“Pressure: pushing down on me, Pressing down on you, no man ask for. Under pressure that burns a building down, Splits a family in two, Puts people on streets.” (1981) “Under Pressure” Recorded By: Queen & David Bowie.Composed By: Roger Taylor, Freddie Mercury, David Bowie (Lyrics), John Deacon, Brian May.
Are you old enough to remember these?
I’m sorry. I’m referencing the bean bad chairs, not the kids.
I was so proud of mine. During my teen years, in the 70’s (1970’s, not 1870’s) I had one in my bedroom. It was royal blue (My high school colors.) and made of a shiny vinyl. It sat in the corner of my room, right next to my stereo record player and headphones. It lasted several years into my early 20’s until the tiny white Styrofoam beans began to escape the seams. That was tough on burnt orange shag carpet. I think I cried when I finally surrendered to tossing it in a dumpster. Recently, I have noticed ads for a bean bag chair revival, new and improved. Just like my old royal blue friend, I am sure the new ones will memorize the shape of your backside. They have a memory, ya know.
When the Star Trek franchise introduced, “The Borg” aliens to the Star Trek timeline in the late 80’s with The Next Generation, I was reminded of my old bean bag chair.
If you are unfamiliar with the Star Trek story-lines, the Borg is a race of collective drones, part android, part human, or other humanoid species. They are of one mind, no individual thinking or reasoning. Each drone hears only one dialogue from its members in the hive of collectives. Their purpose is to collect humanoid species by force to glean from their experiences and technologies in order to add to their own collective. Their very robotic vocal greeting to planets and space ships is ominous:
“WE ARE THE BORG. YOU WILL BE ASSIMILATED. YOU MUST COMPLY. RESISTANCE IS FUTILE.”
Of course, the victims of such an assimilation means the humanoid species being spoken to will not only cease to live out their own culture and society as they know it, but will lose all identity and individual thought as they will be part of ONE MIND, ONE THOUGHT, ONE PURPOSE. In other words, it ain’t good.
Just like my bean bag chair, victims of The Borg must CONFORM, no longer keeping their own sovereign shape. I thought about this when after the summer Olympics were complete, I could see the outline of my derriere on the couch. Poor cushion, it had no choice but to comply.
What does it take to comply to the force facing you? If someone were to come out from the cavern they reside in, they may not see it. However, if you are plugged into what is going on around you, you will recognize it.
Whenever misinformation is given, the goal is to get you to conform. Whenever an alternative “truth” is unleashed in the media, academia, or from government, you can bet it is an effort to assimilate the “absolute truth” when conformity is the goal. Whenever free speech is attacked with vicious words, and even physical violence, conformity is the goal. Whenever you see a yellow sign and you are constantly told it’s a blue sign, the goal is conformity. Whenever a photo is forced upon you over and over again, accompanied by the word, “Racism” or “Crime”, and the photo clearly shows the absence of racism or crime, you can bet you are being groomed for conformity. Whenever you witness statues of significant officials and warriors, and founding fathers torn down and burned, conformity is the reward. Whenever an elected official, hired by you, the free citizen of democracy, stands behind the podium of significance and states that he/she is “losing patience” with you, conformity is in play. Whenever a growing mob tramples and burns down all that is wholesome and good for a community, conformity is on the menu. Whenever you are assaulted, or publicly showered with curses in order to shame you because of your ideology, theology, or your life-choices, the pressure is to squeeze you into conformity. Whenever shiny objects are dangled in the opposite direction of where I need to be looking, for safety and freedom sake, I am reminded misdirection is a tool which leads to conformity. (Just ask the catfish wrapped up in your local butcher shop.) Whenever righteousness, law & order, and right is rifled out to be evil, lack of justice, and wrong, conformity is the pressure.
My bean bag chair only conformed to my rear end due to the pressure of weight I applied to it. As for The Borg, well, conformity is the only option by way of force.
You might say conformity is the result of impression. To be impressed, whether good or bad, someone, or something must weigh heavily on you. Adam and Eve were introduced to the cleverness of a conformity campaign:
“…You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – The Serpent (Genesis 3:4 – 5) ESV
If I were a bean bag chair, before someone applied their weight to me, I would push back with the boldness of shouting out, “I know my shape! It’s how I was made! That’s the truth of it!” If I were to face The Borg, I would fight for the truth of who I am, loving the freedoms God gave to me. Why? Because with God, resistance is NOT futile! I’ve already been transformed.
When compliance is birthed from a lie, recognize the signs in fuel for the race.
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2 (NAS)
“She’ll change her name today. She’ll make a promise and I’ll give her away. Standing in the bride-room just staring at her. She asked me what I’m thinking and I said, “I’m not sure-I just feel like I’m losing my baby girl.” – (Album Release 1995) “ButterflyKisses” Recorded By: Bob Carlisle Composers: Thomas Randy Keith & Robert Mason Carlisle
I thought long and hard about just how to put the following in writing. Let’s start from August of 2008.
While living in Buffalo, NY for five years, I found myself sharing life with my middle daughter, Megan. Single parenting isn’t for the weak. My oldest daughter had already flown the coop to spread her wings a couple of years prior. My youngest daughter, a 2nd grader, left for Texas with her mom after I filed for divorce. I’ve written extensively and openly about this horrible chapter in my life before, so I won’t dive fully into all the sandpaper of history which brought my family so much pain. I will say the divorce occurred after 26 years of domestic violence, white collar crime, as well as, verbal, psychological, and physical abuse from a mentally disturbed wife and mother. Although it costs me almost everything I had, I needed to protect my girls. The history left deep scars upon all of us.
Megan was in the middle of her high school career at the time, and needed as much stability as possible in her life. So, I dedicated myself to staying in the area with my focus on getting her through high school in the school she loved.
After she graduated in May of 2008, I had the opportunity to relocate back to our original home, Dallas, Texas. I sat Megan down and revealed the options. She was welcome to come with me back to Texas, or decide to stay in Buffalo and make it on her own. With bitter-sweetness, she chose to stay. She had lots of friends where we were, and didn’t want to be geographically near her mother in Texas. It broke my heart, but I also knew I needed to support her decision, and respect it. She was 18, strong and independent. I am proud to say, she had a good head on her shoulders, smart, and talented on many levels. We hugged, cried, hugged, and cried some more. Fast forward, she not only made it very well on her own, but in spades. She became a well-known western NY vocalist and recording artist. She was the lead singer in an internationally award-winning band, and voted twice as best female vocalist in western NY. Her current band, Grosh, is considered Buffalo’s rock royalty. She has been on several albums with her bands, and many as a guest artist with other recording projects. To say I am proud of her, isn’t scratching the surface.
It hasn’t always been an easy walk in the park for Megan alone in Buffalo. A few years back she was involved with a guy who was an abusive so-in-so. I won’t go into details, but even after their break-up, he stalked her, threatened her, started brawls to get to her, kidnapped her, and tried a murder/suicide plot. She survived by THE GRACE OF GOD ALMIGHTY. Oh, I could tell you some hair-raising stories. All my prayers for her protection were answered.
About three years ago, she met a really nice guy from another band. The musician circle is a tightly knit group in the area. Most are all friends, and collaborators. The first night of connection with this young man, Kevin, they were able to just sit alone and talk. It lasted hours on end. She began to pray about that spark on her way home, asking God to make this clear to her concerning this new lad. Before you can say, “Tune my guitar”, they were a hot item. They moved-in together a couple of years ago, (not what I wanted for her) and not long after, he asked me for her hand in marriage. They do so well together.
So this happened on Saturday, June 5th, on the banks of the Niagara River where Lake Erie feeds into it.
Yes, I gave her away at the Frank Lloyd Wright Boathouse.
At the mouth of the Niagara, the winds coming off Lake Erie are constant and never just a breeze. Hair and fabric were everywhere.
Just like the lyrics in “Butterfly Kisses”, I arrived at the venue early, found myself gazing at her in the bride-room. She asked me what I was thinking. I admitted to just being in a state of cruise control. There was a tendency to feel I was losing my little girl, but really, I went through that uncomfortable feeling in August of 2008 when I moved back to Dallas without her.
Her mother was not there, and to be perfectly honest, it was for the best. My wife, Megan’s stepmother, was unable to make the trip. So I gave her away, hugged and kissed them both, then sat down on the front row alone.
The reception was under a classy tent. Being from Texas, she wanted feed everyone tacos instead of wedding cake.
The wedding party, plus the wedding guests, were primarily made up of the who’s who of western New York rock musicians. The band for the reception were well deserved members of the Buffalo Musician’s Hall Of Fame. As the night progressed, it turned into a jam session with other musicians attending the event. To say the least, it was fabulous. I was able to surprise the couple by singing, “Wildflower” from Skylark with the band. I had to change a couple of the lyrics to fit the father singing to the couple, but it was the perfect song about a wounded bride with old scars. I didn’t cry, but I worked very hard at choking back the waterworks.
The band performed “Butterfly Kisses” for the daddy/daughter dance. Tears were overpowering at that point. We chose this song because I used to sing it to them at home and at church on Father’s Day while they were growing up.
