Footnote 32 – Bob Greene, Duty: A Father, His Son, And The Man Who Won The War. HarperCollins, 2000, 2009. Kindle Edition, pp. 13-15.

Bob Greene’s book about his father’s death reports conversations he had with Paul Tibbetts, who lived in retirement not far from the Green family home in Columbus, OH. For those who might not know, Paul Warfield Tibbets, Jr. (February 23, 1915 – November 1, 2007), was a brigadier general in the United States Air Force, best known as the pilot of the Enola Gay – named for his mother – the first aircraft to drop an atomic bomb in the history of warfare. That bomb, code named “Little Boy,” was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in August 1945.

Any child of “Greatest Generation” parents, especially those of us who are losing or have lost them, can surely relate to Greene’s reflection on this Memorial Day. Today I am remembering James H. Wolfgang (August 13, 1922 – March 20, 2015), whose one and only “European trip” was via Omaha Beach in 1944, and for whom Memorial Day was always very meaningful.

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“Do people know my name?” Tibbets asked. He was repeating the question I had just asked him. A soft, private look crossed his face.

“They don’t need to know my name,” he said. The deed he had carried out was one of the most famous the world has ever known; it will be talked about in terms of fear and awe forever. He, though, even here in the town where he lived, was not as famous as the local television weatherman.

“People knowing my name isn’t important at all,” he said. “It’s more important—it was more important then, and it’s more important now—that they know the name of my airplane. And that they understand the history of what happened. “Although sometimes I think that no one really understands the history.”

And so we started to talk. Neither of us knew it that day, but it would be the first of many conversations—about the war, about the men and women who lived through it, about their lives, and the lives of their sons and daughters: the lives of those of us who came after them, who inherited the world that they saved for us.

As I sat with Tibbets that first day—thinking of my father in his bed just a few miles away—it occurred to me that Eisenhower was dead, Patton was dead, Marshall was dead, MacArthur was dead. And here was Tibbets, telling me in the first person the story of how the great and terrible war came to an end.

… gradually the stories would expand in context, would begin to explain to me certain things not just about this man, but about the generation of men and women who are leaving us now every day.

It is a wrenching thing, to watch them go. As the men and women of the World War II generation die, it is for their children the most intensely personal experience imaginable—and at the same time a sweeping and historic one, being witnessed by tens of millions of sons and daughters, sons and daughters who feel helpless to stop the inevitable.

For me, as my father, day by day, slipped away, the over-whelming feeling was that a safety net was being removed—a safety net that had been there since the day I was born, a safety net I was often blithely unaware of. That’s what the best safety nets do—they allow you to forget they’re there. No generation has ever given its children a sturdier and more reliable safety net than the one our parents’ generation gave to us.

The common experience that wove the net was their war. And as I began to listen to Tibbets—to hear his stories, later to question him about the America that preceded and followed the war from which his stories came—I realized anew that so many of us only now, only at the very end, are beginning to truly know our fathers and mothers. It was as if constructing that safety net for their children was their full-time job, and that finally, as they leave us, we are beginning to understand the forces that made them the way they were.

Tibbets began to speak, and as I listened I thought I could hear a rustle of something behind the words—I thought I could hear the whisper of a generation saying goodbye to its children.

Parable of Immortality

Parable of Immortality

I am standing upon the seashore.

A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength, and I stand and watch until at last she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come down to mingle with each other.

Then someone at my side says, “There she goes!”

Gone where? Gone from my sight . . . that is all.

She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of destination. Her diminished size is in me, not in her.

And just at the moment when someone at my side says, “There she goes!” there are other eyes watching her coming . . . and other voices ready to take up the glad shout . . . “Here she comes!”

This poem, variously attributed to Henry Van Dyke and Luther Beecher (cousin of Henry Ward Beecher), has been oft-quoted and by some considered overused. But it has been meaningful to me, even before my days as board chair of our local Hospice – with which it is sometimes associated – in  Kentucky, before we moved to Chicago. It is even more so now, on the occasion of my father’s passing. Whoever wrote it, it seems an apt, though imperfect analogy of how we experience the departure of a loved one.

There are, course, many other hymns and other poetic expressions, describing the experience – to say nothing of Scripture. In the words of hymnist Tillit S. Teddlie: “Loved ones are waiting and watching my coming” (Heaven Holds All To Me, 1932).

