Here’s Looking at You, Kid

Today – Wednesday, May 16, 2018 – has been declared “National Classic Movie Day.” In that spirit, I want to tell you about my favorite movie, Casablanca, and why I enjoy it so much.

First of all, the basics. Casablanca is a 1942 production directed by Michael Curtiz, and starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Henried. It also features Conrad Veidt, Peter Lorre, Sidney Greenstreet, and Dooley Wilson. The film is set in the Moroccan city of Casablanca during World War II. The North African city is controlled by the French Vichy government, which means it is ultimately under the rule of the Nazi government.

Bogart plays Rick Blaine, the American owner of a nightclub known as “Rick’s Café Américain.” He is a cynical, world-weary guy with a mysterious past, who says he is determined to look out only for himself – that is, until Ingrid Bergman’s character, Ilsa, shows up. She is married to the Czech Resistance leader Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid), but she and Rick once had a torrid love affair – and still care deeply about each other. She and Lazlo are trying to escape Nazi-controlled Europe, so that Lazlo can get to America, to organize Resistance efforts against the Germans.

What will Rick do? Will he help Lazlo and his former love escape? Or will his passion for Ilsa force him to follow his heart and reclaim his lost love?

Casablanca won Academy Awards for Best Picture (1943), to Michael Curtiz as Best Director, and to brothers Julius & Philip Epstein and Howard Koch, for Best Adapted Screenplay.

SPOILER ALERT!!! If you’ve never seen the movie, be aware that the rest of this article will discuss plot points that will give away key aspects of the film.

First – here’s the original trailer for the film.

So, what’s the big deal? Why do I (and so many others) love this movie so much, and consider it among the best ever made? Well, I can’t speak for others, but for myself, here are three things that I appreciate.

The Movie’s Backstory

Casablanca started out as an unproduced play, “Everybody Comes to Rick’s,” by Murray Bennett and Joan Allison. In the process of turning that into a movie script, the writers couldn’t decide on what to do with the characters. Does Rick help Lazlo escape with his wife? Do he and Ilsa get back together, but send Lazlo on his way? Back and forth the arguments went. Just giving them the documents they needed to get away seems so, well, anti-climactic. And just handing someone a piece of paper is not exactly dazzling filmmaking.

The Epstein brothers had been assigned to handle the screenplay, but then they were called away to another project, so Howard Koch took over. The brothers would later return to help complete the work. All of this further added to the confusion about finding a good ending for the film. Somehow, though, it all works. In spite of the back-and-forth (or perhaps because of it), the movie just works.

The movie also benefitted from the war news. The Allies had invaded North Africa in late 1942, and President Roosevelt went to Casablanca in January, 1943, to meet with Winston Churchill, so the film took advantage of that free publicity. Its initial release was in New York in December, 1942, with the general release in early 1943.

Another factor that I and lots of other fans really appreciate is that many of the extras who were “customers” at Rick’s – including several with speaking parts – were actually themselves refugees from Europe. Some of them had even been interred at Nazi concentration camps during the 1930s, before making their way to this country. Their accents – not to mention the passion they brought to this anti-Nazi film – added a layer of authenticity that simply could not be imitated.

Sparkling Dialogue

Another thing that I really appreciate is the crackling, rapid-fire dialogue. This film holds the distinction of being the greatest source of lines of any movie on AFI’s list of the Top 100 best movie quotes. From “Here’s looking at you, kid,” to “We’ll always have Paris,” from “Round up the usual suspects,” to “This is the start of a beautiful friendship,” everyone has a favorite Casablanca quote.

Here’s an example from a conversation between Rick (Bogart) and Claude Rains’ character, Captain Renault –

 Captain Renault: I’ve often speculated why you don’t return to America. Did you abscond with the church funds? Did you run off with a senator’s wife? I like to think you killed a man. It’s the Romantic in me.

Rick: It was a combination of all three.

Captain Renault: What in heaven’s name brought you to Casablanca?

Rick: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.

Captain Renault: The waters? What waters? We’re in the desert.

Rick: I was misinformed.

Sparkling!

