* * * * * * *


       My Dad often commented sadly in his later years, as he would hear of the death of a long-time friend, “The longer you live, the more friends you lose.”
        That sounds like a truism, not the least bit profound, but for my Dad it expressed a powerfully emotional reality that we all must face, if we live long enough, as more and more of our friends predecease us.
        All of my closest boyhood friends have died. All of my college roommates, my closest shipmates from my Navy days in World War II, all of my good friends from my baseball years, goodness knows how many wonderful friends from the various churches I have served, some close colleagues with whom I served on the faculty at Princeton Theological Seminary, and many good friends from recent years are no longer living.
Jim Hester, 1925-2015 
        That’s why I cherish the good old friends who are still around, and that’s why I grieve all the more, when one of them dies. In recent days I have lost two such friends. Jim Hester was my oldest Princeton friend and classmate. We met in June, 1942, when we both showed up as student waiters in the undergraduate student dining halls known as “the Commons.” We became instant friends, and the following November Jim came home with  me for Thanksgiving. We both loved to harmonize, and we used to entertain my mother, as she was preparing the delicious meals she served us. Her favorite song and ours was “The Java Jive.”
        Jim joined the Marines and I enlisted in the Navy the next month. We went our separate ways, but continued to see each other at Princeton reunions and on other occasions. In recent years we have been living in the same retirement community, where our almost daily greeting was not "Hello!" or "Good morning!" or "Good evening!" or just "Hi!" but "I love coffee, I love tea, I love the Java Jive and it loves me!"
        If you clicked on the Jim Hester link above you know what an amazingly accomplished man he was and what a distinguished career he had. But I'll remember the young Princeton freshman with whom I used to wait tables, study and harmonize, as well as the wheel-chair bound but still sharp as a tack friend I've been seeing almost every day for the past few years. Jim's ashes will be buried in Princeton Cemetery, not far from where my wife Margie's are buried and where mine will be, when my time comes. I'll be conducting a graveside committal service for Jim's family a few weeks from now, when the weather is more favorable.
        In response to a phone call early yesterday afternoon I went up to the third floor apartment of Margie's and my dearest Christian friends of many years, Eileen and Sam Moffett. Sam had just died. Providentially, his niece Marilyn had arrived the night before, and was there to be with Eileen, along with Sam's wonderful Ghanaian care-giver Frank Ofori. Ever since then I have been helping in whatever ways I can.
        We had been looking forward to celebrating Sam's 99th birthday in April, but in recent months his health had been declining. Yet his appetite had been fairly good and he seemed to be holding his own. At the end he simply slept away, as most of us would prefer to do, if we had our choice. He did not suffer; he just wore out. So though his death was not a shock, his passing is for all who knew and loved him, especially for Eileen, an immense loss.
        Eileen and Sam have been more than friends to Margie and me. They have been like family. I could not begin to recount all the ways we have interconnected over the years, all the birthdays, the anniversaries, the holidays, the rites of passage we celebrated together, all the trips we took, all the dinner/movie nights, all the sports events, all the prayer times, all the family gatherings, and just the many meals and quiet evenings we have shared together.
        I had been on the Princeton Seminary faculty for a year, when Sam was called to be the first occupant of the newly established Henry Winters Luce Chair of Ecumenics and Mission. He and Eileen had just arrived on campus in time for the opening faculty picnic, and Margie and I had been asked to be their host and hostess for the event, at which the new faculty and their spouses were being welcomed.
        The four of us bonded instantly and soon became the best of friends. I could not have had a more supportive colleague than Sam. People who did not know us would have had a hard time believing that, however, for we soon became incorrigibly addicted to teasing each other ---in public! I never told Sam this, but I would deliberately set him up for a friendly barb or insult because he was always so pleased with himself when he put me down. I enjoyed the disapproving look he would feign before he spoke and the smug smile he would get on his face afterward. I would look offended and then start laughing and then Sam would laugh and the two of us would soon be laughing uncontrollably, to the amusement of our spouses and the amazement of whoever else was around. We hardly ever indulged in our verbal sparring when we were alone.
        A few months ago I was visiting with Sam in the hospital, where he was recovering from a fall and not feeling up to snuff. Eileen was there at the time. We had had a very meaningful visit. As I was leaving, I said to Sam, "I have to go now. Can you think of anything nice to say to me, as we part?" Sam's facial expression immediately changed. He frowned and said, "That would be difficult!" That was followed by the usual smug smile, and we both started laughing. I walked out of the room knowing he was feeling better.
        Sam retired from the Seminary a few years before I did. Eventually we both had tiny offices on the second floor of Speer Library, along with several other retired faculty members. I called it "Emeritus Row." We would often pop in on each other, when we needed a break, and we never ran out of things to talk about ---except politics. Margie and I soon learned we were at opposite ends of the political spectrum from our dear friends, and the four of us never talked politics. We had so many other things in common that we didn't need to!
        Sam was a world renowned church historian, a distinguished author, a beloved teacher, and a revered missionary in South Korea, where the Moffett name is legendary. But I will remember him as my brother in Christ. I have never had a more loyal friend than Sam Moffett. I will miss him terribly, as I will my long-time Princeton friend and classmate, Jim Hester.
        Farewell, old friends!

          * * * * * * *


        As a college student I did not own a typewriter. I wrote all my papers in long hand. I did the same in Midshipmen School. In my senior year at McDonogh School I had sat in on part of a typewriting class, where I picked up a few exercises but never really learned to type. As a Naval Supply officer aboard ship I had enlisted men (“storekeepers”) who did most of the typing. For what little typing I had to do, I used my own two-finger “hunt and peck” method.
        Lacking that skill proved to be a disadvantage in more ways than one. All of my correspondence was hand-written, included much of what I had to do as Business Manager of the Nassoons. I would punch out the more important letters on a borrowed typewriter, but that took so much more time, because I was constantly having to erase my typos on the originals, as well as on the carbon copies, using what in those days we called “slip sheets," and that took time.
        Senior theses had to be typewritten and bound, so when I finally completed the hand-written final draft of my masterpiece, which was entitled The Unionization of Baseball, I had to find someone to do the typing for me, preferably a professional typist. I soon discovered I was not the only Princeton senior in that predicament, as I was having difficulty finding someone in town who was not already too loaded with doctoral dissertations and masters’ theses, as well as senior theses.
        I realized, too late, that I should have lined up someone earlier. My anxiety had turned to desperation, when I finally found a young woman in town who agreed to “squeeze” me in, probably because she felt sorry for me. The going rate at the time was twenty cents per page, and I was more than willing to pay it. She promised to have it for me in two weeks, which would give me just enough time to have it bound and turned in before the deadline. Oh, what a relief it was!
        That was a huge load off my mind, and I could now turn my full attention to all the other things that were going on in my life, such as Nassoon rehearsals, engagements, and record sales,baseball practices and games, and my other academic work, which had been somewhat neglected. Things were going great, I thought, until a telephone call came from my typist telling me she just didn’t have time to finish my thesis. That was enough of a shock, but when I went to pick up my manuscript I was even more dismayed to discover she had typed only about half of it. What was I going to do?
        When I bemoaned my predicament to Margie, she immediately replied, “I’ll type it for you! I can do it when I’m home during my spring break” The thought of her typing my thesis had never crossed my mind, nor was I the least bit aware of her typing skills. All of her correspondence had been in long hand. Though I was overwhelmed and overjoyed by her offer, I was somewhat reluctant to accept, feeling that it was too much of an imposition. That was no way for her to have to spend her spring break.
        “But I really want to do this for you, Dick,” she said. She made me feel as if I were doing her a favor to let her type my thesis, and I loved her all the more for it. I soon discovered she was a fantastic typist –really fast and accurate. She had worked for the Library of Congress and for the War Production Board in the summers of 1943, ‘44 and ‘45, and for the Dean of Admissions at Princeton in the summer of 1946.
The title page of my thesis.
The front cover of  my thesis 
        In just a few days she had completed the task, despite the fact that she took time out to attend our Nassoon rehearsals. My fellow songsters were extremely envious of my good fortune. They had all been aware of my anxiety and their sympathy turned to envy when they discovered that the Sweetheart of the Nassoons was an angel in disguise.
        It was a happy moment indeed, when Margie presented me with the finished manuscript and two smudge-free carbon copies. To my grateful eyes they were absolutely beautiful, and I’m sure that my adviser was as impressed as I was, when I handed him the bound original. I gave Margie much of the credit for the high grade I received.
        How much more slick and professional the finished project would have appeared had we had personal computers and laptops in those days! But this was still the Age of standard and portable typewriters. Even electric typewriters had yet to appear of the scene. So from my primitive perspective my first bound manuscript was a thing of beauty, and the memory of Margie's coming to my rescue is a joy forever.

* * * * * * *


The Dinky
    What Princetonians affectionately call “The Dinky” is a two-car train that runs back and forth between Princeton and Princeton Junction, where passengers then transfer to a New Jersey Transit or Amtrak north-bound or south-bound train. Princeton Junction today is one of the busiest NJT stations, with thousands of commuters heading to New York or Philadelphia and many points in between throughout the work week.
        The Dinky, also locally dubbed the “the PJ and B” (Princeton Junction and Back!) has been operating for 149+ years. It doesn’t look much different today than it did that Saturday morning of April 26, 1947, as I waved good-bye to my fellow Nassoons and watched the little train disappear around a bend in the track. I wanted in the worst way to be on that train, en route to Wellesley, Massachusetts, but I had to snap out of my sad mood in a hurry, for the Princeton baseball team had a game to play at 2:30 that afternoon against an undefeated Army team. I had no idea, when I woke up that morning, how totally different the day would turn out to be from what I had resigned myself to expect.
        What follows next is my best effort to recall the incredible sequence of events that took place on that fateful Saturday. I wish I could relate the story in precise detail, but I can’t. There are, however, some parts I do remember quite vividly, and there are also established facts and helpful clues that enable me to surmise, deduce, assume, or make some reasonable guesses about the forgotten parts.
        I can surmise, for example, that after saying goodbye to the Nassoons, I must have gone back to my dorm room at 83 Patton Hall, which was a fairly short walk from the Dinky Station, before hiking the much longer distance to University Field. That deduction is based on the fact that sometime that morning I had a complete change of mind. I suddenly felt an overpowering conviction that I had to get to Wellesley for the Prom! I didn’t know how I was going to do it, and I don’t  remember when exactly I made the decision, but I was determined to try to get there. I was due at University Field by 12:30 p.m., so I had to pack a suitcase and take it with me to the locker room, so I could shower and leave right after the game.
        One twist of irony was that I wasn’t in the starting line-up that afternoon! I don’t know whether Coach Matt Davidson wasn’t happy about my showing up for pre-game practice lugging a suitcase, or whether he thought my mind might not be totally focused, or whether I was recovering from an arm injury I had sustained in a previous game, but for whatever reason that was the only game I didn’t start all season! I did finally get in the game and went 0 for 1 at the plate, as we lost to the West Point Cadets 4 to 1.
        After the game I had to shower and dress at the old Field House in a big hurry. I know I could not have made it to Boston by train in time for the Prom, so I had determined to take a plane from the LaGuardia Airport in New York.  What I can’t remember is how I got from Princeton to the airport. I could not have left the field before sometime between 4:30 and 5:00 p.m. I must have had a ride direct to the airport, most likely in a limousine. In any case, I dimly recall rushing from the ticket counter at LaGuardia to the gate and on out to the plane. The whole boarding process was much simpler in those days. I was the last passenger to board and they were holding the mid-sized commuter prop plane for me. That would not happen today!
        On the entire flight I know I must have been wondering how in the world I was going to get from Logan Airport in East Boston to Wellesley, a distance of nineteen miles, in time for the Prom. I don’t remember the landing, but I do remember having to wait nervously and impatiently to retrieve my suitcase and then hailing a cab. I can’t picture the cabdriver clearly but I recall he was middle aged and balding, and when I told him I had to get to Wellesley by ten o’clock he seemed to welcome the challenge. That began the wildest ride of my life. The way he was zooming and screeching and swerving and weaving in and out of the traffic lanes I was sure we were going to get stopped by a traffic cop or have an accident, but amazingly we escaped both of those possibilities.
        As we were roaring along I was in the back seat trying to change into my tuxedo and bouncing all over the place in the process. I had to be a contortionist to get my trousers on an off and keep from rolling off the seat. Somehow I managed to make the change, evoking an admiring comment from the cabbie, who was well aware that he hadn’t been making it easy for me.
Munger Hall at Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts 
        For the rest of the ride I was driving with him, leaning and ducking and straining as if my body English were needed to keep the car on four wheels. We talked in brief snatches the rest of the way, and when he learned the reason for my urgency, he was all the more determined to see that I got there in time. Believe it or not, we made it to the campus with about ten minutes to spare, and my friendly dare-devil driver was beaming with pride! I had started thanking him as soon as we hit town, and praising him profusely for what was truly a remarkable driving feat. As soon as we stopped I handed him his fare along with what for me was a very generous tip, grabbed my suitcase, said a quick good-bye, and started running as fast as I could for the gymnasium.
        In the meantime, what had been happening at Wellesley? Margie, who was the original contact, the chief organizer, and the principal hostess of the Nassoons’ weekend visit, was the only Welleslsy senior without a date! Here’s an excerpt from the letter she wrote me following the weekend:

March 19, 1947 - Margie (second from left) and some of her Wellesley friends
 meet  in her room in Munger Hall to discuss plans for the Senior Prom. Her
roommate, Jean Thomas, is seated in the chair to her right.
“When I woke up Saturday morning and saw the sun —that was the end. I hadn’t given up hope till the last minute, though I kept telling myself that if you couldn’t come I’d just go on as though that weren’t so awful, and everyone would think I was having a real good time. It wouldn’t have been so bad except that the minute the Nassoons got off the train they started talking about you: how you’d come to the station, how they’d all sent rockets up to make it rain, and then just about how they couldn’t sing without you, how you made the Nassoons, and what were they going to do without you next year! With every word I missed you more and more. At the cocktail party Don Finnie started to play. I shut my eyes and pretended you were there, and I was miserable. So I took it out in rushing around again. . . .” 
        Margie then went on to say that when Jim Buck, Don Elberfeld, and Al Burr arrived, the first thing they said to her was, “Guess who’s coming?” That tells me two things: (1)  that Jim and Don must have met Al in New York and the three had come up together on a later train; and (2) that I must have seen or talked with Jim or Don before they left and told them of my change of plans. Of course, they only knew I had decided to come, not that I would be able to get there in time!
         Margie’s spirits had soared at the news of my coming, but as she went on to write, “when you hadn’t come by the time we went to Prom, I was down in the depths again, sure you weren’t coming.”
         The Nassoons were doing their best to make sure their “sweetheart” was having a good time. They took turns dancing with her and holding out hope. But as the hour approached, everyone was resigned that I wasn’t coming. At 10:00 p.m. the Nassoons were introduced to thunderous applause, and as they were forming their customary arc on the stage, to everyone’s utter amazement who should suddenly appear but yours truly, pushing my way through the crowd that had gathered to see and hear the Nassoons perform. I climbed up on the stage and took my place without a word next to Don Finnie. I can remember my feeling of elation: I had made it!
         I was still catching my breath as Don was giving us the pitch. We were all grinning at one another and feeling on top of the world. Standing down on the floor in front of us was Margie, with the happiest smile on her beautiful face and that special look in her brown eyes that conveyed her love more eloquently than words.
        The Nassoons sang their hearts out that night, feeding off each other’s joyful mood and the audience’s enthusiastic appreciation. I don’t think we ever sounded better or were more ardently received than we were at the Wellesley Senior Prom.
        For me it was the perfect ending to an unbelievable day, transforming a wild adventure into what is now a wonderfully happy memory.              


        What Princetonians affectionately call “The Dinky” is a two-car train that runs back and forth between Princeton and Princeton Junction, where passengers then transfer to a New Jersey Transit or Amtrak north-bound or south-bound train. Princeton Junction today is one of the busiest NJT stations, with thousands of commuters heading to New York or Philadelphia and many points in between throughout the work week.
        The Dinky, also locally dubbed the “the PJ and B” (Princeton Junction and Back!) has been operating for 149+ years. It doesn’t look much different today than it did that Saturday morning of April 26, 1947, as I waved good-bye to my fellow Nassoons and watched the little train disappear around a bend in the track. I wanted in the worst way to be on that train, en route to Wellesley, Massachusetts, but I had to snap out of my sad mood in a hurry, for the Princeton baseball team had a game to play at 2:30 that afternoon against an undefeated Army team. I had no idea, when I woke up that morning, how totally different the day would turn out to be from what I had resigned myself to expect.
        What follows next is my best effort to recall the incredible sequence of events that took place on that fateful Saturday. I wish I could relate the story in precise detail, but I can’t. There are, however, some parts I do remember quite vividly, and there are also established facts and helpful clues that enable me to surmise, deduce, assume, or make some reasonable guesses about the forgotten parts.
        I can surmise, for example, that after saying goodbye to the Nassoons, I must have gone back to my dorm room at 83 Patton Hall, which was a fairly short walk from the Dinky Station, before hiking the much longer distance to University Field. That deduction is based on the fact that sometime that morning I had a complete change of mind. I suddenly felt an overpowering conviction that I had to get to Wellesley for the Prom! I didn’t know how I was going to do it, and I don’t  remember when exactly I made the decision, but I was determined to try to get there. I was due at University Field by 12:30 p.m., so I had to pack a suitcase and take it with me to the locker room, so I could shower and leave right after the game.
        One twist of irony was that I wasn’t in the starting line-up that afternoon! I don’t know whether Coach Matt Davidson wasn’t happy about my showing up for pre-game practice lugging a suitcase, or whether he thought my mind might not be totally focused, or whether I was recovering from an arm injury I had sustained in a previous game, but for whatever reason that was the only game I didn’t start all season! I did finally get in the game and went 0 for 1 at the plate, as we lost to the West Point Cadets 4 to 1.
        After the game I had to shower and dress at the old Field House in a big hurry. I know I could not have made it to Boston by train in time for the Prom, so I had determined to take a plane from the LaGuardia Airport in New York.  What I can’t remember is how I got from Princeton to the airport. I could not have left the field before sometime between 4:30 and 5:00 p.m. I must have had a ride direct to the airport, most likely in a limousine. In any case, I dimly recall rushing from the ticket counter at LaGuardia to the gate and on out to the plane. The whole boarding process was much simpler in those days. I was the last passenger to board and they were holding the mid-sized commuter prop plane for me. That would not happen today!
        On the entire flight I know I must have been wondering how in the world I was going to get from Logan Airport in East Boston to Wellesley, a distance of nineteen miles, in time for the Prom. I don’t remember the landing, but I do remember having to wait nervously and impatiently to retrieve my suitcase and then hailing a cab. I can’t picture the cabdriver clearly but I recall he was middle aged and balding, and when I told him I had to get to Wellesley by ten o’clock he seemed to welcome the challenge. That began the wildest ride of my life. The way he was zooming and screeching and swerving and weaving in and out of the traffic lanes I was sure we were going to get stopped by a traffic cop or have an accident, but amazingly we escaped both of those possibilities.
        As we were roaring along I was in the back seat trying to change into my tuxedo and bouncing all over the place in the process. I had to be a contortionist to get my trousers on an off and keep from rolling off the seat. Somehow I managed to make the change, evoking an admiring comment from the cabbie, who was well aware that he hadn’t been making it easy for me.
Munger Hall at Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts 
        For the rest of the ride I was driving with him, leaning and ducking and straining as if my body English were needed to keep the car on four wheels. We talked in brief snatches the rest of the way, and when he learned the reason for my urgency, he was all the more determined to see that I got there in time. Believe it or not, we made it to the campus with about ten minutes to spare, and my friendly dare-devil driver was beaming with pride! I had started thanking him as soon as we hit town, and praising him profusely for what was truly a remarkable driving feat. As soon as we stopped I handed him his fare along with what for me was a very generous tip, grabbed my suitcase, said a quick good-bye, and started running as fast as I could for the gymnasium.
        In the meantime, what had been happening at Wellesley? Margie, who was the original contact, the chief organizer, and the principal hostess of the Nassoons’ weekend visit, was the only Welleslsy senior without a date! Here’s an excerpt from the letter she wrote me following the weekend:

March 19, 1947 - Margie (second from left) and some of her Wellesley friends
 meet  in her room in Munger Hall to discuss plans for the Senior Prom. Her
roommate, Jean Thomas, is seated in the chair to her right.
“When I woke up Saturday morning and saw the sun —that was the end. I hadn’t given up hope till the last minute, though I kept telling myself that if you couldn’t come I’d just go on as though that weren’t so awful, and everyone would think I was having a real good time. It wouldn’t have been so bad except that the minute the Nassoons got off the train they started talking about you: how you’d come to the station, how they’d all sent rockets up to make it rain, and then just about how they couldn’t sing without you, how you made the Nassoons, and what were they going to do without you next year! With every word I missed you more and more. At the cocktail party Don Finnie started to play. I shut my eyes and pretended you were there, and I was miserable. So I took it out in rushing around again. . . .” 
        Margie then went on to say that when Jim Buck, Don Elberfeld, and Al Burr arrived, the first thing they said to her was, “Guess who’s coming?” That tells me two things: (1)  that Jim and Don must have met Al in New York and the three had come up together on a later train; and (2) that I must have seen or talked with Jim or Don before they left and told them of my change of plans. Of course, they only knew I had decided to come, not that I would be able to get there in time!
         Margie’s spirits had soared at the news of my coming, but as she went on to write, “when you hadn’t come by the time we went to Prom, I was down in the depths again, sure you weren’t coming.”
         The Nassoons were doing their best to make sure their “sweetheart” was having a good time. They took turns dancing with her and holding out hope. But as the hour approached, everyone was resigned that I wasn’t coming. At 10:00 p.m. the Nassoons were introduced to thunderous applause, and as they were forming their customary arc on the stage, to everyone’s utter amazement who should suddenly appear but yours truly, pushing my way through the crowd that had gathered to see and hear the Nassoons perform. I climbed up on the stage and took my place without a word next to Don Finnie. I can remember my feeling of elation: I had made it!
         I was still catching my breath as Don was giving us the pitch. We were all grinning at one another and feeling on top of the world. Standing down on the floor in front of us was Margie, with the happiest smile on her beautiful face and that special look in her brown eyes that conveyed her love more eloquently than words.
        The Nassoons sang their hearts out that night, feeding off each other’s joyful mood and the audience’s enthusiastic appreciation. I don’t think we ever sounded better or were more ardently received than we were at the Wellesley Senior Prom.
        For me it was the perfect ending to an unbelievable day, transforming a wild adventure into what is now a wonderfully happy memory.              

