Chasing Unrest….AWAY!

“Do you remember the 21st night of September?  Love was changing the minds of pretenders, while chasing the clouds away…” – “September” – Recorded by Earth, Wind & Fire (1978), Columbia label.  Composers: Maurice White, Al McKay, Allee Willis.

Hey, look at the post date of this jot.  As I write, it’s actually the 21st night of September.  The lyric of this classic isn’t just timely for the calendar date, but for what it represents. More on that below.

Can I get personal way up front?  How tired are you?  Maybe the better question might be, how sick and tired are you?  Yeah, me too.  I don’t believe it’s just me twirling my hair, sitting on my front steps with coffee in hand making up scenarios. There’s just lots of dismay, dishonor and disheartening things coagulating at the same time across the planet.  You would have to be living in a cave not to feel it in the air, that’s if the cave doesn’t fall-in on you from the next earthquake, or flooded out by the next hurricane, or burned out by the next wildfire, or nuked out by a nuclear fallout, etc.  Nope!  I refuse to list the itemization in my head here, although if I did, it would take a few pages.  However, I would refer you to the news of the day, news that doesn’t have to be conjured from an instigator spewing “fake news.”  It’s enough to make one lose sleep, or act-out in an uncharacteristic knee-jerk reaction in traffic, at work, at home.  I know, I’m guilty as charged.

Certainly you and I deal with the craziness of our society’s environment differently. Depending upon our backgrounds, and the source of our personal peace, we can trek various paths in search for that sweet spot where we are at rest, running from the unrest we feed on each day. Many will choose their drug of choice.  It might BE a drug.  If so, don’t procrastinate. Get help now.  It might be finding solace in other externals.  What does that look like for you?  What is your escape sled into the fields of release?  Pizza?  BBQ?  A glass of Merlot?  Movies, TV sitcoms, game day, video games, scenic drives, a cruise to other coasts, jogging, artwork, concerts, a vintage album, dancing, singing, acting, blogging?  Hmmmm.  I perceive a lengthy scroll is needed.

Burn-out is a real issue.  I have known many highly successful individuals that admitted to the experience.  I’ve known many songwriters who MUST get away to a secluded beach or mountain cabin to pound out new songs for new projects.  I’ve known owners of businesses who seem to be the Energizer bunny that keeps going and going and going, yet have to shut down in a park or at a lake with a fishing pole.

Remember Christopher Cross’ song, “Sailing” from 1980?

“Well, it’s not far down to paradise, at least it’s not for me.  And if the wind is right you can sail away and find tranquility.  Oh, the canvas can do miracles just you wait and see. Believe me….”

Did I catch you singing?  Me too.  It was a huge hit with great hooks.  The 2nd verse is even more revealing.  Here’s just a sliver.

“…if the wind is right you can find the joy of innocence again…”

I love Christopher, but if he were with me now, I am sure he would say, although he released the song in June of 1980, he is still searching.

The refresh button is a pleasing symbol, I think.  Isn’t it?  You’re reading an article when suddenly you can’t seem to scroll down to the next riveting page.  After taking a hammer to the mouse, you click on the refresh button and it begins to make it’s circling dance testifying to something like, “Hey, I’ve got your back.  Relax.  It’ll just take me a few seconds”.  Then, if all goes the way it should, BOOM!  It all loosens up and stress has been freed into the atmosphere for another time, another victim.  To me, it’s like the reboot button, mainly on the older units.  My shaking finger would reach for it out of frustration when my screen froze right in the middle of an audio production I worked tirelessly on, back in my radio theater days.  After engaging the reboot, I held my breath, trying to recall the last time I saved whatever scene I was building.  Most of the time, it went well.  But the first project I did 20 years ago on Pro-Tools software, I hadn’t saved squat within the first 42 minutes of post-production.  A rookie mistake.  The computer froze.  I rebooted and when it came back to my screen, I had lost 42 minutes of mixed post-production work. Heartbreaking!  I had to reproduce it all, and in some cases, brought back certain actors to lay down lines lost. I never forgot that lesson. (Ooops, let me hit “save” right now while it’s on my mind.)

I also love the word, “REBOOT”.  It reminds me of my first job the summer after I graduated from high school.  I worked for Florsheim Shoes in a retail store at Valley View Mall in Dallas, Texas.  Some customers, who thought we were cobblers as well, would come in with a worn-out sole asking for a re-sole.  If the boot or shoe was a sown-on leather sole, it could be done.  In those cases, we would refer them to a cobbler shop down the street where old boots or shoes could be….well, “rebooted” so to speak.  So, to me, rebooting my computer feels like I am re-soling for more computer roadwork.

Yet, the deeper question remains.  Does my “s-o-u-l” really get rebooted, or is it a temporary weekend band-aid as I go sailing with Mr. Cross?

You remember Dr. Svend Brinkmann Ph.D., the Danish author and professor of psychology, right?  (I know, I didn’t know him from Adam.)  But I was struck by an excerpt from his new book, “Stand Firm: Resisting The Self-Improvement Craze”.

“In our secular world, we no longer see eternal paradise as a carrot at the end of the stick of life, but try to cram as much as possible into our relatively short time on the planet instead.  This is, of course, a futile endeavor, doomed to failure.  It is tempting to interpret the modern epidemics of depression and burnout as the individual’s response to the unbearable nature of constant acceleration.  The decelerating individual – who slows down instead of speeding up, and maybe even stops completely – seems out of place in a culture characterized by manic development and may be interpreted pathologically (i.e. diagnosed as clinically depressed). – Dr. Svend Brinkmann Ph.D.

Interestingly enough, King Solomon wrote about this dilemma many times throughout Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.  I sure hope Dr. Brinkmann didn’t spend a decade discovering this truth.

I have to ask myself in the scope of my days, do I cram “stuff” in my existence on my sled down to another plane to escape the utter chaos of my surroundings? Better yet, when I climb back up that snowy hill, dragging my sled behind me, do I return to the same plateau I descended from? Is it a never-ending circle in a cyclical effort to refresh, to reboot my soul?  I think the conclusion is, too many of us use stuffings in our lives like toys and trinkets, activities, events, flights, social acrobatics all in efforts to find peace and sanity.

Because I am a Christian, my faith doesn’t ask me, it demands me, to connect with His Spirit for the refresh and reboot.  It’s a divine attribute specifically guaranteed to each who call on the name of Jesus. If only I, in my fleshly nature, in a fleshly world, can remember on this 21st night of September how to chase the clouds away, rediscovering the truth.  When I do, I am promised fuel for the race.

“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted (having shod your feet) with the readiness that comes with the gospel of peace.” – Paul, Eph 6:14-15 (NIV)

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Deep Calling Deep

“Lay me down, roll me out to sea.  Calling on a mighty wave to cover me.  Lay me down and roll me out to sea.  Heaven if your ready, shine your light on me.” – Composer: Larry Weiss, 1974. Recorded by: Barry Manilow on “Tryin’ To Get The Feeling Again” 1975 project.

Check out those lyrics.  Seriously, if it gets that bad, call somebody, like 911.  I am happy to report the composer, Larry Weiss “made it through the rain” and is alive today.  The picture above is my visual expression reflecting the depths of the translation of such lyrical cries.  I was suffering at that dark time.  The darkness almost tangible and certainly indescribable. You can actually read the depression in my face.

With that said, depression is an authentic mental state that rocks the spirit of an individual.  Sadly, I have known a few who have ended their own lives in a haze of what they considered to be a bottomless, hopeless despair.  The swirl they found their minds in seemed endless without escape or fading.  I am not a psychiatrist, but I believe one might say we all have been approached and flirted with the deadly side of depression. Some cover it well while others are unable.  Some even create a career of stand-up comedy, music, painting and other creative forms of diversions as a drapery covering the enormous fault-line of depression in their lives.  When someone so injured in their deepest soul can no longer speak out for rescue, the wound settles and nests in the caverns of the mind and heart.  Rarely can anyone realize just how far down the roots of the harmful growth embeds itself.  Even now you are thinking of someone you know that I speak of.  Maybe I am describing you.  If so, please read on.

