Bud Osborn: Priest, Prophet, Poet. Presente

budosbornWhen our girls were small we would always say bedtime prayers together.

And every night we would pray for our friend Bud Osborn.

The girls knew Bud as that wonderful man who would show up at our house every few months.

Bud was a lap to crawl up into.

And whenever Bud was around, Mom and Dad would stay up to all hours talking with Bud. And for some reason after an evening with Bud, Dad started to have a similar smell to him as Bud. They thought it had something to do with cigarettes. Dad would always be bumming smokes from Bud.

You see, back then in the 90’s and early 2000’s whenever Bud was in Ontario, I was sort of his tour manager. I’d help get the gigs, sell tickets, arrange press interviews and meetings with folks who wanted to talk to Bud.

Bud didn’t always show up for these meetings, and I figured that maybe they weren’t all that important anyway.

But gigs, well that was different.

If Bud was kind of strung out and didn’t want to do a gig, well then I had to use all of my persuasive powers of encouragement to get my friend to read his poems or perform with his musical friends.

And usually, once he got to the mic, and once he had read a poem or two, or once he had ranted for a while about the state of global capitalism and its war on drugs which was really a war on the most vulnerable in our midst, once he had ranted on about George Bush for a while, it was like he had exorcised a demon that wanted to silence him, and then it would flow, then the prophecy would begin.

But back to nighttime prayers.

Every night with our girls we would pray for Bud Osborn. The prayers would begin with “Thank you God …” and off they would go through the events of the day, the people who were important to us, the troubles of the world, friends who were sick, and always we would end, “and be with Bud Osborn and keep him well.”

That was the pattern. Every night.

Until the eve of the land war in Iraq.

It was all over the news, and we did not protect our children from the horrors that were unfolding in the “War on Terror.”

They knew that there was a war afoot.

They knew that thousands of Iraqi children had already died because of the sanctions against that country after the first Persian Gulf war.

And that night, Sylvia laying with Lydia, and Madeleine and I in the top bunk,
I began our prayers.

“Thank you God …” I began, when seven year old Madeleine interrupted,
“No! That is not how we pray tonight!”

“So how do we pray,” I asked.

And Madeleine prayed:
“God we pray that not too many Iraqi children will die in this war,
and that you will judge George Bush for what he is doing,
and that you will be with Bud Osborn and keep him well.”

I couldn’t have imagined a more appropriate prayer that night.

The next day I called Bud in Vancouver and told him about Madeleine’s prayer and suggested to him that since George Bush has a seven year old praying against him I figure he’s in deep shit, but that since Bud had that same seven year old praying for him, I figured that he was going to be just fine.

Bud loved it. And he loved our girls. And he knew that he had Madeleine in his corner before the throne of God.

Bud Osborn died on Tuesday, May 6, 2014. And anyone who knew him over the last 20 or 30 years would know that he never thought that he would live this long.

He originally went to Vancouver to die.

And yet …

here I am
amazingly alive
tried to kill myself twice
by the time I was five
sometimes it’s hard to take on more breath
inside this north American
culture of death

And that was just by the age of five.

In his poem “Toledo Blues” he tells the story of murder
violence, addiction and death
that was his life growing up in Toledo Ohio.

Death was Bud’s constant companion,
his tormentor, his possible escape
throughout his life.

but here we are
amazingly alive
against long odds
left for dead
lazarus couldn’t have been
more shocked than me
to have been brought back
from the dead

That’s Bud Osborn – a modern day Lazarus.

And here’s the thing, Bud knew that the same guy
who raised Lazarus had raised him.

No, not the Jesus of pietistic hell-fire street preachers.
And, truth be known, not the Jesus of well-meaning mainline social justice types either.

No this was more the Jesus of Oscar Romero or Maximillian Kobe,
the Jesus of the liberation theologies of Latin America and Asia,
the Jesus of solidarity with the poor, radical sacrifice and prophetic imagination.

But let there be no doubt, it was this Jesus who rose Bud Osborn from the dead.

And so, bearing the scars that death had laid on him,
scars that bore a remarkable resemblance to Jesus,
Bud lived his life with other deeply scarred brothers and sisters:

affirming their humanity,
naming their pain,
celebrating their generosity,
railing against their oppressors,
seeing their deep spirituality,
advocating for their justice,
giving voice to their hope.

All animated by his own resurrection.

so here I am
here we are
amazingly alive
against long odds
left for dead
north America tellin lies
in our head
make you feel like shit
better off dead

so most days now
I say shout
shout for joy
shout for love
shout for you
shout for us
shout down this system
puts our souls in prison

say shout for life
shout with our last breath
shout fuck this north American culture of death

shout here we are
amazingly alive
against long odds
left for dead
shoutin this death culture
dancing this death culture
out of our heads

amazingly alive
(“amazingly alive,” from Hundred Block Rock, Arsenal Pulp Press, 1999)

Bud Osborn is dead.
He was my friend, my mentor, sometimes my confessor.
And he kept me in cigarettes.

