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!


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Modest Proposal

As we approach America's Independence Day this year, I would like to propose a change in the official motto of New York state, where I live. Currently it is Excelsior, a Latin and archaic English word meaning "ever higher" or "ever upwards." The motto doesn't specify just what it is that is, or should be, moving higher or upwards.

I would like to suggest something more meaningful. The following legend has appeared on New York state court process such as writs and subpoenas, on public notices, and on some old land grants, for almost 200 years:

By the Grace of God Free and Independent

I've always thought this a most inspiring aphorism. It acknowledges the central principles on which this nation was founded--freedom and independence. And it declares forthrightly, unashamedly, the ultimate source of those blessings: the grace of God. Taken together, it's a fervent prayer of thanksgiving and an exultant declaration of what we are and how we mean to be, always . . .

. . . by the people of the State of New York? Really?

This particular group of people is among the most heavily regulated in the United States. I should know; not only am I a near life-long resident of the state, but in my role as an attorney editor for a legal publishing firm, I manage two large encyclopedias of New York law and resort daily to the state's massive compendia of statutes, rules, and administrative regulations. New Yorkers are also among the most heavily taxed people in America (second only, I think, to the people of New Jersey). Oppressive laws and taxes were the bedrock causes of America's rebellion against the British Empire.

Is that why New York is nicknamed the "Empire State"? And does our official motto Excelsior refer to tax rates that are "ever higher" or "ever upwards"?

And what are we "independent" of? Could our state's government even begin to function, in the way most people now expect it to, without massive infusions of money from the federal government (just like almost every other state)? Could it, or would it, ever do anything independently of the political satraps and money barons of New York City?

Perhaps we should re-read and take to better heart that saying on our court papers, By the Grace of God Free and Independent. Isn't it time to remember, re-affirm, and commit ourselves to making that marvelous declaration a genuine reality?

Incidentally, I've done some research (which is my job, after all) and find no indication that the American Civil Liberties Union, nor any professional atheist, has ever mounted a legal challenge to this particular reference to God on official court documents in New York. Maybe they've just overlooked it (though you'd think that the New York chapters of ACLU spawn enough subpoenas in a year that "By the Grace of God Free and Independent" would have caught someone's eye over there). Well, that's all right with me--they wouldn't appreciate it anyway. The rest of us can just adopt this as OUR motto, and recognize it as truth in our personal lives if not quite, yet, in the polity in which we live.

By the Grace of God Free and Independent

Wouldn't that look great on our license plates?

Don't hold your breath on that one.

Friday, June 18, 2010

On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand

Tyranny, corruption, financial collapse, riots, terrorism, wars, environmental disaster, hunger, disease, earthquakes and storms--the world seems engulfed in a wave of calamity. Individuals are everywhere beset with personal crises as well--family discord, divorce, unemployment, bankruptcy, homelessness. So many desperate people, knowing not where to turn, take their own lives or turn on their neighbors in helpless rage. Is there any hope for the world, or for ourselves?

Blinded by our modern expectations and distractions, we forget that such troubles have always been the common plight of mankind. Yet, people of the past seem to have coped better with the trials of life; they were at once more accepting of adversity, and met challenges with greater resolve and endurance, than most people do today. Whence came that inner strength, that reservoir of hope and confidence?

My guess: faith in God, and in His assurance of a happier world beyond this one. That conviction is nowhere better expressed than in the hymns people wrote and sung in those more "enlightened" times. A common theme, often appearing in the latter verses, is the joy of deliverance and perfect peace in the Lord's kingdom when our sorrowful sojourn here is over. In this theme death is not feared, but regarded (even anticipated) as the doorway to eternal life and happiness--to "a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Luke 12:33, 34)

Moses Viewing the Promised Land (1846),
by Frederic Edwin Church

A marvelous example of this attitude is the hymn On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand, written by Baptist minister and hymnwriter Samuel Stennett (1 June 1727 – 24 August 1795) and first published under the title "Promised Land" in 1787. A biographical sketch of Dr. Stennett notes that this hymn was especially popular among 19th-century American Methodists, being sung in camp meetings and brush arbors, and also found its way into William Walker's 1835 Southern Harmony along with another folk hymn recently reviewed here, What Wondrous Love is This? (an excellent analysis of the hymn's text as expressing the believer's "anticipation of heaven" can be found here). What I so love about this hymn is its joyful and sure conviction of the sweet deliverance to come, as well as the happiness" and bounce of the music. I can't imagine a better thing to sing to lift one's spirits and get through some trial of life, great or small.

