Christmas 2013

BLOG #52, SERIES #4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
CHRISTMAS 2013
December 25, 2013

Have you noticed how rarely anyone wishes you a “Merry Christmas” any more? This muddling of language has been happening for years now. No longer do people say “Good morning!” to us. Or “Have a great weekend! ” Instead , we are greeted with the inane “Have a good one!” Whatever that means. It matters not the occasion, no matter how significant, “Have a good one!” is becoming the new norm.

Only, at Christmas, we instead hear “Happy Holidays!” wherever we go. Since so many people wish to appear to be politically correct, they avoid specifics at all costs. Since “Christmas” appears to be a word burdened with spiritual associations, best not to mention it at all. Yet without Christmas there would be no “X number of shopping days until _____!” “Until what?” They’d be hard-put to tell you. Certainly not “until Thanksgiving,” or “until New Year’s Day.” No, they’re stuck with “Christmas” because of its well known tie-in to gift-buying which drives the economy every fall-into-winter.

But the little Lord Jesus in a manger does little to stampede the American people into shopping malls; it takes Santa Claus to do that. “Santa Claus,” who, as St. Nicholas, once was a deeply spiritual figure. Sadly, in American culture today, that rarely is the case any more.

IS THERE ANYTHING WE CAN DO?

I do believe there is: the next time someone unleashes another “Happy Holidays” on us, what if each of us greeted the perpetrator with a joyful smile and an enthusiastic, “And a very Merry Christmas to you!” If thousands of us did this, over time don’t you think we’d spike a lot of “Happy Holidays” cannons? Don’t you think it would at least be worth a try?

But that shouldn’t be all. What if we took the lead in organizing, supporting, and attending spiritual programs, films, concerts, events, etc.” What if we gave each other spiritually based Christmas books rather than those totally divorced from what the season ought to stand for? If not overtly dealing with spiritual matters, don’t you think that, at the least, the books we choose to give away, share, and read should be compatible with Judeo-Christian values?

All too often, we do our own version of a Pilate act: wringing our hands and complaining of how powerless we are to do anything about bad things. What if—instead—, we individually and collectively stood up for good things?

How about starting this Christmas season? After all, the Twelve Days of Christmas are just beginning. Christmas won’t be over until January 7.

Advertisements

All Ye Book-Lovers

BLOG #51, SERIES #4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
ALL YE BOOK-LOVERS
LOOKING BACKWARD; LOOKING FORWARD
December 18, 2013

It was a little over two years ago that we launched “Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Club.” Since it was voluntary, no-fee, and no one was required to respond, it has been most difficult to know just who has been faithfully (at least most of the time) keeping up. Before introducing Book #26 in 2014, I’d really like to hear back from all of you who have been following along. Let me know which authors, titles, you like best, and why. General reactions to the format too. Anything – just report in. Please? So I can be reassured that these monthly book blogs are meeting a need.

To refresh your memory – if you’ve been following along –, and to enable you to start back at the beginning, if you’ve a mind to, here is a list of our first 25 books of the month. Since I’m providing the dates those entries first appeared, it should be relatively easy for you to retrieve all those earlier entries. Here they are:

PROPOSAL FOR CLUB (October 26, 2011)

BOOKS

1. Williamson, C. M. And A. M., My Friend the Chauffeur (Oct. 19, 2011)
2. Wright, Harold Bell, The Calling of Dan Matthews (Oct. 26, 2011)
3. Dickens, Charles, The Christmas Carol (Nov. 23, 2011)
4. Brown, Abbie Farwell, The Christmas Angel (Nov. 23, 2011)
5. Grey, Zane, Heritage of the Desert (Dec. 28, 2011)
6. Thoreau, Henry David, Walden (Jan. 25, 2012)
7. Burnett, Frances Hodgson, Little Lord Fauntleroy (Feb. 29, 2012)
8. Grey, Zane, Wanderer of the Wasteland [ZG #2] (Mar. 28, 2012)
9. Tennyson, Alfred, Lord, Enoch Arden (May 2, 2012)
10. Richmond, Grace, The Twenty-Fourth of June (May 23, 2012)
11. Duncan, Dayton , and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (June 27, 2012)
12. Sheldon, Charles, In His Steps (Aug. 22, 2012)
13. Goudge, Elizabeth, City of Bells (Sept. 26, 2012)
14. Tarkington, Booth, Penrod (Oct. 31, 2012)
15. Douglas, Lloyd C., Home for Christmas (Nov. 28, 2012)
16. Richmond, Grace, Foursquare [GR #2] (Jan. 2, 2013)
17. Hale, Edward Everett, The Man Without a Country (Feb. 6, 2013)
18. Reed, Myrtle, The Master’s Violin (Apr. 3, 2013)
19. Huxley, Aldous, Brave New World, and Brave New World Revisited (May 8, 2013)
20. Grey, Zane, Riders of the Purple Sage [ZG #3] (June 5, 2013)
21. Porter, Gene Stratton, Freckles (July 17, 2013)
22. Hill, Grace Livingston, Happiness Hill (Aug. 21, 2013)
23. Hugo, Vic tor, Les Miserables (Sept. 25, 2013)
24. Knight, Eric, Lassie Come Home (Nov. 6, 2013)
25. Van Dyke, Henry, The Other Wise Man (Dec. 4, 2013)

