Bad Times Are Coming

Bad times are coming, and may be already here,
So, bend your back, carry the cross, and prepare to shed a tear.
Good times have come and went, with all the games we played,
We lost our bearing and our hope, as from God we strayed.

Bad times are coming, I am worried that it’s true,
We threaten life and forsake love, with the things we do,
We turn away from nature, and think we rule the world,
It’s a wonder God still loves us, with all the sins we hurled!

Bad times are coming, it is time to take a stand,
We’re off the path, we went astray, in the schemes we planned.
It’s time to stop and listen, to our soul and to our heart,
Before the lies of the deceiver, tears us all apart.

A Wandering Path To You

I am not worthy, but I’ll try,

Moving forward till I die,

Though I misstep along the way,

I get closer day by day,

To life as you meant it to be,

Loving, blessed and Holy.

I don’t deserve it, but I call,

To catch me when I fall,

To bring me home again,

In your presence, out of Sin,

With a heart meek and true,

In your paradise anew.

Jesus please hear my plea,

Remove the darkness, and let me see,

The path that I should take,

And the one that I should forsake,

On my wandering path to you,

And the mission I’m meant to do.

Christmas in Crosswicks

Christmas is meant for community. We are brought together each year by the light that came into the world.  This joy is to be shared among friends, family, and neighbors!   

I remember sharing this joy and love in my hometown of Crosswicks, NJ.  I have written two other blogs on Crosswicks linked here if you want to read more.   American Anthem: More Crosswicks less Crosswise A Penny A Minute, A Lifetime of Lessons

I decided to write this blog after seeing several pictures of my old hometown from my childhood and current friend, Katherine Caldwell.  Other pictures are in the video at the end, also produced by Katherine Caldwell with a new song to an old tune from me.  But the one below of Main Street blanketed in snow got me dreaming of Christmas in Crosswicks.

Crosswicks in Snow image by Katherine Caldwell

I never tire of thinking of Christmas in my hometown.   The snow glistening in the trees.  The 100+ year old Christmas tree bursting into light!  Neighbors singing Christmas Carols around a bonfire and later warming themselves with hot apple cider.  The candlelight service in the 200-year-old Quaker Meeting House.    There are four main reasons Christmas in Crosswicks is special and makes the holiday shine brighter.   

1. Christmas in Crosswicks is Historic!  Crosswicks was settled by Quaker immigrants back in 1677.  Christmas celebrations and worship have been ongoing ever since.  The Quaker Meeting House that still stands and holds the annual Candlelight service each Christmas was built in 1773.    This years’ service went virtual except for the musicians due to COVID on Dec. 20, keeping the tradition unbroken. 

The Christmas of 1776 is particularly noteworthy. Crosswicks was occupied by Colonial troops of  General Cadwallader in preparation for the historic Battle of Trenton which one of the turning points of the Revolutionary War.   

I am also proud that despite Covid, Crosswicks celebrated the 101st lighting of the large Christmas tree that sits in the Quaker fields near the Community House.  To see the magic, look at this link for this year’s virtual ceremony.  Crosswicks Christmas Tree Lighting.  

One last historic Christmas moment relates to a historic building that was three buildings down from my home.  Brick’s Mincemeat Factory was built in 1879 and until 1968 was the state’s largest producer of mincemeat.  It is now a historical building but still holds special memories of the mincemeat pies we had each Christmas. Read more here – Brick’s Mincemeat Factory

The historic nature of Christmas in Crosswicks makes it special but not necessarily unique.  I encourage all in this unprecedented year to learn more about the history of your town related to Christmas. 

2. Sharing of Faith and Fellowship. Crosswicks had diversity when it comes to faith and denomination.  I already mentioned that the city was founded by Quakers and the Candlelight service at the Quaker Meeting House is a fixture of the holiday season.  But one of the things that I remember most about the holiday season is learning about Hanukkah at my elementary school each year.  I still remember the dreidel song taught to us by one of my friend’s mother. Also, that Hanukkah was the Festival of Light represented by the menorah. 

We also had the United Methodist Church which was attended by my good friend.  I would sing with her father, a retired Methodist minister, songs like Go Tell it on the Mountain that we did not normally sing in my Catholic Church.  We also had the historic Grace African Methodist Episcopal Church organized in 1868 located 3 buildings down the street from my house.   The church was  the first African American denomination organized and incorporated in the United States. I remember the Christmas hymns of joy echoing forth from the Church.  We of Crosswicks were of different faiths and denominations but we shared our beliefs and joy openly during the season

3. Joining in Civil Community.  We also joined each holiday season in civil community.  Each year our family joined our fellow “Crosswicksians” in the annual bonfire and Christmas Tree lighting.  We would all circle the tree at the Community Center and sing Christmas Carols both secular and religious.  Voices rising together as one community we sang of hope and love! Later we drank hot apple cider and ate donuts as we shared fellowship about the encroaching holiday Season.  To close the day, Santa Claus would ride on the back of the firetruck and toss candy to all of us.  It was all a kid could want!

