Happy Thanksgiving Eve

I’ll be staying home for the Thanksgiving holiday this year so on Saturday I took a quick trip up to southeastern Oklahoma to spend a few days with my folks. Everyone else in my clan had stuff to do so I made the trip alone.

As a recluse by temperament, I always look forward to the prospect of a three-and-a-half hour drive with only AM talk radio and small-town FM stations for company. Though my bride can’t comprehend it, and takes it on faith that it is so, a long lonely drive is actually my idea of a good time.

There is one non-commercial FM station that I can only pick up for about 45 minutes once I enter the foothills of the Winding Stair Mountains. I know I’m in range of the signal when, just north of Atoka, I cross Muddy Boggy Creek.

Yes, with a flair for redundancy, the namers who settled the area 100 years ago named a waterway, Muddy Boggy Creek. That must have been some seriously murky water. “Muddy on the palate, yet with prominent notes of bogginess lingering on the finish.”

Or perhaps it was a compromise solution brokered by an unsung Henry Clay figure, stemming from a heated conflict between the faction insisting on the name Muddy Creek and those equally passionate for the cause of Boggy Creek. This solution also eliminated the possibility of confusion with another “Boggy Creek” about 40 miles to the east, just across Arkansas border. The one that was featured in a movie that gave me serious creeps when I was a 13.

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It didn’t help that the setting for the “true story,” the titular Boggy Creek lay about 40 miles from where I slept every night . . . out in our rural home . . . with the creek back behind the house. Yes, my happy, simple country childhood was complicated somewhat by an dark undercurrent of Sasquatch dread.

Oh yes, that radio station . . .

This particular station’s format is hardcore “Southern Gospel”–a style of music I enjoy (in small, targeted doses.) As a boy, we always had the TV on on Sunday mornings as we got ready for Sunday School. We would see the end of Oral Roberts pioneering show, (“Somthing GOOD is going to happen to YOU!”), and then the beginning of “Jubilee.”

Jubilee, as you know if you recall it, was a gospel singing and quartet music show that usually featured The Florida Boys, The Happy Goodman Family, The Blackwood Brothers, The Cathedrals, et. al.. This radio station takes me back to those days. It also reminds me of one of my first jobs in radio–doing news and traffic reports for a station in Oklahoma City owned by Jimmy Swaggart (years before all that motel-related unseemliness.) That station played preaching programs 9a to 4p but Southern Gospel music the rest of the time. Oh, and a Jimmy Swaggart song at 25 minutes after the hour every hour.

Since I discovered this station, I play a little game every time I listen to it. I keep track of how many songs deal with either the theme of heaven or the rapture.  By my estimate, the average weighting is around 80%. In other words, four out of five songs played on this station are saying “Sure life is hard, bitter, painful and grim now, but hang on ’cause we get to go to Heaven someday,” OR ” Sure life is hard, bitter, painful and grim now, but hang on ’cause the Rapture’s gonna happen any minute now and get us out of this mess.”

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not mocking. This is “roots music” in the purest sense of the term. And these roots run back to the Great Depression. This style of music was born in subcultures and in times in which the hope of heaven by-and-by seemed to be the only prospect of relief.

Another thing that sticks out as you begin to analyze the lyrical themes is that an astonishing number of the “Heaven” songs center on “crossing over Jordon,” “chilly Jordan,” “muddy Jordon,” (but oddly enough, never “Muddy Boggy Jordan,”). The metaphor of crossing the River Jordan into the Promised Land seems to make an appearance in roughly half of all Southern Gospel songs.

A classic of this genre was actually written by the father of an old buddy of mine. Years ago, Bud Chambers (father of my friend, Danny Chambers, who is now a pastor and widely-known worship music artist) wrote a song called “One More River to Cross.” Indeed, there are about a dozen Southern Gospel and Black Gospel songs titled “One More River,” but this is the best, in my opinion. Jimmy Swaggart recorded it and it was my favorite of all the Swaggart songs my station was required to play at :25 after.

Here is Bill Gaither and his posse giving Bud’s song a go:

Swaggart’s arrangement was much more toe-tappy-er.

There is just one teeny theological problem with all these songs, and there are thousands of them . . . The crossing of the Jordon by the Israelites into the land of promise is not a type or shadow of the believer’s passage into Heaven. It is an Old Testament type of the believer’s passage into a good, new life via salvation. Passing through the river is a metaphor for baptism.

