Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Melodrama, anyone?

Ever wonder what people did for entertainment before there was television? Before there was radio? Before there were movies? Well, in the late Victorian era, they sat around weeping into their hankies reading stuff you would not believe, like the following unforgettable saga of Bessie and her Basil.

by Rose Hartwick Thorpe (1850-1939)

Slowly England’s sun was setting o’er the hilltops far away,
Filling all the land with beauty at the close of one sad day;
And its last rays kissed the forehead of a man and maiden fair,--
He with steps so slow and weary; she with sunny, floating hair;
He with bowed head, sad and thoughtful, she, with lips all cold and white,
Struggling to keep back the murmur, “Curfew must not ring to-night!”

“Sexton,” Bessie’s white lips faltered, pointing to the prison old,
With its walls tall and gloomy, moss-grown walls dark, damp and cold,--
“I’ve a lover in the prison, doomed this very night to die
At the ringing of the curfew, and no earthly help is nigh.
Cromwell will not come till sunset;” and her lips grew strangely white,
As she spoke in husky whispers, “Curfew must not ring to-night!”

“Bessie,” calmly spoke the sexton (every word pierced her young heart
Like a gleaming death-winged arrow, like a deadly poisoned dart),
“Long, long years I’ve rung the curfew from that gloomy, shadowed tower;
Every evening, just at sunset, it has tolled the twilight hour.
I have done my duty ever, tried to do it just and right:
Now I’m old, I will not miss it. Curfew bell must ring to-night!”

Wild her eyes and pale her features, stern and white her thoughtful brow,
As within her secret bosom, Bessie made a solemn vow.
She had listened while the judges read, without a tear or sigh,
“At the ringing of the curfew, Basil Underwood must die.”
And her breath came fast and faster, and her eyes grew large and bright;
One low murmur, faintly spoken. “Curfew must not ring to-night!”

She with quick step bounded forward, sprang within the old church-door,
Left the old man coming slowly, paths he’d trod so oft before.
Not one moment paused the maiden, But with eye and cheek aglow,
Staggered up the gloomy tower, Where the bell swung to and fro;
As she climbed the slimy ladder, On which fell no ray of light,
Upward still, her pale lips saying, “Curfew shall not ring to-night!”

She has reached the topmost ladder, o’er her hangs the great dark bell;
Awful is the gloom beneath her, like the pathway down to hell.
See! the ponderous tongue is swinging; ’tis the hour of curfew now,
And the sight has chilled her bosom, stopped her breath, and paled her brow.
Shall she let it ring? No, never! Her eyes flash with sudden light,
As she springs, and grasps it firmly: “Curfew shall not ring to-night!”

Out she swung,-- far out. The city seemed a speck of light below,--
There twixt heaven and earth suspended, as the bell swung to and fro.
And the sexton at the bell-rope, old and deaf, heard not the bell,
Sadly thought that twilight curfew rang young Basil’s funeral knell.
Still the maiden, clinging firmly, quivering lip and fair face white,
Stilled her frightened heart’s wild throbbing: “Curfew shall not ring tonight!”

It was o’er, the bell ceased swaying; and the maiden stepped once more
Firmly on the damp old ladder, where, for hundred years before,
Human foot had not been planted. The brave deed that she had done
Should be told long ages after. As the rays of setting sun
Light the sky with golden beauty, aged sires, with heads of white,
Tell the children why the curfew did not ring that one sad night.

O’er the distant hills comes Cromwell. Bessie sees him; and her brow,
Lately white with sickening horror, has no anxious traces now.
At his feet she tells her story, shows her hands, all bruised and torn;
And her sweet young face, still hagggard, with the anguish it had worn,
Touched his heart with sudden pity, lit his eyes with misty light.
“Go! your lover lives,” said Cromwell. “Curfew shall not ring to-night!”

Wide they flung the massive portals, led the prisoner forth to die,
All his bright young life before him. Neath the darkening English sky,
Bessie came, with flying footsteps, eyes aglow with lovelight sweet;
Kneeling on the turf beside him, laid his pardon at his feet.
In his brave, strong arms he clasped her, kissed the face upturned and white,
Whispered, “Darling, you have saved me, curfew will not ring to-night.”

