Puzzling Pictures 12: But He's Not Forgotten

Never mind about Rust: the Neighbourhood Watch never sleeps.

I’m at my kitchen window, high above the backstreet. I’ve had my eye on them for a few minutes now, but I’ve no idea what they’re up to.

They’re leaning against my fence. The man, a tattooed wonder if ever there was one, is carrying a paper bag in his hand. He is shaking it. In his other hand is a child’s fishing net, not unlike the one with which I used to catch sticklebacks in the river Calder. The woman, in her forties perhaps, looks as if she’s had a hard life. Her arms are outstretched, as if imploring aid from on high.

I think I’d better go down and investigate. But before you can say “Pepper Spray!” another member of the Watch is with them. As she questions them, I catch odd words floating up on the breeze and in through the open window: “round the room… a few weeks ago… man at the end… in the evening… tempting… miss him… Elvis… come back.”

And then the plaintive calls echo over the allotments, as fingers are pointed and hands are lifted high: “Elvis! Elvis! Elvis!” and then: “He’s there! He’s there!”

I decide to go down. It’s not every day that you get drug-addled Elvis aficionados thinking that they’ve seen a vision of The King floating somewhere above an allotment. There might be a blog in this, after all.

And there is.

Alas, the explanation is rather more mundane than the one I have been imagining. The bag contains bird food, Elvis is a parrot, and the net is to catch him in. “What? A parrot? Where is he?” They point towards a group of tall trees. “There he is!” I strain my eyes, but all I can make out is foliage. There’s nothing there.

But these folk seem harmless enough, after all, so I tell them that they can go down into the allotment if they like, to continue their quest. And there I leave them, all forlorn, whistling and calling out again and again, “Elvis! Elvis! Elvis!” - the plaintive notes echoing up and out across the empty evening air.

Days later, when they return, I learn more. The parrot - some sort of African parakeet - did not like his cage at all, preferring to fly around the house, exploring every possible avenue of escape. Once he found one, he was up, up and away. Our neighbours, they say, have seen him several times, and the couple - hearing this through the grapevine - have come in hopes of luring him away from his sylvan sanctuary.

Well, I have my doubts. I’ve never seen any such thing, and the Watch are always on the lookout for intruders, be they animal, vegetable or mineral. Surely they would have spotted Elvis…

The weeks fly by, the couple come and go and then are seen no more.

And now I’m in the backyard. The sky is blue, and almost cloudless. It’s warm, and I’m working hard. I wipe my brow, looking up and out and… What was that? A flash of bright green against the cerulean blue, shooting away and to my left and into the trees. I fix the position in my mind’s eye, and go and get my camera and take the photo seen in my previous post (25.7.70).

You couldn’t make him out? Allow me to zoom in to the middle of that very same photo. Here he is.

A few days later, and I see him again, only an allotment away. In a moment I’m out with the camera, moving silently and treading softly, until I’m almost under him.

What a fine fellow he is, eh? He doesn’t seem to be missing his cage, or his previous owners. It looks like The King is gone for good. And no doubt, in the fullness of time, he will be no more than a distant memory for that couple.

"The king is gone…” As soon as the phrase enters my mind, I find myself singing as much as I can remember of Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)” - the song which closes (and opens, in the acoustic version) the album “Rust Never Sleeps”. I’m sure you know it well. And then that line - “The King is gone, but he’s not forgotten” - comes back to me, day after day.

There are people that I haven’t seen for years, friends or acquaintances who once walked with the Lord, according to their own testimony, but - where are they now? It’s one thing to forget about a pet parrot, but quite another to lose your love for the King of Heaven.

I wonder about them.

That girl in the Christian youth group. “Well, I’ve got to marry someone, and there’s no one in this church that will do! Anyway, he says he’ll come to church with me, sometime soon.” He never did, and soon, she didn’t.

That young man who worked for Open Doors for a while then went into business for himself. “How are ethics in the business world, Sean?” I asked him. “There aren’t any,” he said, without a trace of a smile.

That girl who went away to college “a committed Christian” and found that most of the world didn’t want her to be, and ended up agreeing with them.

Those middle-aged men - and women - who were never promoted to the offices in the church that they thought they deserved, who spent years sniping from the sidelines and trying everything in their power to undermine the efforts of those they envied, and who now only attend their local church to sit in sullen silence.

The adulterous minister that I knew who was able to so compartmentalise his activities that he could preach against what he was practising with an open and honest countenance.

The Christian psychiatrist, liked and lauded by all who knew him, including myself, jailed after years of attacks on the young and vulnerable men in his care.

The friends that I had who cut me out of their lives because I would not agree with them on some point of doctrine that I could not find supported in Scripture, and who eventually cut themselves off from their churches, and from fellowship of every kind.

I could go on, but I’m sure you’ve got the idea by now. What do you think? Can those who have wandered off into the wilderness, for whatever reason, even through the most serious of sins - can they ever be brought home again?

Certainly, no one who is amongst the elect will ever be lost. Jesus promises: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John 6.37) Nevertheless, God calls upon us to play a part in His divine plan for His people: “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayer.” (1 Peter 3.12)

As you read through the above list, did it bring to mind anyone you know who once called Christ Saviour and Lord, but who now shows no sign of that new life that comes with being born again?

For whom did Jesus Christ come? “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." (Luke 19.10) Jesus said: “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance." (Luke 5.32)

If you have come thus far, and there is someone on your mind, then why not stop now and turn to the Lord in prayer for them? Even if, in your heart of hearts, there is still some residue of a burning resentment against them? Indeed, especially if that is the case...

If that’s just too much to ask, then will you read through the words of the well-known hymn below? “Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven” - is that not you? Is that not me? Do you think that we came into that blessed state without the prayers of others, prayers of which we may know nothing until we meet those humble, faithful folk in heaven?

It may be that they brought us before the Lord many times over the years, even when we gave them only condescension or contempt in return. Without them - under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit - where would we be now?

Here are the words of Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847), who also wrote “Abide With Me”, and whose biography is well worth reading.

Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven;
To His feet thy tribute bring.
Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,
Evermore His praises sing:
Praise Him, praise Him, alleluia!
Praise the everlasting King.

Praise Him for His grace and favour
To our fathers in distress;
Praise Him still the same as ever,
Slow to chide, and swift to bless.
Praise Him, praise Him, alleluia!
Glorious in His faithfulness.

Fatherlike He tends and spares us,
Well our feeble frame He knows;
In His hands He gently bears us,
Rescues us from all our foes.
Praise Him, praise Him, alleluia!
Widely yet His mercy flows.

Frail as summer’s flow’r we flourish,
Blows the wind and it is gone;
But while mortals rise and perish,
Our God lives unchanging on.
Praise Him, praise Him, alleluia!
Praise the high Eternal One!

Angels, help us to adore Him,
Ye behold Him face to face;
Sun and moon, bow down before Him;
Dwellers all in time and space,
Praise Him, praise Him, alleluia!
Praise with us the God of grace.

(Henry Francis Lyte. 1793-1847)