* * * * * * *


        The spring of 1947, my final semester as a Princeton undergraduate, was in full swing. I could not have been busier, with the baseball season underway, a heavy class schedule to keep up with, senior comprehensives and final exams looming on the horizon, my senior thesis to complete, and Nassoon engagements, rehearsals, concerts, and business affairs demanding an inordinate amount of my time.
        All the while I was maintaining an intense correspondence with Margie, my most enjoyable activity by far. We were, as the saying goes, madly in love. On her birthday the Nassoons serenaded her with our own special arrangement of “Happy Birthday to You.” We sang it through once straight vanilla, and then again with the melody buried somewhere in the midst of the wildest six-part chords anyone ever heard. She loved it!
        The Nassoons’ concert schedule had been filling up to the point that we were having to turn down some invitations. We had been booked since way back in October for the Wellesley Senior Prom on Saturday, April 26. It was beginning to look, however, as if we might not be able to muster up a full complement of Nassoons for that occasion because of various conflicts that had developed, including the fact that the Princeton baseball team was scheduled to play at home against Army that same afternoon. Only if the game was rained out would I be able to make it to Wellesley!
Only if our game with Army was rained out would
I be able to make it to the Wellesley Senior Prom!
        Margie was devastated when I first informed her of that conflict. So was I! And so were the rest of the Nassoons, some of whom had conflicts of their own.  In my letter to Margie dated April 17 I wrote 
It’s been a struggle getting enough Nassoons to make the trip on the 26th. It seems that everything under the sun is happening that same weekend and causing all sorts of conflicts — baseball games, crew practice, (Theater) Intime dress rehearsal (affecting Bill Rogers), recordings in N.Y. Sat. afternoon by the “Tigers” (affecting Al Burr), glee club concert with the New Jersey Symphony (Steve Kurtz), and something else of a semi-official nature affecting Jack Pemberton. Then, too, the fellows are finessing the ‘48 and ‘46 Proms, although we finally decided to sing at the latter. We also turned down a couple of other invitations for that weekend, including one to Bryn Mawr’s Senior Prom on the 26th.
        Despite all these seemingly insurmountable barriers, the Nassoons to a man were determined to fulfill our commitment to sing at the Wellesley Senior Prom. “We can’t let Margie down!” they said. I felt that I was the one letting her and them down, and my fellow ‘Soons were doing their best to console me. Al Burr had to do his recordings with the “Tigers” orchestra that afternoon, but he vowed to catch a train to Boston as soon as they were finished. He would miss the afternoon activities but was determined to be there in time to sing at the Prom.
        Bill Rogers and Jack Pemberton both said they would be there to sing at the Prom Saturday
night, but could not stay for the entire weekend. Our hostesses had planned a wonderful Sunday outing for us all at a camp in New London, Connecticut. Jeff Penfield, Steve Kurtz, and I were the three ‘Soons with unavoidable conflicts. Fortunately our capable alternate, Herb Spencer, was available that weekend, bringing the available total to ten voices with at least two of each part. So the “Soons were good to go!
        Meanwhile, Margie was busy lining up an attractive date for each Nassoon and taking orders for our soon-to-be-released album. There was much excitement on the Wellesley campus in anticipation of the visit of the highly touted Princeton Nassoons. Despite my urging her to ask one of the ‘Soons to be her date, Margie refused in the hopeful expectation that it was going to rain in Princeton that Saturday, the baseball game would be cancelled, and I would be able to come.
        On Friday night, April 25, I sang with the Nassoons at the Class of ‘46 Prom. In the those post-WWII years with so many servicemen returning to complete their education under the G. I. Bill, every graduating class had men (Princeton was not yet coed )who had matriculated in many different classes. We all were given the option of identifying with our graduating class or the class with which he had matriculated. It was interesting that almost everyone chose to identify with the latter. So in the Class of ‘46, for example, there were students who would be graduating over a span of six or seven years, depending upon when they had left college to go into the service. So each of the “war” classes had their own Prom. That’s why I refer to “the ‘46 Prom” instead of to “the Senior Prom.” Jim, Buck, Ed Knetzger, and I, all ‘46ers, were thus able to attend our own class Prom, though I left right after we sang.
        The Nassoons had also been invited to sing at the Class of ‘48 Prom, as I mentioned, but had to decline because of our Wellesley engagement. The main group left for Boston Saturday morning, which, Margie’s prayers notwithstanding, was a beautiful sunny day! I saw my fellow ‘Soons off at the Dinky Station with my well-wishes, and my special greetings to a certain Wellesley lass who had been hoping for a rainy day.
        Little did I or they know how my plans would change!
        To be continued.
* * * * * * *


        Some people talk too loud in public places.
        My wife Margie insisted our children use what she called their “restaurant voices,” wherever we happened to be dining. It meant projecting our voices just across the table and no further. People in nearby tables or booths would have had to strain hard to eavesdrop on our conversations. Table manners were important to Margie.
        For fifteen years we spent our summer vacations participating in national conferences of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, thirty-one in all. Margie and I and our four children would travel back and forth across the country in our station wagon to Estes Park, Colorado, and Ashland, Oregon, and wherever else a conference was held throughout those years.
        My parents could never understand how we could enjoy being cooped up in a car with four young children for so many days, but for us those were really happy times. We loved being together in the car, playing games, singing, telling stories, and enjoying the scenery along the way. Believe it or not, there was never any fussing. The children enjoyed each other immensely, and the whole experience was always memorable for them. Staying in a motels was a daily highlight (there had to be a pool, of course!), as was exploring the towns where we spent the night. Often we would go bowling, or play miniature golf, or find an appropriate drive-in movie. The trip itself was our family vacation.
        We did plenty of sight seeing, too, often driving a few miles out of the way to take in a particular place of interest. Every food stop was exciting. I couldn’t begin to count all the restaurants we ate in over the years on those long treks, or how many times other folks would comment on our children’s model behavior. They were anything but the noisy and sometimes fussy children one often encounters on the road. Whenever that happened, one of our children would invariably whisper, “Why don’t they use their restaurant voices?”
        The term became generic, as Margie applied the rule to other public places as well, such as doctor’s or dentists’ waiting rooms, and airplanes, and trains, and libraries, and museums, and anywhere else where other people are likely to be disturbed by loud talking. The other day I was trying to read while waiting to see my dental hygienist, and a young man on the other side of the room was talking so boisterously to his companion that I couldn’t concentrate at all. It was a jarring invasion of my audio space. It was obvious his mother had never taught him to use his restaurant voice.
        Other people in the room were staring at the young man disapprovingly, but that didn't phase him one bit. I was debating whether to ask him to tone it down, when I was happily rescued by the most welcome appearance of Joan, my soft-spoken hygienist, who whisked me out of the waiting room, down the hall, and into her dentist's chair.

* * * * * * *


       I need to back up a bit to early December, 1946. Clear the Track, the eagerly anticipated Princeton Triangle Show, was shaping up very well. The cast was excited and confident the show would be well received. 
        Because there were so many quick costume changes, we needed more than one dress  rehearsal. The show opened in Princeton on Saturday, December 14. With a matinee and an evening performance at McCarter Theater. I got Margie a ticket for the evening performance,  and she absolutely loved it! Both audiences instantly rose to their feet for boisterous standing ovations at the end. Margie accompanied me to the opening night party hosted by the Triangle Club for the cast and everyone connected with the show, and their friends and family members.
        In October the Nassoons had been entranced by the Triangle veterans’ enticing tales of THE TOUR. We could not imagine how much fun it would be in the various cities where we would be performing, they told us. In addition to the exhilaration of appearing before wildly enthusiastic audiences of alumni and friends, we would be royally entertained everywhere, with fantastic meals and parties, music and dancing, and GIRLS! It sounded wonderful!
        Initially I had been looking forward to the tour as much as anyone, but with my growing fondness for Margie my passion for the tour was waning proportionately. We had a couple more dates before the Triangle Show went on the road. Our first stop was Philadelphia on December 23. After a two-day recess for Christmas we continued the rest of the tour. What I had thought would be a wonderful way to spend a winter break now meant being away from Margie while she was home on vacation from Wellesley College. I knew I would miss her, but I had not realized how much. The old adage that absence makes the heart grow fonder was certainly true in my case. I had a good time and I loved the performances, but the accompanying social life was not nearly so much fun as I had thought it would be. I found myself comparing every girl I met with Margie, and that made me miss her all the more. I hoped she was missing me as well, but at that point I had no reason to assume she felt as strongly about me as I was beginning to feel about her. I knew she was dating other men who were vying for her affection. My one advantage was that she loved the Nassoons! And she always enjoyed our dates.
        Team Triangle returned to Princeton on January 4 and that night I took Margie to dinner and a movie. The next night we repeated the pattern. The following day she left for Wellesley, and for me it was back to the books with a vengeance, and to my senior thesis, which was on the unionization of professional baseball. My research necessitated my traveling to several different cities, including a three-day visit to Boston. While there I saw Margie every evening.
        In early February, at the end of her exam period, Margie came home for a few days with one of her attractive Wellesley friends, Lee Emory. The two of them attended a Nassau rehearsal, after which we all went to the Nassau Inn, affectionately known as "the Nass," for dinner and some serenading by the Nassoons. Much to my regret, I had to leave on another research trip the next day! Margie was still home when I returned, though her friend had already left. I had dinner with Margie and her parents that evening, and as we later said good night, Margie told me she was feeling more “sure” about me. That was heavenly music to my ears!
        The next night Margie was my guest for dinner at the University Cottage Club, the “eating Club” to which I belonged. Afterwards we played bridge with our close friends Barb and John Leonard. John and I had been in the V-12 program together and were always improvising at the piano. We were each other’s favorite four-hand piano partner. Johnny had also sung in the “V-12 Octet” that I directed. He and Barb were two of the Nassoons’ most enthusiastic fans, and the four of us always had great fun together.
Ed Knetzger, my fellow Nassoon
and classmate
        Later in February Margie came home for another weekend, this time with her friend Nancy MacKinnon, a tall, vivacious blonde, for whom I had lined up my fellow Nassoon and classmate Ed Knetzger as her escort for the weekend. Sharing the same sense of humor, Nancy and Ed  bonded instantly and the four of us had a hilarious weekend, beginning with a worrisome but in retrospect amusing incident on the first night.
        Here’s what happened. Margie’s folks lived in a large stucco and wood-framed house on the northeast corner of Prospect Avenue and Broadmead, just two long blocks below the last eating club on Prospect. It was one of many University owned faculty houses in that part of the Borough of Princeton. It was snowing hard when Ed and I walked there to pick up Margie and Nancy and walk back with them up Prospect Avenue to the Princeton Quadrangle Club for dinner. Ed was then President of "Quad." After that we then walked across campus to McCarter Theater, where the Clear the Track cast were scheduled to rehearse for a  “command” performance on Alumni Day. The two Wellesley girls enjoyed the rehearsal almost as much as Margie had enjoyed the opening night performance!
        After the rehearsal we stopped in the nearby and very crowded Student Sandwich Shop for a late night snack, before making the long trek back to 106 Broadmead. We didn’t mind slushing our way through the snow at all. Margie and I were moving along at a slower pace than our friends, enjoying ourselves so much that when we reached Prospect Avenue, we suddenly noticed that somewhere along the way we had become separated from Ed and Nancy, who were nowhere to be seen. As it was now very late, Margie felt we should continue on home, thinking that Ed and Nancy were probably already there.
        But when we arrived home, the front porch light was on, the door was locked, and Margie’s folks had retired for the night. Margie had her key, so we let ourselves in and made ourselves comfortable, while we waited for our two companions, expecting them to arrive at any moment. But they didn’t. As we waited, and waited, and waited, we were becoming more and more anxious, fearing there had been a mishap, perhaps a fall or something like that.
        Or could they be lost, we wondered? How could they, when the house was right on Prospect Avenue? Prospect Avenue! The light dawned instantly on both of us. “The Hittis!” we exclaimed in unison. Professor Philip Khuri Hitti and his wife lived in an identical house on the corresponding corner of Fitzrandolph and Prospect, one block up the street!
        “I’ll be right back,” I said to Margie, as I threw on my coat and dashed out the door. I ran the whole way, and sure enough, huddled together on the bench on the Hittis’ front porch and chatting merrily through chattering teeth, were our two friends. They were not totally oblivious to the time. “Oh, hello,” they said cheerily, as I came puffing up the sidewalk. “Where have you been? We’ve been here over an hour.”
        “Margie and I were waiting for you at her parents’ house!”
        “Isn’t this her parents’ house?”
        “No, this is the Hittis’ house! This is Fitzrandolph.”
        “No wonder we couldn’t get in!”
        The three of us walked back to 106 Broadmead, where a much relieved Margie greeted her guest with a hug, while casting a puzzled look at Ed. The undaunted Nassoon’s good humor transcended his embarrassment: “Nancy and I were having a great conversation until Dick showed up!”
        Ed and I had plenty to talk about on the way to our respective dorms. The rest of the weekend flew by much too swiftly and without any other hitch. What a time we had had, and how sad we were to say good-bye to our Wellesley girls at the train station!
        On the way back to Boston Margie and Nancy, to the wonderment and amusement of the nearby passengers, were gleefully composing and singing their own words to the tune of  “As I Remember You,” a favorite with Nassoon audiences, written by my talented classmate John Macfadyen. Here in Margie’s own handwriting is their summary of THE weekend:

        In her accompanying letter Margie let me know in her beautiful way, that she was now "sure"! As for me, I was, to use the familiar expression, head over heels in love with the sweetheart of the Nassoons.

        To be continued. . .

* * * * * * *


        I mentioned in an earlier post (see How We Got Started) that the Princeton Nassoons’ rehearsals in the fall of 1946 were strictly private. Because we were starting from scratch, so to speak, and because we wanted to meet the standard of excellence established by our predecessors prior to the World War II hiatus, and because the expectations of the University community for the new Nassoons were very high, we did not want to be heard by anyone until we were ready to make our formal public debut, which was scheduled for Friday night of the big Princeton-Dartmouth weekend.
        There was one exception to that rule, however, and her name was Margie, nee Margaret Frances Childs, daughter of Harwood L. Childs, Professor of Political Science at Princeton. This is how it came about. Margie and I had dated regularly when I was attending the Midshipmen-Officers Course at the Naval Supply Corps School at Harvard and she was a student at Wellesley.
        At the end of WWII, shortly after our ship had arrived at the Philadelphia Naval Base in the late spring of 1946, I made an appointment to see the Dean of Admissions about returning to Princeton the following fall to complete my undergraduate education. As I was sitting on a bench
outside the Dean’s office on the second floor of Nassau Hall, with my face buried in some literature I had picked up, I was startled out of my total absorption by a soft female voice: “May I say hello to you?”
        I looked up and there was Margie, looking as beautiful as ever! She had just started working in the Dean’s office for the summer! We had a lovely time catching up with each other over a lunch table at the Nassau Inn. We weren’t able to get together that summer, but we kept in touch and continued to correspond after she returned to Wellesley for her senior year and I to Princeton.
        On October 2 I wrote to Margie telling her all about the Nassoons and about our hotly debated decision to link with the Triangle Club rather than the Glee Club (see A Hard Decision). That decision meant that in addition to our regular practice hours, we also had to find time to practice for the Triangle Show (see Clear the Track). Our hard work was paying off, however. We were gelling as a group, so much so that I said in my letter, “. . . we feel that in time we’ll be at least as good as the ‘42 Nassoons.” With that as an inducement, I invited Margie to come down as my date for the Dartmouth weekend, November 22-24.
        To my chagrin she had to decline, because she had already accepted an invitation to attend the Harvard-Yale game in New Haven that same weekend! She also told me she had a date for the forthcoming Cornell weekend in Princeton, but she didn’t mention the name of her lucky escort. That provoked some anxiety on my part, compounded by my deep regret that we did not connect that weekend. We continued to correspond, nevertheless, and we finally did see each other when she came home for Thanksgiving.
        So, too, during her long winter vacation. Since the Nassoons had to remain on campus to rehearse for the Triangle Show, we were able to spend some quality time together. We both sensed that our feeling for each other was growing stronger, especially when we came out of the Playhouse Theater on Palmer Square, having just seen Jimmy Stewart in It’s A Wonderful Life, to find it snowing! The stroll home was memorably romantic. We were “walking in a winter wonderland” hand in hand, tasting the snowflakes and harmonizing as they softly fluttered down through the trees.
        Because Margie had missed our debut and had never heard us sing, and because she had arranged for us to sing at the Wellesley Senior Prom the following Spring, I asked my fellow “Soons” if they would be willing to bend our rule of privacy to allow Margie to sit in one of our rehearsals. Their response was immediate and spontaneous. “Of course!” There was no discussion.
        So the next afternoon Margie came with me to our rehearsal room on the second floor of First Presbyterian Church, and the Nassoons had an audience of one to sing to. Margie was thrilled, and her facial expressions reflected the emotions that each song evoked. Her genuine appreciation charmed the hearts of my singing colleagues, and at the end they insisted she come back again, as often as possible. “You have an open invitation,” said Og Tanner, our President.
        From then on Margie attended whenever her visits home coincided with our rehearsal schedule. She loved all of our songs, but she had her special favorites, and she loved it, when Don Finnie, our Music Director, would say to her, “This next one is for you, Margie,” knowing it was one of “her” songs.
        I don’t recall who said it or the exact setting, but I think it was at the end of one of our rehearsals, as the “Soons” were exchanging farewell hugs with Margie, who was returning to Wellesley the next day, someone said to her, “You are the “Sweetheart of the Nassoons!” Others made confirming comments, and from then on, when she appeared or when her name was mentioned, that expression would often be heard.
Margie loved the Nassoons and they loved her.
        Margie was not only referred to but she was also treated as the Sweetheart of the Nassoons. Margie loved the Nassoons, and the Nassoons loved Margie, and that made me all the more proud of her. They knew she was my girl, of course, but they all claimed her as their Nassoons’ girl, and would give her a round of hugs whenever she appeared. A few of my buddies would tell her in my presence that they were available, if she ever got tired of me. Margie always had the perfect reply. She played her role in the repartee in a most delightful way, and captivated them all with her beauty, wit, and grace. We sang better when she was there. She brought the best out of each of us and all of us.
        In the meantime something else was happening. Margie and I were falling more and more in love, and the Nassoons had a featured role in our romance.
        To be continued. . . .

