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!

. . . from the BATTLE HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Serenity: Psalm 103

I've been much distracted the last few days with work, winter weather, and other mundane things, and haven't found time to do my usual extended post. I've had trouble thinking of simpler, briefer things to post about, but in a chance foray onto YouTube looking for something else, I stumbled on the following gem: a video presenting Psalm 103--one of my favorites--set to two beautiful hymns played on guitar ("O God Our Help in Ages Past" and "Nearer My God to Thee"), and a series of lovely pictures of a quiet lake. Take about 8 minutes and calm your soul with this beautiful presentation.


In case you weren't able to read all of the text in this video, here is Psalm 103 in full--speaking the most wondrous truths there are:
1 Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:
3 Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;
4 Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;
5 Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle.
6 The LORD executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed.
7 He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel.
8 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.
9 He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever.
10 He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
11 For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.
12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.
13 Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.
14 For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.
16 For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.
17 But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children' children;
18 To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them.
19 The LORD hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all.
20 Bless the LORD, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word.
21 Bless ye the LORD, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure.
22 Bless the LORD, all his works in all places of his dominion: bless the LORD, O my soul.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Movie Review: Marley & Me

This afternoon Melany and I caught the film Marley & Me on our way home from taking Colin back to college. If you've ever been married, had children, or owned a rambunctious dog--and especially if you've done all three at the same time--this movie is for you.

I wasn't expecting too much; Marley & Me is advertised as a "dog movie," and while I'm fond of dogs (except when our greyhound Frank does things like trying to eat the presents under the Christmas tree), most dog movies I've seen have been one of two types: silly, noisy, and generally ridiculous, or maudlin and depressing. But I thought this one might be worth a try; it's done much better at the box office than most dog movies, so there might be something to it. I wasn't disappointed. While Marley & Me has its share of crazy and sad moments, it has much, much more, and in overall appeal rises rises far above the pack (no pun intended).

The film is based on a book by reporter/columnist John Grogan. According to the Publishers Weekly review:
Grogan . . . and his wife, Jenny, were newly married and living in West Palm Beach when they decided that owning a dog would give them a foretaste of the parenthood they anticipated. Marley was a sweet, affectionate puppy who grew into a lovably naughty, hyperactive dog. With a light touch, the author details how Marley was kicked out of obedience school after humiliating his instructor (whom Grogan calls Miss Dominatrix) and swallowed an 18-karat solid gold necklace (Grogan describes his gross but hilarious "recovery operation"). With the arrival of children in the family, Marley became so incorrigible that Jenny, stressed out by a new baby, ordered her husband to get rid of him; she eventually recovered her equilibrium and relented. Grogan's chronicle of the adventures parents and children (eventually three) enjoyed with the overly energetic but endearing dog is delivered with great humor. Dog lovers will love this account of Grogan's much loved canine.
I haven't read the book yet, but we're headed to the library tomorrow to get it.

I'll try not to give away more plot details than the review above does; just go and see the movie for yourself. Among the things that make it wonderful are its unusual--for Hollywood--emphasis on family values. This is presented gently but clearly; in one scene, John's liberated bachelor friend Sebastian seems almost to be coaxing him to leave Jenny after the two have had a fight, but John just looks at him like he's crazy and assures him that breaking up with her isn't remotely an option. The viewer shares their harrowing and humorous experiences as one child follows another and the parents make some hard decisions about how to balance work and family--and, despite much doubt and some conflict, family wins every time. As it turns out, professional needs are satisfied too, in more rewarding ways than they thought possible. Owen Wilson and Jennifer Anniston give moving, funny, and utterly convincing performances as John and Jenny, which is remarkable since they usually play rather loose, libertine characters (Alan Arkin plays John's delightfully colorful and cantankerous boss). Marley doesn't dominate this film, but his antics serve as a hilarious and touching theme throughout, and he weaves the family together despite all his mischief. The film's conclusion is one of the most moving I've ever seen, a sentiment audibly shared by others in the audience.

