In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
While God is marching on!


Saturday, February 28, 2009

How Can I Keep From Singing?

It's so easy to become frustrated and discouraged with our lives day-to-day. Some of us have terrible crosses to bear; most of us, on an average day, have mere annoyances--bad weather, bills to pay, onerous chores, petty disappointments, and not having enough time to do the things we like to do (like blogging!). Great or small, our troubles bear so much less upon us when we remember how much harder others' are than our own, and how abundantly we have been blessed. One needs to think of but one thing to be thankful for, and then a second, and a third, and . . . before you know it, your sky is lightening and so are your burdens. There's no better armor against despair than humility, faith, and remembrance of the infinite Love that bought our souls with pains far greater than we could ever comprehend.

I think that the beautiful hymn "How Can I Keep From Singing?" perfectly expresses the attitude of heart that we should strive to maintain all day, every day. The words and music were composed in 1860 by Baptist minister and hymn writer Robert Wadsworth Lowery, and are performed in the video below by the outstanding Welsh singer Aled Jones. The lyrics he sings are only slightly different from Lowery's original, which are reproduced below the video (you may have heard a version of this hymn by Enya, but I believe her lyrics are, unfortunately, scrubbed of all references to Christ). I first heard this hymn several years ago when it was performed by the Brockport, NY High School Choir, in which my son Colin sang. It was rendered so beautifully, and filled my heart with joy!

So, whenever you're feeling blue, march right on over to Marching On! and click the "Hymns" tag link to listen to this and other gems of sacred music inspiration!

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation
I hear the sweet though far off hymn
That hails a new creation:
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?

What though my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Savior liveth;
What though the darkness gather round!
Songs in the night He giveth:
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of Heav’n and earth,
How can I keep from singing?

I lift mine eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smoothes
Since first I learned to love it:
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing:
All things are mine since I am His—
How can I keep from singing?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Birthday Boys (and Their Girls) Whoop It Up

It's that time of year for the Fleming Clan--February Birthdays! Rob and Colin were both born on February 23, four years apart (a mere coincidence of scheduling by ob-gyns). Rob is now 24, and Colin--no longer entitled to plead the disabilities of teenager-hood--is 20. Their old man turns 54 on February 25. To celebrate, we--the boys, plus Rob's wife Sheila, Melany, Melany's sister Melinda, and of course moi--went out Saturday night to my current favorite restaurant, Red Robin. Can't beat that A-1 Peppercorn Burger! We had a great time; the boys and I got our meals free for our birthdays, and after the main course the staff brought us out ice cream sundaes and sang us their version of "Happy Birthday." Understand, this is wild and crazy stuff in Fleming-Land! You can see the boys in these pictures; I'd be in them, except that I took them, and with advancing age find it harder and harder to be in two places at the same time.

Rob and Colin can be proud that they share their birthdate with George Frederic Handel (1685). On a further musical note, on February 23, 1963, The Chiffons' "He's So Fine" was released. Since neither Rob nor Colin was even a glint in their father's eye on that day, it can only be concluded that the song was titled in honor of . . . well, their father. Why not? His eighth birthday was only two days later. I can tell you're not convinced.

Speaking of February 25, it was always my understanding, and a matter of pride on my part back in the 1960s, that I shared a birthdate with the Beatles' George Harrison. Only tonight, however--thanks to discovered that in 1992, Harrison reportedly said, "I only learned recently after all these years that the date and time of my own birth have always been off by one calendar day and about a half hour on the clock." His birthday is actually February 24. I'm crushed; there's no point in living any longer! But wait--also according to, on February 25, 2000, it was announced that Britney Spears would be releasing her own brand of bubble gum. OH MY GOSH--I'M SAVED! Life has meaning once again!

