Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Notes of Interest 7

Here are the February 2015 numbers of my weekly newspaper column...

Feb. 4: The Purpose of this Newspaper...

There’s a framed sign above my desk, printed on well-aged paper and in big, bold, striking letters. It has probably hung there as a reminder for several editors before me. It says: “The purpose of this newspaper is to promote Stover through news stories, advertising, photos.”

I hope and believe that is what you see The Morgan County Press as doing.

I have heard quite a few people comment warmly on the role this newspaper serves in Stover, and the quality and quantity of its coverage. I am thankful in a humble way for your positive feedback.

To be sure, I also need and appreciate your constructive criticism when you see any way this paper could serve your community better.

The pleasure and the honor has been all mine. After six full months on the job, I still look forward to doing this for a long time.

I truly enjoy meeting people, learning their stories, and sharing them with the public.

I am starting to enjoy, more and more, taking the pictures that go with those stories. Some of those pictures almost tell the story by themselves.

I wish I could invite you to visit the newspaper’s web page and check out a five-minute video I shot last week of Jim Manuel playing the virtual theater pipe organ in the basement of his rural Stover home.

Unfortunately, I am still so inept at shooting video that all I captured was about 10 seconds of Manuel playing, followed by four minutes and 50 seconds of a freeze frame. I have no idea what I did wrong, but it’s obviously something I have to work on.

I had a great interview Friday, Jan. 30 with Nita Loganbill, director of the Morgan County Library. Though I haven’t had time to write that story yet, it’s something readers of both this paper and the Versailles Leader-Statesman can look forward to in the coming week or two.

The passion and experience of both these people make them fun to talk to and a thrill to write about. I think they have things to say that will promote the culture of Stover and Morgan County.

Even though Manuel’s hobby is hidden away in a basement where few people will hear or see it, the story - when space permits us to print it - may challenge us to consider a point of view on music and community that would do us all good.

On the flip side, the library is something that is open for all to use. Operating on the same tax revenue it started with 80 years ago, it is still holding steady with a wide range of materials that could enrich everyone’s life, along with a relaxing place to enjoy those materials.

Help us promote your community. If there’s a story I should write about, let me know. We can make Stover life richer.


Feb. 11: Who Was the Best President?

I first became interested in the Presidents of the United States when I was a first grader and Jimmy Carter was in the White House. But who is the best president in our country’s history, the worthiest to be admired? The week of Presidents’ Day, Monday, Feb. 16, seemed like a good time to find out what people around Stover think.

Presidents’ Day is always on a Monday so people whose workplaces close for national holidays can enjoy a long weekend. It is strategically situated between Lincoln’s birthday, Thursday, Feb. 12 and Washington’s birthday, Sunday, Feb. 22.

Unsurprisingly, both Lincoln and Washington received a lot of votes in my quick, unscientific poll of people in Stover.

Karen Warner chose Abraham Lincoln, president 1861-65, because of his humanitarian act of emancipating the slaves. “It was an act of Christianity,” she said. “That may not have been his political motive, but it was a Christian act.”

Sharon Joy Shull said, “We haven’t had a good president since the 1800s.” When asked who the last good one was, she laughed and said, “Abraham Lincoln.”

Raul Martinez agreed. “Lincoln brought transformation,” he said. “He ended slavery and was at the forefront of rights. He laid the foundation of change.”

Cindy Beckmann and Charlie Lee both voted for Lincoln, “because he freed the slaves.”

Among those throwing their support behind George Washington, president 1789-97, was Curtis Oehlrichs, “because he was a founding father and he did everything for the love of the new country. There was no politics. He just put it all out there. He literally risked his life.”

Kevin Lutjen said he admires Washington for “being the first president, and serving in the armed forces before he was president. He helped start things.”

Tina Chandler spoke warmly about Theodore Roosevelt, president 1901-09: “He said what he thought. He fought for what was right. He saved our national parks and national forests despite strong opposition. He stood up for what he thought was best for the country.”

Bailey Marriott cast a second vote for T.R., “because he was a cowboy!”

Filling the Mount Rushmore ticket is Thomas Jefferson, president 1801-09. Mark Tucker said, “He was the architect of the Declaration of Independence. He was a driving force behind the Constitution. He was very intelligent. He started several libraries. He was concerned about the direction the country would go.”

Among more recent presidents, Harry Truman, in office 1945-53, got an endorsement from Bob Kendall: “He was a simple man with simple solutions. He wasn’t wishy-washy.”

Jeanette Palmer spoke up for George H. W. Bush, president 1989-93: “He felt to me like a man who was taking care of his country.”