Of course, there’s one line that’s often misquoted. No one in Casablanca ever, EVER, says, “Play it again, Sam.”

Rick’s Redemption

Of all the great things about this movie, my favorite is the redemption of Rick’s character. We learn that he had risked his life fighting fascism during the 1930s, in both Ethiopia and Spain. He was understandably tired of the struggle, tired of seeing good people on the losing end of fighting totalitarian leaders, and especially tired of seeing the evils of fascism being victorious. He wants nothing more to do with it. Let the Nazis do as they want.

Until now. In one transformational moment, he makes the decision to take a stand. In this scene, Rick and Victor Lazlo are talking upstairs in Rick’s office, when the Germans in the café downstairs commandeer the piano, and bully their way into singing one of their anthems. Lazlo immediately heads down the stairs, and tells the house band to play “La Marseillaise” – the French national anthem. The band members look to Rick for his approval – watch for his affirmative nod. As they play, all the people in the club stand and sing together, and together, they overwhelm the Germans in the “battle of the anthems.”

Remember, many of those actors were Europeans; some had been imprisoned by the Nazis, others had been refugees, including the actress Madeleine Lebeau, who shouts “Vive la France! Vive la democratie!”

Remember, too, that when this movie was made, the outcome of the war was still very much up for grabs. But the emotion Miss Lebeau and the crowd exhibit is very real.

I love this movie, and I appreciate this opportunity to share it with you. Thanks for reading.

Now, I think I’ll go make some popcorn, put my feet up, and one more time watch Rick, Ilsa, Victor, and the rest, in the eternal struggle of good vs. evil. I’ll listen again as Sam sings, “As Time Goes By.” And I’ll rejoice as the good guys win again. Because we’ll always have Paris.

And once again, here’s looking at you, kid.

Lessons from Dad

I hope you had a pleasant Labor Day holiday weekend, and that you were able to do something fun with family or friends. I spent the weekend with my dad.

Dad & me 9-3-16Harry Louis Garison, Sr., is a remarkable man. Known to his friends as “Buddy,” he was born at home on August 25, 1928. When he got married, his father gave him an acre of land across the road, where dad built a house for his new bride. He still lives in that house where we grew up. Other than the three years when he was in the army, he has lived on that property in Orange County, Texas, his entire life.

Almost six years ago, my mom passed away from a stroke, and it was a hard blow for him, but he was determined to stay by himself, and he has. Well, not quite by himself – he has a gentle giant of a dog, an old German Shepherd named “Chica,” who is his faithful companion. My dad is also blessed with some great neighbors and good friends who regularly check on him and sometimes even bring him food.

Dad had a long career as a mechanic and a business owner. When we were boys, my brothers and I took turns working for him, and watching him and the way he carried himself has gone a long way towards making me who I am today.

The most important thing I’ve learned from my dad is that Christianity is not something you just talk about; it’s how you live. Dad has lived his life in accordance with the scripture that says, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:18).

Dependability, honesty, hard work, loyalty – these are the principles by which my dad has lived his life. It’s how he operated his business and how he raised his family. To this day, he is a role model for my brothers and me.

Something else I’ve learned from dad: patience. Whether it was fixing some stubborn problem on a car or dealing with a difficult customer, my dad always modeled patience for us, even though he would probably say he didn’t do a very good job at it.

In recent years, dad has shown great patience in another way. Dad has non-diabetic neuropathy, which has destroyed his balance and left him confined to a wheelchair. It has also turned his hands into claws, and left him unable to use his fingers. But he still lives by himself, dresses himself, and cooks his own food every day. He has gotten very creative in finding ways of doing things he used to do without thinking about it. He still gets them done; it just takes longer. But he is patient enough (and stubborn enough) to keep working on the chore in front of him, until he finishes it.

There’s a lot more I could say about my Dad, but one recent story reveals a lot about him. Dad enjoys ice cream as a treat, and he buys frozen goodies from the Schwan’s truck that comes to his house. Just the other day, he had bought a box of ice cream sandwiches, and decided he wanted one right then, so after the truck left, he opened the package and took one out, and was putting the box in the freezer above the refrigerator. As he was stretching up in his wheelchair, he slipped and fell, and spilled ice cream sandwiches everywhere. Just at that moment, his home health nurse arrived, and came into the kitchen to find him on the floor. “Oh my goodness!” she exclaimed. “What are you doing on the floor?”

