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Wednesday, December 30, 2020

What Time is It?

    In the old days, before watches and thermometers, you could dial a local telephone number for the current time and temperature. A local bank, in my case Plano Bank & Trust, would sponsor a recorded message that gave updated information. Given the lack of technology at the time, it was quite a system.

As kids, we used the number to simulate a fake phone call. Just dial the number and start having a conversation. It seldom worked. The other person standing in the room could hear the blaring voice on the other end ramble on about savings accounts or boat loan rates.

I forgot this service even existed until my wife said, “Do you remember when you could call….” It was like opening a time capsule filled with things we once did as kids. Most of these I can’t mention for statute of limitations reasons with my parents.

When was the last time you called Time & Temperature?

Turns out the 70 Year tradition carries on. The Tarrant County version has a new sponsor with long-time mainstay in our community Haltom’s Jewelers. If you call, you’ll get a pre-recorded message about buying some jewelry followed by the local time and current temperature. The addition of a short-term weather forecast is a pleasant touch.

Haltom’s jumped onboard in 2017 after local banks lost interest in the service. A 2017 Fort Worth Star Telegram article claims that 10,000-20,000 people still call the number each day. While this is a wild range, it is still 10,000-20,000 more calls than I would have guessed. Don’t these people have cells phones or a television? I remain baffled by this new generation that does not feel the need to wear a watch (unless it is an iWatch, of course), but I’ll save that for another time when I’m picking on my kids.

Back to fake phone calls. Who on earth were we calling? Maybe we were trying to impress a buddy by telling him we were calling the popular girl at school who gave us her number. In my case, I think I called “home” a lot to get out of staying overnight with a friend. I never had the guts to say NO. I’m just a people pleaser, so making the Time & Temperature dude the bad guy was a simple way out.

Ask around. I’ll bet people you know will have fond memories of calling that number. Let them know they still can and dial it up on speakerphone. It’s a quick throw back to the Good Old Days we all miss so much.

Tarrant County (817) 844-6611

Dallas County (214) 844-6611

Run in Peace, Rest in Grace

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Joy's Lost Verse

     One or more adult contemporary radio stations in every major market switches to non-stop Christmas music sometime between Labor Day and Thanksgiving. While I am not by the dial to experience this transition, I believe it to be true. This is not a criticism. I like Christmas music just fine, or I should say I like Christmas music in December. So when a Study of Hymns came to my inbox, I opted to set aside this week to tackle it.

The first assignment was Joy to the World. Not the Three Dog Night version from 1971, but the traditional hymn by Isaac Watts published in 1791. This is no accidental transposing of numbers, just a mere fluke. I can assure you the songs have zero in common. I am very disappointed in myself for bringing up the 70s rock band at all. Let me get back to Christmas.

It might surprise you to learn that Watts did not write Joy to the World as a Christmas Carol. I mean, did they even celebrate Christmas back in 1791? In all seriousness, he wrote Joy as a celebratory hymn with minimal accompaniment. The music we now associate with Joy came from Lowell Mason in 1848.  

The study asked that we consider the lyrics alongside the words of Psalm 98 and portions of Psalm 96 and Genesis 3. As with many hymns; the words are from or inspired by scripture. Phrases like the Lord is come! The Savior reigns and the Wonders of His love are full of praise.

It caught my attention that most modern recordings eliminate the third verse of this well-known hymn. One might assume time constraints led to the omission, but the theme and content made this a safe choice. The lyrics of this stanza do not rouse JOY. Words like sin, sorrow, infesting thorns and curses feel more like a car wreck than a sleigh ride. Everyone sing with me:

No more let sins and sorrows grow,

nor thorns infest the ground;

He comes to make His blessings flow

far as the curse is found,

far as the curse is found,

far as, far as the curse is found.

Watts draws from Genesis 3:17-18: 

“And to the man he said, “Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you.  All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it.  It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains.”

This is no Holly Jolly Christmas.  

It is not surprising the verse gets overlooked. But should it be? I don’t believe so. We need to hear it. We need to feel a little uncomfortable. Humanity was so bad and outlook so poor that God had to straighten things out in glorious fashion.

“He Comes to Make His Blessings Flow.”