The last time we danced, she was standing on my feet as I was teaching her steps as a kid. Megan and I shared a beautiful moment during the dance. I will always hold it close to my heart.
One of the unexpected circumstances was initiated by my oldest daughter, Tabitha. My girls were raised on various music icons like, The Beatles, Elton John, and Fleetwood Mac. The band began to play “Dreams” from Fleetwood Mac when Tabitha grabbed my hand and said, “Come on dad!” Before you could say, “Stevie Nicks”, I was dancing with all three of my girls at the same time. Again, that hasn’t happened in about 17 years.
My 10 year old granddaughter was there, but she was off chasing seagulls most of the time.
The reception/concert lasted about 5 hours. As the golden dusk spread over the Canadian shore across the Niagara, a soreness began to settle in my heart. The night was coming to a close. It meant she would drive away a married woman, this little girl I nurtured and protected the best way I could. Now, it would be Kevin’s responsibility to watch over her, comfort her, and allow her to dream on. At the same time, I had to put on a stage face for the scores of strangers congratulating me on gaining a son-in-law. I do feel blessed in that he seems to be a true, honorable guy who is loyal and loving. And yes, I gave her away into his arms.
When Jesus spoke of how important it is to give your very life away, it is for deep purposes beyond ourselves. When we were taught to give of ourselves, it was for the betterment of the recipient. When Jesus urged us to give to strangers, it was to offer our very best, not the crumbs of life. Before my feet left Buffalo, Kevin received my best. As the song, “Wildflower” says, I had cultivated her, attended to her, and raised her in my garden for such a moment as she took another name other than mine. I gave him my best.
Photo: Megan at 4 & 17
Tabitha, Skylar, and D’Anna flew on different flights, different days. I flew solo. The soreness I had felt toward the end of the celebration under the tent didn’t go away. In fact, I felt it not only linger, it grew. Trying to decipher deeply seeded burning stones in the soul can be difficult when negotiating an emotional event. While waiting to board my flight at the Buffalo/Niagara airport, I began to recognize the source. Megan’s mother wasn’t there at the wedding because she didn’t want her there. In other words, Megan knew she would be happier at her own wedding with her mother absent. Although I understand it, knowing the dynamics of the first 15 years of her life, my heart was sagging knowing it shouldn’t be this way. Megan deserved to have a loving mother by her side on her wedding day. Yet, that wasn’t to be.
My flight had a layover in Baltimore where I was to switch planes for Dallas. Sitting in the Baltimore airport, the guilt invaded. Guilt of “what might have been’s”. Torture paints the gut when gnawing on a good chunk of the “what did I not do’s?”. At the same time, I have wonderful, sweet memories with my girls as they were growing up. I miss those days, BEFORE MIDDLE SCHOOL. LOL However, I can’t deny the hardships my girls were faced with. There, right there, at the entrance ramp to board the plane, tears began to escape.
It was a night flight. The sunset was beautiful looking west at 10,000 feet. Looking down at the darkness there were pinpoints of light which could be detected as we flew over small towns and lit highways. Then at on point the pilot spoke to us over the intercom.
“Folks, we are entering Arkansas where there are a couple of severe storm cells of note. We will attempt to fly around them. Please remain in your seats and buckle up.”
Not long after that, I saw the storms out my window to the west. We were flying high above them. The massive storm clouds were ominous. Then, as I kept my eyes on the cell system, various sections of the clouds below lit up with brilliant flashes of lightning. Like popcorn under a glass lid, the illuminations popped up continually as I tried to count them while gazing from above the fray. Only when the lightning ripped through the thunderclouds could I spy the enormous structure of the cell. It was a sight to behold. There was a special beauty about the fantastic light show beneath us, although a danger to those beneath the storm.
So many times in my life, God has spoken to me through unanticipated visuals. Life has taught me to watch for these particular teachable moments as the Master speaks in illustration. Later, after landing in Dallas, I thought back on seeing the turmoil below in the Arkansas sky. An impression gently settled in my mind. The storms we faced as a family was indeed brutal, and harmful. Yet, now, it is in the past, and far away. I can now, I should now, not relive the torments of the life we had, but rather see it from afar, from above it. This is how I know Megan sees the threatening past. So should I. It is in that state I was able to let go, giving her hand to his.
Celebrations can be for a bright future, but also for leaving the past. It’s been done with fuel for the race.
“Now when the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the groom, and said to him, ‘Every man serves the good wine first, and when the guests are drunk, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.'” – John 2:9-10 (NAS) – Wedding at Cana.
“We are strong. No one can tell us we’re wrong. Searching our hearts for so long, both of us knowing, love is a battlefield.” (1983) “Love Is A Battlefield” Recorded By: Pat Benatar Composers: Holly Knight & Mike Chapman
“These, ‘so-called’ Christians, like to attack whenever they don’t agree with someone else!”
“I’m DONE with my old high school friends who claim they’re Christians!”
“I’m not surprised anymore by what Christians say. They are all haters and ‘Trumpers’!”
“I’m not surprised either. In fact, I expect it from them (Christians).”
“Yep, most of them (Christians) are uneducated !…#@&*!”
Offended yet? If you are not of the faith, you’ll find it doesn’t necessarily bother you. Or should it? Keep reading.
Let me back up a bit to explain the above.
A “friend” of mine, going back to my high school days, launched a very negative attack on her Facebook post after she read another angry person’s comment on a private group posting memorials of deceased alumni, or teaching staff from my old high school. It’s a very nice service to have, especially when you’re an alumni who cares for old friends and teachers from yesteryear. I have been able to honor former classmates by attending their funeral services due to the fact I was briefed by the memorial page. Yet, all of the harsh words written above about “Christians” were in reaction to the cover photo of the memorial page. Here’s what launched those scathing words thrown at “Christians”. A simple photo.
Yep! That’s right, the cross. I guess this gang of vipers would break out in physical convulsions at Arlington Cemetery. It all began with one individual who responded to an obit of a departed alumni. The string of replies were the common condolences, well wishes, prayers for the family, etc, Then came this one who didn’t write anything about the deceased person, but instead questioned the use of the cross as the cover photo. In his complaint, TO THIS PRIVATE GROUP PAGE, he mentioned there were so many classmates and teachers who were not Christians. Stupidly, and yes, I used that word just now, for his assault on the cross, mentioned how the high school is a public school on school district land, therefore religious symbols should stay out of it. Of course, the school, or school district, didn’t put up the memorial page…a “private group” did so on the Facebook platform.
Back to my old high school atheistic chum. She notated on her page a description of what she saw on the memorial page, and how it should be taken down, in the recent flavor of cancel culture. Of course, she wanted to stir the stew, and she certainly did. Most of her friends on her list are far left edge, godless people, who talk about how tolerant they are, but only selectively tolerant. Tolerance for me, but not for thee. So, as one might imagine, a slew of her Christian-hating friends poured it on with a hot liquid steel spew about followers of Jesus. I only shared a short snapshot of what I read. The string of comments went on and on. It wasn’t long until one of the attacking clan aligned all Christians with Donald Trump and overall conservative political supporters. A few foolishly targeted Jesus Himself in their ramblings with despicable adjectives I cannot repeat here.
One of the complaints my old pal had, surrounded the fact that there were some people who responded badly to the man who questioned using the cross as a memorial symbol. Some were defending the cross vigorously from a faith-based point of view, others were chewing on the guy from a civics perspective. However, many replied to him in a loving way. In all cases, everyone was lumped into the “Christian” pile, a pile to burned, or eaten by lions. Been there, done that. Yet, frankly, many did not answer him with an attitude of love, but more on the scale of scrapping with an enemy. The baby hits the ground with the bathwater. Some lambs do roar. Other lambs are just so tired of being attacked by popular culture who thinks a person of faith is a Neanderthal. One vomiting up, “Most of them are uneducated!” (They should remember that whenever they pass by a Presbyterian Hospital, Methodist Hospital, Baptist Hospital, etc.) Otherwise, if Christians stay silent, inactive, and keep their teachings only inside four walls on a Sunday, then all will be right with the world. But a city on a hill can’t be hidden, can it? Salt and light alters things. The Cornerstone continues to cause many to stumble on their dark paths. The spewing haters don’t realize it, but they are indeed proving the scripture to be so accurate.
You might say, “Hey, Alan, wake up and smell the coffee. Are you new to today’s world?”
I spent most of the 1980’s on a job where I was mocked for my faith daily. I’m no stranger to this at all. My reply to such a question lies with another question. What if you take out the word “Christians” from the hateful circle of vile, and replace it with…Jews…Hindus…Muslims…Agnostics…Atheists…LGBTQ…Vets…Mexicans…The Disabled…Blue-eyed people…Bald people… Well, you get my point. The ones shouting, “RACISM!” are usually the most guilty of the sin. Take any of those titles and replace the word “Christians” and the Woke squadron would be all over you like ugly on Sasquatch. Am I right? Are you nodding your head?