(From Ringing ballads, including Curfew must not ring tonight, Rose Hartwick Thorpe, 1887)

I see the young Susan Lucci as Bessie, the young Brad Pitt as Basil, Winston Churchill as the sexton, and Margaret Thatcher as Cromwell.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Beautiful music by John Rutter

After subjecting treating you in recent posts to a ditty by a banjo-playing Lord Pudding substitute and an unbelievable solo by Barney Fife, finding music of quality and virtuosity has been a bit difficult. But I believe I have found some. The musical performances in today’s post should make you forget all about those earlier ones.

Here are several very old sets of words that have been set to music by a man named John Rutter. Click on the titles below to hear his beautiful music.

1. “Pie Jesu Domine, eis requiem” (performed by the Monteverdi Choir)

Here are the Latin words they sang, and an English translation:

Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem,
Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem,
Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem, sempiternam.

Blessed Lord Jesus, grant them rest,
Blessed Lord Jesus, grant them rest,
Blessed Lord Jesus, grant them eternal rest.

2. “The Lord bless you and keep you” (performed by St. Paul Cathedral Choir, London)

The words, originally in Hebrew, are from one of the oldest books in the world, the book of Numbers (the fourth of five books in the Torah), chapter 6, verses 24-26. They are more than three thousand years old:

The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face to shine upon you
To shine upon you and be gracious
And be gracious unto you
The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord lift His countenance upon you,
The Lord lift His countenance upon you
And give you peace, and give you peace;
And give you peace, and give you peace,

3. "For the beauty of the earth" (performed by St. Paul Cathedral choir, London)

The words were written by British hymnist and poet F. S. Pierpoint (1835-1917) and first appeared in Orby Shipley’s Lyra Eucharistica, second edition, in 1864.

For the beauty of the earth,
For the beauty of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our grateful hymn of praise.

For the beauty of each hour
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flower,
Sun and moon and stars of light,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our grateful hymn of praise.

For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth, and friends above,
Pleasures pure and undefiled,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our grateful hymn of praise.

For each perfect gift of thine,
To our race so freely given,
Graces human and divine,
Flowers of earth and buds of heaven,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our grateful hymn of praise.

4. "What sweeter music" (performed by King’s College Choir, Cambridge)

The words were written by Robert Herrick (1591-1674) and were originally published under the title “A Christmas Caroll, sung to the King in the Presence at White-Hall”:

What sweeter musick can we bring
Than a Caroll, for to sing
The Birth of this our heavenly King?
Awake the Voice! Awake the String!
Dark and dull night, flie hence away,
And give the honour to this Day,
That sees December turn’d to May.

Why does the chilling Winter’s morne
Smile, like a field beset with corne?
Or smell like a Meadow newly-shorn,
Thus, on the sudden? Come and see
The cause, why things thus fragrant be:
’Tis He is born, whose quickening Birth
Gives life and luster, public mirth,
To Heaven, and the under-Earth.

We see Him come, and know him ours,
Who, with His Sun-shine and His showers,
Turns all the patient ground to flowers.
The Darling of the world is come,
And fit it is, we finde a roome
To welcome Him. The nobler part
Of all the house here, is the heart:

Which we will give Him; and bequeath
This Hollie, and this Ivie Wreath
To do Him honour, who’s our King,
And Lord of all this Revelling.

What sweeter musick can we bring,
Than a caroll for to sing
The Birth of this our heavenly King?

Read about John Rutter here and see his photo here.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

I wandered with the sneering crowd...or Welcome, sweet Springtime (part 3)

I cannot take credit for the following, but it made me laugh:

There once was a poet named Will
Who tramped his way over a hill
And was speechless for hours
Over some stupid flowers
This was years before TV, but still.

To redeem myself, here’s a better poem, plus some forsythia, a few dandelions for Putz, and a goldfinch thrown in for good measure.

Nothing Gold Can Stay
by Robert Frost

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leafs a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

(Photograph © by James G. Howes, 2003)

At the house where we lived from 1999 until 2003, goldfinches arrived in profusion. They loved the thistle seed we put out for them. But ever since we moved seven years ago from there to our current house, thirty miles to the north, I had not seen a single goldfinch until yesterday, when a pair of them visited our Leyland cypress trees.

This post is my way of saying “thank you” to them.