Dale Rush supported Bill Clinton, president 1993-2001: “He took Ronnie Reagan’s trickle-down theory and squared up the money. He balanced the budget and we actually had money for a while.”

Shannon Beckmann agreed, “With Clinton, everybody was working, and we had a budget.”

Lora Dale put in a word for George W. Bush, president 2001-09: “He had good morals.”

But the president of recent times who scored the highest in our lightning poll was Ronald Reagan, who served 1981-89.

“I admire all that he accomplished,” said Maureen Rowland. “He seemed to know how to work with people, and I think he was good for our country.”

Scott Beckmann said of Reagan, “It seemed like he did a lot of good.”

Hanna Rogers said, “I like everything he stood for. I like the changes he made to the country and his core values. Everything was not just political. It was what he believed was right and wrong.”

Richard Goetze said, “Reagan seemed to be the working man’s president. He’d stand up to bullies. He wasn’t afraid to call a bully exactly what he was.”

Several people, speaking of Reagan, brought up his quote, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

Russell Sharp said, “Reagan was connected to people. In my opinion he truly worked for the people. He was the voice of the people.”

Dianne Conner said of Reagan, “I think he did more for this country than any of the others.”

Public opinion is divided. And I didn’t get an answer from everybody I asked. One man would have said something about John F. Kennedy, president 1961-63, but he didn’t want to be quoted.

So I’m not saying either Lincoln or Reagan would be elected if all the past presidents of the U.S. were on a ballot today. But they would definitely get some votes in Stover.


Feb. 18: MPA Day at the Capitol

Missouri Press Association’s “Day at the Capitol” was Thursday, Feb. 12. It was my first opportunity to attend, and only my second visit to the Missouri state capitol in Jefferson City.

I’ll tell you a funny thing. As I sat in the third row of a room full of journalists at the governor’s mansion, firing questions at Governor Jay Nixon, I started to feel like a real reporter.

I didn’t come up with any questions, though. I was busy enough trying to snap a good photo and scribbling notes in my reporter’s notebook.

Nixon struck me as an entertaining character, intelligent and witty, passionate about his views, committed to keeping himself informed of the views expressed in newspapers statewide.

I had an even closer lawmaker encounter with District 58 State Representative David Wood, who showed me and two colleagues around the house chamber and posed for a few photos with each of us.

Wood also takes note of what newspapers say. He reads all the papers in his district. Whenever a constituent is featured, he sends them a copy of the story so they know he’s thinking about them.

Wood comes across as personable and hard working. He said he spends at least a few days each week in his office, even when the legislature is out of session. Sometimes to get away from it all he strolls around the capitol, offering tours to random guests. Look him up when you’re in the Jeff and see if he’ll take you to the top of the capitol dome.

A panel of state legislators shared the key points of bills they introduced to address the Ferguson crisis. If you’re very interested in what they had to say, get in touch perhaps we can arrange a beer summit.

The press also had an opportunity to hear campaign speeches by two candidates for the Republican nomination for governor in 2016.

Besides fairly similar political views, State Auditor Tom Schweich and former Missouri House Speaker Catherine Hanaway don’t have much in common. The comedian in me saw humor in the contrast between Schweich’s short, stooped, fast-talking figure and Hanaway’s deep, deliberate voice and tall, dignified bearing.

Which of them should the GOP run in its next gubernatorial horse race? It’s not my place to say. I thought Hanaway made a good point when she noted Schweich has no experience as a legislative leader. But as Nixon pointed out about Hanaway, “What current office does she hold?”

I found Schweich the more compelling speaker. Even without a script, his patter flowed more smoothly than Hanaway’s stumbling, though scripted, presentation.

It was nice to feel for one day like a journalist who rides the wave of statewide politics and rubs elbows with national news makers. I hope the MPA keeps this program going. Then at least once a year, newsmen and women from across the state can feel that way.

It puts what we do in our little, local beat in a bigger context. It reminds us that what we do as the press is an exercise of a precious freedom, a sacred trust.

NOTE: Sadly, Tom Schweich died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on Feb. 26.


Feb. 25: Looking at Student Art

I’m no artist. I couldn’t draw a decent stick-figure to save my life. But art and I have been friendly enemies all my life.

My late stepfather turned ink-and-paper doodles into a minor career. He sold framed works, competed in local art shows and even, just once, had a solo show. Some of my earliest writing assignments were to describe his pictures.

Since then, I spent a few years hanging around campuses full of art. I’ve wiled away a few days at world-class galleries. And before writing for this newspaper, I worked eight years at a magazine featuring many fine paintings.