Here's a traditional rendition, with beautiful artwork, by a group not identified with the video:

And don't miss this version by Hank Williams and the Drifting Cowboys. It might sound a little corny to contemporary ears, but it's actually sweet and may capture how the hymn has been sung over the years in our southern regions.

Below are the marvelous words to this delightful hymn, which points us to the true destiny of the believer and echoes the exultant cry of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:55, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"

On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand,
And cast a wishful eye
To Canaan’s fair and happy land,
Where my possessions lie.

I am bound for the promised land,

I am bound for the promised land;

Oh who will come and go with me?

I am bound for the promised land.

O the transporting, rapturous scene,
That rises to my sight!
Sweet fields arrayed in living green,
And rivers of delight!


There generous fruits that never fail,
On trees immortal grow;
There rocks and hills, and brooks and vales,
With milk and honey flow.


O’er all those wide extended plains
Shines one eternal day;
There God the Son forever reigns,
And scatters night away.


No chilling winds or poisonous breath
Can reach that healthful shore;
Sickness and sorrow, pain and death,
Are felt and feared no more.


When I shall reach that happy place,
I’ll be forever blest,
For I shall see my Father’s face,
And in His bosom rest.


Filled with delight my raptured soul
Would here no longer stay;
Though Jordan’s waves around me roll,
Fearless I’d launch away.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Real Hometown Hero

I missed getting a post up last week for Memorial Day (here's last year's post), but perhaps I can make it up by noting a hallowed event today: the 66th anniversary of the death of Charles Neilans DeGlopper (November 30, 1921–June 9, 1944), a United States Army private who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions and sacrifice of life on June 9, 1944, during the battle for Normandy following the D-Day landings on June 6. Pvt. DeGlopper's life and death have special meaning for me, as we are both natives of the small town of Grand Island, New York (see also I grew up hearing him referred to with reverence, and often passed by a small park in the middle of the Island that still bears his name.

Pvt. DeGlopper entered the United States Army in November 1942, and after training was deployed overseas in April 1943, where he served in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy, and finally in France with C Company, 325th Glider Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division. His MOH citation tells the story of his bravery and sacrifice:
O]n 9 June 1944 [Pvt. DeGlopper] advanc[ed] with the forward platoon to secure a bridgehead across the Merderet River at La Fière, France. At dawn the platoon had penetrated an outer line of machineguns and riflemen, but in so doing had become cut off from the rest of the company. Vastly superior forces began a decimation of the stricken unit and put in motion a flanking maneuver which would have completely exposed the American platoon in a shallow roadside ditch where it had taken cover. Detecting this danger, Pfc. DeGlopper volunteered to support his comrades by fire from his automatic rifle while they attempted a withdrawal through a break in a hedgerow 40 yards to the rear. Scorning a concentration of enemy automatic weapons and rifle fire, he walked from the ditch onto the road in full view of the Germans, and sprayed the hostile positions with assault fire. He was wounded, but he continued firing. Struck again, he started to fall; and yet his grim determination and valiant fighting spirit could not be broken. Kneeling in the roadway, weakened by his grievous wounds, he leveled his heavy weapon against the enemy and fired burst after burst until killed outright. He was successful in drawing the enemy action away from his fellow soldiers, who continued the fight from a more advantageous position and established the first bridgehead over the Merderet. In the area where he made his intrepid stand his comrades later found the ground strewn with dead Germans and many machineguns and automatic weapons which he had knocked out of action. Pfc. DeGlopper's gallant sacrifice and unflinching heroism while facing insurmountable odds were in great measure responsible for a highly important tactical victory in the Normandy Campaign.
Pvt. DeGlopper was the only soldier from the 82nd Airborne Division to receive the Medal of Honor for action during the Normandy campaign. He is still remembered by the people of La Fiere (which is located near Sainte-Mère-Église, made famous in the "church bells" scene in the movie The Longest Day), and a memorial plaque in his honor was erected where he fell by veterans of the 325th Glider Infantry in 2003. Pvt. DeGlopper is now buried at Maple Grove Cemetery on Grand Island.