I’m not biblically illiterate. Scripture states, humanity ran from God. We still do. We don’t want to be reminded there is a code for living, set by an ultimate Authority. Those who are still running from God’s arms want to make their own codes, their own roads, their own laws. After all, we have to validate whatever we do in action, word, or deed. Am I right? It’s very much like the crowd who shouts in the streets to defund the cops, or delete the police all together. It is why Jesus said if we follow Him, expect haters, expect stones to be thrown, flaming darts released, missiles to be launched. The bottom line here, it’s all part of an ancient Holy war. Israel understands that all too well.
You might be asking yourself if I “Unfriended” my old high school screamer. No, I can’t bring myself to do that. However, for my sanity, I did take a “Break” from her.
Loving others can truly be a battlefield.
The highway of faith is a gauntlet, yet overcome by fuel for the race.
“Blessed are you whenever they revile you and persecute you and they say every evil word against you for my sake, in falsehood. Then rejoice and triumph, because your reward is great in Heaven, for just so they persecuted The Prophets who were before you.” – Jesus – Matthew 5:11-12 (Aramaic Bible In Plain English)
“Don’t go jumping waterfalls. Please, keep to the lake. People who jump waterfalls, sometimes can make mistakes.” (1980) “Waterfalls” Written & Recorded By: Paul McCartney
The cover photo above was taken by my daughter, Megan, last month on the American side of Niagara Falls. Not fully frozen this year, but capturing the late night beauty of the falls is always worth it. At that time of night/overnight, they shut off the colored lights washing over the falls. In this cover photo you can see how it looks naturally at night.
We lived in that region for five years, Megan was the only one of the five of us who stayed. Never did I tire of standing by the majestic Niagara Falls. Only once did we venture out in zero degree air to see the falls in its almost frozen form. Not only does the beauty, and the piercing frozen mist of the frozen falls, take the breath out of you, but the muzzled roar is deafening. Also, in April, you often can watch the breakaway icebergs as big as houses go over the brink and crash in the lower Niagara.
Niagara Falls in winter. The hurricane viewing deck is encased in ice.
My personal favorite location to view the falls is on the Canadian side where the Horseshoe Falls is the most photographed. Below, my daughter, and my future son-in-law, are perfectly happy in the late night hours on the American side.
Megan Brown and Kevin Sampson on the American side of Niagara Falls.
The thundering roar of the falls can amaze you. The fact you can hardly hear your own voice the closer you are to the crashing waters can astound. The rumble beneath your feet from the vibration of the shear weight of the falling waters of the Niagara will raise your eyebrows. While approaching the bottom of the falls in a tour boat, decked out in your plastic raincoat and hood, you can feel the hull shiver and quake from the power of the collision of the millions of gallons from the mighty Niagara.
My late half-sister, Renea & I on the Maid Of The Mist near the bottom of the falls in 2007.
The tremendous wonderment of such a creation has caused presidents, kings and queens, the elite, the ultra famous, the most powerful and wealthy humans on the planet to stand in awe at the might of God’s artwork of Niagara Falls. Yet, its beauty comes with a dark cloud, a stigma.
It’s difficult to shade anything dark upon the majesty of such a place of history and enchantment. The truth is, this wonder of the world is also scarred by many deaths. Niagara Falls is known for being one of the most sought after locations by those who commit suicide. It’s a sad footnote to such a marvel, but true. Multiple deaths recorded there were accidental, as well. Take a look at the picture below taken from the Skylon Tower on the Canadian side from an old friend.
Niagara Falls, Horseshoe Falls.
The upper Niagara, feeding the falls, is several miles in length, reaching the Buffalo Harbor where the mouth of the Niagara begins as it meets the northern end of Lake Erie. This lengthy stretch of the Niagara River is often missed by tourists. It rushes through Buffalo, then splits around Grand Island, NY, and intersects again on the other side of Grand Island, heading with force toward the great falls.
The straightaway from Grand Island to the brink of the falls caught my attention as a kid while watching the 1953 movie, “Niagara” with Joseph Cotten and Marilyn Monroe. They were the two headlining actors, but the star of the movie was the Niagara itself.
I still have the VHS video. The story is of a crime drama with a couple of twists. Sure, the script wasn’t the best, nor some of the acting, but the scenery surrounding the falls is stunning. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I need to get close to the brink of it for this post. There is a horrific, nail-biting scene featuring a couple in a stalled motor boat adrift on the upper Niagara, headed straight for the fringe of the falls. The authorities do all they can to rescue those in certain peril, and the drama causes you to grit your teeth. There, I didn’t give you all the details. If you see the movie, you’ll thank me later.
I thought of that scene the very first time I visited the falls in April of 2003. My future boss took me on a quick tour of the falls that day as we negotiated a contract for me to move to Buffalo to take over a radio show. He drove me down the street, which parallels the banks of the upper Niagara, before reaching the falls. He pointed out a section of the river, just about a mile or so before the falls. There, as the river raged more and more as it rushed toward the falls, were ominous warning signs and bright colored buoys. The closer we drove, the easier they were to read. All the way across the half mile wide river, alarming signs alerting boaters to halt and reverse course immediately. There was no way anyone with eyes could miss the warnings. They detailed that if any vessel went passed that point, it would be the point of no return, literally. Other signs also signaled the fact that the waters were non-negotiable for first responders, including the Coast Guard. It was clear, due to the force of the river, and the rapids scattered about, the force would take its victims to the brink of the falls without remedy. Reading the warnings sent chills up my spine.
Robert Long might have visited the falls, but I can’t say. Maybe he should’ve seen what I witnessed along the road leading to the brink. Have you heard of him?
Robert Long, a kid in his 20’s, made horrific news recently. In a red light district of Atlanta, he shot and killed several female sex workers at three message parlors, and also a male bystander walking past one of the establishments. He then drove toward Florida to unleash another shooting rampage at similar businesses of sex trafficking. He didn’t resist arrest when he was apprehended. Without incident, he was cuffed and questioned. When asked why he did what he did, he gave an interesting answer nobody could guess. He admitted to a driving sex addiction which had overtaken his life and this was how he wanted to take out the people who fed his addiction.
Those who worship the politics of the day, will tell you he was hunting people of Asian decent, blaming it all on white supremacy. Keep reading.
The investigation into the shooting spree continues, but from what has been reported as of now, this kid in his mid 20’s has been a sex addict since he was at least 14 years old. At that time, his Christian parents placed him in a facility for people with addictions. Apparently, the boy was too overtaken to succeed in a clinical treatment of that nature. Even his roommate at the facility reportedly told the authorities how Robert Long was crazed by this sexual addiction.
Scripture says God has a love for His creation. So much so, He calls the stars by name. I imagine a place of His handiwork, like Niagara Falls, holds a great love in God’s heart. Even so, He loves you and I so much more. In fact, he loves the sex worker on a 12 hour shift at a place of red neon. He loves the traffickers who sit on piles of dirty cash while arranging transportation for pre-sex workers. And, he loves Robert Long, who was tricked by the Adversary, into choosing to look at online porn at 14 years old. We know this because He came to earth to offer Himself as a sacrifice to free us from our sins that wrangles and dominates us.
From what I have heard about his parents, a former youth pastor, and church worker and volunteer, no doubt they twisted in their sleep for years over this addiction created for their son. There is so much pain involved for everyone.
Sin comes with a tripwire. It’s like a snare set up to trap a rabbit in a cage. One pull of the string, and “snap“, the rabbit is imprisoned. Along with a tripwire, sin comes with a warning sign. Dire words are given, given again, repeated again, and again, and again.
They are words like, “GO BACK”, “REVERSE COURSE NOW”, “HERE, AND NO FURTHER”, “BEYOND THIS LINE, THE POINT OF NO RETURN”. These words flash in bright, reflecting colors, day and night, night and day for all who travel too close to what will wash boaters down stream to the brink.
Someone once wrote:
“Sin will take you farther than you wanna go, Slowly but wholly taking control. Sin will leave you longer than you wanna stay. Sin will cost you far more than you wanna pay.”
The fall is a long way down.
Warnings of affliction, and a way of escape, are blinking in fuel for the race.
“Do not long for the night, When people vanish in their places. Be careful, do not turn to evil, For you preferred this to misery. Behold, God is exalted in His power; Who is a teacher like Him?” Job 36:20-22 (NAS)
“Well I’m a lady mule skinner From down old Tennessee way Hey hey, I come from Tennessee
I can make any mule listen Or I won’t accept your pay Hey hey I won’t take your pay…” (Composed: 1930) “Blue Yodel No. 8” (Mule Skinner Blues) Recorded by: Dolly Parton (1971) Composer: Jimmie Rodgers
Odd title, isn’t it?
There’s two solid favorites in my life, animals and the American old west. An old western movie, or television show, has both. Of course, before the industrial revolution, back in the 1800’s, animals were a vital part of life. Without a horse, donkey, or mule, you had to walk.