So even if I don’t know how to do art, I know a bit about how to look at it.

When I saw Stover high school student Marinda Iman’s four-by-four-foot painting of a lion wearing a beaded cap and a feather in its mane, it knocked my socks off. Truly, I was sockless.

I’ve photographed that painting at least twice. The most recent shot was taken for this issue, showing that painting festooned with a rainbow-colored, Honorable Mention ribbon from the Kaysinger Conference art show Friday, Feb. 6 in Sedalia.

Iman’s art teacher, Anthony Mitchell II, tells me she is interested in a career in art. He said it broke his heart to see her take home a mere honorable mention for a piece into which she poured so much heart, hard work and - heck! - talent.

I don’t want to take anything away from Montana Boles’ well deserved blue ribbons and Best In Show recognition, but honorable mention? Really? Either the conference has a ridiculous over-abundance of talent in the opaque paint category or, Marinda, you were robbed.

There I go editorializing without knowing what I’m writing about. I didn’t see the paintings she was competing against. But I did see the painting she did, and that tells me a lot.

I’m so excited to see a talent like this developing in my backyard, it makes my brain fizz with ideas. I can’t paint, but thinking and writing I can do. So excuse me a moment while I let some of those ideas bubble over into your mind. Think about them, talk about them, and let’s see what we can do for promising young artists like Iman.

First, art needs to be seen. What could do more to encourage a growing artist than for people to look at and talk about her work?

It might be a lot to ask to open an art gallery in town just so the public can view, and perhaps buy, local students’ art work. But some businesses, such as Great Southern Bank and Scarlett’s Supper Club in Stover, already lend a bit of wall space to local artists who want their stuff to be seen and, if possible, sold.

I would encourage other shops to look at their unused wall space and consider adding some of it to the all-around-town art gallery. If word got out that there was an art exhibition worth seeing, spread around the community, it might prompt visitors to walk around town and that, in turn, could increase business.

Or suppose local businesses and organizations partnered together to host a student art show. Local volunteers coached by Mitchell on what to look for could judge the contest.

Again, this might bring in visitors from around the region, while also giving kids like Iman a taste of competition, constructive feedback and maybe a sale or two. Everyone benefits!

I hardly have room to mention all the possibilities, including commissions from shops, clubs or churches for a deserving student to create a pictures to hang on their walls, or contests offering cash for the best design of a sign, poster, ad or logo.

Mitchell and I spent a few minutes Friday, Feb. 20 tossing around ideas like these. I don’t know which ones came from him and or which came from me. I would be happy to give anyone else the credit if they would help make something like this happen.

Meanwhile, you can support young local artists by visiting the school and looking at their work. You might be surprised. These kids don’t just like art. They really know how to do it.

Left on Layout Room Floor

Here are the photos I shot and captioned for this week's Morgan County (Mo.) Press but didn't use in the print edition due to lack of space:

Miquela Chandler, left, reads a picture-book about snowmen to children while school librarian Brenda Steffens presents a pop-up edition of the same book at the Bulldog Reading Night Tuesday, Feb. 24 in the Morgan County R-I school cafeteria in Stover. Approximately 65 kids and 29 parents or grandparents participated in snowman-themed crafts, games, snacks and free books for every child.

Now you’re cooking: Carol Shadwick, left, Debbie Fischer, Jim Brown, Joyce Witte and Willa Marriott serve in the kitchen Sunday, March 1 at the Stover Community Center. As board members of the Stover Community Betterment Council they were hosting the SCBC’s quarterly senior dinner, along with Darrell Witte, Dwight Palmer, Carol Miles and Connie Goetze, not pictured. Approximately 90 people, including carry-out and delivery orders, were served plates of brisket, green beens potato casserole, fruit and dessert.

Coffee break: Randy Boles, left, and Sue Simmer pause to warm up while plowing the drive Sunday, March 1 at Westwood Plaza in Stover.

A market for muscle: Reese Shepherd, left, and Caden Shepherd offer their services to Candy Dugan Sunday, March 1 to shovel her front steps and driveway on Third Street in Stover. The town was blanketed by approximately four and a half inches of snow Saturday, Feb. 28, creating opportunities for local kids.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Inkspell

Inkspell
by Cornelia Funke
Recommended Ages: 13+

Several years ago I read and loved the book Inkheart, the first novel in a trilogy by the same name, featuring a bookbinder named Mo (sometimes known as Silvertongue) and his daughter Meggie, both of whom have the power to summon characters out of stories by reading them aloud - and who sometimes, even inadvertently, send real people like Meggie's mother into the world where the story takes place.

