solicited on the blind during National Poetry Month this year, but it took me about another month or more to actually visit the Website and see my attempt at humor posted to the world.


Mother of Exiles at 125


I grew up a neighbor to the Statue of Liberty.

From the apartment in which we lived during my youth in Brooklyn, I could glance down the street toward New York Harbor and see the statue on Liberty Island (which we knew as Bedloe’s Island; it was renamed in 1956). The statue gleamed at night as floodlights shone upon it; during the day it showed the green tint of weathering copper.

On October 28, 2011, the statue celebrated the 125th anniversary of its dedication.

New York City children in the late 19th century donated pennies that went toward the building of the pedestal upon which the statue stands. Newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian immigrant, promised to publish the names of every donor to the pedestal fund. The French, who presented the statue to the United States, a gift celebrating America’s 1876 centennial, called it “Liberty Enlightening the World.”

Almost every New York City school child recalls the 1883 poem of Emma Lazarus dedicated to the statue. Thousands have heard or read Lazarus’s poem. Not many, however, recall its official name, “The New Colossus,” a name the poet chose to emphasize that the Statue of Liberty was “Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame” providing a defiant defensive stance, but one that would be a beacon of “world-wide welcome.”

Lazarus, a well-known New York poet, was asked to write a commemorative poem to be auctioned as part of the pedestal fundraising. She responded that she couldn’t write about a statue. However, she turned her compassion for Jewish-Russian refugees—many of whom she taught–into a compelling appeal on their behalf. She understood the statue’s imagery and its powerful message to those sailing into a welcoming haven.

The most memorable lines of her sonnet are words given the “mighty woman with a torch”:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Lazarus turned the French appellation of enlightenment into a compassionate symbol of freedom and opportunity, a promise of liberty to those oppressed in foreign lands. In her sonnet, she called the woman with the torch that gleams with that message of welcome the “Mother of Exiles.”

Lazarus was not on Bedloe’s Island when the statue was dedicated in 1886. Her poem was read but barely noticed and little recalled following the celebration.

The poet died the next year. She was 38. Her poem later became immortalized on the pedestal of the statue in 1903.

Despite being raised in New York City, I’ve never visited Liberty Island; I’ve never stood at the base of the statue or climbed inside its magnificent structure. I’ve never taken a tourist’s stance toward Lady Liberty; to me, she was a neighbor and friend. Even as the son of immigrants I’ve never felt a need for a compulsory visit to her island home. Nevertheless, with a little help from Emma Lazarus, I knew deeply what the Mother of Exiles exemplified about my country.

A victim of frequent neglect, the statue has been refurbished twice, once in 1938 and again in 1986. On October 29 of 2011, she has closed again to inside climbers so that alterations can make her safer.

We may recover her safety and sheen, but we have neglected to polish her symbolic message.

Sentiments such as those promoted by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), for example, suggest the statue’s beckoning of openness in this era is “an invitation to national disaster.” Playing on mean-spirited and misguided fear-arguments of job losses and national security, FAIR apparently would rather we muffle or extinguish the lamp of freedom blazing above New York Harbor as we seek to ferret out terrorism and illegal aliens. Emma Lazarus disagrees.

What is now in need of refurbishment in a time of selfish anti-immigration attitudes in several state legislatures of America are the sentiments of compassion, freedom, and welcome to the legitimately tired and poor yearning to breathe free, sentiments that Lazarus symbolically attributed to the copper-clad gift from France.

Protectionism often inhibits enlightenment. Should I decide soon to take my family to Liberty Island, it won’t be to focus arrogantly on America enlightening the world or on some warped sense of national security. Our visit will be to appreciate the Mother of Exiles and her enduring message of openness to poor and tired immigrants and refugees.

ALLAN ROY ANDREWS, a Brooklyn native whose parents sailed into New York harbor in the 1920s, is a retired editor of the Pacific Stars and Stripes newspaper and a poet teaching and living in Maryland.

(In 2012 my wife and I and our youngest son relocated to Augusta, GA.)

Six-word Essays on Time

By Allan Roy Andrews

Now always dies
in clock time.

