Wednesday, December 28, 2016

THYME's 'Esther of the Year'

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume XI, Issue XXII

The Unsung Hero

A new movie debuts this Winter about the unsung heroes of our space program... the WOMEN of Langley Research Center's West Computing Division. They were the ones who performed the mathematics that allowed our astronauts to go to the moon and return safely to Earth! When NASA needed the best mathematicians it could find, Katherine Johnson and her colleagues at Langley were ready! My Mother had done similar work for the Martin Company in Baltimore as they built seaplanes in their Middle-river Plant. I believe she mentioned these ladies once or twice but I never really learned their story. The movie Hidden Figures will help to correct that oversight.

The fact that a group of largely African-American women were paving the way for mankind to travel to the moon in Massive Resistance Virginia should be a story every schoolchild learns... as one should learn of the Tuskegee Airmen and the Navajo Code Talkers. The America we know is built on the contributions of many diverse hands. E Pluribus Unum takes on new significance when you realize that there are times in our history that it really shined! We need to make these stories a part of our culture, first of all in order to better appreciate each other, and secondly, we need to encourage our young people to prepare for such opportunities in the future!

Katherine Johnson was blessed with parents who valued education as a preparation for opportunity. Her father worked extra shifts as a handyman at the Greenbrier Resort in the hopes of giving his children an education. His daughter showed herself early-on to be brilliant at mathematics. But she might have still become discouraged were it not for some great mentors who came her way. Her high school principal opened the wonders of astronomy to her... lifting her eyes to see the stars.

Her college professor saw her potential and created classes just for her, knowing she would need them to pursue positions in research... which he nudged her to pursue as a career. Sometimes the class was only her, but with a wonderful mentor, Katherine learned much for the future she could not even imagine awaited her! Upon graduation from college, she became a math teacher (my Mother did the same) until Langley reached out to find the best mathematicians they could.

It is a great blessing and a sacred trust to be able to teach and guide young people. That is why, while acknowledging Ms. Johnson as an unsung hero, we must also give honor and place to the wonderful parents and teachers who showed her the way.

Dorothy Vaughan is one of the ladies who made up Langley's West Computing Division.


Unsung Heroes of the Highways
Virginia Department of Transportation
Workers' Memorial

VDOT Workers' Memorial
Photo by Bob Kirchman.

VDOT Workers' Memorial
Photo by Bob Kirchman.

VDOT Workers' Memorial
Photo by Bob Kirchman.

On the side of a mountain in Albemarle County, Virginia there is a scenic pullout on Interstate 64 overlooking the Southwest Mountains and the Rockfish Valley. Here stands a most fitting tribute to the workers who keep our roads safe and moving... and have sacrificed their lives in that work.

The simple memorial concept is a collaboration between VDOT Design Engineer Harry Lee and his daughter, Stephanie. It was not built with public funds, being financed wholly by donations from VDOT workers and their friends.

The wall is inscribed with the names of highway workers killed in the line of duty. The silhouette of a hard-hatted worker is repeated at the Eastern edge of the wall, reflecting the diverse group of people who work together to keep our roads safe. The Eastern edge creates a silhouetted void to honor the 'missing man.'

Driving to Charlottesville, I receive a call from the client I am rushing to see... she is running late. I pull into the overlook and pay a visit to the memorial. It's message is simple. Every road worker is someone's son or daughter, father or spouse. We should pass through the work zones like they are our own. Every day highway workers go out to keep us on schedule and safe. When we slow down and move over, we return them the favor.

'Citizens' Sculpture
Tennessee Welcome Center on Interstate 81

Sculpture by Joe Falsetti at the Tennessee Welcome Center on Interstate 81. Photo by Bob Kirchman.

The sculpture at the Tennessee Welcome Center is a visual representation of the people who make up a great state and a great nation. It inspires us to see what noble men and women have built and given to us and to aspire to do the same for our children and grandchildren.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Christmas Treasury

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume XI, Issue XXI

A Christmas Treasury

Here are presented some of our favorite Christmas features from all time, collected from past issues.

