Written by Ray Richardson
As a child and now into adulthood, I have always loved this very simple message that sums up clearly and concisely what Christmas is all about.
Charlie Brown: "Isn't there ANYONE who knows what Christmas is all about?"
Linus: "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'" (Luke 2:8-14)
"You see, Charlie Brown — that's what Christmas is all about."
Yes, Linus, that is what Christmas and the Christmas season is all about. I have never understood why some seem to determined to confuse the issue or to ignore it all and pretend this is a secular event.
We commonly hear about the "war on Christmas." Newspapers and columnists write scads of words arguing over whether the town tree should be a Christmas tree or a holiday tree so people who do not celebrate Christmas are not offended. It seems kind of silly.
Department stores flip-flop back and forth over whether their staffs can offer a hearty "Merry Christmas," or simply offer a "Happy Holidays" so not to offend. Some years you can say it. Other years you cannot.
I still go back to this. In my 52 years on this planet, I have yet to hear anyone offer a hearty "Merry Christmas" with ill intent. "Merry Christmas" is a joyous greeting that offers good wishes to the recipient, whether you celebrate the day or not.
Let's face it. The celebration of Christmas has changed over the years and certainly become more commercialized, but at its core ... the reason for the Christmas season is about the birth of a child, a very special child.
Whenever a child is born, we rejoice. The birth of a baby is joyous and hopeful. That is what the Christmas season is really all about, the hope that comes with the birth of a baby.
In case this, the baby we celebrate just so happens to be the son of God. With his birth comes the opportunity for salvation and eternal life with God the Father.
I know there are those who do not believe this. Some believe in another God. Some do not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ. Others still believe there is no God whatsoever.
That is the beauty of the birth of Jesus, this gift from God. You can accept it freely or reject it. God does not compel you to believe in him or his son.
He does, however, extend his arms wide open for you through his son Jesus.
Christians are not perfect, but that is the point. We are not perfect, but because of the love from God through his son Jesus, we are forgiven for our imperfections.
Despite what you may hear or despite what you may believe, becoming a Christian is actually very easy. All you have to do is open your heart and your mind and allow Jesus to become the foundation of your life as your Lord and Savior.
Knowing Jesus makes you want to be a better person, but it does not mean that you somehow, magically, are no longer you. So many non-believers are confused because they see Christian people making mistakes, not living up to the high ideals of their faith. They wonder how a person can believe in God and his son Jesus and still live a life filled with mistakes.
What they are missing is that Jesus offers forgiveness and salvation through his love for us. He is not, however, offering perfection. He is not offering a perfect life.
The hope that comes each year at Christmas, the spirit that reaches out to all of us making us yearn to be a better person ... that is Jesus reaching out to you, opening his arms and offering to come into your life.
My favorite hymn is called, "Just as I am ... " It reminds me that no matter how un-worthy we may think we are ... Jesus will love and accept you, un-conditionally, just as you are.
I hope you have a safe and joyous Christmas. May we all keep the warmth of the season in our hearts year round.
(Ray Richardson is the host of the Ray Richardson show, heard weekday mornings from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. on the flagship station 1310AM News/Talk WLOB in greater Portland and the LOB Statewide Lobster Radio Network. He can also be found at wlobradio.com and rayrichardson.net.)
Last Updated on Friday, 19 December 2014 01:31
Written by Cliff Gallant
Someone told me that they heard that the song "Lemon Tree" was written by a man from Portland and I couldn't wait to look into it because "Lemon Tree" has long been in my repertoire of shower songs and I was intrigued by the possibility of a Portland connection.
It's true. The lyrics to "Lemon Tree" were written by a man named Will Holt, who was born in Portland and spent his formative years here. Over the course of his life he did a whole lot more in the field of entertainment than write the lyrics of "Lemon Tree," but that is what he is popularly known for, and it would have been enough by itself to secure his legacy. "Lemon Tree" was on Peter, Paul and Mary's first album in the late '50s, and Trini Lopez raised it to the top of the charts in 1965. The tune, which comes from the strains of a Brazilian folk song, was further embedded in the American psyche when later, in the '60s, it was used in television ads for the furniture polish "Lemon Pledge" and later became the soundtrack for the movie "Apollo 13."
Will Holt was born in Portland in 1929 at the Maine General Hospital, now Maine Medical Center, and spent his childhood between Portland and North Bridgton. He was a singer and musician from an early age, learning to play the piano at six. In 1950, after having graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy, Amherst College, and The Richard Dyer Bennett School of Minstrelsy, he toured Europe on a motorcycle, seeking out real life experiences and collecting folk songs from country to country. It was to his advantage then that he spoke fluent French and German, but those languages didn't help him when he was drafted into the U.S. Air Force and saw two and a half years service in the Korean War.
