Wednesday, December 31, 2008

From the archives: After experiencing both Darlene Edwards and Anna Russell... is well-advised to return to sanity and the normal world gradually to prevent damage to one’s cerebral cortex. Therefore, since today is New Year’s Eve and 2008 will soon be replaced by 2009, we have just the thing. We shall accomplish our return, our decompression, as it were, by way of our very own A Festival Of Auld Lang Syne Performances.

The first performance will be on the musical saw with accordion accompaniment (I said we must do this gradually), plus there is a bit of the human voice. Experiencing this particular performance is eerily reminiscent of listening to Darlene Edwards herself, but it will begin to accomplish our ends. When the voice enters (which I believe is female, but I may be wrong), we are actually able to forget Darlene for a time by concentrating instead on what seems to be a very poor imitation of the young Bob Dylan from a time when Bob’s lyrics were still comprehensible. Here, then, from 2006, is the androgynous Nicki Jaine on both the saw and the vocal, accompanied by Roy Ashley on accordion, with Auld Lang Syne #1.

Next, class, we travel through both time and space to Detroit in the year 1987 to hear the young Aretha Franklin and Billy Preston sing a Motown version of our festival theme, Auld Lang Syne #2. Inexplicably, there is a brief appearance by comedian David Brenner at the end of the performance.

As we continue to mellow and chill and let the old year slip away, who better than saxophonist Kenny G to put us in the proper mood? Here is the third rung on our decompression ladder, Auld Lang Syne #3. You may skip this step only if you majored in jazz saxophone in college and consider Kenny G as having sold out for commercial success.

Last year, I searched for a fitting Auld Lang Syne #4 with which to close the Festival. After listening to dozens of possibilities, I decided against subjecting you to Barbra Streisand’s turn-of-the-millenium Las Vegas concert rendition and settled instead upon the Alexandria Harmonizers, the 2003 medal winners of the International Chorus Singing Contest at the SPEBSQSA Convention in Montreal, Canada (SPEBSQSA is the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America), singing one of the best renditions of Auld Lang Syne I have ever encountered. This year, unfortunately, that video is no longer posted in cyberspace because of some squabbling over copyright issues, so I am forced to take a different tack. This year, instead of listening to a fourth version of Auld Lang Syne, let us take a little stroll down memory lane and enter the land of Auld Lang Syne itself.

Help yourself to one or more of the following musical stars of yesteryear:

Doris Day,

Vic Damone,

Lena Horne,

Perry Como and Eddie Fisher,

or the great Nat King Cole!

In Gloria Swanson’s role as silent-film star Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, she had one of the great lines of all time: “They didn’t need dialogue. They had faces then!” When I listen to these singers, I feel like saying, “They had voices then!” I shudder to think what fans of today’s music will be thinking are “golden oldies” thirty or forty years
from now.

Our Festival has now come to an end. It has done its work and our decompression is complete. You may now return to your normal lives, where you are free to choose any kind of music that helps you get through your day.

[A slightly different version of this post was first published on December 30, 2007. --RWP]

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

From the archives: I'm thinking if you liked Anna Russell...’re probably going to love Jonathan and Darlene Edwards, a husband-and-wife team who recorded five albums over the years at the urging of their mentors, the great Paul Weston and Jo Stafford. Jonathan (Paul) plays a mean piano and Darlene (Jo) has never been in better voice. Upon winning a grammy they were astounded to learn it was for comedy, not their musical artistry.

Well, thanks once again to YouTube, here is a real end-of-the-year treat. I give you the incomparable, the often imitated but never duplicated, the unbelievable (have your earplugs handy) Jonathan and Darlene Edwards performing “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue”.

[A slightly different version of this post was first published on December 30, 2007. --RWP]

Monday, December 29, 2008

From the archives: The one, the only, Anna Russell!

[This post was first published on December 28, 2007. I brought it back to help brighten your otherwise drab and dreary end-of-2008. --RWP]

Back in the day, one of my favorite comedic albums was “Anna Russell Sings.” I was dumb enough to give away my copy to a friend thirty years ago, and I have been sorry ever since. Miss Russell, whose act had to be heard to be believed, died at the age of 94 a couple of years ago. Today, with only three days remaining before the Year of Our Lord 2008 also fades into history, I discovered her on YouTube singing that old favorite, “Canto dolciamente pippo” from the opera La Cantatrice Squealante by the Italian composer, Michelangelo Occupinti. Then she launched into its polar opposite, “I Gave You My Heart And You Made Me Miserable.”

Anna Russell, the Victor Borge of the operatic world, deserves to be heard and laughed at and adored by a new generation of music lovers. So settle back, close your eyes, and pretend you are in the concert hall. Ladies and gentlemen, here, once again, for your listening pleasure (remember to turn up your volume), I give you the one, the only, Anna Russell!

There now, wasn't that better than Larry The Cable Guy?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The packages have all been opened,...

...the food has all been eaten, the relatives have all returned to their homes and normal lives. We find ourselves deep in the “Christmas is over but it’s not yet New Year’s” doldrums.

I can’t imagine why but I’m thinking today about goofy movies that I like, not that I’ve seen that many goofy movies, you understand. And I suppose it depends on your definition of the word goofy. I don’t mean “falling-down funny.” I refuse to pay good money to see Adam Sandler or Will Ferrell (although I’m given to understand that Elf is cute) or most other comedians who ever put in time at Saturday Night Live cavorting their way across the silver screen. They all seem so, well, sophomoric, although even that word is too good for what passes for comedy these days. Current attempts at comedy seems to be aimed mostly at ten-year-old boys and more mature specimens with deeper voices who still think and act like ten-year-old boys. Slapstick and mindless drivel doesn’t appeal to me very much, or at least not for very long. Enough already, or I’ll be into a full-blown rant.

I’m thinking instead of movies I like even though other people might think they are quirky or bizarre or downright weird. Mrs. RWP and I rarely go out to movie theaters, so I must confess in the interest of full disclosure that some of these movies I have seen only on television. Here’s my list:

Big Fish starring Albert Finney, Jessica Lange, Ewan McGregor, and Danny DeVito.

The Purple Rose of Cairo starring Jeff Daniels, Mia Farrow, and Danny Aiello. It was written and directed by Woody Allen.

Big starring Tom Hanks and others. It was directed by Penny Marshall of Laverne and Shirley fame (speaking of slapstick).

Reaching way back, Some Like It Hot starring Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe, and Joe E. Brown. It was directed by Billy Wilder. The events in this one could really have happened, so maybe it isn’t all that bizarre.

Perhaps the most bizarre movie of them all, Field of Dreams starring Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, Ray Liotta, James Earl Jones, Timothy Busfield, and Burt Lancaster.

I guess the common thread running through all of these films is fantasy, the sense of “this could never happen in real life but let’s have some fun for a little while and willingly suspend disbelief and see what happens” that seems to take over each of them. Maybe the word I’m looking for is escapist, although the big Hollywood musicals of yesteryear, also escapist fare, can’t really be called goofy, bizarre, or weird (depending, of course, on how many people you know who burst into song at unexpected times during the day). At least a couple of the movies on my list deal with conflicted feelings about one’s male parent. A psychiatrist would probably have a field day figuring out and telling me why I am attracted to this kind of movie and not John Wayne westerns. And that, dear reader, is why I am not ever going to see a psychiatrist.

I do like adventure films of a certain sort that also involve fantasy, like Lord Of The Rings and the Narnia ones that have come out recently. I mean, how many elves or talking lions do you normally encounter on your way to the supermarket?

If you have any strong feelings for or against any of these films in particular or about the genre in general, I would love to hear your comments. And if you would care to reveal your own list of films that you could watch over and over again even if other people think you are bonkers, that would be all right too.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Of hymns and trees and grandfather clocks

The first Sunday in May, 2009, will mark 30 years since I first stepped foot in the church that I have attended ever since (except for a brief 18-month period four years into the gig). The strange thing to me, as I think about it, is that after reviewing my previous post about ten hymns that together have truly shaped me, that speak to me, that comprise my theology, I realize that only two of them -- “Christ The Lord Is Risen Today” and “Holy, Holy, Holy” -- have ever been sung in our church in all that time. A few years back, we stopped using hymnals altogether. Now we sing mainly contemporary choruses, with an occasional old hymn thrown in, I suppose, for auld lang syne.

But our Christmas musical program this year on December 14th did include “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” by the choir, so I suppose there is still hope. At that rate, though, it will take until the year 2308 for my closest friends to hear my list of ten important hymns in my life, and by that time the Klingons may have taken over. I don't expect they’ll be all that musical.