A Beloved Christmas Story's Story
With Six Children to Feed, the Author Needed a Miracle

Frances Alexander's 1842 painting of the famous author.

The Year was 1843 and he needed a miracle. With six children to feed and a large house in London to maintain, his slipping sales as a writer were of great concern. His installment novel: Martin Chuzzlewit, was selling poorly, unlike earlier works like Nicholas Nickleby, which had given him some measure of success.
Christmas was coming as he bitterly confided to a friend that his checkbook was empty. Walking the streets, he came up with a 'Ghost of an Idea' and set to work. He published 6000 copies in time for Christmas distribution. They sold out, but because he had splurged on hand-coloured illustrations by John Leech he barely broke even. [1.] Yes, even in Nineteenth Century England, good illustration cost you something! [2.]

Fortunately the little work went on to be a classic. It reinvigorated the career of its creator. Today we still love A Christmas Carol and its author: Charles Dickens, not only as a writer, but as one who helped to bring about much needed social reforms in his day.

Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht
Beloved Carol Inspired by a Broken Organ

The pipes of the Trinity Lutheran Church organ in Crimora.

Lynn [click to read] brings us the wonderful story of how one of our most beloved carols came to be written:

In 1818, a roving band of actors was performing in towns throughout the Austrian Alps. On December 23 they arrived at Oberndorf, a village near Salzburg where they were to re-enact the story of Christ's birth in the small Church of St. Nicholas.

Unfortunately, the St. Nicholas' church organ wasn't working and would not be repaired before Christmas. Because the church organ was out of commission, the actors presented their Christmas drama in a private home. That Christmas presentation of the events in the first chapters of Matthew and Luke put assistant pastor Josef Mohr in a meditative mood. Instead of walking straight to his house that night, Mohr took a longer way home. The longer path took him up over a hill overlooking the village.

From that hilltop, Mohr looked down on the peaceful snow-covered village. Reveling in majestic silence of the wintry night, Mohr gazed down at the glowing Christmas-card like scene. His thoughts about the Christmas play he had just seen made him remember a poem he had written a couple of years before. That poem was about the night when angels announced the birth of the long-awaited Messiah to shepherds on a hillside.

Mohr decided those words might make a good carol for his congregation the following evening at their Christmas eve service. The one problem was that he didn't have any music to which that poem could be sung. So, the next day Mohr went to see the church organist, Franz Xaver Gruber. Gruber only had a few hours to come up with a melody which could be sung with a guitar. However, by that evening, Gruber had managed to compose a musical setting for the poem. It no longer mattered to Mohr and Gruber that their church organ was inoperable. They now had a Christmas carol that could be sung without that organ.

On Christmas Eve, the little Oberndorf congregation heard Gruber and Mohr sing their new composition to the accompaniment of Gruber's guitar.

Weeks later, well-known organ builder Karl Mauracher arrived in Oberndorf to fix the organ in St. Nicholas church. When Mauracher finished, he stepped back to let Gruber test the instrument. When Gruber sat down, his fingers began playing the simple melody he had written for Mohr's Christmas poem.

Deeply impressed, Mauracher took copies of the music and words of "Stille Nacht" back to his own Alpine village, Kapfing. There, two well-known families of singers — the Rainers and the Strassers — heard it. Captivated by "Silent Night," both groups put the new song into their Christmas season repertoire.

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

English translation:

Silent night! holy night!
All is calm, all is bright,
'Round yon virgin mother and Child!
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

The Strasser sisters spread the carol across northern Europe. In 1834, they performed "Silent Night" for King Frederick William IV of Prussia, and he then ordered his cathedral choir to sing it every Christmas eve.

Twenty years after "Silent Night" was written, the Rainers brought the song to the United States, singing it (in German) at the Alexander Hamilton Monument located outside New York City's Trinity Church.

In 1863, nearly fifty years after being first sung in German, "Silent Night" was translated into English (by either Jane Campbell or John Young). Eight years later, that English version made its way into print in Charles Hutchins' Sunday School Hymnal. Today the words of "Silent Night" are sung in more than 300 different languages around the world.