When he got out the Air Force he set about in earnest to launch his musical career and Portland, being a hopping town and familiar terrain, was a good place to start. The hottest place in town at the time was the dine and dance lounge at the Columbia Hotel, in Longfellow Square, and Will evidently impressed enough to land a steady singer guitarist gig there fairly soon after he hit town. Talent, desire, and good looks will do it every time.
Pleased with his good fortune, he took up residence in a stately brick home on sedate Deering Street, just a pleasant walk to and from the Columbia Hotel. Oh boy. In his mid- twenties, a popular entertainer, talented, good looking, always a few dollars in his pocket, with a classy place just a short stroll away after last call. High ceilings, chandeliers, a warm fireplace on a cold December night, all that.
The guy had it made. Or so it seems. Now I have to be careful here, because who really knows, he's never quite said, but I conjecture that young Will, like many a one before him, came to find that it was all a self-generated delusion. Such scenarios do not always work out as expected. Things might be dandy for a while, but then there's always that one who comes along and lambasts you, putting an end to it all. Seems to occur in Portland more readily than in other places, but who really knows. In any event, Will wrote "Lemon Tree" in the late 50's, shortly after leaving Portland, and one does not learn the life lessons contained its lyrics by reading books, or at a father's knee. It pretty much takes a woman, and I'm betting that Will found her in Portland, ready or not.
Be that as it may, Will Holt wrote the lyrics to dozens of other well-known songs as well, including the Kingston Trio's hit "Raspberries, Strawberries," but during the '60s he was actually better known for his unique brand of folk singing than he was for his songwriting. His performances covered the whole range of folk music, from European folk tunes to American cowboy songs, such as "Streets of Loredo"; and rather than work with other folk singers, with their standard instrumentalization, he recruited jazz musicians to play with him, with improvisation being the goal.
In the '70's and '80s Holt, while continuing to perform as a folksinger, also wrote and provided the musical compositions for numerous Broadway hits, the most successful of which was "The Me Nobody Knows," which won an Obie Award, a Drama Critics Award, and received Tony nominations for Best Score and Best Musical. In 1988 he wrote and composed the music for "A Walk on the Wild Side," for which he won the prestigious Los Angeles Dramalogue Critics Award. He was also associated with theatrical productions throughout the '90s and into the 2000s, most notably as the composer of "Minstrel Man," the story of the life of Al Jolson.
Honestly, I haven't been able to find out what Will Holt is up to at present. The latest information I was able to find had to do with a 2006 benefit performance he did with Charles Strouse, the composer of "Bye Bye Birdie," at Deertrees Theater, in Harrison, Maine, as a fundraiser for Seeds of Peace, which is an organization based in nearby Otisfield dedicated to empowering young leaders from regions of conflict around the world. Harrison and Otisfield are in the general vicinity of Holt's boyhood home in North Bridgton, but I get the impression, from reading various on-line interviews with him, that he's living happily in the Los Angeles area.
Evidently he's maintained his Maine connections, though. Maybe even makes it into the big city on occasion.Would be good to take a walk with him around today's Portland, just to see what he has to say about how it looks and feels as compared to the early '50s, when he was here performing at the Columbia Hotel and living on Deering Street.
Maybe he'd even talk a little bit about his experiences with women in Portland, and possibly address my conjectures as to how his writing of the lyrics of "Lemon Tree" might have come about. But, then again, maybe he wouldn't.
Last Updated on Friday, 19 December 2014 01:32
Written by Telly Halkias
When I'm out driving and want to take a mental break from news casts and jazz, I turn the dial to ESPN and scratch that other itch of mine — sports. Recently while cruising home to Portland from Virginia, I tuned in to a discussion on the greatest rivalry in college football.
Several callers touted Michigan-Ohio State, USC-Notre Dame, and a few other pairings. It didn't take long, though, until I was jarred out of my highway daydream by a caller who said: "I don't know why there's even a debate on this; it's got to be Army-Navy."
All of a sudden, the intended background noise roused me. The caller had a point, and as a veteran I could appreciate the sentimentality behind the response. But there's far more to it than that.
There is a reason why, in an age of multi-million-dollar sports programming, that this December game is nationally televised, even if the academies only seldom field competitive teams, and the networks make modest profits from it.
Past the obvious appeal to veterans and alumni coast to coast, Army-Navy is arguably the most visible major college football competition remaining that is played purely for pride in one's school, and love of the sport.