* * * * * * *


The first letter in Margie's file of my letters to her. Months
before, while I was overseas, I had written another letter,
which she never received. I had also sent her a Christmas
card in December, 1945, which she did receive. 
        Margie and I saved all the letters we ever wrote to each other. She had numbered and put my letters to her in chronological order, beginning with one I had written while still on board ship at the end of World War II. I had arranged her letters to me in chronological order as well, and all of our letters were stored in shoe boxes in the basements, attics, or closets  of our various homes. The shoe boxes were neatly packed in a much larger box, which was carted off by different moving vans, untouched and unopened, along with our other belongings, as we moved from place to place. In the nearly sixty-six years we were married we lived in 14 different apartments or houses in five different States.
        When Margie’s terminal illness was diagnosed, I brought up the boxes of letters from our storage bin in order to search for a particular letter I had written to her after we had been dating for some months. We both remembered the letter because it was the one in which I first told her that I loved her. In fact, it was the first time I had ever committed myself to any girl, especially in writing. It was easy to find, because Margie had "starred" it.
        No one but the two of us had ever seen any of our love letters, but I intended to make copies of that one letter for our children, after Margie died. I wanted them to know when, how, and why I fell in love with their mother. My good intentions were postponed, however, because of all the other things that had to be done following Margie’s death, and because of the tremendous amount of catching up I had to do. I had had to let go of many things, while fulfilling my role as Margie’s primary care giver. That's why for months I had been posting very few articles on this blog.
        A couple of weeks ago, in anticipation of another article I am planning to add to my historical series on the Princeton Nassoons, I was looking through some of my early letters to Margie to confirm the dates of certain events. At her request I had postponed writing the article while she was still alive. Margie was a very private person. But browsing through some of the letters convinced me that I should scan all of our letters to each other and make copies for our children. The letters contain so much interesting information about what was going on in each of our lives and in the world about us. I have begun that process and have now scanned all of my letters to Margie and am about to start on her letters to me.
Some of our letters to each other. I had transferred them
to plastic containers.
        A few nights ago I got out the boxes, sat down at the kitchen table, and began reading our letters to each other in tandem. I had hesitated doing that, because I was not sure I was emotionally ready. I can be easily moved to tears when I accidentally come across one of Margie's marketing lists or a note she had written to herself. I expected the wistful memories aroused by my reading the letters in that way would be too emotionally upsetting.
        I was completely mistaken! Those were the most comforting three hours I have had since she died. I felt as if I were speaking with Margie, as I became completely absorbed in our on-going dialogue. It was amazing! I could almost hear her voice saying the words I was reading. I was feeling the same emotions I had felt when I wrote the letters sixty-six or sixty-seven years ago, the same love. It was not the sorrowful love I have been feeling ever since she died, a love seemingly unrequited because of my constant awareness of her absence, her permanent absence.
        But as I was reading our letters to each other I actually felt Margie's presence. She was right there, not visibly of course, but somehow there with me, whispering her words of love to the ears of my heart. Her love was no longer just a beautiful memory; it was being powerfully communicated through her hand-written love letters. I was experiencing her love again. I cannot begin to do justice to such an ineffable experience. My words are inadequate.
        I hope, nevertheless, that my attempt to describe this experience will encourage you who have lost a beloved wife or husband to read the love letters you wrote to each other. Let yourself become totally absorbed in the process. Lose yourself in your letters and you will find yourself amazingly comforted, knowing how much you were loved and feeling you are still loved, even as you loved and still love.
More letters to, from, and
about Margie
        So far I have read only a portion of Margie's and my letters to each other. It will take me many hours to finish reading the rest. Most of the letters were written before and during our engagement, and in the early years of our marriage, when because of the children she was unable to accompany me on my vocational travels. In later years, when our children were "out of the nest," our occasions for writing were fewer and farther between, as I seldom went anywhere without Margie. Rarely were we ever separated for even a day or two.
        I'm sure that the final letters in the boxes will reflect an even greater love, a love seasoned with gratitude for the gift of loving and being loved for so many years.  
        How well they deserve to be called love letters!

* * * * * * *


        When King Hezekiah became critically ill, the prophet Isaiah paid him a pastoral call of sorts, with this message from God: “Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die. You shall not recover” (II Kings 20:1, NRSV).
        How often people are told to get their affairs in order when facing the likelihood of their death. One wonders why people have to wait to be told they are going to die before putting their affairs in order. We all know we are going to die sooner or later, so why wait? Would life not be smoother and less stressful if our affairs were always in order? That’s easier said than done, of course.
        But that’s another subject. What I want to discuss in this article is the relationship between a couple’s putting their affairs in order and their coping with the reality of being separated by death. When death comes suddenly and unexpectedly, all of the survivors are confronted with the devastating, sometimes even frightening, reality that their loved one is no longer there to respond to their questions or to share their joys, their sorrows, their worries, their dreams. They have been deprived forever of their accustomed access to a precious source of information they may have taken for granted all their lives. That’s what makes losing a beloved parent so difficult for the children, not to mention the sheer grief of their loss.
       Even when we have been forewarned of our own or a loved one’s imminent demise, as Margie and I were of hers, the task of getting our affairs in order is daunting indeed. There is so much to think about, so much to do. In addition to the painful anticipation of life without her companionship, the thought of my not having access to Margie’s memory, her knowledge, her contributions to our daily routines, to all the things she did that I never had to think about or worry about, was terribly disheartening. Coming on top of all of the immediate medical needs that now dominated our daily schedules and the health issues that had to be dealt with, the multi-faceted task of  “getting our affairs in order” stirred within me a feeling close to desperation.
        Fortunately for me Margie was a remarkably well organized person. She had always kept lists of where things were, and what and when things needed to be done. Every year I attached a to the back of our kitchen closet door a large 12-month calendar which she used to record appointments, birthdays, anniversaries, visits and other special events, deadlines, family phone calls, everything of importance. Her calendars were almost like a dairy, and they served as a useful historical record, to which we often referred.
       Thinking ahead, Margie wrote out instructions for me, so I would know how to do the things she had always done, like when, why, and how to use the various settings on the washing machine and dryer, and what kinds of detergents, bleaches, softeners to use, and where she kept various bills and records of household expenses, and when or how often certain household chores needed to be done. I was already doing many of these things before she died, but I felt more secure having her lists to fall back on, when she would no longer be around to refresh my memory or to answer my questions.
        Margie had made a practice of labeling and dating all of our photographs before placing them in albums. That was immensely helpful, given the number of pictures we accumulated over the years. She had also kept notebooks indicating where and when we had acquired most of our knickknacks, and from whom we had received many of our gifts, and to which of our children or  grandchildren she wanted to leave certain keepsakes and personal items after we were gone. I had made lists of the contents of our three safe deposit boxes, where our most precious items are stored. After having been burglarized twice (a third attempt was foiled), and having lost almost all of our most valuable possessions, including wedding presents and items we had acquired over the years, we were less concerned about material possessions.
        For most people getting one’s affairs in order immediately evokes thoughts of the legal implications of death. It is amazing how many Americans die intestate (without a will). If you don’t decide how you want to distribute your estate, the government will decide for you! It goes without saying that everyone should have a will and keep it up to date. If you don’t have or can’t afford a lawyer, there are plenty of on-line resources to help you. Depending upon the size and nature of your estate, it does not have to be complicated or expensive.
        Since Margie and I had made each other the primary beneficiaries of our respective wills, and since our home, our car, and most of our major tangible possessions were jointly owned, there was no problem in that regard. In addition to a modest joint stock account we each had our own small accounts, from which we had been withdrawing funds for years to help pay for our children’s education and other needs. We had disposed of all of Margie’s remaining stocks before she died, so there was no estate tax to pay.
        In all the above ways Margie’s affairs were in order. Still, there is no way that anyone can possibly write down or record all the information, the numberless facts and figures stored in one’s fertile brain.  Despite all of our preparations, despite all of our anticipatory conversations, despite all of her lists and notes, there were countless questions to which I had no answers following Margie’s death, things about which I now wish I could ask her, practical things, personal and family feelings, intimate things, spiritual things. I had no idea there would be so many things I would wish we had talked about when we were getting our affairs in order.
        I don’t know how I could have anticipated this gap in the preparatory process. Maybe the realization can come only after the fact, after your loved one has died. I think Margie believed her own affairs were in order, that she had done everything she needed to do, and she had every reason to think so. There were, of course, things that she worried about. Her children’s problems and worries were her worries as well. That could have accounted for her sometimes slightly furrowed brow . Or perhaps it was a sign of her own continuous physical pain.
        But her overall expression was peaceful and calm. There was no one with whom she needed to make amends; she had no unfinished business. She was at peace with God, had bid farewell to her loved ones, and had accepted her death. She knew I would be terribly sad, but she was confident that I could carry on without her, with the support of our wonderful children. I would be lonely but not alone.
        Near the end, as our children separately and softly told her what she meant to them and would continue to mean to them for the rest of their lives, Margie had the most beautiful expression on her face. She was partially conscious until just before she died, and her eyes told us she was aware of our presence.
        As her breathing became more irregular and weaker, we were timing the intervals between her breaths, until finally they ceased entirely. Her eyes were fixed in an expressionless, unseeing stare. My sweet Margie, the love of my life, was dead.
        Despite all our preparations, I would soon discover how unprepared I really was, as I faced the task of putting my own affairs in order.  

* * * * * * *


Throughout all our experiences of death Margie and I always had each other with whom to share our grief. Now I must grieve for her, without her. I talk to her often, and tell her things, as I always used to do, but there is no response. That’s when the awareness of her absence is hardest to bear.
But the theological dimension of my love for her is helping me to cope. What I mean by that expression is my awareness that to love and to be loved are gifts of God, for which I am immensely and constantly grateful to God, and because of which I can never take any friend or loved one for granted. It was our shared theological understanding of love that enabled Margie and me to savor our love for each other, as described in my earlier post (see SAVORING LOVE). We realized that “love is from God,” as John put it so directly in his first letter (4:7).
The theological dimension of love also includes taking seriously John’s affirmation that “God is love” (I John 4:8b), and since God is eternal, God’s love is eternal. In the months following the diagnosis of Margie’s fatal disease, we took comfort from the thought that because our love was a gift of God’s love, then our love, too, must be eternal. Death cannot destroy it. What form it will take, I have not the slightest idea. But that it will continue beyond this life as part of God’s love, I am convinced, because God’s love is eternal. That was the most comforting thought to both of us.
         Another thing we Christians have to remember is that eternal life begins not after we die, but the moment we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior. It is a current and continuing relationship that does not end when we are buried in the dust of the earth. “I write this to you,” said John, “in order that you may know that you have eternal life”(I John 5:13 )—present tense! “And this is eternal life,” said Jesus in his prayer of intercession for his disciples, “that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3, RSV). There we have Jesus’ own definition of eternal life —again, present tense!
This understanding of the eternality of love and of my love for Margie does not dispel or nullify my grief, as I have said previously. On the contrary, I miss her all the more because of that deeper relationship, that common bond in faith. She was my prayer partner, my confidante, my life’s companion, whose love, and respect, and affirmation I treasured and whose happiness and well-being informed my every decision.
But as I also have said in previous articles, I do not grieve as one who has no hope. As a Christian I have more than hope, for my hope is based on my faith in God’s eternal love, of which Margie’s and my love was, is, and always will be part.
To be sure, that is a faith statement. Let the unbelieving cynic reject it or even scoff at it. But my grief  bears no bitterness, or anger, or hopelessness, or utter despair. I have no feeling of helpless resignation, no stoic need to disguise or hide my true emotions, no desire to give up or cop out. Life still has purpose and meaning for me, even though it is totally different without Margie. I can’t imagine that I’ll ever stop missing her. She will always be the girl of my dreams —now more than ever!
And now I can see her face, her loving eyes and her beautiful smile.

* * * * * * *

During the final months of her life Margie and I talked often about ultimate things. What made our love for each other so strong was our common faith. We prayed together often —while driving in the car, at mealtimes, often spontaneously in response to something good or bad that had happened, and every night at length. Our bedtime discussions and accompanying prayers were especially meaningful to us both. We savored our love for each other. We both were certain we were meant for each other, that our marriage was literally made in heaven. When I fell in love with Margie I had the feeling I had loved her before I ever knew her. She was the faceless girl of my dreams, the someone I was always hoping I would meet some day.
I say “faceless,” because unlike Walter Mitty I had no mental image of my “dream girl.” So when I finally did meet her, it was not as if I had seen her before. It was not love at first sight. We liked each other instantly and enjoyed each other’s company, but neither of us was thinking “This is it!” We were dating about once a week, when she was a sophomore at Wellesley and I was a newly commissioned Ensign, soon to be heading overseas.
One day many months later, while off duty aboard ship somewhere in the middle of the Pacific, I
was leaning on a rail, staring at the ocean, and daydreaming about all the girls I had known. Somebody had suggested that I had already met the girl I was going to marry. That intriguing idea had precipitated this extended reflection on all of my past female acquaintances, starting with my earliest puppy loves
and teen age infatuations continuing on through my most recent dates with women I had met on shore leave. In my reverie I kept coming back to Margie,  and it suddenly dawned on me that she was the one, she was that girl, the girl of my dreams!
I panicked instantly at the thought that I had missed my opportunity. I was in the middle of nowhere and there was nothing I could do about it. I went to my cabin and wrote Margie a letter, which of course could not be mailed until we reached port, and which, I later learned, she  never received.
After being discharged from the Navy, I returned to Princeton to complete my undergraduate course. Margie and I reconnected and soon were deeply in love. Ours was a beautiful love affair, as we both became convinced that we were meant for each other. In March of my senior year I wrote a letter to Margie in which I committed myself to her —heart, mind, and soul. It was the first time I had ever told any girl in writing that I loved her, for to me this was a life-time commitment. I knew that Margie was the one with whom I wanted to spend the rest of my life. I was committing myself to a new way of life —no more flings, no more escapades, nor more flirtations.
Margie and I were engaged in June, 1947, after our respective graduations from Princeton and Wellesley, and married the following January. Our love deepened and matured with the years, as we experienced the deaths of our oldest son, our parents, my brother, her older sister, our beloved aunts and uncles, and many other relatives and close friends.  Our deepening faith gave our love a theological dimension, which has greatly impacted my coping with the grief and loneliness I am experiencing following her death.
* * * * * * *


I must begin what I have to say about the intertwining of faith, love, and grief by sharing very briefly my own internal faith journey. I can never remember a time when I did not believe in God. My faith in Jesus Christ came much later. It was an intellectual struggle, as I wrestled with the paradoxical nature of faith. On the one hand, there are many texts in the New Testament that would lead one to conclude that faith is our responsibility, that we can make ourselves believe. Jesus often commended people for their faith, or rebuked them for their lack of it.
There are, on the other hand, an equally impressive array of texts that suggest that faith is a gift of God, that it is not something we can make ourselves have, but something we find ourselves with. Jesus said, for example, “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me” (John 6:44, NRSV).
We can see the paradoxical relationship between grace (God’s gift) and faith (our struggle) in such texts as Ephesians 2:8, where the Apostle Paul writes “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (NRSV); and Romans 8:28, “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love (God), who are called according to (God’s) purpose” (RSV).
We think it's all up to us.
After a prolonged wrestling match with what I now view as a pseudo-paradox, I came to realize that ultimately faith has to be a gift of God. We depend upon the God we believe in to give us the faith to keep on believing. That is an unavoidable tautology. All of our “reasons” for believing are at root tautological. They are all faith statements, and faith statements are not self-evidently true. If they were, we could prove the existence of God and every reasonable person would be a believer. If my faith in God depended totally upon my ability to prove God, I could no longer believe in God.
While we are struggling to believe, we think it is all up to us. But the moment we find ourselves believing, we realize that our faith is a gift, that God was there before we ever started to believe, and that our Christian faith was the work of the Holy Spirit prompting us to accept what God was offering us in Christ. That, by the way, is exactly how Jesus said it would happen.
However one may come to it, the decision to accept Jesus Christ as one’s personal Lord and Savior is the freest decision one can ever make. No one else can make it for us, or force us to make it. If we can’t make ourselves believe something we can’t believe, we certainly can’t make someone else believe. A decision of faith cannot be coerced.
Once you take seriously the “givenness” of faith, it changes the way you bear witness, the way you make the case from the pulpit or in someone’s living room, the way you answer the question, “Why do you believe?” You have to begin by confessing that your faith is an assumption. You can’t prove it to someone who does not share that assumption. Having confessed your assumption, you can then point to all the confirming evidence that supports your assumption.
Your personal experience of God in Christ is not a valid basis for making normative truth claims about God or Christ, but it is the legitimate basis of your personal conviction. If you have no experience of God, you have nothing to talk about. Apart from shared personal experiences, all conversation about God and Christ is reduced to theoretical abstractions. philosophical ideas, and discussions if not arguments about the meaning of biblical texts and other people’s ideas.
I have often said that though the promises of Christ are not provable, any seeker after truth would certainly want them to be true. Where else is there any hope for some form of existence or person-hood beyond the grave? Even if I can’t get my mind around the idea of “the resurrection to eternal life,” I would certainly want it to be true. To one who has lost a loved one, how comforting it is to hear Jesus say, “. . . I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am there you may be also” (John 14:2-3).
Where and what is heaven?
How many times I have quoted those words at the funerals and memorial services I have conducted over the years. Now I face the challenge of believing what I preach. I ask myself if I should be grieving the loss of my wife so much, if I really believe Jesus’ words. Oh for the simple faith of Mabel, an elderly saint I can still hear joyfully saying, “I just can’t wait to get to glory land and see my beloved again!”
I want with all my heart to believe the promises of Christ, but my earthly grief keeps getting in the way. Not that believing in heaven should nullify one’s grief over the loss of a loved one. But I long for the confidence that Margie and I will be together again somehow. Not that I expect to be able to conceive what form our reunion in heaven may take or what heaven itself is like. Heaven is not something I can picture, nor do I find it helpful to try to imagine what heaven will be like. But the Holy Spirit has put a heavenly dream in the hearts of believers, just an inkling that cannot be envisioned, only felt. “‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him’ —these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit” (I Corinthians 2:10).

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        This is the fourth in a series of articles on my experience of grieving. Scroll down to see the others.  

