Music of the Mind and Soul

In our chaotic and confused world, I have found one of the greatest refuges from the storms of life to be Classical music. Over the last two decades, Classical music has become a sanctuary for me because it represents order, beauty, and peace. When I have challenges or difficulties, perhaps like you, I often turn to music to bring harmony of mind, body, and spirit to me. It has been said that just listening to Classical music increases our IQ!

This past week was a rendezvous with piano and musical greatness! Hyperion Knight delighted the scholars at John Adams Academy Roseville, Lincoln, and El Dorado Hills with piano concerts. In Greek mythology, Hyperion’s name is from the Greek, meaning “he who goes before.” He was one of the twelve Titan children of Gaia (the Earth) and Uranus (the Sky). It is a rare opportunity to be able to sit at the feet of a piano virtuoso.

Here is how the Webster and Oxford dictionaries describe such:

“A virtuoso is an individual skilled in the fine arts, particularly in music….”

“A virtuoso is of the first order: genius, expert, master, master hand, artist, maestro, prodigy, marvel, adept, past master, specialist, skilled person, professional, doyen, authority, veteran; star, champion…”

Hyperion is not only a talented musician but also a gifted teacher.

In several assemblies Hyperion was able to show our scholars the progression of Classical music and relate it to our history and our nation’s founding. Many of the youth remarked, “This was the best assembly we have ever had!”

The teachers and youth were enthralled by the Classical music he played. He opened with a bit of American ragtime music. Then he began to teach them where it came from.

Four Classical Music Eras Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and Modern

Note: The Classical periods below and accompanying photos are the creations and credits of Hyperion Knight used in recent assemblies at the John Adams Academies.

Baroque Era

The Renaissance helped to liberate the mind and soul of man by creating music with deep religious emotion based on new mathematical understanding of notes that soon turned into keys on a keyboard. The connection among math, religion and music had taken over a millennium to discover. Baroque Era includes “ornate detail” cathedrals in sound. He then played “Jesu Joy of Mans Desiring” by Bach that is music to glorify God, followed by a “Little Fugue in G Minor” contrapuntal with “many voices.”

Classical Era

Things began to change in the 18th century. Symmetry and balance of Classical Greek architecture were greatly admired and emulated. In 1732 two great men were born: George Washington and Joseph Hayden, the father of our country and the father of classical music. Classical music was a balance of a type or shadow of perfect balance, symmetry and harmony that was metaphorical and went along with America’s founders finding the most balanced form of government. The Constitution reflected that perfect classical era of accord and synchronization of thought. He then played Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca A Rondo which has A/B/A symmetry that demonstrates this balance.

Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata transitioned us to Romanticism.

Romantic Era

Romanticism was the embodiment of the United States Constitution that lacked something to make it acceptable and complete. It lacked “A Bill of Rights.” This gave voice to the individual and was a reminder that individual rights and expression provide the opportunity to find individualism within the confines of classical balance. It is the expression of individual excellence in music and art. The Romantic Era is marked by individualism instead of society, emotional excess, and in the works of Chopin – Revolutionary Etude – as individuals revolted against monarchies.

Tchaikovsky – Nutcracker Ballet – introduces the Russian Dance.

He then wowed all with The Flight of the Bumble Bee.

Modern Era

Debussy, Ravel, Gershwin, Copland, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Mahler

In 1914 war broke out. European music and culture shattered these eras of music. Streams of European immigrants came flooding in. He then played a Chopin piece called Polonaise followed by Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.

Liberated by coming to a free country, the likes of Gershwin and Irving Berlin wrote new music to blend the old and new worlds with the sights, sounds and freedom of this new world, thus giving birth to an American songbook with ragtime and jazz. Hyperion played Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag and a transition to jazz rhythms and Broadway melodies. Hyperion then ended with Rhapsody in Blue as the crescendo. What a beautiful week and extraordinary evening.

“Through beauty we shape the world as a home. In doing so we both amplify our joys and find consolation for our sorrows. Art and music shine a light of meaning on an ordinary life. Through them we can confront the things that trouble us and find peace and consolation in their presence.”

–Roger Scruton

As you begin this year, I invite you to explore and resolve adding the joy and peace of classical music to your quiet hours of reflection, commuting, or walking.

Prudence and Excellence

As we pursue a new year our ambition may, at times, overshadow prudence in choosing what we should resolve to accomplish and do in the new year. It is resolve and consistency that will keep us moving steadily forward in our quest for improvement. 

A few centuries ago, British ships were sinking into the ocean because they were overloaded before they headed out to sea. Samuel Plimsoll developed a way to mark lines on the hull of a ship before it was loaded, guiding  the dock workers and captains on the appropriate load. When the boat being loaded reached a certain line in the water, they stopped filling it. This approach required managers to prioritize what they loaded—packing the most critical cargo first—and this system became known as the Plimsoll Line. 

Prior to developing his ship loading system, Samuel Plimsoll was attempting to become a coal merchant in 1853 London. He failed and was reduced to destitution and, for a time, lived in common lodgings that cost a modest rent of seven shillings and two pence a week. He learned to sympathize with the struggles of the poor, and when his good fortune returned he resolved to devote much of his time to improving their condition. His efforts were directed especially against what were known as “coffin ships”—unseaworthy and overloaded vessels, often heavily insured, on which unscrupulous owners risked the lives of their crews. In 1867 Plimsoll was elected to Parliament from Derby and endeavored in vain to pass a bill requiring safe loading limits on ships. The main obstacle to this legislation was the number of powerful ship-owning Members of Parliament.