Photo: Wikipedia (Spotted Mule)
Often in an old western novel, or up on the screen, you might come across a person who is called a “Muleskinner”. The first few times I heard of it I thought it was just a derogatory term for some back-woods liquored-up buffoon without a lick of horse sense. (You can tell I’m well versed in old-western jargon.) Usually in description, either in print or film, the “Muleskinner” seems to always wear buckskin coats or pants with the fringes hanging loosely from the edges. Right away, with a title like, “Muleskinner”, you wonder if the hide adorning such a character is from a mule he skinned out on the prairie somewhere. To me, that’s a person I wouldn’t want to belly-up to a saloon while jawin’ in a dusty, God-forsaken wet-whistle of a town. (Ah, there I go again.)
The mule is a beautiful creation. Actually, the mule is a hybrid of a horse and donkey. Brilliant minds bred them, for the first time, in what is now known as Turkey prior to 3,000 BC. Ancient Egyptian history chronicles the mule as a working animal. King David and King Solomon owned and bred mules in biblical texts. And it’s no wonder.
Photo: Wikipedia (Mule as beast of burden.)
By definition, the mule is a “beast of burden”. It can be packed with a household of goods that a horse couldn’t come close to carrying. The mule doesn’t eat as much as a horse. A mule is stronger than a horse, yet slower than a horse. The mule has much stronger hooves for rocky trails. And a mule’s skin is not as sensitive as horse hide. Its hide can take weather elements better, as well as, desert sun, and yokes. Many farmers traded in plow horses for mules. It’s been recorded that long-haul stage coaches, which traveled over harsh terrain, often utilized mules because of their outstanding physical endurance. Their life-span is also greater than a horse. They can live up to 50 years. Yoked teams of some 20 mules were used to haul heavy loads, or train-wagons across rugged country. In the early days of the locks of the Erie Canal, mules were used on the banks to tow boats.
Photo: Wikipedia (Mule teams for multiple hitched wagons.)
What an animal. By the way, the driver of the mule-team in the photo above is…a muleskinner. No, he doesn’t take a large hunting knife and skin the hide off a mule.
The truth of the origin of the nickname, “Muleskinner” is not pleasant. Because the skin of a mule is not as sensitive as a horse, many drivers of the mules, with reigns in hand, often whipped the reigns on the mule’s back too harshly. Many times the end result was the leather reigns, or whips, would cut the mule’s skin in the process of lengthy hauls. Thus, the nickname, “Muleskinner” was birthed. It’s sad, and brutal, but true. I will assume here there were also animal-loving drivers who cared well for the mules they drove and left them unmarked after the yokes and harnesses came off.
No doubt we have all had times in life when we felt whipped, bloodied, and beaten during our path forward. For whatever reason, being burdened-down with the heaviness of life and life’s masters.
Maybe I’m not describing you, but maybe you know of someone fitting this description. Maybe it’s someone you’ve not seen for many years, then suddenly your roads cross and you find yourself astonished, or almost speechless. Your old friend, co-worker, or loved one looked weather-beaten, appearing to be 20, or 30 years older than they are. You immediately want to ask them what happened in life’s journey which lorded over them. Maybe you got up this morning, gazed at the stranger in the bathroom mirror while asking yourself, “Why do I look so worn-out lately?” You’re reading someone like that.
There were wealthier people in the times of Jesus who would’ve owned a mule, or a few. As Jesus was speaking at one time, I picture a perfectly equaled team of mules going by, yoked up pulling a large wagon piled with a full load of items, including a millstone for grinding grain. I imagine the well-dressed man of means whipping the backs of his beasts of burden to the point of splitting the hides with each lash of leather. And just then, Jesus would say…
“Come to Me, all those toiling and being burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” – Jesus – Matthew 11:28-30 (Berean Literal Bible)
So many of the world’s religions are wrapped in “Do this”, “Do that”, “Recite this”, Recite that”, Walk on your knees here and there”, “Pay this, or pay that”, “Suffer for heaven’s reservation”, “Earn your glory”, “Kiss this stone”, “Pray this many times or lose favor”, etc, etc. Jesus knew about these legalistic demands to GAIN spiritual status and treasures of eternity from a god with a whip who is so distant. Can’t you just see a religion founder, or leader sitting on the driver’s bench, whipping his yoked-up subjects shouting,
“Here, let’s burden you with this, or with that. Let’s strap on this unnecessary load upon you because past generations dictated it so.”
Now, read again what Jesus said, but slower this time.
He left His divine throne to spend 33 years here, living among us, teaching us God’s true heart toward us mules. His “easy yoke” offer still holds true with the promise of a light load for however many years you have left on this rocky road. He earned it for you.
When yoked-up with The Everlasting, the burden is lighter with fuel for the race.
“Surely He took on our infirmities and carried our sorrows; yet we considered Him stricken by God, struck down and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” – Isaiah 53:4-5 (Berean Study Bible)
“…Climbed a mountain and I turned around And I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills ‘Til the landslide brought me down.” (1975) “Landslide” Recorded by: Fleetwood Mac Composer: Stevie Nicks
The cover picture above tells the tale fairly well, before I get to the tail of this post.
Photo: Bonnie taking her naps on my printer.
I’ve never been a cat person. I was born and raised with a dog which started a long life of canine palship ever since. For a short stint, when I was five years old, we had a couple of cats named, “Pete & Repeat”. They didn’t have much to do with me, with the exception of giving me cat scratch fever. So, my heart has been wrapped around, what one of my daughters once called, “Dogness”.
Then in 2017 I remarried. Inheriting a step-cat was part of the wedding vows.
Bonnie-Bon, as we call her, stole my heart right away. This little brindle feline loves to cuddle with me when she comes inside for some family time. She curls up in my lap next to the arm of the recliner, along with a light blanket under her. She enjoys cocking her head in focus as she paws at my goatee. If I’m writing at my desk she will often make her place on my printer, only after she walks across my keyboard, jotting down statements only she can decipher. She will scare the stuffings out of me as I sit in the living room when I suddenly hearing someone playing the piano in the study/studio two rooms over. Frankly, it sounds like a kid banging away on the keys in efforts to mimic a maestro once seen on Great Performances on PBS. I’ll jerk my head over to see the doorway of the study/studio just in time to see little Bonnie prancing out of the room as if she had accomplished something of high esteem. The shocking part is, she is not sporting tux & tails. (Well, maybe the tail part.) The best part of Bonnie’s personality, she enjoys our two dogs, even to the point of running about with them as if she’s part of a pack. Believe it or not, she has learned to mimic a dog’s bark. She needs to be a guest on a late night talk show. Yes, I’ve grown very fond of our Bonnie.
Bonnie enjoys selfies.
If you’re a pet-person than you know how it is. There’s a tendency to be massaged into thinking of your pal-of-another-kind as almost human. Thus, we begin to speak to them as if they have human minds, wants, and needs. So true, until they bring in a dead rodent to present as a trophy right in the middle of the kitchen floor. Not long ago, not once, but twice, Bonnie brought in a live lizard, about 4″-5″ in length. Not realizing she had it jailed inside her mouth, there was no urge to run her outside. Instead, she plopped herself down, looked up at us and dropped her prize on the floor, accompanied by a gigantic meow. Of course, once free from its cell, it ran across the room making a mad dash under the range oven for shelter. Arg! Suddenly, I came to the realization that Bonnie was not a human little girl after all. In both events we caught the reptilians in another room of the house the following day.
Bonnie spends most of her time in the small sun-room adjacent to the back-steps leading to the backyard. You might say, the backyard is her jungle, her domain, her personal wildlife preserve, where I’ve witnessed her sitting like a statue in the bushes, as if to say, “Nothing to see here. Move on.”
A few days ago, my wife, Michelle, was in the backyard watering the plants. Our two dogs and Bonnie were out with her enjoying a warm morning in Texas. Michelle heard a loud, frantic call from a nearby bird. She spotted an agitated mockingbird yelling her obvious profanities from a lower limb from one of our trees. She quickly flew from that perch to the top rail of the fence, to another tree, and so on. Michelle tried to calm the feathered frantic female as she walked around with the garden hose.
The following morning, Michelle walked out into the sun-room and spied the body of a juvenile mockingbird laying at the back door threshold. The body wasn’t mangled, half-eaten, or torn. Of course, immediately she put the backyard events from the day before together with the current crime scene. With a huge sigh, she shouted, “Bonnie-Bon! You baby bird murderer!” As expected, Bonnie just sat there on her fanny looking very proud.
Then, morning #2 came. Michelle walked out into the sun-room to put cat food in Bonnie’s bowl when she saw it. Another crime scene, in the very same location. This time, two baby mockingbirds side-by-side, lined up ready for the crime scene photo for the crime lab. She heard a bird chirp a few feet away. There, on the back-step handrail, the mama mockingbird. She was just looking at her deceased babies and Michelle. She chirped again as if to utter, “Can you fix them?” Michelle told me later she almost cried at the sight of the saddened mama. She spoke to her in shared grief, “I’m so sorry, little mama. I’m so sorry.”
(Excuse me while I grab a tissue. Wait right here. I’ll be back.)
