The Blog That Almost Wasn’t

Churning out a weekly blog is not very easy.  First, you have to have an idea and then you have to already have the needed information at your fingertips or you have to be able to do the research.  Stumbling on the first can almost be a disaster as something might never get written.  Take last week for example.  I had no clue what to write about and heeding the advice of a good friend I decided it was better to say nothing than to write something that I don’t feel passionate about.

Make no mistake.  I have yet to write a blog that I didn’t feel was important if only to me.  I write because I was made to write and eventually I have to sit in front of a computer and start putting words on the screen.  Before that, when I was young, it was pen to paper.  Pen to paper has a nostalgic feel to it today.  My penmanship is truly horrible and it only can be deciphered by me, but something is inspiring to write the way Charles Dickens, JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, and Mark Twain had to write.  I was inspired to write by watching The Waltons and seeing John-Boy sitting at his desk keeping notebook after notebook filled with his journaling.  Watching him made me want to do the same and I did.

The second difficult part is research.  Now research today is much easier than when I was growing up.  We had no internet.  Very few people had an encyclopedia which was a set of books that tried to comprehensively cover every possible subject in the world.  Doing research for a school project meant doing hours in the library both at your school and the public library.  We didn’t have an encyclopedia at home but my next-door neighbor did and I would go there when I need to look something up.

Let me tell you about my next-door neighbors.  Their names were John and Mary Rainier.  But to me and only me, they were Aunt Mary and Uncle John.  Aunt Mary was a lovely lady that was a hairdresser at one time.  She would give my mom permanents whenever she needed one.  My Uncle John I really don’t know what he did for a living but he was kind to me and always had a smile and occasionally some good advice.  Aunt Mary was special.

Aunt Mary didn’t mind my friends playing in her backyard which was joined to my side yard.  She gave us taffies regularly always reminding us not to run with them in our mouths.  Advice which most of us failed to heed but luckily we never got hurt.  To me, she was a kindly aunt.  Who took me out to lunch occasionally, bought me treats, and gave me the best Christmas and birthday gifts.  I think she was giver at heart and showed her love in that way.  On my mom’s birthday, every year, she made an incredible lemon chiffon pie.  I have no idea how it was made but it was one of the most delicious desserts I have ever had and miss it even now.

I remember going to her house to use the encyclopedia.  That set of books was something precious in that house. I don’t remember ever being told to be careful with anything while visiting her, which I did often, but those books were to be handled with care and respect.  My parents even warned me before leaving my own home to be careful while using those books.  And I was.  I think my respect for all books comes from being respectful of that set of encyclopedias.  If you looked at my shelves now you would find that many of the books I own are in the same condition I bought them in.  That does not include the second-hand books I own, just the ones I bought new.  If I order a book from Amazon and it arrives damaged in any way it goes back.  I make it a point to complain because Amazon used to treat books with respect, now they just throw them loosely in a box or a puffy envelope with nothing to ensure no damage is done.  I have Amazon on speed dial because of this.

I took a detour here but research is very important to me.  I never want to present to you anything that is a fact that I haven’t checked.  My mind holds a lot of wonderful things but the details are always sketchy.  I have an Amazon Echo device that sits next to me at my desk.  The device can usually help me with dates and spelling and sometimes information that I’m missing. Using the Echo device gives me the feeling of being on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise and just asking the computer for information. Science Fiction has become science fact.  The Echo can’t give me quotes or other longer facts those I have to do a general internet search for.  I am truly grateful to Google for that.  You can find almost anything on the web.  Maybe I should try to find a recipe for lemon chiffon pie?

I feel like at least a part of all my blogs are research papers and out of respect to you dear reader, I want my facts to be accurate.  Especially when talking about my health or any other branch of science.  To give inaccurate information about anything is just wrong and if I ever do that and you catch it please contact me immediately.

This is the blog that almost wasn’t because again I don’t have a topic this week.  I have topics for future weeks that I am working on now or at least thinking about now.  We celebrate Superman’s birthday in June and the character turns 94 this year.  I hope I am around for his 100th birthday.  Judy Garland would have been 100 years old this year in June if she hadn’t died tragically in the 1960s.  Those are two of my upcoming topics.  I don’t know what else there will be.  But, there is always something exciting on the horizon or at least I believe so.

I rambled a bit today but it was good for me to remember Aunt Mary and Uncle John.  In the future, I will introduce to you various other people from my past.  My cousin Joanne, my first best friend Charlie, and my next best friend Joe.  And maybe you’ll meet my cousins and aunts and uncles all of who played and still play a big part in my life.  One day too, I would introduce you to my family, my parents, Pat and Vince Roberto,  my sisters Patty and Susan, and my brother Vince and tell you about my childhood all so long ago.

I Am A Christian

I am a Christian.  I want to get this out of the way because there seems to be some confusion about what a Christian is and what a Christian isn’t.  This blog is my unschooled attempt to explain that.  I hope you read it and share it because I believe what I have to say is important.

First what a Christian is.  A Christian is someone who has come to believe in their heart that Jesus, born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth in what we now call Israel, died for the forgiveness of our sins and was raised from the dead so that we too could share eternal life with him.

That’s it.  That is all of it.  It’s pretty easy and it is offered to every man woman and child on the planet.

Now let’s deal with some basics.  First Jesus was real.  The Bible which tells his story and many others has been proven time and time again to be historically accurate.  Several years ago a man named Lee Strobel was totally ticked off that his wife became a Christian.  He was an investigative reporter for The Chicago Tribune and had won awards for his work.  He was also a die-hard atheist. He decided to prove to his wife that Christianity was false and launched an all out investigation to prove his thoughts and to get those Crazy Christians out of his life.  Bottom line, he couldn’t do it.  He only found the historical accuracy of Jesus to be beyond dispute. He also found that Jesus was indeed one with God.  Ultimately he became a believer and wrote a book about his experience called The Case For Christ.  Read the book.  I am not here to do all the work for you.

Now you could tell me sure, “I know Jesus existed.  He was a great teacher and we should follow all that he said but he wasn’t one with God.”  This my dear friend is a faulty argument.  Here’s why.  I am going to quote a man named CS Lewis.  He was a Christian writer in the 1940s and 1950s.  He too was an atheist.  It was his friend JRR Tolkien who was a devout Catholic who presented to him an argument that he could not disprove.  After his conversion, he became one of the most prolific Christian writers of the 20th century.  You may be aware of his fantasy stories which are called The Chronicles of Nania.  He also has a  sci-fi series and a few other novels but his greatest works were the explanation of faith the greatest of these is Mere Christianity.  You can watch a great film on his conversion titled, The Most Reluctant Convert.  Did I telll you Lewis was also an Oxford professor?  This man was seriously smart.   Here is the quote it is from the book Mere Christianity.

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him [that is, Christ]: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse…. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

–C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity

I can’t put it better.  Either Jesus was who he said he was or he wasn’t.  If he wasn’t, ignore the Bible completely because it is just words on paper.  If he was I suggest you read every line.  So far I have shown you that Jesus can be proven historically real and that you have a choice to make about what to do with him.

Let’s talk about sin.  The word sin is an archery term.  It simply means missing the mark.  Or not hitting the bullseye if you will.  As we come to know God we learn that He is perfect and nothing imperfect can stand in his presence.  God created us to be perfect too and we would have been if not for the fall of man by his being disobedient to God.  In order to restore us to perfection God first set up moral laws for us to follow.  This is what Christians call The Old Testament.  Those laws can be found in the first five books of the Old Testament.  He also set up ways to atone for all the times man didn’t meet those laws.  Those were the animal sacrifices of The Old Testament.  But all through the Old Testament God makes promises that one would come that would change everything.  Those promises are called prophecies and those prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  You can read this for yourself by reading Psalm 22 in the Old Testament and then read the last few chapters of The Gospels which are titled, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the New Testament.  The comparison should amaze you considering those words were written about 2000 years apart.  Psalms first and Gospels afterward, just to be clear.

Now let’s get back to sin.  No one on this Earth except for Jesus has ever been perfect we all sin, or we all don’t hit the bullseye on a regular basis.  Committing murder is a sin.  But most of us haven’t done that.  Telling a lie is a sin and all of us have done that.  Jesus came to make us perfect in the eyes of God.  He came to take away the sins of the world.  Those sins are all forgiven, past present, and future when we accept in our hearts what Jesus did for us.  This takes faith first and foremost.  No one can pay for salvation.  It is one hundred percent free.  It’s a gift from a God who loves each and every one of us because he created and formed each and every one of us.  All artists understand this anyone who has any creative juice in them at all understands this.  When we create something, a mom who makes a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner is pleased with what she did.  A Mechanic who fixes tunes up, and details a car can probably say he loves the work that he did, what we create, what we work on we feel good about it when it comes out right.  God doesn’t make mistakes.  God made each of us and none of us is a mistake.  All of us at birth are beautiful in His sight.  But then God did something radical.  He wanted His creation to love Him and love cannot be forced on someone.  Love is a choice.  God gave us all free will to choose to love Him or to go our own way.  When we choose to seek God and love Him we will find Jesus Christ.  God is love.  If we go to the New Testament and look up the famous love definition in the Bible in First Corinthians chapter 13 we can change the word love to God and get a full picture of how much He loves us.

This is what Christianity is all about.  It’s about a God who loves us, a God who loves you my dear reader, who did all he could and gave all he had to bring his creation back to himself.  Now it’s up to us to choose.

