Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas Angels

Before we get to the part you came here for today I have to tell a little story. A few years ago we had a woman show up at our church named Mercy Tatang. She came because we had another family in our church from Cameroon, Africa. There is a strong Presbyterian presence in that country and it’s only natural for them to find a Presbyterian church when they come to the US. A couple of years afterwards she met a guy named Divine Kuja. Then they got married. Then, only two or three weeks ago they had a baby. And anytime you plan a living tableau for Christmas Eve you automatically look for the newest baby in the congregation. So Carvelle Kuja played Baby Jesus this year and his parents were Mary and Joseph. The more this settled on me, I came to realize Baby Jesus was the child of Mercy and Divine. Now, if that isn’t a sermon come down to greet us in the flesh, then we’re just not paying attention.

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If you have spent any time living in Dallas you know what Christmas morning brings. You probably look forward to it every year without realizing it. And then it shows up right on schedule and you realize it wouldn’t be Christmas without it. It’s the annual reprint of Paul Crume’s column on Angels.

But, before I could post it here, I had to get my hands on a copy of it. I probably should have clipped the column out and saved it years ago; probably some of you have. I had a pretty good idea I could find it on the internet. So I typed in three words: “Paul Crume Christmas” and immediately got 1,210 hits.

I had the original column that was written in 1967 and reprinted by the Dallas Morning News every year since. But my curiosity got me and I decided to see what the other 1,209 references showed.

Somewhere after the reference to it on a site in Puerto Rico and a bunch of other places, I found a reference to it on a blog written by Jerry Kendrick. At first glance I saw the blog was something a soldier wrote during the time he spent in Iraq. The blog is dated from December, 2004 to March, 2005. The entry that quoted Paul Crume was December 23, 2004. Before I knew what I was doing, I hit print and ended up with the entire story of his time in Iraq, all 64 pages of it.

I decided that since I’m so against this war, and have been from the beginning, maybe I owed it to Jerry to read his account of his time in Iraq before I went any further.

So I read Jerry Kendrick’s blog. All 64 pages of it. I would recommend it to you:
http://sandboxdiary.blogspot.com/
What he had to say was very much like what I had read about the Christmas Truce of 1914. Not that the current war has produced any truce or even an understanding of each other’s religion. And the other side isn’t even what anyone would describe as a military.

But all wars are fought by humans just like you and me on both sides. Humans that get scared, cold and lonesome for their family. We have so much more in common that we realize. Here’s something Jerry says in his last entry as he finish his tour and came home:

For my conscience’s sake, I hasten to point out that my tour in Iraq was essentially a vacation compared to the soldiers who were at the tip of the spear every day. They had a 12 month (or longer) tour, compared to my 5 months. They went outside the wire much more often, or did the street fighting to reclaim a city from the criminals and terrorists. Those are the folks doing our nation’s dirty, dangerous work, and they deserve your admiration. About the only thing I had to worry about was making the mistake of walking under a falling rocket or mortar. That’s not even in the same league.I remember being at the 31st CSH (Combat Support Hospital) in Baghdad around midnight the night before Thanksgiving. As I walked down the halls I saw soldiers in the lobby and hallway, passing the time with the small talk of soldiers everywhere about home, cars, and girls. Almost all of them had terrible burns, a few were on artificial legs, and others showed the stitched up evidence of recent surgeries. There, America, are your heroes. Take time ever now and then to think about them and what they’ve given to our country. They had all done their duty, and I thought of Robert E. Lee’s observation on duty that “no man can do more, and no man should do less”.

Thank you, Jerry for all you have done for me. Thank you to all the men and women are are just doing a job for the boss. You are doing a great job and I’m proud of you.

And Paul Crume understood this, too. But he looks at it in yet another way:
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On this day, angels linger close at hand
By Paul Crume

This essay, first published on Christmas morning 1967, is considered one of the most appealing ever written by the late Paul Crume, whose "Big D" column appeared in The Dallas Morning News from 1952 until 1975.

A man wrote me not long ago and asked me what I thought of the theory of angels. I immediately told him that I am highly in favor of angels. As a matter of fact, I am scared to death of them.
Any adult human being with half sense, and some with more, knows that there are angels. If he has ever spent any period in loneliness, when the senses are forced in upon themselves, he has felt the wind from their beating wings and been overwhelmed with the sudden realization of the endless and gigantic dark that exists outside the little candle flame of human knowledge. He has prayed, not in the sense that he asked for something, but that he yielded himself.

Angels live daily at our very elbows, and so do demons, and most men at one time or another in their lives have yielded themselves to both and have lived to rejoice and rue their impulses. But the man who has once felt the beat of an angel's wing finds it easy to rejoice at the universe and at his fellow man. It does not happen to any man often, and too many of us dismiss it when it happens. I remember a time in my final days in college when the chinaberry trees were abloom and the air was sweet with spring blossoms and I stood still on the street, suddenly struck with the feeling of something that was an enormous promise and yet was no tangible promise at all.

And there was another night in a small boat when the moon was full and the distant headlands were dark but beautiful and we were lonely. The pull of a nameless emotion was so strong that it filled the atmosphere. The small boy within me cried. Psychiatrists will say that the angel in all this was really within me, not outside, but it makes no difference. There are angels inside us and angels outside, and the one inside is usually the quickest choked.
Francis Thompson said it better. He was a late 19th-century English poet who would put the current crop of hippies to shame. He was on pot all his life. His pad was always mean and was sometimes a park bench. He was a mental case and tubercular besides. He carried a fishing creel into which he dropped the poetry that was later to become immortal.

"The angels keep their ancient places," wrote Francis Thompson in protest. "Turn but a stone, and start a wing." He was lonely enough to be the constant associate of angels. There is an angel close to you this day. Merry Christmas, and I wish you well.

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