CONTACT INFORMATION

Please respond to this blog questionnaire [includes those who’d like to join the club right now] via one of the following:

P.O. Box 1246, Conifer, CO 80433

email: mountainauthor@gmail.com

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Why Are We Americans Becoming So Dumb?

BLOG #50, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
WHY ARE WE AMERICANS BECOMING SO DUMB?
December 11, 2013

It was while listening to the “Sunday Morning” broadcast that I was jolted into shock by a broadcast segment. In it, the program regular admitted how traumatized he was to discover that his increased use of electronic gadgetry such as Smartphones and aps was destroying his brain. The catalyst was his rueful discovery that he couldn’t even remember his wife’s phone number without retrieving it from an electronic index. Even more horrifying: to realize he could no longer remember how to spell common words such as “spatula,” no matter how much time he took to probe his mental memory banks. The same was true with mathematics: the electronic crutch ends up crippling the ability to do even simple math. Witness the number of individuals at restaurant and store checkout stands who are incapable of making correct change unless the machinery does it for them!

Every time I look at new lists of intelligence rankings (by nation), I wince as the U.S. continues to slip ever further down. Long gone are the days when we led the world.

In November and December of every year, I spend a large percentage of my time at book-signing tables; often with fellow Kiwanians at my side (because of our literacy program for area elementary schools), where for eleven years now, we’ve targeted third-graders. Reason being: studies reveal that unless a child falls in love with reading by the third grade, it’s not likely to ever happen at all. We are often permitted to set up our tables in large supermarkets because of this program. So we have plenty of time to watch people, young and old, as they come into, and leave, these chain stores. More and more often we are noticing a disturbing new phenomenon: children who are connected to electronic gadgetry tend to pay no attention to the books on our tables—or anything else, for that matter. But even when electronic gadgetry is not a variable, we’ve noticed that it has almost become a norm: when an approaching child’s eyes light up at the sight of books, almost invariably it turns out that the child is a homeschooler.

Even as I was watching this most recent “Sunday Morning” broadcast, and simultaneously signing complete sets of Christmas in My Heart books, I belatedly realized that the books were taking twice as long as normal to inscribe, and that my memory was fogging over and my accuracy continuing to deteriorate. Finally, I had to leave the room where the TV set was on so that I could complete my signings in the time I allocated for them.

All this causes me to question many of the so-called benefits of technology: if electronic gadgetry continues to erode our abilities to read, comprehend, articulate, write, understand, and effectively utilize abstract thought, then might we as a nation be paying way too high a price for so-called progress? Might it also turn out to be that it is not progress at all? But rather, the reverse?

In the thirty years of research poured into my 1993 book, Remote Controlled, I discovered that the more time an individual (of any age) spent watching TV, the dumber that person proved to be. And the more muddled the brains of the recipients. By extension, might it not also be true that overexposure to electronic imagery other than television will end up dumbing down the receiver’s brains even further? Reason being that those who receive pre-fab (created by someone other than the receiver) imagery rather than creating connotatively imagery through reading, being read to, radio or live drama, end up incapable of communicating effectively either in oral or in written forms. Only the reader, it turns out, is capable of writing coherent sentences and paragraphs. Non-readers, having little that is original to them in their brains to draw from, find it almost impossible to write anything creative or coherent at all!