You see, for the Israelites there were battles to fight and ground to take on the other side of that river. There were giants to slay and cities to conquer and occupy.  That’s not the case in Heaven. But it is the case for the Christian. “Occupy until I return,” Jesus told his followers right before he left Earth. (Luke 19:13)

Don’t take my word for it. Hebrews 3:16-19 makes this clear. You enter into the promised land at salvation. Oh, and while I’m being Mr. Southern Gospel Song Buzz Kill . . . Jesus never said there were “mansions” in Heaven . . . , but rather “. . . in my Father’s house are many dwelling places.” (John 14:2)

Look, I’m all for looking forward to Heaven, but the fact is, a theology that moves the land of promise to the sweet-by-and-by is a prescription for defeat, passivity and surrender in the gritty here-and-now. And that’s precisely what we’ve gotten.

And the visit with the folks? Thanks for asking!

Mom and Dad are doing pretty well considering the mileage (77 and 79 respectively) and the lack of proper, routine maintenance in their younger years (little or no exercise, all the wrong foods, etc.).

Even so, I believe they’re going to be around a good while longer (if the sasquatches don’t get them.) And when they do go to Heaven, it won’t be by way of a chilly, muddy river. They crossed it long ago.

And for that, I’m truly thankful.

Some Loose Threads of Thought, Braided Into a Lovely Crackpot Theory {Updated}

Here are a few loose thoughts that have been bouncing around in my enormous head over the last couple of weeks.

Most everyone seems to believe that this election represents some sort of seismic shift . . . the end of one era and the beginning of a new, and very different one. But what, precisely, have we shifted to? What just happened?

You’ll be relieved to learn, I’ve got it all figured out.

Thread 1:  Many of the publications I read have been talking for a couple of years now about how we have entered an age in which “design” is supreme. Consumers have begune to demand that everything they own and  use not only be functional but also beautiful, or even better, “cool.”

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In fact, if forced to choose, most people will pick cool design over plain but superior functionality. Why? Because . . .

Thread 2:  Today it’s all about image.

Sure, human beings have always been image conscious. But today image is cultivated and preserved the way previous generations obsessed over their reputations. In fact, image has replaced reputation as the single most treasured aspect of identity.

This is the rocket fuel feeding the countless hours spent on Facebook and its business-suit wearing cousin, LinkedIn, each day. It’s why I want an iPhone, and why my kids want me to have one, too. It will make me a cooler dad and having a cooler dad has positive spill-over effects on their images.

Thread 3:  The hatred for George Bush by the movers and groovers of the popular culture over the last eight years defies logic or reason. The only way to understand Bush Derangement Syndrome is to recognize that President Bush was very uncool and made image-obsessed cool-kids in New York and L.A. feel a lot like my teenage daughters would feel if I showed up at their school wearing short-shorts, black knee-high dress socks with sandals, and one of those gigantic Nerf foam cowboy hats.

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This is why Mr. Bush has been particularly loathsome to the Hollywood crowd. To a group of people who view the world entirely through the lens of popularity, a President who makes America unpopular in places like Cannes, London, and Barcelona has committed the unpardonable sin.

Thread Synthesis: In a era in which design and image are prized above all other qualities or virtues, the Democrats fielded the coolest candidate ever. Yes, Senator Obama won because he was cool, and because he was black, and because it’s cool to be black.

Google the terms “Obama” and “cool” and you’ll get more than 55 million hits. Near the top is this article in the serious and respected publication, The New Republic: “Cool We Can Believe In.” An excerpt:

His political narrative is not the fictional happenstance that placed Douglass Dilman into the Oval Office in Irving Wallace’s The Man and cast Chris Rock into the Blockbuster bargain bin in Head of State. Barack has more going for him than good timing, the proper complexion, and the appearance of marital fidelity. He’s got cool, and cool is the ultimate transcendent.

Meanwhile, John McCain was to cool whatever anti-matter is to matter. To make matters worse, McCain was trapped in a no-win situation. To counter the meme that he was too old, cranky and frail to be president, he was always trying to look all energetic and excited. But the hyper version of McCain was just creepy and weird.

The Mr. Positive-Energy version of McCain could suck all the cool out of a room in less than seven seconds.

It’s sad, but true. Coolness quotient may indeed have been the determining factor in the last four or five presidential elections. You have to go all the way back to Nixon’s landslide defeat of McGovern to find an election in which the argurably less-cool candidate won. Of course, in some elections, it’s not a matter of who has more cool but rather who is less of a dork.  (In 2004, John Kerry’s over-the-top attempts at looking cool–being photographed windsurfing, snowboarding, saluting at the convention, etc–turned him into the biggest dork ever.)

At this moment, conservatives and Republicans (not always the same thing) are having weighty, cerebral debates about how win back the hearts and minds of the electorate. But I don’t think I’ve heard any discussion of how to get cooler. Not “hipper.” Cooler.

