Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Good Day for Children ~ Happy Birthday, Anno, Mister Rogers & Big Bird! (Plus, it's Spring!)

By Wendy Murray

Where's Anno?

March 20 heralds the coming of great things. The earth finally tilts toward Spring! It also altogether appropriate that this day heralds the births of three champions of hopefulness and imagination.

Awarding-winning children's book illustrator Mitsumasa Anno was born on this day in 1926; the beloved Fred 'Mister' Rogers was born on this day in 1928; and it is the birthday of Big Bird (according to some sites)!

Mitsumasa Anno is the awarding-winner illustrator whose wordless books have captured the imaginations of children (and adults) since he began publishing. The precursor to the "Where's Waldo" phenomenon, Anno's adventure books unfold page-by-page unfold in a magical progression toward a single goal. In Anno's Italy, the book I have owned since my youth, the solitary figure Anno mounts a horse in the Italian countryside and threads his way through the unfolding pictorial narrative, often lost in the ever-swelling crowd, for the sole purpose of reaching the coast. Page by page he makes his way through the beautiful and complex landscape of Italy amid a sometimes festive, other times bucolic world of color and magic. On any given page in the book, you might find in one corner, obscured by forest, such Jesus' turning the water into wine, while across the fence and over a step bridge the Billygoats Gruff will be poised, horn-to-horn, for battle. The challenge is to find them all, especially Anno on his horse, who may be turning a corner amid a parade in Florence, or rounding a bend near a farmhouse in Umbria.

I read the book with children, ages 1, 5, 8 and each is equally transported in his own way by the magic of Anno's wordless world.

A few of Mitsumasa's wordless adventures:
Anno's Flea Market

Anno's Animals

My favorite, Anno's Italy

It is also the birthday of the de fact Patron Saint of Children and Lost Adults, Fred "Mister" Rogers, How appropriate that your life began in this world on the day of the year that heralds spring!
1928. I have written much about him already (here and here), since I visited him and interviewed him for a cover story I wrote years ago. We remember you, dear Mister Rogers!

And who wouldn't cherish the company of an 8-foot loping happy bird who wishes you only good will,  Big Bird! Thanks to Big-Bird puppeteer, Caroll Spinney and creator Jim Henson who introduced this enduring friend in 1969. (In 2000, the Library of Congress declared Spinney, as Big Bird, a "Living Legend.")

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

John Updike's Curiosity About Faith & Resonance with J.D. Salinger

Copyright © 2014 Wendy Murray.

By Wendy Murray

John Updike was born on this day, March 18, in 1932 (d. Jan 27, 2009). He is best known for his "Rabbit" series in fiction, two of which won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, Rabbit is Rich (1982) and Rabbit at Rest (1991).

Updike's Rabbit novels:
(1960) Rabbit, Run 
(1971) Rabbit Redux 
(1981) Rabbit Is Rich  
(1990) Rabbit At Rest 
(1995) Rabbit Angstrom: The Four Novels  
(2001) Rabbit Remembered (a novella in the collection Licks of Love)

I did not take to Updike's novels -- they seemed more a man's game. But I devoured his essays that New Yorker and elsewhere, particularly those he wrote late in his life when he explored spiritual themes.

In 1961 he wrote a review in the New York Times of his contemporary J.D. Salinger's, book Franny and Zooey. (Prior to its publication as a novel it had appeared as two short stories in the New Yorker.) Even at this ascending phase of Updike's career, he resonated with Salinger's religious exploration in the book embodied in the character of Franny. The story centers around her near- despair: “All I know is I’m losing my mind. I’m just sick of ego, ego, ego. My own and everybody else’s. I’m sick of everybody that wants to get somewhere, do something distinguished and all, be somebody interesting. It’s disgusting--it is, it is.” Her disenchantment incited her to want to pray, but she did not know how to pray. Then she latched onto a little book called the Philokalia, which emphasized the transformative value of repeating the “Jesus Prayer”: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me, which Franny began to recite compulsively. The novel explores the shock this induced for those around her, as well as the change it affected in her own soul.