Admittedly, I don’t have a street corner on the subject at all.  I know, and have known, many who have had the cancer of depression – chemical, clinical or otherwise.  I have been close to individuals who were so infected at an early age by trauma or abuse which initiated mental rages, addictions, violent actions injuring the innocents around them. They often leave a road of disaster behind them as the infliction acts-out. (Here, I must state that I am uncomfortable in revealing personal relationships where I had a front row seat to generational abuses that visits all who come close.  But I will admit, more than a few times, I’ve been affected to the core of my being and struggle to recuperate to this very day.)

Someone I called a friend, once told me she loved, in fact, thrived on striking up a fuse of dynamite and tossing it into a room (figuratively speaking) and leaving, knowing all she left behind would be pierced to the core, shattered, broken, without the ability to trust again.  She told me of the analogy with a smile, as if she spoke with a great deal of fondness.  At the moment, it shook me. yet I shrugged it off and went on my merry way. Not long afterwards she did just that and I was one of those who suffered the most.  In retrospect, I recalled the dozens of companies she worked for, always in short time frames ending in terminations, as well as short personal relationships.  For her, there was a string of commonality pointing to a sordid past that no doubt went back to a traumatic ground-zero in her life.  I am one who bears the scars.

Destruction doesn’t always follow bullets and bombs. Sometimes it’s behind darkened closed doors in a young child’s life, or an experience of a travesty heard or witnessed. (See “Straight-Jacket” from 1964 with Joan Crawford.  Or, “The Deer Hunter” from 1978 with Robert De Niro)

These injuries, branding the very make-up of one’s psychological personal outlook and worldview, are not surface or even near the surface.  The wounds go deep, deep into the core of a person’s spirit that often cannot be spoken verbally, but rather stews in the depths of what turns them to the right or to the left.  The strata goes so far south it would submerge the Grand Canyon.  It would be at a level, I believe, only the Spirit of God Himself could recognize and communicate with.   It is a place where no doctor, no hospital, no medication or psych study could reach.  The iceberg is vast and drives its base into the ocean floor.  Man’s abilities cannot reach the open crevice of this seething wound. With each step in life the injured spirit takes in that sorrowful journey through its own quicksand, the griefs that accumulate in the heart as the years move on. Layer upon layer.  Mound after mound after mound.  Only the One Who is “acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3) can have full compassion.  The Almighty understands the language of the depths of our hearts.  His Spirit communes with our spirits.  His heart to ours, His depths to ours.

I love this old Margaret Becker song from her 1995 “Grace” collection :

“In this ocean of my soul there’s a voice that calls and calls.  Calls to You night and day using words I can not say.  They are words of waiting, words of want.  Without You, I’m undone.  Calling to deeper love.  Calling to higher truth.  Calling to anything that leads me deeper and farther on with You.  Calling to deep.  Calling deep, calling deep….”

This past week I was disappointed in a family member.  I have been in the dumps fighting new health issues of late.  I was dismayed and frustrated in tallying up my bank account today.  These are surface hurdles to be jumped, but not to the depths of my unseen fault lines.  I would say, when honest, you know where that trench is for you and what dragon lies there.  Yet, knowing Who goes that deep with me, with all willingness, gives me fuel for the race.

“Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls; All Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me.” – Psalms 42:7 (NASB)

Pray for WHO?

“In years to come they may discover what the air we breathe and the life we lead is all about.  But it won’t be soon enough for me.  In another world we could stand on top of the mountain with our flag unfurled.  In a time to come we will be dancing to the beat played on a different drum.” – Paul McCartney – “Tug Of War”, title track to his 1982 album.                                                                                                                               (This was his first project after the assassination of John Lennon.)

“Hey! which one of you said, ‘*@#%^&!’ ” came a voice from the gang of high school rivals as they got out of two different cars.  What a night.  I believe it was the fall of 1977, my senior year in high school.  A well attended party had just wrapped up at Lisa’s house with her parents on the front porch waving all of us off as we headed toward our cars.  The street was dark at curbside of this upper middle class quiet neighborhood in a northern suburb of Dallas, Texas.  It was not my first rodeo with multiple attackers.  I saw the writing on the wall. The guys and gals I was with, maybe 10 of us, were all fellow choir members from school and zero street experience with thugs.  Knowing who I was with, I was aware nobody in my group had yelled obscenities at these passing cars.  It was clear, these were what I called “Quackers,” flapping off their mouths to start a fight.  I was the only one in the group who could stand up to these jerks. The number of bullies changed depending upon who you asked the following day, but I believe it to be about 7 or 8 guys, half of which had long-neck bottles in their hands. Fortunately, I was in my 4th or 5th year of Tae-Kwon-Do and kickboxing, training with world contenders of that time.  Then a friend of mine, who should’ve kept his mouth shut (Greg, if you’re reading this, you know who you are, lol), challenged the hearing ability of these bloodthirsty hoods.  With that, I winced for the first punch I was about to witness.  Instead, I was suddenly overcome with a sense of protectionism.  Without going into lots of details on antics, I had to take on the biggest brute among them.  I say, “take on,” but I wasn’t trying to injure the guy. I simply did a freight train of martial arts show-&-tell on his body while his buddies in crime watched.  As what usually happens in tribal poundings of chests, they got spooked and wanted to leave.  About that time, the men in blue pulled up in a couple of cruisers. (I’m sure Lisa’s parents closed the door and dialed 911.)  The cops saw what was up, quickly identifying the trouble makers, the cops threatened them all with jail time and off they went like a sack in a tornado. Nobody was arrested because the actual rumble, if you want to call it that, only lasted about :25 seconds before the cops arrived.  After they interviewed me, and our group, it was clear what took place.  I’m so grateful none of my friends were hurt.

Bullies are often like that, ya know.  They have a big hole in their face and loud noises come out of it, combined with a vicious scowl.  If you have been the victim of abuse, you know what I’m talking about.  Yet, most of the time, they are so lacking in self-esteem and confidence they cower into a scared paper tiger when they get just a whiff of being over-matched. The theory is, bullies feel as if they need to be bigger, louder and feared to hide their inner wounds.  I’ve known many.  Psychologists can tell us more of such a mindset, but that’s what I have observed several times over in my personal life.

I sincerely believe North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-Un is such a person.  I may be wrong, but he obviously has mental issues and certainly has a deficit in maturity.  Besides what he allows the world to see on state-controlled television, he has slaughtered thousands of innocents, imprisoned the old and the weak, guilty of nothing.  His people live in totally frantic fear of him and must stage happiness and joyful enthusiasm when he is present and on camera. They are raised to believe that he is GOD.  Yes, that’s right, an ALL-POWERFUL BEING, just like his dad and granddad! (By the way, they are STILL dead.) Besides the obvious twisted view he sets up for himself, the people have no rights, no freedom.  You can be killed over a long-distance phone call, a hint of displeasure, an internet connection, books on philosophy, religion or love.  Stories of severe torture and numerous overpopulated prison work camps from hell come from the courageous underground and those who escaped seeking asylum.  I have known many Korean men and women in my life, precious souls.  All of them change their facial expression when the name of the dictatorship family is mentioned.  Many have family on the north side of the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. Meanwhile, the vast majority of North Koreans starve as the little creep sits on his throne, eats cookies and plays video games all day between staged photo ops.  Yet, he has personal deficiencies making and molding him into who he is.  Only God, the True and Living One, knows.

Sure, I could go on about his missiles, bombs, nuclear technology he has been allowed to build, followed by super ridiculous and risky threats, but I won’t.  Instead, I will spotlight MY responsibility of protectionism concerning this bully.

The One I follow, Jesus, the Holy One of Israel, who with the breath of His nostrils could instantly scar the Korean peninsula to its very bedrock, orders me to….(wait for it)…pray for him.  Hold the missile launchers, rocket man!  Really…P-R-A-Y for him?  Are we sure it’s not, we are to make P-R-E-Y out of him?  That’s what I want to do.  I want to see a shock & awe shellacking of the little boy’s palace.  I want to see him evaporated!  I want to see him get what he deserves, as well as ISIS, Iranian leadership, Al-Qaeda, all human trafficers, drug cartel kingpins, Antifa, KKK, Neo-Nazis, Charlie Manson…..(I’m tired already.)  Do you see where I’m going with this?  There’s plenty of bad blood that can be shed out there.  How much time do we have? How many bombs are available? How much of the planet do we destroy?  How much energy do we have to erase all the bad guys with bad haircuts?

