We are not daily beggars that beg from door to door

Every year around this time Annette and I attend a Christmas Caroling party. First we go out in the cold and sing for some select houses. Then, after being properly frozen, we go inside for more singing and fun. The party was started many years ago by a fellow south-sider. Then when one of her friends who had always led the group was murdered, the mantle was passed to Annette and she reluctantly leads the biggest group of Type A personalities you’d ever want to meet. The crowd is full of people who can sing, act, write etc.; many of them professionally. Like herding cats, it is.

Anyway, many of them are Catholic, so this year was especially poignant as the Arch Bishop of St. Louis just announced that the local Catholic church/school would be closing. St. Cecilia’s has been a part of this neighborhood for very long time. So, our hostess had us singing at the homes of the elderly folks who were hit particularly hard by this news. I can’t imagine going through that, but I try to remain focused on the whole notion of “the church” as opposed to “the building.” If we remain focused on what God wants and not what we want, the building itself pales to the mission. But, having said that, I am very sympathetic to those folks who have worshiped in the same sanctuary their whole life and now it’s closing; just like that. A sad day indeed.

A nice Christmas weekend

Last night (Sat.) we held our annual Christmas sing-a-long at church. In the past we’ve done it in the sanctuary, but it gets a mite chilly up there in the evenings this time of year. So, we did it downstairs in the fellowship hall. Since we now have a sound system for down there it just make sense. So, we invited everyone, I made some wassail punch, everybody brought cookies and snacks and a good time was had by all. I even borrowed a karaoke machine from a neighbor and I found a Christmas karaoke CD with some all time favorites on it. Annette and I did our Bing Crosby and ???? impersonation on Silver Bells. (Who sang with Bing on that one? Try to get it before Rob does.) The preacher even got up to sing one for us. A fun time was had by all and I wish everybody could have been there.

Then, this morning, at Church, it was the Children’s Christmas Program. This is my fourth year being the director of that. Each year I challenge myself to doing something that is the epitome of simplicity. This year I extracted paragraphs from A Christmas Carol and each kid read them. In between each was a verse of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (there’s 7 of them). Then at the end I recited the last line of the book with three of the littlest guys lined up in front of me. On cue they yelled out, “God bless us everyone!” Rich & the Tiny Tims…what’d ya think? A great name for a rock band, no?

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of his heaven
No ear may hear his coming
But in this world of sin
Where meek souls will receive him still
The dear Christ enters in

Christmas Songs

Jennifer was telling a story how her daughter’s boyfriend had his guitar out at the house one evening when she asked him to play a Christmas song. I think her quote was something like, “he looked at me like I had worms coming out of my ears.” I don’t know whether that meant he didn’t know any or he wouldn’t play any. I don’t know which is worse anyhow. I’ve lectured on this before, but it really burns me up, so now you’re going to have to listen to it again: The guitar is meant to be played as an accompaniment to the melody. Now, this is not say that a guitarist can’t take a solo during a song; that’s fine for 8 or 16 measures. But a young guitarist should not start with the solo mindset; he or she should graduate into that. In the meantime he should learn some songs! Is that so much to ask? “But wait, but wait; I can’t sing,” he’ll say. Get over it! Everybody can sing in their range. And for God’s sake; at Christmas?! C’mon, Silent Night, Away in the Manger, something! If you need a challenge, learn The Christmas Song. That song, by the way, has a terrific short guitar solo in it. OK, I feel better.

You know what’s strange? The last time I ranted about this was right after Annette and I went to see School of Rock with Jack Black. Emily just bought the DVD and we watched it the other night and here I am talking about it again. Supernatural? Perhaps. Baloney? Perhaps not.

Here’s your Christmas verse for the evening:

Sire, the night grows darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart I know not how
I can go no longer

Mark my footsteps good my Page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
freeze thy blood less coldly

For Jen

For lo, the days are hastening on
By prophet bards fortold
When with the ever circling years
Come ’round the age of gold
When peace shall over all the earth
It’s ancient splendors fling
And the whole world sends back the song
Which now the angels sing

The Curse continues

Remember, it was a full lunar eclipse. Edgar Renteria, whose jersey number just happens to be 3, made the last out of the last game of the World Series to give the Red Sox their haunting victory of the Cardinals. Care to take a guess who else played with the number 3 on their jersey? That’s right, Babe Ruth as a Yankee wore the number 3. And now Edgar, one of the best shortstops in the league is going to the Red Sox! Why!? Why, Edgar, why!? You’re a sensitive guy; you won’t like it there! Can anyone doubt the curse continues?

Today also marks the 60th anniversary of the start of The Battle of the Bulge. It is still to this day the largest battle the US Army has ever fought. To sum it up, Hitler decided for one last giant push in an effort to split the Allies up and cut off big groups of them from supply lines and each other. Tactically, it was bold but never had a chance of ultimately working. If you think conditions in Iraq are tough, these soldiers were in horrible, dismal conditions. Read some stories of some Medal of Honor winners from the battle here.

