Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Year's Lessons from Gilligan's Island

Years ago, I bought a book - Worst Television Shows Ever (1980) by Bart Andrews. And Gilligan's Island was one of them. This 1960s sitcom was never expected to survive beyond its pilot. But it made it three years - as long as the original Star Trek - then spun off into infinity in syndication. The critics were wrong. Again. So there.

This dates me. But I remember Gilligan's Island before it went into the endless time loop of reruns. In its first season, one particular episode really spoke to me - Diogenes, Won't You Please Go Home? - and it still does some 45 years later.

Precursor to WikiLeaks?

Gilligan was hiding something and those nosy castaways just had to find out what it was. It was a diary. A secret diary. No big deal. Right? Then his fellow castaways got anxious. What if this secret diary were made public, kind of like the mini version of the WikiLeaks of the 1960s?

The Skipper worried that he would be blamed for the shipwreck and tarred as a bad captain - a career ender for him once they got off the island. The Howells and Ginger fretted about their reputations and public images. Perhaps Gilligan's stories would be fodder for the tabloids?

Each saw the worst of themselves and they were afraid of being exposed for who they really were. And they hated Gilligan for that. Yet, through their anger, the castaways attested to Gilligan's character of truthfulness and honesty.

What to do?

The solution. Spin. So the castaways worked on their own diaries, rewriting history to make themselves look heroic - larger than life. And when they would be rescued, their favorable record of events would be told.

Why the title - Diogenes, Won't You Please Go Home?

The Greek philosopher, Diogenes of Sinope, it was said had "searched with a lantern in the daylight for an honest man." He never found this man. But he found plenty of rascals and scoundrels.

The psalmist in the Old Testament beat Diogenes to it.

I said in my haste, All men are liars.
Psalm 116:11 (King James Version)

And in the 21st century, House echoes that same cynical conclusion - Everybody Lies.

We all had many centuries to think it over, and apparently the consensus agrees with the psalmist.

Back to this episode from the 1960s, none of the castways' stories (except Gilligan's) would have survived the "No Spin Zone" of Diogenes. And if Diogenes had found himself on their island - like so many others fantastically did - it would have been a waste of this cynic's time, so he might as well go back home.

At the end of the story, Mary Ann found the secret diary and leaked it to the others. Gilligan sincerely wrote complimentary things about his fellow castaways:

The Skipper - his bravery in keeping them safe during the storm and shipwreck
Mr. Howell - his humility though he was rich and famous
Mrs. Howell - her grace
Ginger - her inner beauty beneath the glamor

The Professor summed up their feelings to Gilligan: "We see ourselves as we are, but you see us like we would like to be."

For 2011 and into eternity - may we all put behind us our shortcomings and press ahead in becoming the men and women we would like to be and were meant to be.

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
1 John 3:2 (King James Version)

Question:  Is there any episode in a classic sitcom that has spoken to you?

Picture from Wiki Commons: one of the uninhabited islands of Lakshadweep

Monday, December 20, 2010

Random Acts of Christmas

I love Christmas!

Family. Friends. Faith.  Parties. Reunions. Decorations. Music. Good food. Philanthropy. Giving. Caring. Sharing.

During the coldest and darkest days - at least in the Northern Hemisphere - the Holidays brighten up the bleak days and nights of winter.

I hate Christmas!

For some of the same reasons above.

The pressures. Demands on time. Trying of patience. Demands on the wallet. Getting hit up for more donations from so many good sounding causes.

The days can be cold. The nights are so long.

It can be exhausting, draining. Too much.

Random acts of Christmas?

Yet, during this time of the year seemingly random acts from heaven reach down to touch hearts, made more tender by the season.

And one of these moments can come in the form of the "flash mob" where words from the Holy Scriptures set to music from the 17th century (Messiah - Handel's Hallelujah Chorus) inject themselves into a random 21st century crowd in such an unlikely place - a food court of a mall.

A divine appointment?

I will praise thee, O Lord, among the people: I will sing unto thee among the nations.
Psalm 57: 9 (King James Version)

Question: What random acts of Christmas have touch your heart?

Picture from everystockphoto: wreath circles

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Remember Ebenezer Scrooge?

One of the early American hymns, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, had, in my opinion, some puzzling lyrics in its second verse:

"Here I raise mine Ebenezer;"
"Hither by Thy help I’m come;"

I crack a smile at the mention of "Ebenezer." My first thoughts are that of Ebenezer Scrooge.   And Scrooge seems so out of place in a church hymn book, much like the London Bridge is so out of place half way around the world in the middle of the desert in Arizona.

My Ebenezer? What's up with this? Let's start at the beginning.

When Israel was ruled by judges, the Philistines were in the land and those troubling times were described as:

"In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes."

Judges 21:25 (King James Version)

Sound like today?

Recently, Raiders of the Lost Ark was broadcast on television. In this movie set in 1936, US Army officers approached Indiana Jones about their concerns that the Germans were coming close to finding the lost Ark of the Covenant. The Nazis believed that the Ark possessed great mystical powers, and that anyone who brought it into battle would be invincible. Of all ironies, the Jews in the Old Testament thought the very same thing and painfully found out otherwise.

Now, go back to the time of judges in ancient Israel, in particular the times of the last judge, Samuel.  Israel went to war - again - with the Philistines and took the Ark of the Covenant with them. (I Samuel 4 - 6) The Israelites treated the Ark as their "good luck charm" and with it they deemed themselves to be invincible in battle. Instead, the Jews suffered a devastating defeat. The Philistines won the battle and captured the Ark.

Only the Ark was not such a blessing to the Philistines.  Everywhere the Ark went, plagues were sure to go. This supreme spoils of war became a hot potato, and it was passed from village to village.

"You take it."
"No, you take it."
 ... etc.

The Philistines had enough and wanted to get rid of it. They put the Ark on a cattle driven cart and sent it back to Israel.