4.  Exploring the Wonders of Winter with Friends.  After all that candy, cider, and donuts, we needed an outlet to burn off the calories.  Our rural town (imagine that in Jersey) offered a wealth of options in the winter month.  No Netflix for us!  We grabbed our skates and went skating on the Frog Pond behind the library or better, yet we sled down “the Hill” behind the old Firehouse.   I remember leaving the house at 8 am on some days and not returning until 9 PM.  The only break would be a grape soda and some candy at Applegate’s Market. 

We even exercised when getting our Christmas Trees.  No Papa Noel’s or Walmart for us.  We went with our Dad to cut down a tree at Nicholson’s Tree Farm.  I am envious of my cousin since she still lives down the street. 

In closing, Christmas in Crosswicks was full of faith, fellowship and fun.  That is why some forty years later, I am still dreaming of Christmas in the Crosswicks.  You may be dreaming of Christmas in your hometown.  Christmas in the year of Covid just feels different from those of the past.  We are asked to remain apart and not to congregate.  And when we are not standing apart, we are sometimes ripping each other apart with cutting remarks. 

For all, the light of Christmas may seem a bit dimmer this year.  And, despite our best efforts to set our homes alight like the Griswold’s, we cannot capture the brightness of a smile or the warmth of a human touch.  Light does not come from a bulb! Rather it comes from hearts joined with the joy of Christmas! 

I think God and nature conspired to replicate the Christmas star this Solstice, 2020 to remind us that when two planets conjoin their lights, the heavens are brighter.  Let us conspire, like my neighbors in Crosswicks, to virtually cross our wicks to bring the light of hope! Let us share the spark of humanity with each other to break the isolation of Covid and the rancor of rivalry! 

We may not be able to be together in real time this year, but we can strive to be together virtually.  Reach out to old friends on Zoom.  Say a prayer for someone in need.  Donate to a charity.  And most of all honor the light that has come into the world with worship and kindness for all.  And until next year, I am dreaming of Christmas in Crosswicks.  Let me close with a song.  

The lyrics are below:

Photos by Katherine Caldwell, lyrics and sung by Don Grier to tune of White Christmas

Christmas in Crosswicks

I am dreaming of Christmas in Crosswicks,

Just like the ones I used to know,

Where people got together,

In all kinds of weather,

To watch the Christmas tree aglow!

I am dreaming of Christmas in Crosswicks,

And the bonfires in the night,

May all your memories be bright,

And when we cross the wicks with neighbors, we bring more light!

Advent: Love’s Everlasting Kiss

The Mount of Olives

In Advent we wait expectantly for God’s Love Incarnate. Not the gooey eyed love that we experience on a porch swing and a first kiss, but rather the long, hard fought victorious love that endures past a last kiss. The love of a God who so loved the world that he gave his only Son. The Love of our Lord who in the dungeons of Caiaphas, the agony of the Garden, and nailed to the Cross loves us, dies for our sins to be resurrected and gain us a path to Heaven.

The Love of Mary who agrees to bring God into this world and stands there at the foot of the cross. She takes that hard-won love with her to the house of John where she leads the apostles until she is assumed into Heaven and crowned its Queen. The love of a God that endures in the church and the sacrifice of the Saints. The Love despite our faults and sins is coming again to the Mount of Olives!

In closing, this poem came to me as a remembrance for my sister in law. This morning I believe that Love in the form of the Holy Spirit asked me to send this poem at the start of a new liturgical year on the Priesthood and Passion of Jesus:

Love does not come easy,
it’s built in trials,
minute by minute,
day by day.
It is built on sorrow,
As much as hope,
Tears and hardship,
As much as laughter.
It does not flit,
It does not float,
It is SOLID,
and it ENDURES!
Why love then?
It is our purpose and mission,
What we were built for,
What God designed!
Because love does not last,
for a minute or an hour.
It lasts a lifetime,
and through eternity.
So, drive on through the pain,
And strive through the sorrow, And with one last kiss,
Reach for the tomorrow.
And, remember in waiting,
Not the words left spoken or tears,
But the smile and loving eyes,
That resound through the years.

Lost and Found

I wish I could reach back,

Reach back in the past,

When my soul was innocent,

And my heart pure.

When I could look at something,

And say “There, that’s right,

I know it to be right,

I have no doubts.”

But age begets doubts,

And time desperation,

In a world charged with sorrow,

Nothing is for certain,

nothing for sure,

All we can do is love,

And love some more,

Hoping God is smiling on us,

To bring about a better day!

Let’s Celebrate Fathers as Builders!

This Father’s Day I celebrate Dads as builders! I revel in those fathers that built buildings, built large families, built Turbines, built farms and built all of us up to love! Amidst all the tearing down recently in our country, it is time for us Fathers to build up!  Here are four examples of Father’s building up.

1.  Building a family with bricks and good earth.  My Father-In-Law along with his wife  built a loving family of 10 borne on bricks, love, and good Minnesota earth.  The first time I met Cal, he took me to his Raspberry farm to work and to talk about his tractor.   This was the same raspberry patch that my wife and her nine siblings learnt responsibility each summer.  Later, Cal took me to see the buildings he built as a Union Bricklayer.  As we talked, I appreciated how he built a family brick by brick, berry by berry.  A man of few words, his example spoke volumes.