24 years ago tonight

I was in a rock band. We weren’t very good, though we practiced all the time. During those years we practiced in the basement of St. John’s Episcopal Church on Arsenal across from the park. I have some good memories of that basement, including meeting Annette for the first time. But on this night we were just running through some of our standard stuff. Standard stuff, like Beatles and Dylan. So, it’s 1980 and we’re playing Beatles and Dylan. Any wonder why we weren’t getting the good jobs? We always played Beatle songs at practice, and this Monday night we practiced “The Ballad of John & Yoko.”

After the practice broke up, we all went our separate ways; me going home of course. Dave went to O’connell’s to hang out for a while and around ten o’clock he called me, “Hey, did you hear what happened man?”

My heart skipped a beat before he said another word. The tone and gravity in his voice was from another world. He sounded so grave that the first conscious thought I had was of nuclear attack from…who? What can I say, I’m a child of the Cold War. But then he said it: “John Lennon was shot. He’s dead.”

I said, “What! That’s crazy.”

“Yeah, Rick just told me.”

I didn’t believe him. It really is crazy. I reached over to my stereo to turn on the radio. The dial was set to KSHE 95 of course; there weren’t any other stations back then. As the sound from the radio came up, it was “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” I knew instantly that it was true. John was dead.

I remember the rest of the night vividly; I was awake most of it. I cried. Other phone calls were made and received. He was only 40 years old. I’m 45 now, though I was just 20 at the time, and his house-husband routine looked to me grown up and respectable. I remember hearing The Police do “Walking on the Moon” for the first time that night. I always had a good ear for good acts and said to myself that night, “That is one hell of a drummer. They’re good.”

But mostly I remember from that night something I wrote in a journal. At this time of my life I was not particularly religious and certainly not Christian. But I wrote that night, “The human race is sick.” By that I meant “not well,” and in need of help. Simple enough for an angry broken heart, but it was more than that. It was the only possible explanation for this murder. People are not right. Many years later I would come to believe this as a foundational truth. People are not right and they need help.

Well, enough for tonight. Here’s some web links for you: John Lennon, the Nature of Sin and the 1980′s.

A few thoughts on Pearl Harbor Day

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t think of Dec. 7th as Pearl Harbor Day. I have an early memory, perhaps I was seven or eight, of being in Sunday School one morning when the teacher (Mildred, who still worships with us every Sunday; I think she’s about 100 years old) asked for the date. I spoke up loudly, “It’s Pearl Harbor Day; Dec. 7th.” Many books, films and TV shows were to follow; it became part of the cultural mythology that has informed my world-view.

Now, it’s rather difficult to express just how much the event shapes my world-view. Well, OK, I’ll try, if you insist.

The attack on Pearl Harbor thrust the US into World War II. That war was, according to the Wikipedea, “the most extensive and costly armed conflict in the history of the world.” And, so it was. Most people alive today have no concept at all about the scope of it. Not just how it affected everyday life, but what held in the balance. This was the event that ended the America First Movement, as well as the era of the big Battleship.

It was the event that would shape the geo-political globe until another suprise attack shoved it into a different direction on Sept. 11, 2001. If anyone wanted to listen, Churchill immediately grasped the situation right after the attack. He said, “Now at this very moment I knew the United States was in the war, up to the neck and in to the death. So we had won after all!…Hitler’s fate was sealed. Mussolini’s fate was sealed. As for the Japanese, they would be ground to powder.” Yes, that’s right, he was happy about it. Remember, his war had been going on for a couple of years already, and things were looking pretty dismal. This was the beginning of the end in his view. And so it was, just four years later, the war was over, the world turned upside down. And for the first time, the victors of a war decided the best thing to do to keep this from happening again was to restore the economic vitality of the vanquished. Inter-national wars have been small and rare since.

Over simplification? Sure, but the facts are that the Attack on Pearl Harbor set in motion huge global forces that put us where we are today. A generous understanding of these forces would be of great help in understanding events of today.

The Old Man has heart procedure

My dad had a procedure to shore up his abdominal aorta this past Tuesday. His heart/aorta is fine but he’s struggling with the incisions to his groin that they went through to do the procedure. I went to Steak N Shake with him the Thursday before, kind of a last smoke before the surgery. I mustered up the courage to call him Monday night to wish him well. That actually went pretty well. I managed to state simply that I was calling to wish him well and he managed to thank me for doing such. This is big stuff.

Today he had enough strength to call me. He wanted let Annette know how much he appreciated her coming up to the hospital after the surgery. That night I had a long meeting at church where several people besides me, including his sister, were anxious to hear any news. It was nice when I received a text message from Annette, “He’s out of surgery. He’s OK.” This wonderful technology did not help me however, when I promptly forgot to call my sister with this news. Sorry Becky!

Just a thought on Christmas: The stronger I become in by faith, the less Christmas holds any emotional importance in my life. It’s a wonderful time of year, don’t get me wrong; I love the weather and the music etc. But, spiritually, well…I try to stay focused on what’s important. My relationship with God and my relationships with others. If the holiday can enhance these things, then by all means, let’s watch Frosty the Snowman again and sing White Christmas one more time!