From Samuel Plimsoll's campaigning book 'Cattle Ships', intended to show how ships roll in bad weather. It was his case that cattle steamers were dangerously unstable and a menace to seamen.
From Samuel Plimsoll’s campaigning book ‘Cattle Ships,’ intended to show how ships roll in bad weather. It was his case that cattle steamers were dangerously unstable and a menace to seamen.

In 1872 Plimsoll published a work entitled “Our Seamen,” which became well known throughout the country. Plimsoll never quit trying to reform shipping safety laws and, after his motion in 1873, a Royal Commission was appointed and in 1875 a government bill was introduced. Plimsoll resolved to accept the bill for its improvements, even though he considered it less than ideal. But on July 22, Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli announced that the bill would be dropped. Plimsoll lost his temper, applied the term “villains” to members of the House, and shook his fist in the Speaker’s face. Eventually Plimsoll made an apology. Many people, however, shared his view that the bill had been stifled by the pressure of the shipowners, and popular feeling forced the government to pass a bill which in the following year was amended into the Merchant Shipping Act.

The Plimsoll Line holds many lessons relevant to our quest for excellence. As we shape our goals for the year we need to make sure we do not overload our lives with more than we can take on or do. 

We start as Stephen Covey taught by “beginning with the end in mind.” What will the year look like if you are successful in achieving your goals? 

Next, what are the right questions to help you craft your goals? Here are a few to consider. 

  1. Whom do you admire? Why? 
  2. What gifts or talents seem important to your future? Why? 
  3. What would you like more or less of in your life?
  4. What are you doing when are you happy and engaged with life?
  5. What has given you greatest meaning in your life?
  6. What is your highest goal or aspiration?
  7. What is the best book you ever read? Why do you consider it such? 
  8. What would you do with your life if you weren’t afraid to fail?
  9. What problem is annoying you these days? 
  10. What would you like to try or learn this year? Why?
  11. What are your goals this week? This year? Why might they matter to you or your family?
  12. What is your greatest dream? Why? 
  13. What do you expect of life? What does life expect of you?
  14. What do you live for? Will it sustain and motivate you throughout your life?
  15. Are you free? Happy? Why or why not?

I ask these questions because in them will likely lie the key to directing or further polishing your life and future.  Dr. Viktor Frankl noticed this from observing those who could continue to endure the difficulties of the Jewish concentration camps. 

“As we said before, any attempt to restore a man’s inner strength in the camp had first to succeed in showing him some future goal. Nietzsche’s words, ‘He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how,’ could be the guiding motto for all psychotherapeutic and psychohygienic efforts regarding prisoners. Whenever there was an opportunity for it, one had to give them a why—an aim—for their lives, in order to strengthen them to bear the terrible how of their existence. Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost. The typical reply with which such a man rejected all encouraging arguments was, ‘I have nothing to expect from life any more.’ What sort of answer can one give to that? What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual…” (Frankl, Viktor E. Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston:Beacon Press, 1962.)

This type of therapy he pioneered is called Logotherapy or “meaning therapy.” Rather than concentrating, fixating, or focusing on past errors, Logotherapy invites us to explore our future possibilities, our purpose, and why we exist. Meaning becomes more apparent as we identify our special excellences, cultivate them by using them to bless others in a state of self-transcendence. This is how we put ourselves on the path to achieving true excellence with both wisdom and prudence.

Featured image attribution: Samuel Plimsoll and his wife (she behind him) with the crew of a Mediterranean cargo steamer Unknown photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

At This Moment: Changes in Political Power

This week we are witnessing a change of power in the House of Representatives. This government was set up on a system of checks and balances. The trifold powers to legislate new laws, execute laws, and judge laws are separated to avoid tyranny and despotic actions of any one individual or branch of government. These powers are also separated to thwart natural human tendencies of ambition and avarice to establish power to consolidate, centralize and grow. This concern was also checked by the establishment of the electoral college. It was set up to prevent large populated states or urban areas from taking over the government at the expense rural or suburban and less populated smaller states. When we see disagreements, it often suggests a healthy debate about ideas, keeps power in check and results in greater freedom and self-governing citizens.


I have frequently remarked to you and many on the virtue of our founding fathers. I loved how they brought together into practice what they felt was the best of many prior civilizations at their apex.


As I was recently studying Cicero, Caesar, Cato and others in Rome; I was captivated again with the observations, expressions and beauty of the pen by our founding fathers. As Jefferson points out, Rome never fully possessed the virtue or government to complete their infatuation with self-government by modeling, leading and fully implementing and defending the principles of Freedom. In Jefferson’s observation, how could they restore what they never had?


Greece was philosophically enlightened, but their forms failed. Thus they never exited their enthrallment with pure democracy, or how to deal with ambition, monarchy or birthright aristocracy that all ended in chaos, corruption and confusion. Ultimately, in my estimation both civilizations ended in a kakistocracy, due to the lack of public and private virtue in the people and the leaders to build and sustain self-government. One might even say the USA is also struggling to find its voice. The question still echoing from Madison may be, “is their enough virtue in the people” for this? Human nature seemed to always be the watch cry and concern as the ideal may have eluded them.