So, Jesus. How would you have me pray for this tiny dweeb dressed in black?  Sure, I’m brave enough to ask.  Scripture tells me I should come to God with all things including my angst.  He invites me to come reason with Him.  I think I know the answer when it comes to praying for my enemy.

How would you pray for a loved one?  You might request that your loved one might become a better person, a person of good character.  Right?  I don’t think I should start with requesting he eat more cookies and die of kidney failure.  Rather, I think I can be more in-line with the following.  Pray for a conversion, even though it would be a miracle.  Pray that the evil shown, and on its perch ready to launch, would be curbed, sidelined.  Pray for perfect divine judgment.  After all, human judgment can be faulty and most often is.  Pray for protection of the public under his laced-up booties.   Pray for all his efforts to fail or fall short.  Pray the short little thug gets distracted and overlooks the underground church and political resistance in North Korea.

Sure, Alan, it’s totally easy to pray for my enemies, my torturer in life, my abusers past, present and future…yeah, right.  Hey, I’m the worst about this.  I pray an asteroid falls from the sky and takes out the regime, but that’s God’s choice.  Then, I read what I just typed and recall Jesus’ prayer on the cross.  “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing.”-Luke 23:34 (Alan’s paraphrase)  Torturous evil inflicted can be an action of ignorance…or not.  But, then again, I am not the Perfect Judge Who sees the hearts of men and women.

So as the highly disturbed man in North Korea rattles his saber shouting, “Hey! Which one of you said, *@#%^&!?,” we pray for his change, his inabilities to rise, his passion for blood and fire to wain, for this flag unfurled to change and most of all, for the innocents over which he lords.

I’ve read the end of the book.  McCartney is right.  “…In a time to come we will be dancing to the beat played on a different drum.”

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” – Jesus, Matthew 5:43-47 (NIV)

 

Running On Empty

“Running on, running on empty.  Running on, running blind.  Running on, running into the sun, but I’m running behind.” – Jackson Browne.  Title cut to his 1977 album.

We were turning into a corner service station in Greenville, Texas when she said, “We have to give old Misty a drink.” (Misty was my grandparent’s teal-green Oldsmobile at the time.  She always named their cars like they did horses.)  The “full service” attendant (That would be the smiling guy in the Air Force style cap with his starched white shirt and tie) asked how he could serve her.  “Fill her up with Ethel,” she replied.  His reply was something rarely heard in today’s lingo but standard in her time, “Yes ma’am.  Right away, ma’am.”  He opened the hood to check the fluids and wash the windshield as the gasoline was being pumped. She never left the car.  She never swiped a credit card located on the gas pump.  And therefore, she never smelled like gasoline. She paid the attendant there at her rolled down window and off we went.  That’s how it used to be.  I know, it’s a foreign idea to anyone under 50 years old.

It’s ironic that what I’ve witnessed in the last few days at the Texas gasoline pumps would remind me of the title I chose for my blog, “Fuel For The Race.”

If you don’t live in Texas you may not know there have been long lines at the gasoline pumps stretching out into the streets and down the lanes. In the 1946 classic movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” there’s a maddening scene of a bank run when the stock market crashed.  It was true to life as the public panicked and ran to the banks to yank out their funds before it all disappeared.  Experts call such crashes “social phenomena” where external economic events combine with the psychology of mob behavior in a domino reaction, resulting in sell-offs and mass hysteria.  Some label it, “Herd behaviorism.” Very much like one spooked cow in a grazing herd of 100 can trigger a chain reaction resulting in a full-blown stampede.  Some stampedes have been known to run straight off cliffs in a mad dash to a fictitious oasis of safety.  How does THAT make you feel? Case in point, I saw a Dallas native being interviewed on a street corner.  He was laughing at the panicked throngs of nervous, agitated drivers sitting in a line of cars some 30 vehicles deep.  He wisely stated that he lived through the energy crisis in the Jimmy Carter years where drivers sat in long gas station lines.  Rationing depended upon your licence plate ending in an odd or even number, coinciding with the odd or even calendar date. He commented that the 1970’s crisis was real and lengthy, but that this was just the public acting stupid. There was one lady in the pump line who HAD a full tank but brought a can with her, while the man behind her in line was running on fumes.  As for me, all I saw were cows sitting behind the steering wheels (excuse the pun).

Compliments from Harvey (see my post from Aug 30), the Texas coastal oil platforms and refineries were interrupted and halted due to the hurricane and its aftermath.  Energy experts weren’t caught off guard.  They expected a hick-up, price per gallon temporarily rising, but not a devastating fuel shortage crisis.  Plans for reserves, along with various other pipelines, would bridge the gap and are doing just that as I type. Meanwhile, we get to see the worst in the consumer behavior, in my opinion.  The rushing run on gas pumps “caused” the temporary shortages, gas stations closing, pumps with yellow tape around them, etc.  We, the people, caused our own crisis, short-lived as it may be.  Forgive me if you were caught up in the fray.  My intention is not to offend.

What we are observing in the post-Harvey wake, are clear indications of the waning “hope” barometer of our society as a whole.  Let’s face it, there seems to be a spiraling of sorts across the world:  Scenes of North Korea missile/bomb idiocy…  Unheard-of international and domestic terrorism…  The violent viciousness to shut down free speech… Then, there’s the public disdain for righteous thought and practice… The ongoing rising war against all things of Judaeo/Christian thought… The political numbness and gridlock  from disregarding voter’s ballots… Videos of the bloody rioting and looting in the streets by thumb-suckers who can’t even balance a checkbook… Chicken Littles who rant and rave concerning planet warmth complete with CGI of rising tides that will erase half of the continents… Heightened ethnic uprisings among fellow citizens… Rumors of a possible new civil war…  A radical move to erase whatever history some don’t want to be reminded of because it might hurt their feelings… While some are bankrolled to drive violent chaos in the public square, not even having an ideology or doctrine of their own… And on and on and on and on…  Indeed, I could go on.  There’s enough groaning to orbit the earth for another millennia.

The earth is trembling for peace and safety without a hint of solutions anytime soon.  A simple hint of a small speed-bump in the Texas fuel pricing or flow is all it takes for “herd behavior” as the stampede tramples away at common sense and patience, while disregarding stable minds who pull back and see the larger true picture.  Imagine, just imagine how the public of such a society will respond to an authentic crisis.  We lead by fear, or so it seems.  Do we not cause our own calamity in life?  Do we not cause our own dry tanks?  Do we not empty out our own energy reserves simply because of anticipated fears, folly and faithlessness?  I’m sorry that I have lived long enough to see its foothills, but I believe we are witnesses to what erosion of true hope and faithlessness does.

No matter if you are an atheist, agnostic, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Jew, Gentile, Christian, you might find the following words comforting, only if you hold back your knee-jerk bias of your leaning or preconceived positions.  Try it and read the next paragraph.

A man, a dethroned prince, who was raised in religions that worshiped kings, queens and the sun, moon and stars was running on empty himself from a personal crisis. Without warning he was spoken to by God, the true One who he had not searched out, in the form of a bush that burned, yet not consumed.  When he pulled up his bravery, he asked the voice coming from the burning branches to identify Himself.  No doubt, coming from the most educated and most powerful kingdom on earth, he must have thought he might have studied this “god” in the list.  The God answered in a mysterious way that speaks loudly to this very day and long after I’m gone.  “I AM that I AM!”  Unlike any other deity known in all the stone tablets, scrolls and bound leather volumes of earth’s history, this God envelopes time and continuum all wrapped in His personal name.  In fact, like a perpetual looping, there is no beginning or ending, no before the alpha or after the omega, as He described His name to this man of royalty.

What is that to me?  What is that to you?  Plenty.  I heard it explained in these terms and it’s truly the best deciphering of this name I can possibly deliver to you.

