Friday, June 15, 2018

Up, Up and Away...Forever

(This post originally appeared here 6 years ago, in June of 2012.)

It was a little before six yesterday morning and I was on my way to Panera’s for my regular Tuesday morning routine – prayerfully planning out the week, clearing up correspondence and enjoying an always stimulating conversation with John Malek – when I saw a lonely but lovely hot air balloon hanging just over the southwest horizon.  It didn’t seem to be drifting at all; indeed, it held the same position the whole time of my drive and at least several minutes after I got my coffee.  But I was then distracted with work and the next time I looked up, maybe 20 minutes later, it was gone.

I wished I had my binoculars with me.  I wished too that Claire had seen it – hot air balloons are pretty rare in our part of the country.  But I especially wished my sister Sherry could have seen it too because she really likes hot air balloons and still cherishes the dream, as yet unfulfilled, of gliding through the air in this colorful, buoyant style.

In fact, gazing at this hot air balloon made me think of three things and the first directly concerned Sherry.  It is a vivid memory of an early morning in the mountains of Colorado sometime back in the late 80’s.  The Hartford clan was having one of its very few family reunions.  Sherry was there with her family, Mom, Claire and I, Ric and his wife, James, and Linda and her family.  We had a wonderful time that week but the highlight of the whole event was Sherry tearing through the place very early one morning (we were all still abed) and yelling at everyone to get up and look out the windows.

I was rather disgruntled at the sudden awakening but since she was so adamant, I stumbled over to the sliding glass door that led out to the balcony, drew open the shades and …wow upon wow…there they were!  About two dozen hot air balloons had come over Loveland Pass and were now moving pretty fast down the valley.  They were colorful.  They were colossal.  And they were close!  We were awestruck at the beauty, the grace, and the sheer uniqueness of the sight – these huge, silent beasts that carried passengers who were waving to us and wishing us good morning.  In various stages of undress, we waved back, feeling a pang of deep regret that we weren’t in one of those baskets with them, sailing through the crisp mountain air to who knows where - Frisco, Leadville, for all we knew, maybe Shangri-La.

Far from being annoyed at Sherry for waking us, we were all extremely grateful to her for giving us this rare and invaluable gift.  It was, in one sense, a fleeting moment.  The balloons moved so quickly that within minutes they were all gone from sight.  But, in another and very real sense, Sherry also gave us a forever moment because the combination of surprise, novelty, color, movement, the soulful longing everyone feels for travel and adventure…and the fact that we experienced it as a family... made that moment something that we will always treasure.  I’m feeling a glow just writing about it now.

But the second train of thought elicited by that balloon yesterday morning was a bit more philosophical for it caused me to also think of the song which Americans of my generation invariably link with hot air balloons; namely, the lilting lyrics of Jimmy Webb’s “Up, Up and Away” as delivered by the Fifth Dimension.  The song is exquisite – nearly every Webb song is – and the incomparable voices of Marilyn McCoo, Billy Davis, Jr and the rest of the Fifth Dimension almost guaranteed that it would be one of the most popular songs of the 1960’s.

But it’s not just the sound of “Up, Up and Away” that gave it almost anthem status for the flower children.  It was the sentiment of the song too – the sentiment of escapism.  Sure, love songs and poetry have, throughout the ages, tended towards this theme.  “Make the world go away.  We’ll build a world of our own.  Fly me to the moon.”  And so on.  But there was a particularly pronounced escapism of the 1960’s youth culture that went beyond romance.  For some that involved outright rebellion, the laborious attempt to change what they believed was a restraining status quo. But for many more, the response to the world was just escape. And whether the “drop out” route involved drugs or drink, the intensity of sensual pleasure or immersion in the minutiae of popular entertainment, quadraphonic sound or religious mysticism, the goal was self-absorption.

Many of the Fifth Dimension's songs fit this mood -- “Age of Aquarius,” “Stoned Soul Picnic,” “Paper Cup,” “Sweet Blindness,” and, of course, “Up, Up and Away.” They described the delight of finding a refuge from the harshness of the real world. They weren't songs of rebellion. Those came from harder-edged groups.  No, the Fifth Dimension offered a mellow, more sensual route of escape.  Make love, not war. Harmony and understanding. Party hearty.  Hold a good thought for cosmic convergence.