        Ruth Kuhnle was the very capable secretary at my first church, the Oak Lane Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia. She and her husband were special friends of ours, and we continued to stay in touch after our move to Princeton, then out to Indianapolis, then back to Princeton.
        I had not been long on the faculty of Princeton Theological Seminary when Ruth called with the sad news that Bud had died. They had been retired only a short while and were living outside of Philadelphia. She asked me if I would conduct Bud’s funeral and burial service, and of course I said I would. Bud was not a church member.
        During my pastoral visit with Ruth and her two grown children, as we were planning the services, we had an opportunity to reminisce a bit about our Oak Lane days. I remember thinking at the time how well Ruth seemed to be dealing with her loss, as she laughed about some of the funny things that happened in the church. I know now how much she must have been grieving inwardly, as a line from a once-popular song put it, “laughing on the outside, crying on the inside.”
        In the weeks and months that followed we talked on the phone a few times, and Margie and I paid a call on Ruth one Sunday afternoon. It had been about seven months since Bud died, when I received a heart-wrenching letter from Ruth describing the immense grief and loneliness she was experiencing. She implored me to tell my students, who were preparing for ministry, to be aware that those who have lost a beloved spouse will still be grieving after the flurry of support they received in the first days following the death of their loved one has tapered off. “I’m missing Bud now more than ever, and I have no one around with whom to share my grief. I had lots of support in the beginning but now I feel so all alone.”
        Ruth had more to say in her letter about what she was experiencing, but that’s the gist of what she wrote. I shared her letter with the students in my Pastoral Ministry course, and I have never forgotten the lesson she taught us all. That is one reason I not always but usually let some time elapse before writing a sympathy note. I wait until the sharp pain of bereavement has become the dull ache of reality. The initial pain is acute, but the ache is a chronic condition.
        It was exactly seven months ago that Margie died. One advantage I have over Ruth is that three of my four children live in the Princeton area. The fourth checks in on me every night from Cooperstown, New York, and we talk and pray together. Each of my sons and daughters has been an indispensable source of comfort and support. In addition, I live in a community of independent seniors, among whom I have many caring and supportive friends. Ruth lived alone until her death a few years ago.
Our grandchildren miss Margie, too. Here she is with grandson
Seth, of whom she was immensely fond and proud.
        I can attest, nevertheless, that my grief continues, as hers did. And despite all the support I’ve had, I must say that the dull ache has not subsided. In some ways it seems to get worse. Some days are better than others, depending on what is occupying my time and energy at the moment. But the ache is always there. I am learning to live with it, but I’ll  never “get over it.” The constant reminders of Margie’s absence will not permit me to ignore the ache. Every happy memory immediately prompts a “never again” reaction that keeps my aching heart throbbing.
        As I said in my first article, I’m living in two worlds, and I’m still functioning in the outer world, the “life goes on” world. But in my “inner” world the sharp pain has become the dull ache of reality, which in some ways, as Ruth Kuhnle discovered, is harder to bear. Not that it's more painful than the sharp pain immediately following a loved one's death. But it's more depressing, because of the "never again" feeling that it continually evokes.
        I don't think heartache can be dealt with symptomatically. There are no spiritual aspirin tablets to sooth the dull ache of reality. Nor can the prescriptions of well meaning friends cure the cause of what ails me.
        But faith sure helps, and that's what I want to discuss in my next article.

* * * * * * *

        This is the third in a series of articles on my experience of grieving the death of my wife Margie. Scroll down to see the other two articles, entitled Living in Two Worlds and Anticipatory Grief.

Andy, Ricky, and Ellen

Savoring love is the only term I could come up with to describe a phenomenon I discovered many years ago and have been experiencing ever since. Let me briefly describe the events leading up to that discovery.
The day before the van arrived to move my family and me from our house in suburban Philadelphia to our new home in Baltimore, our children’s pediatrician, Dr. Harold Medoff, felt it necessary to admit our son Ricky to the University of Pennsylvania Hospital for tests. Ricky had been extremely weak and pale following a severe case of chicken pox, from which his older sister Ellen and younger brother Andy had recovered in normal fashion.
While I was in Baltimore awaiting the movers, my wife Margie stayed overnight with friends back in Havertown, so she could spend the day at the hospital with Ricky. In the midst of that hectic moving operation, there came a telephone call from Dr. Medoff to inform me that Ricky had been diagnosed with leukemia, which was at that time a death sentence. There was no hope of a cure.
My first question upon hearing that devastating news was “How long. . .?”
“We can’t know for sure —maybe months, maybe weeks,” was the reply. “It depends upon how he responds to the treatments.”
Ricky lived for sixteen more months, precious months. The drugs available then enabled him to experience successively shorter periods of remission.  One day shortly after we had settled into our new home, I was watching him playing on the floor with the wooden blocks that I had played with as a child. He loved to build elaborate castles, forts, and all kinds of imaginative structures, in and around which he would station his toy soldiers. My heart was filled with love tinged with the sadness of knowing that my little boy had an incurable disease.
As I sat there I was acutely aware of my emotional state. It was as if I were observing my love and experiencing it at the same time. A surge of immense gratitude swept over me, as I realized in a way that I never had before what a precious gift it is to love and be loved, a divine gift. I was not just loving Ricky at that moment; I was savoring the experience of love and thanking God for it simultaneously. I could not find the words to express what I was feeling. It was too wonderful for words.
And that joyful feeling of grateful love was immediately expanded to include my other two children and Margie. I realized that we were all precious gifts of God to each other. I tried to express my feelings to Margie, and in her wise and wonderful way she understood. From that point on the words “I love you!” had an entirely different meaning for both of us. The only expression that seemed to come anywhere near capturing the feeling was “savoring love.” Margie and I savored our love for each other for more than 67 years.
The transitive verb “to savor” has several different groups of synonyms. The group that comes closest to what I am trying to describe includes verbs like “to appreciate,” “to enjoy,” “to relish,”  “to delight or rejoice in.”  My own definition would be “to experience joyfully and gratefully.” It is gratitude that gives savoring its divine dimension. Gratitude must have a personal object. You can’t be grateful in general. You must be grateful to someone, and I am grateful to God. I don’t “thank my lucky stars” for my children and for Margie. I thank God.
That is what I mean by savoring love. When you savor your love for someone, you never take that person for granted. You know that he or she is a gift of God, and what a beautiful gift it is to love and be loved.  It makes true love even more beautiful. It’s like adding Accent to your pot roast; it brings out the flavor! That’s an inadequate analogy, but it serves to make the point that savoring love for each other adds a new dimension to a couples’ relationship, a deeper awareness of and gratitude for the gift of love itself.
A church directory photo
Margie and I loved each other that way for more than 67 years, and because we did, I have had no recriminations about not having loved her or appreciated her enough. We both knew how much we loved each other, and we thanked God for each other all the time. I miss her terribly, but I have no regrets about our life together, only gratitude for the gift of love. I count my blessings every day. They don’t dispel my grief , but they keep me from being sorry for myself or resentful at God. I’m grateful for countless happy memories, but they only make me miss her all the more.
Grieving is painful, that’s true.  But there is something beautiful about grief, and I have been endeavoring to put my finger on what it is. As I have been trying to express in these articles my feelings about the grieving process, I think I now understand why it is that my grief is something that is not morbid but beautiful. It is because I am still savoring my love for Margie.
And I always will.

* * * * * * *

This is the second article in my series of posts on my experience of grieving the recent loss of my wife Margie. My next article will be entitled "Savoring Love."

Like most pastors I have read many books and articles about grief. In her first classic text, On Death and Dying (Simon and Schuster/Touchstone, 1969) Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified five stages of grief (1. denial and isolation, 2. anger, 3. bargaining, 4. depression, 5. acceptance).
The girl I married . . .
Some still want to impose those five stages on the grieving process and have applied them even to what has been called “anticipatory grief.” More recent writings have moved away from such a linear approach, with which I was never comfortable. I have never felt any anger about my wife Margie’s death. Perhaps I would if it had been the result of someone’s incompetence, or negligence, or violence, or failure in some manner.
Nor have I felt any sense of denial or isolation, and I certainly wasn’t trying to bargain with God. I was always hoping that some new miracle drug or medical process might be found in time to cure her or at least prolong her life, but from the first moment we received the diagnosis of her fatal disease, we both accepted it. We were in “stage 5" from the start, if you want to call it that.
As for stage 4, I am sad but not dysfunctionally depressed. Sadness can cause one to feel depressed at times. It’s the periodic realization of the never-again aspect of a precious relationship, the ever-present absence and the ever-absent presence of one’s beloved spouse, that causes a sinking feeling in one’s heart. I’ve had moments of feeling depressed, but I certainly haven’t gone through any stage of depression. Counting my blessings dispels my momentary depression, but not my abiding sadness.
I mention these things because some people might want to think of anticipatory grief as a “stage.” It is a stage only in that it obviously occurs before one’s loss. I want to talk about it not as a stage but as recurring emotional experience, and not theoretically but experientially.

. . . and will love forever.
From the moment I first committed myself toMargie, heart and mind, I could hardly bear the thought of life without her. She felt the same way about me. We never took one another for granted. As our love deepened and matured with the years, our mutual appreciation of and dependence upon each other was continually growing. We shared the same interests, the same values, the same outlook on life, the same political views, the same faith. We agreed on how to raise our children, who quickly learned that their Mom and Dad were a united front. We comforted each other in times of sorrow, supported each other in times of stress, were there for each other in times of need.
So when Margie was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2001, I was immediately devastated at the thought of losing her. But we both were hopeful that it had not metastasized. She underwent a complete hysterectomy and after three years of regular follow-up examinations was pronounced cured. She was a cancer survivor!
The possibility of Margie’s death gave me my first experience of anticipatory grief. It was quite different, however, from the grief I experienced after she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. That was a death sentence. She was given twelve to eighteen months to live. The diagnosis of uterine cancer was not a death sentence; there was a good possibility she would survive, and she did. We praised God for that.
But there was no chance of her surviving the rare combination of AML and leukemia cutis. The thought of life without Margie was for me no longer an imaginative supposition. It was a reality I would be facing all too soon. Now I was grieving in anticipation of not having her in my life any more.
Margie was so courageous, and more stoic than I. She hid her illness well. People in our community had no idea what she was having to endure. She never complained, despite the  discomfort of the radiation treatments, her almost constant nausea, and the horrible sarcomas that covered her body. I would change her bandages every night, and during the day when they needed it.  She was so grateful to have me as her primary care giver; for anyone else to do for her what I did would have offended her modesty. She wanted no one else to see her sores, especially our children and grandchildren.
 Margie had her own anticipatory grief. Because of her strong faith, she was not afraid of death. Whenever we talked about being separated by death, however, she would sometimes say, “I wish we could go together.” That was simply her way of expressing her sorrow for me, knowing how much I would miss her. But we both knew that while dying together would spare one of us the grief of separation, it would be so much harder for our children to lose both of us at once. Neither one of us wanted that.
  There is a positive side of anticipating death. Knowing our time together was limited, we made the most of it. We talked long and often about every aspect of our situation. We savored every second we had together, and we prepared for the time to come. We put everything into the context of our faith, and our prayer times were immensely meaningful and comforting. We did not grieve as those who have no hope.
On the practical side I had the opportunity to ask Margie all kinds of questions. She made lists indicating where things were and what I would need to know about the routine household chores and matters she had been regularly attending to. She made known her wishes about her memorial service and burial, and what to do with her important possessions, and which items should go to whom. We both had wills and living wills and had indicated our desire to be cremated.
Our children and grandchildren were a great comfort to us and most helpful throughout Margie’s illness. She treasured every moment with them. Caring for her family had been her vocation, and no one could have been a more devoted wife, mother, grandmother, or great-grandmother. Every member of the family had his or her special relationship with her, and each was experiencing his or her own anticipatory grief.
         Despite all the blood tests, infusions, and radiation treatments, Margie and I went about our lives fairly normally at first. As the months rolled by and she was slowing down, I would wonder if we were doing this or that for the last time. She had almost completely lost her appetite. She had cancelled her appointments with her hairdresser and her manicurist. She endured but was completely exhausted by visitors, but shortly before she died she wanted to see her dear friend Eileen Moffett one last time. She mustered up the strength to drive with me to Cooperstown in September, where our daughter Elsie serves as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church. We both knew it would be Margie’s last visit.
I wondered how all my grieving in anticipation of her dying would impact my reaction to her death, when it finally occurred. Would it make it easier? The answer is emphatically no! If anything it made it worse. That’s because anticipatory grief is penultimate grief. Your loved one is still there. She or he hasn’t gone yet. There is still time to say “I love you,” still time for another hug, another kiss. Anticipatory grief makes the finality of death all the harder to bear, because now your loved is no longer there. He or she is gone forever. Grief after death is different from anticipatory grief . Both are difficult, but anticipatory grief has a “not yet” quality about it.
Throughout her terminal illness I played the piano for Margie often, all the while grieving inwardly that the time was coming when I wouldn’t have her to play for. I know about anticipatory grief! In the anticipatory stage she was still there. I could talk with her, be with her, give her a hug, tell her I love her.  We had our little routines. For example, when I would ask her, “Do you know how much I love you?,” Margie would always reply, “Not as much as I love you!” I would become so sad at the thought of not being able to have those loving exchanges.
A former familiar scene with the addition of
great-grandson Gabe. Margie is in her chair.
Now I can only pretend. I still say my lines, but there’s no response. Even so I talk often to Margie, when I’m alone. I play the piano, pretending that she is sitting in her customary chair, loving every note. One of my presents to her on every birthday or anniversary or holiday was an hour-and-a-half or two-hour “concert,” when I would play her favorite songs, always ending with “Margie, I’m Always Dreaming of You, Margie.”
For weeks after Margie died I didn’t want to play the piano. I felt it would be too emotionally difficult for me, because it would evoke so many precious memories and tender moments. But late one night, in the midst of my tears, I sat down at the piano and started playing and singing “Margie.” I was weeping the whole time, but I felt so close to her.
That broke the ice, and from then on I’ve been playing often, though not always without tears. The words of so many of “our” songs have taken on a new meaning for me since Margie died, like this final line from one of my own songs: “Since she went away, I’ve been so awfully blue.”
Little did I know how blue, when I wrote that song many years ago.

* * * * * * *

This is my first post in many weeks. It is the first of a series I want to write about the experience of losing the love of my life, my wonderful wife Margie, who died on October 30, my mother’s birthday. As one who has counseled many others over the years in their times of bereavement, I know that everyone’s experience of grief is unique, even though there are some aspects of the grieving process that many people share in common. My purpose in writing about my own experience is twofold. I’m hoping that some people might find it helpful in their struggle to understand and cope with their own grief. At the same time, I feel that it will be therapeutic for me. My next post will be about anticipatory grief.


        I have been living in two different worlds ever since my wife Margie died. There is the external world, the world “out there,” the “life goes on” world. I have been functioning fairly normally in that world right from the start of my life as a widower. There were so many things that had to be done immediately, having to do with notifying people of Margie’s death, writing the obituary, planning two memorial services and three receptions, attending to matters relating to her burial and the grave side committal service, family gatherings, responding to people’s notes and cards and memorial gifts, and searching for and sorting out the things that had occupied her life until her final days.
Those and many other activities required some reordering of my own priorities. I had to give up my daily blog posts, after posting a personal note explaining why my followers had not heard from me for a while and probably would not for some time to come. I posted one Christmas poem, and that was it. I was determined, however, to continue my responsibilities as Minister of Worship at my congregation at Pennswood Village. Though I missed Margie’s companionship in my weekly commute to Newtown, Pennsylvania, having to preach every Sunday helped me to keep an outward focus, when I could easily have become too absorbed in my own grief.
Much of my time was spent catching up with financial matters that Margie had always attended to, until her declining health prevented it. I have always done our income tax returns, while she used to pay most of the bills. We were an efficient team, but our medical and other bills had piled up and it took some time to sort all that out.  Our Federal and State income tax returns were a huge challenge this year, and very time consuming, but I was able to beat the deadline, thanks to TurboTax. Anyway, that’s why I haven’t been posting for several months.
All of that has to do with the first of the two worlds I’m living in, the “outer” world of my daily life. At the same time I have been living in another world, an internal world, a private world of constant sadness. It’s always there, like a heavy weight on my heart, even when I’m absorbed in the activities and obligations of the outer world. Ever since the devastating first couple of days following Margie’s death, I have been both a participant in and an observer of the experience of grief. It’s as if I’m standing outside myself, observing myself in the act of grieving.
I miss Margie terribly. I shed many tears, when I’m alone. Some people have said to me, “You’ll get over it in time.” That may have been their experience, but I can’t imagine that I’ll ever “get over it.” Other friends have told me they are still grieving the loss of their spouse years later. Margie and I never got over the death of our son Ricky at the age of five and a half. We learned to live with it, but we never got over it. And we had each other to share and understand the grief we both felt.
Margie and I never stopped missing her parents and her aunt Lelie, who were killed in an automobile accident. Their lives ended tragically and prematurely. The initial shock was much greater for us than the slower demise of both my parents. I still miss them, and my aunts and uncles, and my brother, and all my good friends who have died, but my grief for them is not debilitating. As the years go by, one’s grief may become dormant, but it’s still there, and it can be awakened suddenly, sometimes unexpectedly and sometimes predictably, by certain music, or a picture, or a remark, or a dream, or by what my son Andy calls an olfemory (his word for a certain aroma or odor or smell that triggers a memory, from olfactory + memory), or just by a thought from out of the blue.
When that happens, the effect is emotionally powerful. Tears flow very easily. When I’m alone, I don’t try to hold them back. When I’m in the company other others, however, I do my best to mask my emotions, but often my voice betrays my feelings. I find it hard to speak normally, when I’m grieving.  That’s my inner world impacting my outer world. So I just wait until I can get control of myself. I can stem the flood tide in public, but I can’t always hide my feelings completely, when I’m inwardly grieving. 
The observer in me is fascinated by the way my two worlds interact and what it’s like to live in those two worlds at the same time. I think I can honestly say that I’m learning to do so, and I suppose a grief therapist would say that is progress. If that’s what people mean by “getting over it,” I can accept that. But if they mean the absence of sadness, then I’m far from over it. I can’t imagine I’ll ever stop missing Margie.
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”When I was a boy of 14,” wrote Mark Twain, “my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much (he) had learned in seven years.”  (Quoted from an old “ Reader's Digest”)
Tomorrow we honor the fathers of our nation, though Father’s Day has become another   commercial promotion. Millions of greeting cards are still being mailed or hand-delivered, despite the huge increase in the use of on-line greetings and e-cards. It’s the fourth largest card-sending occasion, according to the Greeting Card Association that represents the greeting card industry.
 Despite the commercialism, it is appropriate and good for us to honor our fathers and to celebrate the estate of fatherhood. To the best of my knowledge the United States was the first nation in the world to do that. The precise origin of Father's Day in our country is not certain, as the idea of honoring fathers on a special day was actually begun independently in several places, each locality thinking it was starting something new. Certainly one of the first and foremost promoters of the day was Sonora Smart Dodd, of Spokane, Washington, who, not surprisingly, came up with the idea while listening to a Mother’s Day sermon in 1909.
She wanted to honor her own father, a courageous, selfless, and loving man, so she
approached her minister with the idea of having a church service dedicated to fathers.  He liked the idea and took it to the local ministerial association.  It was endorsed by the mayor of Spokane and by the governor of the State, who issued a proclamation establishing June 19, 1909, as Father’s Day.
Despite the governor’s proclamation the idea was slow to catch on throughout the rest of the State. Meanwhile the idea was springing up in other States, which began lobbying Congress to declare a national Father's Day to be celebrated annually. In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson approved the idea, but it was not until 1924 that President Calvin Coolidge made it a national event “to establish more intimate relations between fathers and their children and to impress upon fathers the full measure of their obligations."
It was still not approved by Congress, however. I suppose members of what was in those days an all-male Congress felt that a move to proclaim an official day honoring fathers might be interpreted as a self-serving pat on the back. (I wonder how the idea would have fared in our current do-nothing House of Representatives.)
It was not until 1966 that President Lyndon Johnson signed a presidential proclamation declaring the 3rd Sunday of June as Father's Day, thus putting his official stamp on a celebration that had been observed for almost half a century.
  So today we celebrate Father’s Day, and while not all of us men are fathers, most of us have had fathers or father figures in our early lives, and most of us remember our fathers with gratitude and affection. Though times have changed and the percentage of so-called nuclear families has decreased dramatically, as the number of single-parent families, female-headed families, same-sex couples have soared, most of us who had fathers can be grateful for the way they provided for us.
While it is true that the number of women in the work place has increased tremendously, and the number of stay-at-home Dads is also increasing, it is interesting that more than 84 percent of child-support providers are men, according to the Census Bureau. So give thanks for the hard work that most conscientious fathers exert on behalf of their families day in and day out. The heartaches, the headaches, the backaches are all part of being a breadwinner. Many mothers are breadwinners, too, of course —more of them today than ever. But for the moment I’m focusing on the fathers who have had that role traditionally.
A true father knows the meaning of sacrifice. He knows what it means to be a servant, for though he may be the “head” of the family, a role that many young brides today do not concede, he is still a servant of all. We’ve already paid tribute to the mothers of our nation on their special day in May, and it is still true that “a woman’s work is never done.” But the fact remains that the life expectancy of a girl born in America is still about five years greater than that of a boy. Being a father is no easy task. My Dad was working three or four jobs for much of his life. How can I not be grateful for my father’s providing?
I’m also grateful also for his instruction. Studies by the National Center of Education Statistics have found that when fathers are involved in their children's education, including attending school meetings and volunteering at school, children are more likely to get high grades, enjoy school, and participate in extracurricular activities.
Oh, the lessons of life I learned from my Dad!  The ways of the world, the practical business of living —he was always willing to explain, never too busy to answer my questions. I’m grateful for my Dad’s instruction.
I’m grateful, too, for his discipline. Recent studies reveal that children without responsible fathers not only perform poorly in school, but are more likely to experience poverty, engage in criminal activity, and abuse drugs and alcohol.
  When I was in my teens I used to think my father was very strict. I envied some of my friends who seemed to enjoy a greater freedom than I. As the years passed, I became more and more grateful that my Dad was strict with me, that he was concerned about where I went and what I did, and that he loved me enough to scold me when I needed it.
I never have forgotten what the head of the Juvenile Aid Division of the Philadelphia Police Department told a group of us ministers at a briefing for clergy I attended many years ago.  He said in the thousands of cases that had been handled since the division was formed, there had not been a single case where the parents had to be told they had over-disciplined their child. I’m not talking about child abuse; I’m talking about parental discipline.
It is good when discipline is thoroughly ingrained, but it can sometimes have amusing consequences. You have probably heard about the army officer was using a computer to predict the probability of World War III. After he had fed in the last bit of data, the answer appeared on the screen in less than a second.  “Yes.”  “Yes what?” typed in the confused officer. The reply was instant: “Yes, Sir!”
It is important to remember that a father’s discipline is a good indicator of a father’s love, and that is something else for which those of us who experienced it can be grateful. Certainly a mother’s love is pure and strong and sacrificial and selfless, and it is revealed in beautiful and wonderful ways. But there is something very special, too, about a father’s love, a love that expresses the fondest hopes and dreams for his child, a love that displays a wholesome kind of pride in his own son or daughter, a love that shares the cares and anxieties, the griefs and woes, yes, and the joys, too, of his children. Studies have shown that teenagers who reported greater levels of intimacy with their fathers also showed higher self-esteem and lower rates of depression than other teens.
As a believer I can testify that love is strongest when it is shared in a God-centered home, that love is purest when it is submissive to the higher authority of a heavenly Father, that love is most beautiful when it reflects God’s love. In the interest of inclusive language some will object to my speaking of God as Father. I object to their objection!  In making a gender issue out of the language about God, they have actually imposed a sexual distinction which is the rankest kind of anthropomorphism. God is neither male nor female. Their objection is also not biblical. We have no right to change the way Jesus spoke to or about God. To substitute parent for Father does not solve the problem at all. It only compounds the problem. God is not our parent.
Others object to referring to God as Father because of all the people in the world for whom the word “father” evokes a negative, even an angry response, because of their real or imagined unwholesome experience of their own father.  They're quick to say, “If God is like my father, I want no part of him!”
It is true that there are many unworthy fathers in the world, and there are far too many absentee fathers. Millions of children have no contact with their father whatsoever. But is it wrong to speak of God as Father to those children? Not at all!  Rather we should hold God up to them as a Father who is always with them even though they can’t see him, a heavenly Father who knows them by name, who loves them, cares for them, understands them, listens to them, is always there for them.
To say we shouldn’t speak of God as a heavenly Father to someone who had an abusive earthly father is a faulty argument. We don’t liken God’s fatherhood to that of us earthly fathers.  Rather we seek to shape our earthly fatherhood according to the image of our heavenly Father.  We know what God’s fatherhood is like because we know his Son, who has taught us what God is like. He has shown us by his perfect trust and obedience what a true father/son relationship should be.  
So we believers celebrate Father’s Day because we are grateful for our heavenly Father, as well as for our earthly fathers. Though we earthly fathers can and do fail, God has never failed us, and never will fail us. God is the perfect Father, a Father who provides, instructs, disciplines, and loves.
It is fitting for us to pay tribute to all fathers and surrogate fathers on this special day. But in so doing, let’s not forget our heavenly Father. Let us try to make this a happy Father’s Day for him, too, by being sincerely grateful for all that he is, and by showing our gratitude in the way we live.