I read and loved the book, I say, yet I didn't read its sequel until now. Part of this has to do with the movie based on Inkheart starring Brendan Fraser as Mo and Andy Serkis as the villain Capricorn. Even though Funke intended Fraser to play her hero from the moment she conceived the character, the fact that the film effectively burned any possibility of a sequel somehow turned me against reading the rest of the trilogy. I know, that's unfair of me.

One of the ironies of my reconciliation with the series is that Brendan Fraser read the audio-book that brought me back into the Inkworld. And though on film I have never been impressed when he attempted to play anything but a vanilla blockbuster hero (see The Mummy, etc.), I was surprised by the versatility of his reading voice. He may have limitations as a actor, but as an audio-book reader he has a voice and even a dialect for every character.

As for Funke, the peril and magic of her Inkworld still speak for themselves. Translated by Anthea Bell from the German title Tintenblut, this middle book of the trilogy inverts the first installment's flow of characters from book to reality, sending most of its real-world characters into the world of the book. The magic happens in part because of the power of great words, like those written by Fenoglio, author of the book-within-the-book, and in part through a rare talent for reading aloud shared by Meggie, Mo, and only a few other people.

But once they've read themselves in, or been read by, say, the nefarious Orpheus, things do not unfold in the expected storybook fashion. The story Fenoglio originally planned has grown out of control. Inkheart is going all wrong. The villains are too strong, and the good characters are too vulnerable, and every time the old man tries to write something to fix the situation, he just makes it worse. The Laughing Prince isn't laughing any more. An attempt to bring his heir back from a grim fate leads to even grimmer results. The witch Mortola, the tyrant Adderhead, and many of Capricorn's cruel henchmen have joined forces and are turning the Inkworld into a place of fear and death. A bitter doom steals the sweetness from the fire-dancer Dustfinger's longed-for homecoming. And for Meggie, separated from her parents so soon after seeing them reunited, her dream of visiting the Inkworld becomes a nightmare.

Mo arrives in a world of magic just in time to suffer a nearly fatal injury. As he heals, he gradually learns that Fenoglio has written him a dangerous new role as a heroic robber marked for death by the Adderhead. To save Mo and her mother Resa from the bad guys, Meggie must convince the Adderhead to try a dark, magical cure for his fear of death. And to help them all escape in the climactic battle, Dustfinger will pay a price that breaks his heart. When he gambles his life on a piece of storytelling that grew wild in the spaces between Fenoglio's words, the hook is set and the trilogy's third part, Inkdeath, begins to reel us in.

Funke is the award-winning author of The Thief Lord, Dragon Rider, When Santa Fell to Earth, Igraine the Brave, Saving Mississippi, Ghost Knight, and the MirrorWorld, Ghost Hunters, and Wild Chicks series. Every one of her titles looks like it would be fun to read, though you'll have to learn German to read a few of them.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Two Gruesome Parables

Everyone is a theologian. Most people are bad theologians, that's all. Some theologians, like my late stepfather, consider themselves too wise to accept what God has told us about, for example, His existence, His power, His goodness, and the reality of heaven and hell. And yet a few snarky parables may show just what their wisdom is made of...

To what shall I compare the theologian who says, "I cannot believe in a God who would be so cruel that he would send people to hell for not believing in him"?

He is like a man who walks off a cliff into a deep chasm after being warned by a park ranger to stay on the path. As he plunges to his death, he curses the park ranger for putting the chasm there.

He is like a woman who falls asleep while smoking in bed and awakes trapped in a burning house. When the fire chief risks his life to enter the inferno and save her, she threatens to sue him for letting her live in a flammable building until he leaves.

102. Creation Hymn

Further to "Useful Hymns Part II"... In case you missed the previous announcement, I am tentatively numbering the hymns I am writing for a projected second volume of 100. Obviously, the hymn numbers will change by the time that book comes together, because they will be topically arranged; I am numbering them here just to mark the progress of Volume 2. Click here to buy a copy of my first set of 100 hymns for only $10.

Creation Hymn

God, who called the light from darkness
And from nothing made all things
Through Your Word begotten, uttered,
And Your Spirit's hovering wings,
Even You, to call men righteous,
Bore creation's bitter stings,
Making dead hearts live and own You:
For this grace all heaven sings!

God whose willing, working, naming
Separated day from night,
Earth from sky and land from ocean,
Clothing them in verdure bright,
Setting stars for signs and seasons,
Sun and moon to rule the height,
Keep anew Your ancient promise:
Call them good, Your heart's delight!