The English version we know today was written by the Episcopal priest John Freeman Young, however the standard English version contains just three verses, whereas the German version contains six. (only verses 1, 6 and 2 from the original Joseph Mohr version are sung in English).

The Story of 'Joy to the World'
A Beloved Hymn Written in Celebration of Advent

Graphic by Kristina Elaine Greer, who writes: "I overlaid the entire picture from photos I took of the music in the most recent United Methodist Hymnal. I simply clipped out the music part and compiled them together then cut and pasted them to the template and changed the opacity."

A Short History of 'Joy to the World'
by Kristina Elaine Greer

Most people think of the wonderful hymn, “Joy to the World,” as Christmas Hymn proclaiming the joy of Christ’s birth, but there is a different history behind this marvelous song. The original words to “Joy to the World” by English hymn writer Isaac Watts were based on Psalm 98 in the Bible. According to Wikipedia “the song was first published in 1719 in Watts' collection; The Psalms of David: Imitated in the language of the New Testament, and applied to the Christian state and worship.” Isaac Watts originally wrote the words of "Joy to the World" as a hymn glorifying Christ's triumphant return stated in the book of revelation, instead of as a song celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. This song was meant more for Advent than Christmas and in some hymnals today you will find it in the holiday concordance of the hymnal under Advent instead of Christmas (which is correct). Interestingly, we only sing the second half of Watts' lyrics when we sing this beloved hymn. The music of this song was adapted and arranged to Watts' lyrics by Lowell Mason in 1839. The melody is said to have been from an older melody, which was then believed to have originated from Handel, partially because of the theme of the refrain (And heaven and nature sing...). This appears in the beloved orchestra opening and accompaniment of the “Comfort ye” from Handel's Messiah, the first four notes match the beginning of the choruses “Lift up your heads” and “Glory to G-d” from the same oratorio. Handel, however, did not compose the entire tune. In fact “Antioch” is the generally used name of the tune. As of the late 20th century, “Joy to the World” was the most-published Christmas hymn in North America. Today we still enjoy it during the holiday seasons of Advent and Christmas time no matter the history it reminds us to be joyful that we have a Savior, who came to earth as a baby, lived among us, died for us, was raised again victorious, and is our Lord who will come again in glorious acclamation.

Unpacking The Twelve Days of Christmas

You Will Never Look at this Song the Same Way Again


I always assumed the song: "The Twelve Days of Christmas" to be a simple frivolous song of celebration. Not so!, this song is instructive in basic truths of the Christian Faith! Here is the explanation by Father Edward Dowling:

“The Twelve Days of Christmas” celebrates the official Christmas season which starts liturgically on Christmas Day and ends twelve days later on the Feast of the Epiphany. “My true love” refers to God, “me” is the individual Catholic. The “twelve lords a leaping” are the twelve basic beliefs of the Catholic Church as outlined in the Apostles Creed. The “eleven pipers piping” are the eleven Apostles who remained faithful after the treachery of Judas. The “ten ladies dancing” are the Ten Commandments. The “nine drummers drumming” are the nine choirs of angels which in those days of class distinction were thought important. The “eight maids a milking” are the Eight Beatitudes. The “seven swans a swimming” are the Seven Sacraments (or the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit) [click to read]. The “six geese a laying” are the Six Commandments of the Church or the six days of creation. The “five golden rings” are the first five books of the Old Testament called the Torah which are generally considered the most sacred and important of all the Old Testament. The “four calling birds” are the Four Gospels. The “three French hens” are the Three Persons in God or the three gifts of the Wise Men. The “two turtle doves” represent the two natures in Jesus: human and divine or the two Testaments, Old and New. The “partridge” is the piece de resistance, Jesus himself, and the “pear tree” is the Cross."

Here is More Historical Background [click to read] from Father Dowling. h/t Kristina Elaine Greer G-d bless you all during the Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany seasons!

Sherando Lake Island and Ice

The island in Sherando Lake. This photo is displayed in the Virginia Blood Services Waynesboro Facility.
Photo by Bob Kirchman

Photos from THYME and The Journey are available through The Kirchman Studio [click to read]. Please contact them directly if you are interested.


