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!


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Lead, Kindly Light

Remember those lilies I was considering a while back? I was seeking answers in the Gospel of Matthew, ch. 6, to my constant fretting about not having enough time to do the things that seem to me so rewarding and worthwhile--historical research and writing, genealogy, blogging, etc., and the lack of enduring happiness I feel as a result. I wondered whether God really wanted us to be like the lilies--content with the beauty He gave them--and if so, why I (and many other people) was given a restless mind and an eagerness to strive and grow. I discerned that I should be more patient, but didn't feel satisfied with that answer. Then, I recently looked at Matthew 6 again and was drawn to verse 33, wherein we're counseled to "seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." It's true that in this context the Lord was expressly talking about taking no thought for what to eat or drink, or what to wear. But perhaps the lesson applies also to higher personal goals and interests, notwithstanding their worthiness, that we can become so fixated upon as to blind us from other plans that God may have for us. Maybe the trick is to seek "first the kingdom of God"--study scripture, pray unceasingly, be honest and generous with others, do the right thing and serve wherever one can--and happiness and fulfillment will come in ways that God wills and that serve His loving plans for us, even if we can't see them just yet. Knowing our hearts, it may be that He will bless us with those goodly things we desire, as well: "Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart." (Psalms 37:4) Or if not, perhaps He will lead us to glory in ways even more wonderful, that are simply beyond our imagination.

This idea was reinforced for me one recent Sunday when, in a church service with talks themed on the blessings and eternal value of knowledge, one of the hymns sung was Lead, Kindly Light. With text composed by Anglican churchman (and future Roman Catholic Cardinal) John Henry Newman in 1833, the hymn relates the experience of one who once was determined to pursue his own goals in his own way, who "loved to choose and see my path," who "loved the garish day," and whose will was ruled by pride. Now, the hymnist prays God to "Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see the distant scene; one step enough for me." Watch and listen to the beautiful video below, sung by Aled Jones, with text just below that (including a later additional verse by Edward H. Bickersteth):

Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed
That Thou shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path;
But now lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!

So long Thy power hath blest me,
Sure it still will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent,
Till the night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!

Meantime, along the narrow rugged path,
Thyself hast trod,
Lead, Savior, lead me home in childlike faith,
Home to my God.
To rest forever after earthly strife
In the calm light of everlasting life.
I do believe this is the answer I've been seeking: simply to let God lead; follow His light first, rather than my own; and happiness and fulfillment will be mine at last, however and whenever God wills that to happen. Father Knows Best!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

More Media Musings

It's been reported that the CBS and ABC evening news broadcasts had all-time-low ratings last week, and that NBC Nightly News' ratings were also quite low. This continues a pattern of sagging ratings in recent months for the major networks' news programming.

This should surprise no one. The networks are only reaping what they have sown. More and more people, among those still capable of critical thought, are coming to realize that most of what they see on the network "news" is not really news as traditionally defined, i.e., recent factual developments. Rather, at best, it's pre-packaged entertainment pablum, and at worst out-and out-propaganda, ranging from subtle to blatant. All of it is manipulative, designed to sell a value system, a viewpoint, a policy, even a product. Stories are introduced and summed with silly commentary from a conceited, sanctimonious anchorperson, and the stories themselves consist of little more than amateurish video and chopped-up sound bites. You gain almost no factual knowledge or real insight, but the shallow idea that the media wants you to take away from it is usually clear enough. If you're watching the evening news, you're also treated to endless pharmaceutical commercials apparently intended to usher in the Hypochondriac Nation. In the end, you feel used, cheated, and insulted for the time you spent watching.

I quit watching network news altogether four years ago, during the coverage of Hurricane Katrina. I tuned in originally for the same reason that I'm sure most people did, to find out about the extent of devastation and loss of life attending the great natural disaster that had just happened. I already felt that network news programs (excepting, perhaps, 60 Minutes) were usually a waste of time, but they seemed at least fairly good with situations like disasters, where the facts pretty much are the story. Then I saw them turn an immense Act of God into a partisan political witch-hunt, a shameless lynching of President Bush, twisting everything that happened and everything that was said and done in the hurricane's wake, day after day, into a weapon against him. The fiendish glee with which they focused on and exploited the pathetic crowd in the New Orleans Superdome, goading them into rabid on-camera diatribes against the federal government in general and George Bush in particular, was so plain and disgusting that I had to turn the crap off, and I haven't turned it back on since. The government's response may not have been a model of speed and efficiency (thanks largely to bumbling, self-centered state and local authorities, then mostly Democrats), but no rational, reasonably fair person would believe that the hurricane and its aftermath was all a conspiracy to make poor black people suffer.