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      I told my Facebook friends that in response to my post on America the Beautiful someone  asked me what's my favorite place to visit. I said that there are many, but if I had to name one it would be Cooperstown, NY. I think there are more things to do and see in that beautiful little town than any other small town in America. 
National Baseball Hall of Fame
       Let me justify that statement by describing some of the highlights, starting with the most obvious one, the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The Museum is simply amazing, with constantly changing exhibitions that are a marvelous history not only of baseball but of America. Equally impressive and of even more interest to baseball historians and researchers is the Hall of Fame Library, which is a matchless source of information.
       But the Baseball Hall of Fame is not the only attraction that Cooperstown has to offer. There is also the Farmers' Museum and Village, where a visitor could easily spend a half a day experiencing a rural America village on land that has been a working farm since 1813, originally owned by James Fenimore Cooper.
Glimmerglass Opera complex
        Diagonally across the road from the Farmer's Village is the impressive Fenimore Art Museum,  where one can view the works of Howard Pyle and the entire Wyeth family, and many other art treasures.
        Journey a few miles further on the same road and you come to the spacious grounds of the hugely popular Glimmerglass Festival (formerly the Glimmerglass Opera), with performances of operas and musicals featuring renowned vocalists like Nathan Gunn, who is starring in Camelot this summer. In the nearby Glimmerglass State Park you can visit the Hyde Hall State Historic Site, the handsome estate built by George Clarke (1768-1835). It is said to be the largest privately owned mansion built in the United States between the Revolutionary and the Civil Wars.  
       On the opposite edge of town from Glimmerglass are two quite different sites well worth visiting. One is the Ommegang Brewery, which you don't have to be a beer lover to enjoy. You can have a great lunch there, and then take a guided tour of the property. During the season thousands of contemporary music lovers gather on the spacious property to attend outdoor concerts featuring top bands and vocalists from New York and elsewhere. 
        Returning to town you can, for a complete contrast, stop by the lovely Carefree Gardens Nursery, where you can get a healthy meal of home grown organic foods at the Origins Cafe and hear about the wonderful work the two enterprising young female owners are doing to educate the broader community about healthier eating and living.   
Fly Creek Cider Mill
       Just north of town is the village of Fly Creek, which you must visit before leaving Cooperstown, to see the Fly Creek Cider Mill, whose products are shipped all over North America, It is a great place to shop for gifts and to have a snack. Their homemade caramel apple pie a la mode is out of this world! We've made a lot of people happy with the things we've given them from Fly Creek!
Dreams Park
        Here is something that will stagger your imagination: from the time school is out until it begins again in the fall, every week a new horde of eleven hundred twelve-year-old-and-under baseball players with their coaches and parents descend upon Cooperstown's Dreams Park to compete in a week-long tournament. Believe or not, there are twenty-two fenced in baseball fields on the huge property, with ample parking for cars and buses, lodging and restaurants for the participants and their accompanying adults. It is a mammoth operation, and of course they all want to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame. That helps to explain the Hall's 350,000 visitors every year! 
High rope course at the Clark Center
       Another impressive complex is the Clark Center, a very large sports, fitness, and recreational center, with a swim meet size indoor pool, a fine gymnasium with an indoor running track, bowling alleys, squash courts, a table tennis room, a sizeable and well-equipped fitness room, expansive athletic fields, and many other facilities.
        Just to drive in and around Cooperstown is a delight. The tree-lined streets, the lovely houses, the stately churches, the restful parks and picnic areas, and the surrounding wooded hills and meadows, would be enough of an attraction in themselves. To top it all off, the town is situated at the southeastern end of beautiful Lake Otsego, and during the summer season any visit there should include a boat ride on the lake. It takes only about an hour, during which the passengers are given a very informative and most interesting narration over the P.A.system. It's just a short walk from the boat dock to a picturesque little park, where you can view the source of the Susquehanna River.  
Doubleday Field, Cooperstown, NY
        There are plenty of motels, elegant inns, charming bed and breakfast homes, and attractive restaurants. It's fun to stroll up and down Main Street and window shop or patronize the many souvenir shops and other quaint stores. Just off Main Street is Doubleday Field, where the Hall of Fame Classic is played. It's also the home field of the Cooperstown Hawkeyes of the 10-team PGCB League. There's a farmers' market near the center of town, where two days a week you can purchase the fresh produce of local farmers.
        Another treasure up the hill from Main Street is The Smithy. Built in 1786 by Judge William Cooper, the founder of Cooperstown, it is the town's oldest building, having survived the great fire of 1860. It is now a multi-arts center, with a gallery displaying the works of contemporary and traditional artists, and a courtyard for concerts, theatrical productions, and other events.  
The back porch of the Otesaga Hotel
        Not far from the center of town and overlooking Lake Otsego is the majestic Otesaga Hotel, a luxurious resort hotel, where my wife Margie and I have sat in rocking chairs on the huge back porch on summer evenings to listen to band and orchestra concerts by very talented local musicians, and where we love to eat in the delightful Hawkeye Grill. The food is delicious and surprisingly reasonable, especially in the off-season. Golfers love the Hotel's beautifully manicured eighteen-hole course. 

        Cooperstown is a very cosmopolitan community with year-round programs of various cultural interests. Most of its citizens are well educated and are socially and environmentally conscious. There
are active service clubs, a fine public library, an excellent public school system, a large fire department, and the 180-bed Bassett Medical Center, a regional hospital, which is one of the top forty health care centers in the United States.
        All this in a town of fewer than 2000 permanent residents! There are, of course, many people from surrounding communities who are employed in Cooperstown, and with the constant flow of tourists, especially from Memorial Day to Labor Day, one gets the feeling of being in a much larger community.
        I should mention that Margie and I love the scenic drive through part of the Catskills and the Adirondacks to Cooperstown.  It's not a place you drive through en route to somewhere else. It's a destination! There are any number of ways to go, via so many country roads through the mountains; or you can go most of the way on Interstate Highways, with only the last 20 miles or so on a two-land road.                                                                                                                                            
First Presbyterian Church
        Do you wonder why I think it is the most unique small town in America and my favorite place to visit? There are other interesting places to visit in the area, but I hope I have listed enough of them to justify my choice. And I haven't even mentioned the fact that my daughter, the Rev. Elsie Armstrong Rhodes, is pastor the First Presbyterian Church of Cooperstown. It was she who introduced us to many of the places I've mentioned in this post as well as others I haven't mentioned, although we had visited Cooperstown more than once before she was called there.
         If you haven't been there, why don't you plan a visit? If you do, by all means visit the Baseball Hall of Fame, but be sure to stay long enough to take in as many of the other attractions as you can.

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        For two decades I participated every summer in the national conferences of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. In the first fifteen of those years that always included the conferences at the YMCA of the Rockies near Estes Park, Colorado, on the edge of the Rocky Mountain National Park. Within a few years additional conference sites around the country were added to accommodate the rapidly growing program, including Ashland, Oregon, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and Henderson Harbor, New York. Today there are scores of campus and conferences served by a staff of more than four thousand instructors, and the FCA is the largest sports program in the world.
       Although I am a Trustee Emeritus of the National Board, I'm not as actively involved in the FCA as I was for many years on both the national and the local level, having helped found four local chapters, and having served in just about every role in the summer conferences, from huddle leader to song leader, from platform speaker to devotional leader, from editor of the camp newsletter to Conference Dean. In my book A Sense of Being Called I have related the story of how I came to be involved in the FCA at the very beginning of the program.
        But that's not what I want to talk about in this article. Rather I want to talk about our country, about America the Beautiful. This is not about politics, or sports, or music, or any of the other topics I'm usually writing about. The reason I mentioned the FCA and my participation in the national summer conferences was to explain how it came about that my family and I in the course of the first ten of those fifteen years were in every one of our contiguous forty-eight states.

We traveled many roads like this.
        In those days we had a station wagon, and I used my vacation time to drive our family to the conferences. My parents used to wonder how my wife Margie and I could enjoy traveling thousands of miles in a station wagon with our three, then four, young children. Our daughter Elsie was only a few weeks old, when she made her first trip with us!This was before air conditioning and seat belts! But we loved it. We would talk about the trip for weeks in advance, and the children would get more and more excited as we pored over maps and planned our routes.
        We developed all kinds of family traditions over the years that made every trip an exciting and fun-filled adventure. We played games, and harmonized, and had great discussions and daily family devotions in the car, and we made every day an adventure. We have photographs, and slides, and home movies to document our family cross-country treks.
        The children knew their respective roles and responsibilities, as we packed and unpacked at motels along the way. Growing older only increased their appreciation of our family excursions. Ellen, our oldest, ended up working at the conferences, until as a college student her other summer plans took her elsewhere. So, too, with our two sons, Andy and Woody.
        Many families like to camp out, but we preferred staying in motels. We probably could have made the Guinness Book of World Records for having stayed in the most motels as a family over those ten  years! That was part of the fun for the children, who would be in the pool soon after we arrived and who loved going bowling or to a drive-in movie, before turning in. Often we would visit friends along the way, and that was always fun.
The Rocky Mountains
        How could we afford that on a pastor's salary, you might ask? The answer is that the FCA sent us money for airline tickets for Margie and me, but instead of flying, and with the blessing of the FCA, we used the money to help fund our drive across the country. Using our AAA tour books we would read about every town we visited, and about each state, and we would drive out of our way to read a historical marker, or to visit a museum, or National Park, or anything else we felt was worth seeing.We would always explore the towns we stayed in, engage the natives in conversation, and learn as much as we could about every place we visited.
        We had a traveling theme song which we sang every time we crossed a state border, which was our way of bidding farewell to the state we were leaving and hello to the state we were entering. It was also a geography lesson for the children. On the first day of our trip we would be in three, four, five, or even six states (e.g., NJ, PA, DE, MD, VA, and NC). The first time we drove across Texas, the children kept wondering when we were going to sing our theme song. They quickly learned how big Texas is!
        Over the years we discovered that every state has its unique beauty. We loved the contrasts in the terrain, the snow-capped mountains of Colorado and the far-stretching plains of Kansas. We loved the pine forests of Maine and the Petrified Forest of Arizona. We loved the canyons, the caverns, the rivers, the lakes, the rugged peaks of the west and the rolling hills of the east. We loved the beaches of the Gulf states and the scenic coastline of California and Oregon. We've loved every national park we visited ---Yellowstone, and Zion, and Bryce Canyon, and Glacier, and Yosemite, and Crater Lake, and the Grand Canyon, the Black Hills National Forest of South Dakota and the Mt. Rushmore National Monument--- we could not begin to name them all, and there so many we haven't seen!
        We loved visiting historical sites like Independence Hall in Philadelphia and restored areas like Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, and Plimouth Plantation, Massachusetts, and Connie Prairie Village, in Indiana. We loved old forts and harbors and dams and water falls, and bridges and skyscrapers and college campuses and the military service academies (especially West Point and Annapolis), and architectural wonders, and redeveloped urban centers, and town squares, and white country churches, and Interstate highways, and winding county roads.
Fort McHenry
        There is so much to see and do in every state, including Hawaii and Alaska, of course, but we couldn't drive to either of them! It took us ten years to cover the forty-eight we did visit. Margie and I love to drive places and we have continued to visit other parts of our beautiful country, such as in recent years Cooperstown, New York, which has much more to offer than just the Baseball Hall of Fame, including, for example, the fascinating Farmers Museum and the impressive Fenimore Art Museum. We love Fort McHenry and the Inner Harbor of Baltimore, and the beautifully restored city of Wilmington, North Carolina, a relatively undiscovered gem.
        I could go on and on, but I hope I've said enough to justify my claim that America is an amazingly varied and beautiful country, and every state has much of which to be proud. I suppose when asked to name their favorite state most people would be inclined to name their home state, for sentimental if for no other reasons.
        Given that reality, what is your favorite state to visit, other than your own? And why do you like it? Do you have a favorite city? I invite you to tell our readers something interesting about your favorite city or town or national park, and why you think it would be a nice place for others to visit. Let's see if we can come up with some helpful suggestions for travelers.Where have you been in the U.S.A. that you think others might like to go?
        Write your answer in the comment box below and let's start a dialogue about this beautiful country of ours.

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This poem was written in August, 1945. Having recently visited the island after it had been recaptured by the American forces, I was reflecting on what it might have been like for a soldier to return to the scene of the bloody conflict in which he had participated two years before. It contains a message that seems appropriate for Memorial Day.


He heeded not the ocean's muffled roar,
as sweeping waves refreshed the baking sand.
He stood and gazed along the golden shore,
and brushed his sweating forehead with his hand.
He marveled at the change before his eyes.
Could such a transformation really be?
Here was indeed an island paradise ---
a tropical oasis of the sea.

The air was still, save for the faintest breeze,
that breathed upon the greenish tufts a while
and rippled through the bent palmetto trees,
reluctant to escape this magic isle.

Could this sweet spot that same inferno be,
where scarce two years before amidst the slain
he prayed to God that he would live to see
his country, home, and loved ones once again?

No shrieking shells, whose mission to destroy
leave silhouetted in the blinding glare
the crumpled, blood-stained body of a boy
whose eyes, once clear, are fixed in glassy stare.

Not long ago this same enchanted isle
  where now he walked had been a blazing hell.
O demon War, so murderous, so vile,
because of you now tolls the mourning bell!

Return now to your gloomy heritage
and rest you from the efforts of your work
of ruin, sorrow, havoc.  Let the age
of peace return anew.  You will but lurk

behind the curtain of a few more years,
till once again you burst upon the world,
when human pride and greed eclipse the tears
of death, and flags of hatred are unfurled.

God grant the prayer that now bestirs his soul,
that humankind might learn what ne'er before
their minds have grasped, that this must be the goal:
to win not wars but peace forever more.


* * * * * * *


God is a faith assumption.  I can't prove God is there;
but if I didn't have faith, life would be hard to bear.
I cannot prove to others what I believe is true;
but those who say there's no God have their assumptions, too.
I wish all nonbelievers could understand that fact.
Then maybe they would state their polemics with more tact.
Whatever our beliefs are, we can share faith, I've found.
Confessing our assumptions, we stand on common ground.
Then dialogue can take place, if people really care
and listen to each other.  Their faith they then can share.

* * * * * * *


Faith is a roller coaster ride for clergy, clerks, or clowns.                   The best disciples, old and new, have had their ups and                 downs.
The psalmists and the prophets had their moments of despair,
and even Jesus, on the cross, had doubts that God was there.

When faith is riding on the ridge, it shows in word and deed,
for mountains move if faith is but a grain of mustard seed.
It's not that we make miracles by willing to believe;
faith's not a work but God's free gift that we by grace receive.      