Streams of time
eventually dry up.

Life gives, but
Time takes away.

Clocks truly lack
faces and hands.

Has anyone seen
a clock smile?

Moment by moment
time abandons us.

The six-word essay is often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, who took up the challenge of telling a story in just six words.

The form has been popularized in recent years, largely through the online publication of Smith Magazine http://www.smithmag.net/sixwords/ and Narrative Magazine http://www.narrativemagazine.com/.

Whimsical Theology: Bread, beer, and “Everybody”

By Allan Roy Andrews

An anonymous 20th-century devotional writer, reflecting on Jesus’ proclamation in the gospel of John that He is the “bread of life” (John 6:35), casually asserts that bread is “the most basic food there is.”

Without challenging the historical and liturgical implications of Christianity’s prayer for our daily bread or the cultural significance of bread as a fundamental and necessary sustenance of life (as in prisoners, the hungry, and the fasting staying alive on bread and water alone), I wonder about putting bread in this exalted position.

After all, aren’t the basic ingredients of bread the same as, or at least similar to, those that go into the making of beer?
What would it do to our theology—especially our view of the Incarnation—if Jesus had proclaimed, “I am the beer of life!”?

Many, from Martin Luther to Brennan Manning, would rejoice at such a seeming earthy assertion. This notion implies we might meet the savior as easily in a local pub as in a church sanctuary: What a drinking buddy we have in Jesus!

Sure the notion is a bit whimsical, but not, I think, without merit. Our attempts to understand how God could become a man (pitching his bodily tent among us) must allow that being fully human might mean drinking beer as well as eating bread with us (and would allow us to give thanks for our daily grains in all their forms).

Such thoughts form what I like to think of as whimsical theology, and one of my favorite proponents of this thinking is the singer and songwriter John Prine. Consider Prine’s encounter with Jesus in the lyrics of his song, “Everybody.”

While out sailing on the ocean;
While out sailing on the sea;
I bumped into the Savior,
And He said, “Pardon me.”
I said, “Jesus, you look tired.”
He said, “Jesus, so do you;
Oh, sit down son
‘Cause I got some fat to chew.”


Well, he spoke to me of morality,
Starvation, pain, and sin.
Matter of fact, the whole dang time
I only got a few words in.
But I won`t squawk–
Let `im talk–Hell, it`s been a long, long time,
And any friend that`s been turned down
Is bound to be a friend of mine.


Now we sat there for an hour or two
Just eatin’ that gospel pie,
When around the bend come a terrible wind,
And lightning lit the sky.
He said, “So long, Son, I gotta run;
I appreciate you listenin’ to me.”
And I believe I heard him sing these words
As he skipped out across the sea.

See, everybody needs somebody that they can talk to,
Someone to open up their ears
And let that trouble through.
Now you don`t have to sympathize
Or care what they may do,
But everybody needs somebody that they can talk to.

Everybody needs somebody that they can talk to.

Lyrics ©1972 John Prine

I’ll drink to that! Just remember: One cannot live by beer alone.


Hear John Prine sing his whimsical theology:


‘Crazy Heart’: It’s in the music–A divine call?

It’s not in the acting; although, Jeff Bridges does an outstanding job portraying a country singer waging a losing battle with fading fame and booze.

It’s not in the romance; although, Maggie Gyllenhaal is captivating as the younger lover of the troubled star.

It’s not in the script; although, the story moves intelligently from bowling alley to big stage with lots of foreshadowing in dialogue and drama.

It’s not in the booze; although, for a change, there’s some deep reality to the hope provided through 12-step programs, and in the end, sobriety trumps a doomed sexual liaison.

It’s none of these that make “Crazy Heart” one of the outstanding movies of 2009; it’s in the music!

For one thing, Bridges is as admirable a singer as he is an actor, and his renditions of “A Hold on You,” “Fallin’ and Flyin,’” “Brand New Angel,” and snippets of the Academy Award winning song, “The Weary Kind,” mesmerize.

It helps to be a fan of country music to enjoy “Crazy Heart,” but the people who put this film together are connoisseurs of the genre.