But it was not such a blessing to the finders of the real lost Ark. The Israelites mishandled it, daring to look inside it.  Many died and the people felt devastated. Yet, they should have known better. The Law of Moses gave explicit instructions on how to properly carry and care for the Ark and they just ignored it. It would be another twenty years before the children of Israel were ready to receive the Ark, again.

Finally, the Israelites repented of their idolatry and turned their hearts back to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. At Mizpeh, the people gathered and the prophet Samuel prayed unto the Lord, offering sacrifices, while the people confessed their sins. The Philistines attacked again, but this time the Lord gave Israel the victory - the first great victory in a long time.

"Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the LORD helped us."

I Samuel 7:12 (King James Version)

Note: Ebenezer means literally - Stone of Help

I don't think it was happenstance that Dickens chose the name Ebenezer Scrooge for his protagonist in "A Christmas Carol." This Ebenezer, much like the humiliated Israelites, eventually repented of idolatry - in his case, the love of money. Ever since 1843, this Ebenezer has become a model of repentance and redemption.

Ebenezer Scrooge can be an Ebenezer - a stone of help. His story can help us remember the Spirit of Christmas. Who it is that really helps us? Not Santa Claus. Not the uncertainty of riches. But the Lord when we seek Him with our whole heart.

Wise men - and women - still seek Him.

Question: This Christmas and the rest of the year, what is your Ebenezer?

Picture from Wiki Commons: Charles Dickens-A Christmas Carol-Title page-First edition 1843

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Margery Kempe (Part 2) - Move over Geoffrey Chaucer and reality TV!

Some consider Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1343 - 1400) as the father of English literature, as his writings in Middle English were the first to make it big. His unfinished Canterbury Tales is his most famous work, told as a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims as they travel together from Southwark to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral.

A contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer, Margery Kempe (1373 - 1438) did more than journey to the shrines within England. She went on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Rome, Spain, Poland and other parts of Europe. And usually she went it alone - leaving husband and fourteen children behind.

If the Middle Ages did a reality show, Margery would be the star.  Her real life adventures rivaled Canterbury Tales with an eclectic cast of characters:

* The star *

Margery Kempe - ne Margery Brunham

This mayor's daughter of King's Lynn married John Kempe, at one time a well off businessman. Earlier in life, Margery had committed a "secret sin" which she was too embarrassed to confess even to a priest when she thought that she was dying. In a crisis after a difficult pregnancy, Margery had a heavenly vision of Christ, which drove away her hallucinations of devils, followed by a dramatic recovery of her health and sanity.  Therefore, after successive business failures, among them being as a brewer of beer, Margery's new career choice became clear - a religious hysteric.

With pigheaded stubbornness, Margery set herself on a lifetime pursuit of sainthood, discovering her great spiritual gift - weeping. Oh, how she could weep - very loudly and incessantly.  Subjected to holy visions and trances, Margery said she directly communicated with God and had a special relationship with Him. She claimed to know who was saved and who was not. And she shared her spirituality by lecturing others on their self-improvement.

Some thought Margery was indeed a holy woman, filled with the Holy Spirit. Her detractors thought she was possessed by the Devil. Most thought she was just annoying.

* Margery's family *

John Kempe - the medieval henpecked husband

He seemed to have supported - or at least acquiesced to - Margery's career choice. More of a homebody, he skipped going on long pilgrimages with her. And he made himself quite scarce when Margery got into scrapes with the Church as the prelates often misunderstood her enthusiasm. Though his wife got ideas of celibacy while they were married, John had managed to father fourteen children by her. This old boy must have had some charm and affection for Margery, as well as the patience of Job.

The erring son - the only one of Margery's fourteen children she mentions in her autobiography

This boy had strayed from her, joining one of the merchants of Lynn, who did business with the Hanseatic League along the Baltic ports. While in town, his mother would waylay this son for his immoral life and curse him. To escape her nagging, he shipped off to Poland, where he loved the ladies too much. Later, he was sacked due to disfigured looks when he had become afflicted with a terrible skin disease, probably from syphilis. After that, he came back to Margery to beg her forgiveness and lift the curse, which he had blamed for his "leprosy." Undoubtedly, this prodigal son's repentance delighted her immensely.

* The citizens of Lynn *

In her hometown, Margery garnered both her supporters and detractors, which fluctuated with the rise and fall of her fortunes. As her novelty wore off, most grew very tired of her and saw her as a joke. They amused themselves by abusing her, such as throwing dirty water out their windows on her when they saw her walking down their way.  But to hedge their bets with the Almighty, her countrymen did call on her to pray for them when trouble came.

* Her fellow pilgrims *

During pilgrimage, Margery's countrymen found her a real kill-joy, especially around meal time when she scolded them for telling stories and jokes. Her incessant weeping, piercing screams, and lecturing on their self-improvement wore them down. Her fellowship ditched her on the way to Jerusalem. And they ditched her, again, in Venice after returning from the Holy Land, leaving Margery without an escort to Rome. Likewise, she frightened them, as someone else always came along to rescue her so she would eventually catch up with them, again, much to their chagrin.

* The "heretics" and "infidels" *

The Lollards - followers of John Wycliffe

Margery's detractors often accused her of being one of these. Margery passionately sought direct communication with God, much like what was preached by those heretical Lollards. But Margery convinced every counsel that brought her up on charges of heresy that her beliefs were most orthodox and she indeed was one of the faithful in the Church.

The Saracens - the Arab Muslims in the Holy Land

The Saracens in the 15th century ran the pilgrimages in the Holy Land like any business and they had the monopoly. Though pilgrims got many warnings of the terrible things these infidels may do to Christians, Margery seemed to have gotten along very well with them and mentions how they made much of her. These "infidels" seemed like a breath of fresh air as compared to the abuses she had endured by her own countrymen.