We received a great Christmas gift this week that didn’t cost anyone a cent. About twenty years ago we acquired a grandfather’s clock, but for the past nine years, through two moves, it has not worked. My oldest son’s family came over the other day so that the grandchildren could help decorate our trees, and while we were doing that my son figured out what was wrong with the clock: a little arm that extended into the works behind the face was just sitting alongside the pendulum when it should have been inserted into a little hole near the top of the pendulum. For two days now we have been hearing Westminster Chimes as of old! Our clock is a Baldwin -- the case was made by the piano people -- and it can be switched easily to St. Michael chimes and Whittington chimes as well with just a flick of a finger. Hearing it again has been like welcoming an old friend back into the family, one that has been greatly missed.

And you read that correctly: trees. We have two. Both are artificial and both are pre-lit. Hey, I'm all about ease and convenience. One is four feet tall and last year stood in our bay window on a cedar chest. The other one is eight feet tall and for the last five Christmases stood in our great room. I wouldn't say we are tree huggers, but my daughter had five trees in her house last Christmas. This year we (okay, Ellie) decided to change things around a little at our house. The short tree is now in our foyer and the tall one is in our keeping room. Before we bought this house five years ago, I had never heard of a keeping room. It just looked like a big country kitchen to me. But there is plenty of room there for our main tree and we (okay, I) didn’t have to rearrange all the furniture in the great room this year.

One thing we liked about our house when we first saw it was that it reminded us of living in Florida with its 14-foot ceilings and open floor plan. The kitchen, keeping room, and great room are all really one big room with a ledge separating the kitchen from the rest. We changed what was supposed to have been a sun porch/TV room into a dining room by having six-foot-wide French doors replaced with a nine-foot encased opening and extending the carpeting from the great room all the way to the windows. From the outside, our house looks rather small, but everyone always comments upon entering how spacious and roomy it is. I suppose all the little tricks employed by the builder were meant to fool the eye, and it works! Also, this year, for the first time in several years, Ellie put out the entire Christmas village and spread it around in three places: on the ledge, on the huntboard, and on the mantel over the fireplace. The village is lit up as well, so our entire living space is bathed in a warm glow. I will hate to have to take it all down and put it away for another year.

I know a blog is supposed to be a great place for exhibiting all your treasures and family photographs but I am just a bit too private a person for that. I don’t think I would ever publish my children’s or grandchildren’s pictures, although I am extremely proud of them and love them as much as the next fellow. But there are too many weirdos out there in the real world to take a chance. Besides, we don't own a digital camera or a scanner, so that makes things a bit more difficult. It’s hard enough keeping the hamster running on its wheel to power up the computer without worrying about all that other newfangled stuff.

You’ll just have to use your imagination. My job will be to keep you coming back, mostly with words alone. Speaking of which, here is a poem of mine that is several years old. I don't think I have posted it before. I hope it turns out to be spaced the way I wrote it, but you never can tell what may happen.

The Writer

With words alone, he paints
from the palette of his mind,
hues and tints
until he sees the exact shade
he wants.

With words alone, she chips away
rough edges of meaning,
the solid rock
until the long-sought shape

With words alone, she pins and drapes
original ideas
over the naked manikin page,
tucking in a bit of material
snipping off
a dangling thread
dropping thoughts
as easily as hemlines.

With words alone, he composes
irresistible music,
seducing the ear,
searching for a particular chord,
the one right sound his words must make
for echoes
to linger.

(P.S. - It didn’t work. Can anyone tell me how to make a block of text appear just the way you want it to? This blogger thingy thinks everything is supposed to start at the left margin! --RWP)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas: It’s more than a baby in a manger.

Back on November 5th (an eternity in blogdom), Ruth Hull Chatlien of Illinois invited readers of her blog to participate in a hymn meme. I intended to, I really did, but I promptly forgot all about it (and suddenly I remember that one of my mother’s sayings was, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”) This week, however, when Tracie (a.k.a. Rosezilla) posted her response, it dawned on me that I had not completed the task, I had not held up my end of the bargain, I had dropped the ball. Hence, this post.

Ruth asked her readers to consider this question: If I could choose ten hymns that together have truly shaped me, that speak to me, that comprise my theology, what would they be?

Well, I have been a church pianist and organist for much of the last 55 years, so I have hundreds of “favorite hymns.” Choosing from among them would be very difficult. But Ruth didn’t ask me to name my “favorites”; she asked me to choose ones that have truly shaped me, that speak to me, that comprise my theology. This is a much more challenging task, but I’m willing to attempt it. Here are the ten I chose:

1. Love, Mercy And Grace

This hymn, written by C. Austin Miles and published by the Rodeheaver Co. in the early part of the twentieth century, is #153 in the Cokesbury Hymnal, which was used by the Methodist Church I attended as a child. I don’t recall that we ever sang it on Sunday morning, but it was a rousing favorite at Sunday evening services. (Cokesbury, by the way, is a combination of the names of the first two American bishops in the Methodist Church, Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury.)

’Twas love that gave at greatest cost
A Life, that mine should not be lost.
The Love that died in deep despair
My debt fully satisfied there.

It was Love that took my place
On the cross of Calvary;
It was grace, redeeming grace,
That paid my ransom full and free.
Over sin, without, within,
I have the victory,
Through grace, marvelous grace,
That lives in me.

The love that freely all forgives
In fullness now within me lives;
Through ev’ry trial this I see;
His grace is sufficient for me. (Chorus)

God’s love, His mercy and His grace,
Combine to raise a fallen race;
His hand is ready, ere we call,
Held out with forgiveness for all. (Chorus)

2. Beneath The Cross of Jesus

This one, #29 in the Cokesbury hymnal, was more of a Sunday morning hymn and always moved me:

Beneath the cross of Jesus I fain would take my stand,
The shadow of a mighty rock within a weary land;
A home within the wilderness, a rest upon the way.
From the burning of the noontide heat, and the burden of the day.

Upon that cross of Jesus mine eye at times can see
The very dying form of One Who suffered there for me;
And from my smitten heart with tears two wonders I confess, --
The wonders of His glorious love and my unworthiness.

I take, O cross, thy shadow for my abiding place;
I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of His face;
Content to let the world go by, to know no gain or loss.
My sinful self my only shame, my glory all the cross.

3. All Your Anxiety

I didn't learn this one until I was an adult and no longer Methodist. When I heard it, these two passages of Scripture came to mind: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) and “Casting all your care upon him, for he cares for you.” (I Peter 5:7).

Is there a heart o’er-bound by sorrow?
Is there a life weighed down by care?
Come to the cross, each burden bearing,
All your anxiety -- leave it there.

All your anxiety, all your care,
Bring to the Mercy-seat, leave it there;
Never a burden He cannot bear,
Never a friend like Jesus.

No other friend so keen to help you;
No other friend so quick to hear;
No other place to leave your burden;
No other one to hear your prayer. (Chorus)

Come then, at once, delay no longer;
Heed His entreaty, kind and sweet;
You need not fear a disappointment,
You shall find peace at the mercy-seat. (Chorus)

4. Christ the Lord Is Risen Today

This is Charles Wesley’s great Easter hymn, but it is good for every day of the year. I especially like the second verse with its words straight out of the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians:

Christ the Lord is risen to day, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say: Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth, reply, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King: Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Dying once, He all doth save: Alleluia!
Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won; Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids Him rise; Alleluia!
Christ has opened Paradise. Alleluia!

Soar we now, where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head; Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise; Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies. Alleluia!

5. Like a River Glorious

I have loved these words of Frances Ridley Havergal ever since I first heard them many years ago. The chorus reminds me of Isaiah 26:3, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee.”:

Like a river, glorious is God’s perfect peace.
Over all victorious in its bright increase;
Perfect, yet it floweth fuller every day,
Perfect, yet it groweth deeper all the way.

Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest;
Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.

Hidden in the hollow of His blessed hand,
Never foe can follow, never traitor stand;
Not a surge of worry, not a shade of care,
Not a blast of hurry touch the Spirit there. (Chorus)

Every joy or trial falleth from above,
Traced upon our dial by the Sun of Love.
We may trust him fully all for us to do;
They who trust Him wholly find Him wholly true. (Chorus)

6. Jesus, I Come

This is another hymn I have known since childhood days. I have always preferred it to the more familiar invitation hymn, Just As I Am, for its rich message:

Out of my bondage, sorrow and night,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into Thy freedom, gladness and light,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of my sickness into Thy health,
Out of my want and into Thy wealth,
Out of my sin and into Thyself,
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of my shameful failure and loss,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into the glorious gain of Thy cross,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of earth’s sorrows into Thy balm,
Out of life's storms and into Thy calm,
Out of distress to jubilant psalm,
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of unrest and arrogant pride,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into thy blessed will to abide,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of myself to dwell in Thy love,
Out of despair into raptures above,
Upward for aye on wings like a dove,
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of the fear and dread of the tomb,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into the joy and light of Thy home,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of the depths of ruin untold,
Into the peace of Thy sheltering fold,
Ever Thy glorious face to behold, Jesus I come to Thee.