Nevertheless, I love their pure motives of building something greater than self. Did they reach the pinnacle of that desire in their generation? Probably not. But the government they conceived and birthed was the best form yet created by imperfect men. Evidence abounds as we have observed over decades, and now centuries, with many less than virtuous leaders, who have hubristically, ambitiously and avariciously not been able to destroy the form and destroy the highest core principles of this American Republic.


May Providence continue to bless us with virtuous and noble leaders as we educate ourselves and each new generation in the principles of freedom so that our liberties may be preserved and protected!


Happy New Year!


Source: https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-15-02-0240

A letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 10 December, 1819

To John Adams

Monticello Dec. 10. 19.

Dear Sir

I have to acknolege the reciept of your favor of Nov. 23. the banks, bankrupt law, manufactures, Spanish treaty are nothing. these are occurrences which like waves in a storm will pass under the ship. but the Missouri question is a breaker on which we lose the Missouri country by revolt, & what more, God only knows. from the battle of Bunker’s hill to the treaty of Paris we1 never had so ominous a question. it even damps the joy with which I hear of your high2 health, and welcomes to me the consequences of my want of it. I thank god that I shall not live to witness it’s issue. sed haec hactenus.—I have been amusing myself latterly with reading the voluminous letters of Cicero. they certainly breathe the purest effusions of an exalted patriot, while the parricide Caesar is left in odious contrast. when the enthusiasm however kindled by Cicero’s pen & principles subsides into cool reflection, I ask myself What was that government which the virtues of Cicero were so zealous to restore, & the ambition of Caesar to subvert? and if Caesar had been as virtuous as he was daring and sagacious, what could he, even in the plenitude of his usurped power have done to lead his fellow citizens into good government? I do not say to restore it, because they never had it, from the rape of the Sabines to the ravages of the Caesars. if their people indeed had been, like ours, enlightened, peaceable, and really free, the answer would be obvious. ‘restore independance to all your foreign conquests, relieve Italy from the government of the rabble of Rome, consult it as a nation entitled to self government, and do it’s will.’ but steeped in corruption vice and venality as the whole nation was, (and nobody had done more than Caesar to corrupt it) what could even Cicero, Cato, Brutus have done, had it been referred to them to establish a good government for their country? they had no ideas of government themselves but of their degenerate Senate, nor the people of liberty, but of the factious opposition of their tribunes. they had afterwards their Titusses, their Trajans, and Antoninuses, who had the will to make them happy, and the power to mould their government into a good and permanent form. but it would seem as if they could not see their way clearly to do it. no government can continue good but under the controul of the people: and their people were so demoralised and depraved as to be incapable of exercising a wholsome controul. their reformation then was to be taken up ab incunabulis. their minds were to be informed, by education, what is right & what wrong, to be encoraged in habits of virtue, & deterred from those of vice by the dread of punishments, proportioned indeed, but irremissible; in all cases to follow truth as the only safe guide, & to eschew error which bewilders us in one false consequence after another in endless succession. these are the inculcations necessary to render the people a sure basis for the structure of order & good government. but this would have been an operation of a generation or two at least, within which period would have succeeded many Neros and Commoduses, who would have quashed the whole process. I confess then I can neither see what Cicero, Cato & Brutus, united and uncontrouled, could have devised to lead their people into good government, nor how this aenigma can be solved, nor how further shewn why it has been the fate of that delightful country never to have known to this day & through a course of five & twenty hundred years, the history of which we possess one single day of free & rational government. your intimacy with their history, antient, middl[e] & modern, your familiarity with the improvements in the science of government at this time, will enable you, if any body, to go back with our principles & opinions to the times of Cicero, Cato, & Brutus, & tell us by what process these great & virtuous men could have led so unenlightened and vitiated a people into freedom & good government, et eris mihi magnus Apollo. cura ut valeas, et tibi persuade carissimum te mihi esse.

Th: Jefferson

RC (MHi: Adams Papers); edge trimmed, with missing text supplied from PoC; addressed: “President Adams Quincy Mass.”; franked; postmarked Milton, 10 Dec.; endorsed by Louisa C. Smith. PoC (DLC); edge trimmed.

sed haec hactenus: “but enough of this.” et eris mihi magnus apollo (“and to me you will be great Apollo”) is in Virgil, Eclogues, 3.104 (Fairclough, Virgil, 1:46, 47). cura ut valeas, et tibi persuade carissimum te mihi esse: “Take care that you fare well, and be assured you are most dear to me.”

1. RC: “<, Start deletion,, End,> we,” with redundant word left uncanceled in PoC.

2. Word interlined.

John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 21 December 1819

From John Adams

Montezillo December 21st1 1819

dear Sir

I must answer your great question of the 10th in the words of Dalembert to his Correspondent, who asked him what is Matter—“Je vous avoue que Je n’en scais rien.”—

In some part of my Life I read a great Work of a Scotchmen on the Court of Augustus, in which with much learning, hard study, and fatiguing labour, he undertook to prove that had Brutus and Cassius been conqueror, they would have restored virtue and liberty to Rome.—

mais Je n’en crois rien—have you ever found in history one single example of a Nation throughly Corrupted—that was afterwards restored to Virtue—and without Virtue, there can be no political Liberty.—

If I were a Calvinest, I might pray that God by a miracle of Divine grace would instantaniously2 convert a whole Contaminated Nation from turpitude to purity—but even in this I should be inconsistent for the fatalism of Mahometanism3 materialists, Atheists, Pantheists and Calvinests—and Church of England Articles appear to me to render all prayer futile and absurd—the French and the Dutch in our day have attempted reforms and revolutions—we know the results—and I fear the English reformers will have no better success.—