I AM in your past…right now.  I AM in your present…right now.  I AM in your future…right now.  It’s difficult to wrap your arms around the idea.  He was there with me before I got here.  He is here now as I arrive.  He is in my future when I arrive to see Him there.  All encompassing.

Match THAT, gas tank.  No need to run on empty.  No need to BE emptied.  No need to suck off of emptiness.  Be fueled for the race.

“Some boast (trust) in chariots (4-cylinders),and some in horses (hybrid engines), but we will boast (trust) in the name of the LORD, our God.” – Psalm 20:7 (NAS & Alan’s interpretation commentary)

So Long, Harvey

Photo:  NOAA Radar

“Oh, can’t you see the morning after?  It’s waiting right outside the storm. Why don’t we cross the bridge together and find a place that’s safe and warm?” – “The Morning After.”  Composers, Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn, recorded by Maureen McGovern for 20th Century Label, 1972.

Nasty, isn’t it? (Not the song, but Harvey.)  I write this on Wed afternoon, Aug. 30, 2017 and still historic Harvey continues to dump his rain along the Texas coast and Louisiana. Rain totals continue to be calculated in the trillions of gallons.  The mayhem, the destruction of this ravenous hurricane has ripped open the heart and peace of the Texas coast.  The healing has already begun.

When Harvey was first named, I immediately thought of the movie by the same name, based on Mary Chases’s play.  From Universal Pictures, a sweet 1950 comedy-drama, “Harvey” with James Stewart.  It involved a man, a slightly off, yet peaceful man, who claimed he had a close companion named Harvey, a 6′ 3.5″ invisible rabbit.  His family, and most of the small town he lived in, accepted this oddity about James Stewart’s character, Elwood P. Dowd.  Whenever he introduced Harvey to anyone Elwood seemed surprised about the raised eyebrows and opened mouths displayed during the introduction.  Harmless to the core, Elwood explained a bit about himself in a piece of dialogue. (I’ll try to use my best Jimmy Stewart impersonation here.)  “Years ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say, ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be’ – she always called me Elwood – ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart.  I recommend pleasant.  You may quote me.”

It made you smile, or you smiled on the inside, right?  You know why?

Unlike Elwood P. Dowd and his polite invisible associate Harvey, hurricanes tend to be the opposite in nature.  Just ask the 20,000+ homeless flood victims of Houston, Port Aransas or Beaumont.  Take a look at the floating carcasses of cattle and submerged homes.  Far from pleasant or smart.

While watching the radar with hurricane Katrina lodged in my brain, I braced for the worst news and videos to come.  I have kept in contact with a few friends and family living in Houston and praying for a good week now for them all. Yet, at the same time I realized there are people just like Katrina and Harvey. You may know one or two yourself.  Have you noticed?  Allow me to draw a profile for you.

Just like a venomous storm coming ashore, this person feeds on damaging all around you and all above you and all beneath you with a violence unmatched by anything else you have personally witnessed.  Words of raging lava erupt and in the spewing, consumes everything good in the path of verbiage.  When done and cooled, the flow turns to rock and all loveliness growing under its belly is evaporated away.  In fact, you might have noticed this person blows away any goodness of heart in his/her target range damaging reputation, righteousness and personal renovations.  Usually in retrospect, through cautious inspection and inventory, you align such an individual as a wrecking ball of demolition against house, home and honor.  If a structural engineer could inspect your heart and mind after such, they would deem you structurally unsound, unable to hold up in a strong gust and surge in your future.  Dreams, goals, family and lives are crushed and drowned in the flood of a violent, murderous spirit.  In this person’s intense overwhelming tide to perform a scorched earth, they will delight, even laugh in the wake. I hesitate to write the following line, but I will.  Although I have never been in a hurricane, my life has been wrecked by such a wall of wind and water, so to speak.  In fact, twice the surge within its evildoing almost took my life.  If it sounds like I am a survivor, I am.

Harvey was devastating to millions of my fellow Texans.  The clean up and rebuilding will be tedious and lengthy.   Likewise, if you are close to someone like Harvey the hurricane, who enjoys attacking all that Paul lists in Philippians 4:8, my recommendation is…EVACUATE THE AREA!  On the other hand, if you find yourself to be a destroyer, I urge you to take the nearest, holiest exit ramp.  Ask forgiveness, give aid to your victim and make the u-turn.

“…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things.” – Paul, Philippians 4:8 

Like Elwood, I choose to be pleasant in search for a morning after.

As for Maureen’s song of hope and extended love, “The Morning After”, Harvey the hurricane won’t like the 3rd verse.  It is most significant now and it floods us with fuel for the race.

“It’s not too late, we should be giving.  Only with love can we climb.  It’s not too late, not while we’re living.  Let’s put our hands out in time.” – The Morning After 

www.redcross.org

www.salvationarmy.org

www.samaritanspurse.org

The Incredible Shrinking Man

“I will remember you, will you remember me?  Don’t let your life pass you by.  Weep not for the memories.” – Compose by:  Sarah McLachlan, Seamus Egan & Dave Merenda. Recorded on Sarah’s project, “Rarities, B-Sides and Other Stuff”, released in 1996 on the Nettwerk label.

So will you?  Will you remember Sarah McLachlan in 100 years or more?  What about, Frank Sinatra, John Wayne, John Lennon or Elvis maybe.  (Although, tourism has declined at Graceland in recent years.)  I love Sarah McLachlan, but only the iconic are remembered after a century or more.  Just ask Mozart, Beethoven or Caruso.                 ME:  Or, maybe George W. Johnson! See what I mean? (George was the first African-American vocalist to be recorded in 1890.)                                                                               YOU:  Oh, yeah, THAT George W. Johnson!                                                                                 ME:  Come on, don’t kid me.

Okay, so you’re not an icon….or are you?  Doesn’t it depend on who analyzes you today?  I dare say Barbra Streisand might be a global icon that may survive another ten decades, but you may not be a Streisand.  In the end, does it really matter?  Does it matter to you?

In 1957, Hollywood put out a slew of memorable movies.  One of which, “The Incredible Shrinking Man”.  Surely you remember catching it on a late night movie slot on television.  When I was a kid I recall the fright that went through my body watching the tiny Tom Thumb-of-a-man fight for his life as a normal sized spider wanted him for breakfast.  If memory serves me right, just before being gulped, he slew the spider with a sewing needle, or safety pin that, to him, was the size of a pole.  He kept shrinking into a speck of a man trying to survive the flood of a drop of water, a dinosaur-sized house cat, etc.  Great effects for 1957 cinema.  The smaller he got the more his shrinking voice couldn’t be heard screaming for help.  Before you knew it, his friends could no longer see him as he transformed more and more into the microscopic. It’s the stuff nightmares are made of. I do remember dreaming my mom shrunk and fell into the sound hole of my toy guitar, unable to get out, no matter how hard I tried to rescue her.

We too will shrink.  You realize this, right?  Maybe you already have.  It’s not science fiction.  For some of us, it’s quite alright.  That’s what memorials and tombstones are for. At the cemetery, I am always surprised to have to reboot my memory of birth and death dates of family long since gone.  Sad, really.  The truth is, after you are put in the ground, or your ashes are spread, the memory of you immediately begins to shrink.  Not long after you’re gone, your Facebook friends will be too.  Generation after generation of descendants may not read of you, hear of you, or even know where your grave lies. The Who might ask, “So tell, who are you?  I really want to know.”                                         Allow me to ask again.  Does this matter to you?

“Each day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children” – Chuck Swindoll.  There’s something to be said about the overly used phrase, “We preach our funerals everyday.”

The old faded photo above I believe to be, Robert Samuel Martin.  He was born 12/14/1848, died 8/20/1917.  I say, “I believe to be…” because I am going by old records from a great aunt, I didn’t know well, who is also long since dead.  If I am accurate, Mr. Martin was my great-great grandfather on my mother’s side.  That’s it!  I know nothing else about the man.  He’s only been dead for 100 years this month and I am at a loss when it comes to just “WHO” he was.  I want to pick up my cell phone or hook him up on Skype for an interview.  Was he a singer?  Was he a farmer?  Could he read?  What did he like to read?  What were his habits?  What and who did he love most in life?  What stock did he put in the society and politics of his day?  Better question might be, did he care? Who told him to wear his Sunday-go-to-meetin’-clothes for this photo?  When told, did he laugh, balk or cuss?  Did he know he would have a great-great grandson who would have a similar beard?  Did he fight in the Civil War as a teen?  It’s all guess work.  I’m afraid the good, bad or ugly will stay a mystery concerning grandpa Martin.  Alas, I will never know.