7. I Sing the Mighty Power of God

Several hymns are set to the tune called ELLACOMBE, but the one I like best uses these words written by Isaac Watts. It brings to mind the words of a psalm written by David: “The heavens tell of the glory of God. The skies display his marvelous craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or a word; their voice is silent in the skies; yet their message has gone out to all the earth, and their words to all the world.” (Psalm 19:1-4) as well as the creation story in the first chapter of Genesis:

I sing the mighty power of God,
That made the mountains rise;
That spread the flowing seas abroad,
And built the lofty skies.
I sing the wisdom that ordained
The sun to rule the day;
The moon shines full at His command,
And all the stars obey.

I sing the goodness of the Lord,
That filled the earth with food;
He formed the creatures with His word,
And then pronounced them good.
Lord, how Thy wonders are displayed
Where’er I turn my eye:
If I survey the ground I tread
Or gaze upon the sky!

There’s not a plant or flower below,
But makes Thy glories known;
And clouds arise, and tempests blow,
By order from Thy throne;
While all that borrows life from Thee
Is ever in Thy care,
And ev’rywhere that man can be,
Thou, God, are present there.

8. The Sands Of Time

This hymn was written in the nineteenth century and has many more verses than the four that usually appear in old hymnals. I especially like the last verse. Since one metaphor for the Church is the Bride of Christ, the song applies to every Christian regardless of gender:

The sands of time are sinking, the dawn of heaven breaks;
The summer morn I’ve sighed for; the fair, sweet morn awakes:
Dark, dark hath been the midnight, but dayspring is at hand,
And glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

O Christ! He is the fountain, the deep, sweet well of love!
The streams on earth I’ve tasted, more deep I’ll drink above:
There, to an ocean fullness, His mercy doth expand,
And glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

Oh, I am my Beloved’s, and my Beloved’s mine!
He brings a poor vile sinner into his “house of wine.”
I stand upon His merit, I know no other stand,
Not e’en where glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

The Bride eyes not her garment, but her dear Bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory, but on my King of grace.
Not at the crown He giveth, but on His piercéd hand,
The Lamb is all the glory of Immanuel’s land.

9. Holy, Holy, Holy

I could sing this hymn every single day and it would never get old:

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before The,
Who wert and art and evermore shall be.

Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in pow’r, in love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth and sky and sea;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

10. Abide With Me, ’Tis Eventide

This beautiful evening hymn was inspired by the passage in Luke 24:13-32, an account of two disciples who encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus on the very day of His resurrection. Click on the link above to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing this hymn.

Abide with me, ’tis eventide.
The day is past and gone;
The shadows of the evening fall;
The night is coming on.
Within my heart a welcome guest,
Within my home abide.
O Savior, stay this night with me;
Behold, ’tis eventide.
O Savior, stay this night with me;
Behold, ’tis eventide.

Abide with me; ’tis eventide,
And lone will be the night
If I cannot commune with thee,
Nor find in thee my light.
The darkness of the world, I fear,
Would in my home abide.
O Savior, stay this night with me;
Behold, ’tis eventide.
O Savior, stay this night with me;
Behold, ’tis eventide.

Abide with me; ’tis eventide.
Thy walk today with me
Has made my heart within me burn,
As I communed with thee.
Thy earnest words have filled my soul
And kept me near thy side.
O Savior, stay this night with me;
Behold, ’tis eventide.
O Savior, stay this night with me;
Behold, ’tis eventide.

But wait, you may be saying, what about “Crown Him With Many Crowns” and “He The Pearly Gates Will Open” and “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” and “Calvary Covers It All” and “How Great Thou Art” and “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” and “Blessed Assurance” and a hundred others? I know, I know. There are so many great hymns and so little room in this meme.

Nearly forty years ago, when our family attended a large non-denominational church in south Florida, one of the first national music conferences ever held in the evangelical world was held right there at our church. Don Hustad, organist for many of Billy Graham’s crusades, gave the keynote address at the first session. I have never forgotten what he said: We should worship the Triune God -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - with a trinity of music, he said, speaking to ourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, always singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19).

Sunday, December 21, 2008

From the archives: First night of Hanukkah, er, Chanukah, er, the Festival of Lights

[Note. At sundown tonight -- Sunday, December 21, 2008 -- Hanukkah begins. This post was first published on December 4, 2007. --RWP]

At sundown tonight, the eight-day Jewish holiday known as Hanukkah begins. Hanukkah (or Chanukah, or however you choose to spell it) marks the
re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by the forces of Antiochus IV (around 165 B.C.). It commemorates the “miracle of the container of oil.” According to the Talmud, at the re-dedication following the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Empire, there was only enough consecrated olive oil to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, which was the length of time it took to press, prepare and consecrate fresh olive oil. Each evening during Hanukkah, another candle is lit on the menorah until, on the final day, the entire menorah is lit.

The dreidel, a four-sided top, is used for a game played during Hanukkah. Each side of the dreidel bears a letter of the Hebrew alphabet: נ (Nun), ג (Gimel), ה (Hei), and ש (Shin), which together form the acronym for the Hebrew phrase
“נס גדול היה שם” (Nes Gadol Haya Sham) which means “a great miracle happened there.” [Note. Most of the information in the preceding two paragraphs was taken from Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia.]

No matter what anyone might have told you, Hanukkah is not “the Jewish Christmas.”

In the interest of full disclosure, my mother was Jewish (non-practicing) and my father was Christian (lapsed Methodist). I was raised Christian and have never attended a synagogue, but for years I struggled with my own identity. I wondered whether I was Christian or Jewish or half-Jewish, whatever that meant, and whether there could even be such a thing as “half-Jewish.” In 1962, Mrs. Lydia Buksbazen of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, whose husband Victor headed the Friends of Israel missionary organization, told me, “Hitler would have considered you Jewish.” So basically, if my great-grandfather Max Silberman had not left Germany and come to America in the 1860s, we might not be having this conversation.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

There'll be a hot time in the old town tonight!

Or not. I can dream, can’t I?

I am indebted to Dr. John Linna, a retired Lutheran pastor who lives in Wisconsin, for today’s post. He posted something on his blog yesterday that struck me as so funny I requested and obtained permission from him to share it with you. Here’s Dr. John in his own words:

“I really don’t want to be seen as politically incorrect or a global warming heretic. In fact, for a long time I used to get up every morning and bow toward Washington three times and say, “Global Warming, Global Warming, Global Warming.” Then I would face Detroit and say, “Green house gases, green house gases, green house gases.” This was always followed by a reading from the great prophet Al Gore.

But I can no longer do that.

I am just too cold. My poor frozen body won’t bend and it is hard to get the words out.

Even worse, the wind keeps blowing our huge amount of snow around so I can’t tell in which direction Washington is, let alone Detroit.

In this one of the coldest winters on record in my part of Wisconsin, global warming seems so far away.

I suppose this is caused by those dang conservatives who don’t believe the Prophet Gore. They all are leaving their refrigerator doors open to push the temperature down. I have even heard, and I wouldn’t put it past them, they sent a group to Canada with big fans to blow the cold air down here. They do things like that, you know.

Still I am cold. I am very cold.

There is snow, lots of snow.

Maybe global warming wouldn’t be so bad.

So we lose a little coast line.

At least I would be warm.

I wonder if I can find a nice mechanic who will really dirty up my exhaust.

We need more green houses gases before I freeze to death.”

(Here endeth the reading of Dr. John’s words)

I wouldn’t want to burst Dr. John’s bubble or anything, but today’s high temperature in Atlanta is supposed to be around seventy degrees. Of course, the weather people are predicting it will drop to twenty-six by Monday morning.

Dr. John may be crazy, but he is crazy like a fox.

And this photo may or may not have been taken in Wisconsin, but it appropriately illustrates this post. My nomination for a caption is “The Four Snowmen of the Apocalypse.”