God, who set the waters teeming
And the birds to heaven assigned,
Brought forth all things walking, creeping,
Multiplying kind by kind,
Last of all to crown creation
You in dust Your image limned,
Breathing life into our father,
Making him a living mind.

Now that mind, though darkened, hungers
To regain that holy shape;
Now that world groans, fallen, longing
Its sore labor to escape.
By Your Word's incarnate merit
All our sins in justice drape;
Make creation new, immortal;
Call us good for Jesus' sake!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Gott hat das Evangelium

Here is an artifact of a period when I did a lot of hymn translations. The German original was "Gott hat das Evangelium" by Erasmus Alber, 1551. The translation was mine, 1998. The tune was written for it by Alber himself.

1. God gave the Gospel so that we
Should live to Him and godly be.
The world at large is unconcerned;
Against such wealth its back is turned:
A token that the Day is drawing near.

2. For God’s Good News they feel no need.
Their bellies swell with worldly greed;
And as it grows day after day,
“It does no harm,” they vainly say:
A token that the Day is drawing near.

3. The wicked lay new snares each day;
It is their law, their time-worn way.
And so they would storm heaven’s doors,
Take all things good and free by force:
A token that the Day is drawing near.

4. They load the Gospel with high praise,
Yet wish that none would turn his ways;
Indeed, they scorn God’s call, and say,
“No need to hasten and obey!”—
A token that the Day is drawing near.

5. All life is vain futility;
The world seems full of misery,
As if there were no God to heed
The poor man’s cry in wretched need:
A token that the Day is drawing near.

6. Men bleed the Church’s treasures dry,
Yet little profit find thereby.
To taunt the poor is not enough;
They steal the breadcrumbs from their mouth:
A token that the Day is drawing near.

7. The holy things are deadly gall
To those who trust them not at all,
Yet see, what has their greed not done!
They take the Lord’s goods as their own:
A token that the Day is drawing near.

8. None sought the Lord, and none denied
The world its overweening pride;
Their vain conceit is on the rise,
Their crooked schemes and shameless lies:
A token that the Day is drawing near.

9. Can any brother-love be found,
Or is the world theft all around?
Nor faith nor honor live today;
“If I were only rich,” they say:
A token that the Day is drawing near.

10. The wicked world brooks no restraint;
Despite God’s Word, none will repent.
No truth or life have they discerned;
“Eat, drink, be merry” they have learned:
A token that the Day is drawing near.

11. Their highest art is revelry;
Their chosen science, knavery.
These, mindless of all else, they do;
The world is mischief through and through:
A token that the Day is drawing near.

12. The lovely sun can hardly stand
To look with horror on our land.
It seems to sparkle each day less,
As if to toll the Great Distress:
A token that the Day is drawing near.

13. The moon and stars, in pangs of birth,
Look in disgust upon the earth,
And dearly wish to be made free
Of such mischief and misery:
A token that the Day is drawing near.

14. Then come, Lord Jesus, come, make haste!
Come, lay this weary world to rest!
Have done with Satan’s fiery shells,
And make an end of death and hell:
We long to see that dear and dreadful Day!

Hymn 101: for a Replenished Prayer Life

Since I published my collection of 100 "useful hymns," I've had a wee dry spell when it comes to writing original hymnody. I already have some vague plans for starting my second volume of hymns, however. I imagine the title will be the super-evocative Useful Hymns, Part II or something to that effect, and the hymn numbers will start at 101. I'd better get hustling, however, if I don't want the second volume to be approximately 25 years in the making, like the first. So, apropos the dry spell, here is a hymn I've been thinking about for a few days...

Hymn for a Replenished Prayer Life

Stir up my still heart, Lord, to pray
And think on You from break of day.
Through hours of toil, at meals and play,
Till evening, be my rest and stay.

Refresh my dryness with Your dew
Through words both powerful and true,
That heart and hand and foot may hew
Unto the way they learn from You.

Lest I be led to trust in deeds
And close the mouth Your gospel feeds,
With medicine my sick soul needs
Choke out the foe's false, poisoned seeds.

And lest my pride lead me to death,
Grant me both penitence and faith
That, trusting in Your saving bath,
I feel Your Spirit's cleansing breath.

And lest the foe my thoughts confound,
Direct them where You will be found:
Not where men's boasts and blames resound,
But where Your means of grace abound.

Place all I've thought and felt and heard
In meek submission to Your word,
Till from this age abhorred, absurd,
To Your right hand I be transferred.