Sunday, December 24, 2017

A Christmas tradition, of sorts ...

Even in the days of DVDs, when I could watch A Charlie Brown Christmas easily and inexpensively, whenever I wanted, I would still wait for the Christmas season to come around, so I could watch the broadcast, just as I did the first time it aired ... and have done every Christmas season since then.

Wellll ... at least until the last couple of years, when broadcasters made additional cuts to the original program. Made me glad I bought the DVD a while back ... I still wait for the Christmas season to come around ... I just watch it via a new medium.

I like the humor of the story, with characters and dialogue that doesn't drive adults out of the room, screaming ... and I like the fact that we are allowed to laugh - or not - spontaneously, without the urging of a laugh track.

And I LOVE the music! The soundtrack was composed by the late, great Vincent Guaraldi, and was performed by Guraraldi and his trio. It's one of my favorite holiday music albums, AND one of my favorite jazz albums.

And I like the idea that a story about Christmas has something to say about Christ ... with a wonderful delivery by Linus of Scripture from the Gospel of Luke (King James version, no less), answering Charlie Brown's question of 'what Christmas is all about.'

There are some wonderful anecdotes out there about the making (and the near UN-making) of "Charlie Brown Christmas," and how viewers and critics had the nerve to rear-up and roar-out their opinions of the show ... opinions that differed dramatically from what network executives had predicted.

Makes me wonder if such a cartoon special could be produced and aired on a major television network today ... I don't know ... maybe not. I remain a big fan of cartoons ... but I just don't see as much respect for viewers young and old as I see demonstrated in something like "Charlie Brown Christmas." And with contemporary cartoon production being what it is, would we ever again see a gathering of talent such as Charles Shultz (words), Bill Melendez (images) and Vince Guaraldi (music), all of whom were not only creators, but determined advocates for their project? Again ... I don't know ... maybe not.

Now, if there was just some way to add those old sponsor plugs for Coca-Cola and Dolly Madison.

Monday, October 16, 2017

I'm walkin', yes indeed …

I’ve been walking, lately. And I’ve been walking a lot more, getting out past my usual routes of recliner-to-frig, and car-to-office. And the funny thing is, I’m LIKING it.

I wasn’t always such a slug. In my younger, slimmer days – oh, about 500 years ago, or so – I worked as an archaeologist, covering a lot of ground each day in the course of surveys across the southwest. But with the passing of time and the change of careers, I became more sedentary. I’m not as young or as slim as I used to be.

Not as healthy, either. It’s been a year-and-a-half since I stepped into the ring for the first round of my Texas Cancer Smackdown. There was the initial hospital stay which oled to my cancer diagnosis … then there was the surgery, and the recuperation … then there was the chemotherapy. Nothing new there … but it an already sedentary lifestyle became even more so, with extended periods where I was unwilling – and sometimes unable – to move much.

Then there was earlier this year, when the initial chemotherapy round was completed and the side effects were wearing off – and I was feeling pretty good. What’s that old saying? “Ten-feet tall and bulletproof!” I was feeling so good I started doing stuff with a too much enthusiasm and WAY too little thought. All of which led to a fall from the roof of our dock, severe dislocation and minor fractures to my ankle, and several ribs fractured … and more downtime.

Oy vey!

The community college where I work supports a variety of activities to encourage and improve employee health. This month, they announced a walking challenge. Maybe it’s the ‘challenge’ part that got to me, but I signed-up … and started walking.

And started liking it … and started looking for more ways to get in more steps every day. I live just a few blocks from the campus where I work … and just a few blocks from church … and just a few blocks from the nearest convenience store. When I do take the car on errands, I park as far away from the entrance to the grocery store/pharmacy/concert hall/whatever.

Needless to say, there are advantages to all this walking. There’s added points for the challenge, of course, and improved health. But that’s not all. There’s more contact with my neighbors, and others I meet on the streets. I’m observing more and learning about the things I walk past, than I would if I were driving past at 35+ MPH. If something catches my attention and my interest, I can stop and enjoy it … again, more than I could if I were driving past at 35+ MPH.

And I’m free to think about all kinds of stuff. Last weekend, we had my brother-in-law and his fiancĂ© over for dinner – the menu and the shopping list for it came together during a walk. Thoughts for what I would say at a church gathering were organized and practiced during a walk.

And the idea for composing this post came up during a walk.

