Saturday, December 16, 2017

HALLMARK CHRISTMAS KARMA

Mickey Mouse Card, Jamestown, NC
Mickey & Mini Wrap, Jamestown, NC

I packed all my earthly belongings in my new car after graduating from college and moved to the Kansas City area to follow my bliss for adventure and opportunity in the big city.  One of the first job offers I received was from the headquarters of Hallmark cards in their operations area.  However, instead of joining the company whose motto was “When you care enough to send the very best” I opted to join Hercules, a company that was supporting the Vietnam war effort by sending out our very best helicopter Mighty Mouse rocket propellants.  Nevertheless, that first real job offer made me a lifelong fan of Hallmark cards.  Ironically, I recently sent my new grandson in Chicago a Hallmark Disney Christmas card with Micky Mouse on the sparkly red and green cover!  

Joyce Hall saw the opportunity in the new postcard craze of 1903 at his family store in Nebraska.  Soon he was producing them and moved his business to Kansas City.  By 1915 the Hall Brothers company had migrated to greeting cards and changed their name to Hallmark in 1928 after the hallmark symbols used by London goldsmiths.

Walt Disney was born in Chicago in 1901 and his family located to Kansas City in search of new opportunities in 1911.  He and his brother Roy woke up at 4:30 every morning to deliver the morning Kansas City Times and repeated the exhausting route after school for the evening Kansas City Star.  Walt copied newspaper cartoons and attended Saturday courses at the Kansas City Art Institute.  He worked as an apprentice artist in 1919 drawing commercial illustrations for advertising and theater programs and catalogs.  Disney moved to Hollywood, California in 1923 to be with his convalescing brother Roy where they formed Disney Studios.  The now infamous cartoon character Micky Mouse was created in 1928, even though Walt initially named him Mortimer Mouse, which his wife Lilian considered too pompous and suggested that he be named Mickey Mouse.    
   
Isn’t it interesting Christmas Karma that both Joyce Hall and Walt Disney had their roots in Kansas City where my family lived for 25 years, Hallmark and Mickey Mouse were both introduced to the world in the same year of 1928, and now ninety years later I purchased a Mickey Mouse Hallmark card for my grandson In Chicago whose father works for Disney?

Monday, December 11, 2017

CHRISTMAS MOVIES

Ralphie, A Christmas Story
Red Ryder BB Gun Box

I just noticed in the news that the top three Christmas movies are It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story and Christmas Vacation.  I think the reason these movies are so popular this time of the year is because they are so relatable to so many including me. 

When I was about Ralphie Parker’s age in A Christmas Story I hounded my parents to death, especially my mother who was the primary hold out, because I so wanted a Red Ryder B.B. gun for Christmas.  Of course, both Ralphie’s mother and even Santa Claus sternly told him that “You’ll shoot your eye out!”  And my B.B. gun was actually delayed by at least two years when my mother learned that two brothers about my age who she knew were playing with their B.B. guns when one of them got his eye shot out!

Then there was the scene in Christmas Vacation where Clark Griswold is going for a new amateur recreational saucer sled land speed record.  His surprise Christmas house guest cousin Eddie explains why he won’t be joining Clark because the metal plate in his head has been replaced with plastic; “Well, they replaced it with a plastic one 'cause every time Katherine revved up the microwave, I'd piss my pants and forget who I was for a half-hour or so. And it ain't real sturdy so... I don't know if I oughta go sailin' down no hill with nothin' between the ground and my brains but a piece of government plastic.”

Clark gets wild eyed and shouts “Remember, don't try this at home kids; I am a professional. Later dudes. Let 'er rip. Hang ten!”  Then he gets the ride of his life!  Since I didn’t get a Red Ryder B.B. gun for Christmas, I went for my second choice which was a Red Flyer sled.  There it was under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve and I couldn’t wait to “Let ‘er rip”!  The only problem was that it never snowed that winter.  But as I was outside playing with my cousin that spring, we noticed that my uncle had deposited a large pile of soft sand near a roadside ditch for a new home construction project.  So, I grabbed my shiny new sled that we had been using to pull each other around in the pasture and eyed the sandy downhill slope that was beckoning, no challenging me to assault it.  I took an Olympian dash towards the sand pile and flung myself onto the slope where my new Red Flyer sled came to an abrupt stop as I went sailing over it and sand blasted my face and knees all the way to the bottom of the ditch!
In the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey has hit a very rough patch in his life at Christmas time and is prepared to jump off a bridge.   His guardian angel Clarence is trying to earn his wings by helping George finally see what the world would have been like if he had never existed.  Once George has a chance to understand all the good he has contributed to all the friends and family that have been in his circle of influence, Clarence remarks “You see George, you've really had a wonderful life. Don't you see what a mistake it would be to just throw it away?” 