What will they say about me in 100 years, if anything?  How interested today are my own children?  How many questions have they asked me about my thoughts, habits and life? That is a solid gauge to measure what my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will know of me.  Am I preaching my funeral everyday, or will I be another incredible shrinking man out in a cemetery somewhere?

Choices, choices.

“A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth.” – King Solomon, Ecclesiastes 7:1 (ESV)

 

Totality!

“Once upon a time there was light in my life.  But now there’s only love in the dark.  Nothing I can say.  A total eclipse of the heart.” – Composer:  Jim Steinman, on Bonnie Tyler’s, Faster Than The Speed Of Night project- (1983)

Am I right?  Flashback city! (At least for some of us.)  It’s been reported that 66 year old Bonnie Tyler’s 1983 hit, “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” made the current charts again this month all because of Monday’s solar eclipse.  Good for her!  I watched it, did you?  How’s your eyes?  I wonder if my retina specialist is super busy this week.  Hopefully you can read this.

It’s always surprising to me, to an extent, how a cosmic event rouses the curiosity and exuberance of the general public.  People from all corners of the planet spent thousands of dollars per person to make it to the American solar eclipse to view it in its totality.  As for me, I went out to the front yard to watch a partial eclipse right here in the Dallas, TX area.  It made for an eerie sky-show and a good Monday afternoon with my wife and daughter.  The effects of the moon’s robbery of sun-rays are amazing indeed.  Before I knew it, around 12:45 pm, the interior of our house faded to a dusk atmosphere. Nature was flipped on its ear.  Animals were confused, temperatures dropped and the shadows did a mysterious dance. The media reported roosters crowing in bewilderment.  Unlike some, I neglected to wear an aluminum foil hat.  I’m happy to say I made out okay without one.  All in all, it was a good Monday.

An old friend sent me good-natured message ahead of the galactic event.  It read, “Mind the power of Monday’s eclipse crossing America coast to coast, positive energy for new beginnings.”  One thing written there came true for a couple of hours: America stopped chewing on each other over politics and statues of old dead Americans.  Like a great anticipated Star Wars movie debut, all eyes were fixated on the show in the sky. (Although a Star Wars sequel would’ve lasted longer.)  Beyond that, have you had a renewal since Monday afternoon?  Is your personal energy different than it was this past weekend?  Will you never again in your rush to head out the door on time say to yourself, “I’ve got to get myself together!”  In other words, are you together?  Would the person who knows you best, and has seen it all, say you are in a personal…totality?  Do you find you are made aware of a more positive outlook on the world, concerning things around you, since that good celestial and sequenced display above us?  (I say “sequenced” only because we ourselves proved it to be so.  We have expected it since, or before, 1918 as the astrophysicists calculated its clock-like arrival down to the synchronized millisecond.  There was no chaos involved as observed in fragments from a bomb explosion.  I’ll stop there.)  If you have more positive energy with a sparkling new beginning in life since that 2:28 long eclipse totality, compliments of the orbit of the moon, I’m happy for you.  I really am.  Tell me your lasting euphoric secret.  As for me, I don’t hang my spiritual joy hat on an eclipse.  Just like the eclipse, whatever burst of positive energetic renewal experienced, it is momentary with a quick shelf-life. Just take a look at the news, or Facebook, to see what the truth is about the matter. In spite of my obvious nay-saying above, it made for a good Monday.

Let me ask you a question.  If it’s too bold of a question, or too private, I will understand. Here goes.  Are you ready for this?  Have you ever used the word, “TOTALITY” prior to the days of the eclipse?  Maybe you have.  In all of my uneducated buffoonery and slaughter of the English language, I don’t believe I have ever even heard it.  However, I like the way it sounds.  Very brainy.  Very scientific, don’t you think?  NASA must utilize the word in common lingo in Houston, TX.  If used, I think I should understand its definition.

For a 70 mile swipe across America, the eclipse certainly was seen in its…totality, its completeness, its conglomeration, its wholeness, its entire kit and kaboodle.  The totality was part of the ingredients that mixed well for a good Monday had by all from Oregon to South Carolina.

Here’s the next hard question.  First, allow me to ask, are you brave enough for this curve-ball I’m about to type?  Inhale and hold it now……How is YOUR “totality”?  How complete are you? When the lunar dust settles, are you all-together?  Could it be you’re still looking for another eclipse to straighten out your existence?  It truly is in that word…“TOTALITY”.

Totality truly does come interestingly close to another original word we get from classical Greek.  The word that comes to mind is, “TETELESTAI”, (tuh-TELL-eh-sti), at least that’s how I recall it is pronounced.

My brilliant stepson, Alex, whom recently, after completing years of rigorous study and microscopic examinations, received his doctorate in computer science.  After defending his dissertation he was awarded his PhD.  A true completion.  An earned accomplishment.  A good day for Alex.  An Australian man, after spending $4,000.00 (That’s a long flight), arrived at his destination in a field in Idaho to harness a totality view of the eclipse.  A reporter asked him if there was a sense of completion, as he was folding up his pup tent in the crowded pasture, he answered in the affirmative.  A good Monday for the Aussie.  Whenever I wrote, cast, produced, directed, performed and finished post production on one of my radio theater plays, I always had this peaceful sense of accomplishment.  Hundreds of excruciating hours ended in a release of tension, listening to the end product of the body of work.  It always made for a good day. Completion, accomplishment, attainment or achievement can all fall under the definition of “tetelestai”, but they also fall shy of…you guessed it, totality.

How about this for “positive energy for new beginnings”?

Greek is a very colorful extended language.  It shades, colors and deepens the vocabulary in multi-level arrangements.  The word “tetelestai” was mainly used by accountants, bankers and merchants.  During, and hundreds of years prior to, the first century, any country who used Greek as a first, second or third language, understood the labeling of “tetelestai” as written confirmation for the purchase of goods and the paying off of a debt.  Some, after paying off a mortgage, have a mortgage burning party to celebrate the victory of completing the loan on their home. Before its tossed into the fireplace, somewhere on the paperwork, it is indicated the mortgage has been successfully paid for, completed, accomplished.  The homeowner could shout, “TETELESTAI!”

This ancient Greek accounting term was used only twice in biblical scripture.  Its final appearance in the original Greek text was translated by the English scribes as the word, “finished”.  The text depicts a Friday afternoon.  It’s found in John 19:30. “Then after He received the sour wine Jesus said, ‘It is (tetelestai) finished’, and bowed His head and gave up His spirit.”  A Greek word, chosen by an eye-witness at the cross of execution, the Apostle John, literally points to a certificate of debt paid in fullness. That is probably the most profound theological statement in all of holy writ.  NO MORE INSTALLMENTS, TEMPORARY COVERINGS, (eclipses) OR ETERNAL DAMNATION FOR THOSE WHO BELIEVE AND RECEIVE!  Fabulous news that shifts the earth’s tectonic plates to this day.

Totality simply isn’t strong enough a term to place in John 19:30.  John was reflecting the last words of Jesus as He cried out the fact that the penalty, the price of the sin-debt owed by all humanity, had been “TETELESTAI”…PAID IN FULL!  An offer no other “god” or ideology extends.  What Jesus did was the zenith of uniqueness.  A debt from my failures, my stupid leanings against God’s perfect road laid out for me, my infractions, my transgressions slapping up against of His holiness, not only had been forgiven, but the certificate of debt, the mortgage for this corrupt “house I live in” was burned away and placed in the fire of His grace of forgetfulness.  It is in that correct biblical aspect of the divine pro-action He placed upon Himself, we see a gift card of sorts.