But that's how the major news media presented it, and with little or no attempt even to look objective. Now that their favorite whipping boy has been replaced with their infallible Messiah, of course, the media have never been more more cooperative, more supportive, and more obsequious toward the powers that be. Whether they're blatantly crucifying or shamelessly fawning, the obvious bias of the major news media deprives them utterly of credibility. It's plain to the simplest person that they're worthless as a source of objective, reliable information. So, as long as the quality of the major networks' product is no better than one can find on the Internet or in other sources of partisan commentary, there's no reason for anyone to pay special attention to them. At least I don't have to listen to commercials for intestinal gas remedies at

Monday, June 22, 2009

Media Credibility: Beyond the Outer Limits

You've probably heard of ABC Television's plan to devote its prime-time programming, on Wednesday, June 24, to coverage of the Obama administration's proposals for publicly-funded, government-run health care. ABC News anchor Charles Gibson will deliver WORLD NEWS from the Blue Room of the White House; the network will air a primetime health care reform “town hall” at the White House with President Barack Obama; while the programs GOOD MORNING AMERICA, WORLD NEWS, NIGHTLINE and ABC’s web news will all feature special programming on the president’s health care agenda. This does not include the promotion, over the the past and coming week, that the president’s health care agenda has had and will receive on ABC News programming.

ABC is refusing to make room in their White House health care programming for the presentation of alternative views, or even to accept paid advertising for that purpose. However, ABC insists that the program will not, as the Republican Party has charged, amount to little more than an infomercial for the administration's health care plan, as the audience and questions for the special will be selected "by ABC and only ABC."

It should be noted that the Director of Communications at the White House Office of Health Reform is Linda Douglass, who worked as a reporter for ABC News from 1998-2006. This fact has led to speculation whether ABC News had the upper hand in obtaining a White House venue for the primetime health care special, as well as an interview with the President on Good Morning America and permission to air two ABC News broadcasts from the White House this week. The media watchdog web site Newsbusters reports:
Douglass gave up her ABC News career in May 2008 to take a post with the Obama campaign. She claimed to see no conflict at all between being a "journalist" and a partisan campaign operative. In fact, she was thrilled not to be "sitting on the sidelines" in the era of Obama.

. . . I see this as a moment of transformational change in the country and I have spent my lifetime sitting on the sidelines watching people attempt to make change. I just decided that I can't sit on the sidelines anymore.

And now, amazingly, ABC nails down all sorts of exclusive interviews with Obama and is playing host to a single sided presentation of what will be Obama's healthcare advertisement.
It's also been reported that Dr. Timothy Johnson, ABC's in-house medical expert, has a long history of promoting government-managed universal health care. Moreover, it has been documented that that since the Presidential Inauguration on January 20, ABC World News and Good Morning America stories on health care featured Obama or supporters of his policies 55 times compared to 18 times for critics of those policies, a 3-to-1 margin.

Apparently, the mass media's love affair with Barack Obama--which began with his address to the Democratic National Convention in 2004 and swept him through the Presidential primaries and then the general election in 2008--continues as torrid as ever. If you were disturbed (as I was) during the election campaign by his supporters' fervent idolatry, the Nuremberg-like quality of his rallies, and the shamelessly deferential, laudatory attitude shown by "news" correspondents in his interviews, remember that the media largely created Mr. Obama as a national figure; he was nothing but an obscure state senator/law professor/"community organizer" before DNC 2004. Well aware of this, Obama has repaid the support of all three major networks (not Fox News, of course) by granting unprecedented access to the White House, the First Family, and senior officials so they could produce extended "inside-looks" programs, in an almost uniformly fawning style (remember visiting the White House garden and swing set with NBC's Brian Williams?). This helps the networks and their news departments, whose ratings have recently sagged to unprecedented lows.

Of all aspects of last year's Presidential election, the most ominous to me was the complete sellout of the major media organizations and their personnel to Barack Obama. For the principal conduits of public information to become partisan servants of one party or candidate (and I've never heard anything as lame as their half-hearted, hand-in-the-cookie-jar denials of it) is all but a garrote on the throat of democracy. With the media in this posture, no other party or candidate, and no policy disapproved by "their man," has a chance. Coverage is managed so that one side is deified and the other demonized. Alternative views, to the extent they are allowed public airing at all, are subtly cast as insane or disloyal. Elections become little more than empty rituals to delude the masses into thinking that they actually had a choice and exercised it. I didn't live through the Nazis' gradual, democratically-sanctioned takeover of German government and society in the 1920s and 30s, but I've read about it, and the tenor of the present times is chillingly reminiscent of it.

