Wednesday, October 31, 2012

HYMN TIME #11: "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" HAPPY REFORMATION DAY!

This is one of the best known hymns in the entire world and certainly the best known of all those written by German Monk, Musician, Preacher and Reformer Martin Luther [1483-1546].  It is believed that Luther composed this hymn and it's music between 1527 and 1529.  The poem itself is a dramatic re-writing of the 46th Psalm.  Here is a picture of what is believed to be the oldest extant printing of this marvelous hymn in it's original German ["Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott"]

Where do we even begin when discussing the significance of Luther and The Great reformation?  In about 1991, early in my first marriage, I had my own weak mind good and blown by my first reading of Roland Bainton's great biography HERE I STAND, and I have been fascinated by the old "Champion Of Free Grace" ever since.  Luther had his faults, to be sure-- not the least of which were his shameful espousal of the state-church model and his (eventual) anti-semitism-- but the effect of his Gospel-based rebellion against "formalized legalism" and "sacralized statecraft" [to use Leonard Verduin's memorable labels] has influenced our "Western World" for an uncommon amount of good... no question about it!

To be honest, I will always  have my differences with not only Luther, but the entire "reformed" mindset, but still... those differences don't mean much when I look at what he got right, like his famous "five cornerstones":

Sola scriptura (by Scripture alone),
Sola fide (by faith alone),
Sola gratia (by grace alone),
Solo Christo (through Christ alone),
Soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone)!

So yeah... I have to praise Almighty God for that old beer-guzzling, music-loving, German "Statist!"  And what a great hymn this is, too! Let's hear old Tennessee Ernie Ford's surprisingly reverent version [sorry he left out the third verse, but I printed it here, of course... it's a vital part of the whole poem.] :

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.
"Luther and his companions, with all their bold readiness for danger and death in the cause of truth, had times when their feelings were akin to those of a divine singer, who said, 'Why art thou cast down, O my soul?' But in such hours the unflinching Reformer would cheerily say to his friend Melancthon, 'Come, Philip, let us sing the forty-sixth Psalm;' and they could sing it in Luther's own characteristic version."

S. W. Christophers, in "Hymn Writers and their Hymns," 1866

"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea..." Psalm 46:1,2


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Feeding My Inner Geek #1: Five Old Comics That Would Make Great Movies

Comics are all the rage at the movies these days. I am amazed beyond measure when I see pretty young girls talking about the AVENGERS or CAPTAIN AMERICA on a level of actual geekiness!  In my day this was NOT a common occurrence, folks, believe me.  So apparently... the "geek culture" is now mainstream culture, for better or worse.

Well, here are my choices for the comics from my childhood that I feel would best lend themselves to a cinematic interpretation.  Even as a kid I had unusual taste in comics, so these are movies that will quite probably never be made.. but I am bored and at a computer, so here goes:


I have always been a sucker for a post-apocalypse tale, ever since I saw TEENAGE CAVEMAN on KGUN Tucson's "2 O'Clock Movies" as a kid.  Say what ya want about that old Corman flick, the surprise ending gave me chills [oops, that was a serious spoiler... good thing no one here is probably even interested... :) ]

The '70s had a proliferation of these types of stories [PLANET OF THE APES in all its manifestations, Gold Key's great and undervalued MIGHTY SAMSON, Marvel's "H. G. Wellsian" twist KILLRAVEN], but I would choose Kamandi just for the glorious Jack Kirby overkill and the joy of all those strange battles with every type of talking animal mutant [except the horses for some reason couldn't talk... go figure.]  I would love to see that hippie hair cut off, but I am a purist, so it would have to stay.  Seriously, though, what a great adventure film this could make if it fell in the right hands!


Jungle comics were always a fun-- if not very versatile-- diversion, but this title, created by the prolific Gaylord DuBois as a back-up at Dell in the '50s-- and still kickin' by the late '70s-- was a real stand-out within that admittedly, pretty tired, sub-genre.  Dan-El and Natongo. the titular "Brothers, were a racially mixed team of Jungle princes [one was adopted, o'course] who went searching for the former's origins and ended up righting wrongs in the process.   Interestingly, I think there was a real Christian under-current here, as the brothers fought pagans and witch doctors and spoke often of of the "One True God" in their many adventures.  Dubois was actually an ordained minister-- described on Wikipedia as a "devout Christian"-- who  really shared his world-view in this feature, possibly his all-time greatest creation, TUROK notwithstanding.