Enough excitement for one birthday, or even two.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Nearer, My God, To Thee

Four days after the heartrending tragedy in Clarence, New York, about 100 family members visited the site where their loved ones died in the crash of Continental Flight 3407. Arriving in buses and vans and with a police escort, they carried flowers, wreaths and teddy bears, and spent about an hour there before boarding the buses and returning to their hotel. We can't even comprehend what they must be going through. A close friend of ours has a brother who works for Continental, and flew up from Texas over the weekend to help conduct the families and assist them in whatever way he could. God bless him, too, as there probably isn't anyone on this planet who'd want his job today.

For all of them, and for those whom God received home Thursday night, the beautiful hymn (another of my favorites) "Nearer, My God, To Thee," composed by by Sarah F. Adams in 1841 and sung by the Sharon Singers of the Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute. The last two verses, which I've reproduced below the video, speak so much hope for them and for all who grieve.

Or if on joyful wing,
Cleaving the sky,
Sun, moon, and stars forgot,
Upwards I fly,
Still all my song shall be,
Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer to Thee.

There in my Father’s home,
Safe and at rest,
There in my Savior’s love,
Perfectly blest;
Age after age to be,
Nearer my God to Thee.
Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer to Thee.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Another Day the Music (and So Much Else) Died

Here in Western New York, we're still reeling from Thursday night's horrific crash of a commuter plane into a house in Clarence, a few miles northeast of Buffalo and about an hour's drive west of us in Brockport (see the Buffalo News and Rochester Democrat and Chronicle for up-to-date coverage). When things like this happen in faraway places, we might read about it in the paper and watch coverage on television, but for the most part, it's another sad news story to us. When it happens this close to home, though, the mere fact that you know the place and people who live nearby affects one in a way that the same event wouldn't had it occurred in Poland, California, or even New York City. Moreover, it tends to involve people with whom you might share something personal, perhaps a hometown, an employer, a passion, or even friends and acquaintances.

In my case, I grew up in a small town (Grand Island) only a short drive from Clarence, and have some reenacting acquaintances who live there (they're all OK). My son and his wife live not far away in Amherst. Jill Wielinski, whose parents' house the plane crashed into (and who, thank God, survived with her mother, though she lost her father) is a senior at SUNY Brockport, which is less than a mile down the street from my home. Ellyce Kausner, a passenger on the plane, was a Clarence native attending Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville, Florida, where my parents live. That plane was like a microcosm of society; the stories of the passengers and crew reveal that they were of every age and background, and of every station and walk of life. They were all full of dreams and experiences, and had given--and were eager to give--so much more to their families, friends, and communities.

The passing of two of the passengers, though, affected me especially deeply--and my personal connections with them were minimal at best. Gerard "Gerry" Niewood and Coleman Mellett were extraordinary musicians who played in Chuck Mangione's band, among their many other associations in the jazz world. They were flying into Buffalo to play with Mangione on Friday night at Kleinhans Music Hall (needless to say, that concert was canceled).

I first heard Gerry Niewood (a Rochester native and graduate of the University of Buffalo and the Eastman School of Music) playing reeds on the original Friends & Love concert recording with Mangione and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra back in the early 70s, when I was still a teenager (that concert, featuring the stunning piece "Hill Where the Lord Hides", catapulted Mangione to national prominence). His virtuosity just blew me away, and I've followed him ever since. I was privileged to finally see and hear him live at the Friends & Love Reunion concert in Rochester, NY in May 2007--the greatest concert I ever saw--and he was just as incredible then (I tried to get his autograph on my copy of the original F&L LP after the concert, but he was too far to the back of the stage by the time I got there, so I had to "settle" for getting drummer Steve Gadd's signature). Go to Gerry's MySpace Music page and sample some of his breathtakingly beautiful music.

Also on stage at F&L2 was Coleman Mellett, on guitar. I wasn't familiar with him then, but as a young man, he stood out from the "old" Mangione henchmen. He played a couple of solos, and it struck me then what a terrific talent he was. I found out later that he was the husband of jazz singer Jeanie Bryson, daughter of the late, great Dizzy Gillespie and songwriter Connie Bryson. What a team they made! To sample his exquisite guitaring, go to "Coley's'' MySpace Music page.

