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Steven S. Billings

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

AUBURN-CORD-DUESENBERG
World Series Game 2

Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum in Aurburn, Indiana.  Love those old cars!  This is one of my favorite pics snapped that day.  As you may have guessed, it is the hood ornament from a grand old Duesenberg.

10:10 am est

OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES

In my dad's library of books, which have now been scattered amongst his children, there is a delightful collection of works by the American physician and poet Oliver Wendell Holmes.  Admittedly, reading Holmes is a bit like reading Shakespeare from a post-modern world view; it's difficult to grasp all the references, so some (or much) of the meaning of his poems at this date is lost upon the present-day reader.  A degree of historical study would be required, I think, to comprehend all that Holmes has packed into his repertoire.  That said, there are certain works that are so universal as to bring a nod and a chuckle to just about anyone.  After reading through about a quarter of the first volume, I thought I'd share one such poem.

The poem is called: "Verses for After-Dinner."  It was delivered to the Phi Beta Kappa Society in the year 1844.  This society, dedicated to the fostering of literary excellence and fraternal fellowship, apparently entertained lively debates, which, as it seems from Holmes' words, could get rather acerbic.  With characteristic good-humor, Holmes offered these lines at the close of one such event:

VERSES FOR AFTER-DINNER
PHI BETA KAPPA SOCIETY, 1844

I WAS thinking last night, as I sat in the cars,
With the charmingest prospect of cinders and stars,
Next Thursday is -- bless me! -- how hard it will be,
If that cannibal president calls upon me!

There is nothing on earth that he will not devour,
From a tutor in seed to a freshman in flower;
No sage is too gray, and no youth is too green,
And you can't be too plump, though you're never too lean.

While others enlarge on the boiled and the roast,
He serves a raw clergyman up with a toast,
Or catches some doctor, quite tender and young,
And basely insists on a bit of his tongue.

Poor victim, prepared for his classical spit,
With a stuffing of praise and a basting of wit,
You may twitch at your collar and wrinkle your brow,
But you're up on your legs, and you're in for it now.

Oh think of your friends, -- they are waiting to hear
Those jokes that are thought so remarkably queer;
And all the Jack Horners of metrical buns
Are prying and fingering to pick out the puns.

Those thoughts which, like chickens, will always thrive best
When reared by the heat of the natural nest,
Will perish if hatched from their embryo dream
In the mist and the glow of convivial steam.

Oh pardon me, then, if I meekly retire,
With a very small flash of ethereal fire;
No rubbing will kindle your Lucifer match,
If the fiz does not follow the primitive scratch.

Dear friends, who are listening so sweetly the while,
With your lips double-reefed in a snug little smile, --
I leave you two fables, both drawn from the deep, --
The shells you can drop, but the pearls you may keep.

.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .

The fish called the FLOUNDER, perhaps you may know,
Has one side for use and another for show;
One side for the public, a delicate brown,
And one that is white, which he always keeps down.

A very young flounder, the flattest of flats,
(And they 're none of them thicker than opera hats,)
Was speaking more freely than charity taught
Of a friend and relation that just had been caught.

"My! what an exposure! just see what a sight!
I blush for my race, -- he is showing his white
Such spinning and wriggling, -- why, what does he wish?
How painfully small to respectable fish!"

Then said an Old SCULPIN, -- "My freedom excuse,
You're playing the cobbler with holes in your shoes;
Your brown side is up, -- but just wait till you're tried
And you'll find that all flounders are white on one side."

.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .

There's a slice near the PICKEREL'S pectoral fins,
Where the thorax leaves off and the venter begins,
Which his brother, survivor of fish-hooks and lines,
Though fond of his family, never declines.

He loves his relations; he feels they'll be missed;
But that one little tidbit he cannot resist;
So your bait may be swallowed, no matter how fast,
For you catch your next fish with a piece of the last.

And thus, O survivor, whose merciless fate
Is to take the next hook with the president's bait,
You are lost while you snatch from the end of his line
The morsel he rent from this bosom of mine!