And watching this movie for millions of people has also given them and me the benefit of looking back over the span of our lives and reminded us of what a wonderful life it truly has been over the years, especially at Christmas time. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

THE MESSENGERS


 
Holy Family and Angels, 
Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, Israel

MERRY CHRISTMAS 2017

Our adult bible class is currently studying a new series by Adam Hamilton on Faithful: Christmas through the Eyes of Joseph.  The Christmas story primarily unfolds with Mary and the virgin birth of baby Jesus.  We don’t give Joseph much attention, but as Hamilton notes, “God’s plan for the redemption of the world depended on one man’s willingness to raise a child who was not his own.”  Some scholars think that Joseph may have been much older than Mary and it could be possible that he may have even died before Jesus’s three-year ministry which is why the writers of the New Testament don’t have much more to say about him.

There are many accounts of angels visiting humans either in person or in dreams.  Angel is a derivation of the Greek word Angelos, meaning messenger.  Mary was visited by an angel to announce her pregnancy.  Joseph received four critical messages from an angel in his dreams.  The phrase “Don’t be afraid” is one of the most recorded messages in the Bible and was the opening phrase for many celestial conversations with human beings.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that the angel’s presence scares the wits out of us human beings, but many times they are comforting words for someone in distress.  That certainly was the case of the holy family that was presented with the awesome charge to raise God’s son! 

Renaissance painters and others have long depicted angels with wings, primarily to denote their spiritual nature.  Hamilton reminds us that the writer of Hebrews challenges us to welcome guests into our lives, for some folks have entertained angels without knowing it.  We’d probably notice it if they arrived at our doorstep with wings though!  We too can be instruments of God’s purposes and be seen as angels in the eyes of others.  We too can sometimes be the recipients of the good works of angels on earth when seemingly regular folks give us a helping hand in our time of need.  God generally works through others like me and you these days. 

I personally encountered a man with snow white hair years ago when I was alone outside our church attempting to finish a mission project while in the middle of completing an annual budget for my job.  He appeared out of nowhere on a cold late winter’s day, helped me gain entrance to the building and then vanished.  The next day I described the man to our senior pastor but he did not recognize him.  Later I had a short conversation with a man whose father died suddenly when he was a boy on the family farm.  He was understandably distraught and walked out into a nearby tobacco field.  Then he was suddenly met by a being that calmly told him not to be afraid and that everything would be OK.  These words of comfort and assurance immediately gave the young boy a sense of warm peacefulness and he went on to enjoy a successful career in business later in life.

Hamilton concludes his message by stating that “As we look for joy during Christmas, we can often find it in being an angel for someone else.  We experience joy when we take our eyes off our situation and focus on blessing, building up, encouraging, or serving others.”


Merry Christmas 2017

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

IF THE FATES ALLOW

                                         New Beginnings, Philadelphia, PA

I have now knowingly celebrated over seventy holiday seasons.  Those seasons have covered many miles, many smiles and many relationships, beginning with those first simple family Christmas Eve gatherings around a real pine tree with bubble lights, colorful ornaments and silver icicles streaming off the drying branches.  My father was a railroad engineer and my widowed grandfather gave me an electric train for one of the earliest Christmas memories that I still retain.  And my grandmother always gave me a monogrammed handkerchief with a present which I still possess.  They sustained me through innumerable winter colds and still do today even though my grandparents have long since passed away to their eternal reward, along with my parents, all of my aunts and uncles and my wife of forty years.  Christmas and the holidays always will evoke sweet memories of them all as they have indelibly influenced my life.  I’ve been blessed to still hold those precious memories and it’s a privilege that is denied to so many, including uncles decimated by war.

