Monday, March 29, 2010

FADING IMAGES IN HYMNS AND GOSPEL SONGS

Each night when we retire, my wife Betty and I put four records on our stereo turntable. Going to sleep with such thoughts in our minds results in more restful slumber than watching the 11 o'clock news. Of course most of these 33 rpm disks were recorded during the last quarter of the prior century and feature Christian numbers sung (not done) by artists of that period. Frequently the lyrics predate that era by many years.

Recently I was struck by the fact that many of these songs often used imagery that seems missing from the current Christian repertoire. Most common were themes relating to the sea and boats, A whole list of such songs comes to my mind: "Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me", "Anchored in Jesus", "Let the Lower Lights Be Burning", "I Will Pilot Thee", "The Haven of Rest", "Drifting", "The Old Ship of Zion" and many others. The Haven of Rest Quartet was one of the popular groups widely heard on the radio.

I think that one reason for these graphic expressions of Christian experience to resonate with audiences of that day came from personal contact with or at least common awareness of marine travel. In current times cruise ships bear little resemblance to the sailing ships or steam-powered ships of these earlier times. Thus, they fail to evoke to the same degree the parallels to life experience.

To a lesser extent that time period also gave rise to songs with railroad themes. One prime example of this is "Life's Railway to Heaven". A certain aura attached to steam locomotives and their operators that has no counterpart to today"s diesels. In my boyhood days one very popular evangelist, Rev. R. B. Campbell, was a converted engineer. His sermons were replete with exciting illustrations drawn from his railroading career. I have not observed a general attention to jet pilots or space ship crews.

As I ponder these changes, I wonder if people nowadays are, on one hand, more literal than the prior generations. Or, on the other hand, they may attach spiritual meanings to expressions of a more intangible nature. Christ used many earthly parallels to express truths of the Gospel. Admittedly, my affinity for these earthly parallels with spiritual truth doubtless springs from both nostalgia and familiarity with both text and melody.

One example from my past stands out sharply in my memory. At a Sunday evening service in a small church in Western New York , Aileen Ortlip Shea did a chalk drawing of the scene while her husband, Alton (brother of Bev Shea) sang and played on the autoharp "Let the Lower Lights Be Burning." The message in song reinforced by the visual representation, left on me a lasting impression. An image, whether in figurative language or depicted in picture form, or both, can be a powerful means of expressing truth. There was life before Power Point.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

ONE THANKSGIVING TO REMEMBER

Some holidays stand out from the rest based on the people who were the guests.
Others were remembered for the setting in which they took place. Yet another is recalled for heralding an outstanding event. But in this instance it was to mark the celebration of ownership of the first home that was really ours. For this, we had cause for thanksgiving.

The idea of a home was generalized until Lee and Joyce Houseknecht arrived in Ellensburg and had purchased a house. They convinced Betty and me that it would be a relatively easy process since they had recently completed the task before moving west. They offered us a lot on their land next door to where they had purchased. We could start right away and save paying rent by having our three children move in with them while we set up housekeeping in the empty dog kennel behind their house. They made it all seem so easy that we proceeded to do exactly that. We didn't even have time to consider what that would do to our family's life. Lee was anxious to get the house started at once.

We lost no time in getting the foundation started. Jack Morrow, a rancher friend, arrived the following day with his diesel caterpillar to dig the foundation. We had assumed that the land would be suitable. To everyone's amazement the site proved to be a sinkhole. By quick action he retrieved his rig and headed back to the ranch.

At this point we decided to locate another site. Miraculously we were able to buy an acre from a farmer three miles from town and across the Yakima River. This offered an unobstructed view of Mount Stuart to the north. It was the perfect spot.

I had made no estimate of cost and decided this would require financing. Approaching the bank president, Victor Bouillon, I laid out my plans. Two things were looked on favorably. The new site was beautiful and I was a friend of Harold Overland. The latter fact was the basis for granting a construction loan of $5,000 with no strings attached.

My first concern was the drilling of a well. Miller Brothers was eager for the job. At that moment I was assured that water was readily available, never dreaming none of it would be available until the house was habitable.