Spring, by the way, is also pink and purple:

Wood-violets:(Wood-violet photo by Maia C. on Flickr)

But if yellow is your thing, see the previous post for daffodils.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Welcome, sweet Springtime (continued)

(Photograph by David Hopkins, Stanly County, North Carolina)

I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud
by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed -- and gazed -- but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Welcome, sweet Springtime, we greet thee in song!

I know we are almost a month past the vernal equinox, and maybe I am just easily entertained, but to my way of thinking, one of the funniest things I have ever seen on television was an episode of The Andy Griffith Show called “Barney and the Choir.” Here it is (in three parts, unfortunately, but without any commercials):

Barney and the Choir (10:07, Part 1 of 3)

Barney and the Choir (9:18, Part 2 of 3)

Barney and the Choir (4:48, Part 3 of 3)

The moral of the story, class, should be obvious: Just because all God’s chillun got a uvula doesn’t mean you should exercise yours, necessarily.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Eyjafjallajökull and Hrafn Gudmundsson, or how to increase one’s vocabulary overnight

“Volcano Costs Rise as Plume Spreads” screams the headline in an article by Paul Sonne, Daniel Michaels and Kaveri Niththyananthan at the Wall Street Journal’s online site. The subheading “Eruption in Iceland Intensifies Financial Woe for Aviation Industry and Disrupts Travel Plans for Millions of People” is no more comforting. As in all things tragic, the business sector imagines itself to be the true victim.

But ordinary, everyday people could be affected for a very long time. From the article itself:

The volcano continued erupting unabated throughout the day on Friday. Sigurour Gislason, a geochemist at the University of Iceland who collected ash samples Friday, said the plume could linger for days if the eruption continues at current levels.

Hrafn Gudmundsson, a forecaster at the Iceland Meteorological Office, said high-level winds would be constant through Saturday afternoon, carrying ash to the east and southeast. “No one knows, of course, how the volcano will develop, so that’s the big question,” he added. The volcano’s last eruption, in 1821, lasted a year. (italics mine)

(End of quoted material)

To see the effect of Eyjafjallajökull to date, click here.

For me, the volcano has a human face associated with it. I do hope Stephen has been able to return home from Helsinki to Daphne in Leeds.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Unfortunately, they’re always there.

My friend jinksy in England wrote a post a couple of weeks ago entitled “Spaces In Between” that reminded me (okay, my mind works in odd ways) of one of my all-time favorite stories:

During the Great Exhibition of 1851, places to stay were scarce in London because of the great crowds who came there to see the exhibits. Many Londoners began to advertise that rooms in their homes were available to rent. One woman, hoping to influence a potential client to rent her space, showed him a large window and said, “You could see the Crystal Palace if it were not for the houses in between.”

“Yes,” replied her visitor, “perhaps you could. But unfortunately, they’re always there -- the houses in between.”

Dr. William C. Finch, president of the university I attended, told that story in an Orientation Week speech welcoming us first-year students and exhorting us to strive for excellence in our studies during our stay. At several places in his speech, after having pointed out our own personal Crystal Palaces and reviewing several possible houses that might come in between, he repeated the exchange between the landlady and the potential lodger. It made such an impression on me that I still remember it after 52 years.

As I read jinksy’s post (which was really on another topic altogether), I thought again how “the houses in between” in our lives can turn into seemingly insurmountable obstacles that too often prevent us from achieving our goals and deter us from reaching our desired destination.

Unfortunately, they’re always there -- the houses in between.

That photo up there is not London in 1851. It is New York City in 2010 and it was taken by Micah Sloan, the son of a school friend of mine. Micah, who has lived in Manhattan for seven years, recently posted this photo on his Facebook page because he is proud of the view from the roof of his apartment building. I asked for and received his permission to use his photo in my post because it illustrates perfectly my point about the houses in between. Micah’s rooftop view includes the Empire State Building. See that big building with the shiny gold top in the center of the photo? That’s not it. I will let Micah tell you in his own words: “You see that needle sticking up on the right side of the building with the gold top? That’s the very tip of the Empire State Building.”

Your honor, I rest my case.