That thought should keep us humble, when we're feeling strong and tall.
The higher up the heights we climb, the farther we can fall!
As autumn leads to winter's snows and nighttime follows day,
faith does not always sail the crest nor on the summit stay,

but sometimes plummets down the steeps with such breathtaking speed,
that roller coaster riders should this warning hear and heed.
Yet when the coaster car is at the bottom of the slope,
the peaks of faith loom large and give new impetus to hope.

Then we recall those moments when our faith in God was sure,
confirmed by truth, sustained by love, we find we can endure
the ups and downs of faith.  Indeed, we now can even say
without the lows there'd be no highs, without the night no day.

The ride is always risky, even scary, you'll agree,
but if we stay inside the car of faith, we're safe.  You see,
the roller coaster Maker is the one who takes the toll.
The car won't ever leave the tracks, if God is in control.

So re the roller coaster ride I'll take my own advice
and hang on tight until the end, no matter what the price.
For when the ride is over and the ups and downs are through,
I hope to be with God ---and all the other riders, too!

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        Here’s a helpful household hint of which Lady Macbeth might not have been aware: while cold water and soap will remove most recent blood stains, for tougher and older blood stains try squirting some hydrogen peroxide on the spot or spots. White foam will appear instantly on the blood stains. Then scrub and rinse with cold water.
        This suggestion is nothing new to many homemakers. But what I want to say next might be, and that is, it may take three or four applications of the hydrogen peroxide to get rid of some older stains. So don’t give up if the stains don’t disappear after the first application and rinse. Repeat the process three or four times, if necessary, and even the worst stains should disappear. You have to soak and scrub each time.
        That’s what I learned recently, after I had just about given up on some old blood stains following just two applications. But I kept at it and was amazed when they finally disappeared completely after the fourth rinse and scrub.
        So my message is: don’t give up too quickly.  

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More food for thought from If I Do Say So Myself, CSS Publishing Co.

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Here's the clue to great persuasion:
    Have a sense of the occasion.

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We put in just as long a day as early risers do.     
      The hours that we spend in bed are relatively few.
If early in the morning we are not a perky pup,
      It's just because we go to bed when some are getting up.

* * * * * * *

I have long been concerned about pollution and its harmful effects, about the growing number of endangered species, and about the abuse, misuse, and waste of the earth's natural resources. About forty years ago I expressed that concern in a poem, which was inspired by something the prophet Isaiah wrote nearly two thousand years ago: The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant (Isaiah 24:5).Although what Isaiah meant by pollution and what we mean by it are not the same, if Isaiah were alive today, he would have plenty to say about pollution!


Isaiah's words of long ago are relevant today,
prophetic to an ominous degree:
Polluted lies the planet Earth, as its inhabitants
are poisoning the air, the land, the sea.

The toxic wastes, the urban blight, the suffocating smog,
are symptoms and the causes of disease.
for human beings choke beneath pollution's brownish pall,
which also threatens birds and beasts and trees.

God gave humanity dominion over all the world,
which God created beautiful and good.
But we have squandered and misused the riches of the earth,
instead of being stewards, as we should.
The ruthlessness of power and the arrogance of wealth
  have dulled the human heart to human need.
So millions live in poverty and die from lack of food,
the victims of our apathy and greed.

God's statutes have been broken and God's laws have been transgressed,
and surely we shall suffer for our sin.
The madness of a race to arms of nuclear design
was leading to a war no one could win.

What senseless folly drives us down this self-destructive course?
How can we dare ignore our sacred trust
from God, to tend the universe and care for all of life?
By God's grace that we can do ---and we must!

(This poem is included in my third volume of poetry,
entitled IF I DO SAY SO MYSELF, CSS Publishing Co.)

                                                              * * * * * * *

Violence is a violation of the stewardship of life. The so-called "stand your ground" laws that many States have passed are reflective of the violent culture of our times. Here's another poem from If I Do Say So Myself (CSS Publishing Co.):


The violence surrounding us is frightening to see---
the child abuse, and spouse abuse, police brutality.
It’s on our streets and in our homes, it’s on the movie screens.
It punctuates the language of adults as well as teens.
It fills the daily papers and it dominates the news.
It saturates the television programs people choose.
It’s how some people root for teams, and how they drive a car,
and how they flaunt the litter laws, no matter where they are.
It’s their abuse of others’ rights, their treatment of the poor.
It’s what they do in their aggressive grabs for more and more.
It’s gross neglect of neighborhoods where poverty abounds,
it’s water, air, and land misuse, offensive sights and sounds.
It’s acts of terrorism that do not seem to abate.
It’s ethnic cleansing, racial hatred, bigotry, and hate.
It’s what some do to animals and their environment.
It’s corporate crime, the mafia, and sleazy government.
It’s slaughtering endangered species ‘til they are all gone.
It’s all of this and much, much more ---one could go on and on.
As violence breeds violence, we’ll pay the price, because
the whole world is the victim when a few transgress God’s laws.
How much worse, then, the consequence of violence and strife,
when for so many it has now become a way of life.

                                                              * * * * * * *

Continuing the pollution theme, I have a thing about "litterbugs." They are the most inconsiderate and habitual polluters of our environment. I trust some of you home owners can identify with this poem from my collection entitled If I Do Say So Myself (CSS Publishing Company). It is a take-off on a familiar line from a poem by Sam Walter Foss. At the same time, on behalf of all us who care about our environment, I'd like to express our deep gratitude to all those caring folks across the nation who have participated in the Adopt-a-Highway program. They are dedicated to keeping America beautiful!


"Let me live in a house by the side of the road
and be a friend to man."
With all due respect to old Sam Walter Foss,
I don't know how anyone can!
It's not just his language to which I object.
Inclusive or not, it's the thought.
I have a suspicion the poet elect,
if it had been my house that he bought,
would find himself surely agreeing with me,
before a few days had gone by.
For all of the trash that is dumped on our lawn
would make any home owner cry.
From beer cans and bottles to Styrofoam cups,
old clothing and cigarette butts,
scrap metal and garbage and furniture, too,
and even dead cats and dead mutts.
How can I befriend all those mean litterbugs
whizzing by in their cars and their trucks?
Their thoughtless pollution deserves only wrath
---and a fine of a few hundred bucks!
So take my advice and ignore Mr. Foss,
      though he was a remarkable man.
If he moved to a house by the side of the road,
he would need a much bigger trash can!

* * * * * * *


When I first started out on my jogging career,
to a friend I remarked with a smile,
"If I jog every day, by the end of the year
I'll be able to run a whole mile!"

I decided to start at a pace I could keep,
so I'd have something left at the end.
I'll admit it was tough, and those slopes seemed so steep---
how much effort I had to expend!

Not a few of my colleagues thought I was insane,
and they simply could not comprehend
why a person my age should submit to that pain.
"But it's worth it," I'd say, "in the end."

For my heart and my lungs were now functioning well,
  and my weight was where it ought to be.
It was great to feel fit, and my friends now could see
  that it sure had done wonders for me.

Later on I decided to enter a race
just to see how it felt to compete.
I was not too concerned about where I would place;
just to run was enough of a feat.

That experience taught me a lesson or two
that I'll carry the rest of my days:
In the race they call life, do not quit till you're through,
  for the ones who go on earn God's praise.

I've seen people who run with severe handicaps.
I've seen runners much older than I.
I've felt the respect in the cheers and the claps,
when someone in a wheel chair rolled by.

The most wonderful thing about running, you see,
is the fact that you set your own goal.
So no matter how fast or how slow you may be,
to succeed is within your control.

You may shuffle along, even stagger about,
in your desperate fight to survive.
But I'd rather do that than give up and get out,
for a quitter can never arrive.

It's a matter of starting, and doing your best
      to finish each race that you run.
If you stay in the race and trust God for the rest,
      you can say at the end, "I have won!"

 * * * * * * *


Those who work in doctors' offices should be especially
kind and gentle, for the patients who are waiting anxiously
to be seen by a physician, little knowing what's in store,
or who may have seen a doctor and are worried even more,
need to know that a receptionist perceives and understands
what they're feeling when they put their life into a doctor's hands.
I was sitting in a doctor's office just the other day
and could not believe someone would speak in such a callous way
to a woman who was asking how much longer it would be.
That she wasn't feeling well at all, most anyone could see.
If a person is compassionate, it should, in any case
be reflected in one's voice and the expression on one's face.
This receptionist, however, showed no sympathy at all
to the woman, who was fighting back the tears, as I recall.
Then I thought: maybe the surly one is not always that way;
it could be that things had not been going well for her that day.
But I asked myself this question, as I pondered that a while,
is it wrong for patients to expect receptionists to smile?

 * * * * * * *


Our son Ricky died of leukemia at the age of five and a half. His death occurred on the morning of the Convocation of Princeton Theological Seminary’s 144th year. It was the day that marked the beginning of my three years as a seminary student. I didn’t feel at all like attending the Convocation, but my wife Margie thought it would be good for me to go. The memory of that experience haunted me for years, until, after years of struggling, I finally was able to put my thoughts into words. The following poem,
entitled "Convocation Day," is the deeply personal result of that effort. It is included in my book A Sense of Being Called, along with a much more detailed account of  Ricky's story and its impact on my pilgrimage from professional baseball into the ministry.

Ricky (14 months)
Are these my thoughts, or are they dreams?          
The voice is real,
and yet I feel
beyond the reach of any well-intended word
I may have heard
but did not really hear.
So near
the vocal sound, and yet so far
from my half-conscious mind, it seems.
My mental door is left ajar,
as in a stupor, vaguely sensing all
yet feeling not at all.
My dry, unblinking eyes are seeing naught,
as though they have been caught
in some weird state of flux between
and fantasy,
while I am bound
with chains unseen
by those around,
who, far from mean,
are quite transfixed by words addressed
to them but nonetheless expressed
Ricky (two)
in unfeigned sympathy
for me
because our son has died
this very morn—their convocation day.
Why am I sitting here this way?
Because, resolved
to be involved,
I forced myself at last to come.
My body, mind and soul are numb.                                                            
I have not cried
as yet.
I feel as if I'm in a kind of trance,
aware enough to dare
to hope
by some divinely ordained chance
that this indeed is one nightmare
from which I shall awake
to find our son still there.
But my heartache
is much too strong,
though all along
Andy, Ricky, and Ellen 
his Mom and I have known this day
would come.
Still we had hoped by some
much prayed-for miracle of grace
that God would spare our son,
whose face
is in my mind's eye clearly now.
The speaker's voice announces how
"One of our students and his wife today
have suffered a great loss,"
and something else about a cross.                                        
Then, for some reason, suddenly
I'm jolted from my reverie
by my harsh rediscovery
that all these words of sympathy
are meant for Margie and for me.
It is our son whose death is news
to all the strangers in these pews.
The voice confirms my saddest fears,
and now I'm fighting back the tears.
The muscles of my throat are sore
from swallowing the lump. What's more,
In front of Univ. of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia
I feel a claustrophobic urge
to rush out from this crowded place.
I'm on the verge
of screaming, No!
It can't be so.
I can't erase
the awful truth, and yet. . . and yet
there's still a shade
of disbelief that will not fade,
nor will it let
me rest at ease until I know.
Is it false hope, or morbid fear,
or grief compelling me to go?
The friendly greetings that I hear,
as I push through the parting crowd,
are answered with a weak, forced smile,
but not aloud. And all the while
my heart pounds with anticipation,
not in hopeful expectation.
It’s as if some heartless fiend
has gleaned
a devilish delight
in tempting me
to think tonight
Our last family photo with Ricky
that Ricky might be there,
and thus propelling me
by hope
that soon would turn into a deep despair,
a cruel trick, the kind
a sadist plays upon a tortured mind.
The tempo of my heartbeat
now is faster than my running feet,
crossing the lawn, as I have done
so many times to see my son.
Then bounding up the concrete stair
and pushing wide the door, I stare
into the darkness of the room,
where normally there is a light.
But not tonight,
for Margie is exhausted by her long ordeal.
She did not feel
that she could go with me
to such a convocation.
Having had to bear the brunt of Ricky's recent tribulation,
she has gone for days
and days
with very little sleep or rest,
and both of us had thought it best
that she stay home instead.
Since she is now in bed,
I gently close the door,
and then, I do the same
as I have done so many times before:
I softly call his name.
It's not that I
think he'll reply,
but that I must now play again
the little game
we played, we two,
which in the final days I knew                                                             
would have to come to this,
a sad pretending, like a lover's kiss
bestowed upon the breeze,
to sadden, not to please
the heart,
which, though about to break,
must from the start
indulge its pain
for love's sake.
So I wait in vain,
suspended in the silent void,
to hear once more the bravely cheerful voice of one
I so enjoyed
and loved, reply
"Hi, Daddy!" to be followed by
my "hello hug." But now
I feel the agonizing absence. Yet somehow
I cannot let myself believe our little boy is gone.
My loving wife will comfort me
and I her, and we both will see,
that life goes on,
as people say,
and convocations like today,
while she and I,
so painfully bereft
are left
to wonder,


 * * * * * * *


We're happy that our little grandson Gray
        enjoys the times he spends the night with us.
Because he loves the bedtime games we play,
        he always goes to bed without a fuss.
Indeed, he bounces up the stairs with joy,
        anticipating a "Good night" routine
well calculated to delight a boy
        who knows his lines in this well-practiced scene.      
So when we've finished all the games once more,
        I say, "I think it's time to go to sleep."
And then I make a move toward the door.
        But Gray, who knows just what to say to keep
me there, reminds me that I haven't yet
        told him a story.  "What about?" I ask.
He knows just what reply will always get
        me to remain:  "'bout Jesus!"  That's a task
he knows I can't refuse.  And so I smile
        and take my seat again upon his bed.
Then, after I have thought a little while,
        about the many things that I have said,
in all the stories I've already told
        about the love of Jesus for us all,
I try to talk in words a six-year-old
        will understand and later on recall.
One night, when I had told how Jesus had
        raised Lazarus his good friend from the dead,
I thought, "How can I help this little lad
        to deal with such a concept in his head?"
The two of us were soon deeply engrossed
        in theological discussion.  Gray
was listening intently, and was most
        intrigued by everything I had to say                                               
about how even though we cannot see
        the Christ, we still can love him as a Friend,
unseen, but real.  It is a mystery
        a six-year-old would hardly comprehend,
one might have thought.  "Gray, can you understand?"
        He nodded, as I went on to explain.
"He's always here in spirit, and his hand
        is reaching out to heal when we're in pain.
Wherever you may go, you can be glad
        he'll be there when you need him. And if you
should ever do something you know is bad,
        he will forgive you, if you ask him to,
because he loves you, Gray, and what is more
        he'll be your Friend forever!  Even when
Gray (center) with his older
brother Derek (L) and cousin Seth (R)
you die, you can be absolutely sure
        that you will be with him in heaven."           Then
I asked Gray what he thought of what I'd said,
        as I stood up to go turn out the light.
My grandson, who was lying in the bed,
       was wiggling with furious delight!
No wonder Jesus wants us all to turn
        and be like little children in our praise.
For what we lukewarm Christians need to learn
        is childlike trust and joy in Christ
        ---like Gray's!*

* Gray, now 29, is completing his Ph.D. program in Astrophysics at Columbia University. He is married and has a 2½-year-old son named Gabriel. Now it's the stars that make him wiggle with furious delight!

 * * * * * * *


My brother Herb was seventeen, when he one day in May
got up at dawn, loaded his car, and quietly drove away.
He left a note to tell our parents not to worry, for
he’d make a fortune and not be a burden any more.
Before that morning I had never seen my father cry.
The news hit both my parents like a ton of bricks, and I,
a twelve-year-old, did not know what to think, or say, or do,
for why my brother would run off like that nobody knew.
My brother’s disappearance was reported right away.
Police were searching everywhere throughout the U. S. A.
My father blamed himself, because he felt that he had failed.
It was a mystery in view of all that it entailed,
for as an intellectual my brother had few peers.
He’d sparkled at Johns Hopkins University three years,
where he was one of the best students they had ever seen.
He would have graduated at the age of just eighteen.
He might have been too smart for his own good, and maybe bored.
There was a fascinating world out there to be explored.
Herb had been difficult to raise, my parents often said;
no punishment or force could drive a notion from his head.
He scoffed at unexamined rules and hated to be bossed.
In his rebelliousness he sometimes failed to count the cost.
I, on the other hand, they said, was more obedient.
I almost never had to suffer any punishment.
My brother thought that I received more love from them than he,
but they’d spent far more raising Herb than they had spent on me.
They bought him a used car to drive to Hopkins every day,
and that’s the vehicle he used to make his getaway.
He’d told no one at all his plans, and when someone at last
located him in New Orleans, some seven months had passed.
They found him in a frat house living under a false name,
deeply in debt, remorseful, and holding himself to blame.
He’d sold his car, hocked all his books, and had nowhere to turn,
and all the grand illusions of the fortune he would earn
had been shipwrecked upon the reef of grim reality.
Embarrassed and ashamed he yearned to see his family.
My parents were elated and relieved, to say the least,
for every day that Herb was gone their worry had increased.
And now they couldn’t wait to have their son back home again.
They hadn’t been so happy since I can’t remember when.
My father wired Herb a large sum to pay off all his debts.
It was a sacrifice for one paid what a teacher gets.
He also sent Herb money for his lengthy train-trip home.
No longer was Dad’s main concern, “What led my son to roam?”
It was three days till Christmas Eve, when Herb walked through the door.
I’d never seen my Mom and Dad rejoice like that before.
My father never asked Herb to explain why he had left,
or indicated how much he and mother were bereft
by his departure, or blamed him for their anxiety.
They simply celebrated his home-coming gratefuly,
and I remember feeling some resentment of the fact
there was no mention of the pain he’d caused them by his act.
But I was glad to have my older brother home again,
and we became much closer after both of us were men.
The prodigal was home again, and I the younger son
observe that in the parable it was the older one
who stayed at home, and did his work, and was obedient.
The younger son did not return till all he had was spent.
He’d squandered his inheritance and wallowed with the pigs.
How very like the plight of Herb, alias J. R. Diggs.
I learned so much about myself from Jesus’ parable.
I also learned about God’s love, “forever flowing full.”
I saw my father’s aching heart reach out in selfless love
and welcome home his wayward son, as God has done above.
I understand how God relates to those who stick around,
and why there is such joy in heaven, when the lost is found.

* * * * * * *


Give me a friend, O God ---
not one who makes me feel I'm right, whenever I am wrong,
confirms me in my prejudice and pushes me along
the always easy pathways of my self-deceiving sin,
where good intentions quickly die and conscience soon wears thin.  

I need a friend, O God ---
not one who flatters me with praise I know I don't deserve,
or when I need to hear the truth, declines for lack of nerve,
and tells me just what others think is music to my ears,
condoning or excusing all my failures, faults, and fears.

I want a friend, O God ---
whose love for me demands I take the higher, harder way
and calls me to confess my guilt, whatever price I pay.
Far better that I choose to live with honor in defeat,
than bask in fame and glory gained by falsehood and deceit.

I have a friend, O God ---
who wants my best, inspires my best, accepts no less from me,
who sets me an example I can follow earnestly,
expecting me to stand for truth and goodness, come what may,
and judging me by what I do and not just what I say.
You are that friend, O God ---
a friend whose love is life itself, whose truth has set me free,
who sees not only what I am but what I long to be,
who knows my every weakness yet forgives the wrongs I've
Such friendship is for all to share, through Jesus Christ, your

  * * * * * * *


It always used to irk me,
if when I held a door,
I got no smile or thanks from
the one I held it for.

To that ungrateful person
I then would turn and say,
"You're welcome, sir (or madam)"
in my most pleasant way.

But now I ask myself where
my altruism ranks,
If when I act politely,
I do it just for thanks.

