Thursday, December 24, 2015


The bedroom is dark. I look for the bright red display of the correct time from the alarm clock on the night stand. Nothing. Polly is awake, looking at her phone. She says it is 7 o’clock.

I inch my way to the bathroom. No lights. Polly calls DTE. They ask for our phone number. They don’t have a customer with that number. I say, “Call Consumers Power.” She does. They don’t have any record of us either.

I stumble downstairs to my office and grope through my files to locate one entitled “Utilities.” Ah Ha. We are serviced by Great Lakes Energy. I call them. The recorded lady’s voice informs me that they have an outage due to high wind damage that affects one third of their grid. About 30,000 homes are without electricity. All of their crews are in the field, but they are certain we will be without power at least until after Christmas.

I call Home Depot on my cell phone. Yes, they have generators. A few. And they are going fast. I throw on some blue jeans and a sweater. I can be there in half an hour. The first obstacle; the garage door opener doesn’t work. Of course not. It’s electric. So is everything else in our world, it seems.

Some tugging and pulling gets the door open and I am at the Petoskey Home Depot before 8 AM. I am looking at a $999.00 generator. Gas powered. It must be kept outdoors. The cord which connects it to the house looks like a power source for a trip to the Moon.

They tell me a full tank takes about six gallons, and will run the machine for about 9 hours. I thank the man, buy some flashlight batteries, and head back home. The gas station is dark. I have half a tank. I make a mental note to fill the tank.

Son Tom Jr., his wife, Julie, their son Patrick, and Father Charlie Irvin are scheduled to come North tomorrow for Christmas dinner and an overnight stay. We call Tom with the bad news. He urges us to come to East Lansing.

Polly vetoes the idea of going down state. The thought of packing clothes, plus all the food we have put in for the holiday weighs heavily against that strategy.

We call the Perry Hotel in Petoskey and reserve a room for two nights. Then we call Tom Jr. and tell him of our plans, with apologies for cancelling the Christmas festivities.

Shortly, Tom calls back. Thankfully we have working cell phones. He has not given up on a family Christmas. They are coming up to Harbor Springs as planned. He has reserved two more rooms at the Perry Hotel.

So be it. Christmas at the Perry. It can be fun. An adventure of sorts. Polly gets on the phone calling around for dinner reservations. A little dicey at the last minute.

I decide to go back into town to get gas for the car. I had managed to get the garage door back down. Now I am shoving it back up. Damn thing weighs a ton.

About five minutes on the road and the phone in the car rings. It’s Polly. Her message is short and ecstatic. “We have power!”

The lights are on at the gas station. I fill the tank and hurry home. With a little effort, I hook the garage door back up to the opener, and delight to see it close automatically. Inside, the house is already warmer. The gas powered fireplace is back in operation, and Polly is in the kitchen busy baking brownies for tomorrow’s dessert.

Funny thing, she says. She was listening, on the battery powered portable radio, to an Episcopalian Mass. Shortly after she found it on the dial, the congregation began to say the Our Father. Sitting on the couch in the cold house, a green Michigan State Spartan blanket over her pink bathrobe, she joined in saying the prayer. Episcopalians say “which art in heaven” and Catholics say “who art in heaven,” but it’s the same Lord’s Prayer.

Praying felt good. She thought, we ask God for things, we thank Him for things, but we don’t often just praise Him. So she did. She said another Our Father, an Ave, and a Glory Be for good measure.

Within a minute, the lights went on.

Praise God, your Christmas will be merry, too.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


A friend of mine, who has travelled to the Middle East many times, sent me a link to the video of a speech by Raheel Raza, the President of the Clarion Project, a Washington non profit activist organization. It is the most complete, factual and statistical explanation of the religion of Islam that I have ever seen. It explains a lot, and demonstrates the need for dialog about Islam in an atmosphere of common sense. Common sense. That would be the opposite of political correctness.

Do yourself and your country a favor. Take just a few minutes to listen to Ms. Raza.

The plain truth is that Islam, like all religions, is a roadmap for  how people ought to live. Like many – probably most – religions, Islam purports to convey to the human race the wisdom and wishes of the Creator of the Universe.

Muslims call Him Allah, Jews call Him Yahweh, Christians call Him Father. By whatever name, all people of faith look to God for knowledge, protection, help and patronage of all sorts. Pleasing God is what people of faith do, or try to do, in the belief that God wants us to be happy, healthy and heroic.

So it is that there is a close relationship between religion and morality. Religions teach people the difference between right and wrong. George Washington told us that a few, well educated and intelligent people may be able to figure out a code of conduct for themselves, without any help from the Creator. But he acknowledged that most folks need some fire and brimstone to stay on the right track.

The problem is that Islam has never experienced an enlightenment. It remains a primitive belief system which comingles religious doctrine with civil law. 

American law is an offspring of the English Common Law, which in turn grew out of ecclesiastical courts and a monarchy which enjoyed the imprimatur of the Roman Catholic Church. When the hegemony of Rome was lost in the sixteenth century, a number of Christian Churches were established, and the next two centuries saw almost continuous religious warfare.