Do you know how the Nazis, the Communists, the Mafia, and other criminal gangs get control of people and enterprises? It's usually a gradual process--they pay you compliments, do you some favor, maybe get you a little job in their organization and invite you to their functions. Before you know it you're talking them up with your friends so they'll trust and join them too. Then they ask you for a little favor. And another. Then they warn you to look the other way and keep your mouth shut while they do something they don't want others to know about. Then they might ask you to help them do it, or to cover it up--or else. Before you know it, your hands are as dirty as theirs. You're hopelessly compromised. You hang on by your fingernails with them because you need their patronage, and fear reprisals if those they've hurt get their hands on you.

This is what is happening to our once-"free" press. They're selling their souls to--the Devil? The important thing is that they're selling their souls, and selling out our right to see and hear the whole truth, a right millions of Americans have perished to preserve. For prestige, power, and ultimately money, they're compromising themselves and getting into bed with those they must hold at arm's length if they're to maintain any objectivity. They're being played and used, and turned into a partisan propaganda machine. And many, if not most, of them are enthusiastic about it! They WANT to control events and our minds, not just influence them. If you liked having a little power, wouldn't you like even more having the much greater power that's being offered you? All you have to do is exchange the title "journalist" for "spokesperson." Doing so under the table, so no one will notice, is just fine--even better. We want the masses to go to sleep peacefully. Who needs objectivity or credibility, or even the appearance of them, when the people can't tell the difference between one thing and another, and couldn't care less?

If ABC wanted to do a thorough exploration of health care issues and various proposals for their solution, including the administration's plan, it didn't have to do the program (and the entire nightly news segment) from inside the White House. What purpose would that serve, except to present the administration's plan in the most august, "official"-looking atmosphere possible? And what purpose is served by monopolizing the presentation of views on the subject, cherry-picking the "town hall" audience and questions in advance, and refusing any independent voice in the proceedings? Why else, but to guarantee a glowing outcome for the President's plan? It seems that George Orwell was about 25 years early in his prognostications. Better late than never for the mass media empire.

When I was about eight years old, a new program was introduced on, ironically, ABC. It was called "The Outer Limits." The show was terrifying. No other program on network television has as effectively explored and exploited the recesses of mind where fear lurks. My siblings and I weren't allowed to watch it, but sometimes--if we dared--we snuck peeks. Snatches of a few episodes linger in my memory, but most vivid is the monologue that introduced the show. It's all about control of your television set, and of your mind:

There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set . . .
This is where we're headed. Will anyone but a few of us old fogies notice? And if we ever regain our collective consciousness, who will future historians blame for the extinction of a free press? I fear it will be the Press itself, sinking into a mire of love, lust, and plain old prostitution.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Tom & Melany's Excellent Adventure: Ch. Six

Here it is, at last--the final installment of our Great Southern Adventure of April, 2009!

On Friday, April 24 Mom, Dad, and my sister Patti piled into a car with Melany and I for a drive to Cross Creek, about an hour's drive southwest of Mandarin near Ocala. Here is the home of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Yearling, about life among the common people of central Florida in the 19th century (the book became an Academy Award-winning movie in the 1940s, and one of my all-time favorites). She also wrote Cross Creek, an autobiographical account of her relationships with neighbors in the hammock country of central Florida. No one captured the character of Old Florida and its people better that Marjorie Rawlings (though Michel Oesterreicher comes very close in Pioneer Family).

The grounds surrounding the Rawlings home, once dominated by orange trees (and there are still some), are beautiful and epitomize Florida.

Here is the front of the Rawlings home, on the front porch of which Marjorie wrote most of her books. And here is the very table, chair, and typewriter she used!

Here is a photo of Marjorie's kitchen--she loved to cook, and in 1942 published a collection of down-home-Florida recipes for dishes like grits, hush-puppies, Florida fried fish, peanut soup, and pecan pie, called Cross Creek Cookery.