* The Holy Men *

The Franciscans - in Jerusalem

The Franciscans, assisting the tourists in the Holy Land, considered Margery an exemplary pilgrim. They wished all the faithful were more like her, whose thoughts were fixed on holy things and not worldly pursuits. Margery could weep at the shrines even to the astonishment of those who were used to such emotional outbursts. They seemed sad to see her eating by herself, shunned by her own countrymen for her piety. They expressed sorrow to see her leave Jerusalem when her tour was up and feared that her countrymen would subject her to more indignities and dangers.  Margery undoubtedly told these sympathetic listeners all she had suffered at the hands of her countrymen for the love of God.

The English priest - at the English hostel in Rome

After pilgrimage in the Holy Land, the English pilgrims could not endure the prospects of any more of Margery's company. After all, they had ditched her, again, after returning to Venice. And she just kept showing up and finding them, again. This frightened them.

The English priest, who had been in the original English party of pilgrims, had long observed Margery, her weepings, her shrieking, her descriptions of her visions, her lectures. He was convinced she was possessed by the Devil. The Church was about the settle this matter of heresy in the Council of Constance (where John Huss would be burned at the stake.) He rationalized that the English fellowship dared not risk putting up with the outspoken Margery. This priest used his influence to expel her from the English hostel - much to her countrymen's relief.

The Archbishop of Canterbury

Outspoken Margery, in pursuit of sainthood, got herself into many scrapes with the prelates in the Church, as they were quite testy in the 15th century about the rise of heresy and their authority being challenged. A seasoned pilgrim from the Holy Land, Rome, and the Shrine of St. James at Compostela in Spain, Margery really knew her stuff. She passed every inquisition of bishops and archbishops as an orthodox believer of the true faith. In London, after an interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury, she earned his certificate of approval. This was her ticket to not only protect her, but make her autobiography safe to read, unlike that other literature going about by the likes of John Wycliffe and later, Martin Luther.

* Protectors *

Richard - the Irish Hunchbacked Beggar

Returning to Venice from the Holy Land, the English pilgrims had ditched Margery - again - and refused to escort her to Rome. But Margery would not fail. As an answer to her prayers, she spotted a humpbacked Irish beggar man by the road, figuring he was probably about 50 years old. Margery introduced herself to Richard, who providentially spoke English. Then she convinced him to escort her to Rome. Though Richard had doubts of his abilities to fight off armed bandits, Margery convinced him of their divine appointment and God's blessing. This odd couple indeed made it safely to Rome but eventually had a falling out. There, Margery gave all her money to the poor, some of which she had borrowed from Richard, who had worked so hard begging for it.

John - an escort out of Poland

While Margery was pushing into her 60th year, her prodigal son had returned for a visit and died about a month later. Shortly, John Kempe passed away, leaving Margery a widow.  But always the tourist, she traveled back to Danzig with another recent widow, her daughter-in-law. After a six week stay, Margery looked for an escort home. But the King of Poland was at war with many countries which would deny her passage.

Yet, divine providence sent her a pilgrim named John, who Margery convinced - if she paid his way - to escort her part way home. While on foot, her new guide charged ahead at a breakneck speed, causing Margery to pant to keep up with him . (Keep in mind she was 60, which was old for the Middle Ages.)  She begged him to slow down, but he said he was afraid of robbers. Really? Either John had wanted to ditch her - something that Margery did not think as unusual as it had happened to her so many times before. Or perhaps John was keeping Margery so winded that she did not have the breath to lecture him on his self-improvement.

* Women *

St. Bridget of Sweden - Margery's role model

In the 15th century of northern Europe, St. Bridget of Sweden was one of the most revered saints. She had a great desire to reform the Church of its excesses and formed the Bridgettine order as an answer to this. Margery, who was determined to be a saint, saw many parallels in her own life with the life of St. Bridget. Margery's landlord in Rome - where she resided after she had been expelled by the English priest from the English hostel - actually had known St. Bridget when she was alive and visited Rome. Those in the household described St. Bridget as unpretentious, polite to everyone, cheerful disposition - a total opposite of Margery.

Dame Marguerite Florentine - a rich lady from Rome

While on route from Venice to Rome, Margery and Richard, the Irish beggar, stopped at Assisi, the hometown of St. Francis of Assisi and the Franciscans. As divine fortune would provide, Lady Marguerite from Rome was making a pilgrimage to Assisi. And on her return journey, the lady graciously received Richard, the Irish beggar, and Margery, an English candidate for sainthood. The language barrier between them was a blessing and may be the reason they all got along so well.

The Worshipful Widow of London - not quite another Dame Marguerite

On her homeward journey to England from Danzig, Margery parted with her escort John (who seemed to want to shake her off) at Aachen, which was a favored spot for pilgrims passing through to Rome. There she looked for another escort to Calais, having the good fortune to find a rich widow from London.

The worshipful widow seemed very agreeable, much like Dame Marguerite Florentine, and said that Margery could join her group. That is until the more the worshipful widow saw of Margery, the less she cared for her. Before dawn the next day, the worshipful widow sped out of Aachan leaving Margery behind. This did not surprise Margery, as this type of thing had happened way too often.


So is a sampling of some of the characters that came into Margery Kempe's life.

What made Margery's autobiography in the Middle Ages such good reading is that it was one of a real woman (with obvious faults), engaging with real people, having real adventures getting in and of scrapes while on the dangerous business of touring much Europe.

Could Chaucer come up with all this? Life is still stranger than fiction.

Next, there are universal lessons from Marjorie's life story - both positive and negative - which I plan to post in the next parts.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Margery Kempe (Part 1) - A woman living in interesting medieval times

May you live in interesting times.

So were the times of Margery Kempe in the late Middle Ages.

Louise Collis wrote a fascinating and quite witty and entertaining biography about Margery's life in "Memoirs of a Medieval Woman, The Life and Times of Margery Kempe."

