Saturday, August 31, 2019

Corner Lot

Welcome to Robby McAlpine’s corner lot in the sprawling multi-megatropolis of Greater Blogdom.

Robby, a.k.a. “robbymac”, has been blogging since 2003. Curated here is a sampling of his blog’s most-popular posts—or most infamous, depending on your point of view—as well as a few of Robby’s favorites.

Robby’s style of writing often includes what’s known as “creative non-fiction”—the creation of fictional characters and scenarios to shine a new light and perspective on biblical, theological, and church-related topics. The majority of the posts (articles? short stories?) archived here would fit into that category.
For those who keep track of such things, Robby’s most-viewed “creative non-fiction” post is #metoo—WWJD?
Links to the books Robby has written can be found in the website navigation bar, or the sidebar at right.

Thanks for stopping by! We hope you enjoy your visit.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Fade to Black

Is there a patron saint for writers?

I pondered the question as I took another sip of my pint. The patio area outside our favorite pub was roughly half-full, and I’d managed to commandeer a table in the back corner, nestled against the pub’s turn-of-the-century brick façade.

The breeze rustled the nearest trees, sending a dappled kaleidoscope of light-and-shadow patterns across the patio. It was a perfect mid-summer’s evening.

The Catholic mystic, Francis de Sales, is traditionally recognized as the patron saint of writers and journalists. But for aspiring writers of my generation—carving out our first literary creations on manual carriage-and-ink-ribbon typewriters—the venerable Snoopy, perched atop his doghouse in defiance of the law of gravity, was the more obvious choice.

A shadow loomed over my table, and I glanced up to see the mischievous face of the Younger, shoulder-to-shoulder with the Barista from the Genesis Café. The Elder peeked from behind them, waving a friendly greeting.

“The patio—always my favorite.” The Elder’s enthusiasm was evident as he shouldered past his companions to seat himself beside me. He folded his hands on the table, beaming a delighted smile.

The Younger assisted the Barista into her chair, and plunked himself down opposite me. “Parking’s a lot easier in the winter,” he commented ruefully. “But once you’ve found the best pub in town. . .”

“Aye, there’s a wee lad who knows wot’s wot.” The Barkeep sidled over to our table, slinging his bar-cloth over his shoulder. “What bevvies can I bring the lot of ye?”
Elder (looking confused, as if there could be only one rational answer): “Guinness.”

Younger (loftily): “Double IPA.”

Barista (shuddering at the Younger’s choice): “Hard apple cider, please.”

Me (hoisting my nearly-empty glass): “More of the same.”

Barkeep: mutters under his breath and retreats into the pub.
“Is it true what I’ve heard?” The Elder leaned forward, addressing the Barista. “You’ve quit your job at the Café?”

The Barista grinned brightly at him. “Today was my last shift. In two weeks, we’re moving to the Centre of the Universe. I’ll be doing my BFA at Ryerson.”

“Bachelor of Fine Arts,” the Younger stage-whispered, translating for the Elder’s benefit.

The Barista continued as if she hadn’t heard the Younger’s comment. “I’ve been picking away at photography classes at college, but my husband and I—we decided it’s taking too long. So, we’re just going to dive in, head first. He’s an I.T. guy. Finding work won’t be hard for him while I’m in school full-time.”

“That’s very wise. You’ve obviously given this a great deal of thought,” the Elder replied, nodding. His words sounded like a benediction. “Although, I have to say: I’ll be sorry to see you go. The Genesis Café won’t be the same without you.”

“Aw, thanks.” The Barista’s expression turned serious for a moment, but her infectious grin won out. “It's been a great place to work, but that season’s over. ‘You can’t live in the past,’ or so everyone tells me. It’s time for the next chapter.”

The Barkeep reappeared with a dramatic flourish, distributing our drinks around the table. He tucked the serving tray under his arm and sketched an awkward salute at the Younger and Elder. “This round’s on the house, gents. Just a way for me and the missus to say thanks for your patronage.”

“Yours, too, young lady,” he hastened to add, nodding at the Barista. He waved a hand at the Elder, stopping him before he could speak. “Naw, don’t say nuthin’. It’s the least we could do for two men o’ the cloth, especially since you're no bringin' weapons wit' ye anymore.”

And with that, he spun on his heel and disappeared into the pub.