The American revolution came about in the wake of those religious wars and was largely affected by the desire to have a government that was neutral on the great religious issues. So if we are a Christian nation, it is a nondenominational form of Christianity. Perhaps is it more accurate to describe the United States as a secular Christian nation, if there can be such a thing.

Ms. Raza insists that the vast majority of Muslims in America are assimilated; that they accept our customs and laws at least to the same extent that conservative Christians do. But I wonder if there is such a thing as secular Islam.

Islam is, by definition an evangelistic religion. Especially in this age of instantaneous electronic communication, Islamic preachers aggressively seek to recruit converts. Even the most peaceable Muslims believe that their faith is the one true religion, and while they may not be given to beheading infidels, they are surely in favor of converting all non Muslims to Islam.

Many American liberals are conflicted about Muslims. A recent debate between television personality Bill Maher and screen actor Ben Affleck gave us a good look at the schizophrenia among Obama Democrats.

I stayed up late last night watching and listening to a video of their debate. The concentric circles of Islamic votaries described by Raheel Raza were the main theme of that debate. Does Maher depart from his liberal persona when he says that the Quran condemns infidels? Is he being reactionary when he says that terrorism is committed in the name of Allah?

I have to say that I don’t think there is much hope of converting even the most ‘progressive’ Muslims to the kind of American secularism endorsed by Ben Affleck. But I do wonder if many of them might accept traditional, conservative Christianity.

Maybe it’s time for militant Christians to remind the world that theirs is the one, true, holy, universal and humane religion, and begin competing vigorously and unapologetically for the hearts and minds of every man and woman on the planet.


Monday, December 14, 2015


Chatting with friends at a party recently, I confessed that I wrote a Christmas song and posted it on You Tube. Then I recklessly agreed to provide a link to it.

So here it is. A cumulating ditty, in the vein of Old MacDonald Had a Farm, or the interminable Twelve Days of Christmas, my contribution to the world of music consists of seven verses which pile up in a cornucopia of repetition that only appeals to party goers who have a reliable designated driver.

I have several boisterous grandsons who chime in with me, especially on the loud verse-ending word TIME.

In quieter moments, I have reflected about the philosophical roots of my Christmas song. The word ‘time’ is repeated no less than 42 times – there’s that word again – and I have a feeling that somewhere down deep in my brain or my heart, I really believe that Christmas is all about time.

The Bible tells us that there is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the sun: to be born and to die, to plant and to harvest, kill and to heal, to weep and to laugh, to mourn and to dance; to tear and to mend, to love and to hate, to make war and to be at peace.

Christmas is, after all, the celebration of a birth; the incomparable gift of time being conferred on another new human being. We focus on a mother and her infant and we envision and experience the joy that a new human life brings to all people.

Joy to the world. Joy to all people who cling to and treasure the gift of time. Joy to everybody, even to the old folks who know they haven’t all that much time left.

A new year is beginning. Another huge dose of days. A fresh serving of weeks and months. Sunrises, sunsets. Rain and snow. Darkness and light.

Things change. Everything changes. That is, after all, the definition of time. It’s the measurement of change. The constant morphing of ‘is’ into ‘was.’

Christmas is a special occasion for remembering. At our house, the ritual of addressing Christmas cards involves laughing again about things that happened long ago. Names we haven’t said or heard since last year. And wondering if they are still alive. Or if they have moved.  And didn’t he marry that girl from Toledo?

This year, it was my turn to write a note for our Christmas card. Contemplating the mystery of time provided me with a simple theme.

On the walls of our library, there are four family portraits. The oldest one, taken about 1971, shows a family of eight. Mom, Dad, a gaggle of teen agers and two little ones.

In the next version, there are twelve. We have added three in-laws and a grandchild. Then there is a group of 19, in which little lap and floor sitters are prominent additions.

The last portrait, at the far end of the room, features 30 people. I don’t know what year that was taken, but Amy Hicks was an infant in her Daddy’s lap. She is now a student at the University of Missouri.

I doubt that there will be any more family portraits. Too big a crowd. Too much geography. And undoubtedly more in laws and little ones.

But there is one more picture. A snap shot taken at Thanksgiving a couple of years ago. Just the eight originals. All grown up now. Tom is 63 and even Ellen is past half a century.

Polly and I see that picture every day, and every day we thank God for the long and happy life He has given us and our children. We see there around us, the smiles of six good, decent, happy and loving people, who know who they are, where they came from, and where they are going. They have all passed the torch, and so our blessings multiply with each passing year.

As we celebrate again the birth of the Christ Child, we welcome the chance to share the joy of our faith and family with you and yours, and to wish you all the blessings of this Holy Season and the many joy filled days of the coming year.

May you relish and savor all the times of your life.

Friday, December 11, 2015


My last blog elicited a challenge from my favorite liberal correspondent to write a blog defending the habit of watching Fox News.

