LET IT SNOW!

BLOG #4, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
LET IT SNOW!
January 28, 2015

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What magic resides in those four letters! Especially since snow appears to be withdrawing from our world. As the global temperature grows hotter and hotter, we see such phenomena as the proverbial “snows of Kilamanjaro” in Africa drying up; even the Iditarod’s thousand-mile sled-dog race was forced to race much of the way on dirt because of so little snow last year; the polar bears in the North struggling to survive as arctic ice-packs melt earlier each year; opening up the long ice-locked Northwest Passage to ships; this melting placing at risk Narwhals–now Killer
Whales can corner them and kill them because there is no longer enough ice to shelter them; even the Himalayas are losing their life-giving snow.

Notice how this week, the entire Northeast all but shut down because an epic blizzard was roaring in. New York City completely shut down (including planes, trains, autos–except for emergency vehicles). 7,000 flights were cancelled. Funny it was to see Matt Lauer and his team walking to work, and he lying down in the middle of Fifth Avenue doing a snow angel in the snow. But instead of two to three feet, the city received only 6.2 inches! All the news people were psyched up for great visuals as their people reported in standing waist-deep in snow; instead, they had to do interviews from so little snow it didn’t even cover their shoe-tops. Of course it was deeper further north.

In Maryland, just the threat of a storm causes school districts to shut down for “snow days” that may or may not be snowy. Here in Colorado’s Front Range, any possibility that there might be a few flakes falling later on in the week is cause for jubilation among weather-forecasters desperate for ratings surges: every so many minutes they tell their listeners that “later on,” they’ll tell them how much snow will fall. Rarely are they right–but listeners like us listen anyway. Especially the kids who love snow days.

As for us, we revel in the sight of falling snow. At night, we’ll sit by the fireplace staring into the flames, offset by staring outside at the floodlight-illumined falling snow. I even enjoy shoveling it–as long as it’s not so deep it all but buries us!

And many people either live here or travel here in order to participate in the annual snowfalls. Interstate 70 out of Denver routinely grinds to a near halt as thousands of skiers head to the mountains.

And what would Christmas stories be without snow? Amazing how many incorporate that element as part of the story-line.

Out our northern windows, we can see the mountains (crowned by Long’s and Meeker peaks) of the Rocky Mountain National Park some eighty miles away. What an incredible difference between late-summer’s brown and winter’s pristine white! Takes one’s breath away just to  at it.

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So let’s all treasure snow while we still have it, revel in it whenever we have the chance.

Thank God for snow!

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A New Family Classic – “Paddington”

BLOG #3, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
A NEW FAMILY CLASSIC – PADDINGTON
January 21, 2015

The Wall Street Journal, January 18, 2015, D1

The Wall Street Journal, January 18, 2015, D1

Paddington is an oasis of relief in a media world that has clearly lost its ethical and moral moorings. Where in the world are parents going to find family fare in today’s miasma of bone-chilling violence, obscenity-laced humor, sexuality divorced from commitments, anti-God-and-country-agendas, and pornography rapidly gaining acceptance as a new norm? I pity the plight of parents today. And even when parents take their children to see one of those all-too-rare clean films, they fear the pre-film commercials so much many are deliberately walking in late so as to avoid imprinting those chilling or value-eroding images in their children’s brains.

It used to be the parents had many choices in terms of which films they’d take their children to see. No more. Hollywood appears to have all but written off all but its R-rated films. And even Paddington was born in England rather than in Hollywood.

As for reviewers, it has almost become a given that when a G-rated family film does come along, at best film critics damn it with faint praise or scoff at its family values. This is why it was such a shock to read Guy Lodge’s Variety review, “Cinematic update of the lovable literary bear ‘Paddington’ adds action but keeps his spirit” (Denver Post, January 10, 2015), and Joe Morgenstern’s “A Bear to Care About: Paddington Delights” (Wall Street Journal, January 16, 2015): For both were unabashedly positive about the film–no negatives whatsoever!

Morgenstern’s review begins with this sentence: “When you watch a movie that was made mainly for kids and find yourself enjoying it more than most adult fare, at least two explanations suggest themselves: 1. ‘You’re going soft in the head and reverting to childhood pleasures, or 2. The movie is really special.”

Guy Lodge’s review begins with “No bears were harmed in the making of this film,” boast the closing credits of ‘Paddington’ – and happily that promise extends to Michael Bond’s ursine literary creation. Fifty-six years after first appearing in print, the accident-prone Peruvian furball is brought to high tech but thoroughly endearing life in this bright, breezy and oh-so-
British family romp from writer-director Paul King and super-producer David Heyman.” Nor should we forget the prologue set in Peru, (filmed in black and white) and voiced by Michael Gambon and Imelda Staunton.