I still have a Starbucks gift card in my wallet I received from Christmas, nine months ago.  Although, I have yet to receive my java.  Someone loved me enough and went ahead of me to purchase it, not with MY wages, but out of his unconditional love for me.  Jesus’ gift card has been offered to you, but it truly isn’t yours to “cash-in” until you take it to your own wallet of heart.  The debt of all disobedient actions placed on your record is ready to be burned away forever because of “tetelestai”.  If this is news to you, take note. Although tetelestai happened some 2, 000 years ago, the itemized list of infringements against God’s righteousness remains on your balance sheet.  Being a great person, a good citizen or decent parent, falls short of the majesty of God’s holiness.  NOBODY CAN OBTAIN IT!  We are automatically in the red.  It’s like someone saying, “Mind the power of Monday’s eclipse….positive energy for new beginnings” and now you find the eclipse didn’t perform such spiritual depths.  Try going to the shores of San Francisco and make the leap to Hawaii.  It can’t be done.  It fails you every time, just like our good Monday of totality. The answer to this dilemma? (My paraphrase) “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him will not eternally perish but will have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Yes, Virginia, there was a good Friday and those who believed and received continue to see perpetual fuel for the race.

“When I consider Your heavens, the works of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?” – King David, Psalms 8:3-4 (NAS)

Hey, What Sign Are YOU?

“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign, blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind.  Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?” – Five Man Electrical Band, released in 1971. Composer, Les Emmerson, Ottawa, Canada.

I just finished listening to that cut from 1970-1971.  Wow, the kaleidoscope of memories from my “mind of mush” years came leaking in.  Google it and hear this obscure anti-establishment lyric.  It’s all about a rush of anger at signs, mainly signs of directives.  The songwriter blathers about disobeying and mocking every sign he sees because…well….uh, because…I guess it was the hippie thing to do to “stick it to the man” and everybody that looks like him.  (Actually, watching the news today, that old sentiment seems to be new again.)  If you give it a listen with mature ears it’ll make you cackle, but when I was 11-12 years old I was singing it as a duo with my radio at the top of my lungs.  But, ya know, it never caused me to act-out with sign damage or civil disobedience.  I think it hilarious knowing after they recorded the tune, they drove up to a stop sign and stopped. It’s evident since they survived the journey home.  I’m happy to report, Les Emmerson, the composer, is now almost 73 years old and still playing their old hits. After making a few million off his songs, he no doubt bought a mansion.  I will assume here he must’ve hung a no trespassing sign somewhere on his high-walled gate.  He, himself, turned out to be “the man”. ($$$$)

Signs are on my mind of late.  My 18 year old daughter, D’Anna, is learning how to drive. She’s really doing very well.  She’s learning how to interpret road signs galore.  If she turns right on a red light where a “no right on red” sign is displayed, off comes the points on her upcoming driver’s test.  If there were no signs of instruction, she certainly would be introduced to frequent collisions.  And, of course, if there were a lack of signage concerning geography, she would wind up two states over in short order.

Almost 10 years ago, while living in Buffalo, NY, I had an evening business appointment in the southern tier close to Gowanda, NY.  The “southtowns” beneath Buffalo are blessed with beautiful, picturesque countryside.  You name it, they’ve got it, including ski resorts. I want to say it was December of 2007.  From where I lived, I knew it was a good hour’s drive.  I looked at the clock and off I went.  As often true in the western New York frontier, in a moment’s notice, a lake effect snowfall began (compliments of Lake Erie) while on my journey.  Dusk was done and I was being mesmerized by the gigantic, flakes flying toward my windshield with a velvet black background.  A word to the wise. Exercise caution!  One can fall asleep as the snow effect can seduce and hypnotize.  I was in my trusted “Moose”, a stout Isuzu Trooper, and felt the 4-wheel drive would get me there on time….(said the all-knowing-Texas-born-and bred-fool). Fast forward about 50 minutes or so, I suddenly found myself lost as a flock of baby Canadian Geese.  My cell phone, and that’s all it was back in those days, had zero bars showing.  Dreams of the tragic movies about Mt Everest climbers raced through my mind as I realized I was experiencing a full-blown blizzard with very little light and very little speed.  Truly, the depth of snow can reach a foot or more in an hour in that part of NY, and it did.  I had printed directions from Mapsco. (Remember Mapsco?  You may have to Google that one too.)  I will tell now, it didn’t cover road directions in certain areas as you’re about to see.

Without too much detail on my wintry maze, I arrived at a sparse area.  If I were to describe it, I would sum it up as an old gas station/general store in a wooden frame-style building that looked to be from Opie’s Mayberry, and then nothing for 6 miles. There was an old silver mobile home from time to time, but there were no street lights to aid my snowy vision.  There was nothing but black and white.  I noticed something else strange….NO STREET SIGNS!  Wrong.  I saw one small street sign at a tiny country road intersection, but it was encased in blowing snow making it illegible.  I got out to see if I could wipe it off, but it was too tall, not to mention the snowbank was already to my hips.  Every other country road, including the main road I was on, wasn’t labelled with signs.  I was just about to give up and go back the way I came in the darkness when I saw a distant light.  As I approached the light, I could make out a building with a few pick-up trucks in the parking lot.  Unlike the gas station/general store a few miles behind me, this looked to be a modern building.  My watch said it was about 9:30.  I pulled up into the parking lot and saw it was a civic/recreational center of some kind.  I made my way up to the front entrance and felt as if I were in another country altogether. Turns out, I was.  I had somehow made my way onto the sprawling Cattaraugus Indian Reservation.

To say I was a flopping fish out of water would be an understatement.  It was clear by the looks I received from the citizens there, I was no longer in Kansas with Dorothy’s old Auntie Em.  Turns out it was domino night.  A group of men, around a card table, looked at me as if I had a grass skirt on.  I said, “Hi, how are ya?  I could use some help.”  One of the men responded in a frigid way that went nicely with the weather outside.  When I said I was lost and couldn’t figure out why there were no street signs, the man said, “You don’t belong here, that’s why.”  I’m the only one that chuckled at his reply.  When I told them I was on my way to the town of Gowanda, they were slow to give me directions using landmarks only.  Apparently, if you live on the reservation, you have no need for street signs.  It went something like, “At the post, turn right.  At the bear crossing sign, turn left, cross the log bridge…”, etc.  It took a chunk of time, with the icy trek given me, but I made my way out of the reservation.  Embarrassed and frozen, I arrived almost an hour and a half after my scheduled appointment.  They accepted my apology as I warmed myself by their fireplace.  Needless to say, I went back another direction at the end of the meeting.

Signs are important. A necessity, really.  Scroll up and see the picture from an old friend who recently visited the canyons of Grand Junction, Co.  Would Les Emmerson reject that sign and sing, “WHAT GIVES YOU THE RIGHT?”  Watch that last step, Les.  It’s a long one.

How many signs will my D’Anna see as she drives out on her own?  “No U-Turn, Green Arrow Turn Only, Duck Crossing, Elk Crossing, Deer Crossing, Gator Crossing, School Zone, No Passing Yellow Line, Comfort, Tx -7 miles, Cut And Shoot, Tx -5 miles, Woman Hollering Creek, Tx -10 miles, Hell, Michigan -4 miles, Paradise, Tx -25 miles, West, Tx -10 miles, Italy, Tx -6 miles, Fishkill, NY -50 miles, Welcome to Muleshoe, Tx”  etc.  She could see them all.  They exist.

My most memorable signs were not posted on the road. Do you know what I mean? Have you been there, done that?  You’re thinking of one now.  How about the signs that whisper, “Don’t look at a solar eclipse without protection,” “Don’t go to their house tonight,” “Your buddy has an open can of beer in the cup holder.  You shouldn’t be in the car,” “Slow down before rounding this curb,” “Get your eyes off of her/him,” “Don’t stay angry. Peace, be still,” “Apply for THAT job,” “Run from THAT job,” “Don’t invest in that offer,” “Don’t take that last drink,” “Oops, the label says Opioid,” “You’re sinking into a bad place here,” “Refrain from kicking his teeth in,” etc. Some of these can bring a laugh, but most can bring heartache, destruction and depression.  Have you ever had a LOUD thought about turning here or there, only to find out later, a bridge collapsed or a tragic accident took place ahead of your intended direction, at that precise time?  Your default inner response was something like, “Wow.  I dodged that bullet.”  I know, it helped to smooth over, to clumsily explain the obvious whisper that nudged you earlier.  You physically shrugged and off you went with your day.