Now here is what a Christian is not.  No Christain is to stand in judgment on any other human being.  Are there Christians that do that?  Yes!!! And they are far from God.  Many people say they do things in God’s name.  Evil things, things that make me extemely angry.  People who call themselves Christians and approve of the bombing of abortion clinics.  That’s not love.  People who go to the funerals of gay men and women to tell the family that their loved one is burning in hell.  That’s not love and that’s not the God of Christianity.  The God of Christianity tells us to do everything in love as outlined in First Corinthians 13.  I was going to make you look that up, but no.  Here is the what love is and what God is.

First Corinthians 13

 If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Charles Dickens wrote the best explanation of the people who do evil things in the name of God or Jesus in his book A Christmas Carol.  This is The Ghost of Christmas Present speaking but in some ways, he is, to me, The Christ figure in the book.

“There are some upon this earth of yours,” returned the Spirit, “who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.”

You can change the words “us” and “our” to “God” and “God’s” and you’ll see what I mean.

Here let me do it for you.

“There are some upon this earth of yours,” returned the Spirit, “who lay claim to know God, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in God’s name, who are as strange to God and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not God.”

Christians are truly a mixed bag of people.  We come in all colors.  We all are different.  Some of us smoke and drink.  Some us are straight and some of us are gay.  Some of us can cuss up a storm and some of us dance and sing and play cards.  Some of us are overweight, and yes I’m working on that and some of us are recovering addicts. Some of us are addicts, caught in a web we are looking to break free from.  We are all as different as different can be.  We are all flawed. We simply have this in common.  We found a God who loves us, we believed in Jesus who saved us and we want nothing more for those we know to come to know that same love.

Being a true Christian is all about love.

Holy Week and Health

I have written extensively on Holy Week elsewhere.  I have, however, never taken the time to introduce the life-changing possibilities that are given to us because of this week.

Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday.  I wrote a little about Palm Sunday in my article on Lent.  Palm Sunday is the remembrance of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem where he is praised and palm branches are spread on the road before him and waived in the air around him.  This is a King’s entrance into a city even if that king is riding on the back of a donkey.

We know from scripture that many things occur during this week.  Jesus cleanses the temple from money changers and teaches openly in the temple.  We know that the Jewish leaders form their plot against Jesus and we know that Judas Iscariot agrees to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. With that background, we come to Holy Thursday.

Holy Thursday has two significant events.  Or maybe three, the last supper, Jesus’ betrayal by Judas, and then his arrest in the garden of Gethsemane.

The Last Supper is the time that Jesus is the most intimate with his disciples and gives them his last instructions.  Hel also gives instructions for those who would believe in him because of the disciple’s word.  He wants his church to be one.

The Church being one is something Christians have struggled with since the reformation 500 years ago.  The Church is not one.  It is splintered into denominations and sub denominations all believing that they have the correct view of the teachings of Jesus and the writers of The New Testament.  This is much to our shame.  We all live in the same house but we divide ourselves into separate rooms rarely venturing into the other rooms.  It will be a great day when Jesus comes back and reunites us all again.

Holy Communion is established during The Last Supper.  Jesus took bread and broke it and gave it to his disciples and said, “Take and eat this is my body,”  He then took a cup of wine and blessed it and sent it around to his disciples and said, “this is my blood.”  This was to begin to make the disciples understand what was about to happen.  Jesus’ betrayal, an unjust trial, a whipping or a scrouging, and his death on the cross.  Holy Communion is a reminder of all those things to all Christians no matter their denomination.

After the supper is over Jesus takes his disciples to a garden on  the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem it is there that he prays to God that the events that are about to unfold could be passed on but he ends with “Thy will not mine be done.”  Judas then arrives with other men to arrest Jesus.  He betrays Jesus with a kiss and Jesus is led away.  Hid disciples scatter.

The illegal trial l being held in the dead of night is slow going.  No witnesses can agree.  Caiphas, The High Priest, eventually asks Jesus if He, Jesus, is the son of God, Jesus responds “I am.” This is all the disbelieving religious rulers of Jersusalem need to hear.  Caiphas proclaims blasphemy and hopes for Jesus’ death but that decision is not his to make.  Israel is held by the Roman Empire and only the Roman Governor can sentence anyone to death.  So Jesus now Jesus is brought to the Roman Quarters to find his fate which would be decided by Pontius Pilate.

Pilate can find nothing legally wrong with Jesus.  Not by Roman law.  Hoping to appease the Jews Pilate has him scrouged.  This is a whipping but the whip is made up of several leather cords.  Each cord has bits of metal and bone tied into it.  With every lash pieces of Jesus’ back start to rip off slowly exposing the muscles as his skin is shredded.  There is a belief that Jesus received only 49 lashes as Jewish law permitted fifty and the Jews stopped at 49 to not break the law.  This beating, however, was done by Romans who had no reason to obey Jewish law.  The number of lashes could have been less or more.

Jesus then appears before Pilate again and Pilate offers to set Jesus free but the Jews would have none of it shouting at the governor to crucify Jesus.  Usually a scrouging was enough.  But these people wanted blood.  When the Jews brought Caesar’s name into it saying that if Pilate did not have Jesus crucified he would be no friend to Ceasar.  Pilate had no choice it was between this man and being reported to the emperor.  Pilate washed his hands to show he had no desire to kill Jesus.  He then sent him to be crucified.

Crucifixion was a horrible way to die.  First Jesus was forced to carry the crossbeam to the place of crucifixion.  He was too weak to do this by himself due to the loss of blood and Simon was forced to help him.  When they got to the destination the beam was flung to the ground.  Jesus was roughly pushed to the ground as well and his hands were stretched out across the wooden beam and then his wrists were attached to the cross with large nails.  The beam with Jesus attached was then raised to fit into the vertical beam of the cross.  This had to be excruciating.  At this point one nail was driven through both of Jsus’ feet, which were placed one on top of the other, securing them to the cross.  The knees were left bent a little.

This happened at about the noon hour.  For three hours Jesus would hang from that cross.  In the position that he was in he couldn’t breathe and to get air into his lungs, he had to push up against the nail in his feet which hurt tremendously.  He would grab a breath and speak.  These were the seven times he spoke.  His last words were, “It is finished, Fathe into your hands I commit my spirit.”  And Jesus died.  This is Good Friday.

The Roman soldiers pierced Jesus’ side to prove he was dead and water and blood came out.  This indicated that Jesus died of a heart attack brought on by suffocation.  His body was released to Joseph of Arimathea and was placed in Joseph’s tomb in a garden not far away.  The tomb was then sealed with a huge stone and a Roman guard was posted to guard it.  Many would think this is the end of the story but it isn’t.  Jesus, on the third day in the tomb, rose from the dead.  The stone was rolled away and Jesus left the tomb and death behind him.  This is Easter Sunday.

Jesus’ death and resurrection were God’s plan to reunite the world to himself after the fall of man in the Garden of Eden.  All men sin and “fall short of the glory of God.”  God required a sacrifice to take on all of the wrath of God against sinful people.  He chose his son to make that sacrifice and in so doing set us free.  “Whoever believes in the son of God have the right to claim themselves to be children of God.”.

What to do with this.  First, you can’t dismiss it once you know it.  Jesus is either the risen son of God or a total fraud.  You can’t say he was a great teacher because of the many things he taught the central fact was he claimed to be the son of God.  He predicted he would be killed and that he would rise again.  Jesus fulfilled more than 300 prophesies from the Old Testament.  Bearing that in mind Jesus is either who he claims or he is insane but you can’t say he was a great teacher.

So the next thing to do is to decide what you will do with Jesus.  If you believe him a whole new life awaits you.  If you dismiss him you may find yourself in a place you do not want to be for all of eternity.

What does all of this have to with health and weight loss?  Quite a bit.  You see Jesus wants me to live my best life possible.  And part of that is living a healthy life. I have fallen into many bad habits that destroyed my health in many ways.  But Jesus not only saved us from our sins but he offers the inner strength to do the impossible because ‘Nothing is impossible with God.”  And I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  Jesus died on the cross and was raised from the dead for me to be the best me.  He allowed himself to die so that I could live a good and happy life.  That life includes good health and a servant’s attitude.  Being healthy and also being able to say, whenever the opportunity arises, “How can I help?” to anyone who may need help.

My health journey continues.  I have been in physical therapy for the last six weeks at Advanced Physical Therapy and Aquatics.  I am being well taken care of by Josh and Steve and the rest of the staff.  They have developed a program for me to follow that has helped me gain strength and stability in my body.  I was evaluated on the first day I was there and reevaluated yesterday.  The reevaluation showed marked improvement from where I started.  I thank God for leading me to this place and for the expert guidance of the staff.  If you live in or around the Springfield Delaware County area of Pennsylvania and you need P.T. this is the place to go.

I went to see my primary care physician today and found that I have lost two more pounds.  At first, I was disappointed, but the nurse and the doctor pointed out that it was better than nothing which is another way of saying I took two steps forward and no steps back.

