More Andy Williams

My last post was about the tradition of 'scary ghost stories' referenced in the song "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" by Andy Williams. His version of that tune is probably the most well-known version and it's appearance on radio playlists is a sure marker that another Christmas season has come around.

This year, with Williams' recent passing, his songs evoke a bit more nostalgia and affection, even from those of us who were not big fans. I used to watch his Christmas specials on TV, but it wasn't to see Andy. I am sure I was looking for familiar songs, some laughs, and special guest stars that I had regard for.

As my musical tastes have changed over the years, I am hearing Williams more often, but I can't say that I like his tunes much better. He always struck me as a 'B-teamer' behind the likes of Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby and others. Obviously he was talented and had a fine career and I am by no means being critical - I just like others better. Your opinion may differ.

However, Williams was on the Varsity when it came to Christmas specials. I could not find an exact number of specials he did, but the best I can tell, they ran from the 60's to the 90's. He also had a long-running variety show on NBC.

I will say there is one song of his that I really like and, happily, it is a Christmas song. This song swings a bit and actually reveals a range that I think Williams should have explored more. Quickly let me add that I am by no means well-versed on Williams' discography and for all I know, maybe he did do some more jazzy numbers. I just haven't heard them.

Be that as it may, here's Andy - and brothers Bob and Dick and Don - singing "It's The Holiday Season/Happy Holiday" -

P.S. The sweaters are awesome!


Scary Ghost Stories

Well, the Christmas songs have begun - I'm sure you've noticed. The Saturday before Thanksgiving, I hopped in the car to head to work, anticipating one more 70's Saturday before the Christmas music started. Alas, I had already enjoyed the last 70's Saturday for 2012. The holiday tunes were already in full swing.

One of the songs that is played every year is 'It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year'. There several versions, to be sure, but the one that is probably most familiar is by Andy Williams.

There is a line in the song about 'scary ghost stories' and that always seemed curious to me. Why would you tell ghost stories at Christmas? Ghost stories are for camp outs and sleepovers. What is that line doing in the song? And then today, I remembered something.

Perhaps the most well-known of Christmas stories is 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens. And what is that tale if not a ghost story? And I remembered more. Last year I bought a copy of 'A Christmas Carol' and here is the opening paragraph from the Introduction:

"Between 1843 and 1848 Dickens wrote five novellas or long short stories that he published at Christmastime (A Christmas Carol, The Chimes, The Cricket on the Hearth, The Battle of Life, and The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain). The stories are not merely set at Christmas or the New Year's holiday but contain themes the author felt were particularly appropriate to the season. While Christmas celebrations predate Dickens and there existed before him a tradition of telling ghost-tales at Christmas and the turn of the year, Dickens breathed a new and unique vigor into these celebrations and traditions that carry forward to this day. He wrote other ghost stories, almost all of which are spoofs or farces, but in his "Christmas books" allowed supernatural elements a power to awaken characters and readers from their social misanthropy."

It seems strange to me that ghost stories were traditional at Christmas, but apparently so. I can't say that I miss it, though I like 'A Christmas Carol' very much.

One more note about the song - it was written in 1963 by Edward Pola and George Wyle and was recorded by Williams that same year. You can hear it right now if you want.


O Holy Night

The other day, Number One Son and I were driving somewhere, I think to the new Bond movie, and Josh Groban's version of 'O Holy Night' came on the radio. My son said something about it being his favorite Christmas song and it made me smile inside because I think it was one of my dad's favorites, too.

I told him about a particular Christmas at my parent's house. My older sister's husband, who is a very able musician, brought his cello along and, after all the presents were opened and while mom and others were preparing the mid-day meal, he began to play songs of the season for all to enjoy. At one point, dad requested 'O Holy Night' and I believe something was said about it being his favorite. At any rate, I know he liked it very much. And so does his son and grandson.

Groban probably likes it, too, but he's not related.


Dear Loud, Demanding Man

Dear Loud, Demanding Man,

Thanks for coming into my store today. You have shown me how far fallen I am as one of God's creatures. From your very first question, I immediately resisted treating you with respect and grace. Your mere presence provoked me. I want you to leave.

But by being here, Loud, Demanding Man, you cause me to see that I lack much that is required in a converted man. That I am not conforming to God's Word in my actions now breaks my heart. I know what I should do, yet I resist. When will I ever stand complete? Yes, I know. But for now, my prideful flesh, aroused by sin, refuses to treat another person rightly.