For more on the poem – sometimes titled “What Is Dying?” – see http://dallaslibrary2.org/blogs/bookedSolid/2014/04/i-recently-heard-the-poem-the-parable-of-immortality-in-searching-the-internet-i-found-it-attributed-to-henry-van-dyke-bishop-charles-henry-brent-and-even-victor-hugo-i/

“You shall not steal…You shall not covet”

Ferrell's Travel Blog

“You shall not steal. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:15-17 ESV; cf. Romans 13:9)

The Ten Commandments, given to the nation of Israel, were clear about the attitude one should take toward the property belonging to others. Coveting causes one to desire the wife, or the property, of another man.

The reason the donkey and ox of another was not to be coveted or stolen was because these were the man’s means of income. How could he work without his donkey or ox?

A loaded donkey at Seleucia. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins. A loaded donkey at Seleucia. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

It may be that none of my readers own a donkey or an ox, but the principle is clear. You shall not…

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How To Sell A Lie

This blog – as well as the Facebook Page to which it is connected – is generally A Politics-Free Zone. But since this is an Election Year in the Virtuous Wonderland that is Illinois politics (only three of four recent governors – bipartisan – have served time in prison) and in other places where corruption is Officially Unknown, it is increasingly difficult to ignore – especially in the Political Paradise known as Chicago.

So please forgive the irresistible urge to record a few Obvious Observations on how it is so easy to foist off on an Unsuspecting Population any Demonstrable Untruth deemed Necessary. And since this is normally a space devoted to Matters Religious and Historical, I should note that, Historically, these tactics have worked just about as well in the Religious Realm.

So, How does one Sell A Lie?

First, Give The Lie a Make-Over. Shave off a corner or three. File off some rough edges. Shampoo it. Apply a bit of polish. The Base (the core of True Believers in The Lie) will still recognize The Lie and support it – even in a Slightly Modified form. They will understand the need for Perfumers and Costumers in order to make it more palatable to the Great Unwashed Masses who are not yet Wise Enough to accept The Lie as the Truth.

Create Plausible Deniability. Cleaning It Up and Watering It Down also creates numerous opportunities to negate criticism of The Lie and its Guardians. To obfuscate, even. No, we didn’t really mean to say that. Someone mis-spoke. Mistakes were made. You MisUnderstood (read: Opponents of the Lie are really not Smart Enough to understand it – poor souls).

Cry Foul and Claim Misinterpretation. Cover your own fabrications with allegations of the same. Tu Quoque to you too, buddy. Misquote. Omit significant details. Launch a few ad hominem arguments.

Construct Emotional Cover. A sick child. A disabled husband. A crippling disease. A dead pet, even. Anything will do, really, if it generates enough Emotional Resonance for many in The Audience to give the perpetrator A Pass Due To Overwhelming Grief – justification for even the most outrageous statements in support of The Lie. Or crafting the demolition of any who dare challenge it.

Demonize the Opposition. They’re not Really interested in enforcing the law, or seeing that rules are applied fairly. They’re just Nasty, Shrewd, and Brutish. Interested only with the Wanton Destruction of Innocent Bystanders. Devilish. Klutzes in Satan’s Service.

Proclaim Yourself Under Attack. Then declare yourself Exhausted from the Herculean Effort and Unable To Continue. Take yourself off the air (and/or Social Media) for at least a day and a half. It’s sure to generate sympathy and support – maybe even more financial contributions.

Form a Committee of the Committed to Run Interference. The Lie will go so much farther with an Army of Enablers who are much more concerned with correcting anyone with the audacity to criticize, than with worrying about whether The Lie might in fact be, well, Untrue. Counterfactual, even. Maybe downright False. If you can’t produce an angry Mama Bear type, protecting her poor li’l cubbies, maybe just an Outraged Friend or 2nd cousin, preferably with all the personality of a wounded rhinoceros, may do in a pinch. If all else fails, a pack of hyenas should suffice.

Utilize Overheated Rhetoric. Dark Forces are working to silence The Truth of The Lie. Opponents are perpetrating the most Critical and Devious Assault on Motherhood and Apple Pie since, ummm, at least last quarter. Invoke the wrath of the Almighty. We Stand At Armageddon, And We Do Battle For The Lord.

Stage It Professionally. Good video is absolutely essential — steady pans, tight shots on the featured heroes — and don’t neglect the music, building to a conclusive climax. If funding is an issue, borrow the semi-professional Praise Team (and their backing band) from the local megachurch — call it “grassroots” to make it sound chic.

But perhaps this overstates matters. Maybe I should retract what I said about such tactics working in the Religious Realm as well as for Politicos. We all know Christians would never do such things – right?

