Friday, July 5, 2019

An Exceptional America

A few years ago, Stephen Frye toured America and produced an Englishman’s guide to the States. Perhaps sometimes we think that America influences the cultures of other countries to their deficit. Or at least that is what we are told to believe. And yes, like all neighbors, we have dirty laundry on the line. But this little clip is priceless. Frye, who I suspect has pretty much seen it all, is dumbstruck. He is left grasping for words to describe what’s taking place around him. We are ridiculous – and wonderful. What a great country. Hope abides.
Please stick through the ‘circus’ music toward the middle and get to the money shot near the end. It’s priceless with a flyover that really delivers.
No fan of the SEC (Go Hokies!), but our southern brethren delivered the goods on this one.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Citizen Trump

This is a fascinating video of Donald Trump critiquing Citizen Kane – the iconic film on wealth and moral corruption.  It’s a little surreal watching a much younger Trump wrestle with the meaning of the movie. Even his body language seems to pull the curtain back a little. “Perhaps I can understand that…” when talking about the distance growing between a husband and wife. Sad — and I mean that in the most sincere way.

The President is a lightning rod for all sorts of commentary.  Friends have been lost and families upended over his administration.  But lost in the media maelstrom is the simple fact that Donald Trump is a man like any other. He does terrific things — he does reckless things. He talks about being isolated and the need to “have your guard up, more so than if your didn’t have wealth.” He’s a man that understands walls.

Like us all.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Born That Man No More May Die

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year” ~ E. Scrooge
We have arrived at December at last; I trust we can all agree that Christmas music is at now acceptable. For me it started in the summer. My Pandora commonly shuffles over to ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ station and I find myself humming ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ in July. My long-suffering family must bear with ‘Silent Night’ and ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ on long car trips to the beach.

Thus it is and thus it shall ever be.

I am not ignorant to the excesses of Christmas. Nor to its sometimes pettiness. But in the main, it is the Best Time of the Year. If the malls are packed – what of it? Those folks are shopping for others. The neighbor strings those gaudy lights? He’s engaging his community on some level. There’s something to be said for that. Stressed about giving the right gift? Hug ‘em and tell them you love them and mean every word. We need that every day. Screw the gifts.

As a boy of 10 or 11, I remember clearly the thought that my favorite thing about Christmas was having family pile into our house. I wasn’t too interested in gifts – but games, and football, and jokes and fun. Just pour it on.

Easter it seems to me is about Victory. Christ steps triumphant from the tomb. Spring has arrived and we are reminded that God reigns forever. But Christmas is about Hope. For a world that was (and is) impossibly mangled, Hope is found in the most unexpected of places. Wrapped in rags in a barn. Tears spring to my eyes at the thought. How fragile is Hope – how mighty is Love.

25 days – count them down. Then only 365 more.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Good, the Better and the Best

The Danish Symphony Orchestra _ The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Sometimes we run across a little slice of art that bridges cultures while at the same time defining culture. Music has that power. Sounds can be defined drearily by the engineer as waves and pulses (see ‘yanni vs. laurel’). But no scientist can explain what’s going on in the heart by great music. How the heartbeat can quicken or tears spring to the eyes with just a few evocative notes. Like smell, one may be transported to another time and place in an instant.

I wish I knew more about music – but I don’t. I joke that I can barely play the radio. And I never had a music appreciation course – the engineering curriculum didn’t really encourage that unless (as mentioned above) it involved frequencies and amplitudes. I look at guitars and violins and wonder why they are called ‘instruments’. The ought to be called ‘magic’ – because that’s a lot closer to the mark.

Still I listen to magical music – this piece written by an Italian and performed by a Danish Orchestra about a time in America over a hundred years ago using ‘waa – waa – waa’s’ and whistles and it works. It’s freakish. When the soprano comes in around 3:40 you think this can’t get any marvelously weird and wonderful. The whole thing builds to a feverish set of sounds that defines the American west. I love it. When my daughter and I started our podcast, we selected Yo-Yo Ma’s version of this same music – since we were talking mostly movies. It was perfect.

I believe that God in His grace provides us all with gifts. We call it a tragedy when we see those gifts wasted. That’s exactly what it is – tragic. I hope that heaven makes up for that. That we will spring forth with gifts of music – or art – or words – that give rise to the soul. And honors Him from whom all blessings flow.

P.S. – and check out the ear rings!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Writer's Block

“This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until its done. It's that easy, and that hard.”   ~ Neil Gaiman 

Here’s a secret about me; when I get those annoying security questions that are intended to protect my digital footprint, I always answer the favorite teacher with the same name. Chapman.

In the early 1980s, I was a nondescript and thoroughly uninteresting teenager. Lacking any vision or, in my defense, any encouragement, I bounced from class to class equally happy and unhappy with mediocrity. Yes, I was on the college path – but I found that path to be as dry as I was.  In the absence of a better plan, it at least provided a path. Our high school was large by Southwest Virginia standards. As I would find out later, it paled in comparison to the classes and resources of our northern Virginian cousins. 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

When We Become Ourselves

I just finished Neil Gaiman’s “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” for the second time.  And I am left wishing that I could un-remember it as the protagonist does in the story.  This is just about as high-praise as I can give.  I want to forget the whole thing so that I can live through it anew once more.  I want to walk down the lane and through the fields of memory and hold Lettie Hempstock’s hand again.  I want to encounter the loathsome and sensuous Ursula Monkton again and see her meet her match.  I want to see goodness and light.  I want that all again for the first time. 