I'm walkin', yes indeed!

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

All a-twitter over Twitter

I’m confronted with what one of my boys would call a “first world problem” …

Last week, Twitter launched an experiment, expanding the number of characters allowed on posts to 280 from the original limit of 140. The test, I read later, involves a small, random group of users (a single-digit percentage of the total users). It seems I’m one of the select few.

“We few, we happy few …”

Hmmmm, happy? Maybe not … at least, not in my case,. I rather liked the 140-character limit. It was a challenge to me. Could I communicate my thoughts successfully – and succinctly! – in my tweets? It required me to stretch my vocabulary, use punctuation more effectively, and move away from rambling rants and towards brief bullet-points.

Sort of a haiku for the new millenium.

I’ll be interested in learning the results of this experiment. For my part, I’ll be contributing to the 140-character end of the bell-shaped curve (or whatever) illustrating those results.

Just because I get twice as much space doesn’t mean I have to fill it. If I have more than can be said in 140 characters, I could always post something on “ArchaeoTexture.”

Monday, September 25, 2017

Added to my virtual bookshelf ... Kentucky Kaiju by Justin Stewart, Tressina Bowling and Shawn Pryor

I was a total neophyte in just about every way as I opened my e-copy of “Kentucky Kaiju.” Graphic literature (comic books, back then) was not allowed in my home when I was young; I have not yet had the pleasure of visiting the state of Kentucky and enjoying its culture; AND, I have never encountered a Kaiju … though that last might be a good thing, judging by the creatures presented to me in this book.

Through illustrations by Justin Stewart and Tressina Bowling, and accompanying text by Shawn Pryor, “Kentucky Kaiju” takes readers on a tour of Kentucky that somehow did not make it into the pages of the state’s official tourism/visitor guidebooks.

Are there any Gojira/Godzilla fans out there, reading this? Imagine what might happen to the critters (domestic and wildlife) caught between a pair of massive explosions – one from a nuclear reactor, and the other from a massive bourbon distillery. What might emerge from that glowing and flavorful fallout?

“Kentucky Kaiju” has the answer.

At just fifty pages, with much of each page taken up by a single illustration, it may seem like a quick read. But I recommend taking your time with each page, preferably with a glass of your favorite Kentucky ‘sip’ close to hand. The illustrations by Stewart and Bowling are first-rate, and you’ll want to keep an eyes out for small details that add to the story of the Kaiju being presented, and to your enjoyment of that story.

The same is true of Pryor’s text … we’re not talking mere captions here. Once again – take your time, and enjoy yourself.

The closing page of the book assures readers that “‘Kentucky Kaiju’ Will Return” … I’m looking forward to it!

NOTE: I received a free e-copy of this work through LibraryThing in exchange for a review.

Monday, September 18, 2017

An occasion where I DON’T take a knee

One week ago today, I was in the food court at Houston-Hobby Airport, waiting for a flight home following the latest round in my ongoing Texas Cancer Smackdown. This round had gone well, with good test results and encouraging words from the folks at M.D. Anderson.

For obvious reasons, I was in the mood to relax – even celebrate – with some lunch. The food was good, and a cold glass of local brew added to my enjoyment of the meal. Several feet away, the Apollo Chamber Players were performing light classical pieces as part of the airport’s “Harmony in the Air” program … all in all, I was in good spirits.

But then there was change, as Apollo switched gears and began playing “The Star Spangled Banner.” I stood up, and turned to face the performers for the duration of the song.

I didn’t have to, I guess … sitting at a table with company, in the middle of lunch, surrounded by many who continued on their way to-or-from their flight, or enjoying their meals, paying no attention to the music. This was followed by works of a similar vein … “America the Beautiful” and “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” … it didn’t take long to realize this was Apollo’s recognition of this particular day, ‘9/11.’

As for “The Star Spangled Banner,” I would have been forgiven joining the majority and ignoring the music, myself … but I couldn’t.

This is the national anthem of my country … one that, for all its faults, I love and respect. And I am especially proud and respectful of what so many people have done, what so many have sacrificed to create and preserve this country. That includes the freedom I have to raise questions, to address faults and seek changes. There’s just no way I could NOT stand.

Nor will I take a knee, which has become sooooo fashionable now. I guess I’m getting old and crotchety, but I see a HUGE difference between Rev. Dr. King taking a knee in prayer – and in refusal to budge – in the course of his protests, and multi-millionaire pro-football player Colin Kaepernick briefly taking a knee in HIS protests.