2.  Building engines that power cities, civil life, and a family.  My father Big-D was a dynamo! Like the turbines that he built at his work, Big-D energized civil life and a family through respect and love.  He was a Union Vice President, a Cub Master, a baseball coach, and president of several civic organizations.  He taught me and the community how to throw a curve ball, build a car for the Pinewood Derby, and how to negotiate to get what a worker needs and deserves.  Countries are built on civic organizations not tweets!  Read more here (American Anthem: More Crosswicks less Crosswise )  Dad along with my mother taught us how to live, love and learn in a community. 

3.  Building in the background with humility and hard work.  God is the ultimate father as builder.  He built heaven and this good earth which we are called to protect.  And when God was selecting an earthly father to protect and teach his only Son, he selected St. Joseph.  A quiet, humble man, Joseph patiently taught the Son of Man how to build amongst humanity with his hands and heart.  Joseph stood in the background and let his work show forth through the works of the Son.  Joseph prayed and sent a path for what all good Father’s wish for their Sons; a life that eclipses their own and sets the world aright.

4. Building bridges of love.  My first three examples are no longer walk in physical form with us.  But I know that their example lives on teaching us to build bridges of love across all humanity.  I see the builder in my cousin-in-law Uriah and the example he sets forth for Jessica my cousin, and their two young daughters, one only days-old.  I see it each day as he builds up the love bursting forth in a young family through hard work and compassion.  Getting up at night to comfort a little one and waking up each morning early to work each day just a little sleep deprived.  And I remember how hard it is to be builder and cheer as his family grows in love and to serves as an example to all of us that love knows no bounds.   

A Father’s love knows no boundaries.  It builds up instead of tears down.  It builds bridges across humanity and through time!  It is color blind and love rich.  Let’s all be builders in our families and society!

Commissioned to Love

What does it mean to be commissioned?  The simple Webster definition is “an instruction, command, or duty given to a person or group of people.”  But what is the instruction, what is the duty?  Who gives the command and to whom is the command given? And is their one great commission that we all should follow? 

I started thinking about this on May 24, the day when as a Catholic, I celebrate Jesus’s Ascension and the Great Commission.   Here is the first reading that occurred on that day from Acts 1:

He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons
that the Father has established by his own authority.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem,
throughout Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth.

Acts 1

And what was the power that was bestowed by the Holy Spirit?  The power to know that you are loved and to bestow that love on others. To live out the commandment in courage and strength that Jesus gave on the last supper

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.

John 15:12

This was the Great Commission and commandment that we are meant to follow.  What happened on May 25th , 2020, the very next day after this celebration, was the opposite of the Great Commission.  Call it the Great Betrayal.  An officer who was commissioned:  “TO PROTECT WITH COURAGE, TO SERVE WITH COMPASSION” did the exact opposite.  There was no compassion shown to George Floyd nor courage displayed by the officers that renounced their commission.

Now as the nation struggles with this betrayal and the many that have occurred before it, we need to cling to the hope and love set forth in the Great Commission. We need to practice the three P’s:  Protest Injustice, Protect Your Neighbor and Heart, and Pray for Love and Understanding.  We have seen many doing just this but unfortunately there are others who tear down instead of build-up.

In search of hope, I look back and forward to two other commissioning’s – one recent and one happening this week.  On Saturday May 30th,  Nasa and Space-X went on a successful co-mission as they launched the first commercial manned rocket to the space station.  The private and public sector blended their unique talents on a co-mission to space and allowed us to hope that we could boldly go were no man has gone before – a world were differences are celebrated. As Gene Rodenberry, creator of Star Trek puts it: 

“If man is to survive, he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between men and between cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life’s exciting variety, not something to fear.”

Gene Rodenberry

I also look forward to the graduation and commissioning of the West Point Class of 2020 on June 13th.  I look forward to the cadets to taking the oath to serve.   In the words of LTG Darryl A. Williams, our first black West Point Superintendent (you can read the full letter here https://s3.amazonaws.com/usma-media/inline-images/about/Public%20Affairs/homepage/pdfs/superindendent_sends_06.04.2020.PDF):

“The oath to support and defend the Constitution binds us together as one team, dedicated to defending our Nation and upholding its values. We strive to embody these ideals and aspire to live by our core values of duty, honor, and country. Every word, every action, and every attitude should uphold those values so that we may live and lead honorably. The Nation looks to West Point as an example of what is possible when people from diverse backgrounds unite and aspire to honorable living.

Consider how your words, actions, and attitudes impact other people. Are you building up others and making them feel valued? Are you strengthening trust within the team? Are you extending forgiveness, and actively listening to other points of view? Are you inspiring others to greatness? If so, encourage others to do the same. If not, then choose to improve—immediately. Muster the moral courage necessary to confront and solve problems with effective, honest, and empathetic dialogue that seeks solutions rather than sowing seeds of division and disunity.”

LTG Darryl A. Williams

Let’s build up instead of tearing down.  Let’s celebrate the differences.  Let’s love one another and protect each other’s heart.  Let’s live out the great commission!