I’ve experienced the joy of worshiping and feasting with my extended family for countless holidays.  Those memories of gathering around the table and sharing a meal always bring a reflexive smile to my face.  And later in life my wife and I enjoyed the company of countless friends we encountered as life unfolded in our work and social lives and as our daughter grew.  Christmas Eve candlelight services at many churches completed a day of anticipation and opening presents under our own family tree after re-experiencing the story of the Bethlehem gift.

Now I have the pleasure of being with a new grandson to celebrate his first Christmas.  I can’t begin to describe the immense joy that prospect brings to my life.  He has such a challenging and exciting adventure ahead of him and I have lived to experience its beginnings.  

And the lyrics of the standard holiday song Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas still prompts me to pause and reflect every holiday season.  Those words had to be written with the hindsight of someone like me who experienced a full life:

Here we are as in olden days,
Happy golden days of yore.
Faithful friends who are dear to us,
Gather near to us once more.

Through the years we all will be together,
If the fates allow.
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough,
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

As we continue to experience life, fate continues to remove those many people who are permanently woven into the tapestry of our life.  And those ties that bind will always remain in our hearts, especially during the holidays. Whenever I find myself thinking of them during these sensitive times, I remind myself to celebrate the happy golden days we enjoyed together in the precious olden days.

A link to my favorite version of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas:
https://youtu.be/dTHrecJXFTE



Tuesday, November 21, 2017

GIVING THANKS THIS THANKSGIVING

Sale Sign, Jamestown, NC

Returning from a brief shopping trip, I once again had to drive around the mall parking lot to find a space, search in vain to find someone who could assist me, listen to old familiar holiday tunes on the ubiquitous speaker systems that followed me on my quest, pass innumerable sale signs announcing the season, stand in line just to give the retailer my money, drive home in four times the normal passage of time as the traffic dodged all around me, and finally I arrived home only to discover that I forgot to stop at the service station to refill my gas tank. All of these familiar signs of the season including the markedly colder temperatures were subliminally and not so subtly heralding the arrival of Thanksgiving Day! Retailers continued to jostle for any leg up on their competition which lately has included who will be open on Thanksgiving Day and how soon they will unlock their doors. It seems they’ve outdone themselves in the rush to capture our consumer-driven culture’s almighty dollar by stretching the revered Black Friday sales day well beyond the space-time continuum for multiple days this year. Hopefully, no one will be crushed to death once the doors are opened as has happened in years past.

In spite of all the hustle and bustle, this is a good time to pause life and focus on giving thanks. I’ve always liked a short story with an O. Henry twist like his famous Christmas story, The Gift of the Magi, about a young couple and sacrificial giving out of unconditional love. Our senior pastor recently relayed a story about perfection and thanks giving. Long ago there was a king with a devoted and very positive advisor. Whenever any situation arose, the advisor always remarked that “It was for good and worthy of thanks giving”. One day the king suffered a painful accident that severed his thumb. When his devoted advisor again said “It was for good and worthy of thanks giving”, the enraged king had him thrown into prison. Months later, the king was with a hunting party deep within the kingdom when they were captured by savages. As the natives began boiling water and preparing their captives for a slow death, they noticed the king’s missing thumb. Since they worshiped their perception of perfection and were suspicious of imperfection, they released him. Whereupon he returned to his castle and immediately released his old advisor. He fervently asked for forgiveness in treating his friend so grievously, but the advisor once again stated “It was all for good and worthy of thanks giving”. When the king incredulously asked “How this could be?” the old sage replied “If I hadn’t been in prison, I would have been with you”.

I became acquainted with Francois-Marie Arouet who wrote under the pen name of Voltaire when I took a philosophy class years ago in college. One of Voltaire’s more famous quotes that caught my attention is that “Perfect is the enemy of good”. As one who was schooled in engineering and spent my entire professional career in operations, I learned early on about the law of diminishing returns. Folks can spend an inordinate amount of time and effort striving along that final stretch to perfection when “good” will get things off dead center and actually accomplish something in short order. Someone obsessed with perfection may never accomplish anything. A college professor related the story of a mathematician and an engineer who were both vying for the hand of a beautiful young woman. Since she couldn’t choose between them, she proposed a challenge that each should stand apart from her and then begin moving in successive steps half way towards her. The first to reach her would get her hand. The mathematician immediately threw up his hands and forfeited, complaining that it couldn’t be done as there would always be a minute distance to travel. The engineer immediately started walking, stating that he knew he would never arrive, but he would get close enough for all practical purposes! Should we constantly seek perfection in life or will “good enough” see us through? I’d argue that perfection is a nice goal, as long as we understand that falling short will be the norm and only one person ever walked this planet in perfection. Accepting imperfection as long as we can attain a level of “good” can immensely improve our productivity and peace of mind for the good life. Don't lose the joy of life waiting on perfection. Life is neither perfect nor fair, but life is good.