Do I dismiss the presence of racism in America, and the sometimes-deadly consequence of that presence for ‘people of color?’ NO WAY. But there are people out there taking to the streets, risking so much more than Kaepernick – people who never had a fair shot at the success he has enjoyed.

I will say this … he has people talking about race – and that’s a GOOD thing. But aren’t there other problems we should be discussing – and SOLVING! – rather than whether or not teams will employ/start him because of his demonstration on race issues?

Like I said before, though, I’m grateful for the freedoms I enjoy in this country … and that includes the freedoms to choose. People like Kaepernick choose to kneel during our national anthem? Let ’em! AND MAY I BE COMPLETELY AND HAPPILY WRONG IN MY BELIEF THAT THEIR SIDELINE SHOW WILL ACCOMPLISH NOTHING SUBSTANTIAL.

But me? My choice? With a nod to Bernie Taupin, “I’m still standing … yeah, yeah, YEAH!”

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Added to my virtual bookshelf ... Dreamweaver: Book 2 of the Dream Cycle by Najeev Raj Nadarajah

DreamWeaver is a good enough read for fans of swords-and-sorcery and other stories that fall within the realm of 'fantasy fiction.' I read my e-copy from cover to cover, and I enjoyed the experience. But I can't help but think there's something familiar about it ... something that I've read somewhere and somewhen else, by someone else.

DreamWeaver is the second installment of the 'Dream Cycle' by Najeev Raj Nadarajah, and it follows the journeys of young Weaver - not only physical journeys across a landscape ravaged by conflict, but personal journeys through Weaver's mind, heart and soul as he grows and matures, and seeks his place in a chaotic world.

Weaver is a young man with powers abilities beyond those of ordinary humans - and perhaps even beyond those of other empowered individuals. How far beyond? Hard to say, because Weaver doesn't know himself, and each of those steps in those aforementioned 'journeys' are part of the learning process. Fortunately, Weaver is accompanied by an elder - bound by vows and paternalistic feelings - who protects him and guides him as best he can through those journeys.

But that's only part of the process. Weaver finds himself in school where he will not only study reading and writing, but exclusive classes to help him better command and control his powers. Some of his instructors are warm and encouraging, while others are cold and appear to hold him in contempt. And while he finds antagonists among the other students, he also has a growing circle of friends, companions who will play a significant and supportive role in his journeys.

He'll need that support because there is an evil Lord in this world, one responsible for much of the conflict that has ravaged the land through the exercise of his own powers and the actions of his agents among the people, and one who has a growing interest in young Weaver.

Sound familiar? Oh, and did I mention that there is also some fun and exciting diversion from all this in the form of a sport played by Weaver, his friends and antagonists, and the matches are VERY popular at the school and the community at-large?

I'll admit, this HAS become a crowded genre since the success of J.K. Rowling's 'Harry Potter' ... I remember something like this happening forty years ago, during a resurgence of interest in J.R.R. Tolkien's 'Middle Earth.'

Which is why I give Nadarajah credit for carving-out his own niche, one that has elements all its own ... the story, it's characters, their motives, their powers, the media for getting in touch with those powers and the means for expressing them and taking them to the next stage.

DreamWeaver does have an ending. But in the tradition of serials past and present, it leaves some questions unanswered, some issues unresolved ... and some material for the third installment of the 'Dream Cycle.'


NOTE: I received a free e-copy of this work through LibraryThing in exchange for a review.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Suggestion for PCUSA ... Music for “Marching As to War”

The most recent national election has provided a new President of the United States ... one with an attitude and goals that some within the Presbyterian Church USA find alarming ... to say the least!

Through the world wide web and with the assistance of internet applications, a number of my 'virtual' acquaintances within the church have shared their concerns - their dread, even - over the developing situation ... and a call-to-arms, of sorts, to alleviate that situation. And let me say, their concerns are not unfounded ... in just a few weeks, President of the United States Donald Trump and the conservatives in Congress have already set back victories already achieved by liberal-to-moderate factions within our society during the term of Trump's predecessor, Barrack Obama.

And more may be on the way ...

