Brown Boots and the Gospel

Oct 19th, 2008 | By | Category: Spirituality

The pain on Wednesday afternoon was such that to change clothes seemed too much to ask.  Stepping up to the rostrum at the synod that evening, dressed in cream chinos, check shirt, brown jacket and brown shoes, I apologized for my appearance.  No disrespect was intended, I assured synod members, it was just that I had had surgery in the morning and felt unable to change.

Afterwards, it seemed the wrong thing to have done. There is a strong strain in the spirituality of Saint Matthew’s Gospel that says you make an effort and, if there is some reason why you can’t make an effort, you don’t make excuses.

The parable of the wedding feast was the Gospel last Sunday, prompting memories of dining at top table at a university dinner.  I had arrived in my best suit and with an academic gown borrowed from one of the Dublin clergy. My host wore his professorial gown as we lined up to enter the dining hall. Alongside us was a young lecturer, dressed casually and with no gown.

Suddenly the young lecturer said, “Oh no! The Provost is here and I didn’t bring a gown. Aghh! There goes my career”.

I didn’t take the man very seriously until my host said, “Ian, would you do him a great favour and lend him that gown? You are quite correct to have worn it, but it is not required of guests. Academics are expected to be properly dressed.”

I took off the gown and the young academic wrapped it gratefully around his shoulders and avoided catching the eye, and presumably the wrath, of the Provost. My host smiled, “I never understood that story in the Bible about the man not having a wedding garment”.

The man in the parable is thrown out of the feast because he has not bothered to make the effort to dress properly.  On the basis of that parable, I had got things wrong.

The telling of the story prompted Chris Stillman, from our choir, to bring a recording of Stanley Holloway’s Brahn Boots to me after church this morning.  Cousin Jim in Brahn Boots fails the dress test, but Jim has a reason for doing so:

Our Aunt Hanna’s passed away,
We ‘ad her funeral today,
And it was a posh affair,
Had to have two p’licemen there!

The ‘earse was luv’ly, all plate glass,
And wot a corfin!… oak and brass!
We’d fah-sands weepin’, flahers galore,
But Jim, our cousin… what d’yer fink ‘e wore?

Why, brahn boots!
I ask yer… brahn boots!
Fancy coming to a funeral
In brahn boots!

I will admit ‘e ‘ad a nice black tie,
Black fingernails and a nice black eye;
But yer can’t see people orf when they die,
In brahn boots!

And Aunt ‘ad been so very good to ‘im,
Done all that any muvver could for ‘im,
And Jim, her son, to show his clars…
Rolls up to make it all a farce,

In brahn boots…
I ask yer… brahn boots!
While all the rest,
Wore decent black and mourning suits.

I’ll own he didn’t seem so gay,
In fact he cried most part the way,
But straight, he reg’lar spoilt our day,
Wiv ‘is brahn boots.

In the graveyard we left Jim,
None of us said much to him,
Yus, we all gave ‘im the bird,
Then by accident we ‘eard …

‘E’d given ‘is black boots to Jim Small,
A bloke wot ‘ad no boots at all,
So p’raps Aunt Hanna doesn’t mind,
She did like people who was good and kind.

But brahn boots!
I ask yer… brahn boots!
Fancy coming to a funeral,
In brahn boots!

And we could ‘ear the neighbours all remark
“What, ‘im chief mourner? Wot a blooming lark!
“Why ‘e looks more like a Bookmaker’s clerk…
In brahn boots!”

That’s why we ‘ad to be so rude to ‘im,
That’s why we never said “Ow do!” to ‘im,
We didn’t know… he didn’t say,
He’d give ‘is other boots away.

But brahn boots!
I ask yer… brahn boots!
While all the rest,
Wore decent black and mourning suits!

But some day up at Heavens gate,
Poor Jim, all nerves, will stand and wait,
’til an angel whispers… “Come in, Mate,
“Where’s yer brahn boots?”

Cousin Jim knows Saint Matthew’s Gospel, he knows the bit where Jesus says:

Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.   So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

On Wednesday, I got it wrong.  Do things right; and, if there is a reason for not doing things right, then keep it to yourself

Leave a comment »

  1. What a brilliant poem!


    You didn’t fail any dress test…

    You succeeded in putting in an appearance in circumstances where most others would have failed.

    A bloke wot ‘ad ad surgery n’ all?

    I’ve no doubt the synod will have appreciated this gesture!

  2. Hi Steph,

    They shouldn’t have known about the circumstances, though!

    Here’s Holloway doing “Brahn Boots”

  3. I like to tell the gospel truth 😉

  4. Many of the monologues of the late great Stanley Hollaway carry messages, but surely providing the effort has been made what does it matter what a person wears.

  5. I got Stanley Holloway muddled up in my head with Stanley Baker and had visions of Baker standing at Rorke’s Drift fighting off thousands of Zulus with our Albert’s stick with the ‘orse’s ‘ead ‘andle.

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