Loud, Demanding Man, I am ashamed. For my co-worker, who may not know Christ in a saving way, has regard for you. He is kind, pleasant, helpful, and deferential. I still want you to leave.

However, Loud, Demanding Man, I am not without hope and this is the only thing that cheers me now. Because I am sure that God, who began a good work in me "will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6) And, calling on Him, even now, there is strength, grace, and desire supplied that is sufficient for the task. Sufficient to love you in a Gospel way.

My prayer, Loud, Demanding Man, is that the next time you (or any of your tribe), and I should meet, that I would call on the One Who is sufficient and, for His sake, extend to you the kind of grace that has been given to me.

The promise of the strength that would come my way is nearly enough to cause me look forward to that opportunity.


Alexander MacLaren on Compassionate Prayer

From Alexander MacLaren's commentary on Genesis:

"The first great truth enshrined in this part of the story is that the friend of God is compassionate even of the sinful and degraded. Abraham did not intercede for Lot, but for the sinners in Sodom. He had perilled his life in warfare for them; he now pleads with God for them. Where had he learned this brave pity? Where but from the God with whom he lived by faith?"


Vin Scully, Southpaw

Here, from an interview with Hugh Hewitt, is Vin Scully talking about being left-handed 'back in the day' when school teachers were bent on making everybody right-handed.

"There were times when they were not too charitable to this red-headed kid, and the reason was that I was very, very left-handed. And every time I would use my left hand, the good nun would hit me across the back of the knuckles with the flat of the ruler. And if I insisted upon using my left hand, occasionally she would turn the ruler so that she would hit me with the edge of the ruler, which broke the skin. And one night at dinner, passing the bread or whatever, my mother saw this cut up hand, and she assumed that I had been punished for talking in class or whatever. And she would have been correct 99% of the time. But in this instance, I explained no, it’s because I’m using my left hand. Well, our family doctor, and I only use this because it works out very well, our family doctor was Jewish. And he sat down and wrote a letter to the Catholic nuns. And in the letter, he explained, among other things, that if you force this little boy to become right-handed, it might very well cause him to stutter, which would have changed my life dramatically. And then the last line of the letter, it said and besides, dear Sisters, why in the world would you want to change God’s work?"

As the interview continues, it is apparent that Scully is familiar with the Lord and gives Him credit for the good fortune in his life.

Jack Buck was always my favorite announcer but I would have dearly loved to been able to hear Scully on a regular basis.


MacLaren on Genesis, Productivity Edition

Continuing posting notes from Alexander MacLaren's commentary on Genesis.

"If life has a clear, definite aim, and especially if it's aim is the highest, there will be detachment from, and abandonment of, many lower ones. Nothing worth doing is done, and nothing worth being is realized in ourselves, except on condition of resolutely ignoring much that attracts."

How many ways has this been said?

I don't know who first said it, but it was Dawson Trotman that I first read saying, "The good is the enemy of the best."

C.S. Lewis said it this way:

If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you asked almost any of the great Christians of old he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love. The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire.

If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

There simply is not enough time for everything. If you intend to spend time on the important, profitable, and necessary, you have to ignore some good and attractive things. Tough.


Happy Birthday, U.S.A.

It is the 236th anniversary of the birth of the Land of the Free.

There are plenty of days in the year to lament the freedom lost in the last week. Plenty of days to hope and plan for a remedy for that assault.

But, for now, long may she wave as a standard for freedom.

MacLaren on Genesis

Another note from Alexander MacLaren's commentary on the book of Genesis. The first of these was posted yesterday.

"Abram saw plainly what he had to leave, but not what he was to win. He had to make a venture of faith, for 'the land that I will shew thee' was undefined."

God says, "I need you to go."

"Where?" we ask.

"I'll show you later. For now, go."

What if this went through our heads every morning?


Alexander MacLaren on Genesis

Recently I had occasion to read part of a commentary on Genesis written by Alexander MacLaren. MacLaren was born in Scotland, but spent his years of ministry in London.

From his commentary about God's call to Abram to leave his home in Ur:

". . . for (God's) command is to be supreme, and clinging hands that would hold back the pilgrim have to be disengaged." 


One More Day

The other day, a Facebook friend asked a question that was something like, "If you could spend one more day with your dad, what would you do?" There were references to a day fishing, or spending time at a ballgame and, while I wouldn't turn my nose up at a day at the ballpark, I had something else in mind.