Technically, the film blew me away with its seamless portrayal of real people on real location and computer animation. I couldn’t tell where reality ended and digital began! Of course, given that David Heyman cut his teeth on the Harry Potter films, (more recently, Gravity), that technical miracle ought not to surprise anyone.

The Denver Post, January 16, 2015, 6C

The Denver Post, January 16, 2015, 6C

As for my wife and me, we were just enraptured by the story itself. I will admit it took us a little while to get used to the father of the host family, Hugh Bonneville in that role, since we were so used to his dominating presence as the Earl in the Downton Abbey BBC miniseries. Totally unexpected was his metamorphosis from staid stereotypical stiff-upper-lip, don’t-mess-with-tradition, do-it-my-way-because-I-said-so, unromantic father at the beginning, to the young at heart romantic who dares the near impossible to save Paddington, passionately kisses his stunned wife, and vicariously becomes a boy again in order to enter his son’s life for the very first time. His wife, wonderfully played by Sally Hawkins; and children, engagingly played by Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin, are so natural in this most improbable willing suspension of disbelief (accepting as fact a human-acting, talking, and thinking bear), that we accept it all as real-life.

But none of them compare to the miracle of “Paddington,” his endearing personality and ways. Originally, Colin Firth was chosen for the bear’s voice; wisely, Ben Whishaw replaced him, given that his voice was more boyish.

Nor can I forget the virago of the film, the taxidermist Millicent Clyde (Nicole Kidman) who serves as the Cruella de Vil in the heartstopping scenes when, a la 101 Dalmations, she chases and finally abducts Paddington and almost succeeds in stuffing him for a museum of natural history. Kidman outdoes herself in this most untypical cinematic role for her.

Believe me, so many families thronged the theater that they had to add a second theater to accommodate the crowds. As we listened to the crowd reactions, there were plenty of delighted adult voices to be heard. As for the children–they were ecstatic as they lived the film. Afterwards, leaving the theater, their joy was so great their feet barely touched the floor!

I am hereby making a prediction. Regardless of what awards the film does or does not get, it will go on to become one of the most beloved family films of all time. Not only that, but it is likely to become a series as Michael Bond’s other Paddington books get accessed as well.

The family–in truth, that’s what the film is really about–is really the heart of the film: In the final analysis, just what is a family?

Harold Bell Wright’s “That Printer of Udell’s”

BLOG #2, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #37
HAROLD BELL WRIGHT’S THAT PRINTER OF UDELL’S
January 14, 2015

Many of you responded to last week’s blog overwhelmingly urging me to hold the course and extend the life of our book club for another year. Everyone appeared pleased that last week’s blog had a convenient listing of authors and their books; this way, if you’d missed certain books you could secure them, read them, and add them to your library. And new book club members could begin with whatever titles they wished.

Several of you specifically mentioned your love of Harold Bell Wright’s books, and how, ever since we featured Wright’s The Calling of Dan Matthews, you’d been acquiring other titles bearing his name. This tied in perfectly with my growing conviction (over the last month) that it was time to revisit Wright, this time featuring what I felt to be his greatest book.

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“First Edition cover with tipped-in illustration”

Back in the early 1970s, when, choosing a doctoral dissertation topic at Vanderbilt University, my first choice was Wright. Unfortunately, I discovered several other doctoral dissertations had already been written about Wright’s significance, so I reluctantly moved on to Fyodor Dostoevsky, then eventually to Zane Grey.

To History of Ideas (my doctoral emphasis) scholars, Wright fascinates because he is central to the Social Gospel movement that began in America during the 1890s. Walter Rauschenbusch, a Baptist clergyman and theological professor, articulated the philosophical base for the movement in books such as Christianity and the Social Crises (1907), Christianizing the Social Order (1912), and A Theology of the Social Gospel (1917). But far more influential (in terms of impact on the popular culture) than he was Charles Sheldon (a Topeka pastor who penned In His Steps, first published in 1896). It has sold several million copies and remains in print today. But it would be Wright who would take the movement to its zenith in his extremely popular romances: That Printer of Udell’s (1903), The Calling of Dan Matthews (1909), Helen of the Old House (1921), and the increasingly rare God and the Groceryman (1929).