It was a long hot summer. Betty and I were on the job as soon as we could see to drive a nail. Having a wife who could keep the hammer flying made the work progress apace. We then rushed home so I could grab a quick breakfast before going to the office. Another quick meal and then back to the lot I went.

The term perc or percolate were practically unheard of in those times. When we were ready to install the septic tanks, it became clear that our tools were not adequate. It took the power of a jackhammer to penetrate the rock. Our crew had a man who could handle the tool. Without this persuader, the ground would not have been penetrable.

After supper I would head back for another stint. Crossing the river was a curved section of bridge. Coming towards me was a truckload of baled hay not secured to keep it from falling apart on the curve. I pulled the Hudson against the rail, lying down in the seat. The large bales smashed the windshield and crumpled the front end of the car. That evening I accomplished nothing on the project other than getting the wrecked Hudson home.

Darkness increased as the season closed in, bringing greater urgency. When Mr. Miller finally announced that he had struck water, we were ready for a celebration. Thanksgiving Day was to be the time to offer our praise to God for the many trials that we had overcome. Surely nothing now could dampen our joy.

Betty and the children set the table the night before. All was in readiness for the special commemorative meal. We retired with a special sense of gratitude.

We couldn't afford a turkey but had settled for a large roasting hen purchased just the evening before. It was covered with a clear plastic wrap, making it appear to be special.

When Betty appeared with a woeful expression on her face, I asked: "What's the matter?"

"Come, get a whiff of this bird," she urged.

As soon as the wrappings were removed, the odor of decaying meat filled the kitchen. We had no meat to take its place.

"What can we do now? There isn't a store open," Betty moaned. In those days the present rash of 24 hour availability of food items was unheard of.

"Let's go to the store to see if we can find any one there," I suggested.

Placing the rejected bird in the trunk, we headed for town. We drove into a completely empty parking lot at the Bi Lo Mart.

"Don't see anyone here. I'll try knocking on the window," I offered.

About to give up, I heard the sound of feet. The latch turned, and there stood Mr. Gilmour, the proprietor. "What can I do for you?" he asked quizzically. "I was just checking on the new controls that were installed."

I explained the problem. One whiff was better than many words. "Here is a fresh turkey," he offered. "You won't need to defrost this one. And here is your money back on the spoiled bird. Have a Happy Thanksgiving."

So now you can understand why this turned out to be a Thanksgiving to be remembered.

Monday, March 15, 2010

DO YOU THINK THAT IS FUNNY?

Humor seems to be a generally universal trait for many normal people. I certainly think my sense of humor comes from my Irish ancestry in spite of the fact of the German influence on my father's side. My maternal grandmother had a wholesome dash of wit to see the funny side of a situation. So my claim to be a member of that group of people with a bent in the direction of being tickled by a funny story appears to be natural. For this I claim no special merit but simply enjoy a good joke.

The area to which I refer here could be classified as pulpit humor. One objective of such humor is to create a favorable impression on the audience. It shows an awareness of the need to create a common ground from which to move along to more serious applications. It says, "I am a person with needs similar to yours." But to assume that this requires an expression with nothing to which to attach it is oversimplification.

Some speakers merely string together a bunch of funny stories with no observable purpose. They are not tied to what the speaker is addressing. Instead they simply fill in time during which he tries to get his audience's attention. The obvious intention is to draw attention to his cleverness and wit that may cause them to listen to his real theme. It's similar to a pitcher winding up with no ball in his hand.

The correct use is illustrated by Rev. Hendricks' use of humor to make a point or to illustrate an example. He shows a masterful sense of what is appropriate to a situation. You become aware of the aptness of the illustration whether the crux of the joke is on himself or someone else. It is a concrete example that forms a part of the whole. The humor lies in its apt relationship to the point being made. It is an important part of the whole.

A closely related area with a bit more latitude is the Christian music scene. Here the objective of the humor is to warm up the audience. It is often deliberately planned and may lack true spontaneity. Those who participate are chosen ahead with the cues rather obvious. The general idea is not the fault but the subject matter leaves much to be desired. Some of the joking is in poor taste. Why can't there be a wholesome foible or activity that is humorous?