When you stand over the coffin and look at that face and those hands, you realize with certainty, that that person is gone. The body, before you for now, but the person, the personality, has gone silent and will never return.

What I miss about Dad is his personality and the bond my personality had with his. I miss hearing him pray. He said the same prayer at meals, with little variation, for all my adult life. We would smile at the familiar words and the familiar cadence as Dad thanked God for provisions and asked for strength. We would have sworn we'd never forget it, but today, all I can recall is the ending, "as Thy Words are to our spirits. In Jesus' Name we ask it. Amen." Short 'a' on the 'amen'.

I miss his laugh. Dad would have a funny story to tell and he'd start in, but many times, would get so tickled that by the end you could hardly understand him between the laughing and gasping.

I'm not sure what got us laughing in the picture on the right, but we both are clearly enjoying ourselves. And it's obvious there was no reason for me not to let go - I was wearing plastic pants.

Dad would spend time trying to teach me to play some baseball. Here, I crushed one of his offerings, at least that's the way I remember it. I always imagined that the white dot near the building was the ball. Now I just think it's a white dot. Dad's dad had been a coach, a teacher, and a principal and so I think my dad is just doing a little coaching right here. Granddad had older kids to work with, though.

Here's some guys Granddad worked with. Inmates at Algoa Farm in Jefferson City. In this photo from 1944, Granddad is standing in the back on the left. These young men had been incarcerated by the state of Missouri and sent to the prison farm at Algoa. Granddad was the boxing coach there for a time. In 1950, a guy who'd robbed a gas station in St. Louis showed up at Algoa and learned to box there, but there is no indication that Sonny Liston ever crossed paths with my granddad.

Back to the opening question: If I could have one more day with Granddad, I think I'd like to know about teaching boxing in prison. Wouldn't you?

Here we are staring into the sun, so Grandma must be behind the Brownie camera. Every photo that Grandma took featured us facing the sun. She liked her subjects well lit. So this is in the yard at Granddad's in Forsyth. The house had been built on a steep Ozarks slope and you parked down below and walked up a very interesting flight of stairs to the house. The steps were of varying heights and depths and had once been painted red, if memory serves.

Judging by the clothing, my guess is this one was taken the same day as the one above. Granddad has been replaced by my older sister. Apparently my legs have gone wobbly and Dad is trying to steady me. You notice in his left hand is some elixar of life that I'll probably knock back on the long car ride home. Thirteen long miles made simpler because the baby has a bottle.

I think this is a sweet picture. If an image could capture fatherhood, you could pick worse ones than this. I don't know where we were going, but I'd guess to church, based on how we're dressed. You have to keep the little man's shoes tied.

But now that I look again, you can see by the shadows that the sun was in the west when the picture was taken. So I don't know where we were going.

In the end, we helped Dad with various things as age and life and illness took their toll. For his sake you'd never ask, but even one of those days would be a joy for me to re-live.

Happy Father's Day.


I Forgot the List

One unlikely way to learn what you really need is to go to the store and buy what you think you need. Lo and behold, when you get home you'll find any number of things you should have bought.

Although this phenomenon is not readily explained by modern science, researchers believe clues to understanding it may be found by studying episodes of rain being brought on by washing your car.


How To Eat M & M's

There is an age-old question that's been around for, uh, ages, I guess. And the question is: "How shall I eat my M & M's?" This question is just slightly more prevalent than: "How is M & M's spelled? Lowercase "m's" (m & m's) or uppercase?" Or this one: "Are there spaces between the M's and the ampersand or not (M&M's)?"

While I am no expert concerning candy grammar, I can give you some tips on consuming said candy. This is how I do it:

First, I sort the candy-coated chocolates by color. Then begin eating with the longest line. In this case, both red and blue are equally long, so I eat one of each.

That will yield the arrangement below.

Again, choose from the longest line(s), in this case, red, yellow, blue, and brown will each be equally long and so taking one of each will net you a 4-candy mouthful. You see what's happening? As I progress, the amount of candy consumed in a bite gets larger. It's like counting the days until Christmas. Or something.

So, again eating from the the longest lines gets me to here:

Yes. There are 5 lines that are longest. That means I get to eat 5. And when I do . . .

There remains just one multi-colored, six-candy row of goodness.

I eat them.

That is how to eat M & M's. I recommend the Peanut Butter version, but use the variety that gives you the best results. By following these very simple instructions briskly, you can be sure the candy will melt in your mouth and not in your hand.