Iditrarod Adventures: The Big Envelope

Iditrarod Adventures: The Big Envelope

Iditrarod Adventures —  by Jan Distel

The Big Envelope

Grant proposals were due November 1, with the results not to be announced until mid-February.
I tried not to think of it much during those three long months.  When it would come to mind, I would try not to hope and wish.  I would get out my red pen and grade more essays, plan some lessons, work on other school projects…anything to avoid thinking about the grant 24/7.

As the time for the announcement grew closer and closer, one of my teacher friends–who had also submitted a grant proposal–commented that she could not believe all of the things she had committed to do if she were a successful candidate.  I silently agreed, especially when she exclaimed, “This is going to change my life!”

One cold, snowy Saturday in February, one of my dear friends who had also applied let me know she had received a letter about it.  I was convinced that I would be notified that day, too.  We checked the mail time after time, but the box was always empty, mail having been delayed because of several days of bad weather.

……..  Read more at http://iditarodadventures.blogspot.com/ — by my cousin, Jan Distel

A Birthday Remembrance

…written by my daughter, Lesley Wolfgang Jackson, on her birthday 14 years ago – memorializing her maternal grandfather, who had passed away two months earlier.  She composed it while graduate student at the University of Kentucky.  Her birthday was yesterday, and I intended to post this earlier, but celebrations and other activities intervened. I found a copy yesterday while discarding boxes of old memories, preparing our house to lease.

The grandfather she remembers was William C. Ashworth, Sr., (1919-2000) who served his country in World War 2 and the Korean War (piloting B-17 Flying Fortresses and P-47 Thunderbolts); his community, serving as Postmaster at Franklin, TN, from Eisenhower to Ford; and his Lord, preaching the gospel for nearly half a century (1950-2000).  It is an eloquent tribute which captures the essence of both subject and author.

………………

Today I am running the arboretum trail.  I am running, and I am thinking of my grandfather.  I am remembering running ahead of him as he walked.  I am remembering him over my shoulder, a tiny action figure, twisting stiffly from the waist, baseball cap sitting high top his head, allowing his toupee to ride untouched.  I always circle back to him.  He has slathered himself with SPF 40 sunscreen, solemn and methodical as morning mass, always forgetting a dab sliding along the ridge of his ear.

I am driving him to the mall: Safe walking, out of the rain. I concentrate to match my pace to his. We talk about my running, my pace, about my latest race time.  We talk of baseball, of my cousin’s pitching arm, insured at age nine.  I see my favorite running shoe, discontinued, on sale in a store window. He wants to buy them for me. Do they fit? Are they comfortable? What kind of shoe should he wear? He buys what is comfortable, a new pair every few months.  My grandmother doesn’t understand.

I am visiting him in the hospital. We watch a baseball game on the high television while my parents take my grandmother for something to eat.  I will not run my long run on this Saturday; I will not run at all. My grandfather wants a glass of water: Don’t get up, Sugar.  He is shuffling across the floor to the sink, tied to the IV, gaunt in his striped pajamas, bald and unshaven.

I won’t run with him again, won’t circle back for him when he becomes a small dot on the horizon.

Tomorrow is my birthday.  I will miss his annual account, over chocolate cake, of racing his Corvair to the hospital a state away, his wrong turn on Peachtree Street, to greet me, his first grandchild.  I will remember him telling me I would never know how much he loved me, his dry kiss on my cheek after I blow out the candles.  I probably won’t, but I imagine.  Tomorrow I will run.  I will run for him and I will remember.  I will breathe the dark and the morning air, I will breathe it for us, and I will try not to be sad.

A Hymn Author Comments on One of His Best

A Hymn Author Comments on One of His Best

Matt Bassford on Writing “Exalted”

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.

— 2 Corinthians 4:7 (NASB)

I can’t find my writer’s notebook from the late 1990s, but if memory serves, I wrote “Exalted” in April 1999, which makes this the 15th anniversary-ish of my having done so.  At the time, I had no inkling that it would make its way into the repertoire of the Lord’s church; indeed, to this day, its success leaves me both thankful and bemused.  Hopefully, my account of its creation will prove of interest.

In April 1999, I had no idea how to write hymns.  I had been through two sessions of Craig Roberts’ Hymninar; I could analyze hymns according to the technical trinity of rhythm, rhyme, and meter; but my own ability to duplicate what I had studied was negligible.  Writing an “Abide with Me” or “In the Hour of Trial” was as far beyond me as playing in the NBA.

That was a problem, because I had something I wanted to say.  It too came from Craig, from a sermon that he had preached for the Sunday-morning assembly of R.J. Stevens’ 1998 singing school.  It was entitled “The Glory and the Shame”, and it was a study of the contrast between Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and His crucifixion less than a week later.

