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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Remembering Earl Hamner Jr.

It's been a busy news week, but one bit of news almost slipped by. My brother Paul just texted it to me.
Here is the full story in USA Today: Earl Hamner Jr. creator of 'Waltons,' dies .

I have written of this author here at POI on more than one occasion. Two years ago, I spoke of his voice:
"One of my favorite author-narrators is Earl Hamner Jr., best known for his television show, "The Waltons," which aired through the Seventies. By "author-narrator" I mean a writer whose own voice is inseparable from the tone and rhythm his words pull from the page. If you remember the show or have watched its re-runs, you've heard Earl's voice toward the end of the show as the exterior of the two-story clap-board house is show (just before all the sibling "good-nights" and a soft harmonica chord sighed into the night). You can also hear his voice at this link as Hamner's reads the opening of The Homecomingwhich was the basis for The Waltons. The story is about a blizzard that almost kept the father of the family from getting home in time for Christmas."
There is, however, a little-known recitation of Hamner's that became a favorite of mine back in the mid-70's. A college friend had "The Walton's Christmas" album, and I listened to it over and over. I even made a cassette tape of the particular reading I share below. There was a time I had it memorized to perform "in old-man character" in a Christmas program. Because of that the rhythms and imagery have never left me. I lost the cassette decades ago, but through the wonder of YouTube, I found it today.

Toward the end of the recording below, Hamner's prose becomes poetry. In those final lines about the seasons, you'll hear the first time I had ever heard the word "russet" used as a color. (I had only thought of it as a type of potato.) But Hamner combines it the phrase "the russet and gold of autumn." It is a line I often say when I see those colors in October. Decades later, I used the Hamner's "russet" color myself in "A Melancholy Splendor." 
Please take a few minutes to listen to this video. You'll hear Hamner's voice at the beginning, and you'll hear his heart in the tired, gentle voice of Grandpa Walton who was roughly the age of Hamner at his passing. 

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Understanding Trump...
What's Puccini Got to Do with It?

I’ve Got a Secret…
Promise not to tell?
I went to Trump rally last Friday morning. Why is that a secret? Because I have close friends and family who would be shocked that I of all people would go hear Trump of all candidates. When I asked my daughters, for instance, not to tell anyone, they laughed and said, "Dad, why would we want anyone to know you were there? We promise not to say a word if you promise not to get on TV." 

Well, I didn't mean to get on TV, but oops... That's me in the lower RH corner of this frame-grab from the ABC camera feed. My daughters were mortified when they saw it.  After all, conservatives like me are not supposed to be at Trump rallies. Why? A cultural conservative with a lifetime of Evangelical church background should be able to see right through Trump, right? Of course right.

Perhaps some background may help: I cast my first for Reagan back in 1980. I saw him in person twice. I've seen every Republican presidential nominee (except Romney) in person ever since. For 18 years, my family and I lived in the caucus state of Iowa and became fascinated with the presidential primary process. The Iowa caucus process is pretty much a gathering of neighbors at public place and you all have to explain why you plan to vote a certain way. You and your neighbors then reach consensus--like a jury--and cast a collective vote. There is no secret ballot behind a curtain. Knowing the caucus process helps explain why Trump wins handily in primary states but Cruz has won in six caucus states (where the more family-friendly candidate is more likely to become the tolerable "neighborhood choice."

Because of Trump's reckless rhetoric, many social conservatives are hesitant to publicly support him. The visceral negative feelings about Trump in some church circles were recently underscored by Max Lucado. Without using the term, that article was an invitation to the "#neverTrump" movement that Mitt Romney is promoting. Regardless of my concerns about Trump, I do not support any contested convention that ignores the hard-earned momentum of the primary leaders. Having spent a morning in the company of die-hard Trump supporters, I can confirm their loyalty. They are true-blue--from blue collar to blue-bloods. They're all in, and they will not show up at the polls in November if  a contested convention eliminates Trump (and in turn eliminates Cruz, who will be the runner-up).

I have good friends who are conservative Evangelicals and closet Trump supporters. Between them and the Reagan Democrats who will cross over to vote Republican, Trump is very likely to win Michigan on the 8th with Cruz nipping at his heels. 