Who was this medieval woman?

Margery was a first. Her story is the first autobiography, that we know of, ever recorded in the English language. This fascinating woman lived in England from 1373 - 1438 when she was not on pilgrimages or about being a tourist.

Illiterate, Margery dictated her memoirs with remarkable clarity about 1438, near the end of her life. Her life's story - fraught with adventure and perils - became a hit with the medieval readership. Then the original manuscript of her autobiography disappeared sometime in the 16th century, but resurfaced - with much excitement - in 1934 in a country house in Yorkshire.

Margery Kempe lived during interesting times - politically.

She came into this world in 1373 after Europe had been decimated by the first wave of the Black Death (1349) and grew up during the tumult of the Peasants Revolt of 1381. Most of the reigning monarchs in her days were subjects of Shakespeare's plays:

Edward III (1327 - 1377) - Shakespeare did not do him.
Richard II (1377 - 1399)
Henry IV (1399 - 1413)
Henry V (1413 - 1422)
Henry VI (1422- 1461)

Margery lived in interesting times from the religious perspective as well.

As a devout Catholic, Margery pursued with much passion a lifelong career of sainthood during the Great Schism (1378 - 1417), and went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and Rome when there were three popes at the same time in the Roman Catholic Church (Benedict XIII, Gregory XII, John XXIII). In her homeland of England, she was a contemporary of the legendary anchoress, Dame Julian of Norwich (1342 - 1417).

The Church, at a low ebb, was undergoing its troubles in Margery's day. Its authority was being challenged by reformers and dissidents, foreshadowing the coming of Martin Luther a hundred years later. Another of Margery's countrymen, the Morning Star of the Reformation, John Wycliffe (1330–84), initiated the first translation of the English Bible. During one of Margery's pilgrimages, John Huss, Czech priest and follower of John Wycliffe, was burned at the stake for heresy in 1415 during the Council of Constance (which was convened to resolve this Great Schism thing and the issue of three popes reigning at the same time.)

Yet, Margery failed to mention most of these watershed events. Her legacy is her story of a woman quite self-absorbed with herself, her visions, her prejudices, and her everyday life.

Below is a YouTube video from the Terry Jones' BBC series "Medieval Lives: The Damsel."   I could not find a shorter clip, but, if you just wish to focus on Margery's story, it is briefly told from 20:30 to 24:00.

Though Margery dictated her memoirs with a bias slant - she was always right, her detractors wrong - her flaws surely come through. This is what makes the book a good read. Louis Collis's biography resurrects this real woman - warts and all - and transports the reader back 600 years to an exciting time in history.

Next planned post, if Canterbury Tales were a reality show, Margery would be the star!

Book cover from amazon.comMemoirs of a Medieval Woman

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Remember, Remember the 5th of November ...


Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot ....

(Traditional English Rhyme - 17th Century)

Okay. What is this all about?

For starters -

"Remember Remember" refers to Guy Fawkes from 17th century English history. On the night of November 4, 1605, Guy Fawkes was caught in the cellars of the Houses of Parliament with several dozen barrels of gunpowder. If this Gunpowder Plot had succeeded, King James I could have been assassinated as well as many in the House of Lords as Parliament would have been reduced to rubble during its opening session on November 5th.

By an Act of Parliament, November 5th - "Firework Night" - was designated by King James I as a day of thanksgiving for "the joyful day of deliverance."

For a summary of the Guy Fawkes Story, check out the video clip below:

For more of this legend and its legacy, check out: The Traditions Of Guy Fawkes Night

This "Guy" also made a big impression on the movies in the 21st century as he was the inspirational figure in the 2006 Sci-Fi film - V for Vendetta.

The movie plot revolved about a disfigured freedom fighter, who dons a Guy Fawkes mask, inflicting terror to fight against the totalitarian regime in futuristic England. And this second "Gunpowder Plot" to blow up Parliament succeeded as shown in this final act of defiance: V for Vendetta (finale).

As for the religious intolerance that had created a "Guy Fawkes," America has learned a few things from the mistakes of mother England - such as adopting the First Amendment to guarantee Freedom of Religion and a Constitution to discourage a totalitarian regime from taking over.

If there are any fireworks this 5th of November - or any other time, may they be in peaceful celebration!

Picture from Wikipedia Commons: Festivities in Windsor Castle during Guy Fawkes night

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Name Change Can Be a Deadly Thing - Halloween scary thought for 2010

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

Then again - NOT!

Alois was a minor Austrian customs official, born in 1837 as an illegitimate child of a peasant woman. Five years after his birth, his mother married Johann Georg Hiedler, the man believed to be his father, a wandering miller, plying his trade in Lower Austria. Yet, for the first 39 years of his life, Alois bore his mother's maiden name, Schicklgruber, since Johann had never bothered to legitimize his son's birth.

Johann was also a deadbeat dad.  After Alois's mother died in 1847, Johann vanished for the next 30 years only to reappear at 84 to testify before a notary that he indeed was the father of Alois. Perhaps, this was done to help his son obtain an inheritance. How nice.

In 1876, the parish priest finally changed Alois's baptismal certificate to a variation of his father's surname. Later, Alois's third son from a third marriage expressed to his only boyhood friend that nothing had pleased him so much as his father's name change.

Young Adolf told August Kubizek that the name Schicklgruber "seemed to him so uncouth, so boorish, apart from being so clumsy and unpractical. He found 'Heidler' ... too soft; but 'Hilter' sounded nice and easy to remember."

Reference: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer (Pages 6-8)

So back in the 19th century, a deadbeat dad - Johann Georg Hiedler - not only changed the surname on his son's baptismal certificate, but also he would become the grandfather of one of the deadliest world figures of the 20th century - Adolf Hitler. Now, that's a scary thought.

Can you imagine Donald Duck saying "Heil Schicklgruber" fifty times?