If you want to see a movie that's funny, heartwrenching, and wise all at the same time--one that celebrates what's important and most important in life--go see Marley & Me (see some trailers here).

P.S. In your Comments, feel free to mention some of your favorite dog movies!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Lay Back and Enjoy It?

The media war against Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin marches on, with a new twist. This past Wednesday, the Associated Propagand . . . er, "Press," reported that Gov. Palin has recently criticized news organizations for focusing inordinate attention on the educational shortcomings of her 18-year-old daughter Bristol (who recently gave birth) and the girl's fiance, and denouncing bloggers perpetuating claims that her 9-month-old son, Trig, is actually Bristol 's child from a secret previous pregnancy. Gov. Palin is quoted as saying that "It's all about the family." . . . I'm wired in a way that I can take the criticism. I can take the shots. But any mother would want to protect their children from lies and scandalous reporting." The "story" then dishes up some of the most cynical garbage I've ever seen in print:
. . . Leonard Steinhorn, a professor of communications at American University in Washington and an expert on the presidency . . . and other experts believe the first-term governor is engaged in a campaign to keep her name in the spotlight. A newcomer to national politics when she was nominated, Palin energized the Republican base but also attracted intense criticism that she had little substance. "I think she's exploiting and cultivating the anti-intellectual and anti-elitist side of the Republican party," Steinhorn said. "She's trying to salvage her reputation, so she attacks the messenger."

. . . Palin is fueling the stories she condemns by talking about them instead of ignoring them, said Janis Edwards, an associate professor of communication studies at the University of Alabama and an expert on women candidates. One of Edwards' classes monitored Palin's role in a project called "The Palin Watch." Palin "does seem to have ambitions, and this is one way of staying in the public eye," Edwards said.
This is one of the worst examples of "blame the victim" I've ever seen. By trying to defend herself and her family against a media/Internet smear campaign that proceeds unabated although the election she did not win concluded almost three months ago, Gov. Palin is, in the media's eyes, inviting and justifying further attacks. The more she fights back, the more punishment she deserves. Thus, she's in the position of the rape victim who's cynically counseled to just lay back and "enjoy" being ravished, because resistance will only provoke more violence by the rapist.

It should be noted that this "story" appeared over the byline of Rachel D'Oro, an Anchorage, Alaska-based "news"-person who has been producing for AP, since at least the announcement of Gov. Palin's Vice-Presidential candidacy early last fall, a steady stream of articles highly critical of and clearly biased against her--including one suggesting, with no supporting evidence, that a suspicious fire at Gov. Palin's home church in December was provoked by the church's association with a conference that encouraged gays to get counseling to overcome their homosexuality. It should also be noted that the two "experts" quoted in the story are fixtures in left-wing academia, who've made a nice living in the press and on the lecture circuit grinding axes against anything right of the political center (google their names for a sampling). What kind of "expertise" enables one to see inside another's mind and divine his or her "real" motivations? How does one get such expertise? Who annointed these characters to pontificate and pass judgment on another's defense of her family's privacy and reputation?

I also wonder whether, in denouncing what they think is Gov. Palin's appeal to "anti-intellectual and anti-elitist" elements, these academicians are trying to defend the intellectual elites--of which they're members--whose prestige and influence is most directly threatened by her popularity?

The opinions of these "experts," together with Ms. D'Oro's echoing criticism of Gov. Palin as insincere, make up almost the entire article. Thus, it could not possibly be characterized as "objective" reporting--it's a scathing editorial, a hit-piece. Why can't AP just tell us that up front? Because then the Emperor could not pretend to be clothed. Because this once-respected "news" service wants you to keep accepting the swill it churns out uncritically; it wants to mold your opinions for you, in the form it chooses. For me, exposure of the Mainstream Media as a shameless prostitution ring was the most disturbing aspect of last year's Presidential election campaign. And obviously, the Media and its minions aren't interested in recovering the least shred of the dignity and respect they once had.