Music is indeed the universal language and the highest form of poetry; nothing moves the soul like it, and that goes as much for great jazz as it does for the greatest classical music. When a master whose works you've treasured passes on, you feel diminished inside. The sun doesn't shine quite as brightly, at least for a while. And it's that much harder to take when the loss is as sudden and tragic as this one.

As the father of a jazz musician (Colin, standup and electric bass), I've learned what a close-knit community they are: jamming together; playing in each other's bands, formally or ad-hoc; teaching and learning from each other. It's like a big, raucous family. A loss like this pierces to their hearts and will reverberate for a long time. By the same token, Niewood and Mellett will be remembered and talked about, and their talent celebrated, as long as there are jazz musicians. How hard it is to accept that the heavenly music these men made will never be added to on this earth. We'll just have to be good and go where they've gone to hear more.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Thank You, Mom and Dad!

Two score and 15 years ago today, Abraham Lincoln's birthday, my parents--John and Gail Fleming, now of Jacksonville, Florida--tied the knot. By so doing, they brought forth on this continent a new family, conceived in love and dedicated to the proposition that all things are possible for spouses, parents, and children who are patient, generous, good-humored, and devoted to each other, come what may.

There were times over the years when it seemed like we were engaged in a great civil war, testing whether our family or any family, so conceived and so dedicated, could long endure. But we've pretty much forgotten the great battlefields of those wars, the combatants having put aside perceived wrongs and embraced in forgiveness, so that that family might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should have done this.

The world will little note nor long remember what I say here, but we children will never forget what Mom and Dad did and sacrificed to keep our family knit together. It is for us rather to be dedicated to the unfinished work which they have thus far so nobly advanced by their wonderful example--raising good and strong families of our own--a cause to which they they have given, and we must give, the fullest measure of devotion. We children of John and Gail (and, if I may speak for them, their grandchildren) here highly resolve that their noble work shall not have been in vain; that this family, under God, shall have a new birth of commitment; and that thanks to them, we will have families of faith, of hope, and of love that shall never perish from the earth.


And thanks for the inspiration to Mr. Lincoln and his immortal Gettysburg Address.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

There's Something About Sarah . . .

This is a post I've been mulling for some time. I would have written it way back in the fall, during the Presidential campaign--if I had been blogging back then. But I didn't start until three weeks after the election. By the time I found my "voice," the party was over. Oh, well--as if my opinion, even broadcast to the world, would have changed the outcome! But it makes me feel better to get my thoughts out there where they might get others to think, and maybe think like I do. A small beginning, but that's how revolutions get started.

So now, in honor of her birthday on February 11, I thought it might be appropriate to share with you why I was so taken with Sarah Palin during the 2008 election campaign, and why she still matters to me. I know many, many other people share these feelings, so this might give you some insight into the Sarah Phenomenon, and why she seems still to strike abject terror into the hearts of far-left wackos (and intellectual snobs) everywhere.

I first saw Sarah (and had barely heard of her before) when she addressed the crowd upon her announcement as John McCain's running mate in late August, 2008. I had been skeptical when I first heard of her selection, as I had assumed it would be one of the better-known names like Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty, and this pick seemed at first like a crazy stretch. But I was floored when I saw her speech in Dayton, Ohio, and yet again at the Republican National Convention. I had never seen nor heard a politician--especially a Republican--quite this appealing, this exciting. More than just being relatively young, and quite attractive (I'm a guy after all), she was positive, optimistic, exuberant! She spoke proudly of faith and family, home and country; from the heart, not from abstract ideology. She was completely uncontrived, utterly genuine and sincere. She connected with us common people instantly, in our language, on our level. She was the girl next door, the hometown beauty queen, the hockey mom, your sister--she was your own, the one you rooted for. One of US.

What really cinched her for me, even more than all those things, was her family. The bond of love among them was obvious. They were proud of her, and she of them, warts and all--which is how good families are. Todd is a good, solid husband and father, and Piper and Trig are just precious (I can hear the snobs sniggering now)! And to know that Sarah chose Trig's life despite the enormous challenges of raising a special needs child--and what that might mean for her family and career--elevated her that much higher in my estimation. What better schooling to understand the importance of family, and the challenges that families face today, than to be surrounded by such a good and strong one?