For the football fans among us (you know who you are)... is the list of upcoming college football bowl games, courtesy of ESPN, with additional partial credit to Mr. David “Putz” Barlow of Ephraim, Utah, who once fell out of a car and landed on his head:

1. Eagle Bank Bowl: Wake Forest vs. Navy (Dec. 20)
2. Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl: BYU vs. Arizona (Dec. 20)
3. magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl: Memphis vs. South Florida
4. New Mexico Bowl: Colorado State vx. Fresno State (Dec. 20)
5. R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Southern Mississippi vs. Troy State (Dec. 21)
6. San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl: TCU vs. Boise State (Dec. 23)
7. Sheraton Hawaii Bowl: Hawaii vs. Notre Dame (Dec. 24)
8. Motor City Bowl: Florida Atlantic vs. Central Michigan (Dec. 26)
9. Meineke Car Care Bowl: West Virginia vs. North Carolina (Dec. 27)
10. Champs Sports Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Florida State (Dec. 27)
11. Emerald Bowl: Miami (Fla.) vs. California (Dec. 27)
12. Independence Bowl: Northern Illinois vs. Louisiana Tech (Dec. 28)
13. (Tangerine) Bowl: NC State vs. Rutgers (Dec. 29)
14. Valero Alamo Bowl: Missouri vs. Northwestern (Dec. 29)
15. Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl: Maryland vs. Nevada (Dec. 30)
16. Texas Bowl: Western Michigan vs. Rice (Dec. 30)
17. Pacific Life Holiday Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Oregon (Dec. 30)
18. Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl: Air Force vs. Houston (Dec. 31)
19. Brut Sun Bowl: Oregon State vs. Pittsburgh (Dec. 31)
20. Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl: Boston College vs. Vanderbilt (Dec. 31)
21. Insight Bowl: Kansas vs. Minnesota (Dec. 31)
22. Chick-fil-A (Peach) Bowl: LSU vs. Georgia Tech (Dec. 31)
23. Outback Bowl: South Carolina vs. Iowa (Jan. 1)
24. Capital One (Citrus) Bowl: Georgia vs. Michigan State (Jan. 1)
25. Konica Minolta Gator Bowl: Nebraska vs. Clemson (Jan. 1)
26. Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi: Penn State vs. USC (Jan. 1)
27. FedEx Orange Bowl: Virgina Tech vs. Cincinnati (Jan. 1)
28. AT&T Cotton Bowl: Ole Miss vs. Texas Tech (Jan. 2)
29. AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Kentucky vs. East Carolina (Jan. 2)
30. Allstate Sugar Bowl: Utah vs. Alabama (Jan. 2)
31. International Bowl: Buffalo vs. Connecticut (Jan. 3)
32. Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: Texas vs. Ohio State (Jan. 5)
33. GMAC Bowl: Ball State vs. Tulsa (Jan. 6)
34. FedEx BCS National Championship Game: Florida vs. Oklahoma (Jan. 8)

I didn’t even mention the Iron Bowl. And that’s just college football. There are also all of those professional football teams trying to defeat one another in playoff games so they can play in the Super Bowl.

When I was a kid, there were just four college football bowl games (Rose, Cotton, Sugar, and Orange) and just three channels on TV (ABC, NBC, and CBS) and gasoline cost only 20 cents per gallon.

In other words, I come from a world that never existed or at least has Gone With The Wind. Here is a photo of someone from my part of the country who went like the wind. Can you name him?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Happy birthday, guess who! Happy birthday, guess who! Happy birthday, my hero! Happy birthday to...

For a good time...

...don’t visit Pudding Towers. Don’t search the Internet for “peicture sex.”

Click here instead.

Or here.

You’ll probably laugh more and the next morning you won’t have a bit of trouble remembering what you did.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Google search is a fearsome thing...

About a week and a half ago, I published a post called “Get Around, Get Around, I Get Around!” (which, as our friend Putz then pointed out for us, is the title of a song made famous by the Beach Boys). I have updated that post several times in the past week and a half to include flags of more countries that have visited my blog since I installed the Feedjit Live Traffic thingy over there in the left sidebar.

Well, today this blog received its first visitor from the oil-rich Middle East, from a place called Ar Riyad in Riyadh province, Saudi Arabia, to be exact. And just to be consistent, here’s the Saudi Arabian flag:

I think this visit deserves its own post. Not because it’s the first one from the oil-rich Middle East, though, but because of how our visitor found us and where our visitor landed. It’s really quite bizarre, and it’s also a tribute to the incredible search facilities of the engine known as Google.

According to the Feedjit description, our new reader from Saudi Arabia arrived here via (the Saudi Arabian Google) after searching on the words “peicture sex.” He or she landed on a post I wrote back in October entitled “But enough about me.” Curious as to why a search on “peicture sex” would lead someone to any post of mine, I went back to “But enough about me” myself to investigate.

The word “sex” does appear one time in the post. I was wondering aloud what to write about, and after rejecting autumn, politics, and literature, I wrote, “Sex? Not even on a dare.” I went on to write about my dog, Jethro. The post did, in fact, include a peicture and it was a peicture of Jethro’s cute little cuddly, canine self.

So I suppose I can see how someone in Saudi Arabia (whether male, female, Muslim, Christian, Arab, or American, I do not know) searching for “peicture sex” could wind up reading about my little dog, Jethro, but you wanna know something?

It boggles the mind.

You wanna know something else?

I have no idea whether this revelation makes you want to sell any Google stock you may own or rush out to buy some.

You wanna know a third thing? I don’t care how people find my blog, I’m just very glad they keep finding it. Jethro is glad, too.

’Old Onto Your ’Ats, Blokes

Mr. Yorkshire Pudding of Pudding Towers, Sheffield, Yorkshire, England -- I have yet to learn his real moniker -- has finally lost his mind and created a brand new reason to get up every morning, the Laughing Horse Awards. For 2008, the inaugural year of the awards, he has named 17 recipients in 13 categories.

Oddly, yours truly has been selected, along with two other American bloggers, to share the 2008 Laughing Horse American Blog Award from Mr. Pudding. You can see a list of all the categories and all the recipients at, his blog. [WARNING! WARNING! If you visit YP’s blog, the post entitled “Awards” is rated G, but the post entitled “Hangover” is rated R. Both posts are adorned with a picture of the Laughing Horse. Don’t say you weren’t warned. --RWP]

Here is the acceptance speech I left on his “Awards” post:

“It is a pleasure and an honour [note British spelling. --RWP] to stand here in Pudding Towers tonight, even though it is alarmingly close to the Blackburn Meadows Sewage Treatment Plant.

I accept this awesome, though shared, Laughing Horse American Blog award in the name of all bloggers everywhere who toil daily over their hot keyboards without hope of achieving anything other than emptying their brains of all the accumulated debris and making the ugly voices in their heads go away. Thanks to Mr. Yorkshire Pudding himself, my brain will now be filled for some time with this image of a laughing horse.

I can only hope it is laughing with me and not at me.

God save the Queen, or at least Prince William.”

(end of acceptance speech)

Now that I have had a little time to reflect on things, I feel that I don’t deserve to be in the company of the other recipients. No, really. I don’t deserve to be in the company of the other recipients.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Thoughts after winter rain

Our rain gauge indicates that we have received about 3-3/4 inches of rain. For a while on Thursday morning, the Mississippi River appeared to be passing through our back yard. The water was running about a foot deep. Fortunately, we live on a little hill. Things are returning to normal, though. In the early afternoon, the clouds parted to let the sun shine on us. Atlanta’s chief source of water, Lake Lanier, is reported to have risen almost a foot, but the drought around here is a long way from being over.

On Thursday, it reached sixty degrees. This morning it was twenty-seven. The phrase “global warming” seems to be falling out of favor and people now speak of “climate change” instead. Maybe they have a point. The climate does seem to be changing. This week it snowed in Houston, Texas, and New Orleans, Louisiana.

That photo is not Houston or New Orleans. My blogger friend Jeannelle of Iowa (not to be confused with Eleanor of Aquitaine, mother of Richard the Lion-hearted) was the photographer and she gave me permission to post it here. Jeannelle and her husband live on a dairy farm a few miles from the little town of Readlyn, Iowa, home of “857 friendly people and one old grump,” according to the sign at the edge of town. That isn’t Readlyn in the photo either. According to Jeannelle, “Between our farm and Readlyn is a teeny-weeny town called Klinger. A general store is there, surrounded by a cluster of eight houses and assorted sheds, and a very smelly hog barn.” Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Klinger, Iowa, population about 12.

I’ll bet the “very smelly hog barn” in Klinger can’t hold a candle to where I lived fifty years ago. After my Dad and I moved away from the town I grew up in, he married my stepmother and we lived on Denton Tap Road in the northwest corner of Dallas County, Texas, between the village of Coppell, population 600, and the town of Lewisville, which was not much bigger. Across what was then just a two-lane, country road, like the one in the photo, there was a farm with several hundred hogs owned by a medical doctor who was on the Dallas County Board of Health. He was not held in high regard locally. All the money he spent building concrete wallows for his hogs and paying people to hose them down daily didn’t help at all. That farm stunk up the entire neighborhood. In fact, every morning when my stepbrother Eddie opened his eyes and smelled the stench, he promptly threw up.