Now, to end this post with a marvelous example of how even the most unlikely person can overcome formidable obstacles, Lord Yorkshire Pudding of Pudding Towers, Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, has kindly consented to entertain us with a lovely little song, accompanying himself on none other than a long-sought Banjo of Mass Destruction that was smuggled out of Alabamistan by his daughter Frances, who is pretending to be studying there.

I’m so pleased that Pudding is finding ways to stay active in his retirement.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

My dog has fleas, and other remembrances

A few days ago I showed you a slice of life in San Francisco from more than a hundred years ago. This post will describe a slice of my own life, which (he hastened to add) occurred neither in San Francisco nor more than a hundred years ago. This post is rather long, so if you prefer to skip it altogether, I will try to understand. But you might miss something interesting.

In August 1947, my parents moved from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, to Fort Worth, Texas, where my dad hoped to find work in the new aerospace industry. As he had been a machinist’s mate in the Navy during World War II, he was soon hired by Consolidated Vultee Aircraft as a turret lathe and milling machine operator. Consolidated Vultee Aircraft, which was later called Convair, and even later was called General Dynamics Corporation, was located in the northwestern corner of Tarrant County, near Carswell Air Force Base.

In the spring of 1948 we moved again, out of the city, to the southeastern corner of Tarrant County, as far from my dad’s place of employment as it is possible to be and still remain in Tarrant County. My parents had bought three acres of land near the little town of Mansfield, Texas. Since our new residence was thirty-four miles away from my dad’s job and we didn’t own a car, he rode in a car pool five days a week and sometimes six with Bill Poe (Pat’s and Burton’s father) and Hubert Beard (Phyllis Ann’s and Betty Sue’s father) and Wayne Harmon (Brenda Sue Harrison’s older sister Bonnie Gaye’s husband).

I was in a carpool too. Five days a week, for ten years, I rode to school with a neighbor, Mrs. Janet Brockett, who taught mathematics there. On Sundays I rode to Sunday School at the local Methodist Church with another neighbor, Mrs. Bernice Hornell (Vernon’s and Bruce’s and Mary Grace’s mother). I was Methodist before the Methodists were United. Literally. They didn’t become United Methodists until the smaller Evangelical United Brethren denomination merged with them. I still don’t understand how, if you merge a Methodist with a United Brethren, you get a United Methodist. But I digress.

In those dear, dead days beyond recall (well, almost), Mansfield had:

* Fewer than 1,000 inhabitants;

* A total of two traffic signals, one at either end of its one-block-long business district (historical note: 75 years earlier, cattle drives headed to Abilene, Kansas, on the Old Chisholm Trail went right through this business district);

* One Methodist church, pastored by Mary Lou Piott’s father;

* Two Baptist churches, one of them pastored by Cora Faith McDonald’s father;

* One Church of Christ;

* One very small Pentecostal church (Assembly of God), pastored by Charles Pugh’s father;

* One even smaller Roman Catholic Church;

* A non-existent Cumberland Presbyterian Church -- the remains of what had been its foundation lay at one corner of the school’s playground;

* One mayor, Charlie Harrison (Brenda Sue’s father);

* Two doctors, Doctor Nifong and Doctor Thomas, who lived in the two biggest houses in town. Old Doc Nifong saw patients in a small office at the rear of Mayfield’s Drug Store. The somewhat younger Dr. Thomas had four children, William, Dorothy, Neal, and Alice Faye, who bracketed my schooldays like bookends, two ahead of me and two behind me on the great educational trail;

* One drugstore, the aforementioned Mayfield’s. Mr. Mayfield’s twin daughters were several years older than I was. I think they graduated from high school when I was in the sixth grade. I spent many an afternoon after school during my high school years sitting at Mr. Mayfield’s soda fountain and drinking all the cherry cokes, vanilla cokes, cherry phosphates, lime phosphates, and chocolate ice cream sodas my stomach could stand (not all on the same day, of course);

* Three grocery stores (Wynn & Cabaniss, Curry’s, and one whose name I can’t remember, which is strange because my mother bought our groceries there);

* Two barber shops (C.B. Gilstrap’s where the Methodists went and Bulldog Curry’s where the fundamentalists went. Bulldog was the older brother of Foy Curry -- Wanda’s and Susie’s father -- who had the grocery store). Haircuts at Gilstrap’s cost seventy-five cents (I do not know what Bulldog charged for haircuts because I never went to Bulldog’s);