Other traits emerged in the course of the campaign. Despite a torrent of mockery and falsehood unprecedented in Presidential campaign history--not to mention a hostile and shamelessly biased press--Gov. Palin was unflappable and kept her grace, charm, and good humor. She didn't take and eye for an eye, but also didn't run away, and met some of her most cynical critics on their own turf (e.g., Saturday Night Live). She wasn't ashamed to profess her faith, or to let us know that she sought Divine guidance in her public as well as private life. She didn't apologize for America or for being American, but exulted in them. She didn't pull punches in calling her opponents to account for their positions and associations. She never deferred to the demands of political correctness.

Of course, Gov. Palin had her shortcomings. Not a trained lawyer like Obama or Biden and not having positioned herself for high federal office for years, as they had, she was less well-versed on some national issues, particularly foreign policy (though the policies she did advocate were wiser by light years than those advanced by the Democratic ticket). She wasn't thoroughly prepared for being ambushed by "journalists" who never thought of giving her opponents the same kind of treatment. And she was reined in far too much and too long by a McCain campaign team who clearly didn't appreciate the incredible asset they had in their hands, or were surprised and frightened by the fire she ignited.

But none of them, and none of what she endured and still confronts today, have kept her down, or will. She remains a potent symbol and inspiring leader for millions of Americans who "cling" to their religion, their families, their country, and the way of life that their ancestors lived and died to make possible. She's a self-made woman who got where she is by faith, hard work, confidence, and daring to do what's right--nothing inherited, nothing bestowed on her for complying with some elite's preferences or expectations (i.e., left-leaning feminists and intellectuals). And it's fear of this--that Sarah, or someone like her, could lead an irresistible movement away from the Left and back to America's founding values--that animates all those doing their best to destroy her. Given who she is, and who we are, that's just not going to happen.

Perhaps it's only a coincidence that Sarah's birthday falls on the eve of that of another figure from a "frontier" state who burst onto the national stage with little experience in national issues, was widely demonized by Democrats, was condemned by self-styled "moderates" in both major parties for his "divisive" policies, and was dismissed as a rube by the intellectual elite of the day for his awkward, homespun speech and ways.

Then again . . .

Happy Birthday, Sarah!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Don't Overlook These Cool Features!

I've added some nice features to this blog over the last few months that I thought were especially informative and entertaining, but which--being in the sidebar--you might have missed or not scrolled down far enough to see (it doesn't help that I rearrange them from time to time). I just thought I'd bring some of them to your attention, so you can enjoy this site even MORE than you already do, if that's possible!

Directly below the contact and introductory notes is (are?) Words of Inspiration, a verse or two from scripture that I try to change every few days. I need to figure out how to archive these and provide a link to that archive in the sidebar. If anyone knows how to do this, please let me know! Anyway, I feel like I grow a little spiritually with each of these gems I find, and I hope they brighten your day, too.

If you'd like to find some more Words of Inspiration on your own, just type in some terms to search for in, appropriately, Search the Bible--you'll get (in a separate tab) a complete list of verses in which that term appears in the King James Bible, courtesy of

Further down, below "First-Rate Blogs," are Links of the Month, a collection of 12-15 links to web sites that I think are especially useful, informative, or fun--many I use on a daily basis, or nearly so. As the title suggests, I update the list about once a month. Try the links and, if you like the site, bookmark it for yourself! I need to figure out how to archive these, too.

It's incredible what insights can be gained from things other people have said. Thus Quote of the Month, a selection of wisdom I'll be updating monthly (and which also should be archived). Some of the most profound observations about life and mankind have been uttered by two of my heroes, Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill, who have their own special quotation places directly below my monthly selection.

Just below the Quotes are some treats for the eyes and ears as well as the mind. As long as it continues working, Classical Piano Music is a player that you can use to add some melodic accompaniment to your browsing (just click the right-pointing arrow on the little bar at the top to start the music; click the double-bars to pause it; and click the solid square to stop it completely). Art of the Day links you to a beautiful image depicting a scene from the Bible.