“Never mind that,” he said. “Help me get this ice cream in the freezer before it melts!”

That’s my dad.

The National Game of Texas

In 1887, in the tiny North Texas town of Trappe Spring, two young boys had a problem. Twelve-year-old William Thomas and 14-year-old Walter Earl both really liked playing cards – not games of gambling, but trick-taking card games similar to Bridge, Spades, Whist, and the like. The problem was, both young men came from devout Baptist families, and playing cards was absolutely forbidden. What to do?

Playing dominoes was allowed in their homes, but the boys found regular dominoes to be, well, boring. So they set out to invent a new game, using the strategy and skill of their favorite card games, but utilizing dominoes instead of the sinful pasteboards. After a few months of trial and error, they had their game, which they taught to their families. Their families enjoyed this new game, and taught it to their neighbors. They liked it, too.

When their families moved to Fannin County, they took the game with them, and taught it to their new neighbors. It caught on there, too, and gradually spread across the whole state. And thus was born “The National Game of Texas” – 42.

domino-square_0Throughout the first half of the 20th century, Texans of all backgrounds and social levels would meet to play. In rural communities and big cities, neighbors would bring covered dishes to someone’s house on Saturday nights after work, and eat together. Then, after the dishes were done and while the kids played outside, the grown-ups would sit and sip their sweet iced tea (these are mostly Baptists, remember!), and play 42. The game was played in homes, at churches, on picnics, and around campfires.

When the Texas boys went off to World War II, they took the game with them. There are lots of stories about G.I.s teaching the game to their buddies from New York and California. But at its heart, it was – and is – a Texas game, officially recognized by the state legislature as the “Official Domino Game of Texas.”

And although some think of it as a game for older people, it’s actually making a comeback among younger players. In fact, every year in Halletsville, there is a state championship, to crown the best “42” player in the state.

Like many great games, 42 is easy to learn and hard to master. The game is played with four people – two teams of two people each. You draw seven dominoes, then you bid on how many “tricks” you can take for your team. There’s a total of 42 points for each round – hence, the name. Knowing how to bid well is the key to being a good player.

winning 42If you want to know more about the history and strategy of playing 42, you need to get a copy of Winning 42: Strategy & Lore of the National Game of Texas, by Dennis Roberson. There are also online versions of the game, where you can practice against computer-generated players.

The competition, skill and strategy of a well-played game is certainly enjoyable. But for many, the real pleasure of the game is the time spent with friends – the fun of getting together with neighbors to talk, to visit, and to share life together.

We played “regular” dominoes in my family when I was growing up, not 42, but a few years ago, I got to play a few hands when I was visiting a friend at her nursing home. Then last month, the teenagers of our “Young Leaders of Abilene” group were helping out at Cobb Park’s monthly game night, and there were some folks there playing 42. As I sat and watched, I remembered how much fun the game was. I began talking with some of my neighbors, and sure enough, discovered that several of them are devotees of the game.

So, coming up on Saturday, April 2, (4/2 – get it?), several neighbors and friends will get together here at the North Park Friendship House. We’ll set up tables, get out the dominoes, choose up teams, and play 42. At some point, we’ll stop long enough to eat, then we’ll play some more. Are you a 42 player, or do you know someone who is? Come join us.

William and Walter would be proud.

Slow Down

(Thanks to Keith Roberson, North Campus Pastor at Beltway Park, for kick-starting my thinking along these lines.)

It won’t come as a galloping surprise to anyone if I say, we’re busy. We’re all busy.

Duh.

And that busy-ness only gets worse during the holidays. Here it is, the first week of December, and my family already has somewhere to be, every night this week. And it’s going to continue like that for the whole month, right up until the 25th. Of course, by the time Christmas Day actually, finally, mercifully, gets here, we’re so exhausted that we won’t be able to appreciate it. So Christmas becomes something to be endured, rather than enjoyed.