We have lost a priest, a prophet and a poet.

A priest because he mediated the pain of the most vulnerable,
bringing it before the throne of God.

A prophet because he proclaimed to the powerful the cries and demands for justice.

A poet because through his words he gave voice to what was inarticulate,
and engendered an alternative imagination of hope in the midst of the pain.

In his poem, “Down Here” Bud wrote:

let my words
sing a prayer
not a curse
to the tragic
& sacred mystery

of our beautiful
eternal worth
(from Lonesome Monsters, Anvil Press, 1995)

They did, Bud, they did.
And we are so deeply, deeply grateful.

Bud Osborn.
Amazingly alive.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian, a retired CRC campus minister, the founder of the Wine Before Breakfast community, and farms with Sylvia Keesmaat at Russet House Farm.He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

10 Responses to “Bud Osborn: Priest, Prophet, Poet. Presente”

  1. Elizabeth

    I am deeply, deeply saddened by this news. I did meet Bud once – about 18 years ago in Vancouver. The meeting was uneventful and uninteresting. What stayed with me though, all these years, were his words. The mint copy of “hundred block rock” that I borrowed from my dad about 10 years ago, is now well worn (and still on my bookshelf). I know he is dancing.

  2. greg paul

    I’ll never forget the experience of backing up Bud with Red Rain at the Black Swan on the Danforth a generation or so ago. Specifically, I remember backing him up on this poem, and he was – he was amazingly alive. Fire-ballin’. Ranting like Jeremiah come again in smoke-eyed, yelping, twitching, ground glass glory. And I remember, sweetly, even earlier than that, discovering that he and Dave Diewert were pipe afficianados too, and sitting on Dave’s back porch puffing away and ruminating. It was the first time I ever met either of them.

    Look, here’s the thing: however else you might describe Bud – mad, brilliant, dangerous, vital, wild, honest, a giant of hope – he was… godly.

  3. Bethany Osborne

    So sorry to hear about Bud Osborn’s death- his poetry and life profoundly impacted me. Last year I had a chance to teach him in a class….my students weren’t quite sure what to do with him…..but we had good discussions. I picked up a book of his poetry last night just before bed and read it as I lay there quietly, unable to sleep ….. when I finally slept, my dreams were flooded with light. Bud Osborn wrote about the darkness so it would not overcome him, not overcome the world. His writing was raw, it was ragged…it also had a real beauty. His body of work opened up the possibility for light, for hope and for healing. When I went to Bangladesh to work a decade ago, his poetry was among the books I brought with me. Somehow, it was the only thing that made sense to me as I worked within the context of systemic injustice. Bud found beauty in the midst of the painful existence that is reality for so many people around the globe- he also worked hard to see justice become a tangible reality for those same people.

    Brian, it was at an event that you organized, at the River Café on Roncesvalles in 1997 or 1998- that I first encountered Bud’s poetry. I will always be grateful for that invitation….to his poetry…to his passion….thank you!

  4. Melodie Ng

    Brian, I am sorry you have lost a dear friend.

    I was introduced to Bud’s poetry when I spent a month hanging out in the Downtown Eastside. His words so moved me, and captured what I felt in those life-changing weeks – the throb of love, pain and electric aliveness of that marginalized community. My time in the DTES was what got me to the doorstep of Sanctuary – so for me, the streets of Vancouver will always be entwined with the people I love and learn from here in Toronto.

    Bud’s prophetic voice uncovered the wisdom and beauty found in alleyways and in the lives of his friends & community. His words will continue to speak truth passionately and powerfully.

  5. Elizabeth

    What a beautiful tribute.
    Thank you.

  6. Johann

    This is a beautiful tribute to a beautiful man – thank you for writing it.

  7. Brian Walsh

    Thanks for your comments, friends. For another tribute that tells a little more of Bud’s story, take a look at this piece by Am Johal. He concludes his blog this way: “A community canonizes its own saints – there’s no need for Vatican approval. In the Downtown Eastside, everyone knows that St. Bud performed miracles. He was a good man and a gentle soul — a poet to the core. We miss him dearly.”

    There will be a memorial to Bud in front of Insite on the 100 block (rock) of West Hastings in Vancouver from 12-4pm PST. Of course, readings of Bud’s poems will be at the heart of it all. Wish I could be there.

  8. tom nicolson

    I am trying to find ‘when I was 15’ by Bud to give to my son. Can someone ether send it to me or tell me what book so I can by it! Thanks Tom

  9. Matt

    Hi Tom… did you end up finding that poem? I read about it in Johann Hari’s “Chasing the Scream” and would love to read that one.


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