So, if you are ever elevated to some level of public distinction and the Media doesn't like you, be warned--you could end up, like Gov. Palin and her family, without a right of self-defense. Or, if you try to exercise one, you'll pay an infinite price. It's always open season on you, and there's never a bag limit.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Reflections on the Inauguration

I would be remiss not to observe the historic event that occurred today in our nation's capital. We can truly be proud that a person "of color" has been inaugurated President of the United States. Not very many years ago, this would have been inconceivable. I hope and pray that this event all but closes the most evil, destructive chapter in American history: the mass kidnapping, enslavement, and oppression of millions of African human beings and their descendants. This was truly the darkest stain on America. If we haven't completely washed it away (and while we must get beyond the past, we should never forget it), perhaps we're finally well on our way to doing so. Mr. Obama's election has shown that for most of us--and I believe it's the vast majority--race doesn't mean a thing, even when choosing someone for the most powerful and prestigious leadership position in the world. Is it too much to hope that the professional race-baiters and race-haters can all now be sent to an Old Irrelevancies' Home somewhere, so far away that their whining and venom can't be heard any more? Are we finally on the verge of a nation in which, to paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous phrase, all people, whites as well as blacks and others races, will be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character? Can we finally regard ourselves as one national family, or will this just become an occasion for power-tripping by some and bitter withdrawl by others?

I was impressed with the new President's inaugural speech. There was much in it about responsibility and about the old but true things, which must be remembered and re-embraced as we move forward together. You can read the full text here. But I'd like to quote a few passages that I thought were especially compelling:
. . . In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth. For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

. . . We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

. . . [T]hose values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

. . . In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.
President Obama deserves our honest support and the benefit of the doubt, at least for now. Let us pray that what he spoke today were not empty words, but wisdom springing from true historical insight and real conviction. Let us hope that in pursuing "change we can believe in," his administration will respect individual freedom, the Constitution, bedrock social institutions, and our free enterprise system. If our new President strays in the future from the lofty vision embodied in his inaugural speech, by trying to exchange our liberties for economic security or our institutions for a "values-free" society pleasing to his far-left supporters, let us be there to remind him of what he said today.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Why Do They Hate Sarah Palin--Still?

Here it is, Inauguration Eve, and I'm writing about--well, not Barack Obama. It's not that I'm bitter about his election; in fact, I hope and pray that his administration deals successfully with the many problems confronting our country. That would be good for everybody, as long as it's done honestly and consistently with our Constitution and free enterprise system. Today, I'd like to reflect on someone who was a "loser" in the last election--someone who was not even at the top of her ticket--but who, oddly, remains one of the hottest items in our political discourse: Gov. Sarah Palin.

A recent article from Fox News noted that Gov. Palin continues to attract widespread comment and often hysterical scorn, even as the No. 2 on a losing presidential ticket. She's generated roughly twice the news coverage as Vice President-elect Joe Biden, and long before the campaign was over had prompted infinitely more negative ink (and bandwidth) than another widely-dissed Republican Vice-Presidential candidate, Dan Quayle, who all but vanished from public consciousness after winning election beside President George H.W. Bush in 1988. Legions of "intellectuals," including some who call themselves Republicans or conservatives, continue going out of their way to criticize her, demonize her, and blame her for the Republican Party's seeming downfall. Scores of web sites are devoted to ridiculing her (although she continues to attract enthusiastic supporters at sites such as TeamSarah and Sarah Palin for America). And months after the election, she's still having to defend herself publicly against false and ridiculous accusations reported all too eagerly by the mainstream media.

One wonders: why do they hate Sarah so much, and so personally? And why do they still hate her, and continue to expend so much energy denouncing her?

The first question may be easier to answer than the second. People well to the left of center, of course, despise the values that Gov. Palin represents: religious faith, patriotism, family, individualism, initiative, responsibility, self-reliance, hard work. Of course, they expect that such values would translate into policies that they abhor: tolerance for religious expression in public forums; a vigorous, America-first foreign policy; strict limits on abortion, sex education, and "gay rights"; limited government; development of natural resources.