My attending a Trump ralley had nothing to do with my undecided vote or whether or not Trump reflects "my core values." He does not at many levels. I was not there blindly but rather as an observer to see first-hand the most underestimated presidential run in memory. I went there to study the people and the "production," and in the process I also learned something about Puccini. Let me explain... 

Three weeks ago, my wife and I went to a Rubio rally in Grand Rapids on Tuesday, February 23rd. There was about 3,000 packed into the venue with far more college-age kids than I would have imagined. He was nearly an hour late but once he arrived, his speech was Kennedyesque. I consider Rubio to be the best speaker of all the candidates on both sides. His narrative is authentic and compelling, and I could imagine his optimism and the rhythms of his thoughts in a memorable inauguration address. As we left that cavernous warehouse, Julie and I thought Rubio had earned our vote in the Michigan Primary on March 8th.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum, or the Super Tuesday primaries, as it were. Rubio began acting like a mischievous school boy all across the South. Gone were his inspirational themes and memorable lines—and in their place was a low-brow comedy riff intended to fight Trump’s fire with fire. In my opinion, it flopped. By venturing into the Vulgate version of his stump speech, Rubio looked less presidential and more juvenile. I was very disappointed not only by his content but by the fact that he was obviously "doing what he was told" by the establishment powers behind his campaign.

Then on Sunday, February 28, a non-news story broke on CNN that led to a media feeding frenzy over a topic that I will not give ink to in this post. Believe me, I have many issues with Trump as a candidate and role model, but even a man whose imperfections flash like the neon lights of Las Vegas should not be smeared by knowingly false accusations. I expect this from the media; I expect it from the Democrats; but I do not expect fellow Republicans to pile on with blatant lies about their front-runner when there are so many legitimate distinctions to make in support of their own cause. 

Two days after Trump's many wins on Super Tuesday, March 1, Mitt Romney gave a speech designed to quench Trump’s flame with a wet blanket left over from Mitt’s own failed campaign in 2012. The speech seemed self-serving and most agree that it helped Trump more than hurt him by putting the brash front-runner in the role of bullied underdog. Who saw that coming?

I had family business in Macomb County, Michigan, Thursday night and Friday. It was a busy two-day schedule, but the early Friday morning time slot was free so I got an on-line ticket to the event.  

It was a fifteen- minute snowy drive to the event. When I arrived around 6:30 AM, there were already thousands of people in a meandering serpentine line moving past vendors of all sorts of Trump murch. The long line led into a single entrance and on to rows of metal detectors and the watchful eyes of Secret Service officers. I saw nothing like this at the Rubio event.

The first thing I noticed was the broad age-range of groups in the lines. There were several clumps of varsity jackets brandishing the names of Macomb County high schools. This was a school day, but I think these were seniors who will be voting age in the fall. I also saw younger non-voting children. There was even a black-leather Vigilante (Biker Club) who was helping with security. 
The business man in this picture asked his wife to paint the word TRUMP on his bald head and hour before the event.

By 8:30 AM, about 10,000 people were packed into the arena with a half-hour to go before Trump's arrival. The atmosphere was pleasant as friends waved at each other in the crowd.  I was a stranger 200 miles from home, but felt included in the casual conversations around me.

A variety of music was played in a continuous loop to pass the time. It was an eclectic assortment but not at all random. Each song was carefully chosen to foreshadow the attitude of the long-awaited guest. Songs like Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl”;  Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want"; Elton John's "Tiny Dancer"; and many other pop songs.

At 9:00 AM the recorded music stopped and a local talent sang the National Anthem; a young Eagle Scout led us in the Pledge of Allegiance, and to my surprise, a church leader was introduced and opened in prayer. (This did not happen at the Rubio event.) During the prayer, I heard the whispered affirmations (e.g. "Yes, Lord," etc.) the kind one hears during prayer at church. This, too, surprised me. The "amen" was met with respectful applause, and as if on cue a team of Secret Service men entered with earpieces, steely stride and a penetrating stare into the sea of faces. This ominous process only added to the excitement.

The loop of music began again, and then came a musical selection that at first seemed out of place. It was Puccini's "Nessan Dorma" from Turandot, one of the best known opera arias. It began slowly and built to its moving crescendo. At the end of the song, thousands of Trump supporters standing shoulder to shoulder began to applaud much like the crowd in this video now viewed almost 150 million times on YouTube.

