Tag Archives: Handwritten

Passing Notes

Passing Notes (CaD Gen 10) Wayfarer

This is the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth, Noah’s sons, who themselves had sons after the flood.
Genesis 10:1 (NIV)

I have always loved handwritten notes and letters. It’s a little joy of mine. I have a fondness for it because it is like a small, personal work of art. “Line” is one of the foundations of art, and a person’s handwriting is, in essence, “lines” in someone’s uniquely personal style; something they took the time and energy to create, address, and send. I always consider it a gift.

I remember during adolescence, in the junior high and high school years, notes were an integral part of social dynamics and relationships. Notes were written during class, then folded and passed to the intended recipient. Sometimes it would be delivered by a third party. Notes passed back and forth between individuals of the opposite sex were particularly important. Notes from the person you were dating were especially important, as were notes passed to individuals you liked and would like to know even better.

Looking back, these notes also provided an unsuspecting lesson in learning how to interpret the written word. I not only took the words at face value, but I was always trying to decipher a girl’s motivations (“Does she like me?”), her mood (“Are things okay? Am I in trouble?”), and any hidden messages (“Hang on, I think someone else told her to write this.”).

Along my life journey, I’ve found that these same lessons for deciphering the layers of meaning beneath the literal, written words, is crucial for unlocking some of the mysteries and connections of the Great Story. Today’s chapter is a prime example.

Today’s chapter, on the surface of things, is a simple list of the descendants of Noah’s three sons. It’s one of those chapters that most people skip over. I get it. I always used to do that, too. Then, like a middle schooler trying to discern why a note from this girl was handed to me in the first place, I began trying to find the reason for these boring genealogies to be included in the story at all. Let me give you a few nuggets I found buried this morning.

First, today’s chapter starts with the phrase “This is the account”. This phrase is used ten times in the book of Genesis. This was the ancient author’s section break, telling the reader we’re moving into a new section. I also have to remember that numbers were very important to the Hebrews. Ten is a number associated with completeness so, of course, there are ten sections in the book.

Genesis means beginnings, and in the first eleven chapters the author is trying to describe the primeval origins of humanity. So today’s chapter is all about how the known peoples of the earth sprang from Noah’s three sons. It starts with three (a number associated with the divine, a trinity), and lists 70 total descendants (7 times 10, both of these numbers are associated with completeness). When scholars plot these peoples on a map, they generally spread out in three regional areas.

There are connections in this list to other stories in the Great Story. There are a ton of them, but one example is Tarshish which is listed as one of the maritime descendants of Japheth. Tarshish was an actually city, generally believed to be in southern Spain. It was to Tarshish that the prophet Jonah booked passage when he was fleeing from God’s command to go to Nineveh (also listed in today’s chapter). As you can see on the map, Tarshish was the furthest away from Nineveh a prophet of that day might go in the opposite direction.

There are also connections to this very day. The descendants of Shem are considered the semitic people, “semite” being a form of “shem-ite.” It is from Shem that the Hebrew people are descended. When Jewish people are attacked or maligned, we call it “anti-semitic.”

Finally, Shem is the third son listed and the ancients listed sons in birth order because humanity always favors the first-born son. Yet, it is through the youngest son that God’s people will spring. This is a recurring theme throughout the Great Story in which God chooses the youngest, least, weakest to perpetuate the story. It’s a subtle way of God telling us “My ways are not your ways,” or as Jesus put it, “God has hidden things from the wise and learned (the most prominent in human terms), and revealed them to children” (the least prominent and most overlooked).

In the quiet this morning, I’ve had fun recalling hand-written notes passed to this awkward, insecure boy by girls with beautiful, flowing handwriting and adorned with little flowers. I’ve also been reminded that one does not take the time and energy to write something without understanding that the thing they are writing is important for someone to read and know. As I traverse this chapter-a-day journey, I’m reminded that every chapter holds meaning, even the seemingly meaningless ones. Some days, finding the motivation and meaning is as difficult as an adolescent boy trying to penetrate the heart and mind of an adolescent girl, but it’s always worth the effort ;-).