Der Fuehrer's Face  (from which the above video clip was taken) was the only Donald Duck cartoon to win an Oscar.

Sticks and stones may break my bones
But names ... Schicklgruber? Hielder? Hilter?

They can change history ... and not for the better!


Picture from everystockphoto.comHall of Remembrance, US Holocaust Museum

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

October Sky 2010

Remember the Cold War?  Or for readers much younger than me, remember hearing about it in history then?  The main players were the USA versus the USSR.

On October 4, 1957, the former Soviet Union, launched the first artificial satellite into orbit, called Sputnik, loosely translating from Russian meaning "traveling companion of the earth." This should have been a cause of celebration in the West as it was in the East, for Russia's giant leap in technology and science. Not!

Instead, Sputnik caused great angst in the West, especially in the United States, which felt caught with its technological pants down. With US public support, this game changing "October surprise" of 1957 launched the space race and precipitated the formation of NASA on October 1, 1958.

The month of October in the late 1950s were interesting times.

Sputnik also inspired a coal miner's son and his classmates in West Virginia as told in the 1999 movie - October Sky, which is an anagram of the book,"Rocket Boys." From 1957 through 1960,  Homer Hickham and friends with the encouragement of their science teacher Miss Riley, through trial-and-error and much perseverance, learned to build rockets and get them to fly.

The following clip shows some of the Rocket Boys' struggles and triumphs:

That story was set over fifty years ago.

More information can be found at the Homer Hickam official Website:

What's up October 2010?

Not the space shuttle. Last flight of the space shuttle Discovery had been scheduled this October 21, 2010, but it has been postponed to early November. One more mission of the space shuttle Endeavor has been planned for 2011, which will mark the end of an era.

Since October 1958, the USSR has fallen apart. The US space shuttles are retired and not replaced. After the high of sending a man to the moon in 1969, NASA may be ending in a whimper, though there have been talks to re-energize space exploration.

Homer Hickham wrote a great article after the 30th anniversary of the moon landing - Time to Be Great Again

Maybe we need another Sputnik to get us going?


Sputnik from NASA astronomy picture of the day: 2007 October 4

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mary Poppins (Part 4) - Go Fly a Kite!

Oh, Go Fly a Kite! 

In other words ...

"Leave me alone!" 

"Go away!" 

"Go jump in the lake!"

Or some other rude phrase, such as  - "Go to (someplace where it is very hot.)"

Such words elicit feelings of rejection, isolation, anger, hurt, and serve to drive people away.  Yet, in Mary Poppins, "Go Fly a Kite" means quite the opposite.
Back to 1910:

End of Part 3, George Banks, spirits crushed, is plunging into an abyss of his deepest fears - loss of his position and the esteem of his peers.  His "take your kids to work day" ends with a panic, a run on the bank as his children flee in fright. Meanwhile, at home his wife rushes off to do her own thing, oblivious to the family crisis.

It gets worse.  Finally home, George's bosses call him back to work that evening for a regretful course of action.  Yet, in this dark moment, the blinders start to come off, and George sees the love of his children.

One of the more poignant moments, George leaves home walking the dark streets of London under the shadow of St. Paul's Cathedral, uncomplaining, to face his troubles, alone.  What he endures at the bank is humiliation as his bosses dress him down and discharge him.

Yet, at this low point, George has his "ah-hah" moment as he draws strength from the most unlikely of sources.

Can you say - Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?

Fast forward to 2010:

Today, many face our worst fears.  Loss of job?  House foreclosures?  Debts?  Underpaid and/or overworked for those who still have jobs?  Humiliation of being laid off or being rejected?  And other problems that seem so big?

It's a lonely road, but at such times, family, friends, and unexpected "angels" may come into our lives for such a time as this.  And this caring is a bright spot, which may cause the blinders to come off and see the people about us who love us.

Rewind to 1910:

George does not come home from the bank that evening.  The morning after, Mrs. Banks shows concern for someone other than herself as she fears the worst after learning that George had been discharged last night.

Did he go fly at kite ... like literally go jump in the lake? Or in this case a river?  In his despondency after being sack, did he decide to end it all?

Actually, George did decide to go fly a kite.

Let's go fly a kite.

The first time I heard this song I thought it was rather silly.  But now I see it differently.

In facing the prospect of losing everything, George finds everything, in particular his family.  The movie starts with a kite, as the Banks children wreck it in the park after slipping away from their mean faced nanny (before Mary Poppins.)  Their father mending the broken kite means a lot to the Banks children - perhaps a metaphor for mending their family relationships?

Now, the entire family gets together in this project and enjoys flying their mended kite.  In the Disney happy ending, last moment George gets not only his job back, but a promotion. But the promotion does not matter as much as George's real source of joy - bonding with his loved ones, who are now with him.

The wind changes.  And Mary Poppins keeps her word to stay only till the wind changes.  It's time for her to move on.  Before exiting the Banks lives, Mary is reminded that the children now think more of their father than they do of her. She responds quite appropriately - As it should be

Fast forward to 2010:

During a time such as a serious recession, many of us have been forced to downsize, yet in doing so have rediscovered our families, spending not money, but quality time with them.

Anyone can be a Bert or Mary.  No supernatural powers required.  Just being there during a time of need can make a big difference and even be a source in which to draw strength during a crisis.  And that is why the movie, Mary Poppins, is so timeless.
On the importance of fathers like George Banks, this Father's Day message in 2010 from President Obama is spot on:  Take time to be a Dad today

Whether 1910 or 2010, little things matter a great deal.  Even something like flying a kite.  And a father's influence is so important!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Mary Poppins (Part 3) - Take your kids to work day?

Take your daughters and sons to work day?

Who knew Mary Poppins thought of this one more than 80 years ahead of Gloria Steinem! And seeing how badly this "take your kids to work day" turned out in 1910, no wonder we waited till the 1990s to give it another try.