From If I Do Say So Myself

 * * * * * * *


Bumper stickers advertise
more than some folks realize.
Of the ones that I have seen
some are funny, some are mean.
Some are thoughtful, some inane,
some religious, some profane,
Some suggestive, some obscene,
some political and mean.
Some are boastful, some inflame,
some pay tribute, some defame.
Every bumper sticker tells
more than simply what it sells.
It shows what the values are
of the owner of the car.

(from If I Do Say So Myself)

* * * * * * *


There's a popular apothegm going around,
         that too many a Christian has bought.
On the surface the saying seems perfectly sound:
         "Faith in Christ is not taught, it is caught!"

What a clever remark!  That's the right emphasis!
         It's a saw one can swallow with ease.
But if faith is contagious, my question is this:
         Why don't more people have the disease?

(from Now, That's a Miracle!, Reflections on Faith and Life,
 CSS Publishing Co.) 

* * * * * * *


"Do not boast about tomorrow;
         you don't know what it may bring."
That's the proverb writer's warning.
         So, too, James says the same thing,
when he cautions in his letter
         those who are inclined to say
they'll do this or that tomorrow,
         not to boast of it today.
"What is life?" asks James profoundly.
         "You will vanish like a mist!
All such arrogance is evil.
         If the Lord wills, you exist!"
Therefore we should say "God willing,"
         when we say what we will do;
God who rules the past and present
         is Lord of the future, too.

(from Now, THAT'S a Miracle!)

* * * * * * *


What an old embattled "prexy" used to say
          was a logical assumption, in a way:
"If they're shooting at you from the left and right,
          it must mean that you're doing something right."
They're another explanation, I suspect:
         Maybe nothing you are doing is correct!

(from If I Do Say So Myself )

 * * * * * * *


Smoking is still a touchy subject with most smokers. Many things have changed since I wrote this poem about 35 years ago expressing how I felt about those who indulge that unhealthful habit. When the poem appeared in my book, If I Do Say So Myself, I found there were many folks who shared my sentiments, most of which are still relevant. Anyway, here's how I felt then and still feel about smoking:

I sympathize with those who have the habit and can't shake it.
I empathize with those with allergies who cannot take it.
I ostracize the ones whose tainted breath and clothes announce it.

I eulogize the folks who used to smoke and now denounce it.
I criticize those people who despite the risks still do it.
I agonize with those who've lost a friend or loved one to it.
I socialize with those who gave it up or never did it.
I patronize those restaurants and places which forbid it.
I chastise those who jeopardize the health of others by it.
I scrutinize the ads designed to make young people try it.
I minimize permission for those smokers who request it.
I maximize the use of signs, and if none, I suggest it.
I theorize no one would smoke who really understands it.
I sermonize the stewardship of life clearly demands it.

 * * * * * * *


Smokers’ Rights groups, of which there are many, would not like my recent poem on smoking. Most smokers are more sensitive now to other people’s feelings than they used to be. That’s a happy result of the various bans and restrictions that have been placed on smoking in recent years. Many smokers were resentful, however, and even militantly resistant to those restrictions in the early years, and too many of them seemed determined to flaunt their “right to smoke.” I had them in mind when I wrote this poem during that period. The questions are still relevant!

Do smokers' rights include the right to jeopardize our health,
         or to ignore the smoking laws of any commonwealth?
Do smokers' rights include the right to foul the air we breathe?
         When people smoke in crowded rooms or offices, I seethe!
Do smokers' rights include the right to throw their butts or stubs
         on office floors or people's lawns, on sidewalks, roads, or shrubs?
Do smokers' rights include the right to take offense or grouse
         because non-smokers would prefer they don't smoke in the house?
Do smokers want to claim the right to lead their kids astray?
         For kids will smoke tomorrow if their parents smoke today!

(from If I Do Say So Myself)

 * * * * * * *


"Conservative" and "liberal" are labels I abhor.
         The way they're used today they have no meaning any more.
I hate it when somebody pins a tag like that on me.
         For labels put you in a slot you do not want to be.
Whatever people want to call themselves, they should feel free,
         but not too many folks I know do so consistently
on social issues, politics, religion, war and peace,
         the Bible, life-style, language, drugs ---the issues never  cease.
One may be quite conservative in some things, not in all.
         To pin that label on someone, then, takes "a lot of gall"!
I wish some self-named liberals would give more liberally.
         I wish some staunch conservatives would live more morally.      
More liberal in spirit is what we should strive to be.
         In life-style more conservative, on that can we agree?
So when we use those labels let us be much more select,
         for neither label is a proof that one's of the elect!

(from If I Do Say So Myself)


They were there to learn how to share their faith.
My host had opened with a Bible text
and a brief prayer, followed by a hymn,
which they sang with zest, a few announcements,
and then his most kind introduction of
yours truly, the morning workshop leader.
I began by asking the question which
I have often asked of church groups like this:
"How many of you who have come today
believe in God?"  Their reaction was quite
typical ---"amazed" would be a good word
to describe their common reaction to
my question, or better, bewilderment,
as if to say, "You can't be serious!
Of course, we believe in God!  Otherwise,
why would we be here?"  No one said a word
or even nodded.  So I asked again:
"Do you believe in a personal God?
I mean, do you really believe in God?
Raise your hand if you do."  They realized
now that I was completely serious.
Simultaneously all raised their hands.
"Wait a minute," I said. "I wonder if you
heard the question?  What I am asking you
is this:  Do you really believe in God?
The hands went up even faster this time.
"Wait!  You didn't hear the question.  I ask
again:  Do you really believe in God?
Have you no doubts at all?  Are you sure there's
a personal God, a God who listens
when you pray and who answers your prayers?
A God who responds to you, and to whom
you are responsible?  A God who knows
your deeds, thoughts, hopes, fears, desires, intentions?
Who demands your complete obedience,
your total loyalty --heart, mind and will?
Who is Creator, Redeemer, and Lord
of the universe and your personal
Lord and Savior?  Do you really believe
in a God like that?"  They sat motionless
for a moment, and then some hands were raised.
Not every hand went up, and those that did

were raised more hesitatingly this time.    
Reality was setting in at last.
After a moment I said, "Let me ask
another question:  Does the way you live
reveal that you really believe in God?"
Not one hand was raised.   They sat silently.
"If you answer the question too quickly,"
I went on, "You haven't heard the question!"
That's why I have to think each time I say
that I believe in a personal God,
because I know how often my actions
deny my words.  Even so, I can say,
with all my heart and soul, and so could they,
"I know that I really believe in God!"
To say that, does not mean I have no doubts
or that I'll never do something for which
I'm sorry or ashamed.  To say that I
believe is not to claim that I've arrived.
I'm still struggling to be faithful, like the
man who said to Jesus, "I believe;  help
my unbelief."  That's why I'll always think,
before I raise my hand ---and so will they!

(from Now, That's a Miracle!)

* * * * * * *


Why do things always happen just when I don't want them to?
Why do I always do the thing I didn't want to do?
Why do the good things always stop before I've had my turn?
Why am I always tested on the part I didn't learn?
Why am I always overheard the times my tongue has slipped?
Why is it people always spot the numbers I have skipped?
Why is it I can't get away with risks that others take?
Why am I always caught for the one error that I make?
Why do I have the feeling Fate must have it in for me?
I am the victim of a law:  it's called "perversity."

It's easy for most anyone at times to feel this way.
St. Paul himself was wrestling with this problem in his day.
"I do not do the good I want," confessed Paul honestly.
"The evil that I do not want is what I do ---poor me!"
And then he asked "Who'll rescue me from such a wretched state?
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" ---our advocate!
There is the answer to the problem of perversity.
By grace through faith in Jesus Christ we're "superstition-free"!

(from Now, That's a Miracle!)

* * * * * * *


Some poetic reflections on I John 1:8 - If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

In pondering 1st John 1:8
I’d like to get my thinking straight.
Would you then tell me, if you please,
which one of these philosophies
describes your thinking more nearly:
that mortals fundamentally
should be considered  “bad,” or “good,”

as those two words are understood?

If you say “sinful, since the Fall,”                                                        
then you in fact agree with Paul,
and you can hold to that and still                                                               
believe in humankind’s free will,
while arguing that people tend
to disobey God in the end.
And yet would you not also say
there’s still much good in folks today?
It’s just that there has always been
no part of us not touched by sin.
That we are sinful to the core
is not acceptable, for sure,
to those who, by themselves esteemed,
feel they’ve no need to be redeemed!
If all are good, who would indeed
a summon’s to repent then need?
In that case one might wonder why
the Son of God would have to die?

I John 1: 8 (See also Psalms 106:6, Psalm 143:2, Romans 3:10, 23.)

“Are human beings bad or good?”
That’s not the point. The question should
be put less theoretic’ly,
for it applies to you and me!
Would any of us dare to claim
we’ve never done a thing to shame
the name of Christ, or failed to do
something that in our heart we knew
we should have done?  Have we not had
some feelings that we knew were bad,
or said things we should not have said
or harbored mean thoughts in our head?
The truth indeed is obvious:
there is much sin in all of us.
“There is none righteous, no, not one!”
the Bible states ---except God’s Son.

I John 1:9  - If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (RSV).

We may have pondered for the worse,
if we don’t factor in the verse
that follows. Oh my goodness, yes!
For John then says if we confess
our sins, that God is faithful, just,
and will forgive our sins, we trust,
and cleanse us from unrighteousness.
For that we must our thanks express!
In God our true salvation lies;
We need no longer theorize.

* * * * * * * 


With some I am the more impressed
who do not on their laurels rest
but in their ripe old age have sought
to redirect their time and thought
to helping others, oft’ in ways
quite diff’rent from their younger days,
thus banishing my morbid fears
about the so-called “twilight years.”

* * * * * * *


Who shall separate us from the love of Jesus Christ,
the love revealed upon the cross when he was sacrificed?
Shall tribulation, persecution, famine, or distress,
or any kind of hardship, peril, sword, or nakedness?
No, no! In all these things we're more than conquerors through him
who loves us and whose love is the one light that will not dim.

For I like Paul am sure that neither death itself nor life,
nor angels, principalities, nor any kind of strife,
nor things at hand, nor things to come, nor powers, depth, nor height,
nor anything in all creation shall have strength or might
to separate us from the love of God in Christ our Lord.
        That is my faith, the truth of which by grace I am assured.

(by Richard Stoll Armstrong, based on Romans 8:35-39. NRSV)

* * * * * * *


Hebrews 4:15, ". . . one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning."

Whenever we are tempted, even though we don't give in,
is not the base desire itself a subtle form of sin?
If Jesus had no urges for a woman sexually,
then was he really tempted at all points like you and me?
If Jesus had those feelings tempting him from deep within,
how can we say that he was just like us, yet without sin?
Now, that's another paradox that I have thought about
for years, and one that I admit I haven't figured out.

(from Now, That's a Miracle!)

* * * * * * *


I was one of several speakers ---
some were shriekers, some were squeakers ---
representing their professional sports teams.
And because there were so many,
it was not the plan that any
should presume to go on talking to extremes.

On my speech I had been working,
for I don't believe in shirking
a significant responsibility.
I have been of the persuasion
each particular occasion
should determine what one's theme and style should be.

I believed my talk was fitting

for the people who were sitting
for the program in the banquet hall that night,
since it led without confusion
to a powerful conclusion,
which I hoped they all would realize was right.

The main point that I was making
in that verbal undertaking
was not difficult for them to understand.
Yet when I had finished speaking
and the crowd's response was seeking,
I received an unenthusiastic hand.

Now, that same association
in a different location
had another banquet like the one before.
It was only two years later,
and the crowd was even greater ---
I would say there were two thousand, maybe more.

By the time that it was my turn
I'd decided not to try earn
their respect by pleading for some noble cause.
So I told three jokes and sat down ---
jokes they had not heard in that town ---
and I've never had such spirited applause!

The emcee that night, who knew me
from the time before, said to me,
as I sat and gave myself a fat zero,
"It's been two years since I've seen you;
I'm amazed!  Really, I mean you
have improved so much since just two years ago!"

What's the moral of this story?
Lessons don't go down in glory,
when an audience would rather be amused.
Just say anything that's funny ---
they will eat it up like honey ---
And the undiscerning crowd will be enthused.

(From If I Do Day So Myself)

* * * * * * *



How will I know the truth?                "It's yours for the asking!"
But where do I find it?                     "It is in the Good Book!"
Is the Bible God's word?                   "You better believe it!"
Can it be understood?                      "You gotta have faith!"
Will I have any doubts?                   "There's no doubt about it!"
Can I prove there's a God?               "You can't prove it by me!"
Then my faith is a gift?                   "You can thank God for that!"
Will God give me that gift?               "You can take it or leave it!"
What if I should say No?                 "Then you haven't a prayer!"
Does God care about me?                 "You can bet your sweet life!"
Where does Jesus fit in?                  "Have I got news for you!"
So is Jesus the Christ?                     "It's the gospel truth!
Thus the gospel is Christ?                 "That's what it's all about!"
How do I accept Christ?                  "Stand up and be counted!"
Will it cost me a lot?                        "What have you got to lose?"
Will it mean sacrifice?                      "You can't take it with you!"
Will my life be the same?                  "That's for you to decide!"
What if I sin again?                         "It would be no surprise!"
Should I give my life now?                "The sooner the better!"
I have seen the true light!                  "It's a sight for sore eyes!"

(from Now, That's a Miracle!)

* * * * * * *


In everything God works for good with those who seek God's will.
          I learned that lesson long ago, and I believe it still.
For many years I tried to name this holy attribute.
          I searched for words that might express my thoughts, but none would suit.
God's mercy, power, grace, compassion, wisdom, truth, or love?
          The concept I was searching for was none of the above.
It had to do with all of them and yet was something more.
          I wondered why it had not been identified before.
At last I hit upon a term which says it all for me.
          It has to do with what I call God's "flexibility."
What if two Christians, both sincere, pray for opposing things?
          How can the God they pray to grant the prayer that each one brings?
What if two enemies at war both thinking their cause just,
          should pray to God for victory in equal faith and trust?
What if while golfers pray for sun, the farmers pray for rain?
          How God could meet the needs of both was once hard to explain,
but now I know this problem was not God's at all but mine.
          If God is God there is no way we can God's will confine.
For God can work within a billion lives at once for good.
          God's  infinitely flexible!  If that is understood,
then one can see how things can work according to God's will,
          yet every human being's free to choose for good or ill.
The unbelieving world can't comprehend this truth at all.
          "We know that all things work for good" ---we who believe, said Paul.
So God can work in everything in such a wondrous way
          that everyone will know through faith God honors what we pray.
In suffering and sorrow, yes, and even in our sin,
          our God can work for good with those who seek God's will therein.
What greater confirmation can there be for what I've said
          than what God did for us in raising Jesus from the dead?
For sin nailed Jesus to the cross, and yet through faith we see
          that out of that defeat God brought eternal victory.

(from Now, That's a Miracle!)
* * * * * * *


All drunken drivers are a threat
        to others and themselves, and yet,
there's overwhelming evidence
        to show that most car accidents
are caused by social drinkers who
        have had no more than one or two!
Contrary to what some fools think,
        it's dangerous to take a drink
before you get behind the wheel,
        because one drink can make you feel
that you're completely in control.
        but that one drink can take its toll
on your reaction time and make
        you take some risks your shouldn't take,
like speeding through a yellow light,
        or passing someone on the right.
So many people drink these days,
        that they'll not likely change their ways.
There's nothing wrong, most would agree,
        with someone's drinking socially.
The problem isn't what they think;
        the problem is, they drive and drink!

(from If I Do Say So Myself)

* * * * * * *


It is said that the future belongs to the young,
but that saying is simply not true.
That's because when the bell of the future has rung,
that day's young will be somebody new.

Why does each generation repeat that cliché,
as if it were something profound?
For will not tomorrow be always today
to those who will still be around?

Furthermore, there's no comfort at all in the thought
that the future belongs to the young.
For we are the future for those who once thought
that the hope of the world on us hung!

Though I know what they mean when they say what they say,
such a word from believers is odd.
For what hope for the world is there really today,
if the future belongs not to God?


* * * * * * *


I profess to be innocent of the sins of my forbears,
        but am I, really?
I disclaim my complicity in the cause of your plight,
        but can I, really?
I say I hear your angry rhetoric,
        but do I, really?
I wonder why you do not trust my worthy declarations,
        but should I, really?
I claim to identify with you in your struggle,
        but have I, really?
I know there is something I can and must do,
        but will I ---really?

(from If I Do Say So Myself)

* * * * * * *


From John the Baptist we could learn about humility.                            
        He testified that Jesus was a greater man than he.
"There comes one after me," he said, "far mightier than I,
        whose shoestrings I am not worthy to stoop down and untie."
John could have thought of Jesus as a threat to his renown,
        a rival prophet on the rise, while he was going down.
Indeed, John did confess that, when he said, "He must increase!"
        And still without the least regret, he said, "I must     decrease!"
Hats off to those who play the role that John the Baptist played
        without resentment or ill will, when on them it is laid.

(from Now, That's a Miracle!)

* * * * * * *


In the conflict re our language
        there's a point on which I'm shady.
It pertains to the distinction
        'twixt a woman and a lady.
If you call someone the latter,
        all the feminists will bristle,
and no matter what you're saying
        they will quickly blow the whistle.
Now, it may be quite old-fashioned,
        but I think of my own mother
as a lady, yet a woman
        just as free as any other.
And to state it rather bluntly,
        for those folks who are not "fraidies":
Every lady is a woman,
        but all women are not ladies!
That is not a sexist statement,
        for the same is true of men:
While all gentlemen are males, hey,
        not all males are gentlemen!

(from If I Do Say So Myself)

* * * * * * *


"Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord" (Isaiah 1:18a, RSV).

You said, "Come, let us reason." Does that mean I'm assured
        that with me you will always be reasonable, Lord? 

Somehow I don't think that is exactly what you meant.
        I'd like to know the reason why reason's your intent.      

If, Lord, I may speak frankly, I think it's rather odd, 
        unreasonable even, to reason with one's God.

But hold on just a minute! A thought occurs to me:
        Is that what I am doing with you right now?

                                                    I see!

* * * * * * *


The villainies of villains are evil;
they devise wicked devices
to ruin the poor with lying words,
even when the plea of the needy is right. 
But those who are noble plan noble things,
and by noble things they stand  (Isaiah 32:7-8, NRSV).


From the knave come evil deeds.
        Well, what would you expect?
Bad trees cannot bear good fruit,
        for deeds the heart reflect.

Noble deeds from noble minds
        will follow, as they should.
By their fruits, then, you will know
        if they are bad or good.     

* * * * * * *


On whose side is the Lord?  Do not answer too soon,
lest your destiny force you to alter your tune
to a more humble melody, taught by the fact
that your enemies also may claim to be backed
by the same God you pridefully say is your friend,
until things do not turn out so well in the end.

When your faith is wrapped up in a neat little box,
then you need to be taught in the School of Hard Knocks!
If you want to be faithful, you'd best understand
that you can't have the Lord in the palm of your hand.
So the question to ask is not, What are the odds
that the Lord is on my side? but, Am I on God's?