To fully appreciate this post, please take a moment to watch the video above. It helps explain how Trump can live among chandeliers and claiming stand for the common man. This aria was the BBC's theme song for the 1990 FIFA championship in Italy. It was heard so often during that championship that it rose to #2 on the pop charts in Britain. 

An opera aria on the pop charts? That's right. So years later when a cell phone salesman sang "Nessan Dorma" on Britain's Got Talent, it was actually a well-known tune, but I dare say that most of the people in both the Pott's audience and Trump's crowd do not know the translation of lyrics. Here is a link to Pavarotti's performance of the same song at its peak.  

Why are those notes so stirring? How do the words bring listeners to tears even if they do not know what they mean? Why does Trump's prep-team play this song before Trump's grand entrance?   Here is the translation from the Italian; here is what the tenor cries in the night:

Vanish, O night!
Set stars! Set stars!
At dawn,   I will win!   I will win!    I will win!

At the final note, the Trump crowd burst into applause as if they understood the words. Then they quieted down as the opening notes of Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" began to reverberate from wall to wall. To that familiar beat, Trump stepped through a curtain and strode out on a runway that elevated him above the boisterous crowd. He paused to make the most of the song and the cheers of adulation. Here is the full video of the entrance and the speech that followed.  Trump speaks at Macomb County Community College, March 3, 2016.

The speech was essentially the same Trump stump speech given at scores of huge rallies across the early primary states. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of people have heard it in person. (More people have seen Trump speak in person than all the other Republican candidates combined.) Trump rarely says anything new, but his supporters are not looking for a new speech. It is as if they have come to a Tribute Band concert. wanting to sing along to songs they already know. 

And like people at a concert, Trump supporters have no patience for those among them whose
 sole purpose is to sneak into the event and then disrupt it.It would be like shouting in a library when people are trying to study, or barging in on a church service to interrupt worship, or taking over Bernie Sander's microphone. Such  disrupters not only insist that their lives matter more than others; they also think their right of "free speech" matters more than other people's  right to "peaceably assemble." 

Whether the purpose of a gathering is to enjoy music or sport or worship or a speech, the non-existent right to disrupt the event is trumped (no pun intended) by the right of others to enjoy it. Respecting that distinction is the difference between anarchy and democracy.

At the Macomb County rally, there were some protesters momentarily interrupted, but Trump has learned to handle it shaking his head in disapproval, pointing to the exit and blandly saying, "Get 'im out." He doesn't shout it angrily, he is simply giving the police his approval to escort the person outdoors. This happened a couple times, after which the crowd simply began to chant, "We want Trump!"

Trump then goes on with his speech as if nothing happened. He really seems unflappable and completely at ease with his rambling ad-lib presentations. It is the unscripted nature of Trump that is part of his appeal to supporters. I for one, cannot yet imagine his by-the-way style working with an Inaugural Address or State of the Union speech before a joint session of Congress.

I have never watched The Apprentice, so I don't know Trump as a TV personality. I will concede, however, that the Kennedy and Reagan presidencies proved that part of presiding is performing. Say what you may about Donald Trump, he is a master of this game, and those who hope to topple him should not underestimate his growing momentum. If he is as skilled at governing and team building as he is at showmanship, he could be a formidable agent of a return to American competence and competition.

Would I vote for Trump over either of the Democrat candidates? Yes, Do I sometimes wince at his shenanigans? Yes. But have I also been disappointed by the other Republican conservative candidates in the past and present? Yes. Very much so.
I recently hired a construction crew to do some foundation work on my house. They smoked; they swore; they probably shared little in common with me personally; but boy were they good at foundation work. Likewise, this time around for me, my presidential choice will not be a vote for a pastor or spiritual leader. Politicians do not set my moral compass, and yet I like to think they have one of their own.

Who will I vote for on Tuesday? I'll have to sleep on it, but probably the runner-up. When I do vote, however, I don't think I will tell others about it. As Trump said when asked to recite his favorite Bible verse: "Some things are too personal to share publicly."

Note: In fairness, he may know a verse or two, but he also may have accidentally said,"Give me liberty or give me death" by mistake. Even if he had quoted the 23rd Psalm, he may have blown the inevitable follow up, which would have been something like, "Would you rather be a lion for a day or a sheep with a shepherd for a lifetime?"   Instead, Trump followed the old adage:  "Know what you know; know what you don't know; and know the difference. You have to give him credit for limiting the damage at the risk of sounding disingenuous, but let's face it: nobody buys it when Trump tries to sound like the Gospel of Christ has shaped his life. I pray that it someday will.