This is essentially what has brought the Tories in Great Britain back from the edge of extinction. Though both far from pristine in their conservatism, Tory leader David Cameron and London’s new mayor, Boris Johnson, both give off a fairly cool vibe.

It would be great if American elections were won or lost solely on the soundness of each party’s ideas. But, clearly, they’re not. And our entry into the age of design and image is complete.

The question is not “Who is right?” It is “Who enhances my image?”

Update:

I forgot the mention the news item that sparked this whole train-wreck of thought . . .

In the New York Times magazine today, an article gives us a glimpse of the moment back in December of 2006 in which Barack Obama decided he wanted to be President of the United States. He was in an intense discussion about his prospects when his wife, Michelle asked a pointed question:

Why do you want to do this?” she said directly. “What are hoping to uniquely accomplish, Barack?”

Obama sat quietly for a moment, and everyone waited. “This I know: When I raise my hand and take that oath of office, I think the world will look at us differently,” he said. “And millions of kids across this country will look at themselves differently.”

There it is. Do you see it?  . . . Image.

The founding rationale for this presidency was improving America’s image in the world, and the self-images of “millions of kids.”

I can certainly think of less noble rationales for seeking power.  Financial gain, ego gratification, and whatever it was animating Bill Clinton’s ambition, to name a few.

But in these volatile and fierce times, I would find it more comforting if my new president had a stronger mission than to simply make us look good.

God Bless You, Veterans

Some recommended reading here on Veteran’s Day . . . My friend Stephen Mansfield’s beautiful little gift book:

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Also, why not donate $48 dollars to one of these soldiers’ assistance organizations in recognition of the 48% of voters who chose a old soldier for Commander-in-Chief over an inexperienced lefty lawyer.

Soldiers’ Angels

Fisher House

My New Favorite Magazine

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That’s right. “Garden” and “Gun.”

This magazine appears to have been around for a while, but I never knew of its existence until I came across it on the rack at Borders yesterday. It’s awesome. In the issue above, you’ve got ads for heirloom shotguns, the cover story about amazing southern food, an article about a guy with 7,000 turkey calls, some artsy stuff, and a Roy Blount, Jr. essay on the joys of chopping firewood–all beautifully designed and printed on thick velvety paper.

It’s sort of like Vogue for bird dog owners.  Check out the web site. 

By the way, I’m think I’m going to have to start eating my way through this list.

Why We Needed a Border Fence

The Bush Administration had Congressional approval to build a fence along strategic portions of the border with Mexico. But it drug its heels, piddled around, and got virtually nothing done. Now it’s out of time. Of course, it was clear from the beginning that the President’s heart wasn’t really in it.

So what do we hear this week?

The Mexican army on Friday announced that it has made the largest seizure of drug-cartel weapons in Mexico’s history.

The cache of 540 rifles, 165 grenades, 500,000 rounds of ammunition and 14 sticks of TNT were seized on Thursday at a house in the city of Reynosa, across the border from McAllen, Texas, Mexican Assistant Attorney General Marisela Morales said.

“The seizure … is the largest in the history of Mexico involving organized crime,” Morales told reporters at Defense Department headquarters, where the army displayed hundreds of rifles, pistols, and shotguns, and laid out rows of grenades and crates of ammunition.

This arsenal was discovered just a couple of miles south of McAllen, Texas in the Mexican town of Reynosa.

The fact is, swaths of northern Mexico are now under the control of the drug cartels and the corruption-riddled Mexican government and Army are losing the battle to oust them.

Of course, it would be profoundly troubling if there were evidence that the Mexican drug cartels were cooperating with Islamic terrorist groups. Well . . .

Washington Times: “Terrorists Teaming With Drug Cartels”

Islamic extremists embedded in the United States — posing as Hispanic nationals — are partnering with violent Mexican drug gangs to finance terror networks in the Middle East, according to a Drug Enforcement Administration report.

Have a nice day!

Irritating Phrases? I Got Your Irritating Phrases Right Here.

 Some researchers at Oxford came up with a list of what they consider to be the irritatingly overused phrases. Their top ten?

1 – At the end of the day
2 – Fairly unique
3 – I personally
4 – At this moment in time
5 – With all due respect
6 – Absolutely
7 – It’s a nightmare
8 – Shouldn’t of
9 – 24/7
10 – It’s not rocket science

These phrases are indeed tired and worn slick. But I can think of several that are much more “irritating.”  Off the top of my head, there’s:

“License and registration please.”

“Does that itch?”

“Ms. Winfrey is here to see you.”

“Yes, I’m going to finish my fries.”

“Is this your dog?”

Any suggestions of your own, dear readers?