The premise of the movement, born as it was during America’s greedy Gilded Age, was that the Jesus of the Gospels was not the least bit interested in doctrine or church politics, but rather His entire earthly ministry was dedicated to humble selfless service to others, mainly the common people, those most in need. His ministry was all-inclusive—no one, not even lepers, criminals, prostitutes, Romans, outcasts, or gentiles, were excluded. Yet, thoughtful people, especially Protestant pastors such as Charles Sheldon, Harold Bell Wright, and Henry Van Dyke, couldn’t help but notice the glaring disconnect bedtween Jesus’ caring ministry and the pompous, self-righteous, smug, arrogant church leaders and members of the time, who apparently had not the least interest in following in Christ’s footsteps service-wise. These ministers early on, discovered that abstractions didn’t work with their congregations; only as they sugar-coated them in Story would their listeners take them seriously and internalize them. Only recently have scholars realized that the first four centuries after Christ (during which time over a quarter of the Roman Empire turned Christian), Post-Apostolic church leaders and members’ entire theology was the Didache, based on Christ’s answer to the oft-posed question, “What do I have to do to be saved?”

‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.’
–Matthew 22:37-40

In my second book on the life and ministry of St. Nicholas, I noted that contemporaries labeled this spiritual emphasis as “The Way of Life,” or the Didache, and I quote D. L. Cann, in this respect:

The imperial and provincial governments offered no regular social service programs—people simply had to take care of themselves or starve. Into that abyss of human need, ignored by provincial and imperial authorities, stepped the Christian communities. Led by bishops, priests, deaconesses, and deacons, the faithful carried out their ministry to the urban poor. The Christian churches of the first four centuries provided hospice care for the sick, as well as support for widows, orphans and the unfortunate. . . . From the teachings in the Gospels, the Christians, and young Nicholas with them, cultivated a strong sense of responsibility to care for the souls and bodies of those in need.

No wonder Christianity was turning the world upside down!
–Saint Nicholas, by Joe Wheeler (Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2010, pp. 5-7).

Illustration from P. 191 of First Edition

Illustration from P. 191 of First Edition

Thus writers such as Wright wove the essence of the Didache into novels such as That Printer of Udell’s, a book I consider one of the most significant seminal books of the last century and a half.

Historians of Ideas note that Wright published the book in 1903, before automobiles, airplanes, electricity, indoor plumbing, radio, and electronics revolutionized society. Horses and buggies, privies, candle-or lantern-lit homes, children forced to work as adults, terrible pollution, abysmal medical conditions, education more often than not limited to only a couple of years—in short: the world Wright captures in this riveting novel. In it, Wright’s protagonists attempt to live by the question, “What would Jesus do if He were in my place?” And juxtaposed, the “Christians” who ridiculed those who would dared to live by Christ’s Didache.

If you want to dig deeper into Wright, I suggest you track down Lawrence V. Tagg’s Harold Bell Wright: Storyteller to America (Tucson, Arizona: Westernlore Press, 1985). In it, you will discover that Wright himself endured all that was worst in society during his early life, but miraculously rose above it.

There are many editions of That Printer of Udell’s, but for all you bibliophiles who cherist first editions, I urge you to track down at least a VG copy of the book: That Printer of Udell’s A Story of the Middle West (Chicago: The Book Supply Company, 1902). It will incorporate 9 splendid illustrations by John Clitheroe Gilbert and a tipped-in cover illustration (hand-glued on).

Will be most interested in your reactions to the book. If you’re like me, you’ll return to it again and again.

Book Club Retrospective #2

BLOG #1, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
BOOK CLUB RETROSPECTIVE #2
January 7, 2015

It’s time to look back at last year’s book selections and get your feedback as to which ones you liked best, why, and suggestions as to upcoming twelve 2015 book selections. In essence, this is your opportunity to give the professor a grade for the 2014 book selections.

As I look back, judging by your responses, the #1 book selection of the year has to be the October entry: Ralph Moody’s Little Britches. A number of you were introduced to the Moody family read-aloud series ago, and welcomed the opportunity to revisit. Do let me know which other selections you especially enjoyed.

And for all of you who may be interested in climbing aboard for this year’s selections, permit me to bring you up to date. Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Series was born On Oct. 19, 2010, as a result of former students urging me to come back into their lives in a special way: “Dr. Wheeler, years ago, I was in your classes, and you introduced us to books you’ve loved personally—and got me to do the same. I miss those sessions with you! Please, please, do it again. There are millions of books out there, which makes it ever so difficult for me to choose the ones that are really worth reading—especially for people like me who, like you, strongly believe in God and country, and values worth living by.” [a synthesis of responses].