But I think there is something more, lying deeper, that explains not only liberals' revulsion toward her but also the disdain of self-described "moderates" and intellectuals on the right as well as the left: she's not "one of them." Her detractors across the political spectrum tend to ridicule and mock her small-town background, her folksy speech, her sometimes giddy exuberance, her girl-next-door looks, and her goody-two-shoes, "hockey mom" image. They universally deplore her big, boisterous, rather "untidy" family (at least privately, one suspects, that a professional woman in her mid-40s would choose to give birth to a "defective" child). Those further to the left seem disgusted and outraged that people like this exist at all, let alone that they be given an opportunity to attract popular support and campaign for one of the nation's highest offices. Even Gov. Palin's so-called "moderate" critics seem thoroughly put off by her lack of pedigree or advanced "education" at a "prestigious" institution, and by the fact that she hasn't "paid her dues" on their lecture/think-tank/book-signing/cocktail-party circuits. They are dismayed by the firmness of her traditional values and that she doesn't seem to share their non-divisive, "big tent" views. They'll insist that their real objection is to her lack of "experience" in national affairs, although then they'd have to admit that Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and even Barack Obama were similarly handicapped when elected. No, I think what really offends them is her non-intellectualism (not anti-intellectualism), her non-elitism, and her lack of deference to the sacred cows of the day--including, of course, them.

Why do the elites of politics, academia, and the media, as well as the left loonies, continue to vilify Sarah Palin? Because they sense her continuing appeal to a large portion of the American public, despite all the calumnies that they have heaped upon her (for example, in a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted Dec. 12-14 2008, Gov. Palin was a strong second on a list of the most-admired women in America, behind Hillary Clinton but ahead of Oprah Winfrey). They recognize, despite their insistence to the contrary, that many still share her traditional values and her conservative principles. What's more, she's pretty, personable, gives a good speech (for example, her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention), and connects with crowds as effectively as The One himself (her introduction speech when presented as John McCain's running mate in Dayton, Ohio was one of the most stunning political moments I've ever seen). The Left and the Elites are clearly unnerved by her, by the way she electrified people all over the country with her friendly, plainspoken, enthusiastic manner and her unashamed espousal of things they deeply believe in. They clearly fear that the values Gov. Palin represents will become the foundation of a movement that could spread across the nation like a prairie fire, with charismatic leaders like her. And that would cripple the power and authority of the Elites.

So, they must continue to marginalize her, to portray her as a ditz, a crook, a degenerate, or all of these. They must keep the pathetic rumor-mills cranking day and night, in hopes that it will be enough to finally kill off this Rasputin in lipstick. The relentless din, they hope, will eventually get us all to swallow the Big Lie and submit unthinkingly to their infallible Leadership.

Perhaps Sarah Palin wasn't quite ready for the office of Vice-President at this time. Or, maybe the country wasn't quite ready for her. Because or regardless of the Left/Elite hate campaign, she might not run for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2012, and might not come out on top even if she does. But those who shared her vision of America and felt the excitement she generated--about which I'll write more soon--must remember the formula she revealed, much to the discomfiture of the Left/Elite, for the ultimate political triumph of that vision. If our new President loses his way, we'll need it.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

My Treasures

My beloved sister Patti has "tagged" me, in what appears to be a ritual among bloggers, to describe "16 random things, facts, habits, or goals" about myself that would help others get to know me. I'm then supposed to tag two other bloggers, but truth be told, I don't know any other than Patti and my sweet daughter Donna, and Patti's already tagged her (and Donna's responded). So, unless they can suggest someone for me to tag--and since it would have to be someone who doesn't know me, and who therefore would probably think I was some kind of online stalker--the following will have to suffice for my contribution to this enterprise. I'm glad I was invited to participate, though, as I've let too many days go by without a post, and this gives me an opportunity to leave a little more of myself with those most dear to me.