Stop this train. I want to get off.

Nobody WANTS to hate Christmas. The truth is, most people enjoy many of the things associated with the season, but we utterly despise – and absolutely reject – the crass merchandising of the holiday, the cynicism of too-slick marketing, the packaging of warm fuzzies as if they were so many beans for sale on a store shelf somewhere.

Slow down. Nobody said it had to be this way.

I’m not going to tell you that you have to stay home from the office Christmas party, or not to exchange gifts with cousin Freddie, or skip putting up the outdoor decorations. But I AM suggesting that we all stop and think about what we’re doing, and why we’re doing it. And maybe that DOES mean, simplifying our schedules and cutting back on some things, in order to focus on better things.

Almost everyone likes SOMETHING about Christmas. The music. The food. Spending time with family or friends. So, how about we focus on doing the things we enjoy, and skip (or at least, minimize) the rest of it?

If it’s Christmas music you like, give yourself permission to spend more time listening to it. Do you like Christmas movies? Skip one of the endless parties, make some hot chocolate and popcorn, and stay in with “White Christmas” or “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Or even, “A Christmas Story,” if that’s your thing. (Just don’t put your eye out!)

Do you like to cook or bake? Whip up a batch of your favorite holiday snack treat – chocolate chip cookies, peppermint bark, Chex mix, whatever – and enjoy. Share some with friends. And don’t forget to take some to your neighbors.

Do you have little ones, kids or grandkids, that you can spend some time with? Find a way to make some Christmas memories for them. Think back to your own childhood: what was most special to you? Many folks remember something fun and special that their family did. So now, it’s your turn to help your young ones have some special memories of their own. But it’s not about the stuff – it’s about the time.

I’m suggesting we skip maxxing out our credit cards and over-scheduling ourselves into a holiday frenzy, and instead, slow down, think about what this season is all about, and spend some quality time with the people who matter in our lives. Share a second cup of coffee with a companion. Reach out to a friend. Don’t just forward another mindless Facebook meme about “the reason for the season” – let the Spirit of the Christ-child living in and through you be evident to everyone.

We can start by spending a little time in the Christmas Story as found in Luke 2. Notice that after the shepherds come for their visit, verse 19 says that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

Treasuring memories. Pondering them. Works for me.

October Blessings

autumn_railroad_by_celem-d5ogfhqI love October. It’s absolutely my favorite month of the year.

I don’t think this will come as a galloping surprise to anyone – I mean, LOTS of people consider autumn their favorite season. But for me, October specifically is my favorite, for several reasons. (And no, I didn’t take that picture; it’s one I found somewhere online. But I love it!)

And okay, yes, full disclosure: my birthday is in October (the 11th, if you’re wondering). I remember as a kid feeling a kinship with others in my school grade who shared October birthdays. I seem to recall that Paul Christian and Carlene Chandler were two in my class who shared this month with me. Later, I learned that my best friend from college, Kurt Stallings, has an October birthday, and my brother Jimmy and wife Christy got married in October. (On Kurt’s birthday, as a matter of fact.)

Of course, once you get over the age of 10 or 12, people stop making a big deal out of your birthday. Still, I enjoy mine. But that’s not the only reason I love October.

Getting to October means that we’ve survived another Texas summer. This is not a small thing. Summers around here are brutal, and September is nothing but a tease. The calendar may say that summer is over, but really, it isn’t – even in late September, the highs can easily reach the upper 90s or more. But October is a different matter – there are still warm days, to be sure, but the evenings and mornings have a delicious chill about them.

Another thing I like about October: postseason baseball. By this time of year, only the best teams are still playing. Playoff baseball is a thing of beauty – even more than the regular season. Big players make big plays in big games. And there’s a reason nobody in baseball is nicknamed, “Mr. April.” (Thank you, Drew Bowen!) So bring on the World Series, and Let’s – Go – Rang – ers!

The changing season means some changes to the menu. I love a good pot of chili, and there’s something about good chili – especially venison chili – that is warm and comforting and satisfying. I don’t know why we don’t eat chili when the weather is hot – we eat other soups and stews – but chili is the ultimate cold weather comfort food. And I know, at some point before the calendar changes again, I’ll be making a pot of it.

