Thursday, December 30, 2010

Year-End Review

It was one year ago, on December 31, 2009, that I launched this blog. My wife had been encouraging me to do it. “You could put some of your writings out there, and you could talk about some of the things you comment on every day when we watch the news,” she said. So I decided to give it a try. Not Dark Yet seemed the perfect title, inspired by the song by Bob Dylan. I began my blog as a place to share essays, poetry, commentary about current events and other things that mattered to me. I stated in that first blog entry, “My interests include poetry, religion, politics, nature, conservation, and striving toward the common good. This blog will cover observations of life and shared events.” 136 posts later, I am now looking over a year's worth of blogging.

The entries that I most enjoyed writing include my recollections of my father (September), and my “Explorations of Mystery and Wonder” (May). I weighed in on the healthcare debate early in the year. The darkest observation points for me involved certain Supreme Court decisions. I included some poetry, thoughts on spirituality, childhood experiences, and a tribute to my beloved Mr. Higgins (February). I’ve also tried to let Bob Dylan make some “cameo” appearances from time to time (he appears 11 times in the blog labels – “poetry’ is the only label with more occurrences).

Back in June, Blogger began making statistics available so I could see how many people were viewing the blog. Since they started keeping track in June, there have been some 4,600 pageviews from at least 24 countries. I’m even able to track the most popular postings. Here are the Top ten entries according to the number of pageviews:

1. Southern Nights and Stereotypes – A look at Rick Bragg’s All Over but the Shoutin’.
This one is far out ahead of the others, with over 650 page views.

2. Wendell Berry and the Sacred Task of Writing – One that I sat down and wrote on the spur of the moment after being inspired by a radio discussion of one of Mr. Berry’s books.

3. Tibetan Sand Mandala: Precision and Prayer – My “photo journalistic” attempt to document the monks’ visit to Birmingham.

4. Icons: What’s in a Name? – This was the quirkiest piece that I posted. I was always bothered that I couldn’t get those 21st century icons lined up symmetrically. Then when I saw how many people were viewing it, I went back to rework it, swapping out a picture that I could make line up properly.

5. An Ordinary Life – I am very glad that this piece about my friend, Meg Parker, made the top 10 list. It looks back on a foundational period in my life.

6. Finding Christmas – an important essay for me, I’m glad some other people liked it.

7. When Faiths Collide – a review of Martin Marty’s book. I thought the book had something important to say about interfaith dialogue.

8. Don’t Take my Word for It – One of my tributes to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

9. My Back Pages – A fun video from a celebration of Bob Dylan’s music. Although I didn’t mention it at the time, my birthday was the occasion for posting that one (“I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now”).

10. Songs for Christmas: Christmas Time is Here – It warmed my heart that Charlie Brown made the top 10 list!

And honorable mention goes to:

11. Every Grain of Sand – this one was holding in the top 10 until it was edged out by Charlie Brown’s Christmas. I keep it in the list just because it stands as a great work by Bob Dylan.

Blogger’s tabulation of countries represented by viewers includes The United States, Russia, Canada, Spain, The Netherlands, Germany, Brazil, France, Denmark, The United Kingdom, Croatia, Slovenia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Australia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Belgium, India, Saudi Arabia, The Philippines, Italy, Albania, and Israel.

I’ve had fun with the blogging this year. Many thanks to all who have followed this blog, and a special thanks to those who have shared their comments along the way. I look forward to another year. Who knows what topics will arise in the months ahead?



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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Surprised by Snow



I mentioned when posting the "White Christmas" entry on Christmas Eve's "Songs for Christmas" that down here in the deep South, we never have a white Christmas. Well, we were surprised to see the white stuff falling all day on Christmas Day. It started out to be a dreary rainy drizzle in the early morning, but by mid-morning we were seeing lager snowflakes coming down. By early afternoon, it was actually accumulating on the grass.

Snow on Christmas in Alabama can generate some excitement! The local paper had photos in this morning's edition, and many people sent in there snow photos to WBRC FOX6, a local TV station. The pictures you see here were taken from the FOX6 website.

This was a first for me - to actually see snow coming down on Christmas Day!



Saturday, December 25, 2010

Songs for Christmas: A Hallelujah Chorus!

