Monthly Archives: November 2015

The Grinch Who Stole My Music

Ray Coniff Christmas Album Cover

I love music. Anyone who has known me for more than five minutes knows that I’ll start raving about Gordon Lightfoot or talking about the choral groups I’m a part of or breaking into a pop song that fits the situation. If a friend says, “I’m leaving from Dulles tomorrow,” I might bust out with

You’re leavin’ on a jet plane

But I know when you’ll be back again

Oh, man, do you need some kind of ride?

Most people (but not all) appreciate my efforts.

So clearly I love music. I know I wrote that at the beginning, but by repeating that, I hope you’ll realize how much I love music. There—that was a third time. Somebody stop me!

The point to all this chatter about how much I love music (fourth time) is that this year, I am not going to listen to secular Christmas songs. In other years, I would have listened to some of my favorite songs like “Believe,” “Little Saint Nick” and “The Peace Carol,” but not this year.

Why this sudden change? Why religious songs and not the secular ones? Have I suddenly become a zealot who wants to burn all the Ray Conniff Christmas albums or stop people on the street to educate them about the creeping evil of secularism?

Not quite.

I’m just not in the mood. My father spent most of 2014 in doctors’ offices and died of multiple organ failure in January. I received 49 radiation treatments for cancer in 2013 (the treatment was successful, thank God) and dealt with a number of side effects. Mass shootings and acts of terrorism dominated the media.

I know, people suffer and die every year, sometimes in horrible ways. What’s the difference this year?

I don’t know. I have simply reached a tipping point and don’t want to hear about how Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer saved the day.

Please don’t call me up to recommend a psychiatrist or offer some medication. I appreciate it, but I’m in as good a mood as I can be. And please don’t quote scripture at me. I’m no theologian, but I am Baptist and have studied the Bible for about 63 years. (We start early and don’t quit.) One horrible year, I recounted all the bad things that happened and ended by saying the next year had to be better, and it was. Some helpful soul wrote an email reminding me of Paul’s admonition to give thanks in all circumstances. In the first place, I was aware of the verse. In the second, Paul did not tell us to be happy when we’re in prison or bitten by a snake but rather to realize that God is still with us and cares for us. I believe this even though I won’t sing about jolly old Saint Nicholas this year.

The title of this piece refers to the Grinch, and I ask you, Who’s the Grinch? Is it I? Is it disease or war or terrorism or starvation or suffering? Or is it the overblown celebration of the birth of a simple peasant baby?

It’s up to you. You decide.

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Feeding the Children

Starving Child

Every day around the world 6,000 children die of starvation.

I found that such a startling statement, let me repeat it. Every day around the world, 6,000 children die of starvation.

We see pictures of malnourished, crying, homeless children wasted by disease and hardship and want to do something

So, how do we address a problem that is so pervasive and so difficult to comprehend, much less do something about?

A number of groups are working to eradicate starvation. This past Sunday, I participated in training for one effort sponsored by Feed My Starving Children and NorthStar Church Association that will feed 100 children for a year. That’s 35,000 meals for kids who would otherwise suffer or even die.

How is that done? Agricultural giants Cargill and General Mills worked with Feed My Starving Children, a group dedicated to doing just that, to develop MannaPackRice, a mixture of rice, soy, vitamins, minerals and vegetarian flavoring and dehydrated vegetables that would keep without refrigeration. This combination specifically meets the nutritional needs of starving children and also improves the health, growth and physical well-being of children who are no longer in danger of starvation. The ingredients are sealed inside plastic bags and packed in boxes for transport all over the world. One bag feeds six children and costs about $1.32 to produce.

The training I took part in will allow me and others there to participate in “2016 Food Fight!,” a three-day event at the Dulles Expo Center May 13-15. Thirty thousand  “packers” will prepare 5 million meals to feed 14,000 children for a year.

We sent over 100 people from our church representing a wide range of ages and types to the training. Come May, we’ll be ready to do something about world hunger. Come join us! Until then, visit for much more information.