* * * * * * *


        God of grace and God of Glory, once again we honor the Veterans, living and dead, of the many wars in which our nation has been involved. We thank you for their service, their sense of duty, their sacrifice, their patriotism, their bravery, their esprit de corps. We pray for those who bear the physical, emotional, and psychological scars of war, and for their families and all who have shared their pain.
        We also lift up to you those for whom this day is a sad reminder of the terrible cost of war, and we pray that every living veteran may feel the gratitude and respect of all their fellow citizens, even of those who may have questioned the justification of our preemptive invasion of Iraq or the wisdom of our prolonged stay in Afghanistan.
        What a privilege, O God, to live in a land where people of good character and conscience can differ in their assessments of our nation’s foreign policy, with equal loyalty to their flag and equal love for the republic for which it stands. What a testimony to the allegiance of our service men and women that they are ready to lay down their lives for their country, even when some of them may not fully understand the reasons for the war they are fighting.
        God of all nations, having just reelected our President and Vice President to a second term in office, we ask your special blessing upon them and upon all who will be serving with them in the Administration and in the Congress, as they face the enormous challenges ahead. In your great mercy, heal the divisions in our land, and dispel the bitterness of the recent campaign that we may unite as a nation in our prayers for all who bear the weight of public office, regardless of their party affiliation.
        Give to our new president and to every office holder, at whatever level of government, the humility to acknowledge their limitations, the wisdom to discern the best solutions to the world’s problems, the good will to work in a spirit of non-partisanship to solve those problems, the integrity to put principle above expediency, and the commitment to live up to their campaign promises.   In so doing, may they learn the fine art of compromise for the sake of progress.
        We acknowledge, O God, that we honor our veterans best by doing our best for them on the home front and giving them the support they need during and after their time in the service.
         “We are living, we are dwelling in a grand an d awful time.”. . . “Let there be light, Lord God of hosts!  Let there be wisdom on the earth!  Let broad humanity have birth!  Let there be deeds instead of boasts!”
         And if it be your will, O God, let there be peace on earth, for your kingdom’s sake.  Amen.

* * * * * * *


How long will this awful pain last?
I am reaching my breaking point fast!
No one ever could know
that it's hurting me so.
I just pray that the worst part has passed.

But have I any right to complain,
when so many are suffering pain
which is far worse than mine?
Therefore, why should I whine?
There are things that can deaden my pain.

Furthermore, I need not be up tight,
for they tell me that I'll be all right,
while for some on this Ball
there is no hope at all
that the end of their pain is in sight.

While I suffer, therefore, I shall try
to remember those worse off than I.
As I pray for them now,
I feel better somehow
---though it still hurts, I would not deny!


* * * * * * *


A take-off on I Corinthians 15:10 - "But by the grace of
God I am what I am."

God created me.  I don't understand ---
        is what I am now the "me" that God planned?
If by the Lord's grace I am what I am,
        can I be to blame, whatever I am?

Is claiming that just a pretext to say
        whatever I am is really okay?
As if what I am is not up to me?
        So blame it on God, and I go Scot free!

Or does God alone observe the real me,
        not just what I am, but what I can be?
God knows my desires as well as my needs.
        God knows the intent behind all my deeds.

The "me" others know is not the real me;
        nor is it the "me" I want them to see.
I'm not what I seem.  Yet is it not true,
        that masquerade "me" is part of me, too?

Beneath the facades the world need not see;
        the masks that I choose reveal the real me!
Indeed, I confess that it may well be
        those phoney facades are closest to me.

To know who I am may be but a sham.
        Salvation is this:  to know whose I am.
To know I am Christ's by grace and that he
        can free me through faith to be the real me.

* * * * * * *

                                                                                   CONFIDENT THANKS
“And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said 'Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me'" (John 11:41, RSV).
         The place is Bethany, a tiny village less than two miles from Jerusalem on the road to Jericho. Mary and Martha are at the tomb of Lazarus, crying over the brother they have lost. Some of their friends have followed them to the tomb, and they, too, are weeping.
         At this moment an anxious silence grips the mourners. The sobbing has momentarily ceased, the weeping and wailing have halted like a suspended sigh, and even the air seems suddenly still. They are staring intently at the quiet figure standing beside the open cave from which the stone has been rolled away. Jesus also has been weeping, but his expression and manner are calm and confident. As the master is about to speak, they wait with bated breath and pounding hearts, sensing the excitement, the expectancy, the anxiety of this moment.
         Lifting his eyes to heaven Jesus utters a prayer of thanksgiving, and then with a loud voice cries: "Lazarus, come out!" From the murky, musty darkness of the tomb, before their wondering eyes, the man they had buried four days ago emerges, still wrapped in his grave clothes, but alive! As they stand there gaping, entranced by the miracle, the sharp command of Jesus snaps them back to the reality of what must have seemed a dream: "Unbind him and let him go."
         In the infinite realm of imagination we can relive this miraculous moment from the pages of holy history. What bearing does it have upon our lives on this Thanksgiving Day twenty centuries later? The compassion of Jesus at the grief of his friends, the intimacy of their relationship, the faith of Mary and Martha, the mystery of the miracle itself, the reactions of those who witnessed it ---there is so much we could discuss, there are so many questions we'd like to ask, so many truths to be gained from this amazing incident.
         But I want to focus on just one aspect of the story, one which has a special message for us as we celebrate another Thanksgiving. It is the prayer which Jesus spoke before he called Lazarus out of the tomb. It was a prayer of thanksgiving. What's so unusual about that, you ask? Simply this: Jesus thanked God before he performed the miracle! He gave thanks and then he raised Lazarus.
         That is what I call thanksgiving with confidence. Usually our thanksgiving has a rearward perspective. It is a survey of the landscape of the past, a glance in the rear-view mirror at the road behind. We are grateful for past benefits, for blessings already received, for things now possessed, for past and present evidences of God's favor. We count our blessings and give thanks. And that is good.
         But confident thanks must also have a future perspective. Confidence implies a forward-looking attitude, a conclusion about what has not yet occurred. It is like closing a business letter with the familiar line, "Thanking you in advance, I am....yours truly....
         But you you may be thinking, isn't that counting our chickens before they're hatched? Isn't it a dangerous practice? ---presumptuous, to say the least! Might not our thanks be premature? Possibly. It depends on the circumstances.
         To what extent, then, can we be confident in our thanksgiving? When can we give confident thanks, the kind of thanks Jesus gave before he raised Lazarus from the dead? At least three conditions are necessary. The first is the right object. Thanksgiving, you see, is a form of prayer, and the object of prayerful thanksgiving has to be God. It is meaningless to say I am thankful without knowing to whom I am thankful. Some people attribute their happy circumstances to fortune, or luck, or chance.  They thank their lucky stars for what they have, or if they're really religious, they may say "Thank heavens!"
         There are no grounds for confidence, however, if chance is the object of our gratitude. Our confidence must be based on our belief in a personal God and our faith that God hears and answers our prayers. We're confident because we have experienced God's goodness in the past and we have faith that God's mercy endures forever. We're confident because Jesus has shown us what God is like. Jesus said "Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you."
         Jesus gave confident thanks because he knew his heavenly Father so well. His was a perfect faith, a complete trust, a sure and certain hope, the kind that comes only through constant communion with God. He said, "Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me." When had God heard him? Not just at the grave of Lazarus, but in the quiet hours of meditation in the solitude of the Judean hills; through the long nights of prayer apart from the pressing throngs seeking his help; during all the private times of sharing with his disciples; day in and day out along the dusty roadways, in every thought, word, and deed, he and his Father were one.
         Jesus could say "Father, I thank thee," because he knew God so well. To know God is to expect great things of God. To believe in God is to believe that God answers our prayers, and to believe it so earnestly that we can thank God in advance, for confident thanksgiving is nothing more than expectant prayer.
         So the first requisite for confident thanks is to understand that the object of our thanks is God. But that's not all. We must also be thankful for the right reason. We may pray to win the lottery or to hit the jackpot, but are those requests worthy of God? If our prayers are selfish, if our desires are impure, or harmful, or unworthy, we can no longer be confident that God will honor our petitions.
         We give confident thanks not because we know what's best for us, but because we believe God does. We can be confident not that we'll get what we think we want, but that what God gives us will be good; not that our request will be granted, but that our prayers will be answered; not that we will succeed in our desires, achieve our goals, attain our objectives, but that in everything God works for good with those who love God.
         Having this confidence, we can hardly help being grateful and so we give thanks to God, trusting confidently that our prayers will be heard and answered in a way that far exceeds our own desires. That is the spirit that enables people and churches to attempt great things for God, often in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstalces. They take a leap of faith, confident that God will honor their good intentions and provide in ways that they cannot see at the moment. They pray expecting great things to happen, giving confident thanks not just for what God has done, but for what God will do. Their confidence is not in their ability to make it happen, but in God's ability to answer the prayers of those who trust in God.
         To pray for the right reason is not to say we shouldn't pray for material things, so long as our motives for asking are worthy. Jesus has taught us to ask for whatever our hearts desire. Not to voice those desires would be hypocritical. Indeed, God knows our desires, our secret longings, even before we express them. And having received so many material blessings from God's hand, should we not expect God to bless us in the days to come, not because we deserve it, but because God has never failed us yet?
        Of course, these are not the main things for which we give confident thanks. Rather we thank God for the strength to endure pain and suffering, for the wisdom to see the meaning that lies hidden in the heart of sorrow, for the grace to understand God's will for our lives, for the knowledge that God is faithful, and just, and merciful. God has always answered such prayers, and we can be confident that God always will.
        The right object, the right reason, two prerequisites for confident thanks. But there is one more I must mention, which is closely related to the other two, and that's the right attitude. We must pray submissively. Now that's a bit tricky, because how can we be confident and submissive at the same time? It seems contradictory, but in fact we can give confident thanks only when we are submissive to the will of God.
        It's not a matter of expecting God to give us what we want, but of letting God fix our "wanter." Knowing to whom we are thankful, yes; and being thankful for the right things, yes. But the final test of confident prayer is whether we are seeking God's will or our own. Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will but thy will be done." After every petition there must always be that divine word of submission, "nevertheless."
        How else can we give confident thanks in a world like ours? Do we really know what's best for ourselves, let alone others, as we face the complexities of life in this madhouse we call Planet Earth? As we peer through our tiny periscopes into the foggy sea of tomorrow, how can we pray at all unless our confidence rests submissively in the perfect will of God?
         In that spirit, we can, like Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus, give confident thanks for what God wants to do in us, and for us, and through us, and with us. We can be confident that God will honor whatever we undertake in faithful submission to God’s will. "This is the confidence we have in him," wrote John, "that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us." When our wills are submissive to God's will, miracles can happen, as Jesus promised they would. "Those who believe in me," he said, "will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will they do."
        As we celebrate Thanksgiving, let us, therefore, give confident thanks, not just counting the blessings of the past, but expecting great things from the God who holds the future in his hands.
        Let us pray:
        Almighty God, give us grace to pray with confidence, not in our worthiness to receive your blessings, but in your faithfulness to provide for the needs of those who seek to know and to do your will. Then may we humbly praise you for all your blessings of the past and give you confident thanks for untold mercies yet to be, in the spirit of your Son Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
* * * * * * *


We can say we love Christ with a smile on our face.
We can tell everybody we know.
We can share our faith stories all over the place,
but the question remains, Does it show?

We can put it on badges and bumpers of cars
and even on billboards for dough;
We can sing it in churches and shout it in bars,
but the question remains, Does it show?

For actions speak louder than words, as they say,
and faith without works will not grow.
Salvation by grace through faith is the way,
but the question remains, Does it show?

(from Enough, Already! 

* * * * * * *


"Let me live in a house by the side of the road                                                  
and be a friend to man."
With all due respect to old Sam Walter Foss,
I don't know how anyone can!
It's not just his language to which I object.
Inclusive or not, it's the thought.
I have a suspicion the poet elect,
if it had been my house that he bought,
would find himself surely agreeing with me,

before a few days had gone by.
For all of the trash that is dumped on our lawn
would make any home owner cry.
From beer cans and bottles to Styrofoam cups,
old clothing and cigarette butts,
scrap metal and garbage and furniture, too,
and even dead cats and dead mutts.
How can I befriend all those mean litterbugs
whizzing by in their cars and their trucks?
Their thoughtless pollution deserves only wrath
---and a fine of a few hundred bucks!
So take my advice and ignore Mr. Foss,
though he was a remarkable man.
If he moved to a house by the side of the road,
he would need a much bigger trash can!

* * * * * * *


To be a good loser is challenge enough.
        To be a good winner is equally tough!                                           
Few things ever gall me more under the sun
        than hearing some braggarts shout "We're Number One!"
I have to declare that it sure gets my goat,
        when even the teams that I'm rooting for gloat.
For boxers or merchants or teams and their fans,
        for leaders of nations and vain "also-rans,"
For armies and navies and their personnel,
        for whoever wins and their boosters as well,
it ill behooves any to flaunt their success.
        Sincere gratitude is what they should express.

* * * * * * *


                                                             Working, slaving, pennies saving,                                                         
                                                             shopping, waiting, long lines hating,

       sewing, pressing, cards addressing,
       buying, trying, washing, drying,
       licking, sticking, presents picking,
       making, baking, early waking,
       capping, wrapping, never  napping,
       lighting, writing, stopping fighting,
       messing, meaning vacuum cleaning,
       memory versing, parts rehearsing,
       car pool driving, late arriving,
       parties throwing, money's going,
       sick kids nursing, feel like cursing,
                                                             surely this must not be Christmas!  

                                                             (from If I Do Say So Myself)

* * * * * * *


When I pass by some wintry lawn and see                                                          
        a rounded figure fashioned from the snow,                                                    
with button eyes, a carrot for a nose,
        an old felt hat, a scarf, or tie, I know
what it would surely say, if it could speak:
        that there is love within that home, and joy,
because the silent sentinel was built
        by some excited little girl or boy
with some parental aid undoubtedly,
        or maybe by a grown-up (just for fun),
in whom a little girl or boy still lives.
        In any case, I know, if there is one
upon the lawn, the people in that house,
        if nothing else, can take the time to play,
and if there were more snowmen on more lawns,
        the world would be a better place today.

(from If I Do Say So Myself)

* * * * * * *


God give us grace. . .  
To see
beyond the gleam and glitter
of our tinseled trees
a dim lit stable
not at all like these,

To hear
above the clash and clamor
of the market throng
an angel's call for peace
in silent song,

To feel                                                                                                  
in all the merry madness
of our festive cheer
the Savior's presence
in our hearts this year.

(from Now, That's a Miracle!)

* * * * * * *


       With all the disturbing news we have to listen to every day, including the outrageous responses of right-wing Republicans to President Obama's broad plan for reducing gun violence, it's easy to become quite bitter and cynical.
        In case you're feeling that way, here's something that's guaranteed to make you smile. I had forgotten all about this video, which I saw for the first time about twenty months ago. I enjoyed it so much I watched it over and over again.
        For some reason it came to mind today and I watched it again and enjoyed it just as much as ever. So I thought I should call attention to it on my blog for those whose spirits may need a momentary lift.
        Click on the following link, turn the volume up, and enlarge your screen: JA

* * * * * * *


        Life is a gift, a precious gift, that should never be taken for granted. Every birth is a precious celebration and every death a solemn reminder of that truth, but it shouldn’t take these fraternal twins that bracket our mortality to teach us to be grateful for every day, every hour, every minute God gives us to be together with those we love.
        Anniversaries are special occasions for happily married couples to celebrate their life together as husband and wife. On January 31 Margie and I celebrated our 65th wedding anniversary. Of course that was a significant milestone for us, for we both recalled having talked together on our honeymoon about how wonderful it would be if we could live long enough to celebrate our fiftieth wedding anniversary. It seemed so far away then.
        But here we are sixty-five years later, still going strong, and more in love than ever. How swiftly those years have flown, and what a wonderful life it has been. We’ve always had the feeling we were meant for each other, and if any marriage was ever “made in heaven,” ours certainly was.
        Our marriage has been a continual courtship, throughout which I have been writing love poems and silly rhymes to Margie. Here is one I sent her when she was a senior at Wellesley and I a love-sick senior at Princeton. She married me anyway! 
          A doctor, who was Russian, in an ethical discussion,
          once gave me some advice I’ll ne’er forget.
          Said he, “Instead  of  keeping patients in the dark and sleeping,
          let them know just what they are about to get.

          “When you’ve made your diagnosis, tell the patient what the dose is
          that you’re just about to hand her in a spoon.”
          So now, sweet miss, please hearken, for the same applies to sparkin’ ---
          I’ve arranged for there to be a big full moon.

          And with fair and ample warning I shall keep you out till morning,
          while I whisper gentle nothings in your ear.
          For I’ve figured out your trouble; I shall make your doses double,
          and the outcome of my cure you need  not fear.

          I’ve decided what you’re missing is the proper kind of kissing,
          and I’ll dedicate myself unto the task
          of supplying love’s essentials with some duly sworn credentials,
          and provided your permission I might ask.

          In conclusion let me sum up: this prescription I did drum up
          will work, provided you heed my direction.
          So in order to be nice you must follow my advice —
          and remember that it’s for you own protection!

* * * * * * *


        Growth-minded churches are always eager to welcome visitors, some of whom they hope may be potential new members of the congregation. They may be newcomers to the community who are shopping for a church to join.
        Or they may perpetual church shoppers, hopping from one church to another without any intention of joining any church. Every pastor knows the type, and they know that the kingdom of heaven will not be built on the likes of these.
        Our anonymous church hopper is speaking here for many others with a similar attitude toward the church, all of whom much prefer the role of visitor incognito.

                          VISITOR INCOGNITO

                      A visitor incognito,
                            if I a phrase may coin,
                      I'm always shopping for a church
                            I don't intend to join.
                      So every Sunday morning I'm
                            a master of disguise.
                      There's not a ruse that I don't use
                            to dodge those gals and guys.
                      I mean the ones who try to spot
                            the visitors in church.
                      I know most every trick there is
                            to leave them in the lurch.
                      They never see me staring with
                             an unfamiliar look;
                      I case the joint before I sit,
                            and don't go near the "book."  
                      To make sure I'm not recognized
                           I wear a false moustache,
                      and when the offering plate is passed
                           I never put in cash,
                      but slip a dollar bill into
                           a pew rack envelope.
                      The ushers think that I'm a member
                           of the church ---I hope!
                      Of course, I wouldn't dare to sign
                          the church attendance pad,
                      despite the curling eyebrows that
                          suggest that I'm a cad.
                      And when the blessing has been said,
                          and they all stop for news,
                      I exit out a window, or
                          I slide beneath the pews.
                      But somehow all my efforts seem
                          to be of no avail.
                      The greeters still can spot me ---but
                          they've never made a sale!

* * * * * * *


Hello, friends!

In the midst of all the terrible news we've been deluged with in recent days, here's something that
should make you feel good.

I'll be surprised if you don't love this video, which I've just seen this morning for the first time.

The world does have something in common ---dancing!

Share this with your friends.

* * * * * * *


        The Nassoons, Princeton University's oldest (and in my biased opinion best) men's a cappella singing group have a small part in the recently released movie "Admission," starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd. They are singing one of their signature songs, The Tigertown Blues, in Blair Arch, when Princeton admissions officer Portia Nathan, played by Fey, breaks through their ranks.
        In the movie you hear the Nassoons for only about twenty seconds. To listen to the same song in its entirety, click here, turn up the volume, and enlarge your screen. In this video they are singing at a recent performance at the Friends School in Moorestown, New Jersey. These young gentlemen of song and their predecessors of recent years have added lots of choreography to the arrangement, which makes it even more of an audience pleaser.
        The tempo and rhythm have varied over the years, but the words, melody, and harmonization are the same as when I wrote the song way back in 1946.
        Actually I had written the music and the arrangement two years earlier, while I was at the Naval Supply Corps School at Harvard, but I changed the words for the newly reorganized, post-WWII Nassoons. We introduced the song at our debut, as part of a joint Princeton and Dartmouth glee clubs concert in Princeton's Alexander the fall of 1946. The song was an immediate hit, even though I was chosen to sing the opening solo that first year. Later on it became a Nassoons' tradition for the current president to sing the solo.
        When I wrote the lyrics Princeton was an all-male college. After the University finally began admitting  women as undergraduates in 1969, I updated the words to reflect the fact that Princeton was now coeducational, but the Nassoons at that time decided they would stick with the original lyrics and treat The Tigertown Blues as a "period piece."
        It seemed to make no difference to their audiences, and the song has remained one of their perennial favorites with their admiring fans of all ages to this day. The original Nassoon arrangement is included in the Centennial Edition of the University's song book, Carmina Princetonia (G. Schirmer, Inc., 1968).
Still the Nassoons!
        Click on Princeton Nassoons for their home page. To see the above and lots of other photos, click photos   

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