My intention for this "Songs of Christmas" series was to have 12 songs, ending on Christmas Eve with "White Christmas." However, a friend sent me this video that is amazingly and wonderfully and joyfully moving. I thought it would be most fitting to include this one on Christmas Day. The Christmas season does not end here, however. According to the liturgical calendar, there are eleven more days to celebrate. The Feast of the Epiphany on January 6 will be the culmination of the Christmas celebration. Here's wishing you all a wonderful Christmas season!

"On Nov.13 2010 unsuspecting shoppers got a big surprise while enjoying their lunch. Over 100 participants in this awesome Christmas Flash Mob. This is a must see! This flash mob was organized by http://www.AlphabetPhotography.com/ to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas."






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Friday, December 24, 2010

Songs for Christmas: White Christmas

Having grown up in the South, I've never known a white Christmas. As children, we would always hope against hope for snow because all those images from story books and the movies associated snow with Christmas. Bing Crosby was one who gave us many songs for Christmas, perhaps the most notable was "White Christmas," written by Irving Berlin. It was first recorded in 1942, then was used in the movie, Holiday Inn starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire.

The version that has become popular was a second recording that Crosby did in 1947. As a child, I remember my grandmother commenting on how she loved to hear Bing Crosby sing the song. The fact that she loved it, plus the perennial wish for snow, probably influenced my own affection for the song.






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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Songs for Christmas: Silent Night

Can you imagine not singing Silent Night at least once during the Christmas season? The story goes that this simple carol was composed by an Austrian choirmaster because the church organ was broken and he needed a song that could be sung with guitar accompaniment. Whether or not the broken organ story is true,"Stille Nacht," written by Father Joseph Mohr (melody by Franz Xaver Gruber) was first performed in the Nikolaus-Kirche (Church of St. Nicholas) in Oberndorf, Austria on December 24, 1818, with guitar accompaniment.  In 1859, John Freeman Young (second Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Florida) first published the English translation that we know today. Is there a more beloved Christmas carol that can be enjoyed by the young and the old alike?

I once learned this carol in the original German when I shared office space with a German language instructor. She was native to Germany and coached me in pronunciation. Since I don't speak German, I have long since forgotten the German lyrics. Last year I heard Enya's CD, And Winter Came. One of the tracks off that album is "Oiche Chuin," an Irish version of Silent Night. I found it to be a strikingly beautiful rendition. Here it is for your enjoyment.






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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Songs for Christmas: Wexford Carol

St. Andrew's Church in Winter
photo by Parrish Nored
The Wexford Carol may be my all time favorite carol. It is an Irish carol that originated in County Wexford and dates from the 12th century. This is another one that I came late in knowing. My first encounter with the carol was in the mid 1980s when I was singing in the choir at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Birmingham. We were then under the direction of Lester Seigel, a most superb organist and choirmaster who was also choir director at Temple Emanu-El at the time (his weekends were quite busy!). These days, Dr. Seigel is an internationally known conductor and is Department Chair for the Music Department at Birmingham-Southern College. I am proud to have known him back in the day.

There is great joy in listening to music, but to sing in the choir adds another dimension. The choir works with the song over and over before it is presented to the public. As a result, the choir member has a much more intimate involvement with the music, and has had the repeated experience of finding that place of harmony, balance, timing and accord with the rest of the choir. The congregation enjoys the results of the choir's many rehearsals, but the entire process brings rich reward to the choir member.

I have two versions of the Wexford Carol here. The first is a choral presentation that is very much the way I first learned the carol. The second is of Alison Krauss recording the piece for the CD, Yo Yo Ma and Friends: Songs of Joy & Peace. Alison Krauss does a magnificent job with the song. Her background in country music (along with the addition of the drum and pipes) brings a real Celtic flavor to this Irish carol. Enjoy either one, or both!








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Friday, December 17, 2010

Songs for Christmas: Little Drummer Boy

Call this one "Christmas Americana!" I remember enjoying this song as a child and then as I grew older I recognized the poignant message of the song that was more than just a boy playing his drum. Last year when I heard that Bob Dylan had released a Christmas album, Christmas in the Heart, I howled (no reference to Allen Ginsberg intended) at the notion. I'm a Dylan fan, but Christmas music? What was he doing? Was this a serious project, or tongue-in-cheek? My daughter gave the CD to me for Christmas last year and I actually enjoyed it. Apparently, Dylan wanted to bring together those Christmas songs he remembered as a kid growing up in middle America in the 1950s. He stated in an interview that those songs were a part of his life, just like folk songs. "Little Drummer Boy" is one of my favorite tracks from that CD, and someone has provided some excellent "Americana" illustration to accompany the piece.