Feel free to use this at a Lunch 'n' Learn. There is no YouTube version, but scrolling up and down real fast might work for you.


Small Story of a Lot

The Providence of God is most amazing to me.

He showers blessings and calamities where He will, our seeming 'free' decisions serve His purposes, His plans.

How is it that Lot chose the valley of Jordan, leaving Canaan to Abram? (Genesis 13:8-13) Which, by the way, is precisely the area of land that God said He would give to Abram.

It is a small story, but it illustrates this attribute of God, His Providence, very well.


Out Of Touch

Here is a tremendous story from Malcolm Gladwell:

"I don't believe that the world was always better in the past. But I do believe that there are moments when the particular mix of available technologies don't actually combine to make your life better — and I think we're in one of those moments now. I can remember when I worked in the New York bureau of the Washington Post, and Jackie Onassis was near death and I was responsible for writing the story if she died. What I really wanted to do was go to dinner. So what did I do? I went to dinner, and she died —and the office had no way to reach me.

Can we pause, for a moment, and recognize how magical that fact was? I actually remember where I had dinner — The Odeon in Tribeca. There I was in the middle of one of the most important cities in the world, having steak frites at a well-known restaurant two blocks from my apartment, and to the editors of one of the most prestigious newspapers in the world I was effectively invisible. And when they finally tracked me down the next day, I simply apologized for being …out of touch. No one has said the phrase out of touch for at least a decade. There is an entire generation of young people out there who don't even know that those three words can be used in combination."

This is from an e-mail exchange between Gladwell and Bill Simmons, the rest of which you can read here.


Obama's Economy Illustrated

Jay Cost with three charts that show how poorly the economy has performed over the past year or two:

"This is President Obama’s big problem for the November election. This last chart suggests that the answer to Reagan’s old question – “are you better off now than you were four years ago” – is no. The average person is worse off under Obama."

Read the whole thing.


01/20/13 - President Romney?

At the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol weighs in with his view of the upcoming race for the presidency.

"(I)f I had to put money down now, I'd bet that Mitt Romney will win an easy victory after a relatively predictable, issue-focused, and not-too-nasty campaign. Indeed, I'd bet Romney will win precisely if he runs such a campaign. But if he allow the race to degenerate into name-calling and gotcha gimmicks, he could lose. Democrats are better than Republicans at the small and nasty stuff."

There is starting to be a little momentum amongst the commentating class regarding the likelihood of a Romney victory. I've kind of been thinking this way, too. I really believe he has a chance to win this thing in a big way. I heard Mary Matalin say the same thing Monday. (I'm not claiming to be an expert. At one point, I didn't think there was any way Obama would win in '08.)

Here's hoping it comes to pass. The sooner the policies of President Obama are history, the sooner we can begin to get the country moving again.


Fenway and Pedro

An article at Grantland.com recounts the weekend the Boston Red Sox just completed, including the celebration observing the 100th Anniversary of the Fenway Park, the home field. Former pitcher Pedro Martinez talked about the Fenway experience:

"My feeling here is unique to Fenway. The funny thing is, you can't find it anywhere else. It must be the closeness of the people to you here. You mess it up, you're going to hear it. You do it well, you're going to hear it, too. You can feel the people breathing close to you. The only other place you can go to get that feeling? You got to go to winter ball (in the Dominican Republic)."


Mizzou, the 'M', and the Uniforms

Saturday was the day Missouri uniform geeks waited for. Saturday was the day the new Nike uniforms would be unveiled for the first time. There was excitement and fear. Excitement because it would be new, probably would be slick, and it would appeal to 21st Century tastes regarding sports uniforms. Fear because it probably would be slick and appeal to 21st Century tastes regarding sports uniforms.

We were given a warning early and it was probably wise to give it. The 'M' was leaving the helmet. This is bad news to me. It is a very classy look, as far as I'm concerned. I would have liked to see a return to a more traditional uniform, but I knew this would not happen.

Here's what we were afraid of. Another Oregon mess. Nike made the uniforms for Oregon and well, you can see what happened:

Four or five helmets, feathers on the shoulders, and why not the most obvious combination here? Yellow jersey and green pants? You know, the actual school colors? This was the fear.

