Archive for January, 2014

Revisiting places between the pages

If you like to read and travel, in books, you’ll come across places you’ve been, people you’ve met, things you’ve seen.

Last weekend, when it was raining and I hadn’t much to do, I savored books I had gotten at Christmas. One was “Churchill and the King” by historian Kenneth Weisbrode.

I came across this description of Prime Minister Winston Churchill being moved by the resiliency and patriotism of the British people during the German air raids on southeastern London in World War II:  “Churchill went to inspect bomb damage at Peckham, and saw little Union Jacks displayed in the rubble. He began to cry, he said, from ‘wonder and admiration.’”

Peckham is a place I know! In August 2001, just days before the 9/11 air attacks on our greatest city, I spent two weeks working in that part of London as a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. The charity was replacing prefab shelters hastily erected after the bombings, which people were still living in 60 years later. I came to know residents and helpers, some of them members of a missionary church, Ichthus Fellowship, I had read about in a collection of stories by Ronald Sider a few years before.

On Dec. 26, USA Today printed a list of 50 best-selling books of 2013, only two of which interested me: Doris Kearns Goodwin’s, “The Bully Pulpit,” which I bought Sunday, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,” which I’ve read three or four times.

My reading isn’t “popular,” but at year’s end, it’s been my habit to share the titles of books I’ve read in the year past. You won’t find anything here by Bill O’ Reilly about “Killing” anybody, or “Happy” thoughts by the Duck Commander, but maybe you’ll find something that interests you.

Some of these are available at the public library or local booksellers:

Rowan’s Rule: The Biography of the Archbishop of Canterbury – Rupert Shortt

A Short History of England: The Glorious Story of a Rowdy Nation – Simon Jenkins

John Quincy Adams – Harlow Giles Unger

An Irish Country Wedding – Patrick Taylor

From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart: Rekindling My Love for Catholicism – Chris Haw

The Country of Marriage – Wendell Berry

Encounters with Merton: Spiritual Reflections – Henri J.M. Nouwen

The Matchmaker of Kenmare – Frank Delaney

The Last Storyteller – Frank Delaney

The Great Divorce: A Dream – C. S. Lewis

The Furious Longing of God – Brennan Manning

John Paul the Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father – Peggy Noonan

JFK in Ireland: Four Days That Changed a President – Ryan Tubridy

Being Poppy: A Portrait of George Herbert Walker Bush – Richard Ben Cramer

Edmund Burke: The First Conservative – Jesse Norman

Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence – Joseph J. Ellis

Pray for Us Sinners – Patrick Taylor

C.S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet – Alister McGrath

Remembering – Wendell Berry

All the Living – C.E. Morgan

The Gospel According to Luke (KJV Pocket Canon Series)

Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time – Jeff Speck

The Weight of Glory and Other Essays – C.S. Lewis

Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me: A Memoir … of Sorts – Ian Morgan Cron

Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage – Michael R. Veach

The Seven Storey Mountain (50th anniversary edition) – Thomas Merton

Knowing Mandela: A Personal Portrait – John Carlin

JFK, Conservative – Ira Stoll

Fingal O’Reilly, Irish Doctor – Patrick Taylor

Exploring Advent with Luke: Four Questions for Spiritual Growth – Timothy Clayton

The Case for Christianity (published in England under the title, Broadcast Talks) – C.S. Lewis

Why I Am Not a Calvinist – Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell

The Right Path: From Ike to Reagan, How Republicans Once Mastered Politics —and Can Again — Joe Scarborough

The Snow Goose – Paul Gallico

Pope Francis: Untying the Knots – Paul Vallely

The Fall of Arthur – J.R.R. Tolkien (edited by Christopher Tolkien)

Churchill and the King: The Wartime Alliance of Winston Churchill and George VI – Kenneth Weisbrode

Thoughtful, unexpected gifts are the best

[Dec. 28, 2013]

This being the first Sunday of Christmas and the fifth of the 12 days, my mind is on gifts — not extravagant gifts like “five golden rings” or an iPhone 5, but simple, thoughtful gifts that are remembered for years.

Just before Christmas Day I was proofreading a special section on last-minute ideas for shopping, and one of the articles was about how to give cash without appearing crass.

It reminded me of the time my brother-in-law and I gave each other $25 Barnes & Noble gift cards.

Not a whole lot of thought went into those.

If I had gone to a college record store and found a good, used vinyl copy of George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass,” he would have been thrilled. So would I if he had given me a ceramic bowl from the Woodland Arts Fair or bought a slightly worn copy of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Green Hills of Africa” from a secondhand bookstore.

Meaningful gifts matter.

I’ll give you an example: The same brother-in-law once gave me his vintage guitar — which he had owned for decades. I would no more part with it than I would cut off one of the fingers of my left hand. Every time I think of it, I remember what a good and generous man he is.

———

What has made working for The Kentucky Standard such a satisfying experience is that people in Nelson County often remind me that I’m appreciated. That has been truer of this place than of any other place I’ve lived and worked — and it makes a difference to this self-critical introvert.