I ran into some very nice people while we were at the Rawlings place, including a lovely lady named Melany, and a couple named John and Gail (seen sitting on the porch of a farmhand's cabin), who claimed to be my parents! ;-)

After taking a guided tour of the Rawlings home and wandering about the grounds, we drive a few miles to the small town of Citra. In Cross Creek, Marjorie referred to it as "Citra, where the Negroes are gay and light-hearted of a Saturday night." Citra is where my mother's paternal grandfather William Hobbs and three of his children, who all died before age 6, are buried in the little cemetery at the Simmons Baptist Church. It was his children's deaths from sickness that inspired him to turn from teaching to become a doctor. I hope to tell his and his family's story for you in the very near future.

After visiting the cemetery, we returned to Mom and Dad's and had a delightful dinner with Patti and her husband Jason. Sadly, we had to leave our beloved family and Florida behind the next morning. But, praise God, we had another good home and wonderful family here in New York to return to! And soon, we'll have our "Way Out West" family from Idaho, daughter Donna and her husband Jonathan, to welcome to New York! We're indeed blessed to have a family whose loving arms stretch from every side of this great country to the other!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Consider the Lilies

My heart seems a perpetual battlefield on which are pitted thankfulness for innumerable blessings, on the one hand, and frustration with the insatiable demands and petty limitations of everyday life, on the other.

Compared with most human beings on this planet, I live a life fit for Paradise: a reasonably well-paying job (will we have jobs in Paradise?); all the food, clothing, and shelter I need; a good wife and children; decent health (so far as I know); a pleasant climate (most of the year); abundant books and music; and natural beauty all around me. All I need to experience the wonder of Creation is walk about my back yard, feel the warm sunshine and cool breeze on my face, and breathe in the heavenly fragrance of the wildflowers crowding the floor of the woods around us, as pictured above, or those captured below, gracing the sides of the pathway along the Erie Canal where we walk our dog Frank every day.

Yet, I'm restless and unsatisfied. I never have enough time to make progress on things that liberate my soul, like reading, blogging, genealogy, or historical research. There's too much office work and too many chores at home--bills, mowing, gardening, cleaning, picking up, etc.--which must be attended to. Our children still need guidance and help; our dog needs care every day; something always needs repair or replacement. I seethe whenever these "mundane" details keep me me from things that are more fulfilling, or seem to be--and it happens every day. Why did God give me so much curiosity, a thirst for knowledge, a desire to share it, and a good brain ("no brag, just fact"--as Walter Brennan used to say) with which to pursue these things, only to let me bog down with burdens that don't have anything to do with them? It seems like my God-given talents and potential are going to waste, and I fear dying before I can grow to "be all I can be" (as the Army still likes to say), or do something to enrich the lives of others outside my own family. I don't care much about fame, but it would be gratifying to publish some articles or a book or two, or maintain a web site (does this one qualify?), or teach a class, about things important to me. But there's no time.

And then I see, and smell, those flowers, They remind me of the passage from the Gospel of Luke:
Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. ~ Luke 12:27
The flowers around my yard and by the Canal aren't lilies, of course--honestly, I don't know exactly what they are--but they're in the same position. They don't toil or spin, because they can't. All they can do is radiate the inherent beauty God bestowed upon them, and bless the lives of people like me in their short, otherwise unremarkable lives.

Is that the secret? Does God simply wish us to be satisfied with being all He's enabled us to be within our allotted bounds, however constricted they seem to be to us? Perhaps, up to a point. But unlike the lilies, he's endowed us with legs and arms, with eyes, ears, voices, and brains--with the ability, and hopefully the desire, to make something more of ourselves than we could be just by standing stock still. Could it be that in all the hurly-burly of every day life, and amidst all the frustrations in its wake, I fail to see opportunities for personal growth and contribution that would be apparent had I the faith to look for them and the courage to seize them? Maybe, instead of giving way to restless anger, I should pray for the inner serenity that I see outwardly in the beautiful flowers of the field. And then, perhaps, I could find a way to achieve a bit of their glory.

In any case, I doubt I'll ever stop trying to grow my knowledge and understanding. God gave me that thirst, and my parents and teachers nurtured it. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Luke 12:34). Lord, help me gain a bit of that treasure while I'm here, and be able to share it with my friends.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Tom & Melany's Excellent Adventure: Ch. Five

We've been back from our Southern Vacation now for more than five weeks, and I STILL haven't finished telling you all about it! I don't think Homer took this long to write the Odyssey!