* One dry cleaning establishment, owned by Harry D. Blissard;

* Two dry goods stores, Boteler’s (where one of my Sunday School teachers, Miss Bonnie Stone, worked as a clerk. After Mrs. Jo Boteler died, Miss Bonnie married Mr. Boteler) and Medwell’s (run by Jack Medwell and his wife, the town’s only Jewish residents, who were very old and spoke with Russian accents);

* Two cafes, the Farr-Best, run by Mary Ann Farr’s father, and the other one, run by Margaret Lou “Tooter” Nettles’s father;

* One movie house, the Farr-Best Theater, which was next door to the Farr-Best Cafe. Movie tickets cost twenty-five cents. On its one screen I saw Destry Rides Again and Golden Earrings -- I think Mr. Farr must have liked Marlene Dietrich -- and Sneak Preview and Them and many other unforgettable films;

* Several gasoline stations, I’m sure, but the one I remember best is the Mobil Station with the sign of the flying red horse, run by Claude Galloway, Linda’s father;

* And last, but not least, one brick school building, built during Calvin Coolidge’s administration, that housed all twelve grades and all of Mansfield’s three or four hundred students.

It is to my years in this building that we now turn our attention.

Most of the teachers were old and had taught at the school forever.

Miss Alice Ponder taught first grade. I had completed first grade in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, under the tutelage of Miss Edith Wildegoose. That’s right, Miss Edith Wildegoose. So I never had Miss Ponder for a teacher. But just about everyone else in town had.

Miss Elizabeth Nash (who was not old and later became Mrs. Elizabeth Smith) taught second grade. I entered her class three months before the end of the term, having started second grade with a Mrs. Wolfe at Oakhurst Elementary in Fort Worth. In Miss Elizabeth’s room a large dollhouse thingy sat on a side table. It had many windows with shutters that opened and closed. Each window held a photo of one of the children in the class. Every morning, after taking attendance, Miss Elizabeth checked each of us to see whether our hair was combed, whether our fingernails and hands were clean, and whether our teeth had been brushed. Those of us who passed Miss Elizabeth’s muster looked out of our dollhouse windows all day. Those of us who didn’t could not look out because our shutters remained closed. Thus we were introduced to personal hygiene, peer pressure, community standards, and societal norms. Then she collected our lunch money (30 cents, plus five cents for milk). Although I dreaded the daily inspections, I still liked Miss Elizabeth.

Mrs. Cora Spencer, Miss Elizabeth’s step-sister, taught third grade and often called us “little people.”

Miss Charlotte Anderson taught fourth grade and introduced us to a mysterious process called long division.

Mr. Richard Niemann, the elementary music teacher, taught us all how to play the tonette, the flutophone, and the ukulele.

A young, very pretty teacher, Mrs. Sue Nichols, taught fifth grade. There was a large, pull-down map of a very pink Korea at the front of Mrs. Nichols’s classroom, and it became my job each morning to check a tiny map on the front page of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and reproduce the location of the latest front lines in the Korean War on the big laminated map using purple chalk. I still remember Taegu and Pusan and Inchon and Seoul and Panmunjom and the 38th parallel. I fell in love with Mrs. Nichols. She also tried to teach us a little Spanish on the side, although it was not an official subject. I may have loved the teacher, but I did not learn much Spanish. The only complete thought I could say in Spanish for years and years was the first sentence she ever taught us, Este es el gato (This is the cat).

A tall, handsome, male teacher (our first, if you don’t count Mr. Niemann, and we didn’t), Mr. Carlos Roberts, taught sixth grade and also coached football, baseball, and basketball. All the girls fell in love with Mr. Roberts, especially the ones who later became cheerleaders.

Mrs. Mary Orr, another long-time fixture in Mansfield, had taught seventh grade for years, but by the time we got there Miss Cora Spencer decided to retire from teaching third grade and Mrs. Orr was moved down the hall to take her place. So our class knew who Mrs. Orr was, but she never taught us a lick.