9:59 am est

Sunday, November 26, 2006

'TIS GOOD, LORD, TO BE HERE

The rarity of these days impresses itself upon me each morning as I rise to greet my loved ones, lazily rolling out of bed to the smell of a fresh-cooked breakfast and the lively sounds of friendly banter between my brother and his wife, the patter of 2-year-old happy feet, and the sometimes raucous verbal jousting of Chanel (13) and Nathaniel (9).

With the dog (Roxy) and the cat (Tuffy), the activity in this house seldom stalls, but it will be ever-so-missed when I return to my townhouse in Metro Detroit.  What a delight it has been pal-around with my brother and his family -- my family.  And what a wonderful bit of "pal"-ing we have done!

On Monday, Jim picked me up at the airport.  On the drive home we stopped for some New York pizza.  Delicious!  On Tuesday we went out to do some shopping -- mostly of the grocery variety at the near-by commissary (always an experience!).  In the evening, Jim and I accompanied Nathaniel to his basketball practice.  What fun!

Wednesday, Jim, Nathaniel and I went to the American Museum of the Moving Image.  Quite interesting!  Afterward, the "three Billings men" ate at a diner across the street and drove home listening to a CD of old radio programs that were recorded as Thanksgiving specials.  Abbott & Costello, Amos & Andy, The Aldrich Family . . . these shows all spoke of the great need of families in the 40s.  How blessed we are for the abundance with which we are blessed in our day and age!

On Thanksgiving we all stuffed ourselves, as is our American custom.  Turkey, stuffing, two kinds of potatoes, cranberry sauce, the whole works, including two different kinds of pie -- all made from scratch.  Yum!

Friday we went to see Happy Feet.  It's computer animation is spectacular, and the story is endearing, though a bit "preachy" for my taste.  I'm getting a bit fatigued with the Hollywood liberal elite foisting their social/political on me via the entertainment media.  I don't go to movies so that my opinion may be shaped and molded.  I go to be entertained.  I suppose I wouldn't mind it so much if the agenda were part of the promotion, but usually it's not advertised, and I end up having to filter through a pile of junk to take home something worth remembering.  It seems odd to say, but I wouldn't be surprised to find myself at some point in the future looking back and remembering how much I used to enjoy seeing movies, but not having done so in years.

The last two days have been spent rather relaxed, watching old movies, chatting, playing cards, etc.  I always get to watch movies here that I've never seen before, even though they are classics.  So far, we've seen High Noon, It's a Wonderful Life (believe it or not, I had never seen it all the way through!), Heaven Can Wait (ok, I'd seen that one before), The Maltese Falcon, and The Right Stuff (great film, though the language leaves a little to be desired).

Tonight Jim is preparing our mom's Swiss steak recipe.  He always does a great job with it.  (He's generally a very good cook -- cooked the turkey, as usual, and made our dad's sage dressing recipe.)

I know that the day after tomorrow I have to return home, and I suppose I will be ready, but I am counting my many blessings today -- blessings that come from intelligent conversation, hugs from Chanel and Nathaniel, and smiles from a little cutie who calls me "eh-ah eee" (Uncle Steve).

I'm going to miss you all so very much.

1:04 pm est

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

PHIL KEAGGY IN CONCERT

I saw Phil Keaggy in concert the other night.  It was a wonderful performance, as one might expect.  He played acoustic guitar the whole evening, interspersing vocals with instrumentals.  As has become his custom, he used a great deal of "looping" -- recording himself and then playing and singing over the top of that, sometimes stacking as many as half-a-dozen layers.  Of course, I loved it!  Stacking my own voice is a blast, so I enjoyed listening to Phil do it, too, as the blend is simply unbeatable.  he even sang into the guitar pick-up, which gave a narrow band-width to his voice.  very cool effect!  I kept track of the songs he played.  The concert went as follows:

1) Helix the Cat
2) Thank You for Today
3) Strong Tower
4) Shades of Green
5) Here Comes the Sun
6) How Can I Thank You
7) Revive Me
8) There with You
9) Instrumental (title not given)
10) Salvation Army Band