October means the holidays are coming, but not here yet. We have the excitement and anticipation of those good things, but don’t yet have to put with the craziness of too many events and too little time to do them all. I can, and do, look forward with a child’s excitement to the approach of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I love the colors of fall: red, orange, yellow, golden brown. Even though we don’t have the brilliance of New England or Appalachia (or even East Texas!), it’s still nice to see the changing colors of leaves, and appreciate the beauty of God’s creation.

In some ways, autumn is like a parable. The changing colors can inspire us to glorify God by taking up a new interest and exploring new opportunities to grow. The loss of leaves can remind us that sometimes we need to let go of some things, to allow old habits and destructive patterns drop away.

October is a reminder that nothing is permanent. Seasons change. Life is transitory. Make the most of every opportunity. Summer’s over, winter’s coming, but for now, October is here. And I’m happy about that.

Let’s enjoy it while we can.

A Place Called Honey Island

(This is a rerun of an article I originally published in 2012. I’ve got a new blog that will post tomorrow.)

Labor Day always brings back memories of family reunions at a place called Honey Island.  How that came about is the story I want to tell you.

My grandmother, Mazura Linscomb Garison, died in July, 1964 – less than a month after this picture was made. (The date of August, 1964, was the processing date.  Mom was a little slow in getting to the drug store sometimes.)  This picture shows me with my brothers and many of my cousins.  I’m the shirtless one, second from the left.

Anyway, as I understand the story, after Grandma’s funeral, all of the cousins, family members, in-laws, out-laws, Garisons, Garrisons (we do have some 2 R cousins), Linscombs, Cottons, and others decided that it was a shame that we needed a funeral to have a family get-together.  So, a few weeks later, our tradition of a family reunion came about.

In the heart of East Texas, in the middle of an area known as “The Big Thicket,” you will find the towns of Saratoga and Kountze.  And back in the day, at least, there was a little place called Honey Island, where there was a large park with open air pavilions, picnic tables – and two large swimming pools, fed by artesian springs.

I remember the water had this vague, sulphur-y smell – it smelled like the crude oil that was just under the surface in that part of Texas in those days.  We didn’t mind the smell.  It was a great place to swim, to play, and to see (or meet!) kinfolks we hardly ever saw.

Near the swimming pool was an open-air pool hall that had a jukebox.  CCR’s “Green River” and The Hollies, “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” seemed always to be playing.  (Saturday night I was downtown, workin’ for the FBI…)  Momma didn’t want us going near there, but you could hear the jukebox from the pool.  And I remember a sign in the pool house/concession stand that said, “We don’t swim in your toilet.  Please don’t pee in our pool.”

And the food that we shared at the potluck, of course, was great.  Lots of (homemade) fried chicken and potato salad, and plenty of other good things.  And watermelon.  It was a great time to be a kid.  And part of the family.  The tradition continued for many years.

Eventually, of course, we stopped going to Honey Island.  One by one, the older folks passed away.  The kids grew up, moved away, had kids and families of their own.  But I remember those good times of Labor Days past, and those cousins and family members I loved so much.  Each funeral makes thinking of heaven that much sweeter.

A few months after my mom passed, there was a family get-together, which I didn’t get to attend.  Maybe we’ll have another soon.  I hope so.

Meanwhile, here’s a shout-out to all those cousins and loved ones who remember with me our family reunions at Honey Island.  And to all of us, let me say, cherish your families.  And don’t wait for a funeral to see each other.

Happy Labor Day.

How Good and Pleasant

I grew up in a family of four brothers. Three of us, and our wives, just finished spending the weekend together.

Our family has always been close – thankfully, no major drama or fights. I’m very grateful for that, and I think my brothers would say the same. And in spite of the fact that we used to squabble and fuss as kids, since we became adults, we all pretty much like each other, and enjoy each other’s company.