Easter is a time to rejoice and there are so many things to rejoice about.  You know God in one way or another tells over 800 times in The Bible to rejoice, to be glad to be happy.  In the book of Proverbs, it says that “A merry heart is good like a medicine and a downcast spirit dries up the bones.  I think this idea has been distilled down to “Laughter is the best medicine.”  And it is!  We all go through rough times.  Times that we think we will never laugh again, that joy is impossible.  But those times don’t have to last.  You can find joy again by turning to God and turning to others.  I have found this to be the truest thing in life.  Happy Easter and may God bless us, every one.  (This applies even more at Easter than Christmas)

Suicide

It shocked me to learn, last week, of the suicide of Peter Robbins.  For those of you who don’t know who Peter Robbins is, he was the voice actor who gave life to Charlie Brown in the first Peanuts specials in the 1960s.  He also reprised his role as Charlie Brown in the first Peanuts movie, A Boy Named Charlie Brown.  Peter was 65 at the time he ended his life.  As a friend of mine put it, “I hope he found peace.”

I heard of another suicide last week as well.  This wasn’t a famous person in any way.  He was a 72-year-old he left a note that said, “He couldn’t find a path forward to happiness.”

I wish with all my heart that these men had talked to someone before they ended their lives.  Depression to the point of suicide is not rare but it should be.  No one should ever feel that alone.  No one should ever feel that taking his or her own life is the only answer.

I have been dealing with depression most of my adult life.  I believed I was unloved and useless and like the note left above, I could see no path to happiness or contentment.  Many times suicide crossed my mind.  It seemed reasonable to kill myself.  I remember plans I had for committing suicide as way back as my teenage years. I planned I would get in the shower and stab myself so there would be no mess to clean up.  I had other plans too.

I felt like a failure most of my adult life because I wasn’t living up to somebody else’s expectations of me.  I put their opinion higher than my own.  I put what they thought was right for me higher than what I thought, or even what God thought, was right for me.  This led to depression.  Low self-esteem to the point of self-hatred and then to suicidal thoughts.  This all came to a head in March of 1990.

I had been living on my own for the first time since the previous October in what was the greatest apartment in the world.  It was the top floor of a Victorian-style home with all kinds of gabled roofs and large ceilings.  There was a tiny spot with a window and a small arched ceiling that made a mini chapel.  There was another spot between two rooms with an arched ceiling with no windows that looked like a cave.  There was, also, a bathroom with an old-fashioned tub with feet.  I loved that apartment.  At the time I couldn’t drive and the apartment left me very isolated.  I rarely entertained and nobody ever called.  I felt more and more alone and those feelings turned into a deep depression.  The depression turned to suicidal thoughts.

I should have hidden my bad feelings at work, but I couldn’t, so those feelings turned to bouts of anger.  I would lash out at just about everyone.  One day I was walking to the trolley stop to go to work and I firmly decided that I would kill myself the next day if something didn’t happen in the next 24 hours.  It was a decision but it was also a prayer because it was a threat I was making to God Himself.   My boss came in and I said something nasty to her.  She got away from me as quickly as possible but soon came back and called me into her office.  She told me I was out of control and these fits of anger had to stop or I would be fired.  I asked for the rest of the day off and went home. 

I made it back to the apartment and didn’t know what to do.  So I called my friend Manny.  Manny and I had been friends for more than ten years. He was a pastor and he was the only one I could think of who might be able to help me.  And he did but it was radical.

After listening to me, praying with me, and bathing me in scripture, as he called it, he then advised me to quit my job and move in with him and his family in Syracuse NY so he could help me one on one.  And believe it or not, I did it.  I packed up and moved to Syracuse.

I spent three life-changing years in Syracuse and met some friends who will always be a part of my life.  The problem is, though I learned a lot, I was not changed when it came to depression.  This was between the years 1990 and 1993.  I came home, worked a few different jobs, and ended up back in the job that I had left.

It wasn’t long before depression took a strong grip on me again.  This time I had to mask it.  I couldn’t lose this job.  So I hid my ugly thoughts.  I had seen a video on the way The Disney Company expected their cast members (all Disney employees are cast members) to act.  While working they were to consider themselves on stage and to their customers and fellow cast members they were to be positive smiling people.  This became my work ethic.  I was working in dialysis and while on the floor with my patients I was smiling helpful and encouraging.  When I got home I fell apart and despaired.

This went on for about 4 years until I finally talked to a nurse I had been working with for years.  She told me I should see the new associate pastor at her church.  He had counseling experience and might be able to help me.  I honestly didn’t want to do it.  I agreed, but only if she made the appointment.  I figured she would forget and I would be in the clear.  She didn’t forget and, my healing journey began.

It took years.  That first counselor turned into another counselor and a psychiatrist.  I had to take medication and that had to be dosed just right.  Over the years because of changes in insurance and people moving away I have had 5 counselors and 4 psychiatrists.  My current psychiatrist handles both the talk therapy and my medications.  I was blessed by each of these people in their own way.

Thoughts of suicide still cross my mind but they are fleeting.  More like a fly I can brush away pretty quickly.  My self-esteem has gone up and I can see value in who and what I am.  I know now that I don’t have to change for anyone.  I’m OK being me.  I have family and friends who I know love me.  I may not see them as often as I would like but I know for sure they are there in times of trouble.  Just go back read my blog titled Moving Day to find out how both my family and my friends pulled together to help me.

I’m not free from depression.  I’m not sure I ever will be.  But everyone gets depressed once in a while.  I have to be aware of when my depression is justified, caused by some real and possibly fixable situation in my life, and when my depression is chemical.  The chemical depressions are the hard days.  Sometimes you just have to see them through.  Sometimes you have to talk to a friend, a family member or a professional.  Sometimes these require hospitalizations.  I have been in the hospital twice with depression.  I don’t want to go a third time.  There is no shame in needing help during these times.  Anyone who tells you there is doesn’t know what they are talking about.

I can’t stress enough that everyone begins to listen for signs of depression and possible suicide attempts.  The first part is to listen.  We all need to be heard and sometimes our own need to be heard can drown out another’s need. Listen to your friends and your family.  Don’t blow anyone off who is feeling down for whatever reason and don’t brush off their pain as something they should just “get over.”  If you don’t know what to say, acknowledge that you’ve heard them and ask what you can do to help.  If you’ve listened without interrupting you may have helped enough.

If you are having thoughts of suicide talk to somebody.  There is always someone that wants to help.  The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255.  I used to have this on speed dial at one time.  I don’t anymore.  I am proof that things do get better.

Musicologists have found that listening to the soft rock sounds of the 1970s helps with depression.  The Carpenters, The Partridge Family, Bread, Barry Manilow and so on can help stabilize your mood.  Singing along helps even more.  I have found singing Broadway songs helps me.  Especially the music of Rodger’s Hammerstein.  My Favorite Things is my go-to song as it depicts lovely things that if you can see them as you listen or sing they cannot help but make you smile.  “Raindrops on roses, and Whiskers on Kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens, Brown paper packages tied up with string, these are a few of my favorite things.  You can’t help but see these things in your mind as you sing the words and as you do, your mood will lift, maybe only little at a time, but it will lift.

To both both those who suffer from depression and to those who know someone and want to help I want to leave you with this quote from Charles Dickens from his book Doctor Margold, “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of another.”  For you who are hurting think of times, you have helped anyone.  You’re not useless.  If you can’t think of anyone go out and help somebody get out of your head and meet another’s need and you will feel better about yourself.  For those of you who are helping someone who is hurting emotionally, you have tremendous value and it is my hope that God blesses you for your kindness.

Why Culture POPS for Me

I have been in love with pop culture for as long back as I can remember.  I guess that it started with the Batman TV series which began its run in 1966.  Even before that, I loved Lucy and Jack Benny.  I grew up watching cartoons that are now forgotten Beanie and Cecil, Tobar the 8th Man, Rocket Robin Hood, and Marine Boy.  All of these fascinated me and I continually wanted more.

After a certain age, I became a walking TV guide.  I knew everything that was on and whether it was worth watching or not.  In the first grade, I fell in love with comic books, and many nights my collection of comics sat next to me in my corner of the sofa while I watched TV.

My mother loved musicals and so I was thrust into the worlds of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Loew and many others.  While reading comics I found that the characters would quote old movies or books and so slowly I began to watch old films as they showed up in the TV listings.  This was years before you could record or stream anything so if it was on that was the only chance to watch it.

I also began to read.  My mother read to me as a child.  Before bed, she read me all kinds of things until I was old enough to read for myself.  As I stated before comic book characters would quote books and I wanted to know what the quotes meant and where they came from.  I developed an early interest in Shakespeare, Greek myth, and Arthurian Legends.

I was reading well above my grade level even though you couldn’t tell that from my grades.  I began to blossom as a student when the emphasis was changed from grammar to reading classic literature.  It was then I could shine.

I don’t know what draws me to pop culture, both past, and present.  I  have written on it extensively.  Book reviews, movie reviews, and history.  In fact a couple of years ago I wrote a fascinating story about a forgotten show called The Goldbergs.  Not the new one but the show that was on the airwaves from 1929 until the 1950s.  The show was a radio show, a tv show, a play, a movie, and a musical.  And every script was written by the same woman Gertrude Berg.  She was pretty interesting too.  You can read her story here, https://pcmworldnews.com/news/2021/01/the-goldbergs-debuts-on-television-january-1949-2/.