As it turns out, our fears were mostly unwarranted. After being prepared for the disappearance of the 'M', the actual uniform was, in my mind, a nice presentation that is definitely up-to-date, yet has a traditional feel. I am not crabby about these:

I think the black jersey and gold pants is the best combo. It pleases my eye the most, and, yes, it does look more 'traditional'. But I can live with any of it. The all black is terrible, I think. There is a lot of black in uniforms these days and mostly that's a bad idea. Some teams have black as one of the team colors, Steelers, Raiders, Penguins, Bulls, Heat. Even so, all black just looks terrible, I think. And if it's not one of your colors - leave it alone.

Overall, well done Mizzou and Nike.


Four Songs, All Different

Driving home the other day and heard, for what I believe to be the first time, a song called "Walk Between Raindrops" performed by Donald Fagen. Not ever hearing the song before, it should be no surprise to acknowledge that I had no idea who Donald Fagen was. Ah, well, I have learned. Even at my age, though, Fagen is probably someone whose name I should have had some familiarity with, given the span of his career. All that aside, "Raindrops" is a happy little tune.

As I often do after hearing a song on the Tube of You, I looked at the other selections offered on the page. Well, I found this. It's Michael McDonald doing "Lonely Teardrops", a classic, old song. The piano player is Fagen.

I decided to change gears and hear something really different. The Beat Farmers fit the bill.

And we finished up with Junior Brown. I really dig the Beach Boys reaction to Brown's take on their song.


Dark Is Easy. Bright Is Hard.

One of my very favorite writers, his blog is a daily 'must read', is James Lileks. What follows is a summation of a conversation, a teachable moment, he had with his daughter.

It's a teachable moment for all of us who are not his daughter, as well.

Anyway, I was exulting in the Non-Standard No-Routine Saturday, when my daughter came into my study and asked me to read what she’s been writing.

And here I have a dilemma. Let me tell you about the fiction young girls are writing: it’s horrible. Not in the literary sense, necessarily, although that’s often the case. It’s the subject matter. Thanks to the influence of Harry Potter, stories usually begin with the death of the parents, the discovery of Powers, and so on. The darkness is a constant. She shows me the work of her peers, and it’s all horribly dark - and these are kids with happy merry easy lives. On one hand I get it: you write the opposite, summon the fears, confront them. But on the other hand: for heaven’s sake, what’s the matter here? You’re all eleven or twelve or 13 - that tremulous witching year - and you associate the Dark with the Profound. I get it. But as I told my daughter: Dark is easy. Bright is hard.

She told me how she wanted to end her story, and it had a flat rote nihilistic twist. Not because she’s dark or goth or anything, but because that’s the dominant literary model. So I kept posing questions: what if this happened? Or that? Or this? Trying to push her to see the twist at the end of the story as a release, a flock of aspirations taking flight, a break in the clouds. Oh my vs. uh huh. And she got it.

Dark is easy. Bright is hard.


The Last Time It Took Too Long

Recently Andrew Breitbart died. He was, by all accounts, a force to be reckoned with, brimming with energy and ideas. I found this neat little story among the remembrances of the man:

We talked about aging, as two middle-aged guys who get into the Bloody Mary cart at 11 in the morning sometimes will. I told Andrew that his good friend, Five for Fighting’s John Ondrasik, had a hit song called “100 Years” – about aging – that never ceases to freak me out. The protagonist of the song describes the different ages of his life – 15, 33, 45, and so on – that tick by in a blink. It doesn’t help, I told Andrew, that I was 33 when the song seemingly came out yesterday, but that I am closer to 45 now, thus illustrating Ondrasik’s point.
In a very rare spell of silence, Breitbart stewed for several minutes. Then, he wistfully replied, “Don’t worry, man. It’s something that bothers me, too. But I have it all figured out. We all need to go to work together every day from 9 am to 3 pm, whether we need to or not. In a classroom. We’ll even sit at those peninsula-shaped desks, with our pencil sharpeners and Elmer’s glue. And we’ll do it for nine months out of every year.”
“Why on earth?” I asked, puzzled.
“Because,” he said. “When we were in school, that was the last time we watched the clock, and wanted it to hurry up. The last time it took too long to get to the next thing.”

From the Weekly Standard blog by Matt Labash


Hello, Anxiety, My Old Friend

Anxiety is as much a part of me as my hazel eyes and the wax in my ears. I would rather that it were not so, but no matter how I think I am doing fear-wise, something generally comes along to remind me of my weakness. Perhaps I come by it honestly. I remember my mother waiting up because one of her "chickens wasn't in the roost" yet. I remember my dad searching the churning sky as another springtime storm overtook Taney County.  These are behaviors I have repeated. Do I get them from mom and dad? It doesn't really matter. Even if I am wired this way, it's not somebody else's fault that I get anxious. I have to own it.