Both times I visited this world, it was through the audio-book version.  Gaiman’s measured and melodic cadence of voice smoothly unshackles ones imagination.  If he tells me that there are two moons in the sky – well, then, haven’t there always been?  I’ve listened to a lot of books during my work commute and I know how a reader can make or break a text.  He is completely comfortable in portraying a range of characters and masterfully handles dialect and accents.  So right out of the gate, this is something special. 

The writing is sublime.  Restraint is the watchword.  In a magical story like this it’s so easy to overplay a hand.  To dive in too deep or paint with too much color.  But Gaiman’s deft hand (and I suspect wise eyes reading drafts and offering constructive criticism) knows how to move the pieces so that we’re constantly wanting to know more about the characters.  Again, one would usually see that as a fault.  But really – how much do you know about anyone?  Everyone has hidden depths and characters in a novel are no different.  Gaiman’s characters are anything but two-dimensional.  They are three or sometimes four dimensional.  They move in and out of reality as naturally as setting the table. 

But it is the story that shines. 
Image result for lettie hempstockSerious spoilers ahead.

There is a moment near the beginning of the book that sets the course for the remainder.  In it, two children are unexpectedly faced with an overwhelming and fearful presence.  All I have ever known – all I have ever read or seen tells me that the children need to get away.  They need to run.  Or hide.  Or use some clever way to disappear or perhaps trick the evil so they can make it to the next chapter.  That isn’t what happens.  Instead eleven-year-old Lettie lays down the law.  Unexpectedly and frankly incredibly, it becomes slowly apparent that Lettie has complete control.  She has authority and dominion over this thing.  It is a great scene.

And one can’t help but being left with the feeling that Lettie, her mother and grandmother are in a fashion, the Son, Spirit and Father.  I don’t think Gaiman was aiming at that analogy.  It just happened.  The three of them are ancient and new.  They milk cows and have an ocean in their pond.  They see the wreck people make of their lives and nudge them in a new direction.  They throw themselves between the guilty and the justice – because they are love.  And those who benefit from their sacrifice can barely remember it and don’t truly appreciate its breadth even when they do remember it. 

Grownups really are a lot like children as Lettie’s Gran tells the boy.  They look strong and play tough.  But at the end of the day – or end of their lives – they yearn to laugh and play.  They desperately want to believe the unbelievable.  Serious mindedness gets in the way and we forget what grass feels like between our toes.  But one clear morning the fa├žade of this world will be peeled away and we will be ourselves - true and free.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Michael Card - an overdue thanks

Very early in my marriage, just over 25 years ago, my bride plunged cheerfully into contemporary Christian music.  At that time, I was still squarely in the Jimmy Buffett phase of life and looking forward to many years of carefree, escapist music.  In college (Go Hokies!), I had finally been exposed to some new sounds that my small town’s K-Mart didn’t carry, and didn’t intend to carry since pickup trucks were not represented prominently in the lyrics.

So it was with a condescending tone that I smiled and offered a less than heart-felt “Thank you” to my wife when she returned home from a concert and placed in my hands a twin-CD of Michael Card’s ‘The Ancient Faith’. 
Ah well – thanks honey.  I’ll just file that over here by the dog-food and paid bills.  It was a sweet thought.  It was well intentioned. 

It changed my life.

That CD currently rests on top of a stack of CD’s on my desk here at work.  Its edges are worn.  The cover is faded.  The style is perhaps somewhat dated.  And having handed out copies through the years, I know it’s not for everyone.  All I can tell you is that the themes and passion for God got a hold of my insides – heart and soul.  To me, it’s an amazing work.  It paints the Old Testament with colors I didn’t know existed.  I’ve listened to it for those 25 years and still discover facets that I hadn’t heard before. 

The work is strong across the board – but particular favorites include:

‘Asleep on Holy Ground’ – recounting Jacob’s dream.  “He limped away on holy ground, awakened from the dream.  Having learned his costly lesson from the ways of the Nazarene.  That pain’s the path to blessing, Love will fight us to be found, and God remains a dream to those, who sleep on holy ground.”

‘The Way of Wisdom’ – on Proverbs.  “The Way of Understanding lies in not how much you know.  For the Pathway is a Person that you come to love and so you can stop pretending that it all depends on you.  For it’s not how much you love, as much as how much He loves you.”

Over twenty years ago, on a bright August day, we welcomed our first child into the world.  After literally being up all night, I drove home in the morning from the hospital to collect some things for my lovely wife.  On the way, Michael was on the cassette player singing about the Song of Songs.  “Set me like a seal on your heart, for love is unyielding as the grave.  The flash of it is a jealous fire no flood can quench for Love is as strong as death.” All the world was right and hopeful.  I was a dad and God was in His heaven. 

On returning to the hospital, I learned that newborn Hannah’s breathing was labored and they wanted to air-lift her to Roanoke.  I had to make another run to our house this time to gather clothes for my trip with her.  And this time, Michael’s words were from Job and they hit me with such force – “Oh Lord send a Comforter now to my door, so that this terror will frighten no more!  A Counselor between us, to come hear my oath; Someone who could lay a hand on us both.”  It was a rare moment, when I felt God was saying to me, “Remember who you are – and who I Am.”  Tears spring to my eyes even now on the thought of it.  How good is God.  How weak and fragile we are. 

And it’s not too much to say that outside of the Bible and friendships, Michael Card has had as large an impact on my faith as anything else.  This little essay isn’t intended to get you to listen to his music – although I wish you would.  But to say a long overdue thank you to a Brother.  I know your sacrifices have been great – and the load heavy.  You have kept the faith.  Thank you.