I like to list all I could about my love of pop culture.  If you walked into my apartment you would be greeted by a bookshelf filled with books on show business of one kind or another.  The shelf is decorated with pop culture icons of the Golden age and the present age action figure of Green Lantern and The Flash.  Going further in you would find sculptures of the main characters from Kenneth Graham’s The Wind in the Willows.  Looking up you’d find peaking out of teacup Jacque and Gus the two mice from Disney’s animated Cinderella.  In my office, there is a replica of Sleeping Beauty Castle from Disneyland and it is surrounded by every character you could ever hope to meet in that place.  Even on my desk, staring at me is a small animatronic Yoda that talks when I push a button.  A small Starship Enterprise also sits on my desk right next to a Tardis from Doctor Who.  On my walls are movie posters, an authentic replica of Bilbo’s and Frodo’s sword sting along with a map of Middle Earth.  In the hallway, one wall is devoted to a map of The Magic Kingdom and the other is displayed all of the celebrity autographed photos I have collected over the years.

I have a Mickey Mouse wall clock, a Superman wall clock and on other shelves, I have a set of action figures that are the great authors including Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Dickens.  In my bedroom, there is a collection of 7-inch vinyl figures that depict most of the Justice League of America.

And that is truly only a partial run down.  Most of this stuff will mean little to those I leave behind but it does give great joy to me.  I think that is what pop culture is.  Pop culture is a bringer of joy.

Most of pop culture starts with a story.  The Greek and Norse myths as well as Arthurian legends are all stories most of which were handed down verbally until someone decided to write them down.  We wouldn’t have Grimms Fairy Tales if the two brothers didn’t travel extensively in Germany collecting the folk tales that were there.  In many ways that is the whole of pop culture.  It is the handing down of stories from one generation to the next.

The first question I have about my definition is what about music or poetry?  They are part of pop culture too.  In many ways, songs and poems and paintings and sculptures all tell stories or they are part of a story.  So they fit in the definition.

That brings me back to us.  What draws us to the movies, to TV shows and novels, and all the rest?  What draws us to stories?

The answer is simple.  We are also all stories.  Every event in our lives is a story and every moment of our lives makes up our story which is intermingled with all the other stories of the people we know.  Whether they are family or friends or even enemies we are part of their stories and they are a part of ours.

Then there is the big story.  Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage and we are but players on it.”  Shakespeare was absolutely correct.  We are all part of the biggest story ever written and it begins; “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

That statement is the beginning of all the great stories that ever happened or that ever will happen.  In some sense, it is a myth but unlike the myths of the Greeks or the Norsemen, this myth is true.  It doesn’t matter whether you believe in the big bang theory or not God,  in the beginning, created the heavens and the earth.

What does this mean for us?  It means that we are part of God’s story that we were meant to be here and that all of our lives have meaning even if we don’t see it.  It is for this reason that we go-to stories.  That we go to pop culture.  We go to these to find the meaning to our own lives and that meaning is in those stories.  I didn’t realize that The Lord of the Rings could speak to addicts until I did some digging and found that Frodo and Gollum’s passion for the ring ate away at their wills until it possessed them the way an addiction possess the addict.  Scrooge’s adventures with the three ghosts of Christmas is a mini version of therapy where you look at the past and the present to try and change the future.  The Wind in the Willows teaches us the need for solid friendships and The Secret Garden is a story that makes it clear that hard work, a solid spiritual life, and good eating cab restore health to both mind and body.

I could go on and on.  Batman is an example of the unlimited potential in every human being. Superman says it best in his slogan he is the embodiment of truth, justice, and the American way even if the American way is under scrutiny at this moment.  Our stories, our myths, our pop culture is what makes us who we are and helps us find who we can be.

CS Lewis was an unbeliever until one fateful day he was having a discussion with his friend JRR Tolkien and another and in that discussion, Tolkien pointed out that Lewis loved the old stories the myths of the ancients but he said that The Gospel was a myth too.  Only it was the one true myth.  The one true story, the one true part of pop culture or any culture that makes sense of all the rest.

If you don’t know who CS Lewis is…well, that’s another story.

Christmas 2021

I am not a poet.  As I assume all writers do I dabbled in poetry.  I went into fields and climbed trees and looked for inspiration in all the usual places I imagined poets would
go to find their muse.  I never found mine except once.

It was 1979 not long before Christmas when I realized I had no money to give my folks a Christmas gift that year.  It was my first semester in college and as all college students are, I was broke.  I thought and thought and slowly an idea came to mind.  I would write a poem.  Initially I must have thought it would be a Christmas poem, but it turned into something slightly more elaborate.  I wrote the poem, bought some poster board and hand printed it out with some small amount of artwork for the borders.  I was no great poet, but I was and am an even worse artist.  Still, it was a heartfelt gift and I present it to you now as I presented it to my parents as a Christmas gift.

Jesus

They say he was born in Beth’lem town,

And on that night there was the sound,

Of trumpets from the heavenly host,

And in all this the saints would boast.

He grew up alongside men,

Who in their sight he would begin,

A ministry of peace and light,

And leading people toward the right.

For three short years he labored strong,

And taught the people to go along,

A path of wisdom both just and bright,

To walk not in darkness but in light.

The leaders feared what this man taught,

And in their fear a man they bought,

A follower to betray the lord,

For they knew he feared no earthly sword.

They hung him on a wooden cross,

And men believed that they had lost,

A friend much closer than a brother,

Their only friend man had no other.

He died upon that cross so high,

And they placed him in a tomb nearby,

They placed him there while women moaned,

Then covered the entrance with a stone.

For three long days he lay there dead,

The world lost hope and all men said,

That he was good and just and wise,

But like all men he had to die.

But on the third day God shook the earth,

And when the stone rolled from its berth,

He rose again then into life,

And took away all pain and strife.

The world for long awaited this,

For this man he brought a gift,

Of everlasting life for us,

If in Him we put our trust.

As I have stated in other places you can’t have Christmas without Easter.  If Easter did not happen then there would be no reason to celebrate the birth of Christ.  We would still be partying in one way or another.  After all, Christmas did replace the roman feast of Saturnalia.  And that feast had parties and bringing in the green form outside, as well as gift giving.  But the church, as her job, redeemed the pagan holiday and its customs and turned it into one of the most beautiful times of the year. It makes us know that we are loved and somehow instils in us the need to love and help others.  As Dickens wrote it is “a time when want is keenly felt and abundance rejoices.”

Dickens further writes in A Christmas Carol.

“I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come around, apart from it’s sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it could be apart from that, as a good time, a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time.  The only time in the whole calendar of the year when and women, seem by one consent, to open their shut-up hearts freely and to think of people below them as fellow passengers to the grave and not another race of creature bound on other journeys.  And therefore, uncle though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe it has done me good and will do me good and so I say God Bless it.”

This was speech given to Scrooge by his nephew in A Christmas Carol.  Very few stage or screen productions ever let the actor have the whole speech but in those words is the true meaning and heart of Christmas.

Earlier this week a fellow Christmas Carol fan, Michael Castellano wrote a poem that embodies the whole story of A Christmas Carol.  He did this all-in-one day and I think it’s pure genius.  With his permission I present it to you now.

My Carol

A chill to my Christmas

with harsh blowing winds,

I’m mean and I’m ornery

when my story begins.

My hearts made of stone

I may never reform,

and to be quite honest

I should have never been born.

Money and power is all that I crave

and my earthly delights,

will end soon

at the grave.

Bah Humbug to Christmas

with its tinsels and lights,

my hatred is strong

where others delight.

my partner in life

has returned from the grave,

“I’ve come here to assist you

your soul I’ll help save.”

You’ll be visited by three spirits

you’ve nothing to dread

they’ll take you on journeys

from the foot of your bed.

The first spirit came

with a bright shining light,

to show me my past

on this cold winters night.

We visited scenes

from my boyhood at school,

where I sat all alone

with a spoon and some gruel.

Then on to the Fezzywigs’

with their great Christmas fete,

with plenty to drink

and abundance to eat.

The love of my life

my very own Belle,

she had me entranced

I fell under her spell.

But greed overtook me

I lost at loves game,

now everything’s different

and nothings the same.

The spirit soon left me

as the city clock struck two,

where I met a gentle giant

who sipped a strange brew.

” Come know me better!”

he said with a laugh,

a crown of live holly

adorned his large staff.

with a touch of his robe

such a soft gentle touch,

we flew over mountains

to a boy with a crutch.

He showed me my life

and my cold frozen heart,

although I saw much

it was only a start.

The giant soon left me

at the end of his haunt,

but inside his robe

I saw ignorance and want.

The last of the spirits

appeared from the mist

a silent spirit

my life to assist.

He showed me my future

my life at its end,

he scared me this spirit

but he was truly a friend.

My name on the grave

I was truly alone,

“I’ll change” I cried

please don;t leave me alone.

Now I’m a new man

the old man is dead,

I’ll help Mr Cratchit

and a visit to Fred.

I’ve finished my story

I’m finally done,

so Merry Christmas to all

and God Bless Us Everyone.

If you have no time to read A Christmas Carol or watch one of the film adaptations, you at least have this poem.

One more note about A Christmas Carol.  I have a tradition of reading the book every year.  I start at night on the 21st reading the First Stave Dickens uses the word Stave instead of Chapter in his book as it is a musical term meaning the verse of a song.  For the next three nights, I read a single Stave usually right before bed.  On the 25th Christmas morning I read The Final Stave entitled The End of It and live with Scrooge all the joy he found that Christmas morning.  For me, it’s a meaningful and touching way to read the classic.  It’s also something a family could do together.