Will you tell me how to prevent riches from becoming the effects of temperance and industry—Will you tell me how to prevent riches from producing luxury—Will you tell me how to prevent luxury from producing effeminacy intoxication extravagance Vice and folly.—When you will answer me these questions—I hope I may venture to answer yours—yet all these4 ought not to discourage us from exertion—for with my friend Job5 I believe no effort in favour of Virtue is lost—and all good Men ought to struggle both by their Council and Example—

The Missouri question I hope will follow the other waves under the Ship and do no harm—I know it is high treason to express a doubt of the perpetual duration of our vast American Empire, and our free Institution—and I say as devoutly as Father Paulestor perpetua, but I am sometimes Cassandra enough to dream that another Hamilton, an other Burr might rend this mighty Fabric in twain—or perhaps into a leash, and a few more choice Spirits of the same stamp might produce as many Nations in North america as there are in Europe—

To return to the Romans—I never could discover that they possessed much virtue, or real Liberty—there Patricians were in general griping Usurers and Tyrannical Creditors in all ages—Pride, Strength and Courage were all the Virtues that composed their National Characters—a few of their Nobles effecting simplicity frugality and Piety—perhaps really possessing them acquired Popularity amongst the Plebeians and extended the power and Dominions of the Republic and advanced in glory till Riches and Luxury come in—sat like an incubus on the Republic—victam que ulcissitur orbem

Our winter setts in a fortnight earlier than usual, and is pretty severe—I hope you have fairer skyes and Milder Air—wishing your health, may last as long as your Life—and your Life as long as you desire it—

I am dear Sir Respectfuly and affectionately6

John Adams

RC (DLC); in Louisa C. Smith’s hand, signed by Adams; at foot of text: “Mr Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 31 Dec. 1819 and so recorded in SJL. FC (Lb in MHi: Adams Papers); in Smith’s hand.

je vous avoue que je n’en scais rien: “I confess to you that I know nothing about that.” The great work of a scotchmen was Thomas Blackwell, Memoirs of the Court of Augustus, 3 vols. (Edinburgh, 1753–63). mais je n’en crois rien: “but I do not believe any of that.”

The Thirty-Nine articles of 1571 laid out the basic tenets and beliefs of the Church of England (John Bowker, ed., The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions [1997], 971). Speaking of the republic of Venice, the last words of Paolo Sarpi (father paul) were reportedly “esto perpetua” (estor perpetua): “may it be perpetual.” “Victumque ulciscitur orbem” (victam que ulcissitur orbem): “avenging the world we’ve conquered” (Susanna Morton Braund, ed. and trans., Juvenal and Persius, Loeb Classical Library [2004], 258–9).

1. FC: “18th.”

2. RC corrected from “instaniously,” probably by Adams. FC: “instantaneously.”

3. FC: “Mahometists.” Corrected in RC from “Mahometism,” probably by Adams.

4. FC here adds “things.”

5. RC and FC: “Jeb.”

6. Preceding two words not in FC.

From Recognition to Resolution

As we begin a new year, we may find ourselves ready and resolute to make changes. Resolution is a “fixed purpose or determination of mind; as a resolution to reform our lives; a resolution to undertake an expedition. The effect of fixed purpose; firmness, steadiness, or constancy in execution, implying courage.” (Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language 1828)

I am going to invite you to reform your life. Begin a new expedition. Our watchwords will be noble purpose, firmness, steadiness, constancy, and courage in execution. A resolution to better educate yourself—to “exit your current cave” for 15 minutes each day. 

Perhaps the most important ingredient to resolution is to identify our thoughts. If we desire change or improvement the same type of thinking we have always done will no longer do. Thoughts inform our words, and words direct our actions. Therefore, we will begin with our thoughts so that we first become conscious of our ideas and actions. We can then minimally say we are consciously incompetent but on our way to becoming consciously competent.  

A few years ago I began reading the journals of John Quincy Adams who eventually became the 6th President of the United States. This is what he wrote: 

“Have you kept a regular Journal? If you have not, you will be likely to forget most of the Observations you have made. If you have omitted this Useful Exercise, let me advise you to recommence it, immediately. Let it be your Amusement, to minute every day, whatever you may have seen or heard worth Notice. One contracts a Fondness of Writing by Use. We learn to write readily, and what is of more importance, We think, and improve our Judgements, by committing our Thoughts to Paper.”

John Adams to John Quincy Adams, May 14th, 1783 

I have found early on Sunday mornings as a time when I can reflect on my week and minute my actions. The act of writing down how Providence blessed and guided me the past week has become one of my greatest tools for improvement and change. 

While waiting for commencement and graduation at age 20 from Harvard John Quincy Adams noted, “I do not relish this life of idleness and expectation. I am very desirous that Commencement should be over, and shall certainly, not feel easy , till then. And indeed not after that, till I get settled at some business, I shall not be contented….this day completes my 20th year; and yet I am good for nothing, and cannot even carry myself forward in the world: three long years I have yet to study in order to qualify myself for business: and then—oh! And then; how many more years, to plod along, mechanically, if I should live; before I shall really get into the world? Grant me patience ye powers! for I sicken, at the very idea; thus is one third of a long life employ’d in preparing to act a part during another third; and the last is to be past in rest and quiet waiting for the last stroke, which place us just where we were 70 years before. Vanity! Vanity! All is vanity and vexation of spirit.”