I’m afraid that I must confess that we watch a good bit of Fox News at our house. It’s not an exclusive habit mind you, I have been known to tune in to Rachel Maddow from time to time. She gets off some delicious zingers, mostly from the left, but always on point.

And then there is Willard Scott on NBC. He will retire on December 15 after 65 years at the network. I was hoping he would stay another 14 years so that I could be featured on a Smucker’s award as a centenarian.

I have some golfing buddies who watch Fox News because of the feminine pulchritude featured there. Murphy even leaves the Tuesday night gin game in time to see Megyn Kelly. He is really smitten.

I confess that whoever recruits for Fox has effectively dispelled the stereotype of a conservative as a paunchy, middle-aged, white, male country club member. The combinations of beauty and brains they offer are just plain scary.

Admittedly, I am a political junkie, and while I love the NFL and never miss Michigan State football and basketball on the tube, I am not much given to stories about celebrities and demonstrations on behalf of endangered species.

That said, I must confess that too often Fox News becomes an incomprehensible cacophony of competing opinions. Perhaps the sewing circle simulation of several people talking at the same time is a bi-product of too many smart, articulate women with open microphones.

On the other hand, it’s not just the girls. The kingpin of Fox News, Bill O’Reilly, is the poster boy for impolite, inconsiderate, inexcusable interruption. He gets a guest on his show, asks a question, and about the time the guest has said three words, O’Reilly is spouting his own view of the matter. Loudly. Vociferously. Interminably.

I am going to be interested to see who Bill O’Reilly supports for President next year. I have a hunch that he already has a manuscript started. It’s called “Killing Donald Trump.” Now there’s an idea that might intrigue NBC.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015


Over breakfast, tuned in to Fox news, I was treated to a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee in which Senators were cross examining Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Paul Selva about American objectives in Syria and Iraq.

Senators were pushing to get a commitment. When are we going to capture Mosul? How are we going to do it? The city of Mosul on the Tigris River is the home of the University of Mosul. Before the Iraq War its population was over two and a half million. Many have fled since then.

Two years ago, ISIS captured the city and since have established it as an Islamic Caliphate.

How to recapture it? The Secretary and the Chairman weren’t really sure. Indeed their testimony was replete with if’s and’s and but’s. They concede, apparently, that Mosul cannot be recaptured from the air. They seem also to be less than optimistic that the city can be taken back by an elite cadre of American special forces.

And so there was much talk about “our allies in the region;”  The Turks, the Kurds, the Iraqis, the Saudis. What about the Iranians? Well, yes they are fighting ISIS too, but they are not our allies. And the Russians? Also not our allies, although also fighting ISIS.

I don’t recall anything being said about what we might do if the Russians or the Iranians decide to capture Mosul.

Especially since the San Bernardino massacre, it has become popular among the ruling class to insist that we are at war. The favorite slogan is that we are at war with Islamic Terrorism.

I can’t figure out how you can be at war against Islamic Terrorism. You can’t invade Islamic Terrorism. You can’t capture Islamic Terrorism. You can’t kill Islamic Terrorism. Islamic Terrorism can’t surrender. You can’t make a peace treaty with Islamic Terrorism.

It’s sort of like saying we are at war against Murder or Sin. As long as there is still one person who is of a mind to blow himself up in order to kill innocent non believers, Islamic Terrorism will be alive and well.

In the old days, folks used to talk about the British Empire. They said that the sun never set on it, and indeed the Union Jack flew all around the globe from the British Isles to Canada, to Singapore, to India and many points in between.

Ever since Teddy Roosevelt bought into the idea that the United States had a Manifest Destiny to bring civilization to bare foot, uninstructed natives in other parts of the world, we have been inching our way toward reinvigorating the English speaking empire under the Stars and Stripes.

It is high time we had a serious national debate on the issue of our national purpose. Are we a federal republic located in North America or are we a world wide Empire with satellites from South Korea to Saudi Arabia?

Wikipedia says that the Iraq War began on March 20, 2003 and ended on December 18, 2011. The result was that we invaded and occupied Iraq. Naively, when the shooting died down, we oversaw the establishment of a new government, one we thought would be friendly to us, then we went home. Sloppy way to build an empire, I should think.

The Senate Armed Services Committee hearing demonstrated the dismal failure of the Congress to abide by its constitutional duties. It is the job of the Congress to declare war. That means deciding who to fight and why. It involves expressing the reason, the purpose and the object of the war.

Who are we fighting? Why are we fighting them? What do we intend to do?
Nitpicking the military strategy in an undeclared conflict is not the same as declaring war. The Congress is supposed to speak for the people. Do they ever ask themselves: “What do the people want us to do?”  

I don’t know that anybody in this country wants us to invade and conquer Syria and/or Iraq. If you would like to see how popular that idea is, just suggest that we reinstate the draft – including all the girls over eighteen – and build an army of a million troops to invade the Middle East, eliminate all the radical Muslims and silence the religious and intellectual leaders who radicalize them.

Or we could just bring all of our troops home, post some on every street corner, school yard and movie theater and sleep easy.