Monday, January 1, 2018

Thoughts on Entering a New Year



The weather today is pretty chilly – in fact, the heater is running fairly regularly, even though we don’t have it set all that high. In between watching reruns of Tony Shahloub’s brilliant Monk (the “Defective Detective”) and accomplishing small acts of sewing repair (like replacing buttons that have been separated from their respective materials for over 6 months), I have been contemplating what constitutes a “good” year.

First, I have to ask myself, “Who defines what is ‘good’?” According to Common Doctrine (you know, the kind that “everyone knows”), good  is relative, individualistic, and highly personal. CD dictates that one must “find one’s bliss” according to one’s own moral code, and espouse it at every turn. It is important to realize that, in CD parlance, moral codes are tightly bound to feelings, which in turn spring from the depths of experience, which…well, we’re getting a bit complicated, aren’t we?

If we return to the word good, we can save ourselves a great deal of trouble if we just acknowledge that we, ourselves, have no real idea of what constitutes good or where the State of Goodness is located. (Colin Kaepernick is certain it does not exist in the U.S.) Although CD openly declares that we all know what is good, in the privacy of our hearts we also know that that is not true. (There are a few possible exceptions: Barack and Michelle, Hillary and Bill, and even Al Franken all state that they are good people.) How can I make such statements? Because, as individuals, we just don’t know what is good and what is not good, unless and until we have checked with other people – often our own political crowd. And – more often than not – our informants are wrong – and we end up confused and in the State of Contradiction.

So where does that leave us? We still don’t know – can’t know – what constitutes goodness by ourselves. We don’t always recognize good  in all its “goodness," and we can’t be certain that any other fallible human being has the right answers, either.

OK, does this mean that I am saying that this quest is futile? Not at all. In fact, I am going to turn this whole conversation right around and suggest the most fantastic idea ever: there is an Answer, and it was given centuries ago by the Person who knows exactly what is and is not good.

Care to know Him? We just celebrated His birthday a few days ago… 

And with Him, you can certainly have a good year.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Mrs. Claus' Prayer



Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for my husband, the man the children in Walmart identify as Santa Claus. Oh, I know that he is only one of hundreds of representatives of your saint – the one named Nicholas of Myra – but he is so unique and gifted. I thank You for allowing me to share this special relationship called marriage with him for so many years.

I think back, Lord, to our time in Spain, when my husband first grew his beard. Only You, Lord, know the personal sacrifice that meant! But I am so glad that even this simple grooming aspect has led to so much joy and fulfillment. It reminds me of how you take even the simplest things in our lives and turn them to good – for Your glory and our blessing.

I also think back, Lord, to his health catastrophe in 1992 – the one that led to weight gain and years of worry and concern. But even then, Lord, You were in control.

And thank you, Lord, for the first time that my husband “discovered” he was a Santa-figure to those children in the pizzeria. We have told that story over and over, and I wonder if the little boy who sat and stared in wonder that Santa was purchasing a pizza at his father’s restaurant has now grown to understand a little more of what sacrificial goodness is all about.

I thank you, Lord, for the first opportunity my husband had to portray this “right jolly old elf.” It was so much fun being his missus – and so much fun to pick out that first “Mrs. Claus” outfit! It was uncomfortable sitting on the equipment at the top of the fire truck – but SO worth it when the little girl from our neighborhood ran up and handed my husband her Santa wish list, complete with an appreciative thank you. How blessed to be in a situation where we can participate in simple joys!

Through the years, You have more than rewarded us for the hours of unpaid Santa work. One of my dearest treasures is the story of our first two grandsons, living in Japan with their parents. Their father had been chosen by his squadron leader to “fly” Santa in from the North Pole (actually they taxied from around the corner of the hangar). I remember the absolute delight and joy when Daughter reported that the boys, excited at first by Santa’s disembarking from the jet, started to loudly proclaim to others within hearing that “that’s not Pop-Pop” – whom, they firmly believe – even now – is/was the CinC CJ (Commander-in-chief of Christmas Joy)!!!!! It reminds me of Your unique Holy Spirit -- Who helps even the youngest of Your children to identify Your voice and guidance.

And then there’s our dear 3-year-old granddaughter, who skypes with us regularly, and who understands that only Pop-Pop has the necessary requisites to be the Right Jolly Old Elf. She has taken to scrutinizing every “counterfeit” gentleman in stores and their entrances for Pop-Pop’s unique mannerisms. It reminds me that we must seek You diligently in all things.

Yes, Lord, You have blessed us mightily. Now I ask that You graciously give my dear husband the strength to continue on for several decades more, You know how his health has suffered – especially this year – but we trust You that this is only a temporary setback, and that the year 2018 will bring renewed vigor.

I pray this in the glorious Name of Your Son, born to us for our salvation over 2,000 years ago.

Your servant in Jesus’ holy Name,
Mrs. Noelle Claus

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

An Exercise in Interpreting American Poetry



Many people – myself included – bemoan the fact that the study of our native language (English, or, more properly, American English) has degenerated mightily in past decades.  Even college students cannot use grammar properly; neither can they write coherent sentences, or even interpret standard passages of American literature that used to be easily understood by grade school children a half-century ago. Care to guess to what I am referring?