Meaning Christ came to remove the curse, the thorns, sins and sorrow. Christmas is about little else than the birth of Jesus Christ. And it is worth Celebrating! This is a heck of a lot better than a new iPhone or pair of slippers. Don’t you see. We must celebrate his coming to earth. To save us. Without this we would remain forever in that bleak cursed world.  

So celebrate the truth of Christmas. While we exchange billions of gifts on this special day, the only one of eternal value is already yours.

Run in Peace, Rest in Grace

Tuesday, December 15, 2020


    How willing are we to donate to charity during a pandemic?  Mid-year reports showed some emerging trends, but this evolution is fluid.  Households that remained employed had surplus income from stimulus funds or unspent social engagements.  After upgrading their appliances and remodeling a bathroom or two, most of any leftovers went to Amazon.

    Traditional non-profits and churches suffer.  I read in the Harvard Gazette that The American Cancer Society estimated a $200 million decrease in donations for the year.  It appears funds flowed to COVID-19 research and local food banks or support organizations.

    So, how do people get the urge or feel the need to give?  Is it guilt?  While doing some digging on 2020 giving trends, one author suggested that people default to give and be generous.  That writer must have lockdown fever.  Human nature is nothing of the sort.  Donating money to charity is a lot like that attic space or closet you’ve been meaning to clean out.  Unless trained to give or need a tax write-off, we seldom follow through.

    If you get motivated to give, how much becomes the next hurdle.  We don’t want to seem cheap, but too generous is scandalous.  There is a biblical answer, but I’m not even sure Christians agree on how to calculate 10% of their annual harvest.  The math is only fuzzy because of the human nature thing mentioned above.

    In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis suggests:

    “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give.  I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.”

    That is a threshold few can meet.  Not me for darn sure.  Why?  As Lewis says:

    “For many of us the great obstacle to charity lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear - fear of insecurity.”

    We do not wish to be the one on the receiving end of charity, so we hoard our dollars for a rainy day.  We’ll take risks elsewhere, thank you very much.

    Some will call me crazy, but my perspective on money is off-the-charts Christian.  I believe that my income is a gift from God.  He was the one who gave me all the advantages of living in America, born to my parents and our collective spheres of influence.  Allowed for me to get an education and stay just far enough out of trouble to become an adult.  Then there was the job, after the job, after the job that has made me more than comfortable.

    It isn’t because I studied hard or outworked others, and it isn’t blind luck or coincidence.

    This monetary theory is a common biblical teaching.  One of my favorite examples is from Alistair Begg and is perfect in this Holiday season.  Imagine a Dad giving a child $20 to go out and buy dear Mom a Christmas present.  On Christmas morning, there is no gift under the tree for Mom.  It turns out little Timmy used the money on candy and video games.  Sweeping disappointment fills Dad’s eyes.  That must be what God feels when we take his blessings and waste them on the latest gadgets or gizmos for our pleasures.  He’s not asking us to give it back or even give it all away.  He’s asking us to use a portion of it to care for our neighbors.  It is not all that much to ask if we’re honest about it.  

    Giving is important because it is our response to the gifts we have already received.  What that looks like is up to you, but I’m guessing it might need to look different from what it did yesterday.

    Run in Peace, Rest in Grace

Monday, December 7, 2020

Cliché Curious #1

    I feel a little sorry for Cooter Brown.  Was or is there such a person?  Who was he?  Maybe one night of being over-served at the local bar led to a lifetime of harassment for an undeserving man.  I wonder….  Just where did the phrase “Drunker than Cooter Brown” come from anyway.

    One good thing about the internet is that you can be lazy and yet do a lot of research in a short period of time.  This is ideal for someone with a short attention span like me.  Or someone who tends to get drunk a lot, like good ole’ Cooter.

Wikipedia, The Old Farmer’s Almanac, and all had similar stories.  There are two basic versions of history about the man.

The first is that Mr. Brown lived on the north-south line during the American Civil War.  He was eligible to be drafted by either army, but had no interest in fighting since he had family serving on both sides.  A conscientious objector of sorts.  Rather than go into hiding, he decided to get drunk and stay drunk so that he would be worthless to either side.

The second version has Cooter, half Black - half Cherokee, living is south Louisiana on land given to him by an old fur trapper.  He lived in a Cajun shack and kept to himself because he didn’t care much for people.  When the Civil War broke out, he didn’t want to pick a side since he was unsure who might win.  So he dressed like an Indian which made him exempt from serving.  As he was a heavy drinker to begin with, staying drunk was no real task and mystified both Confederate and Union armies when discovered.  After the war, poor Cooter couldn’t give up the booze.  One day, his shack caught fire and burned to the ground.  No sign of Cooter after that date so it is assumed his body was so full of alcohol that he went up with the flames.