P.S. What if the top two Republican vote-getters decided to outsmart the establishment by forming a ticket before August?  Whenever large egos are involved, such an alliance is unlikely, and much venom has been spewed between them in recent weeks. But stranger things have happened, and in truth, if the nomination is not secured by Trump or Cruz before the convention (if it is contested), neither of them is likely to be on the dance card. 

In the meantime, play on Puccini, play on.

Monday, December 28, 2015

A Call for Principled Pluralism as We Begin This Election Year

As we are about to enter into an election year, I wanted to introduce a topic that could serve the coming months of political discourse well: “Principled Pluralism.” 

Abraham Kuyper was a renowned 19th century theologian who later served as Prime Minister of the Netherlands (1901 to 1905). He was a relentless advocate of K-12 Christian education who made an enduring case for publicly funded faith-based schools. One hundred years later, his efforts still serve as a model for school of choice and the value of parochial schools.

Though a devout Christian himself with no desire to water down the singular call of the Gospel of Christ, he fully understood that his biblical worldview could not be politically imposed upon the world, but he also believed that the absolute separation of church and state is neither healthy nor necessary in a pluralistic constitutional republic. Kuiper knew it was not the role of government to impose or inhibit one religion as part of a nation’s identity.  

With that in mind, Kuiper used the two words “principled pluralism” together like a blacksmith’s tongs to forge a common sense approach to governance in a setting where religious and secular worldviews were often at odds.His approach was not ecumentical (i.e."all roads lead to God so lets just get along"), but he understood that his own deeply held religious beliefs were no more "protected" than beliefs he considered to be in error.

It is important to remember that respecting another’s right to hold an opinion or belief does not require agreeing with it. In other words, it should be alright to agree to disagree agreeably, True pluralism does not mandate the silence of opposing views. 

The current one-sided activism playing out on many college campuses, however, is a blend of entitlement and anarchy, demanding “safe space” from “microaggressions” while chanting about which group matters more than the other. This drama of distinction unfolds in a culture otherwise eager to neutralize all differences by redefining terms (e.g. gender, conception, life, citizenship, marriage, etc.).

Ironically, in the name of “tolerance,” dissenting thoughts are repelled when they encounter a supposedly open mind. Dare to disagree with the latest change in public opinion and you may be called a fascist, sexist, bigot, homophobe, transphobe,.. fill-in-the-blank-ophobe. [As if disagreeing with something equates fearing it. By that test, non-Christians could be called Christophobes.] The list of epithets hurled in the name of tolerance is surprisingly long

Public policy driven by outcry rather than principle can lead to “might makes right” and the misguided  notion of  “majority rules,” both of which our founding fathers protected against as they drafted the U.S. Constitution. From experience, the founders knew that laws based upon pendulum swings of power rather than on an enduring set of principles ultimately lead to various forms of tyranny.

As we have seen this past yearpluralism without principle leads to selective tolerance from a growing secular majority at the cost of fair treatment for those who hold opposing convictions or beliefs.

"Perhaps Kuyper's greatest significance for our own religiously and culturally fractured world is the way he proposed for religious believers to bring the full weight of their convictions into public life while fully respecting the rights of others in a pluralistic society under a constitutional government." [Jim Bratt, Kuyper biographer and professor at Calvin College]

Parity not privilege is a general paraphrase of the Golden Rule. Rather than imposing change on others against their will (e.g. through executive orders, Sharia Law, SCOTUS, or caliphates), the Golden Rule would suggest to “Govern when you are in control as you wish to be governed when you are not.” As we begin an election year, this seems like a reasonable expectation to have for elected or appointed officials.

Click here for an article on Kuyperian pluralism from the Cardus publication Comment.

Click here for the context of the following quotation by David Koyzis:

"In [Kuyper's] own life, he exemplified the effort to live out the lordship of Christ in every area of endeavor, including politics.