But still, it’s easier to stay apart than get together. That’s no one’s fault – it’s just the way it is. We grew up in Southeast Texas, between Beaumont and Orange, and our dad still lives in the home we grew up in. But I live in Abilene now. One of us lives in Lewisville, north of Dallas. The other two live north of Houston, in the Spring/Tomball area. We all have jobs, kids, in-laws; some have kids that are married now, and some have grand-babies starting to come along.

So, all of that to say, we are all very busy, as just about everyone is these days.

But this past January, when we were all together and doing some work at our dad’s house, we talked about finding a way to try and gather for a weekend. After a lot of emails and text messages, we found there wasn’t a perfect time to make it happen, but we settled on a date that seemed like the best compromise with the fewest conflicts and said, “Y’all come.”

BuffaloUnfortunately, one of our brothers and his wife couldn’t join us this time, and we missed them, but the rest of us had a great time. We talked and laughed and grilled hamburgers. And talked. And laughed. And we reminisced about our childhood and shared memories and swapped lies, and played ping-pong and dominoes, and made chicken and dumplings with a recipe that was pretty close to our grandmother’s version. And we went to church together and had communion together. And talked. And laughed.

And – we began making plans to do it all again, next year.

Families matter. So let me respectfully suggest that you get together with yours. Pick a date, pick a location, send the word. Those who can be there, please don’t have any anger against those who can’t, and those who can’t shouldn’t harbor any resentment against those who can. Keep it simple, and have fun.

How many times have we all stood around at funerals and said, “Gee, it’s a shame someone has to die for everyone to drop what they’re doing and come together. We should plan a family reunion sometime.” Unfortunately, that’s as far as it gets sometimes.

As for me, I’m looking forward to the next time our bunch can do this. We’re busy trying to pick a location and set a date for 2016. We’re going to plan it far enough out so that everyone can come this time, including kids, grandkids, in-laws, out-laws, and the whole kit ‘n’ kaboodle.

It will be here before we know it.

 

 

Lessons from St. Patrick

One of my favorite days of the year, March 17 – St. Patrick’s Day – is almost here. It’s one of my favorites not because I especially love wearing green, but because there really was a man named Patrick who deserves to be remembered.

Patrick was not Irish by birth, but was actually born in England or Wales in the late 300s. By his own account, he was NOT a Christian as a young man. At 16, he was kidnapped by Irish pirates and taken as a slave to Ireland, where he stayed for six years. He spent much of that time tending sheep, and he also became a believer. Eventually he managed to escape his captors and return to Britain, but after studying for the priesthood, he had a vision of the people of Ireland begging him to return to their island and bring them the gospel.

Ireland at the time was a coarse, pagan land – tribal chieftains competing for power, constant battles, the people worshiping various pagan gods and goddesses, widespread kidnapping and slavery. Patrick brought his faith, and in one generation, Ireland was at peace and slavery had been abolished.

How he brought about such a great social change is too long a story to relate here, but part of it involved Patrick selecting a group of young disciples and pouring himself into them. He would spend about three years, teaching them and showing them how to walk out their faith – then he would send them on their way to put their Christianity into practice. Some of them would become farmers, some shepherds, some craftsmen – and some would become pastors and begin gathering followers of their own. Meanwhile, he would gather up another group of a dozen or so, and start over.Green_Celtic_Cross_by_dashinvaine

Their influence spread, and it changed the entire culture. For Patrick and his students, Christianity was not a set of doctrines to be studied – it was a way of life to be followed. The message of the gospel wasn’t just about saving people’s souls – it was about making a real difference, improving people’s lives in the here and now. Celtic Christianity wasn’t about going to church to find God – it was about recognizing that God shows Himself in every sunrise and sunset, every blade of grass and mountain stream, and we can see Him through His creation, if we will just look.

There are many legends about Patrick; one says that he used the three-leafed shamrock (already a sacred plant in Irish life) to teach the people the doctrine of the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If that’s true, it certainly fits with what we know of Patrick’s teaching that we should never worship creation, but that the creation points us to the Creator, and we do worship Him.

If you want to learn more about Patrick, I suggest How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill. I think it’s one of the most entertaining history books ever written.

So Happy St. Patrick’s Day. And Erin Go Bragh!