Where were we? Continuing from the last two posts, I see that a prominent theme in the Disney version of Mary Poppins is the transformation of the father, George Banks.  From the get-go, Mary announced she would stay as the Banks' nanny until the wind changed.  Before that happens, George faces more than a change in the weather - a major Victorian mid-life crisis.

Back in 1910:

Flustered by the disorder and nonsensical talk of fantastic adventures, George Banks decides to give Mary Poppins a good talking to. Poor George doesn't know what hit him when this clever nanny turns the conversation around.  He ends up believing that taking Jane and Michael for an outing at his bank is actually his idea. 

The following day, it's take your children to work day at the bank in London.  But Michael does not fully cooperate.  This good hearted son wishes to buy crumbs from the Bird Woman, which Mary Poppins told him about, instead of depositing his tuppence in his father's bank.

Michael's fight with his father's boss over the tuppence precipitates a panic among the depositors and a run on the bank.  Chaos ensues.  The Banks children run from the pandemonium in terror.  And George haplessly finds himself at the epicenter of the worst crisis since the last run on the bank in 1773 when their financing of a shipment of tea was destroyed in the Boston Tea Party.

The first part of this clip from those critical moments in the movie.  Bert's talk with the children, especially about their father. 

I love Bert, for he has great empathy for their father. Mr. George Banks has imprisoned himself in a cold cage of work. Yet, feeling quite alone, George carries on, uncomplaining, shouldering his burdens in silence as it seems there is no one looking out for him and to whom he can go for help when trouble comes.

Even Mrs. Banks ignores the needs of her frightened children as she pawns them off on Bert while rushing off to do her own thing. Sadly, the mother is absent, both physically and emotionally, at a time when both  her children and her husband need her support.

Fast forward to 2010:

Many of us have faced or will face or are now facing that same lonely road -  losing our jobs, coping with an unwelcome change in our way of life.  The definition of who we thought we were is threatened. When bad things happen, we may feel very alone and forsaken.

While keeping our noses to the grindstone, we have created quite a prison for ourselves.  What has our preoccupation with the cares of life gotten us when we see our world about to crumble?  Where do we go for help?  Sadly, family and friends, those closest to us, may seem absent from our pain, and they are not there for us, at least emotionally, self-absorbed, busy doing their own thing.

Rewind to 1910:

Poor George.  Suddenly, he realizes his dreams are shattered; his spirit crushed.   His whole world has turned upside unexpectedly, suddenly, and everything he has worked for, hoped for, his dreams which were within his grasp have evaporated, as he laments such to Burt in this clip.

Bert is wonderful here.  George is reminded that, while grinding at that grindstone, he was letting his family, especially his children slip away from him.  His son and daughter both look up to him and they need him.  Does he see that?  Meanwhile, time flies, and soon his children will be grown, gone away, and it will be too late. 

At this low point, there appears one bright spot as George sees the love of his children, and George's hard exterior starts to crack.

Rightly said the prophet:  " ... and a little child shall lead them."  (Isaiah 11:6)

Fast forward to 2010:

Many in 2010 face the same type of challenges:  the 2008 banking crisis, rising debt, serious recession, high unemployment, stock market devaluations, shrinking bank accounts. For many of us, our world has come crashing down. The affluence and good life we were chasing has suddenly evaporated.

Grind, grind, grind at that grindstone?  In spite of that, what has our diligence gotten us anyway?  Our dreams are shattered.  Our world has crumbled.  Time waits for no one as children, family, loved ones grow up, move on, and slip away from us ....

But this catastrophe can be transformed to a eucatastrophe as I conclude in the final post to come.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mary Poppins (Part 2) - It's a Wonderful Life?

Recap of Part 1:

Revisiting the Disney version of Mary Poppins as an adult, I see the real story is about the father, George Banks, whose struggles in 1910 are not different than for many of us in 2010.

Now, let me explain ...

Back in 1910:

For starters, George Banks enjoys a comfortable life as a banker in the London at the twilight of the Victorian age. England is a superpower at the turn of the 20th century. With Queen Victoria's passing in 1901, King Edward is on the throne - "The Age of Men."

In 1910 Mr. Banks sees himself as the benevolent dictator of his household, laced in the straight jacket of order and patterns. He seems to be at the top of this game with the life he leads, as shown in this video clip.

Mrs. Banks, involved in the women's suffrage movement, comes across as more engaged in throwing eggs at the prime minister than paying any attention to the serious business at home. She sloughs off the responsibility of raising her children to nannies, servants, and later even the local chimney sweep, Bert.

At the start of the movie, one of a long string of nannies quits in a huff after losing track of the children in the park. Clearly, Jane and Michael Banks have been acting out, though they hardly seem like hellions by today's standards.

It's a Wonderful Life?

The Banks are one dysfunctional family, disconnected from each other. For the bigger picture from history, World War One will soon arise from the horizon, bringing with its ugly devastation much disillusion, shaking and shrinking the British empire.

Fast forward to 2010:

Like England of a 100 years ago, America has risen to superpower status and has become the envy of the world in affluence and achievement.

Productivity is king. As a result, many Americans have become embroiled in work at the daily grindstone, putting in long hours during weekends and evenings, striving to climb the ladder of success or at least keep jobs in a troubling economy. Meanwhile, needs of spouses, significant others, children may be neglected as well as the workers own needs.

In 2010 with the barrage of 24/7 news coverage, there is an uneasy feeling as to what may be looming on the horizon. Another terrorist attack? A nuclear war? A Great Depression II? The situation in 2010 may not be that much different than that of George Banks' family back in 1910.

Rewind to 1910:

As the movie unfolds, Mary Poppins answers the desires of the children as their nanny of choice. Once hired on, she transports Jane and Michael from their stifling structured environs to magical adventures. As well as expanding their imagination, she administers the children a tender dose of humanity.