As we journey through life, we can serenely look back on a good life well lived and say “It was all for good and worthy of thanks giving”. And besides, there are times when elusive perfection might get us into hot water!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

LAST OF THE GINKGO'S





Ginkgo Biloba, Jamestown, NC

The popular urban street tree we know and recognize as Ginkgo Biloba is the sole survivor of a long lineage of seeded plants and may even be the oldest existing tree that dates back 200 million years to the Jurassic period.  It has no living relatives.  No doubt dinosaurs dined on its fan shaped leaves which are now unique to these colorful yellow fall trees.  The leaf shape has inspired the Japanese to call the tree “I-cho” meaning “tree that looks like a duck’s foot”.  The tree was considered extinct at one time, but the species Ginkgo Biloba was found surviving in a few isolated mountain areas of China south of the Yangtze River.

I was first attracted to these trees on a weekend trip to Atlanta, Georgia.  Ginkgo’s make wonderful street trees around the world for a variety of reasons including their presence makes the passage feel narrower and causes drivers to slow down.  We turned through an intersection in the inner city on a brisk fall afternoon resplendent with sunshine and stared directly into a stand of Ginkgo trees in full splendor lining an urban center.  That beautiful sight remains in my mind’s eye even today.  I was landscaping our yard at the time and the next weekend after many phone calls I was able to locate one male tree for sale.  I immediately planted it in the backyard and it has thrived there ever since.

I’ve always found it interesting to walk out to the backyard in the late fall and find that practically all of the intense yellow leaves had fallen overnight and blanketed the ground around the base of the tree.  Since then I have learned of people around the world who make a ritual of gathering around the trees where they try to catch the leaves as they spiral downward in the breeze.  One college has even proposed the appointment of a Grand Lorax to sound the alarm when the leaves begin to fall, as you’ve got to be quick! 

Because of the Ginkgo’s long history and the fact that they can live over 2,500 years, a lot of magic and medicinal properties are ascribed to the tree.  Interestingly, the East has focused on the seeds while the West focuses on extracts of the leaves.  People have also noticed that the leaf shape resembles one half of the human brain which has resulted in products for memory and aging.  One legend proposes that if a girl sits under a male Ginkgo tree on a moonlit night and combs her hair, her wish will come true.  I have the male tree in my yard, but a lack of hair could be problematic!     

The Ginkgo Biloba may be the last of the Ginkgo’s, but it’s a survivor!  And perhaps it has survived to this very day as a beautiful reminder to all of us that we’ve been given stewardship of this blue orb, but once we lose that last species our very own existence will be in jeopardy.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

SHIPS IN THE NIGHT


Overcast Fall Morning, Jamestown, NC
Outreach Center, Jamestown, NC

As we turn the calendar over to November, or swipe our touch screens, there is now a chill in the air as scarlet and yellow leaves gently glide down in slow death spirals around us.  The changing seasons are always a good time of renewal and preparation for new beginnings.  It’s a great time to go through the clothes closet and weed out those items that you haven’t worn this past season or probably for the past year or two.  And a thrift center is the perfect place to take them so that someone else can benefit from the bargain prices.

I burned some quality closet time this morning and filled a large plastic bag with polos and t-shirts.  Then I dropped it off at our local church thrift store.  All of this rather mundane activity left me with a warm feeling of giving back to help total strangers in their life struggles.

As I exited the thrift center to my car, I passed a man very close to my age and appearance walking out to his weathered truck with a small bag of clothing.  It was a scene from the perspective of a casual observer of two similar ships passing in the night.  One was giving and the other was receiving.  If that observer had caught us in the middle of the parking lot, only the shopping bag might have revealed the receiver and from all appearances, both strangers could have been brothers. 

Of course, we are brothers in the broader sense and hopefully the experience was equally satisfying to both of us.