The lyrics to “Paper Cup” (another Jimmy Webb song, by the way) include these lines:

Here inside my paper cup
Everything is looking up
No one comes in, no one goes out
Nothin' to get hung up about 
I'm free and it's so easy to get by 
Cause I don't try.

Living ain't so bad without a rudder
Life is kind a groovy in the gutter.

Sound familiar? Forget old-world values like work, the integrity of family and tribe, morality, making something out of yourself, changing the world for the better. Instead, make the hippy mantra your reality -- “Turn on. Tune in. Drop out.”

But the lyric that particularly grabbed me yesterday morning was from “Up, Up and Away.” It goes, “The world’s a nicer place in my beautiful balloon; it wears a nicer face in my beautiful balloon.”

But the balloon ride doesn't make the world a nicer place. It, in fact, has nothing to do with the world. It's soaring above it, unconnected, uninvolved. And from the balloon one isn't even an effective observer. The spectacle is too distant. The aerial view doesn’t take in the broken-hearted young girl in her bedroom, the angry young thug in the prison cell, the fatherless child in the alley, the lonely widow leafing through the photo album, the worried mother in the doctor's waiting room.  No, the scene from the balloon takes in only color and general contour.  Hidden from sight is the trash and tragedy of real life.  That, no doubt, suggests a world with a “nicer face.” But it’s not the real world at all.

And, of course, even the exhilarating experience of flying through the air must end.  Alas, there is a limit for that beautiful balloon. It does go up and up...but it doesn't really go away. It must, governed as it is by a law of gravity that no amount of yearning can deny, come down to earth. The balloon ride doesn't make an efficient refuge from reality at all. A respite, yes. But not a refuge. For when the balloon inevitably returns, the passengers find themselves once again on the cold, cruel earth, facing all the problems, questions, and challenges they left behind.

But I'm not ending this essay on that note. Oh, no. For there was one more area of thought that the sight of that hot air balloon opened for me yesterday. And it also brought back to me the lyrics of a song, one that I knew long before I heard of the Fifth Dimension...though I must admit I didn't treasure the meaning of those lyrics until it was almost too late.

This song was written in 1929 by Oklahoma musician and hymn writer Albert E. Brumley. And it's lyrics not only describe the “final flight” of the Christian, one who has personally trusted the sacrifice Jesus made to pay for the sins of mankind, they also provide the secret to living joyfully and victoriously on the cold, cruel earth I've mentioned earlier. For though we must face the challenges the real world presents (no escape until our day is done), we do so in the confident expectation that a “nicer world” does exist for the believer in Christ. It is the "new heavens and new earth" prepared expressly for us by Jesus Himself.

The song, as some of you have already guessed, is the most recorded gospel song ever, “I’ll Fly Away.”

Some glad morning when this life is o'er, 
I'll fly away; 
To a home on God's celestial shore, 
I'll fly away.

I'll fly away, Oh glory 
I'll fly away.
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by, 
I'll fly away.

When the shadows of this life have gone, 
I'll fly away; 
Like a bird from prison bars has flown, 
I'll fly away.

Just a few more weary days and then, 
I'll fly away; 
To a land where joy shall never end, 
I'll fly away.

The hot air balloons Sherry awakened to us that Colorado morning were spectacular and I'll never forget the sight of them floating down the valley with the blue of the Rocky Mountains behind them. Nor will I forget the yearning they created in my soul for spiritual flight. But the trip I now have scheduled is not a disconnected, day-trip escape like the one the Fifth Dimension invited me on. I want the real thing. The lasting thing. The final flight that doesn't just take me “up, up and away” but instead takes me to God's celestial shore. Boy, I'm looking forward to it.

By the way, have you booked your flight yet?

The Culture Wars Are Getting Wilder All the Time: A Few Examples

In my last couple of compilation posts here on Vital Signs Blog, I've given quite a few examples of how wacky (and wicked) things are getting in politics, media, business, education, and other battlefields of the culture wars. You can scan through those here (“The Best of the Bunch: IG Report, Culture Wars, & More, Part 1” and “The Best of the Bunch: IG Report, Culture Wars, & More, Part 2”).