A couple of days later, I was watering the plants in the backyard. I heard several sirens going by in the distance. The city had warned the residents of a local protest event just a few blocks from our street. With the riotous mayhem of late, leaving cars and businesses burned or looted, all I could think of was protecting my home. Then the mockingbird and Bonnie came to mind.
America, and the entire world, have suffered great loss at the jaws and claws of COVID-19. Then, just as America began to show signs of improvements in the struggle to defeat the virus, the tragic murder of a black man at the hands of a white police officer took place in Minneapolis, launching a barrage of protests across the nation. Inside the various groups of protesters were anarchists stalking, waiting and ready to use the peaceful protesters as a front to scorch us…we, the people.
It has been said many times in the media that many will not come out the other side of the pandemic intact, some, not at all. Suicides jumped to record highs. Drug use has skyrocketed. Domestic violence has forged its way into the record books. Vast unemployment landed on most of the population. Many small and medium sized businesses went belly-up, unable to glide through the torrent of the shutdown’s gravitational pull. Untold amounts of students have fallen behind due to the closure. A multitude of deaths have been recorded due to the pandemic. The punch has been painful. No one, being honest, would say we are not in a weakened condition.
The leadership of anarchist groups sat still in the shrubbery of the COVID calamity, injecting a dose of national turmoil, just planning a time when a tripwire would be sprung for the pouncing of evil deeds to be lashed upon a battered society. Yes, that’s right. I called it “evil”. If you’re offended, just know I was offended first. Since the planning and stalking of these murderous groups, countless people have been displaced, injured, and murdered. The enforcement of public safety for our neighborhoods has been violently assaulted, abused, and dishonored. In the wake of this pouncing on our nation’s remains are ruined lives, torched dreams, hell-lit hopes. In the clearing fog of the crippling pandemic, were those perched to destroy America from the inside out, having attempted to breakdown whatever else remains intact. Meanwhile, those left alive who helped to build this commonwealth of people at liberty, sit helplessly on the handrails to weep at the carnage and wreckage the emptied-souls have waged.
Solomon wrote that there is a time for mourning. It indicates the mourning is momentary. When mourning is over, there is the courageous fight, the strength, the victorious raising of the torch for those who come after us.
On a hopeful note, THIS is AMERICA! Our liberty was fought for several times over. Our roots are buried here in blood-soaked soil. The majority of citizenry, the loving, hard-working public of all shades of skin in this nation will stand for justice, law and order, as well as flushing out injustice. Beyond this truth, there is a God of Righteousness Who birthed this country. He gave us the right to vote in free elections to remove and place our local and federal representatives, along with various public servants at will. He still sits on His throne. Nothing, has not been filtered through His Almighty hand.
As for Bonnie…I’m so grateful she is not 500 pounds.
Gravity is a harsh reality when out of the nest. Nestle safely in fuel for the race.
“Be alert, be reflective, because your enemy Satan roars like a lion and is walking and seeking whom he may devour.”1 Peter 5:8 (Aramaic Bible In Plain English)
“Every time I see your face It reminds me of the places we used to go. But all I’ve got is a photograph And I realize you’re not coming back anymore…”(1973) Photograph. Recorded by: Ringo Starr Composers: Richard (Ringo) Starkey and George Harrison
I thought I arrived too early, but as I got out of the car, a voice shouted out, “Alan?” There, just two cars over, it was her, Joan and her nephew, Matthew….When I hugged him, I felt as if I had known him all of his life, as if he were my own son.
Forgive me if there’s nothing really valuable to use in what I’m about to write. I just know I have to. I MUST write about it.
Meet Terry Sindle. Terry was a dear friend of mine. We were the same age. He, his younger sister, Joan, and their newly divorced mom, had just moved into the apartment complex where my mom and I lived. It was 1973 and the Sindle family were fresh off the moving van from Staten Island, New York. They had such heavy NY accents that this Texas lad could hardly decipher. But nevertheless, Terry and I had so much in common.
(Terry Sindle in high school, 1977/1978.)
He was a bit from the wild side, and I was far more conservative. He was a casual pot smoker and pill-popper, and I chewed gum. He was into Led Zeppelin, and I was into Manilow. I was a spiritually plugged-in church member, and Terry was agnostic at best. He wore long wavy hair, and my cut looked like a Wall Street lawyer. I was a martial arts student and tournament fighter, while he could care less about any sport. Yet, we both experienced our parents divorcing. We both had poor single moms. We both loved music, and music performance. And we both loved pizza…or so I thought. Being from Staten Island, NY, I figured he liked pizza. So, another friend and I introduced him to what was the best pizza in our neighborhood, Pizza Inn. When the cardboard-thin, scantly-topped crispy crusted pizza came out, Terry looked at it and said in astonishment, “WHAT IS THIS? THIS isn’t pizza!” Here in Texas we thought pizza was pizza. We thought Pizza Inn could do no wrong. Terry had to educate us in what real NY pizza consumers enjoy. It would be two years later before a NY style pizza joint opened up in our suburb, and we’ve never been the same since.
One thing Terry and I didn’t have in common was the guitar. He was an incredible guitarist. I was strictly a vocalist, although dabbled lightly in piano and guitar. His musicianship was keen, to the point where I could call him a “master technician”. Terry’s grade of musicianship was well beyond the average teenage garage band. In two days he learned all of the Beatles music catalog. TWO DAYS! He, at 14 years old had begun to compose original music, as well as arrangements of cover songs. He joined the school band and mastered the French Horn. He was playing for local parties, filling-in with other local bands, and eventually started his own rock band before he was 16.
You could say we looked like a duck and a hawk side-by-side, but we knew we were a team of the same feather. I was in the top choir in high school always urging him to audition. I told him it would help sharpen his vocals, along with sight reading. It didn’t take him long before he realized you can study classical while using what you learn for other genres of music. He sheepishly did audition, and made the choir in 1977. He naturally squirmed terribly so when having to wear a tux for serious choral performances.
Meanwhile, my band was more soft rock and ballads. Naturally when it came time to add a lead guitarist, Terry was my guy. Musically we knew what each other wanted without discussing it fully. We both had terrific ears, as well as, the same quality control standards. With that said, on stage he would hear an extra lick or riff in his mind, then would add it in real time on the fly, often distracting me from my lyrics. (That was a good and bad problem when singing something like, Manilow’s “I Write The Songs”.) Frankly, with Terry as my lead guitarist, I knew whatever came out of the amp speakers was going to be a top-shelf sound.
Not long after high school, I moved out to get my own place across town. Meanwhile, Terry was wanting to move back to NY to further his rock career. We performed a couple of times together during the summer after graduation, but I was pursuing music theater by that time and he was going deeper into metal rock. Before you could say, “Y’all”, he moved back to NY to execute just what he set his sights on. We lost track of each other by 1980.
Later in the 1980’s I heard from Terry a couple of times. It turned out he continued to grow as a spectacular studio artist, and stage act. He had even prepped for a move to England with the idea of joining a band there.
(Terry Sindle with his band in NY during the 1980’s.)
Then…all went silent.
About 10 years ago, I began a search to find my old friend. By that time I was on Facebook which is where I started scrubbing for a friend link. Nothing came up. Internet searches came up empty. It was as if Terry Sindle had vanished from the planet.
Then one day, and I hesitated to do it, I launched a national obituary search. With a deep saddening, while swallowing back the lump in my throat, I found my friend’s obit. Terry died back in 1997 at the age of 37. What’s worse, the obit was short and simple, without surviving family member names, or details about his passing. May God forgive me, I first thought his substance abuse finally caught up with him. My thirst for more info grew almost to the unbearable. All it gave me was the place of his death…Florida. All other searches came up zero. It was highly frustrating. I gave up and the years went by.
A couple of months ago for Throw-Back Thursday, I posted the picture below on Facebook and gave tribute to two members of my band who left us early in life.
(My Alan Brown & Co Band. Later affectionately referred to as my “Come & Go Band”)
In my defense, this shot goes back to Oct of 1977. That’s the excuse for my tablecloth sports jacket and sailor pants. Terry Sindle is seen on the far right in a black shirt with his Gibson guitar, standing in front of his stack of speakers.
Right after the post, a couple of old mutual high school friends contacted me asking if I knew whatever happened to Terry. I told them what I had discovered, but it didn’t seem enough. So, I lit a fire under my chair.
Somehow, someway, through a search, I found Joan Sindle, Terry’s younger sister. I messaged with her right away. Afterwards we spoke on the phone. Pushing back tears, she caught me up on Terry’s short adult life and sudden death. Terry was a victim of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He beat it once in his life only to return years later like an overnight thief. After not feeling well, and unable to shake it, he had a check-up with an Oncologist. Shockingly, after running tests, the doctor gave him less than a week to live. In fact, he died 3 days later.
Terry did well with his music while here. In NY, he made radio airplay with one of his records. Terry’s last album was cut just 3 months before he passed. His bands always did very well in NY, and later in Florida after moving there. He met a Floridian girl while in AA, fell in love, and got married. They eventually were blessed with 3 boys.