“And what about you, Robby?” The Younger rounded on me before the door finished closing. I noticed neither he nor the Elder seemed inclined to respond to the Barkeeps cryptic weapons reference. “What’s all this about your new writing adventures?”

“It’s like our creative colleague just said.” I nodded at the Barista, who returned my look with a playful shrug. “It’s a new season—a transitional interlude between one writing genre and the next.”

“That’s a fancy way of saying you’re moving on,” the Younger countered. He toyed with his drink, running a finger absentmindedly around the rim of the glass. “After sixteen years—you’re actually going to pull the plug.”

“A time to write, and a time to write something completely different.” I knew it was a lame joke even as I said it, and I hesitated, not knowing how to adequately express my thoughts.

Not surprisingly, it was the Elder who came to my rescue. “There are times and seasons, my friends. Remember Jesus’ words? ‘The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’ (John 3:8) I believe this is one of those times.”

The Younger leaned back in his chair, uncharacteristically subdued. He locked eyes with me, and I’m certain he looked a little misty.

“Thank you for giving us a voice,” he said at last, his voice cracking. He took a deep breath, glancing at his companions. “Thanks for giving each of us a voice.”

It took me a moment to collect myself. “It’s been my pleasure, and an honour. I’m going to miss you guys.”

The Barista stirred, wiping away a tear, and managed a watery grin. “Give my regards to Deven.”

I stood, reaching for my writer’s notebook. “I will. And—there’s no good segue for this—I think it’s time for me to be on my way.”

I gestured at my notebook. “I’ve got a first draft in desperate need of editing, and a writer’s conference next weekend…”

The Elder held his Guinness aloft, a nostalgic twinkle in his eye. “To the King and His Kingdom.”

The rest of our little group clinked glasses with him, accompanied by a ragged echo of his words. “To the King and His Kingdom.”

Each of us drained our drink in a prolonged swallow. The Younger gestured at me with his empty glass, his facetious humour resurfacing. “You sure you want to drive after pounding that back?”

I laughed as I gingerly replaced the glass on the tabletop. “Actually, I think I’d like to take one last walk along the waterfront. I’ll be fine.”

I looked around the circle of faces. “And you?”

There was a moment’s hesitation as the Barista, the Younger, and the Elder exchanged glances. As if by unspoken consent, the Elder spoke on their behalf.

“We thought we’d go inside for one last round of curry fries, for old time’s sake.” He tipped an imaginary hat at me. “Drive friendly.”

I nodded, returning his gesture with my own nonexistent hat. I shook hands with the Barista and the Younger, and set off down the sidewalk.

I’d gone perhaps half a block when I found my steps slowing in the early dusk. I came to a complete standstill, my eyes roving over the quiet street, the placid lake to my right, and the empty boardwalk.

I glanced over my shoulder in time to see the Younger—silhouetted in the entryway—as he gallantly held the door open for the Barista and the Elder. They made a show of accepting his magnanimous gesture as they entered the pub, and I could only imagine the clever one-liners they traded back and forth.

The door swung shut behind them, and the light was abruptly cut off.
To the King and His Kingdom.
The Elder’s words echoed in my mind as I rounded the corner, and the pub disappeared from view.

I quickened my pace as a moon-less night descended, cloaking the street in darkness. The evening chill brought with it a ground-level fog, blurring the outlines of the buildings. Streetlights—glowing sentinels spaced at regular intervals—provided scant illumination.

I halted as two figures emerged from an alley just ahead. A young man, probably in his late-twenties, shadowed by a younger female companion. His clothing was dark and sturdy; she wore threadbare jeans and an over-sized hoodie.

“Can I help you?” I asked, uncertain what this chance meeting might mean.

They came closer, and I could see them clearly, confirming my first impression of their ages. Their faces reflected an unsettling urgency, coupled with exhaustion. Or perhaps fear.

“I’m Amos, and this is Aubrey.” The young man’s voice was raspy, and his eyes darted back and forth, scanning the street as if he feared we were under surveillance.

Aubrey stepped into the streetlight’s circle of radiance, her dark eyes haunted.

“We’ve got a story to tell,” she said, brushing a strand of hair from her face with a fire-scarred hand . . .

(fade to black)

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Campfire Ghost Stories

The crackling fire provided a calming soundtrack to their yearly gathering.