For example, when the furnace wasn't working the other day, I went to the anxious place. I began to fret and stew. I couldn't sit still, I didn't want to talk. I had to walk around and fidget. My thoughts were something on the order of, "What are we going to do?" and "Why did this have to happen?" This past year has been one of job loss and diminished resources and so the specter of a major appliance repair or, gasp!, replacement was frightening. At least for one who worries.

Also inherent in my questions are accusation. Maybe it's not wrong to ask questions of God when things seem to go wrong, but there was a tinge of accusation in my thoughts. I toyed with the idea that God wasn't being fair. And at that point, I've crossed a line. The nature of God is such that He cannot be unfair, but I get so focused on the scary stuff around me that I fail to elevate my imagination and remember what I actually know is true.

And what is true for the guy with the busted furnace? The same things that are true for the guy with a working furnace. God knows all about me. He is not caught off guard by my dilemma, in fact, if I understand the Bible properly, He has been right by my side as I approached it. In other words, the Shepherd has led me to this moment. It is actually good that I am here for He does all things well.

So, ideally, how does Busted-Furnace Man handle his lot in life? Listen to the Shepherd:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? (Matthew 6:25-27 ESV)

Indeed, which of us, by the power of Anxiety, can add a single hour to his span of life?


A Daisy A Day

In the only movie my lovely bride cares about seeing more than one time, "You've Got Mail", there is a conversation going on via e-mail between Kathleen Kelly, who owns a quaint Manhattan bookshop that caters to children, and the heir to the behemoth that is Fox Books, Joe Fox. At one point in one of their exchanges, she remarks that, "Daisies are the friendliest flower."

Well, my wife certainly agrees with that and I think I do, too. I mean, who wouldn't? Is there a more friendly flower than the Daisy? I don't think so. Roses, for example, aren't friendly. They have a reputation for being all about "love", but to me they look a bit more like, "We look good! Don't we? Don't we look good? Yeah, we look good." Roses are stuck on themselves.

Carnations? Carnations are the Prom flower and they are phonies. They look nice and come in all sorts of funky colors so they can match whatever the get up is that the girl finally settles on. But that matchy-matchy silliness is just there to distract you from thinking about the TWO-FOOT LONG HARPOON THAT IS HIDING JUST BEHIND THE FLOWER! This is just one more source of anxiety for the guy who is already chock-full of doubt. He'll be okay about the carnation though, because mom can pin the flower on his date, but he's really starting to second-guess the decision to grab burgers from the bowling alley for dinner.

Orchids, you say? Orchids are Royalty. They are all, "You may kiss the ring," and "We are not amused," and stuff like that. Orchids will not be seen in public with other flowers. Heck, they probably will not be seen in public with me. In fact you can't buy Orchids at any stores. You have to petition for an audience with an Orchid. You may catch a glimpse of one as a motorcade goes by, or hear rumors of an Orchid staying at a villa in the Caribbean, but don't ask about the Rose they were seen frolicking with on the beach.

The point of this silly exercise is to reinforce the idea that Daisies really are the friendliest flower and are near and dear to Kathy's heart. And I have a soft spot for things that she considers near and dear. So on Valentine's Day, I would give you bunches of Daisies, but I don't have any. (At least, not yet.) So, I will give you this, which I never fail to think about when you speak of your love of Daisies.


I Think I Look Good - If I Don't Look To Christ

From the Institutes of the Christian Religion, by John Calvin:

If, at mid-day, we either look down to the ground, or on the surrounding objects which lie open to our view, we think ourselves endued with a very strong and piercing eyesight; but when we look up to the sun, and gaze at it unveiled, the sight which did excellently well for the the earth is instantly so dazzled and confounded by the refulgence, as to oblige us to confess that our acuteness in discerning terrestrial objects is mere dimness when applied to the sun. Thus, too, it happens in estimating our spiritual qualities. So long as we do not look beyond the earth, we are quite pleased with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue; we address ourselves in the most flattering terms, and seem only less than demigods. But should we once begin to raise our thoughts to God, and reflect what kind of being he is, and how absolute the perfection of that righteousness, and wisdom, and virtue, to which, as a standard, we are bound to be conformed, what formerly delighted us by its false show of righteousness will become polluted with the greatest iniquity; what strangely imposed upon us under the name of wisdom will disgust by its extreme folly; and what presented the appearance of virtuous energy will be condemned as the most miserable impotence. So far are those qualities in us, which seem most perfect, from corresponding to the divine purity. (1.1.2)


Beware The Patriots

Giants or Patriots?
Patriots or Giants?