But even that hog farm paled in comparison to what is absolutely the worst smell my nose has ever encountered, a turkey farm between Coppell and the small town of Grapevine. Passing that turkey farm every weekend on my drive home from college really opened up the old nostrils. Today the entire area is covered with affluent suburbanites in their mansions. Living over turkey and hog poop. If they only knew.

I really don’t know why my thoughts should go from rain to snow to the smells of yesteryear to urban sprawl, but I have a theory. Daily assaults on one’s olfactory system during one’s youth can permanently damage one’s brain. So be careful, little nose, what you smell.

I do not have a photo of Coppell to show you, but here’s another one of Klinger:

Friday, December 12, 2008

Sing Lullaby

If yesterday’s music was on the Thanksgivvy side, today’s should put you in more of a Christmas-y mood. Here is a three-minute video of the choir of King’s College, Cambridge, England -- the soprano and alto parts are performed by boys whose voices have not yet changed -- singing the Basque carol “The Infant King” (also known as “Sing Lullaby”).

The choir’s “veddy upper-clahss” pronunciation, combined with the echoing acoustics inside the exquisitely beautiful chapel, can make the words of this haunting carol a bit difficult to understand, so I have reproduced the lyrics for you:

Sing lullaby!
Lullaby baby, now reclining,
sing lullaby!
Hush, do not wake the infant King.
Angels are watching, stars are shining
over the place where He is lying:
sing lullaby!

Sing lullaby!
Lullaby baby, now a-sleeping,
sing lullaby!
Hush, do not wake the infant King.
Soon will come sorrow with the morning,
soon will come bitter grief and weeping:
sing lullaby!

Sing lullaby!
Lullaby baby, now a-dozing,
sing lullaby!
Hush, do not wake the infant King.
Soon comes the cross, the nails, the piercing,
then in the grave at last reposing;
sing lullaby!

Sing lullaby!
Lullaby! is the babe awaking?
Sing lullaby!
Hush, do not stir the infant King.
Dreaming of Easter, gladsome morning.
conquering death, its bondage breaking:
sing lullaby!

You may just want to go back and listen to the choir again. The world-famous choir is a bit of a local tourist attraction. In the photo below, the choirboys, wearing top hats, can be seen making their way to daily rehearsals at the chapel in the background. I’m sure there’s a perfectly good reason why they seem to be going in the opposite direction.

If you enjoyed hearing their music, I recommend that you turn your radio on to Public Radio on December 24th, Christmas Eve, at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time (that's 9:00 a.m. Central, 7:00 a.m. Pacific) and listen to the BBC’s live, worldwide 90-minute broadcast of “A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols,” the annual Christmas Eve service from the chapel of Kings College, Cambridge University, Cambridge, England, featuring this world-famous choir. Some years the program has also been videotaped for delayed broadcast on television, so check your TV listings for “Carols from King’s” as well. The program always begins with a boy soprano singing “Once In Royal David’s City ” a capella to start the processional and ends ninety minutes later with a resoundingly satisfying rendition of “O Come, All Ye Faithful” with full pipe-organ accompaniment. In between will be some of the most beautiful choral music pieces and virtuoso organ playing you will ever hear, interspersed with readings of Scripture having to do with the birth of Christ. Each speaker ends his segment with the words, “Thanks be to God.” To an Anglophile like me, it is always magnificent and never fails to inspire.

And if you’re still out shopping on the morning of December 24th, I can tell you from experience that listening to this choir in one’s automobile on the way to the mall will work wonders in helping one cope with the stress of traffic and finding a parking place.

Mark it on your calendar now!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it

Here are the choirs and orchestra of Brigham Young University in a beautiful and inspiring performance of an old hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”.

The words were written by Robert Robinson in 1759 and set to an American folk tune called NETTLETON by John Wyeth in his Repository of Sacred Music, Part Second in 1813.

I learned the song as a child and especially liked this verse:

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

And here is a verse rarely sung nowadays or even found in print:

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.

If you are the sort of person who really enjoys arguing about the relative merits of Calvinism or Arminianism, or criticizing some particular group of people for their obviously defective theology or bizarre practices, please go do it on someone else’s blog -- I recommend Scot McKnight’s or Michael Spencer’s. Or perhaps you could find a quiet spot in a library somewhere and write a 3,000-word research paper on, say, The History And Meaning Of The Phrase “Here I raise my Ebenezer” And Its Ramifications For Postmodern Society In America In The Twenty-first Century. As for the rest of us, we prefer to listen to this impressive choir and orchestra praise God with their voices and musical instruments so excellently while we ponder our eternal destiny.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Happy Birthday, Rod Blagojevich

Today just happens to be the fifty-second birthday of Rod Blagojevich, the current governor of Illinois, who was arrested yesterday by FBI agents. I have a message for the Governor:

Shame on you.

You need fifty-two spanks, and one to grow on. Especially that last one.

December, 1972

Of the forty or so poems I have written over the years and stuck into a drawer, that is the title of the first one. In 1972, I was 31 years old. I had been honorably discharged from the United States Air Force seven years before. I was married and the father of three children. I had not been part of the generation of youth who had taken to the streets to protest our country’s participation in the Vietnam War. One evening, while watching the news on television, I heard the newscaster -- Howard K. Smith, Harry Reasoner, I can’t remember who it was -- end a story about the Christmas shopping season with the words, “Peace on earth, good will toward men.” Then, after the slightest of pauses, he began the next story with the words, “They’re bombing North Vietnam again.” I was startled to hear two such opposite thoughts juxtaposed, and with end rhyme, no less. Something clicked in my brain. After letting my thoughts simmer for a few days, the poem almost wrote itself. It has not been published until now.

December, 1972

Peace on earth, good will toward men.
They’re bombing North Vietnam again -–
B-52s lost this month total ten -–
Peace on earth, good will toward men.

It came upon a midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
Yellow-skinned children huddle in fear
Against the wind and the cold
And wonder what new horror
Will the midnight blackness bring,
And the whole earth gives back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Silent night, holy night,
Napalm gives a lovely light;
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
How does it feel to destroy a child?

Has Johnny talked to Santa Claus?
They’re talking about a bombing pause.
Inaugural plans are proceeding well;
Pat will wear yellow. War is hell.
Do you think man has an immortal soul?
Do you think they’ll blackout the Super Bowl?

Peace on earth, good will toward men.
They’re bombing North Vietnam again -–
B-52s lost this month total ten -–
Peace on earth, good will toward men.

Monday, December 8, 2008

English, How She Is Spoke

We interrupt your Christmas shopping for this very important announcement. I am going to share with you a few of my pet peeves regarding the current state of spoken English in the United States of America. If correct grammar is a big pain in the neck to you, a ho-hum inducer, a non-issue, if you are tempted to check out now, please don’t leave just yet. You might learn something that could land you a better-paying job someday.

First, a couple of disclaimers: I have no problem whatsoever with listening to the English of people who learned it as a second language; the way they speak is often quite charming. Nor do I have a problem with how English is spoken by people in England, the only country in the world that does not officially exist. After all, they invented it. And by the way, they are not the ones with the accents. We are.

No, my problem is with the way many people born and educated in the United States, who claim English as their native tongue, speak English. I’m confining myself to spoken language here; I’m not going to bring up the things that drive me crazy about written English -- your/ you’re, its/it’s, there/their/they’re, and so forth. That is a topic for another day.

Here, in no particular order (although I’ve used numerals instead of bullets -- so sue me, Society for Technical Communication), are some of the things that drive me crazy about the English I hear spoken every day:

1. Using objective case pronouns when the nominative case is needed. You may have heard this so much that it has begun to sound right to you, but it isn’t right when the subject of a sentence is involved.

Wrong: Me and her went to the mall.
Right: She and I went to the mall.

Wrong: Me and him are friends.
Right: He and I are friends.

(Helpful hint: When wondering whether objective or nominative case should be used, try dropping the other person from the phrase and listen to yourself: Her went to the mall? A three-year-old may talk that way, but adults shouldn’t. Me went to the mall? Not unless you are Cookie Monster. Also, putting yourself last in a list is always a courteous thing to do, because you are not the center of the universe. As Rick Warren put it in the first sentence of the first chapter of The Purpose-Driven Life, “It’s not about you.”)

2. Using nominative case pronouns when the objective case is needed. You may notice that this is the exact opposite of the previous peeve. (If this were a vocabulary lesson, I would introduce the word antipodal here, but it isn’t, so I won’t.)