I find his ponderings similar to many young men in their early 20s as they seek to find their path in life. As he prepares for his life he is constantly discussing great ideas with older men who act as sounding boards and mentors. He also reads the classics during his preparation time from such authors as Gibbon, Shakespeare, and Blackstone. But then we come upon this interesting entry five years later as Adams approaches age 25.

Adams writes in his journal, “I am not satisfied with the manner in which I employ my time. It is calculated to keep me forever fixed in that state of useless and disgraceful insignificancy which has been my lot for some years past. At an age bearing close upon 25, when many of the characters who were born for the benefit of their fellow creatures have rendered themselves conspicuous among their contemporaries and founded a reputation upon which their memory remains and will continue to the latest posterity, at that period I still find myself as obscure, as unknown to the world, as the most indolent, or the most stupid of human beings. Fortune indeed, who claims to herself a large proportion of the merit which exhibits to  public view the talents of professional men at an early period of their Lives, has not hitherto been peculiarly indulgent to me….my future Fortunes in Life, are therefore the objects of my present Speculation, and it may be proper for me to reflect further upon the same subject, and if possible to adopt some Resolutions, and prescribe to myself some regulations which may enable me to answer the great ends of my existence.” 

Interesting thoughts and words coming from a man who had already lived in Europe for six years and was ambassador to Russia at the age of 16. I think it is the natural yearning of mankind to desire to reach for the full measure of their creation as early as possible. Life is a journey of becoming and fulfillment. Writing weekly in a journal—electronically, digitally, or with a pen and paper—is where we begin. 

What a tragedy to live in America and not discover who we are or take best advantage of 2023 and flourish in the abundant life. I find it interesting that John Quincy Adams moved forward by first noting and chronicling his actions of the past to inform and be accountable to his future. Adams noted in March of 1821, “Let me advance cheerily to meet the dispensations of time; pursuing with singleness of soul the path of duty, imploring for the faculty to will and to do—to move in charity, to rest in Providence and to turn on the poles of Truth.” Our past is our first step to recognition and resolution to change and take charge of our future.

“Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.”

—Benjamin Franklin

Happy New Year!  

Providence and Miracle on 34th Street

What a treat to watch this Christmas classic again. Valentine Davies wrote Miracle on 34th Street when he was standing in line at a department store during the Christmas season. Recall that a classic has a great theme, tells a story in noble language, speaks across generations, and summarizes the virtues and values of a culture at its apex. 

The tale of Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas. It is believed that Nicholas was born about A.D. 280 in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. Much admired for his piety, love, and kindness, St. Nicholas became the subject of many traditions.

A miracle is a manifestation of Providence guiding our lives. It brings awe, makes wonder, and inspires joy. It is often allegorical, and with many applications to our lives. 

Santa Exists

The story begins with Kris Kringle who mentions his concern about Christmas as he is Providentially granted the role of Santa Claus in the Macy’s Christmas Parade. He is Providentially in place so that he can note that the current Santa is drunk and not fit to interact with children. The director of the parade is Mrs. Walker who is cynical and jaded about love and Christmas. Kringle quickly points out, “Oh, Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a frame of mind… And that’s what’s been changing. That’s why I’m glad I’m here, maybe I can do something about it.”

Mrs. Walker is only looking for a quick fix with any sober Santa that can be found, not for her life—or her heart—to be changed. But for Kringle this is the opportunity he has been providentially preparing for his whole life. “You see, Mrs. Walker, this is quite an opportunity for me. For the past 50 years or so I’ve been getting more and more worried about Christmas.” It has lost its wonder, joy, and delight. 

When challenged on his being the real thing, he boldly declares, “Well, I hate to disagree with you, but not only is there such a person, but here I am to prove it.” Thus, a major theme emerges from the film—proving that Santa Claus does exist! 

Intangibles as a Theme

Mrs. Walker has a young daughter, Susie, who knows from her mother that Santa does not exist. Yet what Mrs. Walker and Susie need more than anything are the miracles that Christmas can bring. So convincing is Kris Kringle in his role as Santa that Macy’s hires him full-time for their New York store. He teaches Mrs. Walker and Susie by his actions that the intangibles of Christmas have been lost—things like kindness, joy, and love. “Someday you’re going to find that your way of facing this realistic world just doesn’t work. And when you do, don’t overlook those lovely intangibles. You’ll discover they’re the only things that are worthwhile,” Kringle gently teaches.

Integrity as a Theme

As part of being Santa, Kringle has so much integrity that while working for Macy’s he regularly refers patrons to their competitor, Gimbels, for toys that Macy’s is out of or does not carry. At first the store manager is furious with this apparent betrayal, but he quickly notes that customers are becoming even more loyal to Macy’s. So successful is Macy’s in this service that Gimbels and others emulate the clearly customer-centered approach to business. Here we can hearken back to Kringle’s overarching mission: “Oh, Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a frame of mind… And that’s what’s been changing. That’s why I’m glad I’m here, maybe I can do something about it.”

Faith and Hope as a Theme

Kringle stays in character as Santa to the point where he is actually sent for psychiatric evaluation. Although he passes the test, he is upset with the psychiatrist and bops him on the head with his cane for his unethical professional dealings. For his actions Kringle is admitted into a psychiatric ward. Kringle is ultimately saved by an attorney who naturally has those intangibles of Christmas and he defends him in court as truly being Santa Claus.  