Instead, Miss Erma Nash, Miss Elizabeth’s older sister who had been principal from time immemorial, controlled our seventh grade class with stern looks and a firm resolve. We had more than 60 students in a room meant to seat 30. Chaos threatened constantly. When Miss Erma decided to retire at the end of her year with us, Mr. Otis Crawford (Judith’s father) took her place as principal, and eventually Mr. Glen Harmon took Mr. Crawford’s place.

Mrs. Mary Lillard, she of the red hair and fiery temper, prepared the eighth-graders very well for life in dear old Mansfield High. The school hired a second eighth-grade teacher, Mr. Tommy Lowe, and we were the first class in the history of the school to be divided into two groups. We were also the first class to graduate from the brand new Erma Nash Elementary School (grades 1 through 8) in 1954.

In high school, our days became a jumble. Everybody learned English from Mr. D. P. Morris and everybody learned algebra, geometry, and trigonometry from Mrs. Janet Brockett. Mr. Ben Barber, Paula’s and Linda’s father, taught agriculture to all the boys; eventually he was joined by Mr. Troy Smith. I don’t remember who taught home economics to the girls. No boy would have been caught dead taking home economics. Just as in elementary school, a series of football coaches taught American History, World History, and some of the sciences, although occasionally we had a real science teacher, like Mr. Noble Steelman. Mrs. Ola Dorris Carroll held sway as the school’s librarian. Mr. R. L. Anderson, the Speech and Drama teacher, also taught Civics and Texas History to seniors (remember the Alamo?) and always sponsored the senior class.

Other teachers arrived from time to time, served sentences of varying length, then left for greener, more lucrative pastures. Mrs. Jean Probst and Mrs. Elinor Field taught sophomore and junior English (Mr. D. P. Morris reserved the freshmen and the seniors for himself because he liked to teach Tess of the D’Urbervilles to the freshmen and Macbeth to the seniors); Mrs. Sue Shadix taught Typing, Shorthand, and Bookkeeping; Mrs. Vickers (Coach Flavill George’s mother) taught mathematics after Mrs. Brockett retired at the end of our junior year; and Miss Sally Pearce, followed by Mr. Thomas McDonald and then Mr. Richard Weir, directed Band and Chorus.

Mansfield’s band in those days had about 45 members. I was first-chair clarinetist and later played alto saxophone. During Friday night football games in the fall, our band could make two formations at half-time: A big M for Mansfield and a football with laces down the middle. If even a few band members were absent, no one in the visitors’ stands could tell what our formations were supposed to be. Everyone in the home stands always knew what our formations were supposed to be, because we could make only those two. And if tonettes and flutophones and ukuleles had been allowed in the band, the visitors might have been able to tell too.

All in all, Mansfield was practically Mayberry, only without Andy Griffith and Don Knotts and Opie and Aunt Bee. Everyone knew everyone else. Today Mansfield has a population of more than 50,000 and there are five or six high schools, I think. Many of the more than two dozen elementary and middle schools are named for the teachers in whose classes we sat day after day, wishing we could be somewhere else, and whom we remember now with fondness in our old age.

If you don’t know why the title of this post includes the words “My dog has fleas” your education is sorely lacking.

Maybe you should have gone to school in Mansfield.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

April 10, 1910 - October 4, 1957

One hundred years ago today, this woman was born.

This photo may have been taken around 1940, when she was about thirty years old, perhaps a year before she gave birth to a son. I cannot show you a photo of her as an old woman, because she never became an old woman. She died in 1957 at the age of 47.

I was a part of her life for the last 16 of those 47 years. I wish we could have known one another longer.

She was my mother, Ruth Elizabeth Silberman Brague.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

San Francisco, 1906

According to an e-mail I received, this nearly-nine-minutes-long film was made in San Francisco, California, just four days before the great 1906 earthquake and devastating fire that destroyed most of the city. Apparently someone attached a camera to the front of a cable car. The sound was added much later, obviously, but if the film is genuine it is truly an amazing “slice of life” from more than one hundred years ago.

Click here to see San Francisco in 1906 (8:49).

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Michael Spencer, 1956-2010

My all-time favorite Christian blogger, Michael Spencer, who called himself the Internet Monk even though he was a Baptist, died last evening in Oneida, Kentucky. He had cancer. He was only 53. Michael was an incredible writer, essayist, teacher, and blogger. The masthead on his blog called his posts “dispatches from the post-evangelical wilderness” and he helped so many of us find our way through it. He is survived by his wife, Denise, their son Clay and their daughter Noel.