One last thought before leaving you.  Several years ago I was working in dialysis at a local hospital and one of the docs gave me and the rest of the unit employees a little card with a free verse poem on it.  It was beautiful and very timely, and it is a reminder that the celebration of Christmas is only the beginning.  That little card did not have the author’s name, but I found that out recently and I present the poem to you as a last gift of Christmas.

The Work of Christmas

When the star is the sky is gone,

When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flocks,

The work of Christmas Begins:

To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace among the people,

To make music in the heart.

  • Howard Thurman

The Holiday Season

The holiday season is now upon us.  If you are like everybody else you face the next 6 weeks or so with a mixture of Joy and Dread.  I hope that the joy will outweigh the dread but for many, this is not the case.

Why do we allow the most joyous time of year to become a burden?  Why do the stores dress for Christmas before we’ve gotten rid of the last bite of Halloween candy?  I blame President Roosevelt.

Before WW2 no one thought about Christmas until about a week before. The Holiday Season began on December the twenty-fifth, Christmas Day, and ended on January sixth, The Feast of The Epiphany, the celebration of when the Wisemen came to Bethlehem.  So all the fun stuff we do now, before the 25th, like Christmas Parties and multiple family visits were all done after the 25th.  There was even a party held on the eve of The Epiphany called a 12th Night Party and people would gather to play games and sing songs and enjoy themselves.  This 12th-night party is mentioned in Stave 3 of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol when Scrooge is visited by The Ghost of Christmas Present.  Twelfth Night should remind you of the song The Twelve Days of Christmas because those were the 12 days that are mentioned in the song.  The time between December 25th and January 6th.

President Roosevelt changed that with a very small snowball that rolled downhill and turned into a snow monster.  He asked that everyone do their Christmas shopping extra early so that packages being mailed to soldiers either here or overseas would arrive before Christmas,  This was a great idea for the soldiers but it turned into what we have now.  Roosevelt even tried to move Thanksgiving from the fourth Thursday in November to the third to allow people more time to shop,  Thankfully he did not succeed in this endeavor.

If you watch the I Love Lucy Christmas show you’ll notice that they don’t get a tree until Christmas Eve or decorate at all.  Black Friday, the big sale day after Thanksgiving, did not begin its yearly craziness until the 1950s and then grew stronger thru the 60s and seventies.  Now Black Friday can either make or break many businesses.

The history of Black Friday has nothing to do with retail.  How retail adapted the name seems shrouded in mystery.  Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving was given its name by Philadelphia Policemen.  In the early days of football, the Army-Navy game was played on the day after Thanksgiving.  This would bring many visitors and tourists to Philadelphia.  This caused the police departments to have their officers work overtime and pull extra shifts at a time when the rest of the country was taking a break.  So the Philadelphia cops named the day Black Friday.

And with a Bang Christmas is upon us.  If you live in the most typical of North American homes you don’t even get a chance to enjoy your Thanksgiving leftovers before the shopping frenzy starts.  As the years have gone by this frenzy has gotten worse.  This year the stores are claiming you’d better get all your shopping done immediately or the gifts you want to buy won’t be available with our current worker shortage.  In times past the big stores and malls were opening at Midnight on Black Friday or any early hour of the morning.  I remember back in the early days of early store openings going with my brother-in-law to Best Buy and waiting in quite a line for a 6 a.m. opening.  The doors opened and insanity struck.  People pushing and pulling and even slamming folks into other aisles to get to the sale item they wanted.  I never went to an early opening again.

The message seemed to be “Thanksgiving is over now let’s kill each other.”  This is not the message of Thanksgiving or the message of Christmas.

Maybe it’s time to start slowing down.  Yes, there is a lot of preparation for Christmas but do we have to begin that preparation on Black Friday?  I want our retail stores to have great Christmas sales, but they can get our money a few days or even weeks later.  We will buy gifts and shop just not that day.  I think we should have Blue Friday.  In fact, Sky Blue Friday.

On Sky Blue Friday we take up where we left off on Thanksgiving.  On Thanksgiving, we gave thanks to God and maybe to the people who made our lives a little better or helped us through hard times our focus was outward.  Not thinking about ourselves but of God and other people.  On Sky Blue Friday I believe we should look inward.  It has been said that an “unexamined life is not worth living,” yet many of us rarely take the time to examine where we are or who we are.  We don’t ask if who we are is who we want to be?

Self-examination can be hard but it is also a gift we can give ourselves.  In Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is forced to examine his own life by looking at his past, seeing his present, and getting a glimpse of what his future would be if he persisted in his present course.  On Sky Blue Friday we should do the same examine our past and present and see where our current, attitudes, beliefs, jobs, work ethic, relationships, and hobbies may be leading us.  If all is well then there is nothing to do if all is NOT well then we need to determine what changes need to be made and make them.

Black Friday being replaced by Sky Blue Friday can lead us right into the next part of the holiday season, Advent.  Advent is the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day.  It is celebrated in Churches as the four Sundays before Christmas.  More often than not the first Sunday of Advent will fall on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  The traditional Advent Calendars that you buy in the store with the little windows that open up begin on December first but that is not the Advent season.

Advent is a special time.  At Easter, we go through Lent and in some way try to participate in the sufferings of our savior.  In Advent, we are looking forward to the coming of our Savior, and this is with great excitement and joy because we know what he brings will be good.  For the Christian, we look to the past for the birth of Jesus into this world and to the future for his promised return.

Advent is a time of preparation.  Many churches have Advent Wreaths as part of the season but this is also something you can do with your family or even by yourself.  Advent candles and wreaths are available on Amazon or you could easily make one yourself with fresh evergreen branches some wire and candle holders.  You can check out the Gospel for each day on the liturgical calendar.  Both Catholics and Protestants use this calendar.  On the first Sunday of Advent, you light the first candle read that day’s Gospel, and say a short prayer.  Maybe even sing some carols or turn on the Christmas Music.  Then each of the following days you do the same reading the Gospel for the day.  If you want to make it simpler there are many advent devotionals you can use if the liturgical calendar isn’t for you.

This is a great way to spend Advent it will slow you down and it will help you focus on what we are really celebrating.  If you’re reading this and you are not a Christian do this anyway.  There are a lot of bad things being said about Christians these days and most of them are false.  If you prepare for Christmas this way you’ll get a taste of who Jesus was and is and it may make your celebration even more joyful.  You may find yourself wanting to know more about Jesus.

Speaking of Joy, did you know that the song Joy to the World is not actually a Christmas song.  It’s not about Jesus first coming over 2000 years ago, although we sing it with that in mind.  The lyricist’s intention was this song to herald the second coming of Jesus.  This is the song we will be singing when Christ comes back as he promised he would.  Now we sing it in anticipation of that event.

There are so many ways to slow down in this upcoming season.  Take in a concert, See a production of A Christmas Carol.  There will be a whole lot about A Christmas Carol in an upcoming Blog.  Better yet read A Christmas Carol.  The book has so much more than any filmed version.  I haven’t forgotten Thanksgiving.  Here’s a last word.  God gives us the sunshine and the rain.  He makes the crops grow and so supplies us with food.  He gave us life and each of our lives is precious to Him.  When you sit down with whomever you share Thanksgiving with or if you are by yourself take one second, a moment and remember all He has done.

Thanks for reading and Happy Thanksgiving!

Magic

Magic!  What an amazing word and there is so much meaning in those five simple letters.  There is the “magic” in a child’s eyes when they spy the gifts under the tree at Christmas.  There is the “magic” that a stage magician conjures up by diverting us and seemingly makes impossible things happen.  There is the scary “magic” that real witches perform or at least claim to perform by casting spells and make potions and charms.  Then there is the fictional “magic”, the magic of The Lord of the Rings, Bewitched, The Wizard of Oz, The Chronicles of Narnia and the Harry Potter series, this is the magic I’m going to focus on today.  This is my own history of magic.

I guess my first exposure to fictional magic would have been the television show Bewitched starring Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York as well as the amazing Agnes Morehead.  The premise of the series was that a mortal Darin Stevens marries a witch a fact that he is unaware of until after the marriage takes place.  When he finds out he forbids her to use her powers in the house and of course this is impossible especially with his wife’s family of witches and warlocks always at hand.  This show was cute and funny and stayed on the air for several years even after having the original Darin replaced by another actor.

The next bit of magic would have been when I was introduced to the classic film The Wizard of Oz.  The Wizard of Oz is based on the children’s book written by L Frank Baum and published on March 17, 1900.  It quick became a childhood classic and Baum would go on to write fourteen more Oz books.  These could have made a great movie series but for some reason MGM, the studio that produced the original film, made the adventures of Dorothy trying to find her way home. A dream, so no future films could be done.

There seems to be certain films everyone is afraid to touch because they are perfect the way they are.  The Sound of Music, Funny Girl, Gone with the Wind, and The Wizard of Oz are four of those.  People have tried to do sequels to Oz, but they all pale in comparison the original movie which was almost flowless in its making.