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

“Incomplete” Joy

I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.
2 John 12

There is, in my office, a stack of letters and postcards, the culmination of many years of correspondence between me and one of my longest and dearest friends. Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a writer of letters and postcards. I have always found that there is something special in receiving another person’s thoughts and expressions in their own unique handwriting. Email, texts, and social media have made interpersonal communication simple and easy, but that has only increased the value that I place on a note, postcard, or letter than someone has taken the time to pen in their own hand, address, stamp and place in the mail. As it becomes more rare, it increases in value.

The “Book” of 2 John is the chapter today, which is almost laughable. This “Book” is actually a short note written from “The Elder” to a woman whose home was one of the tens of thousands of homes in which the followers of Jesus gathered before the idea of a church building was conceived. Tradition holds that it was John who wrote the letter, though this has always been the subject of debate.

The tone of the brief correspondence is simple and somewhat hasty. The author admits there is so much more to write, but would rather wait and speak face-to-face so that “our joy may be complete.”

After a couple of months of quarantine and social distancing, I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited to see people, hug people, and chat with people face-to-face. Wendy and I are often the last people to walk out of the room when our local gathering of Jesus’ followers meets on Sunday mornings. Just the thought of a “normal” weekly gathering in which several pockets of people are spread around the room after our worship to talk together, laugh together, and pray together almost makes me emotional.

Here in Iowa, things are beginning to slowly return to normal. Our local gathering is giving it a few weeks before we, once again, meet together in person. I’m looking forward to that day. Meanwhile, during this quarantine, I have continued to jot the occasional postcard to loved ones. I trust that, in this time of social lockdown, it will bring a little extra joy than normal when it arrives. Maybe it won’t make joy “complete” like being there in person and giving them a hug, but sometimes the “incomplete” joy of a handwritten note is a much-needed shot of joy.

Meaning-Full Gifts

Wendy, Suzanna and I have been blown away by Apple’s Christmas ad this year. In the ad, a young lady discovers a 45rpm record her grandmother made for her husband who was away in World War II. The granddaughter spends some time on her Apple computer editing the song, adding her own voice and instrumentals to it. On Christmas morning, the grandmother finds her granddaughter’s iPod on the kitchen table along with memorabilia from that period of her life. Perched atop the stairs, her granddaughter watches her grandmother put in the ear buds, push play, and begin to cry. Then it’s kleenex all around at our house every time we see it.

This year, our entire Christmas seemed to be one gift card exchange. I get it. Our family is spread out, Wendy and I are in transition, our folks don’t really need anything, yada, yada, yada. But, I have to admit that the exchange of plastic cards at times seems boring and silly. This year we gave our brother Lucas a Target gift card, and guess what he gave us? Yep, a Target gift card! Feel the joy. God bless us, everyone.

This year I did give my parents one extra gift that cost me nothing but a little time. Utilizing the existing software on my MacBook, I pulled family photos I have taken and scanned over the years and put them into slideshow. It really wasn’t that difficult. I mixed old family photos of previous generations to photos of our own nuclear family through the years, and added a song from my iTunes library as background. I burned it to DVD and, after the gift cards had been exchanged, I played the DVD for my folks. The best gift I received all Christmas was watching my parents as they watched the slide show. I did feel the joy as I watched them light up at the sight of old family photos and calling out the faces and names of people they recognized from previous generations. Before it was over they had both began to cry. My mother’s tearful hug when it was over was priceless.

Wendy and I have talked a lot about this concept of meaning-full gifts this year. We have become so focused on the consumption of goods, that we are often blind to gifts that will be truly valued. A few Christmases ago our dirt-poor college age daughter gave me a simple candy tin on which she painted a colorful design. Inside were some of her favorite photos of the two of us and a couple of colorful magnets. I could take out whichever photo I wanted, attach it to the front of the tin with the magnet, and sit it on my desk. I don’t remember anything else I received that Christmas. I still remember that.

Wendy and I received two meaning-full gifts this Christmas. Suzanna, our dirt-poor college age, live-in sister, spent time sequestered in her room upstairs working on two drawings for Wendy and me. Her own pencil portraits of Charlie Chaplin and Lucille Ball, with “Merry Christmas” hidden in Charlie’s hat ribbon, and Lucy’s necklace. It was unique, original, and made with her own hands. We will treasure them. The other meaning-full Christmas gift came from my dad who made a stained-glass piece which will hang in a prominent place in our new house (I am choosing not to show a photo of it at this point. We’ll let you see it when it’s installed and the sun is shining through it!). We can’t wait to add it to our collection of family artwork displayed in our home.