You knew I'd have at least one western on my list, and it pleases me that my choice was a grand creation of the recently passed Joe Kubert. 

Firehair was the red-headed toddler survivor of a wagon train massacre who ended up being raised by the Commanches.  Sounds pretty hackneyed I suppose, but Kubert really gave an old cliche some spectacular life in this fondly remembered '60s and 70's cult classic that never quite took off.  The hero encountered soldiers, miners, and even Californio Vaqueros in Kubert's uniquely researched and render story arc.  Someone could fashion a great and tear-jerking screenplay out of this one, to be sure.


This one is so perfect for a movie it practically writes itself.  A U.S. tank commander in WW2 meets the ghost of Confederate Calvary legend J.E.B. Stuart, who becomes a mentor to him.  The rest of the crew can't see the ghost, of course, and think the skipper is completely nuts.  In an amazing  bit of political un-correctness our mortal hero honors the ghost by flying a Confederate rather than a Union flag on his "haunted" tank.

For years there have been rumors of a Sgt. Rock film, but I actually think this strange little title would be a much cooler war flick.


I think I am just about the only 40-something who actually has memories-- much less fond ones-- of this obscure, short-lived Charlton Comics non-super-hero action title. [6 issues July 1975 to May 1976.]  Young Albie loved it, though, and even today I think it has a cool Stephen J. Cannell kind of vibe to it [and yes, I do say that as a compliment.]  In fact, I still think it was actually better than the still-loved noir-ish "Mike Mauser" back-up stories, which are just about the only reason anyone seeks out this title today.

The V-Squad were a trio of hard-boiled oddballs:  Eric Redd, the ex-fed leader with a chip on his shoulder because he had served prison time unjustly; Candy Orr, the beautiful jaded female cop-- a stereotypical "Brass Cupcake" character, so to speak;  and Tulsa Coyle, the rough and tumble crew-cutted Vietnam vet.  These guys were basically an international "security-for-hire" A-Team type outfit.   Again, it may sound pretty pedestrian, but even as a kid I loved the interplay between these characters, who were only beginning to like each other when the title saw its final issue.

Now... These choices all make sense to me, of course, but... from all my experience that basically just ensures this list must be absolutely anti-antithetical to any prevailing American taste.   Oh well, the blog killed a half-hour anyway.


Monday, October 22, 2012

"Courage For The Crazy Journey!" [Notes For A Sermon To Myself...]

"Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness." 
[Isa. 41:10]

The older I get the more I see this life as a journey... a simple pilgrimage. I mean, don't get me wrong... I knew this was true all along, of course, but it's one of those truths that just gets truer all the time! Know what I mean?

There's this old Bluegrass Gospel song that begins with this couplet:

I got my hands on a Gospel plow,
And I won't take nothin' for my journey now!

And that there is just the way it is, ain't it?  For the believer, anyway.

Still... The Christian Pilgrim on his way home needs all the help he can get!  What a blessing that God did not leave us without a Helper!

Now, they say  "Courage" is that quality of mind and spirit that gives one the strength to refuse to accept defeat. I'll buy that, I reckon.  I know of it firsthand as that elusive quality we summon sometimes [not often enough in my case!] that allows us to meet danger and difficulties with a firmness not our own! It's that casting aside of fear... that head-on facing of stress and strain with determination... because we know there's a goal ahead.

Now... If that Old Book is right, and I am convinced it is, then this type of strength and character is available to any believer.  But it can still be hard to lay our hands on it, can't it?

In the beautiful scripture before us, I see a few things that surely might help us along and encourage us.
Consider FIRST that,


SECOND, consider that,

THE MASTER GIVES US STRENGTH.  ["I will strengthen thee..."]

And FINALLY, consider that,


["I will uphold thee..."]

See... I am known as a pretty happy-go-lucky feller, but I actually get discouraged by a LOT of things.  Circumstances discourage me.  Other folks can sometimes discourage me.  The world, the flesh and the Devil discourage me.

But honestly?  My own worst enemy seems to be ol' Albie "The Good" himself! 

Oh my... All the people I have wronged. 

The relentless memory of all my past sin.

Sometimes it is positively overwhelming.  And truth be told: the circumstances and relationships that have discouraged me most were my own fault to begin with!  What does a guy do then?  How does he get his joy up and running then??

