Sunday, December 4, 2016

Second Sunday of Advent 2016

In lighting the second candle of the Advent wreath today, we acknowledge the messengers sent to prepare the way for Christ. John prepared people for Christ's first coming. Today's messengers prepare people for Christ's return. God wants us to view these messengers as evidence of his love. He wants us to listen to their message, through which God himself makes us ready.

John the Baptist prepared the way for the Lord by preaching repentance. 

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar--when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene-- 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. 3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:

“A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. 5 Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. 6 And all mankind will see God's salvation.’” 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A Holiday Punch: Booze, Fruit, Socks, Nylons, And A Dash Of Battle Dirt

The brisk winds and cool temperatures sweeping across Atlanta today reminded me that only a few weeks remain to brew up a delicious Savannah tradition for the coming holidays. I'm sure the old money - and new money wannabes - have already set aside a batch for Christmas, New Year's Eve , and Twelfth Night gatherings. Of course the batch were talking about is Chatham Artillery Punch, by far the city's most historic and memorable beverage.

In 1977, I was introduced to Chatham Artillery Punch at the so comfortable but long-gone Lion's Den in the DeSoto Hilton in Savannah. It reminded me of rumtopf only it was better. Much better. The elite military unit for which it is named, one of the oldest in the nation, has a storied history of defending Georgia and the United States for over two centuries, including service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today the unit serves as the 1st Battalion, 118th Field Artillery. The punch always graces their celebration of Saint Barbara's Day and Christmas. I can think of no better way to end a traditional celebration of Christmas in Georgia than enjoying one cup of this wonderful drink among family, friends and colleagues.

I'm sure the ingredients varied over the years depending on what was at hand but the following recipe - derived from several formulations and an archival source that shall remain nameless - captures the historic flavors nicely, Although a 2006 Georgia National Guard newsletter noted that a pair of soldier's socks, the stockings of a soldier's wife, and sand from Iraq were added to the punch that year we're not going that far.

Chatham Artillery Punch (for 50 guests)

2 quarts of strong green tea (soak about 1/4 pound of tea for a day, then strain)
Juice of 10 lemons
1 1/4 pounds brown sugar
2 quarts Catawba wine (a red muscadine will be easier to find and work just as well)
2 quarts Santa Cruz rum (use Virgin Islands style rum, light or dark)
1 quart brandy
1 quart dry gin (I like the flavorings in Bombay Sapphire)
1 quart rye whiskey
3 pints Queen Anne cherries
3 pints pineapple chunks
3 quarts champagne

To prepare, sterilize a 5 gallon crock or similar vessel. Mix the tea and lemon juice then dissolve the brown sugar and gently stir in all the alcohol except the champagne. Add the cherries and pineapple chunks carefully. Cover the crock tightly and sit aside in a cool, dark place for at least one week, but one month is better. Careful sampling is permitted to insure the fermentation process is working. To serve, pour the mixture carefully over a block of ice - anything smaller will dilute the punch -  add the champagne, and stir gently. Never refrigerate to cool ahead of serving or serve with ice cubes.

This is a deliciously smooth, flavorful and potent drink to be enjoyed responsibly. Also keep in mind that the longer it ferments, the more powerful, deceptive and tasty it becomes. here is a point - say after two months - at which the punch becomes a lightly fruited rumtopf, a perfect topping for ice cream or bundt. To be honest, I suspect using it in Old Savannah as something other than a beverage would be a sacrilege.

Regardless of how you plan to enjoy Chatham Artillery Punch, know that your expense and anticipation will be rewarded. I once brewed a batch for eight weeks. It was legendary.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

C.S. Lewis: Aiming For Heaven

Some day you will be old enough to read fairy tales
                                                                           C.S. Lewis

I was introduced to the mind of C. S. (Clive Staples) Lewis through a gift. My best friend gave me a copy of The Four Loves as medication for some perplexing developments in a relationship with Marti, the girl of my dreams at the time. Eventually, Marti moved on with a professor of English at UNC Chapel Hill. I was left with a life-long literary relationship with Lewis and can only trust that Marti found equal satisfaction. C.S. Lewis, one of the last century's leading scholars, novelists, and Christian apologists, was born on this day in 1898. Many readers likely know his name and even more know some of his work - The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Space Trilogy, Mere Christianity - but many may not be familiar with the depth and breadth of his literary accomplishments.

C.S. Lewis                                                        National Portrait Gallery, London

mmersed the the world of the university scholar where he was a close friend and colleague of J. R.R. Tolkein, Lewis enjoyed the community but also appreciated his privacy. For that reason, very few interviews and recordings of the man survive. One tape still with us is a fifteen-minute talk he gave over BBC Radio during a three part series of presentations between 1942 and 1944. The recording reveals the great warmth, friendliness, and integrity of the man.