To top off your mind-expanding visit to Marching On!, don't miss This Day in History, which links you to text and images about some important event that took place on that very date--and which may still be resonating today.

I hope you continue to enjoy your visits here. If there's some change, improvement, or new item that you'd like to see, just let me know!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Plain People to the Rescue!

You've probably heard about the ice storm of a week ago that has devastated much of the central United States and caused dozens of deaths from car accidents, hypothermia and carbon monoxide poisoning. Especially hard-hit are Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, and Kentucky. Hundreds of thousands of people, especially in Kentucky, are still without power and may be so for weeks to come. Without electricity, lights and most hot water heaters, furnaces, stoves, refrigerators, and other appliances are inoperable. Ominously, local officials have expressed anger at what they say is a lack of help from the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (oh, no--not again!). It all reminds me of the infamous Ice Storm of 1991, here in western New York State, when heavy damage to trees, homes, and electric lines was widespread (look here for photos and a first-hand account), and some local residents were without power for two weeks or more. I know--my family and I lived through it!

Maybe Kentucky officials are looking for help in the wrong places. It's reported that many of that state's 8000+ Amish residents--who have gotten along just fine without the conveniences we take for granted all their lives--have been bringing relief to their modern-living neighbors in the form of lanterns, well water, cooked meals, and other assistance. These humble, generous people are not only relieving discomfort, but saving lives. They live their faith, and help us remember the way communities were years ago, and should be still today.

There are a number of Amish and Mennonite communities in western New York, especially in Chautauqua and Cattaraugus Counties south of Buffalo, and in Lyndonville and Penn Yan, west and southeast of Rochester, respectively. We love to take a drive on a nice fall or spring day out to one of these areas, see the Plain People at work, and stop to buy some cheese or other goodies at one of several Amish/Mennonite stores in the area. For as long as I can remember I've been fascinated with, and envious of, their simple, faithful way of life.

Amid all the anger and suffering in this modern world, the Amish keep shining through in their quiet way. They're God's old-fashioned blessing to the rest of mankind!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Mille Cherubini in Coro

While we're on the subject of many babies, here's a video presentation of one of my favorite songs, "Mille Cherubini in Coro"--or, in English, "A Chorus of a Thousand Cherubs"--recorded by Italian singer Carlo Buti in 1935 (you may notice the somewhat "quaint" sound quality). The song is often performed around Christmas (hence the closing frame of the video), but it's delightful to listen to any time. It's such a soothing, heartfelt lullaby--perfect for quieting those zany octuplets! The lyrics, which are sung in Italian, appear in English below the video screen.

Sleep, Sleep,
dream, my little love.
Sleep, dream,
rest your head on my breast.
A choir of a thousand cherubs
smiles on you from the sky.
A sweet song
caresses your brow.
A hand is gently guiding you
through the clouds of gold,
dreaming and keeping watch
over you, my treasure,
protecting your path through life.
Sleep, sleep,
dream my little love.
Sleep, dream,
rest your head on my breast.
Close your eyes,
listen to the little angels.
Sleep, sleep,
dream, my little love.
Close your eyes,
listen to the little angels,
sleep, sleep,
dream, my little love.
Dream, my little love.
An interesting note: according to Wikipedia, Carlo Buti (1902-1963) was known as "the Golden Voice of Italy" and as the "Frank Sinatra of Italy", because of his preference for popular songs of the day over more operatic-type songs. As a boy, he was paid by other men to serenade their girlfriends.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Turning Childbirth Into a Cottage Industry

By now you've heard about Nadya Suleman, the 33-year-old woman in California who gave birth to octuplets early last week by Caesarian section. And, if you're like me, you rejoiced to hear that they've all survived and are doing remarkably well under the circumstances. But facts are emerging that may, sadly, overshadow an otherwise miraculous event.