While in the cancer ward, both times, he played songs for the other fellow-cancer patients. That didn’t surprise me a bit. He had a huge heart. As for his substance addictions, they did strengthen their grip on his life. He checked himself into rehab while in his 20’s. He was clean for many years, fell off the wagon, and became clean again. At some point, early in his marriage, both Terry and his wife, opened their hearts to God and His redemption offered through Jesus. AA was good for Terry, but Divinity resting within, gave him the power to control the monkey on his back. Remembering those days, Joan said he was excited about his new-found faith.
Recently Joan asked if I would hook-up with Terry’s youngest son, Matthew (now 25), who was only 3 years old when Terry passed. She said because of his young age, he is always wanting to know more about his dad and thought it would be great if an old high school friend could shed light on his dad’s teen years. I was thrilled! I did so. Matthew and I had a few terrific exchanges back and forth over cyberspace. You might find it isn’t surprising to know that Matthew, along with one of his brothers, are musically talented to the hilt. In fact, they can play any instrument they pick up. Matthew also has all of Terry’s guitars and amps, as well as his French Horn from high school.
(Sorry for the flash reflection on this shot. Terry and his boys less than a year before his death.)
A few days ago, Joan called to tell me Matthew was coming here to Dallas for a visit and wanted to know if we could meet. Once again, I was thrilled! I asked 3 other mutual high school friends, who knew Terry, to join us. They were itching to show up.
When Joan first asked me to connect with Matthew, I could hardly describe the feeling. It was so strange. All I can say to paint this canvas with a stroke or two, is I felt a compelling, a strong, very strong tug to reach out to Terry’s son with all that was within me. As each day rolled on I had this gnawing, this obsession propelling me with the thought that somehow I was doing this for Terry himself, as if he were here asking me to do this as a favor. Truly, that feeling launched me into an overdrive to find pictures, Terry’s handwriting, and refresh every stand-out memory I could muster. They were going to bring some pictures of Terry, (as you have seen) in his adult years. We agreed to meet at a local pub, The Fox & Hound in north Dallas.
I thought I arrived too early, but as I got out of the car, a voice shouted out, “Alan?” There, just two cars over, it was her, Joan and her nephew, Matthew. Joan and I hugged as if we were siblings removed at birth. When I hugged him, I felt as if I had known him all of his life, as if he were my own son. The others drove up shortly after.
(My phone died while we were together, so Joan took this shot. I’m the Celtic-looking guy sitting on the right with Mathew in the middle and some old high school friends.)
For several hours we spoke, laughed, cried, and ate and drank with Terry on our minds and hearts. The guys poured out all their memories of Terry. No one could recall anything sour to add concerning our younger times together. Matthew and Joan shared more about the life and heart Terry displayed to others in his adult years. He dearly loved his wife and sons. Terry even wrote letters to his boys to help them understand who there dad was, what he consisted of, and how he wished he could be there to see them grow up. After his prognosis, he told Joan how he couldn’t die because he had three sons to raise. That was his concern while preparing to leave this life. He also wrote to his sons of his spiritual awakening, sharing the love he found in God.
Afterward, Joan said she felt as if Terry had been with us around the table in the pub. I told her it’s because she was meeting with his close friends that reflect Terry’s touch on our lives, still expressing it after 4 decades. Of course, I know what she meant. Again, I felt a rushing swift current of an urge to visit with Matthew sharing personally about his dad. His eyes lit up as I described our days together. He laughed at all of our funny stories about Terry. He showed a great deal of pride displaying the family pictures, and describing the instruments he inherited. He spoke of what he knew of his dad’s faith, adding that he too was in a music ministry with a desire to pursue a pastoral outreach.
As I looked at the pictures of Terry as an adult, I was nothing short of mesmerized. It seemed like yesterday we were music-making teens, taking music theory class together, rehearsing quietly in his room, and doing laundry duty. And now, I see the man in the pictures bringing me smiles, seeing he was a success in fatherhood and being a loving, loyal husband. When the time was right, he was man enough to realize he had substance abuse issues and sought help. So many don’t. He showed love, grace and benevolence toward other hurting cancer patients, even while his own life was ebbing away. To me, a hit record seems tiny in comparison.
As we were saying goodbye in the parking lot, as the sun was setting, I looked into his son’s eyes and told him, “We knew your dad very well. I can certainly say, with all confidence, he would be very proud of you, and who you have become. You are an impressive young man, Matthew. And somehow, I just can’t help but believe your dad is being told about our gathering today.” Yes, we all teared-up, and rightly so.
Someone once wrote how we are not islands, living our lives separated, disconnected from others. If the life of Terry Sindle taught us a couple of things, it’s that we are all peninsulas, connected to one another, which aids us in knowing what is most important.
One day I will see Terry again. And when I do, I think he will say something like, “Thank you for helping me tell Matthew who I am.”
A life well lived is available from the vast cistern of fuel for the race.
“For none of us lives to himself alone, and none of us dies to himself alone.” – Apostle Paul, from Romans 14:7 (Berean Study Bible)
“A child is black. A child is white. Together they grow to see the light, to see the light…” (1972) Black & White – Recorded by: Three Dog Night. Composers: David I. Arkin, Earl Robinson.
Appreciation note: A quick thank you to the very kind, Alicia from the blog, For His Purpose for nominating my blog for the Sunshine Blogger Award. I am greatly shocked and humbled. I do enjoy your everyday camera angles of life with the filter of truths.
This will not be a political post. This will not be a ranting post concerning those who play at politics, or the swift blinding blame of another. This will lack the spewing of hatred and emotional blathering of negativity currently blowing across the media. If that’s what feeds you, look elsewhere. However, if you are open-minded, wanting to hop off the meat wagon, serving up all kinds of dangerous rhetoric currently being wielded like a Gladius sword, you are welcome to read below.
Billy Boyd was my best friend in 7th grade. In those times that was our first year at Dillingham Jr. High School, before “middle school” was introduced. We lived in Sherman, Tx where the west side of town was mainly made up of white population. There was also the east side where the African American community settled, or was made to settle in post-Civil War days. Dillingham Jr. High was situated close to the border of the east and west sides of the medium market town. We met on our first day of the new school year.
When we left our elementary schools to enter 7th grade, it was a cultural shock for all of the student body. Obviously my elementary school consisted of mostly white kids. At Dillingham the heavy black and white mix was a first for all of us. Billy was African American from the east side of the tracks. He was my first black school friend ever. At the time I really thought nothing about it. In fact, I thought it was cool to have a black friend who was my age.
What I didn’t expect, nor every experienced before, was racial name-calling, slurs, racial riots on campus, gang violence, and violent ambushes. (Forgive me for giving too much info here, but I must write it.) As a white kid relieving himself at the urinal, I was kicked in the back from time to time. Once, I was slammed in the back of my head with a football helmet while standing there facing the wall. This was the environment I was introduced to. Billy didn’t have anything to do with the vicious tagging of white kids. I was on the sharp end of the above racial abuses in a big way simply because I was a white kid from the west side. There were attacks I received in the hallways, between buildings, after football practice, and after school on my way across campus to the bike rack. Some of these were 15 and 16 years old students who were still repeating 7th or 8th grades. I received threats concerning my dog and my mom. In that school year, I learned how to box and street fight the hard way. My uncle taught me how to box, and another friend trained me in Aikido that same year. Through it all, Billy and I remained friends. You might say we were the odd couple. After the school year slowly dropped me into the summer break, my mom relocated out of town, and just in time. Only God knows what might have been if I had spent another year in racial turmoil. However, the hatred and bigotry had a profound influence on me. But, I would experience it again.
When I was a toddler, 98 years after slavery ended in the U.S., I met my first African American. (I have written about him before, but it’s been a couple of years.) While visiting my grandparents in Greenville, Tx, every-other Saturday they had their lawn work done by an elderly black man named Mr. Amos. To this day I don’t know if that was a surname or his first name. No doubt he was the son of slaves, living in the far east side of Greenville in a sector notable for the African American neighborhood. I recall there being a side street which served as the border between whites and blacks, as it was set-up by the local government leaders in the late 1800’s.