Trial of Kris Kringle/Santa and Virtue

The ensuing trial quickly focuses on whether or not Kringle is truly Santa Claus with this with these iconic lines, “We intend to prove that Mr. Kringle is Santa Claus.” And further, the virtues of Santa are on display in this statement, “Faith is believing things when common sense tells you not to. Don’t you see? It’s not just Kris that’s on trial, it’s everything he stands for.” 

The ending I will leave to you to watch again or enjoy for the first time. It never grows old. It is best summarized in this observation given by Mrs. Walker to her daughter Susie, “I was wrong when I told you that, Susie. You must believe in Mr. Kringle and keep right on doing it. You must have faith in him.” To which Susie replies, “I believe… I believe… It’s silly, but I believe.”

Is it silly to believe there is an author of the intangibles of kindness, joy, and love? Is integrity in business or life worth emulating? 

What informs your purpose at Christmas? Despite being 75 years old, Miracle on 34th Street is something the whole family will enjoy together thanks to its themes, and universally heartwarming message. (At this time you can watch free with Amazon Prime.)

This past week I was able to be Santa for a few hours with my grandson Declan and a few of his friends from the Special Day Class at John Adams Academy. Many of the children could not use words to articulate their belief, but they knew who Santa was—and every wonderful and noble intangible he represents. 

Merry Christmas!

Featured image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Providence in Folk Tale

Yesterday I read a classical Christmas folk tale to some youth. To start I asked them, “What is a folk tale?”

They immediately defined it as a story that is passed on by word of mouth. The post-story conversation was remarkable. Here’s how it went. 

First the story.

I prefaced it for the children by saying this took place during the Depression and described when that was and the conditions people experienced in general. I asked them if they knew what a “lickin’ was? They said they did—“a spanking or punishment.” So I continued.

“Years ago there was a little one-room schoolhouse in the mountains of Virginia where the boys were so rough that no teacher had been able to handle them.

“A young, inexperienced teacher applied, and the old director scanned him and asked: ‘Young fellow, do you know that you are asking for an awful beating? Every teacher that we have had here for years has had to take one.’

“‘I will risk it,’ he replied.

“The first day of school came, and the teacher appeared for duty. One big fellow named Tom whispered: ‘I won’t need any help with this one. I can lick him myself.’

“The teacher said, ‘Good morning, boys, we have come to conduct school.’ They yelled and made fun at the top of their voices. ‘Now, I want a good school, but I confess that I do not know how unless you help me. Suppose we have a few rules. You tell me, and I will write them on the blackboard.’

“One fellow yelled, ‘No stealing!’ Another yelled, ‘On time.’ Finally, ten rules appeared on the blackboard.

“‘Now,’ said the teacher, ‘a law is not good unless there is a penalty attached. What shall we do with one who breaks the rules?’

“‘Beat him across the back ten times without his coat on,’ came the response from the class.

“‘That is pretty severe, boys. Are you sure that you are ready to stand by it?’ Another yelled, ‘I second the motion,’ and the teacher said, ‘All right, we will live by them! Class, come to order!’

“In a day or so, ‘Big Tom’ found that his lunch had been stolen. The thief was located—a little hungry fellow, about ten years old. ‘We have found the thief and he must be punished according to your rule—ten stripes across the back. Jim, come up here!’ the teacher said.

“The little fellow, trembling, came up slowly with a big coat fastened up to his neck and pleaded, ‘Teacher, you can lick me as hard as you like, but please, don’t take my coat off!’

“‘Take your coat off,’ the teacher said. ‘You helped make the rules!’

“‘Oh, teacher, don’t make me!’ He began to unbutton, and what did the teacher see? The boy had no shirt on, and revealed a bony little crippled body.

“‘How can I whip this child?’ he thought. ‘But I must, I must do something if I am to keep this school.’ Everything was quiet as death.

“‘How come you aren’t wearing a shirt, Jim?’

“He replied, ‘My father died and my mother is very poor. I have only one shirt and she is washing it today, and I wore my brother’s big coat to keep me warm.’

“The teacher, with rod in hand, hesitated. Just then ‘Big Tom’ jumped to his feet and said, ‘Teacher, if you don’t object, I will take Jim’s licking for him.’

“‘Very well, there is a certain law that one can become a substitute for another. Are you all agreed?’

“Off came Tom’s coat, and after five strokes the rod broke! The teacher bowed his head in his hands and thought, ‘How can I finish this awful task?’ Then he heard the class sobbing, and what did he see? Little Jim had reached up and caught Tom with both arms around his neck. ‘Tom, I’m sorry that I stole your lunch, but I was awful hungry. Tom, I will love you till I die for taking my licking for me! Yes, I will love you forever!’”

“The Wondrous and True Story of Christmas” by Gordon B. Hinckley

After finishing the story, I asked, “What did you learn?” One young man said, “That was child abuse.” Another spoke up and said, “I respectfully disagree. All the students made the rules and agreed to them. Therefore, it was not abuse.” Other comments included, “It taught me about kindness.” And, “I liked how the one who lost his lunch was willing to take the punishment for the other boy.” I could read in their eyes and body language how much this story moved them to kindness and compassion. I then directed them to a poem on the board. 

“I have wept in the night
At my shortness of sight
That to others' needs made me blind,
But I never have yet
Had a twinge of regret
For being a little too kind.”
― C.R. Gibson

We recited it together and I erased words after each portion of the recitation. Within seven minutes they all had it memorized. The power of story was indelibly impressed on their hearts. 

Great stories teach a truth, touch a heart, and shape our lives. 

Merry Christmas!

Image attribution: See page for author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Providential Poetry

December is a month of special music. Music has a way of bringing a peaceful reassurance and tranquility during times of crisis and sorrow. I recall as a young lad hearing in my church the melodic music of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Not only did the musical notes move me, but the words also brought tears to my eyes as I sang them, even though I did not know the history or have yet a deeper understanding of why I felt moved. 

I did know the words and music caused me to become reflective, even melancholic, as I thought of the many at that time heeding the call of freedom and commitment to their country by serving in Vietnam. I too wished for the refrain’s invitation of peace and good-will to men.

This carol was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In 1861 at the outset of the Civil War he had lost his wife “Fanny” in an accident where her dress caught on fire and left her severely burned. Despite Henry’s best efforts to use a rug and his body he could not get the fire extinguished in time, and his wife ultimately succumbed from the burns. He too was burned badly enough that it took months to recover. He wore a beard ever after to cover the facial scars that resulted from that event. 

Henry was left a widower with five children, the oldest age 14 and the youngest age 5. The Longfellows were partial to abolition and the union cause. “Longfellow’s daughters supported the war effort by making socks and bandages for soldiers and collecting patriotic souvenirs. Family correspondence exhibited a constant state of worry about events on the battlefields and in Washington. And the war fueled Longfellow’s poetry, acting as the impetus for poems with themes covering national unity, bravery, sacrifice, and tragedy.” (The Longfellow Family in the Civil War (U.S. National Park Service). nps.gov)

In 1863 Henry received this letter from his oldest son.

Dear Papa

You know for how long a time I have been wanting to go to the war I have tried hard to resist the temptation of going without your leave but I cannot any longer, I feel it to be my first duty to do what I can for my country and I would willingly lay down my life for it if it would be of any good God Bless you all.

Yours affectionately


How could a father not be proud of such a patriotic son exhibiting such love for his country?!

A Search For His Beloved Son

“Later in the war, Charley was shot through the back as he reconnoitered along the front lines. He was brought to New Hope Church, now serving as a field hospital, where the wound was inspected and dressed. Fortunately for Charley, the bullet did not lodge in his body, but passed through his back, nicking the spine on its way. He tersely recorded the event in his journal “got pluged [sic]”. (nps.gov)

Charley spent four days recovering at New Hope Church, where Lieutenant Nathan Appleton, Jr., his mother’s half-brother, visited him. He then undertook an uncomfortable ride by wagon-ambulance and train to Alexandria, Virginia, where he was met by his anxious father and younger brother Ernest. Henry W. Longfellow had rushed from Cambridge to Washington as soon as news of Charley’s wounding was received (the telegram inaccurately reported that Charley was severely injured in the face). He then set about trying to locate Charley, and even obtained a military pass allowing him to go through army lines into Virginia to search for his wounded son. After Charley had a few days in bed to gather strength for the trip home, the Longfellows left Washington by train on December 8, arriving in Boston late the following evening. Charley was fed, inspected by the family’s doctor, and put to bed. His part in the war was over.” (nps.gov)

During that difficult December after finding his wounded son Henry wrote this poem:

Christmas Bells
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
    And wild and sweet
    The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
    Had rolled along
    The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
    A voice, a chime,
    A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
    And with the sound
    The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
    And made forlorn
    The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
    "For hate is strong,
    And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
    The Wrong shall fail,
    The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."

The power of this story and these words suggests the Providential superintendence of God to assure us of His peace. The war for our liberty was secured by Him; the question remains if we will win our individual battle for faith, hope and peace. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:27

Longfellow’s Christmas – Edward K. Herrmann and The Tabernacle Choir

And please enjoy a beautiful rendition of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” performed by Casting Crowns.

Image attribution: Home of Longfellow Cambridge, Mass.

The Role of Providence in Your Life Story

Much, if not all, good that happens in our lives is providential or Providential. 

What do I mean? The Latin root of providential is “providentia,” which means to have foresight, forethought, or prudence in our actions. When we capitalize it, the meaning is enhanced by the noble idea suggesting a favorable outcome with Divine assistance to greater purpose. 

PROVIDEN’TIAL— Effected by the providence of God; referable to divine providence; proceeding from divine direction or superintendence; as the providential contrivance of things; a providential escape from danger. How much are we indebted to God’s unceasing providential care!

Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language 1828

It is providence that leads us to prepare ourselves with education, to practice dedication and to seek life experience. In doing so we put ourselves in the position to have Providence guide us to our quest, mission, and destiny. Providence’s hand must be preceded by providence’s presence.

And like all heroes on a providential and Providential journey, we are writing the stories of our lives as we go, assigning meaning and hoping one day our stories will outlast us. This is because stories are a guide. As humans we relate to stories as they teach the how and the why of the human experience. A great story touches our heart, teaches a truth, shapes our life, and liberates our mind and soul as we project ourselves into the action. The ultimate hero may then be you and I as we create a narrative around our lives by Providential rendezvous with providential preparation. 