In his review of Salinger's book, Updike wrote:  "Let me say, I am glad he is hopeful. I am one of those -- to do some confessing of my own -- for whom Salinger's work dawned as something of a revelation. I expect that further revelations are to come."

(Salinger died the year to the day following Updike's death, January 27, 2010).

Monday, March 17, 2014

It is the day of Patricius Qatrikias Pádraig Padrig

Irish Kings and Archers, 13th Century

Patricius;  Qatrikias;  Pádraig;  Padrig, -- also known as Saint Patrick -- was born on March 17 in A.D. 385  (d.461). A Romano-British Christian missionary and the bishop in Ireland -- of equal importance, he was also a poet.

Patrick composed a poem call "The Lorica," the first hymn written in Gaelic. ('Lorica' is a type of poem that invokes God's protection.) In Patrick's poem he asks for God's protection from druids, whom he believes are planning an ambush as he and his friar traveled to the King's court in A.D. 433.

(The portion below, called Faed Fiada, is translated by Seumas MacManus in The Story of the Irish Race.)

"Deer's Cry" (Faed Fiada)  ~ For protection from an ambush of the Druids"

I bind me today, God's might to direct me,
God's wisdom for learning,
God's eye for discerning,
God's ear for my hearing,
God's word for my clearing.

God's hand for my cover,
God's path to pass over,
God's buckler to guard me,
God's army to ward me
against snares of the devil,
against vices, temptation, against wrong inclination,
against men who plot evil, anear or afar, with many or few.

Christ near, Christ here, Christ be with me, Christ beneath me,
Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ be o'er me, Christ before me.
Christ in the left and the right, Christ hither and thither,
Christ in the sight, of each eye that shall seek me, in each ear that shall hear, in each mouth that shall speak me --
Christ not the less in each heart I address.

(Go here to read a Celtic prayer for endangered travelers.)

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Logic of Pi Day

By Wendy Murray

Today is Pi Day. Why? -- "3", "1", and "4":  the first three digits of  Pi, or "π," in the decimal form, which technically continues infinitely without repetition or pattern. Pi is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, which means it is an irrational number. An irrational number is a real number that cannot be expressed as a ratio "a/b," where "a" and "b" are integers and "b" is non-zero. (Other irrational numbers include Euler's number e, the golden ratio φ, and the square root of two √2.)

A real number is a value that represents a quantity along a continuous line.

An integer is a number that is written without a fractional component.

The Greek letter “π”  is the symbol used in mathematics to represent the constant which is approximately 3.14159. (A constant is is a "special number, usually a real number, that is 'significantly interesting in some way.'") It is possible to view Pi to the 10,000th digit and also to the 1,000,000th digit and to calculate it to the 2 billionth digit here. Good luck with that.

According to Pi Day. org, Pi’s infinite nature makes it a "fun challenge to memorize and to computationally calculate more and more digits," which is why some of us chose to major in English.

Coincidentally it is also Albert Einstein's birthday. He said, "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."

(Below is a screen shot of a portion of “π” to the 10,000th digit. Any mathematician who tries to make sense of it is doomed to frustration.)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Year of Pope Francis in Pictures

One year later . . .

Driving Pope

Chocolate Pope

Harley Pope

Human Pope

Happy Pope

Seriously? Pope

Selfie Pope

Peace Pope
Haters-gonna-hate / Pope-loves-them-anyway Pope

See how the Pope explains how he chose his name.

~  ~  ~

Buy Wendy Murray's book on Francis of Assisi.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Remembering Mister Rogers

"All that kind of superficial complicated stuff does is to make people feel worse about themselves." 

By Wendy Murray

Mister (Fred) Rogers died on this day 11 years ago. The more time that passes since he left this world the more I wish he was still here, still inviting us to the Neighborhood. The cover story I wrote for Christianity Today was the last major article written about him when he was still alive. I know it was the only major piece that highlighted his "theology of the Neighborhood." He was thrilled to see it. He repeatedly contacted me requesting more copies.