Some signs will be spoken softly to your heart while other signs can be heard aloud by a passerby, friend, family member or a teacher.  Often, in amazement, you recognize it only in retrospect. Other signs can read like this one: “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” -King Solomon, Proverbs 14:12 (NIV)  Or, from someone who knows you and the road you’re on better than you know yourself, “Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” -Jesus, Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV).

Without groveling — dishing out sin-sick self-history — I will say, I am living proof that a non-audible sign can be clearly given, that no one else hears, and then pushed off as silly fears of anticipation or imagination.  Watch the footing, the edge is close by.  Heeding such a sign will definitely add fuel for the race.

“Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be.  And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer.  If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.” – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.

Let That Be Your Last Battlefield

“Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony.  Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh Lord, why don’t we?” – Paul McCartney from “Tug Of War” project in April, 1982. Guest artist, Stevie Wonder. (Parlophone and Columbia labels)

Did I catch you singing the line?  Come on, admit it.  Unless you were away from the radio in 1982, you know the giant hooks in this ear-candy song from Sir Paul, with a little help from his friend, Stevie Wonder.  Stevie isn’t his friend because Stevie is white or black.  Stevie is his friend because Stevie and Paul respect and love one another.  Where am I going with that bold statement?  Stay with me and allow me to surprise you.

When I started this blog a few short days ago, I swore I would not write about politics, and I will not start today.  (There’s plenty out there for your selected pleasure.)  So, fear not!  No political pundit rhetoric here, but I reserve the right to speak eternal truths.  It takes a strong person to read on at this point.  Are you up for it?

There was a little boy about three or four years old who lived with his mom and her parents in Greenville, Texas, about an hour east of Dallas.  On Saturday mornings, during commercial breaks on Bugs Bunny, his blue eyes grew larger as he found himself peering out the living room French door.   For him it was more than a weekend ritual for one reason and one reason only.  Usually before lunchtime, an elderly weathered African-American with old hard leather lace-up shoes would walk up the street dragging an old lawnmower.  His name was Mr. Amos.  (No one really knew if it was his first name or his surname.)  He was easy to spot.  He had a red rag hanging out the back pocket of his worn-out pants.  When the song, “Mr. Bojangles” hit the airwaves in 1971, the lyrics would remind that young kid very much of Mr. Amos from years prior.  Unlike Mr. Bojangles, Mr. Amos wasn’t a homeless nomad roaming the country.  He lived in the neighborhood, although he was a man of poverty.  He took great pride in his work.  He would come to the door to let the grandmother of the boy know he was there and ready to get started.  He was always welcomed with a smile and a handshake.  He was hard-working, kind and honest. Generally, after he wrapped up the front yard, before he made his way to the backyard, the little lad would ask his grandmother for a cold bottle of Dr. Pepper right out of the fridge.  She expected the request because she once gave the little munchkin the idea.  She would pop the bottle-top open handing him the chilled bottleneck.  With an enormous grin on his face that would make a dentist proud, he would run out the door straight up to the sweaty old man and say, “Hi, Mr. Amos! Here’s your Dr. Pepper.”  Without hesitation, the elderly man put it to his mouth and pointed the bottom toward the hot sun for a marathon swig.  The young boy’s jaw would drop every time as he watched in amazement Mr. Amos chugging down the entire bottle of Dr. Pepper without taking a breath.  Afterwards he wiped his mouth on his sleeve, handed the empty bottle back to the tot and say, with a hardy rough voice like Louis Armstrong, “Ahhhhh, that’s my boy!”  The boy would giggle and run back inside to hand the empty bottle back to his grandmother.  Still in awe he would shout out, “Grandmother, he did it again!  He drank the whole thing!”  For a brief moment the little one thought it cool that the old wrinkled man felt akin to him.  After all, he did say, “MY boy”.  There is an uncertainty just how many years went on as Mr. Amos aged, sucking down Dr. Peppers as the growing boy looked on.  As always, Mr. Amos would receive a nice sum in cash for his work and off he went to his next yard.

One day, while Mr. Amos was mowing the lawn, his adult son and daughter-in-law suddenly drove up and parked in the driveway.  There would be shouting between the old man and his son as if it were an ongoing feud.  The boy hurried to the nearest window to hear what he could hear as his grandparents went to the door to see what the disturbance was all about.  The young lad heard the son raising his voice about how he shouldn’t be mowing lawns at his age.  Mr. Amos pushed back as he defended his valuable work ethic.  When the son seemed to come to the end of his case and point, he made a snide comment concerning working for these “white folk” and how he was being “used” by the “white folk”.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Mr. Amos was respected and appreciated by the family.  He did solid work and was paid well for it.  Yet, his son was reflecting a racial issue of that time, being in the mid 1960s.  I’m sorry to say, he was using the race card to pull him back home, against his will.  The grandfather of the house slipped Mr. Amos some cash and told him it would be best to go with his son and work out their differences at home.  He was never seen again.

I loved Mr. Amos.  Did I know he was black, a different color than me?  Sure, I did.  In fact, I would intentionally touch or shake his hand just to see if the color would rub off onto mine.  He brought me a bit of joy on Saturday mornings.  I loved serving him those Dr. Peppers, too.  Why?  It’s simple.  He loved Dr. Pepper and I knew it.  I wanted to share something I had that produced a big smile.  Although I could see he was a different color than me, it mattered not through my lens of innocence.  It was the man I cared for.

A few years later I watched a Star Trek episode in January of 1969 entitled, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”.  (Google this one)  If you’re a 1960s Star Trek fan, you’ll recall it. Without going into great plot detail, I will give you a snippet of story-line.  It had to do with the hatred of two mutually belligerent aliens on a distant planet. They shared the same planet, the same air, but despised one another because they were trained to have disgust for the other from generations gone by.  The prejudice manifested itself in mindless violence.  The two men were from one species, but from different ethnic bloodlines.  The difference?  Both were the same at first glance.  Half of the face was black, the other half was white.  However, one had white skin on the right side while the other man had white skin on the left side. DONE! That’s it!  One was subservient to the other because of that tiny, molecular contrast.  (You may have noticed, like Rod Serling, often Star Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry would carve-out social issues of the day in the scripts.)

Then came my 7th grade year.  I was often found in the middle of racially charged fights at my junior high school in Sherman, Texas.  Interestingly enough, I was friendly to everyone, but I was white and that made me a target. White attacking black and black attacking white. The national civil rights disputes and riots were still lingering, and busing students for desegregation purposes had begun.  That atmosphere was so far removed from my relationship with Mr. Amos.  It confused and saddened me.   Memories of the verbal battle I heard from my grandparent’s window flooded my mind. The bigotry was a vile hatred that blocked out honor, respect and love.

Fast forward to August 12th, this past Saturday morning in the streets of Charlottesville, VA, once again two factions from the same planet, who could take blood transfusions from one another, replayed the old Star Trek episode in a very real, organized, and damaging slant. You’ve seen the news, I won’t relive it here blow-by-blow.  What I will spew out is my “hatred” for the evil that fathers such darkness. Yes, I used the word, “evil”, as if it were a reality, because it is. To neglect its existence is to surely become its constant victim.

No matter if you are black or white, BLM member or card-carrying KKK associate, Jew or Gentile, Christian or Muslim, if you bring a weapon, shield and helmet to a protest rally, you are coming to shed blood.  Enough said!

White supremacy doctrine follows the director and producer, the event promoter of such rallies…the ancient Fallen One Himself, the original Divider, a master at the chessboard with humanity as the pawns. It’s not a political movement, or an organization to preserve the history of southern states.  It’s hatred 101.  It’s putrid sewage stains without true removal.  It goes way back to Cain and Abel in Genesis.  Neo-Nazis, KKK, Skinheads and the like, are all condemned with a platform of a cursed notion poisoning the very soil of the earth.  In fact, the same goes for civil lawlessness, destruction and violence from any race or school of thought.