But here are a few more:

* “Miss America: The Latest Institution Destroyed by the Left” (Dennis Prager, Daily Signal)

* “Let the nuclear family explode, says Britain’s top family judge” (Ann Farmer, Mercator)

* “Identity Warriors Have Infiltrated the Sciences. Here’s the Damage They’re Doing.” (Walter E. Williams, Daily Signal)

* “Thefts rise after California reduces criminal penalties” (Don Thompson, AP)

* “Federal judge halts secret FEC plot to target GOP groups” (Paul Bedard, Washington Examiner)

* “NYC's War on Academic Excellence” (Michelle Malkin, Town Hall)

* “MS-13 Creating Chaos At A Maryland Middle-School” (John Sexton, Hot Air)

The Best of the Bunch (IG Report, Culture Wars, & More): Part 2

* “11 Quick Things To Know About The Inspector General’s Report” (Mollie Hemingway, Federalist)

* “Inspector General's report shows FBI is bent and broken” (Howie Carr, Boston Herald)

* “The Democrats’ Radical Turn” (Kyle Smith, National Review)

* “In Ireland, What’s Legal Is Now Mandatory” (Micheal Brendan Dougherty, National Review)

* “Trump Administration Wins Key Obamacare Lawsuit” (David Catron, American Spectator)

* “Social Media Giants ‘Friend’ Extremist SPLC” (Family Research Council)

* “Environmentalists foolishly go to war against nuclear power” (Robert Bryce, New York Post)

* “Are dead white males like Shakespeare really irrelevant to Britain’s students?” (Ann Farmer, Mercator)

The Best of the Bunch (IG Report, Culture Wars, & More): Part 1

* “Sex, lies and betrayal at the FBI” (Wes Pruden, Washington Times)

* “The Anatomy of a Partisan Pile-Up” (George Neumayr, American Spectator)

* “Decoding the Horowitz Report on ‘bias’” (Thomas Lifson, American Thinker)

* “The Donald Trump Negotiations Academy” (Caroline B. Glick, Jewish World Review)

* “Barack is the next Pelosi” (Don Surber)

* “113 Politicians Have Been Killed Ahead Of Mexico’s Election. There Are Still Two Weeks To Go.” (Karla Zabludovsky, BuzzFeed)

* “STDs Are on the Rise in the U.K., and Sex Education There Isn’t Helping” (Madeleine Kearns, National Review)

* “Students and parents demand 'unfair rule' change after two transgender teen sprinters come first AND second in the girl's state championship, months after one competed as a boy” (Minnyvonne Burke, Daily Mail)

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Latest In Excellent Reads

* “Marching for Terrorism in London? No Problem” (Judith Bergman, Gatestone Institute)

* “Anything for the Ayatollah” (Sohrab Ahmari, Commentary)

* “Crisis at the National Archives” (Thomas Lipscomb, Real Clear Politics)

* “Bullies in the White House Press Corps” (Julie Kelly, American Greatness)

* “Obama took lying to new heights with the Iran deal” (Marc Thiessen, Fox News)

* “Unsolved Killings, What Do They Tell Us?” (Paul Mirengoff, Power Line)

* “Reefer Madness” (Tony Media, Weekly Standard)

* “When diversity means uniformity” (Lionel Shriver, Spectator USA)

Friday, June 08, 2018

Just How Big Was Bing Crosby?

Well, consider these items I included in the summer edition of the “When Swing Was King” newsletter that we hand out to the residents of the 10 senior care facilities where we do the program every month.

To see the full 4 pages, check 'em out on the Vital Signs Ministries website right here.)

* Bing Crosby had 43 #1 records! That’s more than the Beatles and Elvis — put together!

* Bing’s career total of record sales tops one billion albums sold, making him the most popular singer ever.

*  “White Christmas” alone has sold more than 100,000,000 copies and is the best-selling single of all time.

* In movie ticket sales, Bing Crosby ranks just below Clark Gable and John Wayne. For 15 years  Bing made the list of the Top Ten box office draws. And for five of those years, he was number one. 

* Bing Crosby entertained U.S. soldiers tirelessly during World War II. Indeed,  the GI’s voted him the person who had done the most for their morale.