But we sorrow not as others who have no hope.

Listen to these words of St. Paul in Second Corinthians, chapter 4:

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

13 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, 14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

RIP, Michael.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning...

“The Resurrection” by 19th-century Danish artist Carl Heinrich Bloch

Luke 24 (KJV)

1 Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.
2 And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre.
3 And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.
4 And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments:
5 And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead?
6 He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee,
7 Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.
8 And they remembered his words,
9 And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest.
10 It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles.
11 And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The 23rd Psalm

This well-known chapter from the Old Testament comes in many English versions. The familiar words repeated at many funerals are found in the King James Version of 1611:

1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Perhaps this psalm, in Hebrew, was spoken at a hastily-arranged burial in Jerusalem on this day in 29 or 30 A.D. on the original Good Friday.

When the English version of Psalm 23 is set to music, some poetic license usually occurs. For example, in 1650 the Scottish Psalter contained these lyrics by William Whittingham, set to the music of Jessie S. Irvine:

The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want;
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green; He leadeth me
The quiet waters by.

My soul He doth restore again;
And me to walk doth make
Within the paths of righteousness,
E’en for His own name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through death’s dark vale,
Yet will I fear no ill;
For Thou art with me, and Thy rod
And staff me comfort still.

My table Thou hast furnish-ed
In presence of my foes;
My head Thou dost with oil anoint,
And my cup overflows.

Goodness and mercy all my life
Shall surely follow me;
And in God’s house forevermore
My dwelling place shall be.

Backwards it reads. Like Yoda it sounds.

Three centuries later, in 1969, musician Ralph Carmichael based his song “The New 23rd” on Kenneth Taylor’s paraphrase of the Bible, The Living Bible:

1 Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need!
2,3 He lets me rest in the meadow grass and leads me beside the quiet streams. He restores my failing health. He helps me to do what honors Him the most.
4 Even when walking through the dark valley of death I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me, guarding, guiding all the way.
5 You provide delicious food for me in the presence of my enemies. You have welcomed me as your guest; blessings overflowing!
6 Your goodness and unfailing kindness shall be with me all of my life, and afterward I will live with you forever in your home.

Eugene Peterson, who published an even more modern version of the Bible called The Message, put it this way:

1-3 God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.

4 Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
makes me feel secure.

5 You serve me a six-course dinner
right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.

6 Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
for the rest of my life.

Does “beauty and love” mean the same thing as “goodness and mercy”? Does “chase after me” mean the same thing as “follow me”? Does “for the rest of my life” mean the same thing as “forever”? Nice try, Eugene, but I vote No on all counts. And even though Death Valley and Valley of Death sound like the same thing, the former makes me think of California but the latter doesn’t.

My favorite poetic re-rendering of the 23rd Psalm is Henry W. Baker’s hymn entitled “The King Of Love My Shepherd Is,” which first appeared in the publication Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1868:

The King of love my Shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never,
I nothing lack if I am His
And He is mine forever.

Where streams of living water flow
My ransomed soul He leadeth,
And where the verdant pastures grow,
With food celestial feedeth.

Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
But yet in love He sought me,
And on His shoulder gently laid,
And home, rejoicing, brought me.

In death’s dark vale I fear no ill
With Thee, dear Lord, beside me;
Thy rod and staff my comfort still,
Thy cross before to guide me.

Thou spread’st a table in my sight;
Thy unction grace bestoweth;
And O what transport of delight
From Thy pure chalice floweth!

And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never;
Good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise
Within Thy house forever.

Several beautiful musical compositions have been written for “The King Of Love My Shepherd Is.” My favorite is the tune by Harry Rowe Shelley, but since I was unable to find a suitable video example of it, here is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing the first, second, and last stanzas of “The King Of Love My Shepherd Is” to a beautiful Irish tune arranged by Mack Wilberg for two flutes and a harp.

A final word about today from Tony Campolo: “It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming!”

I will be laboring (<i>British,</i> labouring) under a handicap for the next couple of weeks (<i>British,</i> fortnight)

More about that below. First, though, I want to add an addendum (what else would you do with an addendum?) to my previous post about phone...