Yesterday, my daughter decided to educate herself on the white supremacists.  She looked up a couple of websites and got an eyeful.  The lewdness from their creed describes the degradation of women.  She read if a woman can not reproduce, she should be removed and exterminated.  Woman was created to serve man and be pregnant, etc. Among other outrageous atrocities, it mentions, “the Jewish problem”.

I always wondered what happened to old Mr. Amos and how much longer he lived.  He was a kind soul.  I am sure he lived long enough to understand that racism is here to stay, in fact, within his own house.  I’m certain with aging eyes he saw racism will not ebb away like erosion because of the so called, “evolution” of humanity.  Nor will you.

The one thing the white supremacists were right about.  THEY HAVE A JEWISH PROBLEM! THE KING OF THE JEWS WILL BE THEIR ULTIMATE JUDGE!  That gives this adopted Jew, fuel for the race.

“Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  And He will place the sheep on His right, but the goats on His left…” -Jesus, from Matthew 25:32-33 (ESV)  

Everlast…Really?

“All things must pass.  None of life’s strings can last.  So I must be on my way, and face another day…” – George Harrison, “All Things Must Pass” (1970 Apple Records)

Old Joe was given to me in 1985.  He was my first non-speaking workout buddy.  He was also a terrible sparring partner.  I should’ve known from hearing the words of the great Bruce Lee.  Famously, the master himself said, “Bags don’t punch back.”  I will take issue with Mr. Lee in one area.  A 70 pounder will indeed obey the laws of physics as inertia has its way, swinging back to your body.  70 pounds of dead weight will eat your lunch.

I had been a martial artist since 1973 and was trained in boxing, albeit ever so lightly, by an uncle as a kid.  When I finally dove headlong into training in Tae-Kwon-Do and kickboxing, the following year, I was immediately enamored by the pro fighter’s work on the heavy bag in the corner of the heat balm scented dojo.  The sheer thrust of a step-sidekick firmly planted in the middle of the bag (with an impact of maybe 50mph or so) can fold the swinging bag into an “>-shaped” lump of canvas, cotton and sand.  Imagine what that can do to a human attacker taking two steps toward that flying foot targeting the ribs or chest.  You get the picture.  You should hear the tremendous sound it makes.

I had lived in an apartment during my teen years never having the opportunity to own a heavy bag myself.  Later, adulthood landed me in a house with a nice garage for such a purpose.  If memory serves me right, it was a birthday gift.  I wasted zero time in hanging it from the rafters, via a thick chain. I dubbed him, “Old Joe”.  Old Joe made me feel pretty old after a few years.  We both aged.  The only difference was, he never gained weight. (How does that happen?)

Old Joe watched from the garage as three baby girls were added to our routine.  Old Joe was especially present when I had gone through a rough day on the job, or when the lawn mower broke-down, or when a lay-off entered my day.  Yep, he was very understanding as I beat the dummy right out of him.  He had no face, no snide comments or selective profanity to fling my way.  Old Joe was guilty of one infraction during those sweaty sessions.  He always taunted me as I punched and kicked through my pains and sorrows with the uppercase inked word, “EVERLAST”.  Somehow frustratingly reminding me I can endure even when beaten down.  Other than that word, often sarcastically jabbing me in my weakest emotional days, he was always there, just quietly hanging around.

One day, Old Joe was awarded with some fresh air. (He began to stink.  Honest admission.)  We had moved to another part of town into a bigger house as my second daughter, Megan was born in December of ’89.  The backyard patio was larger than what I had before, with a nice portico laced with heavily beamed rafters above.  I grew older and more out of shape, no longer training regularly in the martial arts, while Old Joe began to show his age too.  Yes, I became a bag abuser.  Over the years of slackness the weather slammed Old Joe around.  I covered him a few times with Scotchgard rain repellent and then I got lazy.  Afterwards, the expanding years brought a new member to the family.  Wolfgang, our salt-n-pepper Great Dane was adopted into our home, all 134 pounds of him.  You could label him, Puppus-Maximus-Rex.  One of his many adventures was taking a large frozen beef roast off the kitchen counter consuming not only the hunk of bovine, but the plastic and Styrofoam wrapping to boot.  I swear, I saw him smile that day.  He, too, wanted to workout from time to time, often while I was at work.  To spare you the gruesome details, just know Old Joe took the canine brunt.  After taping up Old Joe with silver duct tape, I got a second wind, ushering a workout schedule that only pro athletes could understand.  We were pals once again.

George Harrison was right, all things must pass away and so did Old Joe.  He had hung around for 16 years only to be introduced to the middle school years of my daughters, Tabitha and Megan.  On one of their free afternoons they invited some neighborhood kids over.  One of the boys thought it cool to take a broomstick and flog the old weathered canvas bag, resembling a Roman soldier on a penal colony.  You guessed it, the stuffings began to pour out as the canvas suffered an irreversible split.  No more surgeries for Old Joe.  (Let’s bow for a moment of silence here.)  After the memorial service, off to the curb he went.

“EVERLAST”?  Really?  Obviously the company lied to us, ya know.  Old Joe, according to the manufacturer’s name, should still be with me.  Right?  Maybe they will take a customer’s suggestion.  How about renaming the trademark, “Somewhat Last”? That also goes for the Eveready battery.  When your flashlight is needed and it won’t turn on, remember that.

The universe is not improving.  It rolls in the laws of deterioration.  I’ll go further than that, because if you have read my posts you know a speak frankly.  Even our humanity is ebbing away.  You feel it don’t you?  The cosmos is wearing out like Old Joe.  Ancient scrolls written thousands of years ago on parchment and skins concerning the earth and the cosmos will wear out like an old garment. (Isaiah 51:6)  Yet, in the same passage, “…BUT my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail.”  (Google it.  I’ll wait here for ya.)  Literally, outlasting all else including the ground under our feet.

EVERLAST is a super-great company serving countless generations of athletes worldwide with high quality products with long shelf-lives. The founders seemed to understand the meaning of that special title.  After all, they took it from scripture.

“Everlasting” is a treasured word of mine.  Biblically speaking, it’s one of God’s favorites, a queen among words.  Everlasting covenant, everlasting arms, everlasting kindness, everlasting love and everlasting life, among many other phrases.  If you do a Hebrew or Greek word study from the original texts, you will find it to enrich the thoughts, the very comprehension of,  “Age-long”, “Of old”, “Age-less”, “Ancient Of Days”, “Immortal”, “Eternal”, “Without end or beginning”, “Unmovable duration”, “Perpetual”.  The title God Himself used early-on for the pure absence of true human linguistic definition, “I AM”, is linked to the endless view of “Everlasting”.  In the tiny, minuscule box of our understanding of existence, “I AM” lends itself to the limited picturesque vision of, “(Before all), I AM”.  Take it upon yourself to count the grains of sands on the beach, the particles of lunar dust on the moon or the stars NASA continues to discover.  It’s just a hint of forever.

“Alan, what does this have to do with an old canvas bag?”, you might say.  So glad you asked.  Unlike Old Joe’s taunts with the word, “EVERLAST” as I wore myself out, “EVERLASTING” is really an invitation to a redemption.  Old Joe, old houses, old cars fall apart. Your aging body is too.  Notice?  Yet, there is an eternal, an everlasting spirit/soul (Often the words are interchangeable) within you that is pleasantly spoken of at funerals. By nature, it is currently unseen.  It is that triune part of you that is meant for a relationship, a warm cozy love with the unseen Everlasting One.  Because of His everlasting love, kindness and covenant offered, He spoke it directly, often spotted in NFL games.  As your body wears out and is placed at the proverbial curb, YOU, and who YOU are, will continue.  Some of us refuse to believe that we do go on, yet reality takes over after the brain no longer makes faith choices.  When it (spirit/soul) separates from the body, the “house you currently live in” shuts down.  You will have nothing, zero, zilch to do with it.  Think of it as part of your spiritual autonomic system, like when your thyroid regulates without your cognitive initiatives.   I’m grateful I KNOW the Collector Of Souls.  The Everlasting One, the One who titles Himself as the “A to Z”, “the One who is, who was, and who is to come”, also spoke the “Everlasting” below that perpetually pumps fuel for the race.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should NOT perish, BUT have EVERLASTING life.” – Jesus, John 3:16 (American King James Version)