Of course, politics in the real world is a matter of trying peacefully to conciliate diversity, as the late British political scientist, Sir Bernard Crick, aptly expressed it. It requires the tolerance of “different truths,” or, more accurately, different claims to the truth. How then can Christians, whose scriptures so frequently ring with the phrase, “thus says the Lord,” be expected to live with unbelievers who deny God’s sovereignty to begin with? How can we live out an all-encompassing commitment to God’s kingdom in such a diverse society and polity? Would not Kuyper and his followers be compelled to work for the establishment of some sort of theocracy? ...

But this was not Kuyper’s approach. During his political career, Kuyper worked, not to turn the Netherlands into a godly commonwealth, but more modestly to secure a place in the public square for his Reformed Christian (Gereformeerd) supporters in the face of the secularizing ideologies spawned by the French Revolution....

In North America, ... Kuyper’s legacy amongst evangelical Christians... comes not a moment too soon. In many respects our North American polities are increasingly taking on the divided character of European countries in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, albeit without (yet) a comparable level of political instability...."

Click here to read of the legal case involving InterVarsity Christian Fellowship groups on public college campuses being accused or "religious discrimination" for requiring organizational officers to be Christians.

The following discussion aired after the first drafts of this article were written. It does not mention Kuiper or principled pluralism, but it does touch upon our discussion:

Click here  to see an ironic lack of parity in an email exchange about a state-approved workshop instructing Michigan K-12 teacher to include lessons on "Islam The Straight Path" in their classrooms.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Runaway Reindeer

There was once a town in Michigan where it was Christmas all year ‘round. Families came there from far and wide with thoughts of snow and silent nights even in the summertime. Christmas Town was magic. Old shoppers felt young; young parents felt wise; and small children felt safe and brave (as we shall see).
In Christmas Town things turned especially special in December, when Santa himself arranged to have all eight of his reindeer there for children to see. In a special barn behind a large ornament factory, each reindeer had his very own stall with his name etched into a barn-wood board on the gate: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Donner, Cupid, Comet, and Blitzen.  Like many other guests to the barn, you may be wondering, “Where was Rudolph?”
Well, Rudolph was no ordinary reindeer. He never came to Christmas Town but stayed behind at the North Pole resting up for Christmas Eve. Being the lead reindeer was not only an honor, it was the most tiring position of all. The reindeer pulling in the front always had a harder task than those closest to the sled. Santa rotated the other pairs of reindeer at stops along the way around the world.
Dasher and Dancer began in the front harness but typically moved to the back of the team in Denmark; Prancer and Vixen had “front duty” from Prague to Venice (depending on the headwind); Donner and Cupid rotated to the front for the flight from Djibouti to China; and Comet and Cupid preferred to lead from Tasmania to Hawaii. Few people know this, but if time allows, all of the reindeer and Santa himself take a half-hour break in Hawaii where they eat pineapples for extra energy. From there, the rotation begins all over again through the night until the last gift is delivered and Santa’s sleigh is empty.
But poor Rudolph never gets to rotate. He is always in the very front where his shiny red nose is most needed. (Otherwise, he would only light up the other reindeer’s rear ends, and what good is that?) 
It takes extra stamina to lead the other eight, and because of that, Rudolph gets an extra pineapple in Hawaii from Santa himself. More important to our story, this is the reason why Rudolph gets to rest all through December when the other eight reindeer make an appearance at Christmas Town.
Millions of people have seen the reindeer there through the years, but the reindeer do not remember them all by name… that is… except for two. Two children, a girl and boy, they will never forget. Their names were Nora and Charlie. They were brother and sister, and at first, they were just two faces in a long line of parents and children waiting to see the reindeer in the barn behind the ornament factory.
“Are we almost there?” Charlie moaned. He was wearing his blue rubber boots, and sometimes after a long day his feet felt so heavy he could only shuffle them along the ground without picking them up.
“We’re almost there,” said Nora, patting him on the shoulder. “I can see Dasher’s antlers between the grown-up’s hats.
There were some grown-ups in the line with the children, but Nora and Charlie’s parents were off buying special presents in a gigantic toy warehouse next door, and because Santa’s elves kept a close watch, the children felt safe and brave in Christmas Town. Any place else, it would be  odd to see a five-year-old girl standing with her three-year-old brother alone in a long line of strangers, but here the two of them thought only of the reindeer which could now be seen through the opening and closing gaps in the people ahead.
The barn was cold and smelled of moist hay and the steaming breath that shot from the nostrils of the reindeer who greeted each passing guest with a nod of their antlers and a jingle of the bell on their heavy leather collar.  This collar was not always worn, but whenever guests were allowed in the barn, the elves in charge of the reindeer needed a way to keep the reindeer from floating away with excitement.
You see, reindeer do not fly like birds because they have no wings. They leap with the excitement that comes only with Christmas, and then they float higher and higher with each leap. Once in the air the mere motion of their leaping legs sends them galloping through the air. Here is a secret very few people know: reindeer can only fly great distances when they are harnessed together with the heavy load of Santa’s sleigh behind them.
Without the sleigh, they can only fly a yard or so at a time—not a “yard stick yard” but a yard like from one side of your front yard to the other. It’s a very impressive leap, but nothing like flying around the world.  Even so, the elves knew Santa would not want his reindeer leaping over the heads of the barn guests. That could get messy and dangerous. Such a thing had never happened, but that is why each reindeer’s collar was tied to the lowest rail of his stall.
There was a sign near the stalls that explained all of this, and Nora took the time to sound out the words, explaining each sentence to Charlie as she read.
“Wow! I didn’t know that, Nora,” he said, eyes wide.
“That’s why they have to wear collars here in Christmas Town,” she repeated with a nod, but Charlie didn’t hear her. He was lost in a smile and a far-away look as visions of reindeer boinking back and forth danced in his head..
“Coooool…” he sighed, but Nora thought he was simply commenting on her brief oral report.
The line kept moving on: Frist Dasher, then Dancer, now Prancer, and Vixen; on Donner, on Cupid, on Comet, and Blitz… but wait. Before they got to Blitzen, something happened. Just what no one knows for sure. Some people say that the large boy ahead of them—Nora thought he looked like a fifth-grader—had somehow unhooked Blitzen’s collar. Other’s said that Blitzen’s elf was distracted by his girlfriend elf (who was in charge of Comet), and he never got the buckle pin in the hole of the leather. So with each nod of his antlers to the passing guests, Blitzen’s collar got looser and looser until, just before Nora and Charlie stepped up to his stall, it fell to the ground.  
The jingle of the jingle bell at Blitzen’s feet startled him, and he jumped backward hitting the rail behind him. This frightened him even more, and he leapt forward over his manger and above Nora and Charlie’s heads.
“Coooool…” laughed Charlie.
Not cool” said Nora, ducking her head. “The sign said he’s not supposed to do that, and now he’s flying right out the barn door.” 