The Wizard of Oz in the 60s became a yearly treat that families would gather around their television sets to watch around the Easter holiday.  My family was no exception and I remember being little and hiding behind my father whenever The Wicked Witch of The West would make her appearance.  There wasn’t a lot of magic actually done in The Wizard of Oz.  Dorothy gest to Oz by tornado.  She walks to The Emerald City and meets non-human creatures and talking animals but the only magic that is actually performed is Glinda magically having the Ruby Slippers appear on Dorothy’s feet, The Wicked Witch conjuring the poppy field and Glinda creating the snow that destroys the poppies effects.  Of course, Glinda makes her appearances in a magic bubble and The Wicked Witch rides a broom stick but that’s about it.  To compare the two there was more magic in a half hour of Bewitched than there was in the full-length movie of The Wizard of Oz.

But Oz was magical in an of itself.  A talking Scarecrow, Tinman and Lion as well as talking apple trees and colors that were brighter and more beautiful than in our own gray world made this movie a delight for our senses.  And at the end of the 1930s when America was just coming out of the depression but was on the brink of another world war, that kind of beauty and unreality was much needed by children and adults.

My next stop in my magical tour must be Neverland.  I was introduced to Peter Pan fairly young.  My mother was a big fan of musicals and when Peter Pan starring Mary Martin was aired on television in the early 60s it was a family event.

Peter Pan began as a nonmusical stage play by JM Barrie.  Mr. Barrie based his play on his relationship with three young boys and the games they would play.  Peter Pan opened in 1904 and did very well.  Mr. Barrie was already a celebrated playwright, but Peter Pan elevated him to an immortal status and is the only thing still remembered today.  Peter became so famous that Barrie, told everyone to watch Kensington Gardens for a surprise on a certain date and when London woke up that morning there was the magnificent statue of Peter in the gardens.

It was in 1911 that Barrie published the novel that told the story of his play for all the world.  He titled the novel Peter Pan and Wendy, and it is still enjoyed by people today.

Peter Pan is a difficult role, and it was decided early on that a child could not handle the work in a full length play so a woman has been traditionally cast as Peter.  In recent times in cartoons and films as well as some stage production this has changed but more often than not Peter is still played by a woman.

Peter Pan has very little magic.  In fact, the only magic we see is Peter teaching the children to fly.  We know there are fairies as Tinker Bell is a main character in the play and we know that is by thinking good thoughts and the use of fairy dust that we can learn to fly.  Bu that is the extent of the observable magic in the play.

Let’s talk about flying.  When Barrie first opened his play in 1904 Peter had only one requirement to fly.  You had to think good thoughts.  Many children left the theater with that idea in their heads and soon found themselves jumping off roofs and out of windows thinking they would fly.  This of course caused some injuries but as far as I know no life was lost.  On learning this Barrie modified his play to add fairy dust to the flying equation and the attempts ceased.  I believed a similar situation occurred in 1964 when Disney released Mary Poppins and Mary seemed to fly by umbrella to the front door of the Bank’s home.  I know my friends and I spent some time jumping from steps with an umbrella in hand, but we never got air born.

Neverland is a magic place.  It is inhabited by fairies, and mermaids.  We know from the play that it is Spring, summer, Winter and Fall all at the same time on different parts of the island.  Peter describes it as crammed with hardly any room between one adventure and another.  And of course, if you go there as a child, you never grow up.  There is magic in the very soil of Neverland.

I was transported as a child to Neverland in my dreams.  Not long after seeing the Mary Martin TV special I brought to see the Disney version of the classic story.  The problem with Disney and Miss Martin’s work is that they watered the story down quite a lot.  They took out the scary stuff and so missed some of the best parts.  In time I grew to love the book that Barrie wrote mush more than the film versions.  To this day no one has written Peter the way Barrie did.  I would love to see new stage production that left it all intact.

The fantasy that taught me how to think would begin and end with The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.  The Phantom Tollbooth is about a bored little boy whose name is Milo.  Milo has no interest in anything until one day a mysterious box appears in his room.  The box contains a life size toy toll booth which Milo proceeds to put together.  When it’s completed Milo gets into his toy electric car and drives thru into The Land Beyond.  

Milo’s adventures in the Lands Beyond are filled with strange creatures that are magical in some ways but they only way to deal with them is to think.  There is the land of the doldrums where you get very sleepy, and can get yourself killed if you don’t wake up and begin to think your way out by reciting poetry and equations as well as using your imagination.  Milo is saved from The Doldrums by Tok a watchdog.  This is a large dog that has a clock built into his side and he guards time he especially is after those who waste time.

Milo is told the story of the Lands Beyond and knows that there are problems there that could be solved if the Princesses Rhyme and Reason could be rescued from the castle in the clouds which must be gotten to through by way of The Mountains of Ignorance. This stuff is great.  He must first get permission to save them from the warring kings of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis the kingdoms or Words and Numbers.  The kings hate each other even though they are brothers because they each believe that their own kingdom is better than the other.  In other words, words are better than numbers and numbers are better than words.

Milo has many adventures in The Lands Beyond and meets many strange creatures including a Spelling Bee and a Humbug but he eventually reaches the princesses and rescues them through the power of thinking.  When he returns home, he has a new lease on life and is no longer bored as there is always something new to learn.  This is a lesson many adults could use right now.

As I grew up so did my magic stories.  First there was my comic book heroes.  Doctor Strange from Marvel Comics and Doctor Fate from DC.  Doctor Fate came first and made his first appearance in the early 1940s in the pages of More Fun Comics.  He is Kent Nelson who, as a boy, finds The Helmet of Nabu an ancient Egyptian wizard, when he puts the helmet on, he becomes Doctor fate with all kinds of magic abilities.  Doctor Fate would fade away with the rest of the comic book heroes in the early 1950s as discussed in earlier blogs.  He would return the 1960s in the pages on The Justice League of America when DC Comics rebirths The Justice Society in the pages of that magazine.  He would eventually get his own title for a short while but for the most part remain a supporting character in the comic book universe.  With the popularity of the television series Stargirl and the reemergence of The Justice Society Doctor Fate may soon make a return.

Doctor Strange made his first appearance in Strange Tales and remains a favorite character of mine to this day.  Steven Strange is a surgeon, skilled and vain about those skills.  He cares only for money and little for the actual people he treats. An accident renders his hands useless and in seeking a cure he becomes a penniless derelict.  His search continues, however, and he makes it to Tibet where he hears of a man known as The Ancient One who may be able to help him.  He seeks The Ancient One out and finds him only discover that it is sorcery that the Ancient One believes can cure Strange.  Strange, being a man of science, rejects this and decides to leave only to discover that the Ancient One’s disciple Murdo is going to kill The Ancient One.  Strange attempts to warn the old man only to be stopped by a spell put on him by Murdo.  The Ancient One saves both Himself and Strange and Strange becomes the new disciple.  After years of training Doctor Strange become The Master of the Mystic Arts and a main player in the Marvel Comics and Cinematic Universe.

My journey in fictional magic continued.  The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Magic Kingdom of Landover, The Belgariad and The Harry Potter books all added to my magical fun and adventure.

Why does magic entice all of us so much?  Why does the idea of conjuring strike our imaginations so hard?  I think the answer lies in what CS Lewis once said.  Lewis, the author of the Narnia books said “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”  And we were made for another world.  When God created us in The Garden of Eden, he created us in a perfect world and was grooming us to be like him.  He wasn’t looking for slaves or he wouldn’t have given us the ability to choose.  But the ability to choose comes with consequences.  Adam and Eve were told they could do whatever they wanted except to eat from the fruit of one tree.  They couldn’t accept that one rule and so were banished from a perfect world into this one.  And here we remain as Lewis calls us, the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve.

But God left in us a desire for our true home.  He gave us glimpses of that home in our imaginations and in the many books of fantasy that have been written.  Whether you are a fan of The Shire or Shangri La, or Neverland or Oz all of those places are glimpses of Eden our true home and the place we all long for.

The thing is we have another act of God where in we can begin to get Eden back.  God sent his son Jesus to pay for the sins of Adam and all the rest of us.  Jesus’ death on the cross and his ultimate resurrection pave the way to the real place of magic known as Eden or Heaven.  To return to that place God asks only one thing from us and that is to believe that Jesus died and was resurrected for us.  That’s it.  This is what Tolkien called “the one true myth.” No great acts of heroism or penance are required just belief that in the work God has done.  Will our lives change after that?  Yes, they will but the change will come not as an act of payment but as an act of gratitude that comes from believing in this amazing gift.  It would be the same way you would act toward the person who showed up at your door with the keys to a brand-new house or a car.  Just handed those keys to you and said enjoy it.  We would go out of our way to show our gratitude.  This is why our lives change when we understand what God has done for us.

I will continue to enjoy the fantasy worlds that are so much a part of my life.  These worlds have added color and excitement and mystery to this existence, but they have also been a pointer.  Little by little they pointed me back to Eden and to God.

Mystery

I remember being in Beverly Hills Junior High School and going to Seller’s Memorial Library for the first time.  Seller’s is the main branch of the Upper Darby Township Library System and is one third an old Victorian type house and the rest a modern building attached to the house.  It’s a pretty cool piece of architecture.

Beverly Hills Junior High School was only a short walk to and from the library.  My house was nowhere near the main branch, and I wanted to go because I was on a quest.  So, after school one day I walked to the library in search of mystery.

The year was 1974 and Murder on the Orient Express had made a huge impact as a film starring Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot and a host of other A-list stars including Lauren Bacall and Ingrid Bergman.  I saw the film and fell in love with it.  I was already an enthusiastic reader and wanted anything and everything by Agatha Christie.