Well, if I am in Christ, I have it on the word of my very best and strongest friend that I am  a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Part of that horrible “old” which has gone is the remembrance of past sins and the guilt they have produced. Sad to say, though, I am annoyingly prone to wallowing in memories of my sinful past and its deceptions, memories which, I know, should have been dead and buried when I got grace and forgiveness.  My feelings regarding these rags [actual biblical term] are pointless, I know,  and run counter to the victorious Christian life my Father God truly wants for me.  Trust me,  I know-- in my head at least-- the wisdom of these oft-repeated words:

“If God has saved you out of a sewer, don’t dive back in and swim around.”

But its just plain HARD for me sometimes, folks.  It truly is.  Sorry to whine.... But, can anyone relate?

If you think to, friends... Pray for me, would ya?

And --Thanks to anyone who has actually read this far! God bless ya :)



Wednesday, October 17, 2012

BIG AL'S JOVIAL JUKEBOX #5: "Hey Mae" by Rusty and Doug Kershaw, 1958... Swamp-a-billy!

Rusty and Doug Kershaw were actual  Louisiana-born "French-as-a-first-language" Cajuns still in their teens when they began their recording career in the mid-1950s.   After a few reasonably successful charted country records they went to Nashville in 1958 to record some sides with a band of A-grade session pickers.  The resulting sessions have become legendary for the brothers' ventures into composing and performing true Rockabilly-- with a Cajun flavor!

The legendary "Hey Mae" failed to chart for the boys, although in the '80s English Rockabilly revivalist Shakin' Stevens would sell a million copies in the 'Billy-lovin' European market with a slightly harder rocking re-make.  I actually first knew this song from Stevens' version, but later found the original on an old Ace vinyl compilation import album.  [God bless those English fans and labels!  They literally kept these great American sounds alive-- and available-- for decades!]  When I first heard the Kershaws' raw reading of it I was absolutely blown away by its sound.  Shaky's version was fine, but it really did lose a certain swampy vibrance and swing that can only be found in the Kershaw's wild original. 

I will now let Craig Morrison, author of the indispensible history "GO CAT, GO!: ROCKABILLY MUSIC AND ITS MAKERS," handle the description:

Of the Nashville recordings, their self-composed "Hey Mae" from 1958, produced by Wesley Rose and made with an all-star session band, is their finest Rockabilly song.  Here is the recipe for its haunting sound: take hypnotizing vocals, insistent eighth-note rhythms, and lots of the tonic chord.  Blend in a fascinating interplay from three guitarists (Hank Garland,  Ray Edenton, and Chet Atkins) and add a tasty dash of piano work (Floyd Cramer).  Beat with powerful drumming (Buddy Harman)and cook over simple half-note bass playing (Floyd T. Chance). Serve beautifully recorded. Satisfies discriminating tastes. [taken from Morrison, GO CAT, GO, University of Illinois Press 1998, page 137]
Take a listen:

The boys did eventually hit it big at Hickory in 1961 with their brilliant, often-covered theme song "Louisiana Man," which cracked the country top ten earned them a fortune in writing royalties.

Rusty [1938-2001] eventually departed the act and Doug [born 1936 and still kickin' it as a live act] went on as a solo, eventually becoming embraced by hippies, record collectors, and the wider country audience as a true national "roots music" treasure. 

I'm still glad they took the time to Rock a little, though.

HEY MAE  (Rusty & Doug Kershaw)
RUSTY & DOUG (HICKORY 45-1077, 1958)

Hey Mae, hey Mae

Won't you come on out, and let's play

Please say, okay

I say today is a good day

Hey Mae, today is a good day

Hey Mae, today is a good day to play

I asked the weather man

How does the weather stand

He say the sun is a-gonna shine

And I say, that'll be fine

Hey Mae, hey Mae

Won't you come on out, and let's play

Please say, okay

I say today is a good day

Hey Mae, today is a good day

Hey Mae, today is a good day to play

Hey Mae, hey Mae

Won't you come on out, and let's play

Please say, okay

I say today is a good day

Hey Mae, today is a good day

Hey Mae, today is a good day to play

We'll drink a soda pop

Go to the record hop

Where we can do the bop

Till we're about to flop

Hey Mae, hey Mae

Won't you come on out, and let's play

Please say, okay

I say today is a good day

Hey Mae, today is a good day

Hey Mae, today is a good day to play


Friday, October 12, 2012

POETRY BREAK #10: "OLD SHIPS" by David Morton

Albie's note:  I first encountered this great sonnet in a collection of American Verse that I perused in college back in the 1980s.  I was immediately struck by its subject matter and profound-- and perhaps deceptive-- simplicity.