The talks soon appeared as three separate books shortly after World War II. In 1952, the series was edited into a single book, Mere Christianity. It's now considered a masterpiece in Christian apologetics.

If you cannot enjoy a Lewis book you simply haven't read enough of his work. And there is enough to accommodate readers as his Wikipedia bibliography has almost eighty entries of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. Choose...and enjoy.

Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither

                                                                                C.S. Lewis

Monday, November 28, 2016

William Blake: An Unmasked Rebel In Eternity's Sunrise

To see a world in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour

                                               from Auguries of Innocence, William Blake, 1803

On this day in 1757 the British artist and writer, William Blake, was born in London. He is without a doubt my favorite anarchist. He helps me dream.

In his own time he was so eccentric his neighbors and friends thought he was a madman. As an engraver and illustrator he was caught between the decline of the guilds and the rise of industrialization. It was a time when men saw the value of their labors swept away from the cottage and into the factory under the watchful eye of the manager. For workers, the loss of autonomy, the shift in control and production, and the helplessness in the face of change led to a revolt against the Age of Reason and a rage against technologies it spawned. Two centuries later he would be recognized as both one whose vision, imagination and sensitivity were unmatched in the age of Romanticism, and a truly unique influence in the history of the Western world.

There is one certainty about Blake's work and that is its complexity. He is by far one of the most interesting visionaries to come out of the West and its traditions. I hope you will take time to examine him and his extraordinary contributions to our experience. To explore his work appropriately is beyond the intent of this blog and capability of its author. For readers who want to learn more about Blake, to me there's no finer work available than Jacob Bronowski's A Man Without A Mask, published in 1944, and it's expanded version, William Blake and the Age of Revolution, published in 1972.

William Blake                  Thomas Phillips, English, 1807

I have learned much from the artist and philosopher, William Blake, in an effort to balance my life between intellect and emotion. So far it's been a beautiful, productive, and fascinating journey. These works have been a part of that experience:

In the following illustration Blake depicts his character, Urizen, [You rising] as reason shaping the world and its experience. This engraving is also interpreted as God the Father [and often God the Son] as divining existence. It is a prime example of the complex and often confounding world of Blake's imagination.

The Ancient of Days                                                                  William Blake, 1793

Here Blake depicts Isaac Newton [and the Age of Reason] at the bottom of the sea shaping (the dividers, once more) the world of humankind on the earth. Newton has turned his back on the organic beauty of God's natural world. 

Newton                                                                                 William Blake, 1795

Here, the Angel of Peace descends forcibly out of heaven illustrating God's reason (the dividers) brought into the world in the form of his Son to reconcile Nature (the recline female nude) and a redeemed humanity 

The Descent of Peace                      William Blake, ca. 1815

One of Blake's most familiar pieces is his preface to Milton A Poem. The preface says much about Blake's philosophy opposing the Age of Reason as embodied in Greek and Roman thought and the dangers a reliance on intellect can bring to a world based equally on emotion. Furthermore, the preface is a perfect illustration of Blake's religious mysticism as well as his veneration of Milton.

The stolen and perverted writings of Homer and Ovid, of Plato and Cicero, which all men ought to contemn, are set up by artifice against the Sublime of the Bible; but when the New Age is at leisure to pronounce, all will be set right, and those grand works of the more ancient, and consciously and professedly Inspired men will hold their proper rank, and the Daughters of Memory shall become the Daughters of Inspiration, Shakspeare and Milton were curb'd by the general malady and infection from the silly Greek and Latin slaves of the sword. Rouse up, O Young Men of the New Age! Set your foreheads against the ignorant hirelings! For we have hirelings in the camp, the Court, and the University, who would, if they could, for ever depress mental, and prolong corporeal war. Painters! on you I call. Sculptors! Architects! suffer not the fashionable fools to depress your powers by the prices they pretend to give for contemptible works, or the expensive advertising boasts that they make of such works; believe Christ and His Apostles that there is a class of men whose whole delight is in destroying. We do not want either Greek or Roman models if we are but just and true to our own Imaginations, those Worlds of Eternity in which we shall live for ever, in Jesus our Lord.

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills.

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.

Would to God that all the Lord's people were Prophets. Numbers xi, ch. 26

Readers may be more familiar with Blake's poem through this medium:

As this tribute comes to a close, I'd like to reference one of Blake's poems that virtually all children read before the end of their middle schools years a half century ago. It's remarkably simple in form yet its questions brim with imagination and wonder. I so hope that "The Tyger" is still read and heard by young students so they can remember its message over their varied lifetimes.