I started with my school library at first, but I don’t remember finding very much there.  Junior High School English had already introduced me to Sherlock Holmes, but I wasn’t ready to commit fully to Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective yet, I would in the years to come.  I wanted Mrs. Christie.

So, one late afternoon in 1974 I found myself fully engaged in the mystery section of my hometown’s biggest library.  I was combing my way through the stacks looking at title after title when an older gentleman approached me and asked what I was doing in that section.  I was a little bewildered.  It’s not like I was in some sort of X-rated area of the library so I stammered out some kind of answer and he replied that this section was for older people, and I should look for books somewhere else.  To quote Hermione Granger of Harry Potter fame, “What an idiot.”

Needless to say, I didn’t listen to him and went on with my search much to his annoyance.  I don’t know what I went home with that day, but my guess is it was And Then There Were None, probably the most famous of all Mrs. Christie’s works.  When I opened up that book, I opened up a whole new world of mystery one that I still live in.

Murder on the Orient Express and And Then There Were None were my first two trips into adult mystery, but my love of mystery goes back to my grade school days when I was reading Encyclopedia Brown and The Hardy Boys.  For those of you who are unfamiliar, Encyclopedia Brown was a series of short stories where all the clues were laid out in a pretty obvious way.  The reader was challenged to solve the mystery themselves before looking at how the hero, Encyclopedia Brown, solved it.  The books were fun but, in many ways, they were a one-time only read because after the mystery was solved there was no point in going back. 

The Hardy Boys were a different story, they were probably another level up.  The adventures of Frank and Joe Hardy solving mysteries in their hometown or in exotic locations were the stuff of fifth and sixth grade fantasies and doing it with your brother made it even better.  I’ve mentioned my cousin Steve before.  It was his library, that he left at home, that also introduced me to The Hardy Boys.  The first book I read was called While the Clock Ticked.  My aunt made me give this one back too, but I started my own collection after that and read several of the books in the next few years.

I stayed with Miss Christie for a long time, as if she were the only mystery writer worth paying attention to.  There was reason for this.  She wrote so many novels that you just don’t know when to stop and enjoy other authors.  Mrs. Christie had a whole stable of detectives that she created, and they were all worth reading.  Besides Hercule Poirot there is Miss Jane Marple and Tommy and Tuppence Beresford to name her most famous.  There were also her standalone books such as The Pale Horse and Endless Night all totaled Mrs. Christie wrote 82 detective Novels.  I have no idea how many short stories and several plays.  She was and is the queen of mystery.

Other author’s and movies would come along as I got older.  Soon I began to notice other detectives in novels and movies.  In 1934 Dashiell Hammett published his novel The Thin Man with the crime solving detectives Nick and Nora Charles.  This was not the first husband and wife detective team.  Agatha Christie was first with Tommy and Tuppence Beresford.  Tommy and Tuppence were middle class when pitted up against Nick and Nora.

The Thin Man was soon scooped up by MGM and immediately and made into a popular film starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora.  Though filmed in black and white the film showed the opulence of upper-class New York because Nick and Nora Charles were very wealthy.  This was the exact opposite of what most Americans were living like at the time. And because of the opulence and the devil may care attitude of the leading players The Thin Man became very popular and a series of films, totaling six, was produced from 1934 to 1947.

Mysteries were popular on both sides of the Atlantic and though we started with Agatha Christie we must now go back in time the great Victorian era.  London was gaslights and fog.  The English countryside was speckled with large estates nestles against mysterious moors.  And one man walked through those mysteries into international fame, the great Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes first appeared in The Strand Magazine in 1887 in a story titled A Study in Scarlett.  He was creation of Arthur Conan Doyle.  The story goes that Doyle, who was a doctor, did not have a very busy practice so to pass the time he created Sherlock, Doctor Watson.  It is said that there are three characters every child knows, Mickey Mouse, Superman and Sherlock Holmes.

In the Sherlock Holmes canon, there are 4 novels and 56 short stories that Doyle originally wrote.  After Doyle came many who tried to emulate Doyle’s style, and some came close.  There is The Seven Percent Solution by Nicholas Mayer and most recently a whole series of Holmes books which are surprisingly good, written by Kareem Abdul Jabaar.  But there are probably 100s of other authors who have taken up the pen to write further stories of the great detective.

After the popularity of the Holmes stories Doyle himself got a little tired of writing about his detective and had him killed in a story called The Final Problem.  The public outcry was so great and the national mourning so sincere for a fictional character, that Doyle brought him back first in The Hound of the Baskervilles which took place before his death and then he resurrected Holmes in a story titled The Empty House.  Holmes had never actually been dead but had faked his death to make himself scarce to those who still wanted to kill him.  Sherlock Holmes is now part of our great arts culture.  He will continue to be loved and to be enjoyed for generations to come.

One of my favorite detectives that I have discovered in the last couple of decades is the wonderful Nero Wolfe.  Wolfe aided by his handsome, man about town assistant Archie Goodwin was created in 1934 by Rex Stout.  He would go on and publish about a book a year until 1975.  There are 33 novels and 41 novellas and short stories in the Nero Wolfe canon.  I have read about thirty percent of the novels and have enjoyed each of them.

Nero Wolfe lives in an NYC brownstone house in the heart of metropolis.  He weighs a quarter of a ton and rarely leaves his home unless under extreme compunction to do so.  He solves his mysteries in a great desk chair built especially for him and has all the leg work dome for him by Archie Goodwin.  The Wolfe stories are told in first person from Archie’s point of view.  Wolfe, in today’s language would be called a foodie and takes great delight in being involved in the preparation and the consumption of his meals. He has chef/butler that lives with him as well as a gardener who manages his large collection of Orchids that are kept at the top of the house in the plant rooms.  Some of his greatest stories are centered around the office, the plant rooms, or his meals.  For those who desire to eat like Nero Wolfe there was even A Nero Wolfe Cookbook that was published many years ago and is still available today.

Nero Wolfe was not left off of film. There is one movie I know of and two TV series.  The best television series was done in the early 2000s and starred Maury Chaykin as Nero Wolfe and Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin.  These shows kept very close to the source material and are fun to watch.  The producers decided to hire a company of actors that worked across all the shows playing different parts.  In some of the shows the performances are so good you don’t realize you had seen the performer in a different role the week before.  These shows can be found on YouTube to watch for free.

To delve into humorous mystery, we are going to make one stop.  The Polly Pepper Mysteries.  There are four books in The Polly Pepper series.  Remains to be Scene, Final Curtain, A Talent for Murder and Set Sail for Murder all written by Richard Tyler Jordan.  Mr. Jordan worked in Hollywood for a long time and his books are riddled with caricatures of famous celebrities.  Half the fun of reading his books is trying to guess who the real people are behind the characters.  The Polly Pepper book have been described as a cross between Carol Burnett and Murder She Wrote.  Polly Pepper herself is an out of work actress who once had her own wildly popular variety show.  She knows and schmooses with the best of Hollywood but when a murder gets committed leave it to Polly to solve the crime with the help of her openly and well-loved gay son and an outspoken maid.  The books are a hoot and should be on the shelf of every mystery loving fan.  Here’s to hoping Mr. Jordan decides to take up the pen and give us more Polly adventures.

Most of the detectives I’ve written about went from page to screen but there is one that took the opposite route and went from screen to page.  That would be Jessica Fletcher and the television show Murder She Wrote.  Murder She Wrote starred Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher a retired schoolteacher and widow living in the fictional town of Cabot Cove Maine.  We are introduced to Jessica as her nephew has secretly submitted her murder mystery book to a publisher.  The book is excepted and becomes a best seller.  Jessica is pinned in the spotlight and whisked off to New York City to meet her publisher and to solve her first murder.  Murder She Wrote gave the audience the chance to solve the mystery and entertained television viewers for twelve seasons.  It had many celebrity guest stars including Florence Henderson, Shirley Jones, Van Johnson, and June Allison. 

Not long after the show started a series of books began to be published supposedly written by Jessica herself.  These are told in the first person as if Jessica is speaking to us.  The books are very good and keep the flavor and the pace of the TV show.  Murder She Wrote had stopped new TV episodes several years ago.  New books come out regularly.

Charlotte and Thomas Pitt are the creation of Ann Perry and began their adventures in 1979 in the book The Cater Street Hangman.  The stories take place in Victorian London where Thomas is a police detective.  Charlotte, his wife always finds a way or stumbles into his investigations. 

These books aren’t just telling mysteries.  Miss Perry has all her characters grow.  There is a regular cast of recurring supporting characters that you begin to care about as much as Charlotte and Thomas.  In the first book Thomas meets Charlotte in the second they are married as the series continues; they have children.  These books don’t just tell of the solving of a good case but also are the story of a family.

In recent years there have been several new detectives that come at solving crime through cooking up delicious food.  These books are three quarters story and maybe one quarter or less cookbook.  The best of these are The Hannah Swensen series by Joanna Fluke.

Hannah is a caterer in Aspen Colorado when meet her in The Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder.  She is divorced but is doing quite well on her own serving up meals to the Aspen elite.  In this series the characters also grow as Hannah meets new people falls in love and starts a new family. All of this takes place over several delectable tales.  The latest is the series is The Triple Chocolate Cheesecake Murder.  The recipes in these books are usually easy to follow and fun to try.