In Matthew 6:21 we are reminded that "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." I think the Essential Me can best be understood through a list of some things I most treasure and am most grateful for (in no particular order)--not that I even begin to deserve all these blessings:

1. A just, but caring and infinitely merciful, God.

2. Life after life. Without it, life is meaningless; with it, life is priceless. My firmest and happiest conviction is summed up in this stanza from the beautiful hymn Be Still My Soul:
Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and bless├Ęd we shall meet at last.
3. My parents and siblings, and their spouses and families. All I've ever been or ever hope to be, I owe to Mom and Dad. They provided us such good lessons and examples, and gave us such a happy, memorable childhood, all of which helped us be better parents and have strong families of our own. The experiences we had growing up, and all the things we did, we did together as a family--and we're still sharing and enjoying them! I deeply love my brothers and sister, and their spouses and children, and give thanks daily that we still support and share with each other, while so many other families we know seem to be disintegrating.

4. My sweet wife! Wise, patient, generous, cheerful, clever--she's made a comfortable, happy home for me and the children, and is a matchless friend to so many people!

5. Our children. Wonderfully unique and infinitely precious, each one! And we can only guess at what they'll accomplish in their lives. They've made my life full and meaningful, and are the most important contribution I'll ever make to humanity. And let's not forget our children's spouses (yours will come along, Colin!) and their families; how much delight they add to our lives!

6. America. We'll never fully comprehend the blessing it's been to be born and grow up here, as we've never known tyranny, abject poverty, or the other things that so much of humanity endures every day. May we always strive to be worthy of that blessing. The men and women who've served our country in uniform know all about that, as do police officers, firefighters, EMTs, and others who keep us safe day in and day out.

7. History! Nothing could be more compelling than the grand story of our forbears' dreams, accomplishments, errors, struggles, sufferings, triumphs, and tragedies over the centuries. Have we learned anything, or will we continue to make the same mistakes? I'm privileged to experience (and hopefully, teach) a small part of that great story as a Civil War reenactor, and to trace our own ancestors' part in it through genealogy--which brings history down to the most personal, and therefore the most real, level. What a thrill!

8. Books! Actually, all kinds of literature, poetry, and above all, the Bible. They're my ticket to every age and place, every quest, every truth, and every dream ever dreamt by man. How can one feel small when he or she has a treasure like that? Unless I can figure out a way to take my books with me across the River Jordan, I plan on leaving my children and theirs a great library!

9. Music! Nothing has more power to move the soul. I love almost all of it (well, except for Billy Joel and a few others, very little popular music composed/recorded after 1966): classical (Bach! Mozart! Brahms! on and on), jazz (Benny Goodman! Wynton Marsalis! Chuck Mangione! on and on) and standards (Ella! Sinatra! Tony Bennett! on and on), even Celtic and other folk music. If I ever had to choose one of my senses to lose, it would NOT be hearing--I can't imagine life without music! I just wish I could play it.

10. Movies! I love good movies, especially the big historical epics (Lawrence of Arabia, Ben-Hur, El Cid, A Man for All Seasons, etc.) and war movies (Glory, Tora Tora Tora, Battleground), but also lushly-photographed "romance" films (Sense and Sensibility, Gigi, Pride and Prejudice), westerns (She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Silverado), movies about pioneers (Jeremiah Johnson, Last of the Mohicans) and seafaring (Master and Commander, Moby Dick), really good comedies (Moonstruck, American Graffiti, Sleepless in Seattle, The Russians Are Coming) or sports (Chariots of Fire, Remember the Titans) movies, and even the occasional bit of science fiction (I, Robot). Now that we have a good-sized, modern TV set at home, it's even more enjoyable to watch them! I guess the 21st century has its advantages.

11. Food! A blessing that I could probably do with a little less of. But I do love to eat good food, hopefully in moderation. I especially like ethnic and regional foods (Asian, Mexican, Central European, Mediterranean, Southern/Soul) and anything barbecue or associated with it. I also love soups and pies. And seafood (though I don't get that very often). I've been spoiled to have had a mother and a wife who are such terrific cooks; eating out is sometimes a disappointing experience because the place has to be VERY good indeed to match what I can get at home!