It's been reported here, here, and lots of other places, that: (a) Nadya, who has a degree in child and adolescent development from California State University, Fullerton, and has been studying for a master's degree in counseling, already has six children, ages 7, 6, 5, 3 and 2-year-old twins; (b) she's been divorced for the last year, although her former husband is not the father of the six children she already has--and that father has not been identified; (c) Nadya lives with her mother, who's been caring for the other six and supporting Nadya along with her own ex-husband after going through bankruptcy due to the debts racked up on her daughter's behalf; (d) grandma, who is fed up and says she's "going to be gone" when Nadya gets home with the new kids, says that her daughter has been obsessed with having children since she was a teenager; and (e) there were frozen embryos left over after Nadya's previous pregnancies, which also resulted from in vitro fertilization, and Nadya decided to have them implanted so they wouldn't be destroyed. As if all that weren't unfortunate enough, it's now reported by an Australian newspaper that Nadya, although still confined to a hospital bed, plans a career as a television childcare expert and intends to talk to Oprah Winfrey and Diane Sawyer in a bid to raise $3.1 million from media interviews and commercial sponsorships to help pay the cost of raising the children. According to the article,
Nadya . . . describes herself as a "professional student" who lives off education grants and parental money, [and] broke up with her boyfriend before the birth of her first child seven years ago. The identity of the octuplets' father remains unknown, but local reports suggest they were conceived with frozen sperm donated by a friend she met while working at a fertility clinic. He is the father of her twins, born two years ago.
Make no mistake--we're all ecstatic that these children are alive and doing well. Children are a gift from God, no matter how they come into this world. But one wonders whether He really intended them as a gift to Nadya, as almost everything else about this saga is wrong, on so many levels.

If childbirth is the greatest miracle there is, child rearing is the greatest responsibility there is. If the reports are true, Ms. Suleman has managed to pervert the former by using her body to incubate a bunch of "baby seeds" from a casual acquaintance at a fertility clinic, just to satisfy her personal "obsession"--or worse, to set some kind of numerical record and then use her children to cash in on her notoriety. And that, she may think, will enable her to avoid the toil, anxiety, and moral choices that are all part of the responsibility of parenthood. We can only hope for these children that some capable and devoted soul(s) are willing to shoulder that responsibility, as their mother certainly doesn't seem able or willing to do so.

Too, some serious questions remain unanswered: Will the children suffer ridicule as they grow up, if this becomes a public scandal? Where is the father, and will he play any role in his children's lives? Who has been paying for all these fertility treatments? Who is paying for the neonatal intensive care for the infants and hospital care for the mother, and for all of the doctors and nurses who delivered the children? Who is going to pay for all these children's care in the future? How much of their care can or will be provided by their mother, while she pursues her "career"? Who is enabling this troublesome conduct?

Just as disturbing is the wider social impact Ms. Suleman's conduct is likely to have. Childbirth and parenting in general will be ridiculed by the millions who already think that bringing more children into the world, let alone many at once, is crazy and socially irresponsible. Abortion-rights and family planning zealots will use this incident to disparage people who choose not to terminate pregnancies when they can. The most immediate detriment is likely to be suffered by people who in good faith need, or administer, in vitro fertilization treatment. When availed of by responsible (and hopefully, married) couples who want and can support their own children, but are incapable of producing them in the normal way, this procedure can be a godsend. Now, there will be embarrassment for worthy people who resort to vitro fertilization. And, in light of suggestions that the unnamed fertility specialists who treated Ms. Suleman implanted more embryos than are allowed by medical ethics guidelines, there may be public pressure for greater scrutiny, regulations, and limitations on the conduct of in vitro fertilization, which may make it less available for those who truly need it.

We walk such a fine line when we try to "improve" on, or supplement, the ways God ordained for bringing children into the world. Done with the utmost care by responsible medical professionals and prayerful couples, such measures can bring about great blessings. Misused by the careless, greedy, or just plain mentally imbalanced, they can open the door to endless misfortune, for individuals and society. None of this, apparently, was in Ms. Suleman's mind when she decided to have more children.