December 26, 2012

“And it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed . . . .

“And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem (because he was of the house and lineage of David) to be taxed with Mary, his espoused wife, being great with child.

“And so it was that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

And she brought forth her first born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room in the inn.”

Luke 2:1-7, KJV

Wishing each and all of you a blessed Christmastide!

Published in: on December 26, 2012 at 6:00 am  Comments (1)  


December 19, 2012


It started long ago in Guatemala City, that Christmas of 1947. My father was a missionary, and my mother home schooled me and my brother Romayne; it would be here that our sister Marjory would be born.

How well I remember that first Christmas in Guatemala’s capital city. The bells. The bells. The bells. Our parents found getting acquainted with new people in a new culture to be rather difficult. Not so for Romayne and me, for we spoke the universal language of children around the world, roaming at will in and out of each others’ homes. Each time I’d enter one of their homes, inevitably we’d end up in the very heart of the home—and there would be the creche—or a Nativity set. My friends would approach it softly, almost reverently, as though it were a holy place. There would be no Christmas tree as there was in my home, nor presents. Presents would arrive on Day of the Wise Men—or Epiphany—on January 6. The Magi would bring them.

I remember feeling shortchanged: how come I felt closer to the Christ Child in these Catholic homes than I did in our Protestant one? Finally, I confronted my parents with my concerns. Their answer was almost immediate: they took me to the vast “mercado” and set me loose. It being the Christmas season, there were Nativity figures and creches everywhere, in all price ranges. After studying them all, I bargained for each one (for to accept the initial price would have been to deprive both the vendor and myself of the joy of haggling). Finally, when the vendor had shrieked maledictions at me, and declared I was depriving his children of the food they so desperately needed in order to stay alive—we’d settle, each convicted we’d got the best of each other. “Greedy Gringo,” the nicest thing he said about me. My parents would stand afar off, pretending not to know me, and unable then or ever after to play the grand game. And so each hard-fought battle would end with more Nativity figures (brightly colored Magi, sheep, camels, angels, shepherds, Joseph, Mary, and the Christ Baby). At home I reverently assembled them in the focal center of our home, and proudly showed the Manger scene to the neighbor kids. At last, I was one of them!

Each Christmas, the honor of setting up and taking down the Manger scene was mine—until some years later, in the Dominican Republic, when I returned, alone, to study in California. During those following years, I’d miss—a lot—that much-loved Christmas tradition. So much so that when I graduated from college, married my lovely bride Connie, and settled down as a junior high teacher in Placerville (an old mining town in the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains), I determined to round up a Nativity set as much like the Latin American set I put together all those years ago as I could find. Miraculously, I assembled an almost carbon copy of the old one.

It is still with us. And each Christmas we once again gently unwrap each figure and position them around the crude stable. They’ve moved to Sacramento; to Huntsville, Alabama; to Keene, Texas; to Nashville, Tennessee; to Boulder, Colorado; to Thousand Oaks, California; to Annapolis, Maryland; and to Conifer, Colorado. Those long journeys have taken a real toll on our Nativity grouping: one camel died in transit; a second had a foot amputated (we have to prop him up so he doesn’t fall over). Besides Mary, Joseph, and the Christ Baby, we still have five curious sheep, a shepherd with a lamb curled around his neck, six Magi—three standing afar off (being three times the size of the originals—purchased them in Mexico one Christmas), three angels (one hanging on a Stable nail, one standing, one kneeling), a donkey, a cow, a dog; and the latest added just today by Connie: a quizzical furry fox.

Christmas has come once again to our home. And the Little Lord Jesus is at the heart of it.

Wishing you—each and all— a Blessed Christmas!

Published in: on December 19, 2012 at 6:00 am  Comments (2)  


    BLOG #50, SERIES #3
Our 80th Book
December 12, 2012


Ninth in “The Good Lord Made Them All” series, and our first 2013 title, advance copies of Stinky are now available for this Christmas season.  The category for this year’s collection: “Strange and Wonderful Animal Stories.”

Not until the last minute was the cover story decided on: Never before that day had we known that Tony was such a master storyteller.  As he relived this story, we laughed until it hurt.  We wouldn’t let Tony return to Florida until he promised to write it down for us.  He enlisted the assistance of his father and mother in fleshing out the complete story.  Just two days before the manuscript for this book was due, Tony e-mailed us the story.  There was no question but that it had to anchor this collection!

This moved the pressure to that master of cover art, Lars Justinen.  Not one of his first eight cover paintings has been less than a home run; could he do it the ninth time?  Could he somehow capture the essence of this pugnacious never-say-die-skunk?  You be the judge if he pulled it off.  But how could he miss?  Justinen used to have a pet skunk of his own.

So here we had a one-of-a-kind skunk story; but how could we put together a collection of one-of-a-kind stories?  Not possible.  So we settled for second best: stories that were one and all both strange and wonderful.  Twenty-three of them!