12. This beautiful place called Earth. God gave us such a beautiful (OK, sometimes challenging and scary) world to live in! Mountains, forests, meadows, marshes, rivers, oceans, even deserts--all teeming with an incredible array of life, all illuminated by the sun, the moon and stars, and sometimes even by the creatures themselves! I guess we'll have to expand this category to Creation. If our world/universe is so magnificent, how wonderful must Paradise be! I want to explore it all.

13. Work. I'm thankful to have decent employment; I'm not one of those lucky enough to "love my job," but it finances the richer parts of my life (home, family, books, etc.), and so many others today don't have this blessing. I should be spending more of my pay helping others.

14. Sleep. A blessing that I could probably do with a little more of. The older I get, the more I appreciate it. I'm fortunate to ride the bus to and from work, as I can sit back, close my eyes, and just rest for most of an hour if I want to (or read if I have the energy). I can do short "power naps" at home, too, which are really refreshing.

How about a couple of goals to close with?

15. To retire early enough, and with enough health and money left, to enjoy the rest of my life with my family, travel, read all these books I haven't gotten to yet, and enjoy a hobby or two, like fishing, photography, or painting.

16. To leave something worthwhile to my children, grandchildren, or other younger people. I'm not talking tangible things (except maybe books--expect a LOT of those!), but hopefully some insights, some wisdom that will enrich their lives. I'd like to satisfy myself and the Lord that I've made good use of the life He's given me.

So that's me, in a nutshell. OK, a rather LARGE nutshell!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

"Remember Me"

A link to this video was sent around at work last week, but I got a chance to see it only this evening. It brought tears to my eyes. It says all that can be said about our military men and women, and all that the rest of us owe them--and must be doing for them. It was put together by a remarkable young lady named Lizzie Palmer, who is all of 15 years old. God bless her--and have a hanky nearby as you watch this.

Friday, January 9, 2009

NATIONAL CHOMPS!

OK, the year in the graphic isn't quite up to date--but then, in case you forgot (unlikely, for any of their fans), the University of Florida Gators were National Champs (er, "Chomps") that year, too, beating Ohio State with surprising ease. I saw that game too (on the telly, of course), and was exhilarated all the way through.

Last night's game was quite different. The Gators seemed so feeble and error-prone in the first quarter that I was afraid they were going to end up National Chumps. But they slowly, steadily jelled as the game went on, doubtlessly energized by those two incredible goal-line stands and the amazing resilience of Tim Tebow. Meanwhile, as the Gators found their footing and improved, the Sooners slowly faded, and lost the seeming invincibility they had in the first quarter. The Gator defenders' hot-potato game with OSU QB Sam Bradford's attempted touchdown pass, as the first half ended, was great fun to watch! And the Gators' late-game interception, as well as Tebow's amazing "jump-up" TD pass to seal the victory, were priceless! I wonder if Urban Meyer enjoys drinking Gatorade (aptly named) as much as he obviously does wearing it?

I wanted SO MUCH to be with my fellow Flemings in Jacksonville, FL (together with my Gator-fanatic brother Steve and his wife Linda, and those disappointed Penn Staters in Clarks Summit, PA) last night to share the game and the celebration, but I know we were all together in spirit.

It's such a blessing, here in Buffalo Bills country, to have SOMEBODY to cheer for once! I have to admit that this past New Year's weekend was more entertaining than usual football-wise, as I was able to watch my two alma-maters Michigan State (Capital One Bowl) and the University of Cincinnati (Orange Bowl), as well as the University of Buffalo Bulls (International Bowl). The latter two were particularly remarkable, as both are almost devoid of bowl-game history, and they didn't play half-badly! Yet, all three of my teams lost. But now, after last night--VINDICATION!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Worthy of Respect

His administration spent far more money, utterly without regard to revenue, than all the drunken sailors in human history combined. It maintained a cozy relationship with big business and financial interests, and looked the other way while their shortsightedness and greed drove our economy (with the Democrats' help) into the toilet. It staggered for years from one misguided war strategy to another (before finding one that worked), and held onto high-profile advisers long after their advice proved worthless. It did little to stem illegal immigration or to measurably improve educational performance in this country.