It is essentially the last bastion of the true scholar-athlete at the highest level of college play. And that's why purists still watch: what they get at Army-Navy they can't find anywhere else in collegiate sports without heading into the lower divisions.
When the teams from West Point and Annapolis took the field in Baltimore this past Saturday, what the nation saw in Navy's tough 17-10 victory was all-out passion and hard-nosed but clean play.
Cadets and midshipmen — whose schools, as of 2013, have produced a staggering combined total of 137 Rhodes Scholars — brought their textbooks with them to the game because they don't have the luxury of lighter academic loads and fluffy majors.
What we didn't see is professional scouts surveying talent for the next National Football League draft. Every player on the field has a commitment to serve as an officer in the armed forces after graduation. We also didn't see agents lining up to promise lucrative contracts and endorsement deals worth millions to the best players, sometimes slipping them backdoor cash to secure their representation.
What we did see is yardage grinded out by players who this time next year might be dodging bullets in Afghanistan or some other hell-hole — all while leading a platoon and entrusted with the lives of everyone at their backs. This for the $35,208 base salary of a second lieutenant.
What we didn't see is break dancing and opponent-taunting after touchdowns or open field tackles. What did see see were both teams — winner and loser alike — standing together at game's end to show respect for the playing of each other's Alma Mater.
And thankfully, what we didn't have to endure is yet another jacked-up future millionaire who isn't finishing his degree telling us how he just went "to battle" with his teammates, and "won the war" over his "enemies." The kids suiting up for West Point and Annapolis know better, because they are all heading to a real war, and some of them won't be coming back.
Yes, big-time college sports have been polluted with money, and make no mistake, the service academies gladly feast on their cut of that pie. But the players receive no pampering or fringe benefits, and when they are done often get an express ticket to the Middle East.
I snapped out of my highway trance and flicked the radio back to jazz.
And this year I tuned into the Army-Navy game. Their stars weren't the biggest, or the fastest, and certainly not going to be rich anytime soon. But for the last 120 years, they've taken the field in college football's greatest rivalry, where every player is always on the same team.
(Telly Halkias is an award-winning freelance journalist from Portland's West End. You may contact him at email@example.com follow him on Twitter at @TellyHalkias. He blogs at fromthestacks.bangordailynews.com.)
Last Updated on Friday, 19 December 2014 01:32
Written by Curtis Robinson
Welcome to America's fracking debate. You've been assigned to the consumption team and the talking points boil down to "frack here? no, frack there and send me the cheap energy!"
Few climate change arguments illustrate the gap between theory and practice than our ongoing love/hate relationship with the new energy boom. It turns out that President Obama may have known better and was just lying about that whole "if you like your doctor, you can keep him" deal, but he was just wrong when he said "we can't just drill our way to cheaper gas prices."
It turns out we could. And we have.
The president was among lots of folks who underestimated the potential of fracking, which is basically a drilling technique that pushes fluid underground to break up rock formations, usually shale, and release natural gas or oil.
While the success and controversy are fairly new, fracking has been going on for years – it just suddenly got a lot more productive, offering a new level of pun-focused material for the nation's headline writers while drawing amused nods from fans of the "Battlestar Galactica" TV show, where it was a stand-in for another profanity.
Fracking is already a big deal if you live in places like North Dakota, where the FBI recently opened a new field office to deal with criminal activity associated with the fracking boom, or New York state, where the governor this month agreed to ban the practice because of health and groundwater concerns.
Or, you know, Earth.
But here in Maine, since we don't have fracking facilities all over the landscape, our most high profile example of that gap between energy "theory and practice" is probably wind power. It turns out that wind energy is mostly popular with those of us who will not be living with the turbines, losing our scenic views, or if you happen to be a bird.
Now, that whole fracking issue is heating up in Maine because things are getting colder in Maine.
And few things are colder than a one-third hike in electric bills, which have been warned about for months and are coming into our lives. My son's fifth grade class is doing a project on saving the school electricity, and even progressives like Munjoy Hill state representative Diane Russell, a longtime low-income heating advocate, are ready to use more natural gas.
(On my companion Channel 5 TV program, she explains her view and the reality of waiting for alternative energy production — check your local listings.)
So we face a choice: Support expansion of natural gas pipelines or oppose them as embracing a fossil fuel future? Is it nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous bills now to basically help save the earth in coming decades? The basic argument is that increasing the infrastructure for natural gas is a de facto embrace of increased consumption of those fuels, despite any number of tax incentives and other encouragements for alternatives or conservation.
