November 22

A Word of Encouragement (?) from H. Allen Smith

H. Allen Wolfgang Smith

For those of you out there who don’t know the name, H. Allen Smith was a journalist and humorist of the 1940s and 1950s. I’ve admired him for years, ever since reading his book, Lost in the Horse Latitudes. However, in preparing this blog post, I learned a few new things about him, like the fact that his first name is Harry and his second middle name is, incredibly, “Wolfgang” (I’ll bet the kids in grade school had a field day with that one!).

It is probably safe to say that he was the epitome of the hard-bitten reporter, and almost everything he wrote was sarcastic and tongue-in-cheek. So when you read the following quote from him (you were probably wondering why I was talking about this guy, weren’t you?), you have to realize that he’s really just pulling your leg. So, here goes:

In America we know writers for what they are—insufferable troublemakers. Unless he can catch a lot of fish like Ernest Hemingway, a man who writes in America is a man who is incapable of making an honest living, a pantywaist sort of person indulging in a profession that is close kin to working in needlepoint, rug hookery and crying at weddings.

Aren’t you glad I warned you? Smith goes on to say that when he applied for a passport in New York, he made the mistake of identifying himself as a writer. While other professions were processed through quite quickly, he was cross-examined at some length!

Why do I call this a word of encouragement? Well, let’s look at the point of his comment. You have to realize he’s telling us not what he really believes (he’s a writer himself), but what society at large thinks of us writers.

I’d like to say that the church has a different attitude, but I’m not so sure about that! And maybe that’s to be expected. Christian writers often have a prophetic function in the church, and as Jesus said, we don’t like to listen to a prophet’s words until he’s safely dead, buried in his nice, tidy, whitewashed tomb.

Why? Because we’re troublemakers, that’s why. We shake up the status quo, butcher sacred cows and generally make a nuisance of ourselves. After all, what was the first thing nasty old King Ahab said when he saw Elijah? “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?” (1 Kings 18:17). Elijah was called a troublemaker, so why shouldn’t we?

So let me, and H. Allen Smith, give you this word of encouragement: Go out there and stir up some trouble, in the spirit and power of Elijah!


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Posted November 22, 2014 by Dave Fessenden in category "Uncategorized


  1. By Steve Dunham on

    I read Smith’s books Lost in the Horse Latitudes and The Rebel Yell and enjoyed both, though I found the first one surprisingly ribald in places. As for stirring up trouble, it sounds like what Pope Francis said at the youth gathering in Rio de Janeiro. His words in Spanish have been translated into English as “make a mess,” but I’ve read that a better translation is “kick up a fuss.”

  2. By Mary Dolan Flaherty on

    Thank you for that word of encouragement. Believe it or not, I actually received it as such. I sometimes feel hurt that my pastor completely ignores my gift of writing. Everything I send him from skits to my blog is met with a non-response. But the beauty of writing is that I still do it; I don’t need anyone’s approval or acceptance except God’s. Someone, somewhere is reading what I write. It may not be millions; it may only be one, but that one may be the very one who needs it. And I am not one who minces my words. I guess I do stir things up! Thank you!

  3. By Dave Fessenden (Post author) on

    Mary, I apologize for not responding earlier. You express some of the same things I have thought about this blog — that I hope someone, somewhere is reading what I write. The “hit counter” keeps climbing, but who knows what that means. It is only when someone comments that I begin to think there is an audience out there! —-Dave

  4. By Dave Fessenden (Post author) on

    Steve, yes, I guess there are a few “colorful” passages in Lost in the Horse Latitudes. I tend to gloss over that stuff when I’m reading. What did you think of the hippo story? You remember that one? I thought it was a great metaphor for a number of things.

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