Fred was known to become close to those journalists who interviewed him. How could he not? When you were with him he gently hijacked the interview and asked you the questions. He loved us "just the way we are," even as journalists. He changed our lives.

Upon this anniversary I  include highlights from my time with him in which he discusses the power of the media. He was ordained in the Presbyterian church to minister to children and families through television so he was vested in the proper appropriation:

The space between that television screen and the person who is watching and listening, that space is holy ground. What you present can be translated through that space to meet the need if the person who is listening and watching. The Holy Spirit translates our best efforts into what needs to be communicated to that person. The longer I live the more I know that that's true.

Television is a fabulous media. I would not have devoted all of my professional life to it if I hadn't believed that. 
I wish I knew how every media outlet could take an assignment--and I'm talking about television and radio and computers and magazines -- to do our best to make goodness attractive. We're so caught up in glorifying the opposite, giving it space. I think the Accuser [Satan] would have us be so despairing that we wouldn't do anything. But you know the effect in great darkness of one little candlelight. That sounds very simplistic, but it is true.
What is deep and simple is what is eternal, not what is shallow and complicated. Sometimes evil is almost palpable and we see it trying to make people sad and mad and distrustful.
But I refuse to give up hope because I have seen in my life too many indications of what is wonderful about human beings. 

(Wendy Murray's upcoming book on Fred Rogers will be out next year.)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Brilliant Mind, Troubled Soul: Remembering Nobel-prize winning Writer, Knut Hamsun

Nobel Prize-winning Norwegian writer, Knut Hamsun, died 62 years ago today on February 19, 1952.

From Nobel Prize website:
Knut Hamsun (1859-1952) was born in Gudbrandsdalen, Norway, and grew up in poverty in Hamarøy in Nordland. From early childhood he was a shoemaker's apprentice, but was also a road worker, stonemason, junior-level teacher. He spent some years in America, traveling and working as a tram driver, and published his impressions, chiefly satirical, under the title Fra det moderne Amerikas Aandsliv (1889) [The Intellectual Life of Modern America]. The novel Sult (1890) [Hunger] and even more so Pan (1894) led to Hamsun's literary breakthrough and Sult is regarded as the first genuinely modern novel in Norwegian literature."

Hamsun's work reflected his the belief that humanity's only true fulfillment lies with the soil, finding its expression in his epic Growth of the Soil (Markens Grøde) (1917), the seminal work that positioned him to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1920.

Of the homestead the protagonist built in the far north out of the Norwegian forest, called Sellanra, Hamsun writes:

"Let's take you people at Sellanra: you look every day at the blue mountains, they're not invented things, they're old mountains, rooted deep in the past; but they are your companions. There you are, living together with heaven and earth, at one with them, at one with the wide horizon and the rootedness. You have no need of a sword in your hand, you walk through life barehanded and bareheaded in the midst of a great kindliness. Look, there is nature, it belongs to you and yours! Man and nature do not bombard each other, they are agreed; they do not compete or run a race for something, they go together. 
You Sellanra folks live and have your being in the midst of all this. The mountains, the forest, the moors, the meadows, the sky and the stars--there is nothing paltry or apportioned about all this, it is without measure. Listen to me Sivert: Be contented! You have everything to live on, everything to live for, everything to believe in; you're born and you bring forth, you are vital to the earth. You sustain life. You go on from generation to generation, fulfilling yourselves through sheer breeding; when you die, the new brood takes over. What do you get in return? An existence that's just and strong, an existence based on a true and trusting relationship to everything. What do you get in return? You Sellanra folks can't be pushed around or bullied, you enjoy calm of mind and authority, and this great kindliness all around."
Buy Growth of the Soil.

His mental faculties deteriorated with age. His widely publicized admiration for the German culture and the Nazi movement left him after the war impoverished and temporarily under psychiatric observation.

With the passage time, his native and beloved Norway, forgave him this betrayal -- at least some did. Because his sensibilities never came across in any of his literary works his publisher celebrated his literary legacy with a 27-volume of "Collected Works."