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Special Christmas Edition

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume XI, Issue XX

A Repeat of One of Our Favorite Issues

Glimpses into a World Unseen
The Amazing Photography of Alexey Kljatov

© 2015 The Kirchman Studio, All rights reserved. 
Photographs © Alexey Kljatov, Used by permission.

When I first saw the work of Alexey Kljatov, I was amazed. He takes these stunning images with a simple point and shoot camera rigged with an old macro lens and employing skillful manipulation of lighting. Snowflakes landing on his Moscow window reveal their full wonder and individual beauty through his sublime images. Mr. Kljatov graciously allowed THYME to share his amazing work. You can see more of his photography Here [click to view].

Just imagine the swirling dance of these beautiful shapes in a snowstorm!













Glimpses into a World Unseen
Act II

The electron microscope further reveals amazing patterns.

Vertical section of the human dna.

Evidence of Divine Design, Great and Small
"The Heavens Declare the Glory of G-d;
The Skies Proclaim the Work of His Hands." -- Psalm 19:1

Moth wing pattern.

I saw this little creature outside my studio one morning. It got me reflecting on the creative wonder, both large and small, that surround us.

M 51 Spiral Galaxy, NASA photo from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Detail of the 'X Structure' in M 51, NASA photo from the Hubble Space Telescope.

The artist is amazed. So much beauty and wonder in the very large cosmos and in the very small things as well! Can a G-d who spins galaxies into being be concerned with things small and personal? Such order and grace in the extreme scales of our world, yet often what we see before us is chaotic and makes no sense.

That is why we present here Lee Strobel's Case for Faith and Case for Christ. If you had stepped into that Bethlehem stable many years ago, you would have not necessarily seen beauty and redemption. The smells of animals and the pain of labor and delivery would have overwhelmed contemplation. Yet Christians around the world will contemplate the wonder of that night; for what happened there ultimately made its mark on human history.

The Case for a Creator [click to view] by Lee Strobel
The Case for Faith [click to view] by Lee Strobel
The Case for Christ [click to view] by Lee Strobel

Creche at the National Cathedral
A Particularly Beautiful Representation of the Nativity

Photo by Kristina Elaine Greer.


Saturday, December 10, 2016

The American Pioneers

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume XII, Issue XIXa

America mourns the passing of Astronaut John Glenn, the first American to fly in Earth orbit. He was born in Cambridge Ohio in 1921. He entered the Naval Aviation Cadet Program in 1942. Commissioned in the Marine Corps in 1943, he flew 59 combat missions. He then served in the Korean War.

He was selected as one of the original seven Mercury Astronauts and was the first to fly on the Mercury-Atlas into orbital flight. Originally cleared for a longer mission, his flight was cut to theree orbits when a warning light indicated that the heat shield had possibly come loose. The heat shield was supposed to do that after reentry as their was a cushion sack to soften the landing into the ocean, but if it came loose before reentry, the craft could be burned up.

NASA engineers decided to keep the heat shield in place by not jettisoning the retro-rocket pack, strapped over the heat shield, that slowed the craft from orbital velocity for reentry. Glenn describes the glow of the melting retro pack outside the spacecraft window as: "a real fireball!" Glenn landed safely. The American space-age had fully begun.

But the Astronauts, like John Glenn, were simply the most visible heroes in a team of thousands who worked together to achieve a new leap in human exploration. There were other pioneers as well, such as the women of Langley Research Center's West Computing Division such as Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson.

These ladies broke barriers not only in their calculation of launch windows and trajectories, but in pushing new frontiers in opportunity for achievement. Their story is told in the upcoming movie: Hidden Figures [click to read] coming out this Winter. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Why We Love Rocky!

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume XII, Issue XIX

Why We Love Rocky!

It has been forty years since the release of Sylvester Stallone's classic movie about a washed-up fighter taking his unexpected opportunity and 'Going the Distance.' Here is some insight into the making of the film and Stallone's daring to tell his story:

The long shot story of Stallone and his alter-ego: 'Rocky.'