Speaking of drums, I must add that the toy drum kept me believing in Santa Claus a little longer than might have otherwise been the case. It seems that every Christmas, one or another of us kids would get a toy drum which we delighted in playing while marching about the house. It would irritate my mother to no end, and she did not hesitate to remark how she hated those toy drums. I doubted the rumor that our parents gave us those gifts because I knew my mother would never buy us a drum for Christmas - it must be Santa.



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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Songs for Christmas: Lo! How a Rose E'er Blooming

I learned this carol while singing in the Men's Chorus at Golden Gate Baptist Seminary around 1979. I am amazed sometimes that it takes me so long to learn about some of these treasures. We sang it acapella during that Christmas season, and it became one of my favorites.

Originally known as "Es ist ein Ros entsprungen," this German Marian hymn dates back to the 16th century. The English translation "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" was written by Theodore Baker in 1894.






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Monday, December 13, 2010

Songs for Christmas: Happy Christmas (War Is Over)


We saw in the previous post how Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in the 19th century used poetry in an attempt to reconcile the realities of war and personal loss with the Christmas message of hope for peace on earth. Similarly, John Lennon in the 1970s used music (and a few billboards) to call our attention to the need to act upon "the better angels of our nature"  (to use Lincoln's phrase). As the song continues to be heard over the airwaves each Christmas, it calls  us to actually seek the peace that we sing about during this season.








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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Songs for Christmas: I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

This carol is based on the poem “Christmas Bells,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He wrote the poem in 1863 in the aftermath of the news that his son, a lieutenant in the American Civil War, had been wounded in battle. Longfellow had lost his wife two years before in an accidental fire. Thus the poem was written during a time of national crisis and personal loss. I can remember hearing this carol sung in church when I was a teenager. I suppose it was partly that I was growing from a childhood view into an adult view of Christmas, but I remember being impressed by the admission of doubt and despair over the hate and wrong in the world at a time when one wants to celebrate peace and hope.

The carol has been set to a number of tunes. I tried to find one with the hymn tune (WALTHAM) that I was familiar with, but could not find that version. Harry Belafonte does a sensitive rendition of the song set to a 1950s tune written by Johnny Marks (better known for writing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer).







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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Songs for Christmas: Angels We Have Heard on High

Here's a wonderful Christmas hymn that is always fun to sing. I loved singing the tenor part to this back in my choir days in school. It is a great one to listen to, and a great one to participate in during congregation singing. It reminds us that we participate in a truly cosmic event.







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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Songs for Christmas: What Child Is This

 
King's College Chapel


Here's another carol that remains popular at Christmas time. Written in 1865 by William Chatterton Dix, it was later set to the traditional English tune,"Greensleeves," which gives it that Renaissance flavor. I enjoyed learning to play this one on the guitar years ago. The song is beautifully done here by the choir at King's College, Cambridge in 1995, using John Stainer's arrangement of the tune.













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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Finding Christmas

The following essay is one that I did at the request of Karen Matteson, a Unitarian Minister. She wanted me to take part in a Sunday morning service in preparation for Christmas. Many in that Unitarian congregation felt that it was very important to have a big Christmas Eve celebration. Others had a problem with Christmas because they came from different backgrounds, and most had a problem with affirming the divinity of Christ. The minister wanted to have a service to help bring everyone in to the celebration of the season while acknowledging the different places that many were coming from. "Finding Christmas" was my contribution to that service which I was honored to take part in.

Finding Christmas: A Post-modern Christian Revisits an Ancient Holiday
by Charles Kinnaird

"In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer."
~Albert Camus

In the Jesus story, the Gospel writer at one point has the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, asking the question, "What am I to do with Jesus?" It is fascinating to me that from that time until this, most of us in Western Civilization have had to ask that very question and in some way respond to the question. When I was in high school, there were two Broadway musicals, Godspell, and Jesus Christ, Superstar, that represented one way that my generation was responding to the question of what to do with Jesus. Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, Handel's Messiah, Zulu Zionism in South Africa, Base Communities in Latin America, and the Jesus Seminar in Santa Rosa, CA, represent a few of the many varied responses to the same question.