From my toddler days, all the way to 11 years old or so, I LOVED old Mr. Amos. I saw him as an uncle from another grandmother. The neighborhood in those days would remind you of the street scenes from the movie, To Kill A Mockingbird. He would drag his lawn mower down the street cutting grass and hedges for a few dollars. To see him was like imagining Mr. Bojangles in various ways. He was ragged, skinny, and toughened by the years. His very dark skin was weathered and rough from a lifetime of working in the Texas sun, like leather from an old baseball glove. He always had an old rag, or bandanna hanging out his back pants pocket, along with old worn-out hard-soled leather lace-up shoes. The elderly man always did a wonderful job on the lawn and hedges. He had the talent. Whenever I was there, I would watch him out my grandparent’s front window as he worked his fingers to the bone with pride. I never saw anyone sweat as much as he did. When he finished the front lawn he began to pull his mower up the driveway toward the backyard. From the time I was 3, my grandmother would take an ice cold, frosted bottle of Dr. Pepper out of the fridge, pop open the cap with the bottle opener, which hung on her kitchen wall, hand it to me and say, “Alan, you go give this to poor Mr. Amos.” Wrapped around it was the money he earned. (They were very liberal with the payment.) I would grin from ear to ear as I ran outside before he reached the back. There in my Buster Browns I proudly said in my Mickey Mouse voice, “Here ya go, Mr. Amos!” No matter how often our encounters, he always acted surprised as he shook my hand and replied with his gruff voice, “Well, what’s this here? (chuckle) Why…thank ya, son!” When in my earlier age, I would look at the palm of my hand to see if the black color rubbed off his sweating hand. I kid you not, he never took his mouth off the bottle until it was turned upside-down and empty, without taking a breath. There’s no way I could do that. I would watch him drink in shear amazement. Handing the empty bottle back to me, he would exhale with a huge drawn-out gasp, like a swimmer coming up for air and say, “That’s my boy!” I always waited to hear him say those words. It made my day. He didn’t know it but just saying that to this fatherless lad made me feel warm inside. With his statement of gratitude, I ran back in to tell my grandmother once again, how he called me “son” and what’s more, I was “his boy”. I honored and respected him. Through the years of youth, I wondered why he always looked so poor.
I’m not certain what year it was, but I will say I was 13 (1973) when hatred came calling.
Mr. Amos was in my grandparent’s yard, doing his job one Saturday, when he was suddenly interrupted by his son and daughter-in-law who had pulled up in the driveway. The man was angry with his father for mowing the lawns of “Honkies”. (It’s a name I was familiar with from school. I didn’t believe Mr. Amos thought I was one of those.) Mr. Amos protested saying he was doing his purpose in that stage of his life. The voices got louder as they argued in the side yard. I pressed my ear to the nearest window to hear more clearly what was being said. The son of Mr. Amos spewed about how shameful it was to be “workin’ for the white man” and how embarrassed he was to see him on our lawn in the “white part of town”. My granddad came out to see what the issue was. After he was told, my granddad gently explained to Mr. Amos that it was okay if he needed to go and do what he thought was right. Sheepishly looking down at his tired scuffed shoes, Mr. Amos agreed he should load-up and go with his son. Hearing it my heart broke. My granddad paid him in full, even though the job wasn’t completed, then they drove away. I was highly disturbed. Tears rolled down my freckled cheeks at what I had witnessed. That was the last time I saw Mr. Amos after knowing him through 9-10 years of my childhood.
I had a friend like Billy, as well as a man of grit and heart like Mr. Amos for one reason. Early on my mom had coded within me, from the days of Mr. Amos, to love all people, regardless of their skin hues. As a little one, she read the words of Jesus to me at bedtime where He taught what she preached to me. What she didn’t teach at the time was the perspectives and inward struggles some possess, like the son of Mr. Amos.
Still, I came away from my experiences at Dillingham with a chip on my shoulder, combined with an unjustified angst against black people. In fact, the realities left me unwilling to trust African Americans for many years throughout much of the 1970’s until I got the chance to work and worship alongside African Americans from 1979 and onward.
In these days where racial slurs, alongside accusations of racism, are being tossed around like confetti, there’s a warning for us all. When young men soak up vile, filthy hatred from certain websites, or chat rooms brainwashing them to the point of mass murdering another race due to their ethnicity alone, we should take note. Words are like bullets. Enough of them, combined with a deadly spin, will and do rip open the hearts of our youth. Good parenting is so vital. Compassionate parenting is so vital. Informative parenting is so vital. So often these word-projectiles reverberate through the rooms of the home for little ears to plant in the fertile soil of their souls. Each and every community and culture should surgically remove attitudes of hate-filled, damning speech about our neighbors. If not, the next generation will see domestic death, domestic destruction and possibly war. There is a desensitizing which is slow, like marinating a pork loin. Sleeping with the pigs will make you muddy. And oh, how dark that mud can be.
If you dare, journey with me for a moment on the following hypothetical.
If one leans toward Darwinism, and sees another race as beneath their own DNA, then one must ask how it got to such a point. If we, collectively, all derived from an ancient amoeba, which washed up on a beach in ions past, then how can one defend a racial ideology? Maybe the ancient amoeba community rioted against other amoeba of a different thickness of cell wall. Then again, can an amoeba possess hate? Unfortunately, hate is branded in humankind exclusively. There’s a reason for that. Follow me on this.
As we continue to search for the “Missing Link” (still missing), there’s a newer, more popular theory.
If one leans toward the newer idea that humanity was placed here by ancient aliens from another planet, there’s even a bigger leap to make. I suppose it’s plausible ancient aliens also suffered from racism, implanting that curse on the earth as we were left here to populate the world. It would also seem plausible that such an advance interstellar civilization would’ve been cautious to populate the earth with beings like themselves, assuring racism wouldn’t be introduced. If the theory is accurate, then wouldn’t it make sense they would sprout beings which reflected a visual likeness? If so, why do have racial issues at all?
If you come from a biblical world view, as I do, then how can I ever hold to a twisted view of racial hatred? Since I am a creationist, I read and study the account where we were all created in the image of God, a likeness of the Divine. Therefore, how could I ever look at a black, brown, yellow, or red man or woman crying, “Moron!”, “Mistake!”“Mutant” or “Monstrosity!” Racism dictates that you have cheap blood and I do not. But, I’ll take your kidney, or a transfusion if I need one. Cheap? Really? For me, scripture reveals we all came from a set of flesh and blood ancient parents who had a multitude of offspring, and so on. Genesis has the genealogy listed covering about a two thousand year span complete with names, nations and seasons of geology. Even DNA experts have found the evidence which mirrors this view. Within the last few years DNA studies have shown we come from the same part of the world with ancestry funneling into a clan going back to the beginnings of life itself, matching the Genesis timeline. So, why do we, or why should we have this scent of racism?
Let’s be super honest here. I like to call balls and strikes as I see them.
Racism, at its core, is the belief in a lie. Yep, we’ve been snookered.
“…Mmm, no no Lyin’ to the races Help me, come on, come on Somebody, help me now (I’ll take you there)…” (1972) “I’ll Take You There” by: The Staple Singers
Moreover, racism is an ideology which dictates thoughts of I, me and myself am to reign over another due to my skin pigmentation. The lie woos one to beliefs like; if one is darker, or lighter skinned than I, then that person is to be subordinate to me, simply due to color. It even can get down to the shape of a skull, or the nose. Racism methodically massages the mind and heart of the pre-white supremacist, for example, who will claim God made a mistake by creating black, brown, yellow, and red skin. Unfortunately, even shades of skin tones are targets of racial darts. In addition, let’s not forget the racism within the color spectrum itself. English vs Celts, Anglo Gentiles vs Jews, African tribes vs other African tribes, the list goes on. Furthermore, it revels in the false idea which says a particular race was created to be supreme over all peoples, nations, societies and cultures. If one hears it enough, studies it enough, sniffs the belly of the dragon enough, the ideology is perceived as authentic. Just as evil thoughts grow and widen, hatred begins to fester like Multiple Myeloma which eats away at the bones. Racism eats away at the very soul of a person.
Are you still with me? Can I go a step further?
Let’s say you are one who believes in the afterlife. Maybe it’s a belief that the spirit, once separated from its body, roams the earth as a ghostly individual, for whatever purpose. If you were a racist in the flesh, how do you exercise racism in the spirit world? When there’s a failure to control the body in life, how then do we expect to control and navigate our spirits? Interesting thought. Are we suddenly stronger and wiser in spirit than we were when we had flesh? After death the skin, once proudly admired as a trophy in life, grows pale and decays, falling away from the skeleton, which is the same color as all skeletons. So now, in spirit form, how do you rant and rave over other spirits who have no skin color? In spirit form, racism is also dead. Suddenly, racist views are no longer so important. In the end, the 79 year old racist can look back on his/her earthly life and will see the damning foolishness of a faulty ideology.
Let’s say you have a biblical perspective of the afterlife. In the place described so well in scripture as heaven, there are a number of problems if racism is to continue. First, God says haters (which includes racist users) will not see the kingdom of heaven. Secondly, in this present age, there is the spiritual form left after the body fails. How, as an eternal racist, do you push back on another spirit residing in God’s Kingdom? Thirdly, the ancient text is clear on the following. There will come a time in eternity when the old earthly body will be recreated to reunite with the spirit in which it once belonged, much like the resurrection of Jesus. God does the recreation at His sovereign will. Colors or not, He will do what He plans. Whatever skin color, if any at all, is resurrected in God’s timeline. At that point, how could hatred of it exist? Fourthly, in heaven there is no spirit who will submit to another based on color of robe, earthly ethnicity, or thought. Jesus Himself said there’s only One Who reigns in heaven. All is made new in the afterlife, if with God. In Paul’s writings, he mentions that “in Christ” there is no difference in “Jew or Gentile”, “slave or free”, “male or female”, etc. THAT is God’s view of the color spectrum of the souls He created and saw it to be good. Racism is NOT eternal. What does that tell us about the perceived value and validation of racial disharmony in life today?