On Wednesday morning, April 22 Melany and I drove north from Jacksonville to Savannah, Georgia, a distance of about 140 miles. Savannah (and the colony of Georgia) was established by the remarkable British General James Oglethorpe and 114 settlers, who landed at the side after a sea voyage from England on February 12, 1733. The city has an incredibly rich history, preserved better than in almost any other urban area, and is one of the most beautiful cities one can visit.

We spent Wednesday and Thursday in Savannah, staying at the 19th-century vintage Savannah Bed and Breakfast in the heart of the historic district. Here's a picture of the "Yellow Room" where we stayed. It was very pleasant and comfortable--a perfect place to rest after climbing three flights of stairs to get there!

The historic district is divided into 24 "squares" in a grid pattern laid out by James Oglethorpe himself. Today they form small parks bounded by tree-lined streets, most of which are graced with fountains, monuments, gardens, and oak trees laced with Spanish moss (click here for a marvelous review of all the squares, and even an aerial map showing where they're located). Stately homes, churches, and other buildings dating from colonial times through the 19th century crowd along these streets. This is where we spent most of our time, traveling on foot, though we also visited the Riverfront, a row of 19th century cotton warehouses now occupied by shops and restaurants, as well as the another district full of shops and galleries called City Market.

It would be impossible to capture in a few words all that we saw and experienced in Savannah, and displaying all the pictures we took would soon wear out viewers of this blog. But I'll try to hit some of the highlights and the most representative sights of our visit.

One of Savannah's most recognizable icons is the Forsyth Park Fountain, which was erected in 1858. The fountain is reputedly designed to recall one located at the Place de la Concorde in Parisl, France. To the left is a view of the fountain by itself, and below is a picture of a very attractive couple standing in front of the fountain.

Savannah's squares boast a number of beautiful fountains. Here's the one in Lafayette Square. Water in this fountain is dyed green for St. Patrick's Day.

Adjacent to Lafayette Square is "The Book" Gift Shop, which bills itself as the "official" headquarters for all things related to the book and movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. We're not big fans of either, but this little shop is chock full of all other things Savannah too, and is probably your best bet for a meaningful souvenir.

Also on Lafayette Square is the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. We happened to be there at a time when no services were being conducted and the public could tour the church. This might have been the high point of my Savannah visit. The exterior of the church is awesome; the interior is positively breathtaking. We sat in the pews for awhile and just looked around in wonder. The ceiling hangs in loveliness high above you, like the sky. The altar sparkles in the distance. Everywhere there is marble, polished wood, gilding. The Stations of the Cross are stunning works of art all by themselves. I have no more words for this place; you have to see it to believe it!

Chippewa Square was laid out in 1815 and named in honor of American soldiers killed in the Battle of Chippawa during the War of 1812. Guess where that battle took place? At the village of Chippawa, Ontario, Canada, just three or four miles across the Niagara River (as the crow flies) from where I grew up on Grand Island, New York! Bully for Georgians to remember a battle now almost forgotten in New York (and maybe even Canada). In the centre of Chippewa square is a bronze statue of Georgia founder General James Oglethorpe, at left (ironically, Oglethorpe's statue is NOT located in Oglethorpe Square, which is located just to the northeast). The "park bench" scene at the beginning of the movie Forrest Gump was filmed on the north side of Chippewa Square.

Back to Forsyth Park: in the middle of the park is a towering monument to the Confederacy, erected in 1874-1875. Inscribed on one side of the pedestal is the following sentiment: "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live." This comes from Ezekiel 37:9, and is a fitting tribute to the men of the South who gave their lives in that great struggle of 1861-1865.

Also in Forsyth Park is a monument to Georgians who served in that much-less-remembered struggle, the Spanish-American War. I don't think I've ever before seen a memorial to men who fought in that conflict, so thought this was worthy of a picture.

Everywhere in Savannah's historic district there are gardens, some publicly maintained as in the famous "squares," and some--like the one below, which I photographed through the bars of a locked gate--kept behind the magnificent old houses that border the squares.

Below is one entrance of the Telfair Academy, part of the oldest art museum in the South. Note the closeups of the magnificent statuary outside the entrance. I'm not sure whom they depict; we didn't have time to go into the museum to find out. But the work is breathtaking!

Since our time was limited and it's not located in or near the "historic district," we didn't get a chance to visit two other iconic Savannah places, Bonaventure Cemetery (click here for a collection of stunningly beautiful pictures of this place) and Wormsloe Plantation. Oh, well--grist for another visit!

Stay tuned--the Great Southern Vacation Saga is almost complete!