2014 suzannas christmas drawings

You don’t really need a ton of creativity or artistic ability to make and give meaning-full gifts. Here are a few suggestions for next Christmas or an upcoming gift giving holiday:

  • A playlist or music mix provides all sorts of possibilities. Share music that is meaningful between the two of you. Share with your children or grandchildren the music that you listened to as a kid, what songs bring back memories, and what those memories are. Share with your parents the music you remember from your childhood or the music that your parents taught you to appreciate. Don’t forget to add some liner notes describing why you chose each song.
  • Memories are always meaningful. What family treasures or heirlooms can you utilize to honor those special moments of the past? Still have that trove of love notes/cards your spouse gave you when you were courting? How about a simple treasure chest box from the local art/hobby store in which you place all of those special notes, along with a brand new love note to add to the horde.
  • Old family movies on 8mm film or VHS videotape gathering dust in the attic can easily be transferred to digital formats which can be edited or played on almost any media. Most computers today come with built-in software which allows you to take the digital video and make your own home movies. You don’t even have to edit. Most family members will love watching the raw, unedited footage of years past.
  • In this age of e-mail, a hand-written letter has become rare, and in my estimation more valuable. I have always believed that our handwriting, sloppy as it may be, is an original work of art. A handwritten letter that’s signed, sealed, and delivered is a welcome surprise amidst the daily pile of junk mail and bills delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. Write a letter thanking your parents for all they’ve done for you (give examples), tell your children how proud you are of them (give examples), say “I’m sorry” to a loved one you’ve hurt, say “I forgive you” to a loved one who hurt you, or take a trip down memory lane and share with a loved one a meaningful memory the two of you share.

A big “thank you” to all who gave me gift cards this year, including my wife. I will enjoy using them on special treats for myself, and am truly grateful. I hope you enjoy the piece of plastic I gave you in return. I hope we all realize that meaning-full gifts are gifts in which the value cannot be established by a magnetic strip on the back.

My Quirky Passions and Illuminated Manuscript

The Chi Rho monogram from the Book of Kells is...
The Chi Rho monogram from the Book of Kells is the most lavish such monogram (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Besides a love of family and an arguably tragic loyalty to the Cubs and Vikings, I have realized that God instilled in me three passions/interests in this life journey:

  1. God
  2. Art
  3. History

In retrospect, it is no wonder that I was mesmerized when in I walked into the library of Trinity College in Dublin and first gazed on The Book of Kells. I can’t believe I had never heard of it, but I am eternally grateful for my travel companion who insisted we visit the ancient, handwritten copy of the Gospels. It was my first real introduction to the world of illuminated manuscripts, and in that fateful moment I experienced a harmonic convergence of my passions. Here was the Word of God presented in an obvious work of art that was steeped in the rich stories and context of history. I have been fascinated by illuminated manuscripts ever since.

Before the invention of the printing press, both scriptures and books of common prayer were affectionately and painstakingly copied by hand. Often, these handwritten copies were the work of monks who embellished the written word with beautiful and colorful illustrations. In the case of The Book of Kells, the illustrations included mysterious symbols and celtic imagery. The printing press and moveable type changed history forever. Books could be quickly and efficiently published and copied. Handwritten illuminated manuscripts were a thing of the past.

Last year I stumbled upon news of The St. John’s Bible. For the first time in hundreds of years, a team of calligraphers and artists began working on a completely handwritten and illuminated copy of the Bible commissioned by St. John’s Abbey and University in Minnesota. I discovered that high resolution copies of the modern manuscript were available in multiple volumes and this past Christmas I received two of the volumes: The Pentateuch and The Gospels and Acts. Since then I’ve added The Books of History. I also, by the way, received a copy of Bernard Meehan’s gorgeous history and analysis of The Book of Kells for Christmas.

So, each morning I’ve been opening and reading a chapter from the gorgeous copy of the handwritten St. John’s Bible. I’ve been blown away by the incredible effort, craftsmanship and artistry involved, along with the textual nuances of the Catholic edition of the Revised Standard Version in which it was written. One of these days on a trip up to the Twin Cities I hope to make the trek up I-94 to St. John’s and see the original for myself.