I can't find a lot of info on the the poet except to relate the following:   David H. Morton was a fairly popular American "mid-western" poet. Born in in 1886 in Elkton, Kentucky, he graduated from Vanderbilt University in 1909. After a decade of newspaper work, starting at the Louisville Courier-Journal, he became a teacher in the high school at Morristown, New Jersey. Beginning in 1924, he also taught at Amherst College. His work appeared notably and repeatedly in Harper's Magazine, at the time a very prestigious venue for any American Poet.  He died on June 13, 1957.  Editor Jesse Rittenhouse wrote that Morton was "one of the finest sonneteers of this period and a poet of rare and authentic gifts." 

[UPDATE, 10-15-12: After initially posting this, I finally found a picture of the poet-- shown below-- at the University Of Louisville's website.  Isn't it cool? Ol' Professor Morton liked a good cigar, apparently... and his dawg is way cool, too! --Al]

"Old Ships"
David Morton

THERE is a memory stays upon old ships,

A weightless cargo in the musty hold,—

Of bright lagoons and prow-caressing lips,

Of stormy midnights,—and a tale untold.

They have remembered islands in the dawn, 

And windy capes that tried their slender spars,

And tortuous channels where their keels have gone,

And calm blue nights of stillness and the stars.

Ah, never think that ships forget a shore,

Or bitter seas, or winds that made them wise; 

There is a dream upon them, evermore;—

And there be some who say that sunk ships rise

To seek familiar harbors in the night,

Blowing in mists, their spectral sails like light.

From The Second Book of Modern Verse:  A Selection from the Work of Contemporaneous American Poets , Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company 1920, edited by Jessie B. Rittenhouse.


This great sonnett is also included in Morton's own collection Ships In Harbor, 1920:


Tuesday, October 2, 2012


ALBIE'S NOTE:  Billy Sunday was America's leading evangelist of the nineteen twenties. He had been a famous athlete before his conversion. In major league baseball he had been the fastest base runner in the National League, able to get around the diamond in 14 seconds from a standing start! He took his athletic prowess onto the speaking platform, where he could hold a crowd of twenty thousand spellbound in the days before microphones. He would slide onstage and even smash a chair to make some Bible-thumpin' point! Many found Christ through his amazing ministry.

The following interesting anecdote deals with the uncomfortable subject of restitution.  It greatly convicted me:

"When I was about fourteen years old, I made application for the position of janitor in a school. I used to get up at two o'clock, and there were fourteen stoves to which coal had to be carried. I had to keep the fire up and keep up my studies and sweep the floors. I got twenty-five dollars a month salary. One day I got a check for my salary and I went right down to the bank to get it cashed. Right in front of me was another fellow with a check to be cashed, and he shoved his in, and I came along and shoved my check in, and I was handed forty dollars. My check called for twenty-five dollars. I called on a friend of mine who was a lawyer in Kansas City and told him: 'Frank, what do you think, Jay King handed me forty dollars and my check only called for twenty-five dollars.' He said, 'Bill, if I had your luck, I would buy a lottery ticket.' But I said, 'The fifteen dollars is not mine.' He said, 'Don't be a chump. If you were shy ten dollars and you went back you would not get it, and if they hand out fifteen dollars, don't be a fool, keep it.'"
"Well, he had some drag with me and influenced me. I was fool enough to keep it, and I took it and bought a suit of clothes. I can see that suit now; it was a kind of brown with a little green in it and I thought I was the goods. That was the first suit of store clothes I had ever had, and I bought that suit and I had twenty-five dollars left." 

"Years afterward I said: 'I ought to be a Christian,' and I got on my knees to pray, and the Lord seemed to touch me on the back and say: 'Bill, you owe that Farmers' Bank fifteen dollars with interest.' I said: 'Lord, the Bank don't know that I got that fifteen dollars,' and the Lord said: 'I know it.' So I struggled along for years, probably like some of you, trying to be decent and honest and right some wrong that was in my life, and every time I got down to pray the Lord would say, 'Fifteen dollars with interest, Nevada County, Iowa; fifteen dollars, Bill.' So years afterwards I sent that money back, enclosed a check, wrote a letter and acknowledged it. I have the peace of God from that day to this, and I have never swindled anyone out of a dollar."

From Billy Sunday: The Man and His Message by William T. Ellis, Universal Book and Bible Hse Philadelphia, PA; Authorized ed. edition (1914)