If you guessed the National Anthem, you are correct. Something of a tiny storm in an even tinier teacup has been unleashed with respect to the interpretation of this beloved poem-set-to-music. Please allow me to elucidate.

Most adult American citizens know the first stanza of the National Anthem; maybe half that number know the second stanza – or are even aware that there is a second (or third, or fourth) stanza. The words of the third stanza of Francis Scott Key’s poem that gives us the words of our National Anthem are as follows (the numbers to the right have been inserted by me):

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,                               1
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion                                2
A home and a Country should leave us no more?                               3
Their blood has wash'd out their foul footstep's pollution.                 4
No refuge could save the hireling and slave                                        5
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,                            6
And the Star-Spangled Banner in triumph doth wave                         7
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.                           8         
("Star-Spangled Banner" np)

No doubt, Dear Reader, you have been “informed” by some know-it-all English “expert” or media announcer that the National Anthem has been “discovered” to be – horror of horrors – RACIST. This stanza actually mentions – go get your smelling salts before you faint from the shock – the word “slave.” Now, any right-thinking liberal will immediately react strongly to this Dreaded Word. In fact, its mere mention is enough to make even the strongest snowflake’s knees quiver. (Did you catch the sarcasm?)

Hold on, Dear Reader! I will save you from the perplexities of having to invent a New Anthem much more PC than the one we have! I will demonstrate that the only color mentioned here is red (like blood) or red, white, and blue (like the flag) – neither instances of which demonstrate racism. After you read my explanation, you will know that it will once again be safe to sing this Anthem in front of Children and Diverse Groups (whew!)!

Let us begin with the simplest of English-language structures: the Sentence. There are three sentences in this stanza; the first one takes up lines 1 – 3 and is termed an “interrogative sentence” (in other words, a question). [Please note the question mark at the end of the third line if you doubt my word.] The second sentence is found in Line 4; the third one occupies Lines 5 – 8. Both of these latter sentences are “declarative” – that is, they state a fact or opinion. And both of these latter sentences answer the first sentence – the one that is a question.

The core of the first sentence is the subject “band” with the verb “is” – a short succinct “Where is that band…?” The rest of the sentence is filled with prepositional phrases and dependent clauses modifying the subject: “The band who did this and that and threatened us, etc.” Understand? We Americans were threatened by the British Mother Country; they wanted to wipe us off the face of the earth. (Gee…could anyone really mean something that horrible? Does it ring any bells in the 21st century?)

After Francis Scott Key (the poem’s author) asks that important question, he says in Line 4, “Well, we made them pay for their invading our soil, with the shedding of their own blood.” A trifle warlike, but we haven’t gotten to the really bad and offensive part yet!

The third sentence in Lines 5 – 8 could be deemed a run-on sentence (or a comma splice), but people in those days were used to carrying on conversations with complex thoughts longer than three words, so let’s not be too judgmental. Let’s find our subject and verb, shall we? Here is the first part of the sentence put into plain 21st-century American English: “Those suckers will either leave this land or we’ll kill ‘em.” Gosh darn! How harsh! How uncouth, even un-charitable! Those were the bad ‘ol days, weren’t they? [sigh]
           
Oh – I forgot to tell you one important thing! The “hireling” and “slave” referred to here are the British mercenary and the dumb, stupid British soldier who did whatever their leaders told them to do (like imprisoning Key forcefully while the British bombarded Fort McHenry, despite him being under a flag of diplomatic truce). Black slaves were not aboard ship, and Key was not referring to Americans (slave or free) in this stanza. He was referring to the enemy – and he was hopping mad. He wasn’t about to call our enemies sweet names like “misguided” or “mis-understanders.” Nope! He said they were hirelings and slaves! I guess we should resurrect Francis Scott Key so that we can give him a lesson in Political Correctness!
           
OK, let’s tackle “color” in this stanza. Let’s see…there’s the color of blood – red. And the colors of the flag – red, white, and blue. And then…
           
Nope. That’s it. No black slaves. No white supremacists. No yellow anything else…

Wait. I detect a new color; it’s the color of hatred and confusion, inserted in the year 2017 by snowflakes who still can’t – after college degrees and lots of coaching in English – parse a simple English sentence and find the nouns and verbs!
           
Thank God that Francis Scott Key could read and understand English. Thank God that his prayers for the safety of Fort McHenry were answered. In fact, thank God for Key and other patriots of his day. For you see, Dear Reader, had it not been for Key and his compatriots’ tenacity in fighting off the British rampages, we’d be singing an anthem to a British queen and possibly wearing wigs in a British court of law.
           
With Key, I repeat: This is the “land of the free and the home of the brave” – and may the National Anthem be used to open our collective eyes to its great truths.

Work Cited:
Key, Francis Scott. "The Star-Spangled Banner." American History.si.edu Accessed at: