21 December 2023

The gift of words. Mostly a repost.

 My favorite childhood Christmas gift. Source.

As I was meditating this evening on my blog's Christmas post, the word "gift" kept coming to me. Maybe it's been because I've been obsessing on what to give as Christmas gifts this year—while not knowing what to say when Judy asks me, "What would you like for Christmas?"

At one point I gave the first answer that popped into my head: "Write my December 24 Christmas eve sermon for Spokane Friends Meeting for me!" To put it another way, help me string together the right words to say on an occasion when almost all the words a preacher could say would be superfluous, unless they were memorably stupid. But when I sat down to start writing the sermon, the title came to me almost immediately:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. John 1:5, context.

The Word—the Christmas gift at the heart of my faith.

Suddenly I had far more to say than will fit in a Sunday morning message. I'll spend the next couple of days editing. But in the process of chasing those Sunday words, I remembered the last Christmas blog post I ever wrote in Russia, though I didn't know it at the time (December 2016) that it would be our last Christmas there. The post was entitled "The gift of words."

Our last Christmas and New Year season in Elektrostal: Lenin Square and the Park Plaza shopping center dressed for the New Year holiday.
Sledding under Lenin's gaze.
Elektrostal's Park Plaza shopping center.

I can remember just a few of the Christmas gifts I was given in my childhood—but nearly all of them were somehow linked with words. Usually—but not always —that meant books.

In my early grade school years, I drove teachers to despair with my apparent indifference to the classroom—I was usually looking out the windows or daydreaming. After educational TV came to our grade school (courtesy of a strange experiment known as the Midwest Program on Airborne Television Instruction—MPATI), I liked to fantasize that my eyes were educational TV cameras, so it was important to watch the teacher and the blackboard, but not necessarily learn! My teachers were so upset with my inattentiveness that I was sent to counselors, who held anxious consultations with my parents. In turn my parents were so angry about my poor school performance that one year they took away my favorite non-print gift, a huge shiny red toy tow truck.

However, school librarians knew my secret—I loved to read! I always had the maximum number of books on loan, and would soon be bringing them back for a new load. Christmas always meant that I would get new books—and those were even better than library books for a special reason. In the blank pages at the front and back, I would draw television-screen shapes into which I could write the "credits" for the books I was reading. My eyes had the special property of turning print into video, and in preparation for each reading session, my viewers would need to know who the director and actors and crew were. Then I could go on to the book itself, whose text would become vivid television, not just for me, but for my fantasy audience who depended on my camera-eyes to see the world.

Christmas with my sister Ellen.

Some of my earliest book memories involved the Happy Hollisters series—a big happy family who loved solving mysteries. I remember one volume's cast of characters included a woman who did something I'd never heard of before—she didn't change her last name after her marriage. Thanks to other Christmases' gift books, Robin Hood's forest and King Arthur's Camelot also came to life for me and my invisible audience in those grade school years. King Arthur's and Robin Hood's deaths gave me my first glimpses of human mortality.

The very first gift that I can remember actually asking for was a bulletin board. Yes, a real cork bulletin board, complete with thumbtacks! I can't remember why the idea of owning my own bulletin board took on such urgency, but my parents humored me, and I joyfully hung it up in a corner of our apartment's front room. Letters and postcards from my grandparents in Norway and Germany were among the things on which I bestowed the honor of being pinned up on the board. Later, I pinned up lists of my favorite Top-40 AM radio hits, whose order in the current week and previous week, carefully noted in two columns, were totally based on my choices, not on any statistics or other lists. I stubbornly included Bob Dylan's "Rainy Day Women #12 and 35" on my bulletin board honor roll long after it had disappeared from Billboard.

I guess the bulletin board was somehow a form of publishing and was therefore linked to the next gift I'm reminiscing about this Christmas season, a gift that ranks at the very top for all of my childhood. I think I was ten years old when I had the ecstatic experience of unwrapping the gift I didn't dare hope I would get: a printing press.

It was an utterly simple toy press that used rubber type mounted on a cylinder, pressed against a smaller cylinder wrapped with inky cloth, and then applied to a small piece of paper that slid through the press and came out the back with WORDS ON IT. And the next piece of paper had the SAME WORDS! You could change the cloth for another soaked with a different color of ink and pass the same papers through to print IN TWO COLORS!! You could write to the Superior Marking Equipment Company in Chicago and order different fonts and even rubber clipart and print ILLUSTRATIONS. I don't think I was any more concerned with who would read my output than I was with the audiences for my TV-camera eyes; the important thing was that I was publishing!

And now maybe you know why this blog has been going for twelve years. [Now just shy of 20 years.] May the gifts you give and receive this Christmas bring you something like the joy that the Cub printing press gave me.

The wonderful Letterology blog tells more about the Superior Marking Equipment printing presses of my childhood and provides some samples of what the press could do. More background here. Did you by any chance have one of these?

Here endeth the repost. The original post and comments are here

Back in my childhood, the Word and the words of the Bible were still years away in my future. (In this post, I tell of my first encounters with the Bible.) But I do vividly remember a childhood encounter with the Word. It was in an evangelistic tract that I found on the floor of the lobby of our apartment building in Evanston, Illinois. I must have been seven or eight years old. I already knew better than to show the tract to my anti-religious parents, but it intrigued me. It was the story of a convert to Christianity, and it told how, in his early days of faith, when he had occasion to walk around in his city, he would go out of his way to find churches, to walk by them and see that word "Christ" on the church's sign.

Now back to Christmas 2023....

Here's a gift you could give me, if you feel like it and haven't done so already: 

Tell me, via this survey form, whether you prefer the term "Quakers" or the term "Friends" for the sometimes quirky, sometimes reticent little Christian movement I joined almost fifty years ago. There are a few more questions on the survey, but you can answer as many or as few as you like. Whether you are a Friend (Quaker) or not, or aren't sure, your contribution is welcome. I'll publish a summary of what I learn early in the new year.

A Christmas post from Kristin Du Mez ... including progress report on her next book.

We were sad to hear about the death of Andre Braugher. Aside from his better-known roles on television, he was the narrator for a film we used several times in Russia, Standing in the Shadows of Motown. Here's a tribute article with a different slant: Braugher as the best Catholic character on TV.

Tim Gee on staying true to our peace testimony in time of war. (Thanks to Martin Kelley for the link.)

And Nancy Thomas on celebrating the Prince of Peace in wartime.

Once again, my favorite Oslo Gospel Choir song for Christmas. "... The world was never abandoned after all: a Star is shining tonight...."

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