There is genuine heartbreak among the liberals over these setbacks to their hard-won victories ... and there is anger, as well. I hear expressions of that heartbreak and anger from a number of my virtual acquaintances, and during our weekly #PresbyIntersect Twitter chat frequented by pastors and laymen and general public from all over. They are heartfelt expressions and a number of them are quite strong ... words such as 'action,' resistance' and 'fight' are not uncommon.

And while they're not advocating violence, taking up firearms in their resistance to what's happening, they are calling upon us to stand up/speak up/act up nonetheless, utilizing hearts and minds, voices and votes in this fight fueled, in part, upon Christian faith.

Marching orders ... marching as to war? In a way ... yes.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – a man who knew more than most of us about resistance, about activism in the pursuit of justice for all – once said, “those who love peace must organize as effectively as those who love war.” It was almost exactly fifty years ago that he said those words, in the midst of a rally opposing the war in Viet Nam. But they are words that apply to a variety of conflicts, for those seeking peace to resolve those conflicts for the benefit of all ... including those within the Presbyterian Church (USA) now considering the prospect of action and resistance to what is becoming – for now, at least – the new status quo.

Shall we, as Christians sharing the love of Jesus, go marching as to war? If so, maybe I could recommend some marching music. I have to warn you, though, it is a song of which thew Presbyterian Church (USA) does NOT approve.

"Onward, Christian Soldiers" dates back to 19th-century England, with music by Sir Arthur Sullivan and words by Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould. The hymn was inspired by calls in the Bible for Christians to be soldiers for Christ. A frequently-cited example is II Timothy 2:3 ... "Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ." ... and, YES, I do continue to prefer my old King James version of the Bible.

Personally, I think the Presbyterian Church (USA) was wrong to strip “Onward, Christian Soldiers” from their official hymnals. In the years since then, I have appreciated those individual PCUSA congregations that chose to dismiss ‘that silliness out of Louisville’ and continue to use the hymn in worship. And I still get a lump in my throat and my heart when the Salvation Army band comes marching down the streets of Pasadena, California every January 1st, playing that hymn ... God bless ‘em all!

But here’s a thought ... considering the points I made above ...

How about presenting a resolution to an upcoming gathering of the PCUSA General Assembly to restore “Onward, Christian Soldiers” to the hymnals? 

Take a moment to read through the lyrics ... considering the calls-to-action that are being heard lately, they may be just what we need to think and say. And maybe it’s time to act upon those words, for us to accept our marching orders ... to be “Christian soldiers, marching as to war.”

Thank you for your patience with my rambling, and God bless you for your thoughtful and prayerful consideration of my suggestion.

Jeff McDonald
Member, Presbyterian Church (USA)
Midland, Texas, USA

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Well done, good and faithful servants!

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following text is from a letter by Pastor Cheryl Homsher, Grace Presbyterian Church of Midland, Texas, to the church family at Grace. The Fellowship Christian Church of Midland (founded by refugees from Myanmar/Burma) had been a part of Grace, using its facilities for worship, fellowship and more ... until this past weekend. It was cause for a gala celebration. The photographs in this post were taken by Homsher and Judy Brown.

This past Sunday, we gathered to seek and to worship God with the Burmese Chin congregation at their new building.

What a truly spirit-filled day!

I believe the 35+mph winds were just a way of reminding us of the tremendous power of the Holy Breath of God in our world and in our lives – and especially today for the Chin.

We started outside with prayer, singing, balloons and ribbon-cutting, and then gathered inside for worship.

The sanctuary was filled to capacity (and beyond), and the service was live-streamed into the fellowship hall, which was also full.

Members of the other 5 Chin churches of Midland were present; we had a strong representation from Grace; and delegations from Chin churches in Ft. Worth, Texas; Phoenix, Arizona and Oklahoma were present. Leaders of the North American Chin Baptist Association were present from Battle Creek, Michigan; Atlanta, Georgia; Indianapolis, Indianaand Des Moines, Iowa.

There was lots a great music, including two songs from The Backsliders. (Thank you, Backsliders!)

Pastor Thang’s mentor, The Rev. Dr. Stephen Kio, preached the sermon. Pastor Stephen, a distinguished guest, worked for the United Bible Society for many years and translated the Bible from English into Falam/Chin.

We were treated to a wonderful lunch after the worship – many different meats, and vegetable salads.

As always the Chin were very gracious, and their gratitude to Grace was overflowing.

And looking back over the day, my words to you, Grace, are these: Well done, good and faithful servants.