A log shifted, and a swirl of sparks gusted heavenward, the sizzling sound accented by a choir of crickets in the darkness and the occasional blip of unseen fish breaking the surface of the tranquil lake.

“There is nothing new under the sun.” The Scholar quoted perhaps the most oft-repeated phrase from his area of expertise. “What we are experiencing today was known to the ancients just as well.”

The Historian nodded solemnly, his every mannerism soaked in the aura of musty books and tweed. “Same as it ever was,” he agreed.

The Younger spoke up, brows knit together as he carefully rotated the marshmallow he was attempting to brown without burning.

“It doesn’t feel like it’s a normal spiritual rhythm,” he mused. “My friends’ attitudes feel more like they’ve given up on their faith. And they don’t want to hear anything from me about it—they’ve made that clear. I feel handcuffed. Our faith used to be one of the things that bonded us, but now it’s become That Which Must Not Be Named.”

The Elder sipped his coffee—‘black, the way God drinks it’—and said nothing, content to allow his circle of friends to answer.

“The human heart has a rather predictable tendency to wander.” The Scholar puffed on his pipe, smoke wreathing around his long face. “The ancient Israelites, followers of Yahweh, forgot their covenant and fell into idolatry with alarming frequency.”

He paused for a moment, his thoughtful countenance illuminated by the flickering firelight. “Yet Yahweh was faithful even when they were not, sending prophets and leaders to turn them back to their faith. Nehemiah reading the Law to the people after rebuilding Jerusalem, for example. Or perhaps King Josiah’s discovery of the Torah in the ruins of the Temple and his subsequent reforms.”

“Church history is a record of the same pattern.” The Historian took up the narrative, shifting on the log he sat upon, searching for a more comfortable position. “The post-Nicean priesthood was no stranger to corruption, and there were many ‘reforming’ movements within the Catholic Church, long before the Reformation.”

“Isn’t that why there’s so many Protestant denominations?” The Younger came close to interrupting in his eagerness. “A new movement seeking to recapture the life of the New Testament church?”

The Historian smiled faintly. “Yes, but also many aberrant movements ended in heresy, even as they advertised themselves as returning to ‘biblical’ Christianity. One must be discerning.”

He leaned forward, elbows on his knees, staring into the campfire. “But it’s also quite true that the Holy Ghost was faithful to bring ‘revival’—if I may use the term—to rejuvenate a passion for Jesus even in a cold-hearted, corrupted church or denomination. If there was ecclesiastical resistance . . . Well, those whose hearts had been ‘revived’ were often given little recourse but to break away.”

“That reminds me of King Saul being replaced by David—the ‘man after God’s own heart’.” The Scholar knocked his pipe against his knee, dislodging the dead embers. Whether or not he intended his action as a metaphor was impossible to tell.

The Elder refilled his metal camping mug from his thermos. The steam from his hot coffee rose in a miniature counterpoint to the smoky campfire.

He spoke for the first time, with a nod of appreciation to his colleagues. “The lesson we can take from both biblical and church history is God’s faithfulness to rekindle the embers of a dying faith.”

He sipped his coffee cautiously. “The Holy Ghost can be trusted to re-ignite a passion for Jesus. Your friends may resemble what some Plymouth Brethren theologians call the ‘great falling away’—I won’t debate that.
”But the health of the Church universal is in the hands of Someone else. And I believe the Holy Ghost will do the work Jesus promised would be done.”
“Revival.” The Younger uttered the single word in a neutral monotone. He reached out and stirred the fire with his marshmallow stick, watching as sparks flared upward in response. “Let’s hope so.”

The Elder raised his coffee mug in salute, a knowing twinkle in his eyes. “Let us pray so.”

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Windblown

“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.”

The desert sun beats down upon the Traveler, its glare blistering and merciless. He pauses for a moment, shielding his eyes with one hand as he scans the horizon. The dry, searing wind raises another dust cloud. Somewhere—untold miles ahead—his destination lies waiting.

A frugal sip of tepid water from his half-filled canteen soothes his parched throat, at least for now. He must conserve his supply—hasty gulps would be his undoing in the wilderness.

He reaches inside his tunic to find the ancient map. The tanned leather is as soft as silk from years of use, handed down from his father and his father’s father. The intricate chirography has faded over time, and he squints at the faint markings, coaxing their reluctant hues to divulge his route.