Everyman's struggle! Rocky Balboa has come to represent the struggle we all relate to. Unknown actor Sylvester Stallone Stallone quickly wrote out the eighty page screenplay in a spiral notebook and pitched it in a last-ditch effort to make his mark in movies. The rest is history.

Who hasn't intensified a workout to the music of 'Gonna Fly Now?' The song captures something of the American Spirit... the drive to overcome in the face of unbeatable odds. It is a quality we need to nurture.

Gonna Fly Now!

Rocky I

Rocky II

Rocky III

Dr. Katherine Johnson
Part of the Inspiration for 'Hidden Figures'

Dr. Katherine Johnson. NASA Photo

A new film debuts at the end of this year about the ladies who made up a special mathematics group at Langley Research Center. I must confess that I had heard discussion long ago about a group of women who had actually calculated the launch windows and trajectory information for Mercury, Gemini and Apollo, but I never knew much about them. Fortunately their story was too good to be left untold and the film is based on a nonfiction book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, who grew up near NASA's Langley Research Center, where Johnson and her colleagues worked.

As a girl, Johnson says that she loved to count. She was fascinated by numbers. Her father worked at West Virginia's Greenbrier Resort and wanted his children to go to college. He worked all the overtime he could to pay for it. Johnson Graduated from High School at fourteen, college at eighteen. Her High School Principal would walk her home and show her the constellations above. He literally showed her how to 'reach for the stars!' An article in 'Business Insider says: "Later, she was mentored by Dr. William W. Schiefflin Claytor, who suggested she aim to become a research mathematician. He created the classes he knew she would need to succeed, including one in which she was the only student. Throughout her education, she says she succeeded in part because she was always asking questions — even when people tried to ignore her, her hand stayed up."

After college, Katherine became a math teacher. She was hired in 1953 to work for NASA — then called the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). In those days, human mathematicians were essential to aerospace engineering. My Mother had done the same kind of work at the Martin Company in Baltimore in the 1940's. Computers would take a while longer to catch up with these slide-rule wizards. Dr. Johnson and her colleagues performed the calculations that literally paved the way for man to go to the moon.

Hidden Figures [click to read] debuts this Winter.

The Place of Faith in Education
A Unique Perspective on the Issue from CIVITAS


Education is only adequate and worthy when it is itself religious… There is no possibility of neutrality… To be neutral concerning G-d is the same thing as to ignore Him… If children are brought up to have an understanding of life in which, in fact, there is no reference to G-d, you cannot correct the effect of that by speaking about G-d for a certain period of the day. Therefore our ideal for the children of our country is the ideal for truly religious education." -- William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury in 1942.

Here is a very interesting report from CIVITAS [1.], on The Place of Faith in Schools [click to read] by Professor David Conway. It adds a new dimension to the debate now raging in America between those who would impose a strictly secular criteria and those who consider Faith an essential component of learning.

A nation which draws into itself continuously, and not merely in its first beginnings, the inspiration of a religious faith and a religious purpose will increase its own vitality… Our own nation… has been inspired by a not ignoble notion of national duty to aid the oppressed – the persecuted Vaudois, the suffering slave, the oppressed nationality – and it has been most... characteristically national when it has most felt such inspiration…

We offend against the essence of the [English] nation if we emphasise its secularity, or regard it as merely an earthly unit for earthly purposes. Its tradition began its life at the breast of Christianity; and its development in time, through the centuries… has not been utterly way from its nursing mother… [I]n England our national tradition has been opposed to the idea of a merely secular society for secular purposes standing over against a separate religious society for religious purposes. Our practice has been in the main that of the single society, which if national is also religious, making public profession of Christianity in its solemn acts, and recognising religious instruction as part of its scheme of education." -- Ernest Barker, Cambridge Philosopher

Professor Conway  Concludes: "All would stand to benefit from such committed forms of religious education in the country’s state-funded schools, not simply because it would be likely to improve the educational performance, behaviour and well-being of the nation’s schoolchildren. They would also all benefit because, I believe, only by continuing to provide it can this country be assured of remaining the independent and united liberal polity that it has for so long been and from whose continuing to be such all its diverse inhabitants would derive benefit, even those who do not share that faith or any other."