Intermission

11) Lost in You
12) Little Ones
13) Intrumental (title not given)
14) Kathy's Song
15) Instrumental (title not given)
16) Find Me in These Fields
17) Warm as Tears
18) Right or Redeemed
19) If Not for You
20) Let Everything Else Go
21) True Believers

Encore

22) Can You See Me

Sorry about the instrumental titles that I couldn't come up with. I recognized all of them, but wasn't sure which albums they were from. As you can see, he did material spanning nearly his entire career. He was very gracious, though he seemed a bit tired. Apparently, he had been traveling all day and didn't even get to do his usual sound check, so I imagine he was a bit fatigued and frustrated. For the first half of the concert his voice was lyrical and accurate, but as the evening progressed, his pitches suffered a bit, no doubt due to the day's travel.

Two things detracted from a complete enjoyment of this concert: 1) the militant Roman Catholic sitting next to me, who seemed to want to pick a fight with a Lutheran and whistled during the concert (not cheering; he was trying -- and failing! -- to whistle the melodies that Phil was singing), and 2) Phil's glaring departure from Scripture concerning everlasting punishment for unbelievers. I'm not sure when or under what circumstances Phil bought into the notion of a temporary hell, but he was pretty adamant about it. His heretical bent in this regard seems to hinge upon a kind of universalism which leans heavily on the grace and mercy of God while neglecting the necessity of faith. Of course, God is indeed merciful, but Scripture is very clear that the fate of those who die in unbelief is everlasting.

So, all-in-all an enjoyable evening, but not without its distractions.

5:22 pm est

Monday, November 6, 2006

WHO DO YOU LOVE?

His clothes were unkempt, his hair disheveled, his face and hands unwashed. There was a far-away look in his eyes and a southern tilt to his voice. He said his name was Timothy. He asked everyone he met what their name was.

Timothy showed up at our door one night as we were having a dinner at the church. The table was full of food, more than our little group could possibly have consumed. One of our faithful offered Timothy a plate, which he gladly, hungrily, accepted.

"I'm trying to get back to Memphis," he drawled. "Memphis," said I, "a great music town!" He smiled and began to elaborate on my comment. "What brought you to Michigan?" I inquired. "Well, I went to Chicago for work. When that ended, I came here looking for a job," he replied. "Yeah," I responded, "jobs in Michigan are hard to come by these days."

Timothy asked for a couple of dollars for bus fare. He was accommodated, and gratefully polite. Wishing him God's blessings, we said goodbye. Though we had done the right thing, I sensed the uneasiness in the room.

The next week, Timothy appeared at our door again. Again, we were having a dinner. (We're Lutherans; we do that a lot!) Timothy was welcomed and given a plate of food. Only this time he was generally ignored by the others in the room. One or two paid him special attention, seeing to his needs. He was quite talkative, sometimes to no one but himself. I was hoping he'd stay for Bible class. He didn't. And though I was not alone in my disappointment, I could tell that others were relieved that he was gone.

The following week, as we were gathered for our weekly feast, my cell phone rang. It was one of our members. "Pastor, are you at the church?" "Why, yes, we're all downstairs," I answered. "Could you have someone come open the door? I'm locked out." "Oh!" said I, and enlisted someone near the door to let the lady in. You see, the door locks automatically this is Detroit, after all and we usually stick a little child's play block in the doorway to keep it propped open when we're gathered there, so that those wanting to come in may freely do so. But sometimes the block gets booted by mistake and the door latches. "Surely, that's what happened," I thought.

But, no, I was wrong, I recently discovered. The block had been intentionally removed. Why? To keep Timothy out. He talks to himself, you know.

I saw Timothy walking down the street the other day, the same unkempt clothes, the same disheveled hair, the same unwashed face and hands. I was relieved to see that he was still alive, and was, at the same time, both pleased and ashamed.

"'I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.' Then they themselves also will answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?' Then He will answer them, saying, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me'" (Matthew 25:42-45).

10:39 am est

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For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
(Philippians 1:21)

Be sure to get in touch so I know you're out there!