For these and other reasons--and to some extent, for no discernible reason at all--George W. Bush attracted more mockery and contempt than perhaps any President in American history. Yet, he stayed remarkably optimistic through it all. Despite the low esteem in which he is held in Western Europe and the Middle East, as well as in this country, he is regarded favorably in much of Eastern Europe, Africa, India, and the Far East. His anti-terror policies have, so far, kept our enemies occupied or reeling, far from our shores. And a recent analysis by the Associated Press--hardly a bastion of Republican-friendly journalism--paints a picture of our soon-to-be-ex-Chief Executive much more appealing than the one reflected by the Mainstream Media over the last eight years. In it, he emerges as good-humored, energetic, inquisitive, incisive, and disciplined; as sentimental, considerate, and religious; and as passionately committed to education, AIDS relief, and, above all, freedom.

It takes a great man to endure the vituperation that President Bush has, without bitterness or retaliation. And it takes a great woman, like Laura Bush, to keep the President on an even keel and strengthen our national leadership with her own limitless grace and generosity (how long will it be before we have another Fist Lady as excellent as she's been?). Perhaps we'll better see the good Mr. Bush has done once the fog of crisis and acrimony has cleared, in future years. Until then, we should lay aside our own bitterness and pray that the America he labored to help, however clumsily, emerges safe, strong, and healthy at last.

UPDATE January 12, 2008: For an excellent, mostly favorable review of President Bush's record, see Fred Barnes, Bush's Achievements: Ten things the president got right (Weekly Standard, 01/19/2009 issue).

Sunday, January 4, 2009

A (Belated) Happy New Year to All!

I hope this finds all my readers healthy, happy, and ready to grapple with the New Year. Taking a cue from my dear sister, I thought an image of the Holy Family was the perfect way to express the promise and the love that I hope will be your lot in 2009.

Here at the Fleming House, the holidays are officially over; the company has returned to their home(s), the children to their school-time abodes, at least for awhile; and the (artificial) Christmas tree is de-decorated, dismantled, re-boxed, and returned to its customary place in the garage, to bide its time until the next holiday season. There are a few Yuletide wall decorations and knick-knacks still to be put back in boxes and returned to the attic with the tree decorations, but that will get done over the next week, probably.

Yesterday afternoon I hauled the tree box into the garage and clumsily manhandled it into its storage spot behind the bicycle, lawn mower, barbecue grill, garden tools, and other items awaiting resurrection with the coming of Spring. I paused to catch my breath, and my mind turned to the hitherto unappreciated significance of this little event. It seemed rather sad that the tree plays its special part in our lives for only about three weeks, and spends the rest of the year all mashed up into that box, standing forlornly and unnoticed in its corner of a dusty, cluttered garage through the rest of the frigid winter, the warming spring, the hot summer, the bracing fall, and the advent of winter again. I reflected on the few big and many small things that had transpired in our lives since the tree's last brief sojourn in the house, and then thought about what might happen in the coming months and seasons before anyone thought about fetching it in again. Would I even be here? Would we all still be around? Might some calamity or great sadness put all thought of cheerful celebration out of our minds? Or, would the next holiday season be the climax of a year blessed with some special joy, so great that we might want to get the tree out and put it up early? Then, perhaps, the coming year will be like most others we've enjoyed on this earth, with its share of hurts and disappointments but also times of happiness and thanksgiving, and a lot of mundane but precious moments in between. All we can do, I concluded, is to pray that God will give us the faith and wisdom to endure whatever challenges may be in store for us, and to remember and thank Him for the multitude of blessings, great and small, that will surely be ours.

I suppose it's a little crazy that an artificial Christmas tree stuffed into an old cardboard box can inspire such profound reflections--it doesn't take much to prompt in a 50+ year-old thoughts about life and mortality--but I'm grateful for it. I want to wring out of this life every insight and every ounce of understanding that I can, while I have the opportunity. And I pray that everyone I love feels as blessed as I do this moment. May that feeling last all year!