Tyger, Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies,
Burnt the fire in thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? What the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp.
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears
And water'd heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger, Tyger burning bright, 
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

William Blake                            John Linnell, English, 1863

He who binds himself to a joy
Doth the winged life destroy
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in Eternity's sunrise

                                                                              Eternity, William Blake, 1803


Photos and Illustrations:
Blake portrait, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.
Newton, Tate Gallery, London,

Text:, Blake entry
Jacob Bronowski, A Man Without A Mask, Seeker and Warburg, London, 1944

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Arrival Of The Light Of The World

The word, "advent," comes from the Latin "adventus," meaning "arrival." Today in the Christian world we mark two beginning, that of a church year as well as its first season, Advent. The four week journey through the season anticipates both the birth of Jesus Christ as the Light of the World and his return at the Last Judgement.

As we enter into the seasons of Advent and Christmastide, it is time once more to explore almost two thousand years of words, music, and visual arts created for this holy time.

The Descent of Peace                                       William Blake

I give you the end of a gold string.
Only wind it in a ball,
It will lead you to Heaven's gate
built in Jerusalem's wall.
                                                      from William Blake's poem, "Jerusalem"

Today's music is a plainsong dating from the 7th century. Conditor Alme Siderum (Creator of the Stars at Night.

Here is some background on the hymn including its original text and an English translation. For a more detailed exploration of the hymn and its variations over the past 1500 years, go here.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Thank You, Mr. Carrier!

High temperatures across the nation have been mostly above normal this year. Across the South they were downright stifling from Memorial Day through September. That means we should take an even longer moment today to remember and thank Willis Haviland Carrier for his contribution to comfort through an invention we've appreciated for more than a century. In fact, I think it's appropriate to say that Carrier made the South livable in terms of industry, commerce, and housing. Without his genius the region's development in the 20th century would have emerged at a much slower pace if at all.

On this day in 1876, Carrier was born into an old New England family. A few years after graduating from Cornell with an engineering degree, he designed a system of conditioning air - the key was humidity control - in a stiflingly hot and humid Brooklyn printing plant. The new environment ensured stability in the paper and the perfect alignment of four-color printing. It was soon a huge success in several industries. By the 1920s, air conditioning became popular in retail trade and entertainment, especially the movie theater. It was a small jump from commercial systems to home systems. By the 1930s, air conditioning began a slow but steady increase in usage until the post World War II era when it boomed. Carrier's application would have far reaching impacts on the American experience. For one, his invention made the South a more comfortable and attractive place in which to live and work.

Carrier in 1915

Just how significant was it for the South? One of the most significant books in the historiography of the region, Ulrich Bonnell Phillips's Life and Labor in the Old South, begins with these words:

Let us begin by discussing the weather for that has been the chief agency in making the South distinctive. ... The summers are not merely long but bakingly hot, with temperatures ranging rather steadily in the eighties and nineties of the Fahrenheit scale.

The early 20th century single story Southern home, with its high-roof, wrap-around porch, and traditional "dog trot" breezeway, was a vernacular response to that baking heat. Homes of this type can still be found throughout the South, in fact, contemporary construction in the region often incorporates its features in vestigial form. But what has made the South so popular these days? I believes in particular the natural climate remains a significant draw, especially now that the social and political climate of the New South welcomes all Americans. Still, Southerners must deal with the heat. From an environmental perspective, air conditioning made the South livable and workable year round. Carrier's invention not only improved productivity but also attracted a multitude of new industries. Today, we take this livelihood and comfort for granted across the nation giving it attention only when it's either time to change the filter or repair a compressor.

Carrier posing with a 1922 model chiller

For more information on the impact of air conditioning check out these sites:

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016

Due to scheduling issues our Thanksgiving celebration occurred over two days this year.We had a wonderful dinner each day for a total of fourteen people. Old traditions held strong including the preparation of more than enough food and trimmings to last through the weekend for us and any guests interested in a sweet and savory leftovers. There was one omission this year: Maryland Skipjack oyster dressing. I survived without it but do look forward to sharing it with friends and family at Christmas. 

As this day for thanks comes to an end and the faces in the fireplace like the flames settle quietly to ash we trust that your day was enjoyable, fulfilling, and reaffirming. Here are some words and music for the close of the day:

a prayer for thanksgiving by Martin Luther...

God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, You looked upon all that You created and declared it good. Grant that we, this day, might regard Your creation with the same esteem and appreciation, seeing You at work in every daily operation. Help us to give thanks as we recognize Your loving work in all abundant blessings. Most of all, let us see not only Your creation, but also its redemption, through Jesus Christ. Amen

...and a song of thanksgiving arranged by the renowned British composer, John Rutter:

We trust your experience today exceeded all or your expectations.