The Traveler’s concentration is broken by the unexpected sound of a voice behind him. Startled, he clutches the map to his chest as he pivots to face the newcomer.

“Need some company?” The smile on the newcomer’s face is broad, his desert-roughened voice hoarse but clear. He glances at the map in the Traveler’s grip, intrigued. “Where’d you get the map?”

The Traveler recovers from his surprise, smiling at his unexpected companion. “Company’s always welcome. Are you heading for the Oasis, too?”

The other nods enthusiastically, and the Traveler remembers the leather map crumpled in his fist. He relaxes his grip and holds it out for the other to see. “Oh, and I’ve had this map for years. It’s a family heirloom, handed down from generation to generation.”

The smile fades from his newfound companion’s face, replaced by an expression of good-natured skepticism. “You’re still using the same map as your grandparents? No disrespect—but isn’t that just a little . . . old-fashioned?”

The Traveler laughs as he smooths the weathered fabric. “Well, to be honest, the markings are pretty faded. It’s not always easy to interpret. But it’s worth the effort—the map’s a reliable guide.”

His companion takes a deep breath, searching for the right words. He’s concerned but doesn’t wish to offend. “No, what I meant was—there’s many ways of getting to the Oasis. Hanging on to out-dated maps can be a little . . . confining, wouldn’t you say? It’s a new day, and maybe it’s time for new maps.”

The Traveler smiles, his dry lips feeling stretched. “This map’s never let anyone in my family down. I may not be able to understand every detail with perfect clarity, but it’ll guide me to the Oasis.”

“Well, to each his own.” The newcomer shrugs, and then his eyes light up as he catches sight of something over the Traveler’s shoulder. “Excuse me—but I think my ride’s arrived.”

He steps past the Traveler as an enormous tumbleweed bears down on them. The Traveler tightens his grip on the map as he scrambles out of its path. His companion inexplicably throws himself into the tumbleweed’s thorny embrace, and is carried off.

“New maps for a new generation . . .” His cheery voice fades quickly as the tumbleweed rolls on its way.

The Traveler watches him disappear from view, perplexed. He glances down at the faded map, studying the time-worn markings and comparing them to the hazy mountains in the distance.

Satisfied, he resumes his trek across the desert sands. Not long after, he sights a cluster of cacti ahead, their spiny arms held stiffly aloft. A single flower adorns the tallest plant, and the Traveler spots a young woman sitting cross-legged in its shade, shielded from both scorching sun and arid wind.

“Another pilgrim, bound for the Oasis.” The girl salutes him with an upraised canteen before taking a rejuvenating swig. She grins as she screws the lid back into place. “Which route are you taking, friend?”

The Traveler pauses in the shadow of the tallest cactus, mirroring her action with his own canteen. His moistened lips don’t feel as cracked as he returns her smile. “The same route I’ve been on since childhood.”

He shows her the map. The young woman runs a finger gingerly along its soft surface. Her eyes widen.

“I used to have one just like this,” she enthuses, handing the map back to the Traveler. “But I traded it in. I’ve heard that if you don’t change maps every so often, you run the risk of becoming too rigid. I make a point of trading for a different map every three years or so.”

The Traveler looks perplexed as he glances from the woman’s sincere face to the map in his hands. “A different map every three years? How do you know if they’ll lead you to the Oasis or not?”

She gets to her feet as another swarm of tumbleweeds approaches, smiling easily. “It’s the journey, not the destination, that counts.”

She leaps into the nearest tumbleweed, giving the Traveler a friendly wave as she is carried off.

Alarmed, he consults his map and then races after her, waving his arms. “Don’t go that way—you’re heading straight into Dry Gulch! There’s nothing there but rattlesnakes and scorpions!”

“That’s just your interpretation.” Her voice wanes as the tumbleweeds reel on.

The Traveler slows to a halt. His examines the map again, and his heart sinks. The dry wind tousles his hair as he stares after the rolling tumbleweeds. They plunge over the edge of the precipice and disappear from sight.

The Traveler stands motionless, arms hanging loosely at his sides, helpless. He looks over his shoulder at the cactus, as if hoping the spiny succulent could explain or offer comfort.

He takes another sip from his canteen, and turns to face the distance mountains. He wipes his mouth on his sleeve as he squints at the map’s faded markings. Tucking it into his tunic, he resumes his dogged trek.

“No turning back,” he tells the cactus as he passes. “No turning back.”