I would have thought, immediately after the Conference title games of last Sunday, that the Patriots would have been favored going into the Super Bowl. And from what I have been able to gather, that's the way the early line went, New England favored by 3 1/2 and there has been some movement, but not much, and it is now 3.

But listen to sports talk radio and the conversation is all about the Giants. About a day after the games last week, all the talk seemed to be how the Giants really have the edge in the upcoming NFL championship. Former Giants players are interviewed, current Giants players are interviewed, the 2008 Super Bowl, in which the Giants beat the 18-0 Patriots, is re-hashed, the Patriots shaky defense is broken down and left broken. It sounds like there is a rush to announce to the world, "Not so fast, my friends! The Giants can win the Super Bowl!"

What if he plays better in the Super Bowl than
he did in the AFC title game?
And the response to that is, "Well, yeah, they can win the game, nobody said they couldn't." But while the whole world is looking over at the Giants have you noticed nobody is talking about the Patriots? Have you noticed the Patriots are not talking. Well, except where quarterback Tom Brady said he would play better. And I guess that was supposed to be a private conversation.

I think it's possible that the Patriots go into "nobody believes in us" mode. Now, that's a little hard to do when you are still a 3-point favorite, but Coach Belichik has the knack for building unity in a professional team like few other coaches. He can talk them into thinking nobody believes in them and preparing like it. It is possible this game may not be as close as we are presently expecting. Remember what happened after Spygate a few years ago? After being punished by the NFL, the Patriots played like they were possessed for the next few weeks, and were obliterating people.

I'm anticipating something similar this coming week. I think the Patriots won't be just playing to win. I think they will be playing to make a statement.


AFC Title Game Notebook

I had time on Sunday to jot some notes as I watched the AFC title game contested between the Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots. Now I'm going to write all that stuff again right here. It must have been really good stuff.

First Quarter
3:51 - The Patriots are going to win. (I didn't think of keeping notes of the game until this point. Don't worry, you didn't miss anything.)
3:41 - Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is intercepted. I went looking for art to illustrate this column and was surprised to find I don't have any Tom Brady cards. So I pulled an image from a book I have.
3:25 - Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco finds a guy wide open for 42 yards. I still say the Patriots will win. By the way, when you type 'Flacco', it feels like a misspelled word.
1:57 - I love that architectural feature of Gillette Stadium, the iron arch that spans an opening on one end of the field. So cool. It's shown in the lower center-right of this link.
1:51 - "Blindside" guy, Michael Oher, just rolled his ankle. Bet he didn't see that one coming.

Second Quarter
14:27 - Baltimore was lucky to be in that spot, 4th and 1 on the New England 3, and they didn't go for the first down/touchdown. They may not get back there again - you never know. The Patriots appear to be the better team, so Baltimore should have gone for it. Again, the Pats will win.

12:53 - Looks like Brady is just a touch off, just missing his guys.
12:01 - Brady finally hits a tight end right, Rob Gronkowski, on the button.
10:57 - It's always a relief to not see a head inside those helmets that go rolling around on the field.
10:35 - BenJarvus Green-Ellis, whose head was not inside the helmet that was just on the ground, executes a nifty run for a touchdown. Got the handoff, hesitated, found his blocks, and then ran, nearly untouched, for a 7-yard score.

6:42 - Looking at Flacco, I'm wondering who were the best players to wear the number 5 in the NFL? It's not that common for playmakers. Paul Hornung comes to mind.

I like the Verizon commercial that features R2-D2 - pretty clever. "It's like a million dollars in gas."

3:00 - PATRIOTS 13, RAVENS 10
3:00 - The fact is, New England's defense has not been outstanding this year. Baltimore may be good enough to make this a game.

Third Quarter
9:06 - PATRIOTS 16, RAVENS 10. (I was thinking, but didn't note, that this would be when New England begins to pull away for an easy win. Hmmm.)
3:38 - I think the Ravens' receiver, Torrey Smith, was out of bounds and they are reviewing the play right now. It's 16-16 pending the review.