•    A helpless fawn nursed by a killer dog.
•    “‘Don’t poo on the rug,’ Casey [the African grey parrot] ordered,” in Pat’s voice.
•    We’ve all heard the old expression of raining cats and dogs—but this is ridiculous!
•    But Dan had risen, too, his brown eyes brimmed with pleading and penitence, fire and love.  His arms—emptied of Cynthia’s little brother—opened for Cynthia, and, without waiting for any explanation of all, Cynthia. . . .
•    Turns out two swallows could have given Alfred Hitchcock a run for his money!
•    The great stallion seemed determined to kill Gaspar—yet look what happened during the hurricane!
•    Eben Brown’s combination snake seems right out of the pages of Mark Twain—but isn’t.
•    The canary had no intention of joint-tenancy.  The wrens disagreed—mightily!  Which would win?
•    Is it even possible that a mouse could think and bargain like a human?
•    Is this a horse story?  A marriage story?  A love story?  A God story?  Or might it be all of the above?
•    Who but God can fathom the heart of a dog?
•    “But it is a bear, and he’s eating all of my currant jelly!  Please send a policeman right away!” cried Betty.
•    And they say—animals have no sense of humor!
•    A musical mouse?  Surely you jest!
•    Everything was going so well—until Dan’l Webster and his out-of-control gang of turkeys demolished Finch & Richards’ big market.
•    The children were buried in a cave-in, and no one knew where they were.  No human, that is.
•    Do animals deliberately commit suicide?
•    A bear terrified of a little kitten?  Are you pulling my leg?
•    No one had ever been able to get the best of Old Baldy yet. That’s why he changed hands so cheaply.  Then along came Deacon Barnes, as stubborn as the ox.  However, in the showdown, all bets were on Old Baldy.
•    After reading this story, many readers will never look at a cat the same way again.
•    They were all mixed in together—Peter Murphy and scholarships and wild-eyed cows and Shakespeare.
•    It was a most unlikely combination: a rapidly rising young reporter, a very pretty girl, two unmanageable and ungrateful cats, and a streetcar full of chuckling observers.
•    . . . . and a tap-dancing skunk with an attitude.

You may purchase a copy of this wondrous book, and get it inscribed too, if you so designate:

Stinky, the Skunk that Wouldn’t Leave and Other Strange and Wonderful Animal Stories (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2013). $13.99, plus shipping.

P.O. Box 1246, Conifer, CO 80433.  Phone: 303-838-2333.

Published in: on December 12, 2012 at 6:00 am  Comments (3)  

Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln”

December 5, 2012

Everywhere I go, people, knowing I wrote Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage (Howard/Simon & Schuster, 2008), ask me if I’ve seen the new film. Finally, I’m able to answer film-related questions. Connie and I took our daughter, son-in-law, and two grandsons to see a Maryland, Sunday matinee. The theater was packed. And, just as was true with our son’s earlier experience in Florida, there was enthusiastic applause at the end.

I’ve been burned so many times by attending so-called biographical films that I was a bit apprehensive about this one; but not too much, for Doris Kearns Goodwin was staking her reputation on the film’s authenticity. And of all the sixty-some Lincoln biographies I studied before writing my own, her Team of Rivals outshown them all. What prodigious scholarship!

In short, Goodwin did not let me down. Neither did Spielberg, Sally Field, Daniel Day Lewis, or the rest of the cast. Spielberg was wise to zero in on such a short time-period that suspense and character-revelation and development was possible. Lewis was magnificent as Lincoln. Somehow, in this film, he became Lincoln. It was almost eerie to me: after a lifetime of studying Lincoln and collecting stories written about Lincoln, Lincoln with all his complexities (so complex that even his closest associates were never able to pigeon-hole him or predict what he might or might not do), I felt that somehow Lewis had managed to get inside his skin. An incredible feat given the fact that there are over 16,000 books about Lincoln to draw from.

Most certainly, Goodwin was the mentor-in-chief who helped create this near miraculous resurrection of abstract history into flesh and blood reality. But mentoring alone is powerless to create living prototypes; it also takes a mentoree with rare gifts of assimilation.

And never was a film such as this one needed more, for, as famed historian and biographer David McCullouch put it, several weeks ago, “America is facing an unprecedented crisis of historical literacy.” Neither our schools nor our homes are passing on to children, youth, and young adults an even elementary understanding and knowledge of our past. And given that books, newspapers, and magazines are being beaten back, back, and back by electronic sound bytes, democracy itself is at risk.

Sally Field excelled in her portrayal of the tormented Mary Todd Lincoln, who had lost two of her sons to disease. Antibiotics were unknown back then and doctors and midwives, with unwashed hands, carried death from one patient to the next. Had it not been for her husband, she would have completely crumbled against the forces determined to bring her down. When she lost him too, it is little wonder that she all but broke.

To us today, who have just endured a brutal no-hands-barred election campaign decided by incredibly vicious attack ads created for and by anonymous sources accountable to no one, we certainly cannot claim clean hands. Lincoln had made a solemn vow to God that he would do his utmost to remove the quarter-millennium-old curse of slavery. A superb tactician, he accomplished what no other known man could have: winning the war in spite of 750,000 casualties [the latest figure]) when so many were willing to settle at any price, and then, by marshaling so completely the war-time powers of the Presidency, along with being a shrewd judge of human nature, almost unbelievably, orchestrating the passing of the Sixteenth Amendment.

Not surprisingly, given today’s secularism, Lincoln’s deep relationship with God was shortchanged in the film. Without doubt, he was America’s most spiritual president, who was convicted that, behind the scenes, God called the shots. He could only do his utmost, then leave the rest to God. Scholars today appear to share an agenda that calls for stripping from Lincoln the spirituality that made him what he was, and give him the strength to stand–alone–against forces that would have brought down a hundred lesser men. His clear-eyed vision, coupled with moment-by-moment dependency on God, carried him on to Ford’s Theatre, the safe harbor reached at last. Wisely, Spielberg concludes the film with the high tide of passing the Sixteenth Amendment rather than the assassin’s bullet that, ironically, insured Lincoln’s immortality, saving him from the horrors of Deconstruction that followed.

In spite of its flaws, which are amazingly few, the film ends up about as historically accurate as any such film I’ve ever seen—an amazing feat!