As this day draws to a close, let us say a silent prayer of thanks for Pvt. DeGlopper and for all American military men and women who have given their lives to defend our country and the cause of freedom around the world. What that world would be like today without their sacrifice would be truly unthinkable. Everything we enjoy today was bought at a most terrible and sacred price. Let us never forget it.

Above is a digital painting of Pvt. DeGlopper in action, by artist Jean-Pierre Roy and specially commissioned for the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Moments to Remember

It's been a week since I returned from my visit to Florida and my nephew Jonathan's high school graduation--and I'm still reliving that delightful time in my mind! So many wonderful memories an event like that brings to mind, and creates for the future! We remember our time in high school and our own Graduation Days, and realize what an exciting future lies ahead for one of us who, seemingly, just barely arrived in this world!

The Thursday evening I arrived in Jacksonville, Mom and Dad and I took a stroll along the pier in Jacksonville Beach. It was very relaxing to watch the vast ocean caressing the shore as the sun dipped low, and spy on the young couples--perhaps, just graduating themselves--walking arm in arm along the sand below.

Friday morning we attended a Mass for the graduates of Jonathan's school, Bishop Kenny High School. What a marvelous group of young people! I think it was a great blessing for Jonathan to be able to attend a school where personal and academic standards are high, but the demands are leavened with faith and the shared love of Christ. He owes so much to his parents' wisdom and sacrifices--and I'm sure he'd agree with me completely! Friday evening Mom, Dad and I met with Patti, Jason, and Jonathan for some great chicken wings at the Mudville Grille in Jacksonville.

The Big Event was on Saturday morning, with the graduation ceremony held in the arena at the University of North Florida. It was impressive and exciting, and so refreshing to see so many outstanding young people take their first step into a bright future. Even Jonathan's cousin Lena, who has just a few years to go before graduation, shared the experience with us!

Saturday evening we attended a delightful graduation party at the Sloans', with friends of Jonathan as well as many wonderful friends of Jason and Patti. I wish Melany and I lived closer so we could visit with them all more often!

On Sunday we attended early Mass with Patti and Jason at Assumption Church. Later, when Patti came by Mom and Dad's to take me back to her house, we were stopped in the road by a family of ducks trying to cross. "Dad" got to the other side, but "Mom" and "The Kids" were a little slower and decided to hang back until the traffic cleared!

At Patti's we lounged in and around the pool for most of the afternoon, reveling in each other's company. It was delightful to get into the pool and splash about--I hadn't done that in years! The conversation was full of good-natured fun and reminiscing, and dinner (Jason's famous sausages and hamburgers from the grill, plus Mom's Calico Beans and other delectables) was excellent!

On Monday Mom and Dad and I visited the Jacksonville Museum of Science and History (MOSH), where they had displayed some artifacts recovered from the sunken Civil War troop transport Maple Leaf. On our way we stopped at Patti's house to pick her up, and just what greeted our eyes when we arrived?

That's right, it was Jonathan pulling a prank on his parents, one he'd been cooking up for a long time! The new "do," though decidedly handsome, lasted only that day!

After MOSH, Patti and I made a brief visit to the nearby Jacksonville Maritime Museum, outside which Patti graciously posed for this wonderful picture with the downtown Jacksonville skyline in the background:

On Tuesday, I had a mercifully uneventful flight home. All the way back to Rochester, and ever since the trip, I've thought about how blessed I am to have the wonderful family that I do--stretching from Florida through Virginia and Pennsylvania to New York, and even out to Idaho--and what marvelous memories we've made together!

Speaking of memories, high school, graduation, and such, I thought I'd share with you a music video that captures that experience very well--the song is "Moments to Remember," recorded in 1955 (a very good year) by the Four Lads. Jonathan might not be able to relate to it so well, but I think a few of us older folks might. Thanks again for the memories!