Wrong: Just between you and I, this is pretty boring.
Right: Just between you and me, this is pretty boring.
Better: Just between you and me, this is fascinating.

Wrong: Dad gave twenty dollars to she and I.
Wrong: Dad gave twenty dollars to me and her. (oops, not courteous)
Right: Dad gave twenty dollars to her and me.
Better: Dad gave a hundred dollars to me.

Wrong: I was saving that piece of cake for Jethro and I.
Right: I was saving that piece of cake for Jethro and me.

(Helpful hint: Would you say, “To I”? “For I”? No way.)

Better: I was saving that piece of cake for myself. Jethro can eat dog food.

3. Using auxiliary verbs with a simple past tense verb instead of with the past participle. I hear this all the time and it drives me bonkers.

Wrong: We had went to the supermarket to buy our weekly groceries.
Right: We had gone to the supermarket to buy our weekly groceries.
Better: We had gone to the supermarket to buy beer to take to the football game.

Wrong: They had drove all the way to Yellowstone National Park.
Right: They had driven all the way to Yellowstone National Park.
Better: They had driven all the way back to the supermarket to buy more beer to take to the football game.

Wrong: He has swam in the pool all afternoon.
Right: He has swum in the pool all afternoon.
Better: He won’t be allowed anywhere near the pool when he comes home from the football game.

People in England don’t have this problem with language because (a) they have little grocery stores owned by local Moms and Pops instead of supermarkets, (b) they would drown if they tried to drive all the way to Yellowstone National Park, and (c) their yards are much too small to include swimming pools. Also, they care a lot more about speaking their language correctly than many people here in the States do. The English don’t want to be thought of as dummies, but we don’t seem to mind. Speaking of which, my next pet peeve is:

4. Using snuck as the past tense of sneak and drug as the past tense of drag. This two-pronged attack on all that’s holy (reminder to self: Add bifurcated to next vocabulary lesson) is absolutely the most irritating and brain-numbing pet peeve in the history of the world, in my humble opinion. You are free, of course, to argue that my opinion is not all that humble, but in that direction lies only madness. For now, I do not care that language is a living thing and constantly changing or that the dictionary is not a book of rules but merely contains milepost signs along the communication highway. (Well, actually, I do care, but since that doesn’t further my side of the argument one bit, I prefer not to go there.)

Wrong: She snuck into the house at two-thirty in the morning.
Right: She sneaked into the house at two-thirty in the morning.
Better: She got home at eleven o’clock.

Wrong: Stone Cold Steve Austin drug Hulk Hogan all over the ring.
Right: Stone Cold Steve Austin dragged Hulk Hogan all over the ring.
Better: Hulk Hogan pinned Stone Cold Steve Austin in thirty seconds flat.

I can’t think of a good way to end this post, so I will simply stop. Four pet peeves are enough for one afternoon, especially when one of them is bifurcated. End of rant.

You may now return to your Christmas shopping.

P.S. -- In an attempt to keep my “goody two shoes” image intact, I am disclosing today that I don’t drink beer. I tried it a long time ago and decided very quickly that it looks, smells, and tastes like it has already been through a horse. If I ruled the world, drinking beer while watching a football game would be illegal. I was just trying to be funny a few paragraphs back. Just so you know.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Get around, Get around, I get around!

Since I installed the live traffic feed thingy on my blog a few weeks ago at the suggestion of Phil H., this blog has been visited by people from the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, France, India (Tamil Nadu), Turkey, China, Australia, South Korea, Israel, Mexico, Mongolia (Ulaanbaatar), Aruba (Orangestad), and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

People from many different parts of the United States have also been here -- so far I have seen Iowa, Illinois, Oregon, Utah, Florida, South Carolina, Alabama, California, Virginia, New Hampshire, Mississippi, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kansas, North Carolina, Arizona, Tennessee, New York, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Georgia. I may have missed a few.
Phil told me I might be surprised how many people are reading my blog. He was wrong. I am overwhelmed.

[Update, 12/8/2008: And still they come. Today I saw Connecticut, Vermont, Maine, and West Virginia. Twenty-seven states so far. --RWP]

[Update, 12/9/2008: Two more states checked in today, Nebraska and New Mexico, making a total of 29 so far, and another country, Vietnam! Wow! The traffic feed thingy said Hanoi (Dac Lac), which was confusing. Dac Lac (in Vietnamese, Đắc Lắc) is a province in what used to be South Vietnam, but Hanoi is some distance away, in what used to be North Vietnam. My guess is that the server serving Dac Lac is located in Hanoi. --RWP]

[Update, 12/10/2008: My goodness! Belgium! --RWP]

[Update, 12/11/2008:And Germany and Taiwan and Brazil and Argentina! And Maryland! --RWP]

(P.S., 12/15/2008 -- There was another first-timer today, too, from Timisoara (Timis), Romania! And one from Wyoming.)

(P.P.S., 12/25/2008: Add Montana, Washington, and Italy to the list! --RHB)

From the archives: Yes, Virginia, there is a St. Nicholas...

...and today, December 6, happens to be the day when people in many places around the world honor him. He looked nothing like the mental image you probably have of his direct descendant, Santa Claus. We have a poem called “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (written in 1823 by either Clement Clark Moore or someone else) and twentieth-century artist Haddon Sundblom’s depiction of him for The Coca-Cola Company’s Christmas advertising in 1931 to thank for that. (I would include Sundblom’s picture of your mental image here, Virginia, except that the aforementioned Coca-Cola Company owns the copyright.)

According to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, the real St. Nicholas was born around 270 A.D. and died on this date in the year 343 in what is now the country of Turkey. He is the patron saint of sailors, fishermen, merchants, archers, children, the falsely accused, pawnbrokers, thieves, and students in Greece, Belgium, Bulgaria, Georgia, Russia, the Republic of Macedonia, Slovakia, Serbia, and Montenegro. He is also the patron saint of several cities, among which are Barranquilla in Colombia, Bari in Italy, Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and Beit Jala in the West Bank of Palestine. In 1809, the New York Historical Society convened and named Sancte Claus the patron saint of Nieuw Amsterdam, the Dutch name for New York, so Saint Nicholas could also be considered the patron saint of New York.

Start spreadin’ the news.

[This post was originally published on December 6, 2007.)

To see Wikipedia’s very interesting articles about Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus, click here and here.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

De Gullah Nyew Testament

When I first read the Christmas story in the Gullah language ten or twelve years ago, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I thought it might be a parody of the dialect Joel Chandler Harris used in his Uncle Remus tales, or perhaps a not-so-subtle putdown of the way some poorly educated people speak, or perhaps a ridiculing of Ebonics, which was all the rage at the time. I also thought that many African-Americans might find it insulting, demeaning, not politically correct, or even racist.

But what you are about to read is not Ebonics, not a parody, not a putdown, not meant to ridicule. It is not meant to be insulting, demeaning, politically incorrect, or, heaven forbid, racist. It is a portion of the New Testament in the Gullah language, which is spoken by descendants of slaves along the South Carolina and Georgia coasts. I will have more to say at the end of the readings.

Here is part of Chapters 1 and 2 of the Gospel According to St. Matthew in Gullah:

De Good Nyews Bout Jedus Christ Wa Matthew Write

Jedus Christ Bon

18Now dis yah wa happen wen Jedus Christ bon. Jedus modda Mary been gage fa marry Joseph. Bot, fo dey git marry an Joseph cyaa um fa lib wid um, dey find out dat Mary been speckin. An dat been de powa ob de Holy Sperit wa mek dat happen. 19Now Joseph wa been gage fa marry Mary, e been a man wa waak scraight wid God, an e ain been wahn fa see Mary come ta no open shame. So Joseph mek op e mind fa paat wid Mary an keep um hush op. 20E beena study haad bout wa e gwine do, wen de Lawd sen a angel ta um een a dream. De angel tell um say, “Joseph, ya wa come out fom King David fambly, mus dohn be scaid fa marry Mary. Cause de chile wa e speckin, dat wa de Holy Sperit mek happen. 21E gwine hab son, an ya mus gim de name Jedus, cause e gwine sabe e people fom dey sin.”

22Now all dis happen so dat wa de Lawd done tell de prophet say gwine happen, e happen fa true. E say, 23“One nyoung ooman dat ain neba know no man, e gwine be wid chile. E gwine hab son, an dey gwine call de chile Emmanuel.” (Dat mean fa say, God right yah wid we.)

24So wen Joseph wake op, e done wa de Lawd angel chaage um fa do. E gone an marry Mary. 25Bot Joseph neba tetch Mary til e done hab e son. An Joseph name de chile Jedus.