Today, there remain restaurants, barbecue joints, bars, liquor stores and other establishments named after the man.  He has been referenced in songs and many tales over the years.  Of course, Genuine Cooter Brown Blended Whiskey from Gatlinburg, Tennessee is one of many beverages sporting the man’s name.

A quick search of shows a living human named Cooter W. Brown living in Keatchie, Louisiana.  In case you’re wondering, he’s in his 60’s and had prior residences in Texas (Mexia, Buffalo and Marshall).

The moral of the story is this.  Protect yourself from foolish drinking or else you could be a derogatory reference for your grandchildren.

Speaking in Cliché is something we do out of habit and is more reflex than intellect.  If someone in your life, during the formative years most notably, speaks in common cliché, you too will find yourself using this terminology in later years without realizing it.  Some clichés are so common that avoiding their use is next to impossible.  I all too often hear “It is what it is” from perfectly intelligent folks.  After some non-scientific analytics, I have determined the use of clichés increases by 72% when you’ve run out of anything important to say.  It is an indication that you should have shut up at some time prior.

Since I am as guilty as the next bozo, I may use this space to educate us all on both common and uncommon words or phrases.  What the heck else do I have to do during the pandemic of 2020 2021!

Run in Peace, Rest in Grace

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Feels Like a Thursday

 Thanksgiving Day 2020 feels a lot like a Thursday.  Without family and feast, Thanksgiving sort of sucks!

The Pandemic strikes again!  Are we better off ignoring the day all together or adapting the experience to fit today’s New Normal?  Even in my season of trying new things, I have little interest in manufacturing new holiday traditions.  Something just ain’t right.

Maybe my attitude sucks.  I feel guilty about complaining.  Sure, 2020 has had a colossal number of low points, but as the character played by Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting so rightly points out:

“You’ll have bad times, but it’ll always wake you up to the good stuff you weren’t paying attention to.”

Having part of something is better than having nothing at all.  There will still be food, football and slumber.  We’ll talk over the phone rather than the dinner table.  It will be the most civilized holiday meal in decades!  There will be a lot fewer dishes to clean.  Less stress.  We’ve missed birthdays, anniversaries, and other events this year to protect the health of friends and family.  If you think about it, it takes a certain level of love to avoid one another. 

The first harvest celebration that started all this was in October 1621.  90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims attended it.  Thanksgiving (giving thanks to God for rain, survival, or military victory) happened when warranted thereafter.  It was celebrated more frequently following President George Washington’s proclamation in 1789, but didn’t take root until President Abraham Lincoln called for an annual day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens” in November 1863.  It took until 1942 for Congress to settle in on the fourth Thursday of November as the national holiday we find ourselves bitching about today.  And, it took Texas until 1956 to get with the program.  Those Texans.  Gotta love ‘em.

Thanksgiving has a fluid history in our country.  Is it possible COVID-19 is the catalyst for another permanent shift in how we celebrate?  The only change I support is to simplify it.  Strip away all the pageantry and formality that muck it all up.  There is one consistent thing about the holiday.  Giving Thanks.  It was and should always be an expression of our gratitude to God.  I don’t think this year is any different just because our gatherings are more intimate.  It might even be easier to be more sincere this time around.  

Yes, it saddens me that far too many people have died, lost jobs, or otherwise rocked to the core by the Pandemic. But there are also many that have recognized just how lost in the externals we are as a nation.  We have been so busy chasing more, more, more, faster, faster, faster that when we could not run anymore we didn’t know what to do with ourselves.  I spent two months in denial, followed by learning to exist in my own home 24/7.  Only now can I walk into the kitchen at midday and not have my wife look at me like I was a burglar.

So, tomorrow will be Thursday.  It may feel like most Thursdays, but it is Thanksgiving Thursday and I plan to be more thankful than ever.  My life is blessed.  Beyond blessed.  So is yours.  Zoom out and take another look.

“You’ll have bad times, but it’ll always wake you up to the good stuff you weren’t paying attention to.”

Run in Peace, Rest in Grace