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Enduring Love of Blondie and Dagwood

Dagwood and Blondie (née Boopadoop) Bumstead are celebrating 81 years of marital bliss (the anniversary date is Feb 17, 1933).

"Blondie" remains among the longest-running  newspaper comics of all time at 80+ years and counting.

Creator, Chic Young (January 1901 – March 1973) explained in an interview (1960s) with writer William Zinnser why "Blondie" possessed such staying power:

“It’s simple. I keep Dagwood in a world that people are used to. He never does anything as special as playing golf, and the people who come to the door are just the people an average family has to deal with. The only regular neighbors are Herb and Tootsie Woodley. If a new neighbor came over with his problem, nobody would be interested.” (After Chic Young's death, his son Dean Young kept the comic strip going along with various illustrators.)

Dagwood Bumstead renounced family wealth and status (his father was a railroad baron) to marry the sassy working-class blond who makes incredible sandwiches. Since his family objected to the marriage, Dagwood settled for an ordinary life of working for J.C. Dithers & Company and running into the
mailman as he scrambled, late, out the door for work.
And Blondie's big sandwiches.

Visit Blondie's blog.

Blondie, The Bumstead Family History (Thomas Nelson, 2007)  "The lives of Blondie and Dagwood and their interactions with their children Alexander and Cookie, their neighbors Herb and Tootsie Woodley, the family dog Daisy, Dagwood's boss Mr. Dithers, the mailman Mr. Beasley, and the neighborhood kid Elmo Tuttle. Included are Blondie and Dagwood's courtship, their early beaus, their wedding, Dagwood at work, Blondie's catering business."
Buy the Book

Monday, February 17, 2014

Tony Rooke Took on the BBC for False Reporting on 9/11, and Won

By Wendy Murray

Tony Rooke after winning his case
regarding false reporting of WTC7
A year ago this month, British citizen Tony Rooke stood before Horsham Magistrates’ Court in West Sussex, charged with not paying for his needed license to access the BBC.

The then-49 year-old Rooke refused to pay his required TV license because he believed the BBC covered up facts about the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He said that paying his bill would be tantamount to supporting "the practice of terror." In that hearing he was found guilty of using an unlicensed television set and given a six-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay £200.

A few months later, in April 2013, he represented himself in court. He did not deny owning a TV and watching it without a license. He cited the Terrorism Act, Section 15 of the 2000 Act, as his reason for withholding payment. The Terrorism Act states that it is an offense for someone "to invite another to provide money, intending that it should be used, or having reasonable cause to suspect that it may be used, for terrorism purposes."

In court Rooke made the case that to pay funds to the BBC was tantamount to furthering the purposes of terrorism and "I have incontrovertible evidence to this effect. I do not use this word lightly given where I am," he said.

Rooke cited that during the attacks of September 11, 2001 the BBC reported that World Trade Centre 7 had fallen, when, in fact it still stood erect and intact over the shoulder of the reporter reporting it. The news story occurred 20 minutes before building actually collapsed. (The
screen capture, right, shows a BBC reporter announcing the collapse of WTC7, even while it stood erect behind her; it collapsed 20 minutes later).

He said to the court: "The BBC reported it 20 minutes before it fell. They knew about it beforehand. Last time I was here I asked you (the judge): 'Were you aware of World Trade Centre 7?'" (WTC 7 was a 47-story skyscraper that was not hit by a plane on 9/11 but imploded at free-fall speed later that day.) "You said you had heard of it. Ten years later you should have more than heard of it. It's the BBC's job to inform the public. Especially of miracles of science and when laws of physics become suspended."

Rooke argued that since the BBC had prior knowledge that the building was doomed and did not warn Americans about it, it made them complicit in the attack.

The judge ruled that he while "did not believe he had the power to rule under the terrorism act," he agreed that Rooke had a reasonable case and thus found him not guilty.  He was not fined for failure to pay the licensing fee.

BBC editors assert the reporting was a mistake but that they "no longer have the original tapes of our 9/11 coverage for reasons of cock-up, not conspiracy."