The Secret of Christmas

(I’d like to dedicate this blog to my late father-in-law, Frank Rolens. Frank was a wonderful, gentle, Godly man, a great father and husband, a terrific father-in-law and friend. December 16 was his birthday, and he absolutely loved Barbershop singing and the Vocal Majority, so I’m posting this in his honor.)

Back in 1982, radio station KVIL in Dallas released the first of what would become a series of Christmas recordings. This album, and later CDs, contained some really beautiful Christmas songs – some old favorites, some newer material – and featured artists from the D/FW and North Texas area.

One of my favorites was a recording by the Vocal Majority of “The Secret of Christmas.” I had never heard the song before, but it turns out it was written by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn for Bing Crosby to sing in the 1959 movie, “Say One for Me.” Besides Der Bingle, the song has been covered by numerous artists, including Ella Fitzgerald, Julie Andrews and Johnny Mathis, but the VM’s version remains my favorite.

Now, if you’re not familiar with the Vocal Majority, they are a men’s chorus of about 150 guys who sing in classic “Barbershop” harmony. They are based in Dallas, and have won numerous international singing competitions.

My preacher, David McQueen, has been talking in his recent sermons about the true “Spirit” of Christmas, and the idea that the best of what we call “The Christmas Spirit” – joy, generosity, hope, surrounding yourself with loved ones – are qualities that Christians ought to embody throughout the entire year. That certainly fits with this song.

So here are the lyrics for “The Secret of Christmas,” along with a YouTube recording of the VM singing it. Do yourself a favor and watch this video. Let their gorgeous harmonies wash over you.

And may we all remember the secret, all year through.

It's not the glow you feel
 When snow appears
 It's not the Christmas card
 You've sent for years
Not the joyful sound
 When sleigh bells ring
 Or the merry songs
 Children sing
The little gift you send
 On Christmas day
 Will not bring back the friend
 You've turned away
So may I suggest, the secret of Christmas
 Is not the things you do at Christmas time 
 But the Christmas things you do
 All year through

 

My Favorite Season

autumn_railroad_by_celem-d5ogfhqI love autumn.  It’s absolutely my favorite season of the year, for several reasons. (And by the way, no, I didn’t take this picture, I found it on the Internet.  Sure is pretty, though.  I hope the owner doesn’t mind me using it.)

Autumn means we’ve made it through another long, hot, dry Texas summer.  Autumn means crisp mornings and warm afternoons, but with a hint of coolness.  It’s the time for hot chocolate, hay rides, and a good bowl of chili.  (It’s also time for my birthday, and I’m still enough of a kid to enjoy having it come around!)

The fall means Friday Night football, the beautiful fall foliage, and of course, anticipating the holidays bringing fun and fellowship with family and friends.

Autumn can be a sad time for some people.  It can be a time for regret, or becoming distracted by unmet goals, but it doesn’t have to be.  We can make autumn a wonderful season of refreshment and reminding ourselves of what is best, if we will.

Here are some thoughts on making the most of your autumn.

Explore some new colors.  One of the best things about the fall is the bright colors that we see around us –beautiful crimson, the harvest gold, bright yellow, all shades of brown.  Autumn is a great time to take up a new hobby, read that book you’ve been meaning to start, take a trip you’ve been dreaming about making.  Trying new things can be as invigorating as a cool fall morning, so go for it!

Let go of anything holding you back.  Trees are shedding old leaves and dropping their dead stuff.  Sometimes we need to do the same.  Let go of past regrets, self-condemnation and old grudges.  Let bygones be bygones, and forgive.  We forgive, not because others deserve it, but because WE do  As long as you’re holding onto that pain, you’re giving the offender the power to keep hurting you.  When you forgive, their power over you is destroyed.  And forgive yourself, as well.

Appreciate blessings while they last.  Autumn in Texas doesn’t last long; winter will soon be here.  We need to appreciate the blessings that God gives us while they last.  As C.S. Lewis once observed, “The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and pose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.”  In other words, enjoy the blessings that God gives, but realize they are never permanent.

Here’s wishing you and yours a blessed and happy Autumn!