De Man Dem Fom de East Come fa Woshup Jedus

1Now Jedus been bon een Betlem town, een Judea, jurin de same time wen Herod been king. Atta Jedus been bon, some wise man dem dat study bout de staa dem come ta Jerusalem fom weh dey been een de east. 2An dey aks say, “Weh de chile da, wa bon fa be de Jew people king? We beena see de staa wa tell bout um een de east, an we come fa woshup um op.”

3Wen King Herod yeh dat, e been opsot fa true. An ebrybody een Jerusalem been opsot too. 4E call togeda all de leada dem ob de Jew priest dem an de Jew Law teacha dem. E aks um say. “Weh de Messiah gwine be bon at?”

5Dey tell King Herod say, “E gwine be bon een Betlem town een Judea. Cause de prophet write say,

6‘Betlem een Judah lan, ya sompin fa sho
mongst dem oda town dey een Judah.
Cause one ob ya people gwine be a big rula.
E gwine rule oba me Israel people,
same like a shephud da lead e sheep.’ ”

7So King Herod sen fa de man dem dat done come fom de east fa meet wid um, bot e ain tell nobody bout de meetin. Den Herod aks dem man fa tell um de zact time wen dey fus see dat staa. 8E tell um say, “Oona mus go ta Betlem an look roun good fa de chile. Wen oona find um, mus come back an leh me know, so dat A kin go mesef fa woshup um op too.”

9Atta dem man yeh wa de king say, dey gone on, an dey see de same staa dat dey beena see wen dey been back een de east. Dey folla dat staa til dey git ta de place weh de chile been, an den dat staa ain gone no foda. 10Wen de man dem fom de east see dat staa dey, dey been too glad. Dey been glad til dey ain know wa fa do. 11Dey gone eenta de house, an dey see de chile dey wid e modda, Mary. Den dey kneel down fo de chile an woshup um op. An dey open op dey bag an tek out de rich ting dey beena cyaa long wid um fa gii de chile. Dey gim gole, frankincense, an myrrh.

12Now den, de Lawd come ta dem man een a dream an waan um, tell um say, “Mus dohn go back fa tell King Herod nottin.” So dey gone noda way back ta weh dey come fom.

[End of excerpt from Matthew from De Gullah Nyew Testament, copyright ©2005 SIL Institute]

And here is part of Chapters 1 and 2 of the Gospel According To St. Luke in Gullah:

De Good Nyews Bout Jedus Christ Wa Luke Write

Luke Tell Theophilus Wa Dis Book Taak Bout

1Deah Theophilus, plenty people beena try fa write down all de ting dem wa we bleebe fa true, wa done happen mongst we. 2An all wa dey done write down, dis de same ting wa de people dem dat been wid Jedus wen e fus staat, dey done tell we. An dey beena preach God wod. 3So, Honorable Theophilus, A figga since A done beena study bout dem ting good fashion fom de time dey fus staat, A oughta write um down fa ya step by step fom staat ta finish. 4A da write fa mek ya know all de trute consaanin dem ting wa dey done laan ya, fa leh ya know dat all dis wa dey laan ya bout done happen fa true.

De Angel Tell Zechariah E Gwine Hab Son

5Same time wen Herod been king ob Judea, one Jew priest name Zechariah been dey. E been one ob de priest dem ob Abijah group. An e wife name been Lizzybet. Lizzybet blongst ta de fambly ob de head Priest Aaron too. 6Zechariah an Lizzybet beena waak scraight wid God. Dey beena keep all de Law ob de Lawd an do ebryting e tell um fa do. 7Bot dey ain hab no chullun cause Lizzybet ain been able. An now dey bof been ole.

8One time wen Abijah group beena wok een God House, Zechariah beena do e wok dey, da cyaa out de priest judy. 9Now den, wen de priest dem wahn fa pick one ob um fa go eenside God House fa bun incense, dey write all de priest dem name down, fole de paper an pick one. Dis time yah Zechariah name come out fa bun de incense. So e gone eenside de Lawd house fa do e wok. 10Same time de incense beena bun eenside God House, de whole crowd wa been dey beena pray outside een de yaad. 11Den een God House, Zechariah see a angel dat de Lawd sen. Dat angel stan fo um pon de right han side ob de alta, weh Zechariah da bun de incense. 12Wen Zechariah see de angel, e been opsot. E mos scaid ta det. 13De angel tell um say, “Mus dohn feah, Zechariah! De Lawd done yeh ya pray, an e ansa um. Ya wife Lizzybet gwine hab son. Mus name um John. 14Ya gwine be glad fa true wen e bon, an a heapa oda people gwine be glad cause e bon! 15Dat chile gwine be a great man een de Lawd eye. E mus dohn neba drink no wine or nottin wa mek a poson dronk. An e gwine be full op wid de Holy Sperit eben fo e bon. 16E gwine mek a heapa Israel people come ta de Lawd dey God. 17E gwine go head ob de Lawd an hab scrong sperit an powa, jes like de prophet Elijah, wa done tell God wod. E gwine mek de fada dem haat ton ta dey chullun. An e gwine mek de people dat ain do wa God wahn, memba God an ondastan wa right fa do. E gwine mek de Lawd people ready fa de time wen de Lawd gwine come.”

18Zechariah aks de angel say, “How A spose fa know wa ya say gwine happen? A done ole, an me wife, e ole too.”

19De angel ansa um, “A Gabriel. A da stanop fo God, da saab um. E sen me fa come tell ya dis good nyews. 20Bot listen yah! Dis ting wa A done tell ya, dat how e gwine be wen de right time come. Bot cause ya ain bleebe me, ya ain gwine be able fa taak. Ya ain gwine crack ya teet til all wa A tell ya done happen.”

21All dat time dey, de people outside beena wait fa Zechariah. Dey wonda hoccome e stay so long eenside God House. 22Wen e come out, e ain been able fa taak ta de people, so dey figga fa true e been hab wision eenside God House. E jes beena mek sign wid e han, an e ain able fa say nottin.

23Wen e time been op fa wok een God House, Zechariah gone home. 24Atta wile, e wife Lizzybet been speckin. An Lizzybet hide eenside e house fibe mont. 25E say, “De Lawd been good ta me fa true an bless me fa be wid chile. Now e done tek way me shame so dat people ain gwine look down pon me no mo!”

De Angel Tell Mary E Gwine Hab Son

26Wen Lizzybet been speckin, een e six mont God sen e angel Gabriel ta Nazareth, a town een Galilee. 27God sen um ta one nyoung ooman name Mary. E ain know nottin bout no man yet, bot e been gage fa marry a man name Joseph, wa been one ob King David kin people. 28Dat angel come ta Mary say, “How ya da do, Mary. De Lawd done bless ya fa true! E da trabel longside ya!”

29Wen Mary yeh wa de angel say, e beena trouble tommuch, an e study e head fa try fa figga wa dat mean. 30De angel tell um say, “Mus dohn be scaid, Mary, cause God heppy wid ya. 31Ya gwine be wid chile. Ya gwine hab son. Mus gim name Jedus. 32E gwine be great. Dey gwine call um de Son ob de Mos High God. An de Lawd God gwine mek um king fa rule jes like e ole people leada King David. 33Jedus gwine hab tority faeba oba de fambly ob Jacob. E gwine rule oba um faeba an eba!”

34Mary aks de angel say, “A ain neba been wid no man. So hoccome a gwine hab chile?”

35De angel ansa um, “De Holy Sperit gwine come ta ya. De High God dat great mo den all, e gwine sen e powa pon ya fa do dis. Cause ob dat, people gwine call dis chile fom God wa ya gwine hab, de God Chile, God own Son. 36Fodamo, Lizzybet, wa kin ta ya, e wid chile. Eben dough e way too ole fa hab chullun, e een e six mont. Now ebrybody tink say, Lizzybet ain able fa hab chile. Stillyet, e gwine hab son. 37Cause dey ain nottin dat God ain able fa do.”

38Mary tell um say, “A ready fa saab de Lawd. A ready fa saab um jes like ya done say.” Den de angel gone lef um.

Mary Go fa See Lizzybet

39Soon atta dat, Mary git ready. E mek hace an gone ta a town een Judea een de hill country. 40E gone ta Zechariah house, an e hail Lizzybet. 41Wen Lizzybet yeh Mary boice, e baby eenside um jomp roun. An Lizzybet been full op wid de Holy Sperit. 42E raise e boice loud, tell Mary say, “God da bless ya mo den all oda ooman, an same time e bless de chile wa ya da cyaa! 43A ain feel wody fa hab dis great ting happen ta me, dat de modda ob me Lawd come wisit me. 44Cause same time A yeh ya boice, dis chile wa A da cyaa, e jomp roun fa joy. 45Ya bless fa true, Mary, cause ya bleebe de Lawd gwine do all dat e done tell ya!”