Mystery!  Why do we love these stories of who dun it?  It is kind of odd that we take delight in murder.  Or is it possible that we don’t delight in the murder as much as we delight in the solving of the puzzle?  All murder mysteries are puzzles and the pieces are all laid out before you to find if they seem obscure.  These mysteries may be a metaphor for life.  After all we start asking questions and trying to solve the mystery of our existence almost as soon as we can talk.  What parent doesn’t cringe a little when their three-year-old asks, “Where did I come from?”  No parent is going to give a technical answer regarding sex so other answers are given that a child can appreciate, but the question remains.  Where did I come from?  It soon turns into why am I here?  Is there a God what does that mean for me?

We all ask these questions.  And we spend our lives trying to find out the answer.  I think mysteries are there to tell us that the answers are there if me choose to seek for them.  There is a meaning and a purpose for every person born on this planet.  The hard part is that no one can tell you the answers to your questions at least not the most basic ones.  You must seek those answers out on your own.  I think mysteries tell us that there are answers to all questions.  I think mysteries give us hope.

Peanuts

Peanuts

On the 19th of September Linus Van Pelt turned 69 years old.  I know this because the Charles Schulz Museum put a special post on Facebook reminding me of my favorite Peanut’s character’s birthday.  They also ran the first strip.  In that historic strip Linus is still in diapers and hasn’t even learned to walk yet.  But that uniquely shaped head and the scraggly hair definitely told you that this was Linus.

That’s true of all The Peanut’s characters.  If you go back and look at the original strips, they look remarkably different than what they would be in ten years’ time.  Ten years after that they would change a little more but not by much. Even the characters would change.  In the first strip which was dated October 5, 1950, we see three characters two of which are all but forgotten today.  Shermy, who is always the shepherd in A Charlie Brown Christmas, Patty (not Peppermint) a blond-haired girl who be most often seen with Lucy, and Charlie Brown.  These three were the center for awhile but slowly the cast would grow as Snoopy, Lucy, Linus, Peppermint Patty Marcy, and Franklin would all join the cast as well as a host of other characters.

Charles M Schulz was a genius born in 1922 and died in 2000.  For fifty of those years from 1950 until 2000 Schulz wrote and illustrated every Peanuts strip.  If he took a vacation, he wrote strips 2 or three weeks in advance.  Not one line of a pen or one word came from anybody else.  Every strip was pure Schulz.

That’s not to say he didn’t take ideas from those around him.  Watching his own children grow gave Schulz much fodder for his strip.  Watching them at play or what they were learning in school or how they got things mixed up was him plenty of ideas.  He took outside advice to and when an African American lady wrote him asking him to put an African American child in his strip, he took the advice and Franklin was born.

One other gift that Schulz had was seeing the human experience the sad and the happy and making us laugh at it.  His strip had the capacity to make kids laugh at the antics of a beagle and adults laugh and yet ponder the words of Linus who, more often than not, was the moralist of the characters.  He saw inside of us and liked what he saw but he also knew we could be better.  It’s all there in The Peanuts strip.

Mr. Schulz was a Baptist at the beginning of his career and through out the 1950s and 1960s you will find Bible verses peppered through out those years.  Of course, the most famous moment is Linus reciting from Luke Chapter Two in A Charlie Brown Christmas.  But he could be subtle too.  There is one strip where Linus is building a sandcastle.  It was a Sunday strip, and it was panel after panel of turrets and towers, high walls, and battlements.  In the last few panels, it starts to rain and the whole thing disappears.  Linus, looking at the work he has done melting away say, “I know there’s a lesson to be learned here, but I don’t know what it is.”  If you know your New Testament you know exactly what it is.  It’s a pictorial reference to Matthew Chapter 7 verses 26 and 27 where Jesus says, “But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  The rain came down, streams rose, and the wind blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.  This is the end of The Sermon on the Mount.

Peanuts somehow enters all of us.  I know at different times of my life I can be as crabby as Lucy, as insecure as Charlie Brown, passionate as Schroeder, Adventurous as Snoopy, as loyal as Woodstock or as wise as Linus.

For a good part of my life, in recent years, I saw myself as Charlie Brown.  The loser, the guy that had little to offer the world.  The guy that failed at life.  Like Charlie Brown too many curve balls knocked me on my back on the pitcher’s mound, but I got up and tried again.  Like Charlie Brown I sought help.  A few times I ended up with advisers that might just as well been Lucy and her psychiatric booth, but more than once I ended with councilors who could and did advise me well and I found myself back in the game again.

Physical issues knocked me down too and again I needed help to get back in the game.  And again, there were people there, professionals who knew how to advise me and get me moving.  Like Linus helped Charlie Brown see what the true meaning of Christmas is.  People helped me to see what the true meaning of life is and how to live it.

These days I think I see life as a cross between Linus and Snoopy.  I want to see the meaning behind the events of my life.  I want to have deep discussions on philosophy and faith and how each of these fits into my life.  I also want to live an adventure.  Snoopy became whatever his imagination decided he would be, A World War One fighter Pilate, A lawyer, a doctor, A skater.  You see Snoopy swimming and surfing and sometimes driving a car he is almost always at the head of an adventure and willing to take the risk of the next one.  This is how I want to live.

What is an adventure.  Thornton Wilder said that you can tell if you’re in an adventure if you look around and say, “How did I get into this?”  But he countered with that you know “There is something wrong with you when you sit quietly at home hoping for an adventure.”

Right now, life is full of adventure for me.  My journey has taken a new turn and there is much to decide in the coming months.  I have been asking myself, “how did I get into this?”  And the answer has been through no fault of my own, at least for most of it.  Regardless of how, the question now is what?  What’s the next move?  How do I solve the puzzle?  I could look on the issues I am facing and be all, “woe, is me”, or I could see each situation as an adventure.  A chance to learn and grow as a person and ultimately to be a better man than I am.  To me that’s the perfect balance between Snoopy and Linus.  Seizing the adventure and seeing the meaning and the potential behind it.

I’d like to talk a little more about Charles Schulz.  Schulz was an amazing man with an incredible mind.  His work will live on through out the ages.  Other comic strips will come and go because they are grounded firmly in the time they were written.  The political landscape of Doonesbury is not the same as we have today and so the strip will fade as its creator passes on.  The same could be said for other comic strips.  Schulz work is timeless.  He makes us laugh and hits are hearts and minds at the same time.  An example of one such strip goes like this.

Linus (Pretending he has a gun) Bang Bang!

Charlie Brown:  What are you playing Linus, cops, and robbers?

Linus No!  Bang Bang!

Charlie Brown: Cowboys and Indians?

Linus: No.

Charlie Brown: Then what are you playing?

Linus: Liberals versus conservatives!  Bang Bang!

 Now Charles Schulz passed away 21 years ago.  This strip was written in the late 50s or early 60s and it is still as relevant today as the day it was written.

Schulz was a man who struggled.  He may have been at one time the most famous cartoonist in the world, but he struggled with insecurity and depression.  And yet they never beat him.  For 50 years this man would turn out strip after strip.  All those raw emotions and self-doubt became fodder for his imagination and instead of wallowing in self-pity he made us laugh and gave us the great gift of all of his characters.

I used to think that Schulz modeled Charlie Brown after himself.  I read an early biography of him where he talked about feeling out of place while in school and felt genuinely insecure.  But when Schulz was asked what character, he saw himself as he simple answered, “All of them”.  That answer, at first, surprised me.  But after thinking about it awhile, it seemed to be exactly true not only for him but for all of us.

As people we switch hats and masks every day.  Maybe to put it better we play different parts every day.  In a days’ time I can be a son, a brother, a writer, a chef, a researcher, a movie or book critic, a house cleaner, a good friend, or a councilor.  You in a day could be a mother or a father, a hockey player or businessperson, a student, or a teacher all in a single day.  We change our roles as we go from one of our interests or jobs to another and we don’t even think about it, the change is instant, sometimes simultaneous.

Charles Schulz is basically saying the same thing as he claims he is all of his characters.  He can lose and yet still be determined as Charlie Brown of be angry and crabby like Lucy.  I guess I’m pushing this to some extent, but the universalness of Charles Schulz Characters cannot go understated.

Charles Schulz is distinctly the only Newspaper cartoonist to have covered all the ways we can be entertained.  His characters have been successful in the newspapers and on-line, in movies and television and on the Broadway stage.  His entire 50 years of work has been bound in 25 hard cover books and are available for purchase.  Peanuts is read the world over and I doubt there are many countries where Snoopy plush dolls are not available for purchase.

One night in December 1969 Charles Schulz had printed his daily strip.  A Boy Named Charlie Brown was playing in the movie theaters, A Charlie Brown Christmas was on our television sets and You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown was being performed off Broadway.  Every form of media was corned by Peanuts that night.  No one has done that since.

Peanuts, Featuring Good Ol’ Charlie Brown has entertained informed and inspired us for 71 years. It has hit our hearts and our minds and our faith.  It remains popular being published every day still in print newspapers or daily delivered to your in-box.  (Since Schulz death they have been reprinting the strip from 1975 to 2000, this will end in 2025)  The Characters remain popular on television and though each of the holiday specials are available on DVD or digitally we still clamor for them to be shown on network television.  Last years rage over Apple buying the rights to show exclusively on Apple TV proves that.  The messages and the joy in those holiday specials should be free to the world as I think Schulz would want it.  Charlie Brown once said, “Life is like an ice cream cone, you have to learn to lick.”  I’ll leave you there.