A Masters commercial in January? In other words, CBS doesn't have the Super Bowl this year. They last had it in 2010 (Saints 31, Colts 17) and will have it next year (Seahawks 81, Broncos 6).
3:36 - The ensuing kickoff return is fumbled by Danny Woodhead and recovered by Baltimore. Kathy says, "Uh-oh. Your team is going to pot."
1:41 - CBS keeps showing Woodhead on the bench between each Ravens play.
0:50 - Baltimore field goal is good.

Fourth quarter
12:19 - Quarterback sneak and Brady is into the end zone for a go-ahead TD - unless it is overturned. And it is.
11:29 - Brady up and over for a touchdown. Patriots get to keep that one.

It's turnover time.
7:22 - And there it is. Flacco gets picked by Brandon Spikes.
7:07 - And the Patriots give it right back. Brady gets picked by Jimmy Smith.
4:55 - The Ravens are in field goal range.
2:55 - It's 4th and 6 on Patriots 33 and the Ravens are going for it. Or not. Time out is called. They do go for it but Flacco's pass is incomplete. The Patriots wind up taking over on downs.

I just CAN NOT take the new Hawaii Five-O seriously. Neither does Steve McGarrett.  The real one.
2:18 - Did the Ravens get anything out of Anquan Boldin today? Answer: Yes. Six catches for 101 yards.
1:44 - Here is the game. New England just executed a nifty three-and-out, so the Ravens have one more shot at it.
1:20 - On a 3rd and 5, a pass completed to, who else, Anquan Boldin. Thirteen yards to the Ravens 39 and a first down.
1:05 - Mayo on Rice, a recipe for an incomplete pass.
0:50 - On a 3rd and 1 from the 48, Flacco completes a pass to Boldin who tears down the sideline to the 23 yard line. Boldin got 60 yards here in this last series, so that's why it seemed he hadn't done much when I asked the question earlier.
0:23 - Pass incomplete to Lee Evans in the end zone. Looked like a TD to me.
0:15 - Field goal attempt to tie the game is - - - NO GOOD. Are you kidding me? Welcome to Scott Norwood's world, Billy Cundiff. Unreal.

Later, the Giants beat the 49ers in overtime to win the NFC title. So to sum up the Super Bowl semi-finals: one missed field goal, one made field goal, and two Harbaughs out.



I was touched the other day by a customer's name.

I can't remember his first name, it might have been Kenneth. But his other two names were Eghosi Eke. I was looking at his ID and asked him how he pronounced his middle name. He told me and, it's pronounced pretty much as it appears, "egg-hosey", but it's a hard 's', not a 'z' sound. Then I asked if his name meant something and I asked that question because he was a native of Africa and I was nearly 100 percent certain that it did have a meaning. I was right and what a meaning.

It means "God's way is the best way". If you know us, you know the last year has been challenging and, headed into 2012, we are uncertain about a number of things. We have been talking about plans and how best to attack the new year. We have been praying and seeking God.

Then, standing before me was prophecy personified. The man's name - "God's way is the best way". It was an affirmation that our God has not forgotten us, He knows all about our trial, and, indeed, has sent us into it. It is His way. And it is best.


Life From a Dry Tree

The Lord was pleased to touch my heart this past Sunday during our pastor's sermon. His text was Isaiah 56:1-57:21. What meant the most to me was the gospel-drenched first eight verses of chapter 56:

1 Thus says the Lord:
“Keep justice, and do righteousness,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my righteousness be revealed.
Blessed is the man who does this,
and the son of man who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it,
and keeps his hand from doing any evil.”
Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
and let not the eunuch say,
“Behold, I am a dry tree.”
For thus says the Lord:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
I will give in my house and within my walls
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.
“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
and holds fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.”
The Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,
“I will gather yet others to him
besides those already gathered.”

What touched me was the part about God's kindness toward the eunuch. The eunuch has no hope of having any family heritage. He is, in a sense, a counterpart to Sarah, the wife of Abraham. However, as in Sarah's case, God promises the eunuch a heritage. Granted, Sarah's was physical, in the form of Isaac, but God promises to give the eunuch a monument and a name better than sons and daughters (verse 5). God, as He often does, is telling us to see things differently, to value things differently. The everlasting name that God gives is better than sons and daughters as the world evaluates them.

God, as He has done so many times before, brings life out of lifelessness. Like when He saved me.