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The Legend Lives On


Forty years ago this past Tuesday, the ore carrier Edmund Fitzgerald sank without warning in a monster storm on Lake Superior. Moments before they dropped off radar, the captain reported “We’re holding our own,” the freighter sank with the loss of 29 souls, the entire crew.
The sinking might have gone largely unnoticed but for the efforts of Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot, who read an article in Newsweek about the sinking which began,
According to a legend of the Chippewa tribe, the lake they once called Gitche Gumee “never gives up her dead.” Modern-day mariners of Lake Superior know the legend has some basis in fact…
He used this passage in the beginning of the song and narrated the story using the best information he had at the time. One verse read,
When supper time came the old cook came on deck
Saying fellows it’s too rough to feed ya
At 7PM a main hatchway caved in
He said fellas it’s been good to know ya.

Initially, authorities thought that the ship sank because the crew failed to properly secure the huge hatches on the main deck. Families objected, saying the captain and crew were far too conscientious to have left such an important task undone. Later analysis showed that the carrier probably encountered “rogue waves,” two exceptionally large formations in a row that appeared without warning. One wave lifted the Fitz from the bow while another hoisted the stern, leaving the hull between bearing the entire weight of the cargo. The ship broke in two and plummeted to the bottom, taking crew and cargo with it.
Lightfoot changed the lyrics to his song to reflect this new reality.
At 7 p.m., it grew dark, it was then he said, ‘Fellas it’s been good to know ya.’”
The song later went on to receive considerable airplay at the time, unusual for a ballad that ran over eight minutes. I think that Lightfoot portrays the danger of plying the waters and the courage of the mariners. His creation of a work that recognizes both and honors the sacrifice of so many brave men stands as a testament to human perseverance and creativity. In spite of risk, we as humans continue to dare the elements and as we do, we have the poets and writers among us to record those stories. I can’t think of a more potent combination.

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A Horse with No Name

A Horse Named Otto

I don’t know if you are familiar with the pop rock group America and one of their biggest hits, “A Horse with No Name.” The chorus goes,

          I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name:

          It felt good to be out of the rain

          In the desert, you can’t remember your name

          ‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no fame.

I have several questions about this: what in the world is anyone doing in a desert on a horse, named or no? And how much rain would you have to endure to relish being in a place where daytime temperatures reach upwards of 120 degree Fahrenheit with little water in sight? Do the extreme temperatures cause you to forget your name and why should you need fame to remember who you are? I don’t know the answers to these questions. I was hoping you would, so talk to me after we’re done and enlighten me as to these mysteries.

Our family always thinks of a young woman named Chrissie, an intelligent young woman who became a lawyer. She took piano with Becky when her family lived here. One day I was taking her to her piano lesson, I think, and I had the car radio tuned to a ‘70’s and 80’s hits station and Chrissie listened for a while and asked, “Mr. V, is this the ‘Horse with No Name’ station?” And it was. This question has become part of our family lore, used when any kind of soft rock is being played anywhere. Chrissie later took guitar lessons and told me that one of the first songs they learned was—you guessed it—“A Horse with No Name.”

On a somewhat more serious note, our names are important to us. They give us an identity and may be a source of pride or aggravation depending on what they are and who we are. Parents agonize over what to name their babies and sometimes they don’t choose too wisely. One study found that a bad first name can not only ruin your self-esteem, but it may actually make you lonelier — and dumber. And no one wants that.

Some actual names that might cause problems for a hapless girl are Audi, Chia, Hennessy, Merci, Monet, Nixon, Zeek, and Zuly. For boys, the names are Anthem, Denim, Dior, Hershey, Piers, Simba, Vino, Walden, and Zeppelin. Led or not, I don’t know.

If you find yourself in the desert, I hope you have a horse, even if it doesn’t have a name, and I also hope your name isn’t one that causes problems, and most of all, I hope that  you can remember your name. Good luck.

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