The rest of the people in the barn saw none of this. Nora grabbed Charlie’s hand and pulled him to the open barn door.  By then, Blitzen was out in the middle of a large meadow in front of a line of bare winter trees.  The elf in charge of Blitzen came running up beside them.
“Oh, dear! What shall we do?” He shrieked in a squeaky elf voice. “I’m too small to catch him alone, and Santa is at the front of the Toy warehouse double-checking his Christmas lists. He’s checked it once but now he’s checking it twice. You keep an eye on Blitzen while I run to get him.”
“We will, but please hurry,” said Nora nervously. She was so nervous that her voice squeaked a little bit. The elf stopped in his tracks and turned back at her.
“Are you makin’ fun of my voice?” He asked.
“No. I’m just nervous,” she said with a frightened grin. “Please hurry.”
Just then, Charlie saw a bushel of carrots by the barn door. These carrots were kept as treats for the reindeer after the guests left the barn. Nora had read about it on the sign.
Charlie grabbed a carrot and said, “Follow me, Nora.”
“We shouldn’t …” Nora began, but before she could finish the thought with “…… shouldn’t go out there,” she suddenly felt safe and brave as only children in Christmas Town can feel, and she followed closely behind Charlie who walked closer and closer to Blitzen.
Steam came from the reindeer’s nostrils, and Charlie could feel the warm air against his face. It smelled surprisingly sweet like hot cocoa.
“I have a carrot for you Mr. Reindeer,” Charlie whispered.
Nora whispered in his ear, “Try calling him Blitzen.”  She stood closely behind Charlie, and helped steady his hand.
“Hi, Blitzen. My name is Charlie and this is my sister Nora. We came all the way to Christmas Town just to see you and the other reindeer. If you follow me to the barn, I’ll give you a bite of this carrot.”
Blitzen nodded his antlers and snorted more steam as he stepped forward to take a bite of the carrot.
“That a boy,” said Charlie with a big smile. And he and Nora began walking the huge reindeer back to the barn with each bite. By the time the thee of them stepped back into the barn door, Blitzen nibbled the last nub of carrot from Charlie’s open palm.
“Well, Ho Ho Ho…” whispered a deep voice behind them. It was Santa speaking far more softly behind the astonishment of his wondering eyes. “That’s right, Blitzen. Follow Charlie and Nora. I’ll get the gate.”
Nora and Charlie looked at each other and whispered together, “How did he know our names?”
“How did I know your names? Ho Ho Ho,” Santa laughed, in spite of himself. “I was just double-checking the list before I came. I saw your names right there.”
“Which list?” Charlie asked, “Naughty or nice?”
He gave them a wink of his eye and a nod of his head, and they knew in a moment they had nothing to dread.
Santa closed the gate behind Blitzen and fastened the collar around his thick neck just as Nora and Charlie’s parents made their way through the crowd.  Charlie’s mother picked him up in her arms.
“I hear you’ve become a reindeer wrangler!” she said.
“He was so brave, but I helped, too!” said Nora, and her father picked her up with a twirl.
“You were both very brave,” he said.
“Very brave, indeed,” Santa agreed.
A lady from the crowd stepped forward holding out her I-phone. “I took a picture of it. If you like, I’ll send it to you. It’s a keeper!”
“Thank you. We’d like that,” they said. “We’ll share it with their grandparents.”
Everyone in the crowd began asking her to send it to them, too. (Soon the picture went viral all over the internet. To this day, it remains a very popular picture at Christmas time.)
Santa raised his hand for silence. “I don’t know what we would have done if you had not stopped Blitzen,” he said with a grateful smile. “And now if you don’t mind, these reindeer and I have a big trip of head of us. It’s time for us to close up the barn and head up to the North Pole. Tomorrow’s Christmas Eve. We’ll be busy all night.”
He walked the crowd to the front doors of the barn and turned to Nora and Charlie with a twinkle in his eye, “Thanks for keeping my team together. It takes all of us to get the job done. Oh…and thanks in advance for the cookies and milk. Yours are always just a little tastier than the others.”
“It’s my Mom’s recipe, but I helped frost them.” Nora said proudly.
“Me, too,” Charlie added. 
The elves slowly closed the doors, but Nora and Charlie heard Santa say as he slipped out of sight, “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.”
Two days later, on Christmas morn, after all of the giftwrap was scattered and torn, Charlie and Nora checked their stockings with care and laughed when they each found a carrot in there.
© Tom Kapanka, December 31, 2015 