Am I trying to regiment humor to suit my taste? I think not. However I would like to "edit" some tapes, eliminate some of the applause, and retain the great singing without the endless repetition. Then I would enjoy having some friends in to hear and enjoy the result.

In the meantime, do you have any good jokes?

Monday, March 8, 2010

THE CONFUSION OF CHANGING SYMBOLS

I can recall when the view or picture of an industrial plant with chimneys belching black clouds into the sky was a sign of prosperity in that community. The concept carried over into the printing of such scenes at the top of stock certificates for these firms. It was evidence that there was employment for workers - jobs that offered income with which to pay for homes, food, clothes and the necessities of life. At the same time, this was viewed as socially desirable. Goods were being produced in response to needs of the community, the nation and the world.

No longer do these emissions convey a positive message. Rather, they are a sign of pollution, the degradation of air quality, a threat to the health of workers, the community and extended areas far beyond the sight of the stacks. Such a firm is viewed as a destroyer of the environment and a threat to earth's inhabitants: plant, animal and human. What a reversal of views this represents over the past half-century!

When I was a boy, light shining through the windows of a home and smoke curling from the chimney on a winter evening conveyed a message of comfort and hospitality, beckoning the passer-by to pause for a friendly visit.

Looking across the fields in our little Brooklyn valley, we were cheered to note these evidences that we were not alone - that our neighbors had the latchstring out. Most had no phones, so stopping by did not require checking first to see if it was convenient.

No bans on home heating with wood were ever in effect as firewood was the common source of heat for most homes. We knew everyone in the immediate community and usually those farther afield. Rarely were doors ever locked. Theft and violent crimes were a rarity.

When we moved into son Dan's house on Frank Waters Road in 1992, Glenda, his wife, urged us to put up drapes on all windows to shield our lights at night from the eyes of anyone passing on the adjacent road. We have chosen to not take this action. In driving past most houses these days, we glimpse at night very little of the activities of the occupants, as the windows are covered to conceal the people inside from being seen. Smoke curling from the neighbor's chimney is viewed as evidence of poor citizenship and a hazard to community health. Often people living in adjacent dwellings do not know the names of their neighbors and very little about their personal lives. Alarm systems and deadbolts attempt to secure the occupant of the home from possible unwanted intrusion. Just stopping by to visit is considered inconsiderate and poor manners as it might interrupt activities like viewing favorite TV programs. Ann Landers would not approve such casualness.

The occasion was a gathering in the social rooms of the Stanwood Methodist Church following the funeral service for our good neighbor, Ralph Haines. It just happened that we found ourselves seated at a large round table with our neighbors, Nick and Liz Kanahen and Ron and Carol Martinez and their daughters. After some recollections about our deceased neighbor, Carol commented, "I believe that this is the first time we as neighbors have gathered together around one table. Why can't we ever do it under happier circumstances?" We all agreed that this should be the norm. We plan to make that dream come true.

Time was when putting one's arm around a child's shoulder or even giving a warm hug was looked upon as a wholesome gesture. Many such indications of caring were considered normal and desirable expressions of love and compassion. Now we live in an era of fear lest these same physical contacts be misinterpreted as sexual harassment or deviant behavior. In this respect, I am glad that I had the experience of a one-room school all through the grades without the constraints of modern political correctness.

A week or so ago Betty and I were returning home from Stanwood. Ahead of us we noted a towering black cloud moving from Camano Island east towards Arlington. Although at that moment we were still in the sunshine, the sheets of heavy rain were clearly visible as they were driven by gusts of wind. Just before reaching the bridge over the Stillaguamish River, we entered the fringe of the storm. Great drops of rain splattered against the windshield and sheeted over the hood.