One Story Stands Above Them All

Consider the greatest story ever told where young Mary as a virgin is told she would bear a child named Jesus (meaning God is help or Savior) who would save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21) To which she asks, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” To which the angel “answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee… For with God nothing shall be impossible. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.” (Luke 1:34-37

This is how a Providential plan began and was accomplished. What was then needed was the providence of a young man, Joseph, who had the courage to provide for and take his young bride to Jerusalem. The providence was his professional and temporal preparations—having a donkey, perhaps some money, and other resources to provide for the journey. What didn’t exist through preparation might be found Providentially along the way—like finding a place to bed down for the night in the little hamlet of Bethlehem. 

A Providential star eventually led three wise men from the east to the place of the child, where they provided the providence of gold, frankincense, and myrrh as gifts. Providentially this likely helped to provide the providence of a necessary escape to Egypt while the wicked King Herod had all children under the age of two murdered. 

The providence of Joseph and Mary making their way out of Egypt to settle in the obscure village of Nazareth provided a Providential path for providential learning. So ideal was Nazareth for nurtured learning that, “the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.” (Luke 2:40) This was a stunning period of growth that took effort. Consider the obscure village of Galilee and Nazareth where he was raised. Even today it is simple and rural. Yet home and village provided the providential learning to bring about future Providential miracles.  

Christ’s learning, understanding, and wisdom were astonishing as recorded in these verses. “Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him.” (Luke 2: 42-45) What a story! We lost our son! How did this happen? 

And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them. And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart.” (Luke 2: 46-48) Preparation provided the Providential outcome. 

As summarized in Luke 2:52, he was providentially and Providentially prepared for his odyssey. “And Jesus increased in wisdom, and stature, and in favour with God and man.” 

How did this story speak to you or inspire you? What truths did you learn? How has this story shaped your life? During December we will explore the power of providence, Providence, and story to liberate us.

Image attribution: The Flight Into Egypt, Giotto, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Quest for Magnanimity

Having found our quest, how should we complete it? What happens if challenges or setbacks obscure our journey? 

If our objectives are noble and our motives pure, we move forward in tranquility and firmness. Perhaps the highest office we will ever hold is that of citizens. It is an office we exercise each year as we vote. It is our birthright and duty to execute. 

I am reminded of some key things that happened during perhaps the darkest moments in our history; things that demonstrated resolve summarized in this word: magnanimity. Magnanimity comes from the Latin word magnanimitas and the Greek mega-lopsuchia which means “great of soul.” Aristotle called it “the crowning virtue.”

Magnanimity is defined as the greatness of the mind. Magnanimity is the elevation or dignity of the soul, which encounters danger and trouble with tranquility and firmness, which raises the possessor above revenge, and makes him delight in acts of benevolence. Magnanimity makes him disdain injustice and meanness, and prompts him to sacrifice personal ease, interest, and safety for the accomplishment of useful and noble objects. (Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language 1828)

Magnanimity in History

The quest Abraham Lincoln undertook was magnanimous indeed. How could he preserve the union and eliminate slavery? Even his name Abraham embodies fatherhood of many. 

It was the fall of 1863. The decisive battle of Gettysburg occurred in early July and the tide had turned to victory for the Union forces on July 4, 1863. Lincoln reviewed the year and pondered the blessings that had occurred. He appealed to the “better angels” of human nature, seeking magnanimous actions of others that he felt had originated from God. Here are portions of his Proclamation of Thanksgiving establishing this holiday. 

“The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.

No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow citizens  in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

As Lincoln exercised magnanimity in victory, he was poised to create peace that made  goodwill. On Palm Sunday 1865, the civil war ended. What terms would he offer these fellow countrymen who had stirred the hostilities and caused the deaths of over 600,000 people?  General Grant was given directions from Abraham Lincoln to allow the confederates to return to their homes with malice towards none and goodwill towards all. Magnanimity elevates itself above revenge and seeks healing. This communication below is probably the most simple and peaceful surrender ever executed.

Appomattox Court-House, Virginia, April 9, 1865.

GENERAL: In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th instant, I propose to receive the surrender of the army of Northern Virginia on the following terms, to wit: Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate, one copy to be given to an officer to be designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the government of the United States until properly exchanged; and each company or regimental commander to sign a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery, and public property to be parked and stacked, and turned over to the officers appointed by me to receive them. This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers nor their private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to his home, not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.

U. S. Grant, Lieutenant-General.

Here was Lee’s reply.  

 Head-Quarters, Army of Northern Virginia, April 9, 1865

GENERAL: I received your letter of this date containing the terms of the surrender of the army of Northern Virginia, as proposed by you. As they are substantially the same as those expressed in your letter of the 8th instant, they are accepted. I will proceed to designate the proper officers to carry the stipulations into effect.

R. E. Lee, General.

As we engage in our quest, the virtue of magnanimity allows us to build an outcome that is greater than self.

Image attribution: Thomas Nast, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

President Lincoln’s “Proclamation of Thanksgiving”

President Abraham Lincoln issued a “Proclamation of Thanksgiving” on October 3, 1863, 74 years to the day after President George Washington issued his own Thanksgiving proclamation. Prior to Lincoln’s proclamation, each state would mark their own Thanksgiving commemoration.

The country was still deep in deep conflict, American against American in civil war.

It was a letter to President Lincoln from Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of the Godey’s Lady’s Book magazine, that inspired Lincoln to officially designate the fourth Thursday of each November as a national day of thanks. Hale insisted that the public had increasing interest in a unified national holiday and that if it was given official sanction it would “…become permanently, an American custom and institution.”

For a nice, printable copy that can be distributed to loved ones this Thanksgiving holiday, please enter your email below:

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