I became fascinated with the rich irony of the Biblical account.  I said to myself, “I should write a hymn about that.”  I set pen to paper, gave it my valiant all. . . and failed ignominiously.  This was not a, “It’s not THAT bad, Matt” kind of failure.  It was more like, “Matt, are you sure that English was your first language?”  I am notoriously incapable of determining when something I’ve written is bad, but this time I could tell.  It was bad enough to set stray dogs to howling.

Like the builder of Swamp Castle, I tried again a few months later.  Also like the builder of Swamp Castle, I failed again.  The result looked sort of like a hymn, with rhymes and lines of the appropriate length.  However, it had all the elegance and grace of a cinder block.  Whatever one needed in order to capture the ironies of the crucifixion in rhyme and meter, I did not possess.

Fine.  I couldn’t write hymns.  So what?  I was still going to write THIS hymn!  In the depths of my frustration, I hit upon the expedient of structuring the hymn around parallels, like the Hebrew poets did, rather than using rhyme.  Once I made that mental switch, the rest was easy.  I banged out the first draft of “Exalted” in about half an hour, and that first draft was substantially what is sung today.

However, my work created another problem.  If some determined 20-year-old handed me “Exalted” today, I would tell him it couldn’t work as a hymn because the verse-to-verse structure is bad.  As most of our hymns do, “Exalted” has three verses, each intended to be sung to the same tune.   That same tune, then, must match the emotional feel of all three verses.  In most good hymns, all the verses have the same mood or at least reside in the same general part of the emotional spectrum.  This allows the composer to craft a joyful tune that matches the joyful mood of “Hallelujah!  Praise Jehovah!” or a rich, sorrowful tune that matches the sorrow of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”.

Those hymns have excellent verse-to-verse structure.  The verse-to-verse structure of “Exalted” is terrible.  It has one grand verse about the glories of Christ the King, one ironic verse about the vicious way He was received by His people, and one half-and-half verse about the different ways He is received today.

A hymn like that pulls a composer in two.  He can’t write a grand tune to match the first verse, because then it won’t match the second.  He can’t write an ironic tune to match the second verse, because then it won’t match the first.  All he can do is compose a neutral tune that kind-of matches the tone of the entire hymn, but neutral is boring is not sung is a failed hymn.

This is not a hypothetical.  I spent years writing hymns that failed because of bad verse-to-verse structure.  It still gives me more trouble than any other aspect of hymnwriting.  “Exalted” should have ended up on the dust heap with all of those other failed hymns.  It didn’t because I, having no idea what I was doing, asked Charli Couchman to write the music.

Charli is a phenomenally talented composer, but “Exalted” may remain her finest work.  She’s written plenty of good tunes to good hymns, but in “Exalted” she found a hymn that was destined to die and gave it life.  The flawed verse-to-verse structure meant that she could not write an interesting melody, because an interesting melody would be a mismatch to one or more verses.  Instead, she wrote a boring, flat melody and made it interesting, even unique, by passing it back and forth between parts.  The result is unlike anything I’m familiar with in the tradition of English hymnody, yet simple enough that a congregation with moderate musical gifts can pick it up.

Charli’s success was not apparent at first.  If you’ve ever heard a MIDI recording of “Exalted”, it’s terribly boring, and 15 years ago, the MIDI was all we had to go on.  However, when the hymn is sung, its chords swell and come to life, infusing both the glory and the suffering of Christ with grandeur.  It is quite an achievement.

By profession, I am inclined to supply morals to any story, so here are three.  First, it highlights the utility of good old-fashioned stubbornness.  Even a brick wall may cave in if you bang your head against it long enough.  Second, it helps to have friends who will rescue you from yourself and make you look good!

Finally, though, and most of all, I am reminded that when it comes to the gospel, the talents of the messenger are nothing next to the power of the message.  God is perfectly capable of taking a 20-year-old kid in central Missouri, a kid who doesn’t know anything and doesn’t know how to do anything, and using that kid to glorify Him.  If there are lines in “Exalted” that confuse you, that’s not because I was particularly profound in 1999.  It’s because I wasn’t a very good writer.

And yet, despite the warts, despite the flaws, despite all the things that I yearn to go back and red-pen, the majesty of the story of Jesus shines through.  That’s not only all that I can hope for from my hymns.  It’s also all I can hope for from me.

Posted by M. W. Bassford at 7:28 AM, Monday 14 April 2014

NOTE: EXALTED is #198 in Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

Read more, including comments, at http://hisexcellentword.blogspot.com/2014/04/writing-exalted.html