With her snowglobe of St. Paul's Cathedral, Mary gives the children a vision of the underclass, the working poor, living in the shadows of the affluent. Self-absorbed, consumed by the busy-ness of life, many seem to ignore the politically powerless, like the Bird Woman sitting at the cathedral steps selling her wares.

"Feed the Birds" is one of the loveliest, if not most poignant songs, in the movie. And Mary has a way of showing her employer, Mr. Banks, that he crosses paths with the Bird Woman on his way to work each day. Does he notice her?

Fast forward to 2010, again:

The poor, the underclass, the politically powerless in the shadows are still with us as Jesus had said some 2000 years ago:

"The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want...."
Mark 14:7 (New International Version)

Today, people are still hurting as houses are foreclosed, jobs are lost, wages reduced though cost of living is rising. The want of the underclass, the underemployed, the unemployed is more keenly felt especially during tough times. In the whirlwind of busy-ness, do we see them?

Part 3, the next post, George Banks journey continues as the man who seems to have had everything, suddenly faces losing everything ...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Mary Poppins (Part 1) - from 1910 to 2010

It was one of those summer days near the mountains in 2010 ....

A thunderstorm was brewing as I sat in the comfort of my house, looking out the window, anticipating nature's free light show. And I was not disappointed. Storm clouds gathered. Lightening flashed on the mountain tops. Thunder roared. Then the unexpected happened.

Lightening struck ... our house. Or should say the ham radio antenna nearby. The antenna wires evaporated as a surge of electricity selectively damaged circuits and appliances. The TV set and DVD player were toast as well as our toaster. We had a mess to deal with.

As we waited on insurance and repairs, a concerned neighbor had lent us a spare TV set and we hooked up an old VHS player as replacements were on the way. Meanwhile, I got in touch with my inner child and checked out some classic Disney tapes from our local library. And one of them was "Mary Poppins."

Mary Poppins was good with dealing with messes, wasn't she? Remember "A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down?"

I had fond memories of Mary Poppins. Back in the dark ages when I was in grade school, my music teacher had commented how much I looked like Jane Banks, the little girl in the story. I remember some of the silly songs. Can you spell "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?" When I learned to spell that word, I thought I was quite smart.

After watching the movie, again, as an adult in the 21st century, I saw another dimension. This really wasn't strictly a children's story. The Disney version had a la flavor of Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol, only not as scary, but still quite moving.

After stripping off the icing of magical adventures and fun songs and dance, it seemed that underlying story was about the father, George Banks. Mary Poppins and her friend Bert served as catalysts to precipitate George's release from the gilded cage, which he and society had created from himself.

The movie still has its appeal because it is timeless. What George Banks faced in 1910 is not so different than the crisis many of us are experiencing in 2010. Please hang in there for the next three posts as I make my case and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Dancing on Top of the World Trade Center

Nine years ago .... We were in the ninth month of a new century, a new millennium.

Then on September 11 , America was attacked, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center came tumbling down, and thousands of innocent lives were lost.

The War on Terror continues on to this day, and there still are so many questions ....

Why do bad things ... sometimes very bad things ... happen? Why is there evil in the world?

Many books have tried to get their arms around this big question of Why?
Check out:
* Rabbi Harold Kushner's When Bad Things Happen to Good People.
* Victor Frankl's Holocaust experience: Man's Search for Meaning
* William Young's The Shack .
* The world's best seller of all time - the Holy Bible ....

In 1973, Godspell - a musical based on the Gospel of St. Matthew - came to the big screen. One of its catchy numbers - All for the Best - tackles some of the why questions as the lyrics can be summed up by St. Paul's assertion:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28 (King James Version)
Below is a video clip of that number.
(It's almsot5 minutes long, but if you see anything, check out the final scene at 4:20 to 4:40.)

The final seconds of the last scene, they are literally ...

Dancing on Top of the World Trade Center

The Twin Towers were yet to be finished when Godspell was filmed, and 28 years later the World Trade Center came tumbling down.

I don't know why 9-11 - or countless other acts of evil - happen. Only God knows, and He has a plan. It seems He allows evil to run its course while moving forward with His purpose to the day when He will make all things right:

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
Revelation 21:4 (King James Version)

May the God of all Comfort be with all of you who suffered have loss, whether during the 9-11 attacks or the War on Terror. And God bless and protect our troops, who fight vigilantly to protect us and keep us safe.

Photo from Wikipedia Commons: World trade center aerial view March 2001

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"Heat Wave" by Richard Castle - When Art imitates Art

I thought I had stepped into a 21st century Pleasantville. As my local library was undergoing renovations, perhaps construction crews had opened up a door into the TV universe? Sounds like a plot about a library for a book found in a library.

Yes, I am being ridiculous.

As my eyes scoped out the displaced shelves of the room under reconstruction, one of the new books on the back shelf got my attention: "Heat Wave" by Richard Castle.

The mystery writer, Richard Castle, is a real guy. I had been hooked on the TV show, Castle, and looked forward to another season starting this September 2010. Seeing the book, I thought, Maybe the show is based on Life?
On the back side of the book jacket, I was surprised to see a large photo of Nathan Fillion, which the writeup claimed was the Richard Castle and boasted of his success with his Derrick Storm novels. Castle had killed off this hero and began a new series, Nikki Heat, the NYPD homicide detective shadowed by Pulitzer prize winning writer, Jameson Rook, who was researching his next set of articles on New York's finest.

Rook? Castle? Hah! Checkmate!

This book was not Art imitating Life. Or Life imitating Art. It was Art imitating Art.

I read the book and found it as enjoyable as the show. At the time in my corner of the universe, I was going through a heat wave of my own - 105 degrees F - so I could relate.

"Heat Wave" has its own book trailer on YouTube:

And now a movie in 2011?

