Storyteller/artist Bob Haverluck uses stories, art and music to inspire community groups in their engagement with issues of conflict and violence against the earth and her creatures. His stories and drawings spring from a deep encounter with the Bible but they go to some pretty wild places. If the prophet Jeremiah mated with the entire cast of Monty Python, the miraculous child of this union would be someone like Bob.
His book of stories and drawings, When God was Flesh and Wild; Stories in Defense of the Earth, has just been published by Liturgical Press. He’s launching it at McNally Robinson Bookstore on Wednesday, May 31, at 7PM and he’s bringing along some actor and musician friends to help him out. Should be a unique evening.
I’ve known Bob a long time and I’m delighted that he agreed to have a conversation with me.
CM: Welcome to portage and slain, Bob. Tell me about what you’re trying to do with these stories.
BH: I thought—you being you—that you were going ask me why I thought the Bible was a hell of a murder mystery. And I wasn’t going to tell you. But now I am.
Predictably, it begins with a murder. We are there at the edge of the garden when Cain pulverizes his brother Abel’s head with a rock. Cain, our mythic ancestor, murder weapon in hand. The smoking rock. Murder solved. But wait, even with Cain sidelined, other bodies begin piling up. Killing after killing with music in the background, compliments of the first maker of musical instruments, the grandson of the first murderer. And the murderers keep coming. Until, as the story goes, Love itself comes down from heaven playing hide and seek in the form of some kind of beer drinking shepherd. Soon, he is nailed to a man made tree in a little forest of man made trees. One more carcass like the rest.
Even before then, the careful reader begins to feel increasingly uneasy. And long before it all ends the reader realizes that she, he is implicated…and has something red and sticky on their hands. Something like a victim’s blood.
Like you said Cathy, I’ve known you for a long time. But I didn’t know you weren’t going to ask that question about the Bible as a murder mystery. And I knew you back when you were Howie Morenz and played forward for the Montreal Canadiens. You were five foot ten then, had black hair and could skate like Barbara Ann Scott. “But things aren’t like they used to be,” to quote the mayors of Sodom and Glockamorra.
CM: Um…Let’s get back to firmer ground, shall we? Now, is there really that much comedy in the Bible?
BH: Okay, Okay, you done give me other questions and I will try to circle round and answer them without the use of mind altering drugs or references to your earlier lives. Such as when you went by the name of Bridie Murphy.
Clever boots Cathy, you ask questions about why I am busy reading and writing the Bible as a comedy. Taking Northrop Frye’s course on the Bible as a romantic comedy (1967-68) did help get things going. In part the comedy aspect is perhaps a quirk, a kink in my nature nudging me. Maybe, it is because as I read scripture I see it is about re-reading the world in ways that see the world as often haywire, upside down. Mary’s Magnificant singing the Christ child into the World is about a world downside up. Red Rover Red Rover, we call Samson over: “with the jawbone of an ass, he ass ended them.” Much of this is a donkey’s business, the stuff of comedy when it is not bloody tragedy. So the Hebrew Christian scriptures themselves invite, no, demand a comic, no, a tragical comical reading . Yes?! Of course they do, don’t be silly.
CM: Uh, Bob, could we get back to—
BH: Okay, Okay. You ask me, “what are you trying to do with these stories?” To best live wisely as part of this watery animally earth, methinks, we need to have a better sense of our many companions. Among them are many aunts and uncles, sisters, brothers found in the great spiritual traditions who knew we have a peace treaty with the earth. Wild and crazy many of them.
I’m betting that we can well rejoin with our kin with the help of parable-like stories. Why? The round about comic business of confronting the ruling orders’ destructive “common sense” with nonsensical ways of being and doing may well entangle us with our greater kindred. The stories might even help us better realize our kinship with feathered, hairy, bark encrusted or ten miles long and home to turtles, cat tails and frog choirs. If the stories help that happen, I’ll buy beers all around or my name isn’t Macbeth, Thane of Cawdor.
CM: Aha. Right. Now, in Genesis, it seems that God gives humans dominion over the fish of the sea and all the plants and creatures of the earth. Your stories and 50 odd, I choose my words carefully, odd drawings and four stories argue that “dominion” is not at all as it seems to many.
BH: Dominion? Sure dominion, a lover’s dominion…attentive to the beloveds’ ways, wants, well being. We have a paradox here and a pair of ducks and every kind of creature kin attended to. This understanding has both its yeas and nays and neighs in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures’ mélange of stories, myths, historical dramas, poetry, teachings, songs and parables. My stories play among the clusters that see humans as essentially inseparable from the well being of the rest of creation. We are tragic and comical creatures in an often tragic but ultimately divine comedy.
CM: I see. Well, I don’t really, but let’s just suppose I do for the moment. Aren’t you afraid no one will take you seriously?
BH: The push to comedy comes from my sense of the world, of life and of scripture’s own frutata of delights and sorrows, sweet, sour and savory. Inside, outside, all around the town, there are pulls and pushes in that direction. As proposed in the book’s introduction, comedy at its best is serious about the rights things. But not all the time. Much of our life is being serious about the wrong things most of the time.
Also, living in a cultural era much wired to irony, comedy has a certain tactical function. However, recognizing that irony must ultimately feed upon itself, unless it has a standpoint outside itself that discloses, exposes its deserving targets. (Knew my old philosophy lecturing on comedy in Hegel and Kierkegaard would get a rerun. Or my name isn’t Jean Paul Sartre, Thane of Glamis.)
CM: I could swear I was in control of this interview when we came in. Oh well. Can you pick a drawing from When God was Flesh and Wild and comment on it?
BH: No. Or to phrase that differently, yes. The cover drawing for the book might work for us here (see above). Years ago in an article for Border Crossings entitled “Why a Pig”, l did a drawing of Jesus kissing a pig. The fish, like the pig is not a bad metaphor for the losers, the write-offs, those made least by the ruling order which the Christly Jesus insisted on identifying with. They were often called the “anawim” meaning the dirt, the poor, the shit. This drawing also opens the story “God is Flesh and Wild” which rightly precedes the story “Little Sparrows see God Fall”. Jesus’ baptism in the wild river in the company of turtles and trout is portrayed. It sees Jesus’ time in the wild place as playing out the child lying down with the lion and lamb, bear and cow (Isaiah). Jesus is understood to be initiating and bodying forth the anticipatory enactment of the peaceable “kindom”. This christly booze artist—who is later infamous for hanging out with, identifying with, the sex trade workers, squeechy kids, and petty civil servants, all restless for a world downside up—here smooches with one more creature of no stature. A wild thing, here a representative of all that is not domesticated. Not within the dominion of “domination”. What this disturber of the false peace does in the world of nature, he will do in the social political economic and religious realms. Lovingly embrace the untouchable, the hidden away good possibilities of a peaceable commonwealth.
Sweet, soon soured. Now, to portray the seeming rule of death. But how? In this drawn place perhaps a “gotcha” fish hook could say it? So there it is coming up from the side. As sure as bad bad Good Friday needs come before the Sunday of eastering forth. Or my name is not Haverluck, Thane of Burnam Wood and supplier of rubber gloves to her Majesty the Queen.
CM: Let’s drink to that—but pour me the first glass.