[Note: A day or two before New Year's Eve 2015, my daughter Emily gave us the picture above. There is another story behind the picture, and I can say that Nora and Charlie were actually standing in a meadow in Michigan with a carrot when it was taken. Other than that, let's just say there was some "magic" involved. The picture made me smile each time I looked at it because it begs for a story of explanation. So on New Year's Eve morning I jotted down the tale above, and Julie read it to my grandchildren and other guests as we waited to bring in the New Year. It was post-dated to December 24 because it is a Christmas story based on the personalities of my grandkids and on personal recollections of the live reindeer displays (once popular at places like FrankenmuthMichigan). I also placed it on that date because there are subtle echos of ""'Twas the Night before Christmas" in some of the lines. ]

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

An Eagle's Eye View from Above at CCS

Two years ago, I posted some thoughts about soaring.  I read that post again today. It is a very good reminder of the hard work involved in rising up. Double-click that underlined link to read the full article yourself. Here is just a short portion:

"The promise that our strength can be renewed implies that it can also be depleted...Some may ask, "What about the promise in the second part of the verse that says, 'They shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Doesn’t that mean that we will never get tired while serving the Lord?"  I don’t think so. Even well-trained  runners are exhausted after “pressing on toward the mark.” (Philippians 3:13-15)  I don’t think the word weary implies physical exhaustion as much as complete mental or emotional fatigue. In other words, being weary is not being tired from what you’re doing—it is being tired of what you’re doing. Weary is a dangerous place to be; it is dark and pathless valley cluttered with quit and overshadowed by the bad decisions of centuries past.

I can assure you that the CCS team is not weary. Even so, it's good to pause... to close our eyes and visualize, May this uplifting video enlighten our perspective with a view from above. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

I Have a Thing about Coffee Mugs...