If you're among advocates of the later argument, then it may be time to get busy, because your lawmakers are moving along with the former.
Just this week, Maine's U.S. Senators Angus King and Susan Collins announced "... along with a bipartisan group of their New England colleagues, their support of increasing supply.
In an announcement, Sen. King's office, citing a group letter to federal regulators, noted that "... a lack of natural gas pipeline capacity has already severely impacted homes and businesses in our region. It has also reduced New England's competitiveness, domestically and abroad ... the combination of high demand for natural gas to meet heating and electricity needs, and the significantly constrained pipeline capacity into the region, has driven up natural gas and wholesale electricity prices, threatening reliability and impacting consumers and businesses within our states."
The senators request an "expeditious review" of pipeline proposals, which is politspeak for "get on with it!"
The specific pipeline proposal is the "Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) natural gas transmission expansion" project that proponents argue would increase Algonquin Gas Transmission's existing natural gas system that runs from New York to Massachusetts — and thus improving delivery to Maine and other New England states.
It will be hard for alternative fuel advocates to argue that Mainers should pay higher energy bills as a cost for embracing an alternative fuel future — good luck with that. But it's worth noting that's exactly what the United States asks of developing countries looking at their energy options — wait for cleaner fuels down the road.
It leaves us facing a fracked decision, even if we're on the consumption team.
(Curtis Robinson is the founding editor of The Portland Sun.)
Last Updated on Friday, 19 December 2014 01:33
Written by John McDonald
In my younger days, when I was nowhere near as sophisticated and informed as I am today, I would go to the mailbox to fetch the newspaper, bring it inside, walk over to our industrial sized wastebasket and — without ever giving it a second thought — shake out all those annoying advertising inserts. In those dark unenlightened days I'd do the same thing with the catalogs that came in the mail — dump them all without a thought. I don't know why someone didn't stop me from such reckless behavior back then, but no one did.
These days I'm older and wiser and have learned to save all that colorful printed material because it comes in handy during these bleak winter months we've about entered. Here in Maine, in winter, we need that paper to start fires in the Jotol so we can sit by those fires and read. I've learned and now those inserts and catalogs are put to the use for which they were intended.
Everyone knows that our winters here are way too long. All through these long, cold winters of ours, I sit in our warm, cozy, banked-up house reading and trying to stay warm. Occasionally I look up from what I'm reading, gaze out the window at the frozen landscape and sigh. Then I stoke the fire and go back to reading another one of our many catalogs.
What have I learned from all that reading? Well, in recent years I've learned that the seed catalog people, who used to send out their colorful catalogs after New Year's, now jump the gun and send them before Christmas. Come to think of it, maybe they've always sent them in December and I never noticed because — as I said — I was reckless and would throw all that stuff out.
Anyway, after spending time reading some recent seed catalogs I began thinking about all the impressive things my wife and I will be able to grow when the weather gets warmer and the snow finally melts. Just yesterday I found myself saying: "When summer comes around next June, it won't be like other summers. I won't lie in the hammock in the shade all summer sipping summer-type beverages and another John Grisham novel or listening to a Red Sox game. Come next June I'll be ready for summer when it finally arrives. I'm going to make plans and have the best garden ever. I'm bound and determined to plant all kinds of things in next summer's garden."After saying all that, I remembered that I had said the same thing last summer. And what did it get me? A few small tomatoes and some radishes.
But I still like to take out my catalogs and plan a huge vegetable and flower garden, and I know, with the wife's help, we can do it next summer, or the summer after that at the latest. Here in December it all seems possible. When I go to sleep at night I dream about turning our plot of dead weeds in the yard into a lush garden with perfect rows of beautiful vegetables and a border of colorful flowers.
So, I don't dare throw my valuable inserts or catalogs into the fire or the recycle bin. I'll save 'um. I'll read 'um. I've still got a lot of winter to get through, and it'll take a lot of reading material to get me through it. It's nice having those plump, colorful catalog pictures to inspire me.
(Maine humorist and best-selling author John McDonald is a professional storyteller who has been performing and entertaining audiences in the small towns and big cities of New England for decades. He is an author whose books include "Maine Trivia, A Moose and a Lobster Walk into a Bar" and "Down the Road a Piece: A Storyteller's Guide to Maine." He writes a weekly humor column that is published in many Maine newspapers. John is also the founder of the Maine Storyteller Festival and his talk show can be heard each weekend on WGAN in Portland. For details, visit http://mainestoryteller.com.)
Last Updated on Friday, 19 December 2014 01:34