Henry Van Dyke’s “The Other Wise Man”

BLOG #49, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #25
HENRY VAN DYKE’S THE OTHER WISE MAN
December 4, 2013

It is December once again – time for another Christmas selection. For some time now I have been convicted that, for the third Christmas in our series, I ought to choose Henry Van Dyke’s greatest book. Of all Christmas books ever written, only Dickens’ Christmas Carol is the equal to The Other Wise Man. But it has something Dickens’ great book lacks: an unforgettable spiritual dimension that moves the reader deeply. It is one well worth re-reading every Christmas of one’s life.

Scan_Pic0065

One can count on the fingers of one hand the great Christmas stories. The Other Wise Man is one of them.

It was born on the eve of the social-gospel movement in America; born of the realization that the Jesus of the Gospels did not spend much time talking about what we call “doctrines,” but He was very concerned with how we treat one another. His entire earthly ministry could be summed up in two words: “loving service.”

Stories that change the world–how do they come to be? Half a century earlier, Charles Dickens had created the genre of Christmas story with his timeless A Christmas Carol. Nothing of comparable power had been written since.

For the 40-year-old scholar-cleric Henry Van Dyke, 1892 had been a dark and tragic year, during which his beloved father had died. The world saw merely the facade: Van Dyke at his peak–a graduate of Princeton, Princeton Theological School, and the University of Berlin; pastor of the New York’s prestigious Brick Presbyterian Church; author of such scholarly work as The Poetry of Tennyson. Yet inside, he was anything but confident.

The year had been full of sickness and sorrow. Every day brought trouble. Every night was tormented with pain. They are very long–those nights when one lies awake, and hears the laboring heart pumping wearily at its task, and watches for the morning, not knowing whether it will ever dawn . . .

And the heaviest burden?

You must face the thought that your work in the world may be almost ended, but you know that it is not nearly finished. You have not solved the problems that perplexed you. You have not reached the goal that you aimed at. You have not accomplished the great task that you set for yourself. You are still on the way; and perhaps your journey must end now–nowhere–in the dark.

Well, it was in one of these long, lonely nights that this story came to me. I have studied and loved the curious tales of the Three Wise Men of the East as they are told in the GOLDEN LEGEND of Jacobus de Voragine and other medieval books. But of the Fourth Wise Man I had never heard until that night. Then I saw him distinctly, moving through the shadows in a little circle of light. His countenance was so clear as the memory of my father’s face as I saw it for the last time a few months before. The narrative of his journeyings and trials and disappointments ran without a break. Even certain sentences came to me complete and unforgettable, clear-cut like a cameo. All that I had to do was to follow Artaban, step by step, as the tale went on, from the beginning to the end of his pilgrimage.

Responding to the oft-asked question: why he made the Fourth Wise Man tell a lie, to save the life of a little child, he countered,

Is a lie ever justifiable? Perhaps not. But may it not sometimes seem inevitable? And if it were a sin, might a man not confess it, and be pardoned for it more easily than for the greater sin of spiritual selfishness, or indifference, or the betrayal of innocent blood? That is what I saw Artaban do. That is what I heard him say. All through his life he was trying to do the best that he could. It was not perfect. But there are some kinds of failure that are better than success.

It is probable that more research went into this than any other Christmas story ever written. All his previous research, it appears in retrospect, had been setting the stage for this work. And now, it was not enough merely to tell the story he felt a Higher Power wished him to chronicle: it must have historical authenticity as well. So he scoured the great libraries of the world seeking information about every aspect of ancient life and travel. Not until he was satisfied that he knew his ground as well as an attorney presenting his first case before the Supreme Court did he finally begin writing.

What Van Dyke created was a story so simply and beautifully told that the reader is unaware that this re-creation of the world our Lord knew is undergirded by prodigious research. It is an awesome tour de force.

Scan_Pic0067

On Christmas Day, 1892, he spread out his manuscript on his pulpit, looked out at the vast hushed and expectant audience, and wondered how the Fourth Wise Man’s story would be received. He needn’t have worried: the little story spread like wildfire. Three years later, Harpers, the most prestigious publishing house in the world, launched it out across all the seas of the world, both in English and in many translations.

* * *

There are many editions out there on the world-wide web, but I recommend that you seek out one of the splendid editions with color art work. One of the most beautiful is the Harper Brothers 25th anniversary Memorial Edition of 1920, as well as the 30th in 1925. Believe me, you will treasure it forever. Try to secure a dust-jacketed edition.