Here are a few other reviews I found online:

* Heat Wave by Richard Castle – Book Review

* Richard Castle's 'Heat Wave' novel: Not bad!

What's next? Derrick Storm novels? Gathering Storm? Unholy Storm? .... Final Storm?

Don't that beat all?

Cover from Barnes & Noble
For an interactive peek at the book, check out amazon: Heat Wave

Monday, August 9, 2010

A kiss immortalized in August 14, 1945

Photo from Wikipedia: Kissing the War Goodbye

Above is the lesser known photo taken by Lt. Victor Jorgensen of a sailor kissing a passing nurse on VJ Day in Times Square.

The most famous and iconic picture of this same subject - VJ Day in Times Square - taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt, was published in LIFE in 1945 with the caption, In New York's Times Square a white-clad girl clutches her purse and skirt as an uninhibited sailor plants his lips squarely on hers.

August 14, 1945 in New York City was a magical moment - a confluence of history, a place, and everyday people. Soldiers were returning home from an intense four years of fighting when President Truman announced Victory in Japan (VJ Day) - the end of the American involvement in World War II.

In Times Square, the sailors paraded in joy for they had won! On the street, civilians came out to the streets from their shops, the hospitals, to savor this moment of victory. Then a sailor, caught up in the passion, kissed a surprised young nurse, who was stopped in mid stride as two photographers, Lt. Jorgenson, an American sailor, and Alfred Eisenstaedt, a German-American photojournalist for LIFE magazine, snapped this spontaneous moment.

Eisenstaedt, whose photo made it into LIFE, ironically had fought on the side of Germany in World War I. He later photographed a meeting between Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini in Italy before emigrating to US to escape Nazi oppression in 1935 .

But who were the subjects of Jorgenson's and Eisenstaedt's iconic photo?

The nurse was Edith Shain and here is the story:

The greatest generation, like Edith Shain who passed away this June 2010, is fading into history. The new generation taking their place is greatly in debt to their sacrifce.

When our nation was born, the writers of the Declaration of Independence finished "with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor."

So did many, who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War II, carried the Spirit of 1776 to the Spirit of 1945. May our generation carry the Spirit of 1776 and 1945 in 2010 and beyond.

Other links:

From Edith Shain, nurse whose V-J kiss with sailor in Times Square immortalized in Life photo, dies at 91

From Photo of iconic kiss reenacted

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Beverly Hillbillies and Amos - country folk in the big city

Remember the Ballad of Jed Clampett by Flatt & Scruggs?

"Come and listen to a story 'bout a man named Jed
Poor mountaineer barely kept his family fed
Then one day he was shooting for some food,
And up through the ground come a bubbling crude...."

For the complete lyrics: click here

The first two verses opened and the last one closed the show of the 9 year long running sitcom, The Beveryly Hillbillies (1962-1971)

This really dates me, but I watched the Beverly Hillbillies on TV before they went into perpetual reruns on TV land. The humor of the show was displacement - the fish out of water - rural, simple, naive hillbillies in the big city culture and sophistication of Beverly Hills. How absurd! Or was it?

What I found so appealing about the Clampett family in the original series was that they were genuinely decent, honest, kind, polite, godly people. As a plot for many episodes, the dishonest, the greedy, the godless, the self-aggrandizing had marked this simple hillbilly family as an easy target to use and to fleece. Yet, simple goodness prevailed over the many sophisticated flavors of evil.

"Simple" as in good is always easy to grasp. What does a straight line look like? There is one answer.

It doesn't leave much to the imagination, does it? Straight can only be one way.

"Sophistication" in the worldly sense is harder to grasp. What does a crooked line look like?

There are infinite ways for the line to be crooked. Likewise, evil can be twisted in an infinite many ways. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that evil seems more appealing and intriguing? Its mystery?

I see a timeless parable in the original "Beveryly Hillbillies." In some episodes, the simple goodness and wisdom of the Clampetts seemed as a witness to the complicated, twisted sophistication and worldly wisdom of the big city.

Likewise, there is another much overlooked story of an ancient "hillbilly," who lived in the 8th century before Christ and came to the sophisticated town of Bethel. His name was Amos, a shepherd from the desert of Tekoa, who took care of sycamore-fig trees.

Read all about this simple country preacher, who came to the "Beverly Hills" of his day: The Country Preacher Who Came to Town

For our sophisticated age of the internet in the 21st century, Amos proclaims this timeless message from the One who called him:

12 For I know how many are your offenses
and how great your sins.
You oppress the righteous and take bribes
and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
13 Therefore the prudent man keeps quiet in such times,
for the times are evil.
14 Seek good, not evil,
that you may live.
Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you,
just as you say he is.

Amos 5:12-14

Whether the fictional Jed Clampett or the Old Testament prophet Amos - both these country boys took on the sophisticated big city.


Beverly Hills

from wikipedia:
Straight line
Crooked line

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Trinity Site - 65 years ago

The first Saturday in October 2008, I had visited one of the two days in the year that the Trinity Site was opened up to the public. I wrote about the experience and had it published in the article below:

The Trinity Site: Where the First Atomic Bomb was Exploded - click here

This July 16, 2010 is the 65th anniversary of the explosion of the first atomic bomb. The video clip below shows that event.

Throughout the years, the splitting of the atom has sparked a firestorm of controversy and soul searching as this powerful genie was unleashed upon humanity. One thing it did do. It ended World War Two - the most deadly war to date - whose death toll was mounting up between 62 to 78 million.

Who saw this coming? Perhaps 1900 years ago, St. Peter saw an awesome day of destruction when he penned these words:

"You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat."
2 Peter 3:11-12 (New International Version)

That day has not come yet - we are still here. But in an obscure place in the desert of New Mexico, a small piece of the elements melted away with heat 65 years ago.

Photo at entrance to Ground Zero: S. K. Smith

Wednesday, June 30, 2010