Almost every week during the year and a half that I’ve been a brought-in Bardstonian, I’ve had people come by the office to tell me they liked something I’ve written or encouraged me to “keep up the good work” when I’ve encountered them on the street or in a restaurant.

I think it says more about the character of the people who make up this community than it does about the quality of my reporting or writing.

Occasionally, that appreciation takes the form of handwritten letters or small presents.

When I wrote about “the last Druther’s in America,” a police chaplain gave me a Druther’s coffee cup — and a Burger King one as well. (Burger King became Druther’s soon after I started working for the one in Winchester in the 1970s.)

And after I wrote a two-part series on converts to Catholicism and a column about a day hike at Nelson County’s famous monastery, a reader sent me a pleasant note on a card with a beautiful engraving of the Abbey of Gethsemani.

That sort of thing happened again just before the holidays. I had written a column about the balkanization of the United Kingdom, a nation I love. A few days later, a large package arrived at the office. Others were curious and watched as I opened it.

Attached to the outside was a letter from a longtime Bardstown resident who came to this country from England. He wanted to share his thoughts about Scotland’s 2014 referendum on independence and his appreciation for that country’s beauty and heritage.

Protected by two pieces of foam board was an exquisite work of Celtic calligraphy this artist had done just for me. The intricate, colorful design formed a border for the hand-lettered words of “An Old Scottish Blessing” by an unknown author.

At once, I called the man, whom I’ll refer to only as Robert, and thanked him for this unexpected and most appreciated gift.

I’d like to share with you the words of the blessing:

My friends,

Life is short,

And we haven’t much time

To gladden the hearts

of those who travel with us.

So be quick to love

And make haste to be kind.

And the blessing of God Almighty

The Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Be with you

and remain with you always.

Amen.

Those words express far better than I can the spirit of giving, which is the spirit of Christmas.

Anglicanism ‘no novel or strange religion’

[Dec. 21, 2013]

‘No novel or strange religion’

In 1865, Phillips Brooks, an American priest, was traveling on horseback from Jerusalem to the City of David, where he would assist in a service of the Church of the Nativity, supposedly on the site where the Christ child was born.

Along the way, he came upon shepherds watching their flocks by night and was inspired to write “O Little Town of Bethlehem:

“ … in thy dark streets shineth

the everlasting Light:

The hopes and fears of all the years

Are met in thee tonight.”

On Christmas Eve 1941, as tyranny cast its darkness on a world at war, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and visiting British Prime Minister Winston Church gave a message of hope. As historian David McCullough recalls, Churchill described the English-speaking nations as “a brightly lighted island of happiness and peace.” The next day, the two attended church, where Churchill heard Brooks’ hymn for the first time and was moved.

“O Little Town of Bethlehem” is one of our most beloved Christmas carols. Twelve years earlier, Charles Dickens penned a classic holiday novel, “A Christmas Carol.” Brooks’ carol and Dickens’ “Carol” have the same theme — that by opening our hearts to the Christmas Spirit, we can be changed. As Ebenezer Scrooge learned, however, conviction comes before conversion.

As Brooks described the work of the Spirit:

“Cast out our sin and enter in,

Be born in us today.”

Something else Dickens and Brooks had in common was that both were Anglicans.

So were Roosevelt and Churchill.

The Anglican Communion, represented by the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Church of England in the United Kingdom, is a confederation of churches that follow a “middle way” between Catholicism and Reformed Christianity. They are evangelical and sacramental, and they are catholic in the sense that their bishops are part of the apostolic succession, going back to St. Peter.

Famous Anglicans include John Newton, the slave ship captain who repented and wrote “Amazing Grace,” abolitionists William Wilberforce and Harriet Beecher Stowe, Christian apologist and author C.S. Lewis, Alpha course creator Nicky Gumbel, evangelists George Whitefield and John Wesley (who never intended the Methodist reform movement to become a separate denomination) and John Henry Newman and Thomas Merton, who were Anglicans before they became Catholics.

In this country, Episcopalians and other Anglicans are few in number, but punch above their weight. From George Washington to George H.W. Bush, more U.S. presidents have been Episcopalians than members of any other church, and our National Cathedral in Washington belongs to the denomination.

Still, many other Christians see us as a kind of cult.

I’ve been an Anglican for a decade, yet my family has no knowledge of my faith’s history and beliefs. They only know we kneel in prayer, make the sign of the cross, drink wine during Communion and profess belief in “one holy, catholic and apostolic Church” and the Trinity.

Being misunderstood is something we Anglicans have gotten used to, though, even when we were the “established church.”

I like what Queen Elizabeth I had to say about the Anglican faith in a letter to the German emperor in 1563: “We and our people — thanks be to God, follow no novel or strange religion, but that very religion ordained by Christ, sanctioned by the primitive Catholic Church and approved by the consentient mind and voice of the early fathers!”

All I can add is “Amen!”

Whatever your faith, may the everlasting Light brighten your Christmas and bring you comfort and joy in 2014.

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