Suddenly, to the east, we both noticed the great arc of a rainbow stretching across the valley. With cameras in the car, we thought it too fine a photo opportunity to miss. I turned to the left onto Norman Road just before the bridge. Betty asked, "Can't we pull off somewhere so I can get a shot?" Narrow and with little shoulder room, the winding road offered no visible safe pull-off until we reached a driveway leading back to a farmer's house and barn several hundred feet from the road. I pulled the Buick just off the highway and into this drive.

At this moment the rain diminished but the windows were rain-streaked. Betty got out of the car to avoid taking a picture through the wet blur. We noticed the farmer starting down the drive with his dog and soon he was within talking distance.

To our complete surprise, he called out: "What do you think you are doing in my driveway?" The tone of his voice and demeanor were unfriendly and indicated belligerence.

Betty replied as she pointed to the sky, "We were just getting off the road so I could safely take a photo of this beautiful rainbow."

"How would you respond if a stranger pulled into your driveway?" he demanded. We were both concerned lest he sic the dog on her.

"Why, I'd be pleased to share such a wonderful rainbow with anyone," was her response.

He cleared his throat, spoke to the dog, turned on his heel without apology and stomped back towards the barn. Somehow, the excitement and pleasure of the experience drained away. The thrill of just moments before went flat.

From the time of Genesis account of the ark, the rainbow has been a symbol of reconciliation - first of God with man, and then of man with man. We doubt the farmer comprehended either the beauty or the symbolism of this colorful arc in the sky. Totally lacking was the traditional friendliness of many rural inhabitants. The connotations of this wondrous symbol seemed to have been turned on their head.

Now, when we pass that way, we find it difficult to think of the wonder and beauty of this symbol of God's promise. Instead we are prone to remember the attitude of this disgruntled farmer.

We need to be careful lest we permit truly wholesome symbols to be spoiled for us or reversed in their meanings.

I am aware that we can't turn back the clock to earlier times when it now seems that life was simpler and in some ways more civil. Rather than wallowing in nostalgia, we need to find ways to compensate for some of what has been lost. Let's not lose the meaning and thrill of the rainbow from our lives.

Monday, March 1, 2010

AM I A "CLUNKER"???

This morning I went to the doctor. The purpose was to get a second opinion regarding a medical procedure scheduled for a repeat application. The price of the first application seemed exorbitant and I was reluctant to have it repeated without careful consideration of cost versus benefit. As clearly as possible, including the assistance of my wife, the case was laid out to the doctor who had previously won my confidence.

After careful consideration, we unanimously agreed that the action proposed would not meet the criteria we had set. There was consensus. I left his office with a sense that the right decision had been reached. My thoughts since then have focused on a similar problem, the President's designation as to when an item of transportation becomes a "clunker".

The first item that comes to my attention is the automobile that I currently drive. My 1997 Buick Park Avenue that I drive is now twelve years old. If age is a prime measure of "clunkerhood", I'm sure it would qualify. But should that be the critical factor by which to judge?

The object of "getting the clunkers off the road to achieve savings on expensive oil" appears to be at the heart of the problem. After carefully checking my fuel use, I discover that it is 25.2 miles per gallon. Not at all bad for a vehicle of that vintage. My research brings up the total size of the potential savings on 6,700 miles of travel per year on 270 gallons. The targeted savings would be nil since the auto averaged the desired economy.

The niceties of a car like the Park Avenue are sacrificed for compactness. I find it
easier to enter and exit than a smaller unit. Entrance and exit are frequent occasions when I try to avoid the guillotine of the smaller door.

But what of the cost of the purchasing the clunkers? Add that to the trillion dollar
price of getting the cars off the road? I simply don't know how to factor that into a saving from spending. Add it or subtract it? It's different from the arithmetic learned in school.

It did make the car dealers happy while it lasted. But now that it's over, the sales are even more depressed. So where does the cash for clunkers come in?

Now I return to my situation. Am I the man needs to pay obeisance to clunkerhood? At present, I'm better off financially. The medical brotherhood has to do with less. Even the time limit of their scheduling has to be adjusted to get their job done in delays of weeks rather than months. Tough decisions.

So where does the term "clunker" come from? Now I see. It is the noise made by
the impact on the cranium striking the door.