I have a thing about coffee mugs. They have to feel right in my hand. How the mug’s ear forms in my grip is as important as how it looks.

I was recently in a gift store in Petoskey, Michigan. The sign on the door said: “All products made in Michigan,” and that fact alone drew me inside. A little bell mounted on the old wooden door rang as I opened it.  Along the wall to my left was a wide selection of artisan mugs and plates. Entire shelves were stocked with coordinated pieces that could be purchased individually or as sets. Each mug was generally the same design but being hand-made they varied slightly in shape, grip, and glazing. No two were alike.

I began putting each mug in my grasp as if holding a cup of coffee, working my way from the front to the back of the long shelf. I did not notice that the young man behind the counter was watching. After a few minutes, he said, “Can I help you find what you’re looking for?”

The query sounded more like a bewildered comment than a question. From his perspective, it must have looked as if I were searching for a lost coin under each mug in his entire inventory.

“No, thank you. I’m just testing the feel of these mugs. They’re each a little different, but I think I have found the one I want.”

I had actually only narrowed the choice down between two mugs. They both felt equally “right,” and now it was a question of appearance.

The coloration was the same, but the glaze created different drips and lines and horizons forever fused to the fired clay. Having made some things of clay myself in high school, I knew enough about the process to appreciate each step. It is the final step, when the glaze meets the fire of the kiln, that the artist’s intentions take on their final form. It is after the final cooling, that even the hands and eyes that made the thing look at it with wonder.

The difference between amateur artists and professionals is the latter have the ability to part with their best work in exchange for a livable income. There on the shelf before me were countless hours of countless days beautifully displayed in stoneware, but I had to choose between the two mugs that felt equally right in my hand. Which one would most engage the eye while transferring the heat of fresh-brewed coffee to the hand? Which would most capture my imagination as the smell provided a prelude to my first sip?

Stepping from behind the counter, the young man said again, “Are you sure, I can’t help you?”

“I’m just about done…” I said, staring intently at the two mugs like Robert Frost contemplating two divergent roads in a yellow wood. Then with equal uncertainty, I chose the mug “less traveled by” and stepped up to the counter with a sheepish smile.

“Are you sure?” The young man said.

“I think so….“

"It’s a big decision,” he said with a slight smile.

Was he mocking me? Holding back a laugh as his subtle sarcasm, I said, “About every five years I get a mug to mark a special occasion, and as you can see, I make way too big a deal of it.  I have this thing about mugs. They have to feel right in my hand. Sounds crazy, but there really is a method to my madness.”

“Oh, I don’t think you’re crazy. I could tell the wheels were turning. It was kind of fun to watch you pick a winner. So what’s the occasion?”

“Pick a winner?” I thought. Not even in classroom of middle-schoolers would  Frost’s two roads be equated to “picking a winner” as if pulling rubber ducks from the table-top pond. For one thing, Frost had no spectators watching him at the fork in the road. If he had, his poem may have illustrated the fine line between deliberation and delirium.

“So what’s the occasion?” the clerk asked again.

 “Occasion?” I mumbled.  

“Yes, the occasion for buying the mug.”

“Oh, that… Yes. It’s our 35th Anniversary. It was actually last week, but we couldn’t come until today. My wife is at the shop next door. We’re staying at a Bed and Breakfast in Charlevoix, and …”

“Well, congratulations,” he said as if he feared further details. “I hope you enjoy the mug. A lady in Ann Arbor makes these for us.”

He carefully rolled the mug in paper, nestled it into a paper bag, and put the twine handles in my clasp with a smile. “Come again,” he said.

“Next time I'm here, I will. You have a nice shop.” I replied.

As I walked to the exit, I thought, “Ann Arbor. That’s cool,” and my mind turned for a moment to the town of maze and blue. Tugging on the wooden door, the same little bell chimed again, and there on the sidewalk stood my charming wife.

"Find anything you like?" She asked.

"A coffee mug," I smiled.

She returned the smile and took my hand, "Been another five years has it?"

This is clearly not the mug I purchased last week, but we are camping as I write this post, and the new mug is at home. This one stays in our camper. It is not hand-made, but it has great "heft" and feels good in my hand. I purchased it 15 years ago in Colorado, and it brings back very special memories. If time allows, I'll explain in a future post. 

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