In my own journey, I am always re-evaluating and redefining. I took a computer course once where we were working with spreadsheets. I loved the visual effect of having the spreadsheet all laid out, then typing in another number and watching the whole screen change in response to the new data. A living philosophy has to be that way. When we are confronted with new information or new experiences, our perspective will change in some way. There may even be a shift in our world view.

A few years ago, I was attending a Eucharistic service at an Episcopal Church (some traditions refer to it as Mass, or Holy Communion). It was at a time when I was re-assessing what the Christian myth meant to me, given my world view. It occurred to me that however the person of Jesus fits (or does not fit) into one's theology, the Jesus Story dramatically illustrates the risk of incarnation. It was an emotional moment and I immediately connected with that notion because I knew first-hand the risk of incarnation.

In my work as a registered nurse, I often have to ask patients to sign a consent form for the surgeon to operate. I always ask the patient "Has the doctor explained to you the risks and the benefits of this procedure?" If the patient answers affirmatively, then I know that he or she is ready to sign the consent form. That day during the Eucharist, I knew that as I drank from the cup, I was affirming my own participation in the risk of incarnation. Knowing the beauty of being alive, I was also fully aware of the risk.

Christmas is about light and life. It is a celebration in the middle of winter that the light will come and the darkness will end. It is a celebration of the promise of new life beginning. We call it Christmas, a time when Christians celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus as the incarnation of God and a light to the world.

The celebration existed, however, long before the Christians took it over. Winter Solstice had long been a time to celebrate the dawn on the darkness of winter. It was a time to extol the evergreen that proclaimed the promise of life in the dead of winter.

Christmas for us can be a time to celebrate the joy and beauty of incarnation as we know it. If we have lived long enough, we understand the risk, but we also know from our collective experience that the darkness will end. We sense the persistent hope of new life. We know that life on this planet is worth the risk. We can use the Christmas season to acknowledge our own participation in the incarnation of Life.

Our light has come.
Our day has dawned.
We can joyfully celebrate:
Life is up to something,
and we are included!
Life is full of surprises,
and we are a part of it!



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Saturday, December 4, 2010

Songs for Christmas: Gabriel's Message

I enjoy listening to some of the Medieval and Renaissance Christmas carols. “Gabriel’s Message" is based on a Basque carol and may have roots in the thirteenth or fourteenth century hymn “Angelus Ad Virginem.” This carol dates from around 1582. It was copied down by French composer and musicologist Charles Bordes, who published it in an 1895 volume of Basque folk tunes. The song celebrates the angel Gabriel's announcement to Mary that she is highly favored and has been chosen to be the blessed mother of Christ, Emmanuel ("God with us"). Sting does a fine rendition of it on his CD, If on a Winter’s Night. Here is a live performance of it from the Durham Cathedral:


Friday, December 3, 2010

Songs for Christmas: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

I first became aware of this song in junior high school when it was featured on an episode of The Partridge Family (my little brother said at the time, "I can't believe you've never heard that one before!"). It was written by Alabama native Hugh Martin for the movie, Meet Me in St. Louis, and was sung by Judy Garland in that movie. Don Williams has a great essay on the two versions of this song: the one used in the movie and the one that has become a popular Christmas song. You can read Don’s essay here. Below you can listen to Frank Sinatra’s version of the song. The original, sung by Judy Garland can be viewed here.

Hugh Martin, by the way, is now 96 years old and living in Encinitas, California.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Songs for Christmas: Christmas Time is Here

During the month of December, I'll be posting a few of my favorite Christmas songs. I'll have a You Tube version of each song so that you can stop and listen if you like.

I remember watching the Charlie Brown Christmas special the very first time it was aired. As an 11-year-old, I was already a seasoned fan of the Peanuts comic strip by Charles Shultz. Finding it in the “Sunday Funnies” was always a treat. Naturally, I took delight in the first televised cartoon of the Peanuts gang. Not only did A Charlie Brown Christmas tell an endearing Christmas story while presenting THE Christmas story, it was probably my first introduction to jazz with the musical score written by Vince Guaraldi. Many years later, I was very glad to have an excuse to watch the televised special again when my own daughter was young. The opening song, “Christmas Time is Here,” has since become and enduring Christmas classic, featured on many Christmas recordings.


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