Consider the songs that fill the background and carry Bridges’ staggering performance along its travels from drunkenness to degeneracy to dalliance to dangerous neglect to deliverance: Buck Owens singing “Hello, Trouble”; the Louvin Brothers singing “My Baby’s Gone”; Kitty Wells singing “Searching”; Waylon Jennings singing “Are You Sure Hank Did It This Way”; Lucinda Williams singing “Joy”; George Jones singing “The Color of the Blues”; the Delmore Brothers singing “I Let a Freight Train Carry Me On”; and in a happy transition scene (a balloon ride symbolic of transcendence), Townes Van Zandt singing “If I Needed You.” The music of “Crazy Heart” is more than window-dressing; it’s the dynamic driving the script.

Bridges’ cry for help: “I want to be sober,” and the portrayal of his session at a treatment facility should hearten the evangelists of 12-Step programs.

In that regard, I believe I detected a lyric change that might credit the emphasis 12-Step programs place on divine intervention.

Recovering from drunkenness, Bridges’ character, Bad (Otis) Blake, entertains in his friend’s bar with the song, “Brand New Angel.”

I’ve trooped through Web sites seeking the lyrics of this Greg Brown song. The chorus of which goes:
“Open the gates, welcome him in;
“there’s a brand new angel, a brand new angel . . .

The final line in the versions I searched is given as:
“With an old idea”; or
“With an old violin.

However, if you listen carefully to Jeff Bridges’ film rendition (not the soundtrack cut), the final line appears to be:
“Who doesn’t know me.”

Can this be God’s call to open the gates?


UPDATE: December 2016

Listen to Bridges on the clip below. His lyric on this soundtrack clip is none of the suggestions I’ve made above. Clearly, he sings “a brand new angel with an old Amen!” However, I’m planning to watch the film again to check once more.

Serendipitous laughter: Two experiences

By Allan Roy Andrews

Experience No. 1:

Radio-television personality and humorist Art Linkletter died last week at 97. Until about two years ago, when he suffered a mild stroke, Linkletter was still active on the philanthropic circuit.
A few years before that, I heard Linkletter entertain at a small school fundraiser. Linkletter, whose adoptive father was a Canadian preacher, told someone at that gathering that he “liked to help out small Christian schools.”
In his comments that night, Linkletter told a joke that I have commandeered as a staple of fun found in growing older. Here’s the joke:
“You know you’re getting old when you bend over to pick something off the floor and you say to yourself, ‘What else can I do while I’m down here?’”
I have learned experientially what Linkletter spoke of, so I’ve used the joke a number of times, and it never fails to elicit hearty laughs.
Two of Linkletter’s books also keep me smiling: Kids Say the Darndest Things, and Old Age is Not For Sissies.

Experience No. 2:

For the group’s edification, I recently read to my Bible discussion gathering a favorite poem by Billy Collins called “Flock.”
Here’s the brief poem:

It has been calculated that each copy of the
Gutenberg Bible . . . required the skins of 300 sheep.
–from an article on printing.

I can see them squeezed into the holding pen
behind the stone building
where the printing press is housed,

all of them squirming around
to find a little room
and looking so much alike

it would be nearly impossible
to count them,
and there is no telling

which one will carry the news
that the Lord is a shepherd,
one of the few things they already know.

–from The Trouble with Poetry, by Billy Collins. (Random House, 2005.)

After a moment of silent reflection, one member of our group put me—and several others—in stitches when he said, “I’m having a Gary Larson moment,” referring to the prize-winning cartoonist of The Other Side who was noted for his surprising and often warped sense of humor.
“I can see a room full of monks, having just sheared a flock of sheep, taking up their calligraphy pens and writing verses of sacred scripture on the flanks of the shorn animals,” my friend continued. “They probably had a difficult time keeping the pages in order!”
It was a wonderful moment, and if Billy Collins ever reads about our experience, I have a feeling he’ll be smiling broadly too. And if Larson ever reads this report of my friend’s experience, he’ll probably be saying, “I wish I’d thought of that!”