But now, since I couldn’t give anyone a grade and wasn’t ordering books, I have had little control over who bothered to buy the books and read them and who did not. A year ago, a bit discouraged because I didn’t hear back from “members” very often, I asked for feedback. So positive were your responses, and so many told me you were finding copies, reading them, and adding them to your personal libraries, that I decided to keep the series going. A number of you have gone further and told me how meaningful many of the selections have been to you personally.

Such responses really help, for it is time-consuming to keep searching for new books worth including, older books that are worth considering, and books I’ve loved but must re-read before I grant them my personal blessing by choosing them.

Undoubtedly, the world-wide-web has made it easy for any of us to track down copies of even some of the scarcer titles.

It has evolved into a most eclectic mix of genres: non-fiction, contemporary, books children and teens have loved for generations, timeless classics, romantic fiction, westerns, Christmas classics, and so on. It is my hope and prayer that, if you keep my feet to the fire long enough, we’ll end up with a family library that generations yet to come will cherish.

To make it easier for current members to respond, and for non-members to join us, I am including a list of all the book-selections so far with dates the blogs appeared, to make it easier for new members to begin catching up on books they’d like to add to their libraries. Here they are:

OUR FIRST 36 BOOKS

Bergreen, Lawrence, Over the Edge of the World (May 28, 2014)
Brown, Abbie Farwell, The Christmas Angel (Nov. 23, 2011)
Burnett, Frances Hodgson, Little Lord Fauntleroy (Feb. 29, 2012)
Conan Doyle, Arthur, The White Company (April 30, 2014)
Dana, Richard Henry, Two Years Before the Mast (March 26, 2014)
Dickens, Charles, The Christmas Carol (Nov. 23, 2011)
Douglas, Lloyd C., Home for Christmas (Nov. 28, 2012)
Duncan, Dayton, and Ken Burns, (The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (June 27, 2012)
Goudge, Elizabeth, City of Bells (Sept. 26, 2012)
Grey, Zane (1) Heritage of the Desert (Dec. 28, 2011)
(2) Riders of the Purple Sage (June 5, 2013)
(3) The Vanishing American (June 30, 2014)
(4) Wanderer of the Wasteland (March 28, 2012)
Hale, Edward Everett, Sr., The Man Without a Country (Feb. 6, 2013)
Hill, Grace Livingston, Happiness Hill (Aug. 21, 2013)
Hugo, Victor, Les Miserables (Sept. 25, 2013)
Huxley, Aldous, Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited (May 8, 2013)
Knight, Eric, Lassie Come Home (Nov. 6, 2013)
Lorenzini, Carlos, Pinocchio (Sept. 24, 2014)
Lowry, Lois, The Giver (Aug. 27, 2014)
Moody, Ralph, Little Britches (Oct. 29, 2014)
Porter, Gene Stratton, Freckles (July 17, 2013)
Reed, Myrtle, The Master’s Violin (April 3, 2013)
Richmond, Grace, (1) Foursquare (Jan. 2, 2013)
(2) The Twenty-Fourth of June (May 23, 2012)
Sabatini, Ralph, Scaramouche (Feb. 26, 2014)
Sheldon, Charles, In His Steps (Aug. 22, 2012) (Nov. 26, 2014)
Sienkiewicz, Henryk, Quo Vadis (Jan. 28, 2014)
Spyri, Johanna, Heidi (July 30, 2014)
Tarkington, Booth, Penrod (Oct. 31, 2012)
Tennyson, Alfred, Lord, Enoch Arden (May 2, 2012)
Thoreau, Henry David, Walden (Jan. 25, 2012)
Van Dyke, Henry, The Other Wise Man (Dec. 4, 2013)
Wiggin, Kate Douglas, The Birds’ Christmas Carol (Nov. 26, 2014)
Williamson, C. M. And A. M., My Friend the Chauffeur (Oct. 26, 2011)
Wright, Harold Bell, The Calling of Dan Matthews (Oct. 26, 2011)

* * * * *

WHAT I NEED FROM YOU

Please weigh in immediately, and identify yourself (if unknown to me) as to interest in book club. Let me know (1) how long you’ve been a member, (2) what percentage of the 36 books you’ve purchased and read, (3) what your reactions are, (4) what grade you’d give me so far, (5) and any other thoughts you might be willing to share. Do this during the next week, please.

Also, suggestions for adding more members, such as starting up a discussion forum on Facebook or other media venues.

You may reach me at:
Joe L. Wheeler, Ph.D.
P.O. Box 1246
Conifer, Co 80433
http://www.joewheelerbooks.com
mountainauthor@gmail.com
Wednesdays with Dr. Joe@wordpress.com

Looking forward to hearing from you!