Mary Praise de Lawd

46Mary say,
“Een me haat A da praise de Lawd.
47God wa sabe me done mek me haat glad fa true.
48E done memba me, e humble saabant!
Fom now on, all people gwine say A been bless fa true.
49Cause God wa got powa oba all ting, e done do great ting fa me.
E name holy fa sho.
50E da show mussy ta all dem wa feah um,
fom one generation ta de nex.
51E done show de great scrent een e aam.
E done scatta dem wa proud an mek um ron way.
52E done pull down de mighty king dem fom off dey shrone,
an gii tority ta de humble.
53E done gii plenty good ting ta dem wa hongry.
Bot e done sen way de rich. E ain gim nottin.
54E done hep de Israel people, wa da saab um.
E ain fagit e promise.
55E keep e wod wa e gii ta we ole people. E show mussy ta Abraham
an all e chullun faeba!”

56Mary stay dey wid Lizzybet bout shree mont. Den e gone home.

Lizzybet Hab Son John

57De time come fa Lizzybet fa go een, an e hab son. 58E neighba dem an e kin yeh say de Lawd done hab mussy pon Lizzybet. E gim chile. An all dem rejaice wid um.

59Eight day atta de chile been bon, dey come togeda fa circumcise de chile. Dey been gwine gim name Zechariah, like e fada. 60Cep e modda Lizzybet tell um say, “No! E name spose fa be John.”

61Wen Lizzybet say dat, de people tell um say, “Bot ya ain got no kin people name John!” 62So dey mek sign ta e fada Zechariah fa aks um wa e wahn de chile name fa be.

63Zechariah mek sign ta dem, aks fa sompin fa write pon. Den e write down say, “E name John.” All de people been stonish. 64Same time Zechariah boice come back, an e staat fa taak. E da praise God. 65All de neighba wa yeh Zechariah been scruck. Dey taak bout dis ting, an de nyews git roun all oba Judea een de hill country. 66An all dem wa yeh dis ting, study bout um say, “Wa dis chile yah gwine be?” Cause fa true de Lawd powa been dey pon um.

Zechariah Praise de Lawd

67Zechariah, John fada, been full op wid de Holy Sperit, an e tell God wod. E say,

68“Leh we praise de Lawd, de God ob de Israel people!
Cause e done come fa hep e people. E done set um free.
69E done sen we scrong poson wa gwine sabe we.
An dis Poson blongst ta de fambly ob David, de ole people leada wa saab God.
70God own prophet dem, dey promise fom way back.
71Dey say, ‘Dis poson gwine sabe we fom we enemy.
E gwine sabe we fom de powa ob all dem people wa hate we.’
72God hab mussy pon we, jes like e been tell we ole people.
E stillyet memba de greement wa e esef done mek wid um.
73E promise we ole people leada Abraham an mek a wow.
74E say e gwine sabe we fom we enemy dem
so we ain gwine be scaid fa saab um.
75We gwine be God own people, da waak scraight fo um
all de time we lib.
76Me chile, dey gwine call ya de prophet wa taak fa de Mos High God.
Cause ya gwine git de people dem ready
fa de time wen de Lawd gwine come.
77Ya gwine tell e people say God gwine paadon dey sin,
an dat how e gwine sabe um.
78Cause we God feel wa we feel,
an e mussyful an do we good.
E gwine mek de light ob sabation fa shine pon we
like de sun ob day clean broad.
79Dat light gwine shine pon all de people wa lib een de daak shada ob det.
E gwine hep we waak a peaceable way.”
80An wiles de chile John da grow big, e da come close ta God mo an mo. E beena lib een de wildaness til de time come fa wok mongst de Israel people.

Jedus Bon

1Een dat time, Caesar Augustus been de rula ob de Roman people. E mek a law een all de town een de wol weh e hab tority, say, “Ebrybody haffa go ta town fa count by de head an write down e name.” 2Dis been de fus time dey count by de head, jurin de time Quirinius de gobna ob Syria country. 3So den, ebrybody gone fa count by de head, ta e own town weh e ole people been bon.

4Now Joseph same fashion gone fom Nazareth town een Galilee. E trabel ta de town name Betlem een Judea, weh de ole people leada, King David, been bon. Joseph gone dey cause e blongst ta David fambly. 5E gone fa count by de head, an Mary gone long wid um. E gage fa marry um. An Mary been speckin. 6Same time wen dey been dey, time come fa Mary gone een. 7E hab boy chile, e fusbon. E wrop um op een closs wa been teah eenta scrip an lay um een a trough weh dey feed de cow an oda animal dem. Cause Mary an Joseph beena stay weh de animal sleep. Dey ain been no room fa dem eenside de bodin house.

De Shephud Dem Go fa See de Chile Jedus

8Now some shephud been dey een de fiel dat night. Dey beena stay dey, da mind dey sheep. 9Den one angel ob de Lawd appeah ta um. De night time done lightnin op jes like day clean broad. Cause ob dat, de shephud mos scaid ta det. 10Bot de angel tell um say, “Mus dohn feah! A hab good nyews wa gwine mek ebrybody rejaice. 11Cause A come fa tell oona, ‘Right now, dis day, a Sabior done bon fa oona. E Christ de Lawd. An e bon een David town!’ 12A gwine tell oona wa oona gwine see dey. Cause ob dat, oona gwine know A done tell oona de trute. Oona gwine find de chile wrop op een closs wa been teah eenta scrip, an e been leddown een a trough.”

13All ob a sudden, a heapa oda angel fom heaben been longside dat angel. Dey all da praise God, say,

14“Leh we gii glory ta God een de mos high heaben.
Leh dey be peace ta dem een de wol wa hab God fabor!”

15Den de angel lef um an gone back ta heaben. An de shephud dem say ta one noda, “Leh we go ta Betlem fa see dis ting wa happen oba dey. De Lawd esef done sen e angel fa tell we.”

16So de shephud dem mek hace an gone ta Betlem fa look. Wen dey git dey, dey find Mary an Joseph an de chile. An dat chile been leddown een a trough. 17Atta de shephud shim, dey done tell ebrybody bout de chile. Dey tell um all wa de angel done say consaanin um. 18An all de people wa de shephud dem tell been stonish. 19Mary memba all dis ting an study bout um. 20De shephud dem gone back ta dey fiel. Dey da praise God. Dey da rejaice tommuch fa all dey done see an yeh. All wa de angel done tell um, e stan jes like e say.

Dey Name de Chile Jedus

21Eight day atta de chile bon, e been time fa circumcise um. Dey name um Jedus, jes like de angel done been gim fo e modda Mary been speckin.

[End of excerpt from Luke from De Gullah Nyew Testament, copyright ©2005, SIL Institute]

If you are interested in reading more, the website contains the entire New Testament in Gullah online.

I do not know what your reaction to the foregoing passages in Gullah might be. If you live in the north or midwest or western parts of the United States, you may find it difficult to believe that anyone talks like that. If you live in the south, however, you may have heard people talking that way. If they were speaking English, it would be considered substandard, or perhaps a dialect. But it is not English.

The goal of an organization called Wycliffe Bible Translators is to provide Christian scriptures in everyone’s “heart language,” the language of their childhood, the language of learning to say prayers and numbers. People certainly can learn other languages in which the Bible has already been translated, but the Wycliffe Bible Translators say that people seem to grasp the Bible best and hear it most clearly in their first, or heart, language.

Read this 2005 article from the Los Angeles Times to understand how some Gullah speakers feel about the Gullah Bible.

As for me, I still have mixed emotions. The part of me that used to want to laugh now wants to cry, and the part of me that used to want to cry now wants to laugh.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A myth debunked

Contrary to popular opinion, the U.S. is not a nation of red states and blue states (and in case you just arrived from another planet, red means Republican and blue means Democrat). Far from it, except in the states of Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Hawaii (where Democrats carried every county), and Oklahoma (where Republicans carried every county). In the other 43 states, when viewed county by county, we are a crazy quilt of red splotches and blue splotches. What we are, basically, is a nation of red counties and blue counties. Click on the following map to get a better look.

A close examination of the 2008 presidential election map, coupled with a geographer’s eye for where the major metropolitan areas are, reveals that people living in cities and suburbs tended to vote Democratic (blue), except where they didn’t, and people living in rural areas tended to vote Republican (red), except where they didn’t.

Next time, just to be different, I’m hoping they’ll use purple and green.

<b> Mundane is also a word</b>

My blogger friend Rachel Phillips is currently in the midst of a series of posts (three so far) about a trip she took with her friends Liz...