Racism will always be with us. The seed is there in this imperfect world. It was introduced by God’s adversary early in human history to distort the mind’s view of every created race. It is the management of it which must be priority. If the lion is not tamed, it will eat the foolish ringmaster.
The shooter in El Paso, Texas believed a racial lie. In his manifesto he wrote of multiple issues which pushed him over the edge like, plastic in the oceans, immigration flow, economics, eco-system, etc. But, in the end, his frustrations were decidedly poured out over helpless Hispanics with intention. The shooter in Dayton, OH and the shooter at the Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California were driven by hate, even though it appears not to be racially motivated. As a result, many were brutally murdered and maimed. It’s a seeded lie laced by the enemy of the human brotherhood of soul and spirit. Police in Gilroy reported the shooter there wore a clown mask. Appropriate, don’t you think?
Please accept this warning. Those who ricochet darts coming from the mouths of haters, is a very dangerous thing. Wars have been launched for far less. Unfortunately many like the shooters of El Paso, Dayton, and Gilroy are weak-minded, easily influenced, or simply mentally ill. They are like a weed bending to a dark wind from whichever direction. The result is, “I AM DOMINATE!” For some, all it will take is a spewing of hate-filled venom to cause the voices to ring violence in their minds. Once it takes hold, it is like the gravity of opium to the offender. If it’s not an assault rifle, it will be a bomb, a poison, a chemical, a blade, a flip of a rail switch, a van, a bus, a truck, a water bottle full of gasoline, etc.
Love, compassion, and understanding will always been the answer. In fact, love is the basis found in fuel for the race.
“You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill. – Jesus – Matthew 5:21-22 (MSG Version)
“She was just sixteen and all alone when I came to be. So we grew up together…mama-child and me. Now things were bad and she was scared, but whenever I would cry, she’d calm my fear and dry my tears with a rock and toll lullaby…” (1972) Rock And Roll Lullaby. Recorded by: B.J. Thomas. Composers: Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil.
With age, I have learned that…
If I were the teen who fought through a sexual assault, then carried an unwanted pregnancy, debating the heart’s choices, then allowing life to grow, I would be a spectacular teenager wise beyond my years.
If I were a parent who protected my newborn from assault and murder at the hands of the father, with a sacrificial unselfish front, I would be a medal of honor recipient.
If I were to end an abusive marriage, to defend and shield my innocent toddler, knowing there would be no child support, I would be a heroine authors would write about.
If I were a single parent constantly contending with the voices of psychological demons, chanting accusations of worthlessness, depreciation, and shame, all the while rising above it all to raise my child, I would be the dragon-slayer described in countless novels.
If I were to defeat my fear by moving into an uncharted world, away from family, to make a life for my young child, I would be a courageous warrior with monuments anointing the landscape.
If I were one who taught my toddler the true value of the gift of grandparents, I would be a brilliant educator with my name on the walls of universities.
If I were to faithfully read scripture to my young child each night, combined with the simplicity of personal prayer and church attendance, I would be a righteousness seeker with my statue erected by the world’s cathedrals.
If I were to seek out the finest pre-schools and kindergartens, in the attempt to assure my only child got a leg up, I would be a proactive parent to be noticed.
If I were to be rejected for loans and credit, due to being a single parent in the 1960’s, only to exercise faith while tackling a life of poverty with my head held high, I would be a fearless champion in my child’s eyes.
If I were to knock on every door to find a job waiting tables, or struggle with an overnight shift on an assembly line, I would be a humble workhorse of a provider for others to impersonate.
If I were to give away the opportunity to have a brilliant singing & recording career, just to be home with my child at the end of a hard night’s work, I would be self-sacrificing, worthy of a screenwriter’s time.
If I were to provide for my child after several lay-offs, by way of two or three jobs, I would be Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman combined, never being poor in spirit.
If I were to train my child well enough to leave him alone overnight, in order to work the graveyard shifts, I would be an example of a strong tower of faith.
If I were to work overtime to aid in the development of my elementary age child with raw musical abilities, by paying for piano, violin, guitar, and voice lessons, my portrait would hang in Carnegie Hall.
If I were to be a staunch, independent single parent, refusing financial aid from my parents, I would be wealthy of heart.
From my granddad’s cedar coin box. The two of us from 1969.
If I were to resist the temptation of suicide, while being beaten down by company lay-offs, Green Stamp submissions, and accepting government blocks of cheese, I would be a brave ferocious fighter for my child’s future.
If I were to support my teen’s sports and musical interests, which differ from mine, I would be a liberally devoted parent of love and understanding.
If I were to tirelessly stand up to my rebellious teenager, with the possibility of damaging our relationship, I would have attributes resembling the God of the Bible.
If I were to sit all alone in a church pew watching my child wed, I would have earned the vision of a soldier adorned in glistening armor after a long battle.
If I were to bless my grandchildren with my physical presence, my mind, as well as my heart, I would be worth my weight in gold.
My mom with my middle daughter, Megan. (1992)
If I were to deny myself, for the betterment of my child, to the point of self-injury, while killing my own pursuits, and avoiding life’s trinkets that shine in the night, I would be Joan of Arc, Boudicca, Anne Sullivan, and Rosa Parks rolled into one.
If I were to be an example for my adult child, by being the caretaker of my aging parents, suffering from Alzheimer’s and Dementia, along with other elderly ones in my community, I would reflect what I have always been…a mountain of love, compassion, and selflessness.
If I were to describe a fictitious character from my own dreams, they could not come close to the one I have held in my heart for my entire life.
I don’t have to write the words “If I WERE…” The reason being, I simply could never measure up. The one described above is my mom, Carolyn Atherton-Brown.
I am her portrait. I am her monument. I am her novel. I am her screenplay. I am her statue. I am her champion. I am her armored soldier. I am the medal of honor.
To be gracefully broken, brilliantly strengthened, and beautifully poised is to be one who drinks deeply from the well of fuel for the race.
“…As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord. I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given to the Lord…” – The words of Hannah – I Samuel 1:26b-28a (NIV)
Photo: Sierra Club, iStockphoto/MikeNorton – Palo Duro Canyon, Texas
“I’m gettin’ married in the morning. Ding-dong the bells are gonna chime. We’ll have a whopper, pull out the stopper. Get me to the church on time.” Composers: Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, “Get Me To The Church on Time” from “My Fair Lady”
Have you ever been somewhere, a geographical location, in your life where you have bad memories attached to that location? Have you ever had something horrific occur either to you, or witnessed something horrific, so much so that whenever you drive by that location your hair stands up on your neck? Most of us have. In the swarm of the rage, locale seems to be what sticks to the memory. In most cases, just the street, the structure, the building, or the name of such, can cause flashbacks of darker days, hurtful moments. In fact, often times, that street, structure or building is avoided, even if it takes a few turns out of the way of traveling from point A to point B.
(The church photo above is not the church building mentioned below.)
Recently, I got a phone call concerning an old family friend’s passing. I wanted to attend his memorial service, regardless of when or where it might be. Waiting each day after his death, and keeping my eyes on obituary notifications, I finally learned where the service would take place. It wasn’t a surprise to me where the tribute would be held when I read of the location. He had been serving as an usher in Sunday morning church services not far from where I live. It happened to be at a church building where I attended in my teenage years.
It had been 40 years since I worshiped there. Frankly, when I did leave that congregation at the time, I ran and ran hard. Many others did the same. Unfortunately, because of the twisting of what Jesus taught, there are several former parishioners that never darkened the doors of another church again. In fact, as for me, never in my wildest dreams did I ever construct a scenario that would drag my feet across the threshold of the front door of that place. There is much to tell here, but I will spare you the gory details. Just know, even as a teen, I knew the scent of harmful and secretive inner-church politics, dominated by a corrupt dictator of a pastor. Extreme unjustified hyper-judgmental teaching ruled the day every time the doors were opened. It would be a mistake to not include the fact that I was a victim of some of the false teaching which fueled the attitudes of parishioners delivered by the man in the corner church office. This species of spiritual abuse stunts spiritual growth, amputates joy and plants painful shaming as the end result. Unlawful, unbiblical teaching can and will shadow the listener for years to come. The shaping from false biblical thought is like a child working with wet putty, resulting in distorted shapes. It’s the same reason the warnings against this practice in biblical passages are so stark, hard and ominous.
At that time in my life I was not a true student of the scriptures. I was ignorant of the textual evidence to support what my spirit already knew. Later, many years later, I became more studious with biblical text. Then, and only then, did the realization wrap me in the confidence that God had placed the unrest inside of me back in the day. When teaching is contrary to scripture, the consistent Bible student knows the difference. After all, God does not suffer from multiple personality disorders.
When Bible readers take the time to truly study what has been written down for us, then we know the ways of the great I AM often comes across as humorous. Yes, God has and shares His sense of humor. The day of the funeral, I re-discovered this truth once again.
Driving into the parking lot, I began to show familiar signs of stress and anxiety. I had donned a sports jacket which hid the sweat soaking through my shirt. Seriously, walking through those doors was a true test of my endurance. Immediately, I began to see the extensive remodeling of the building which obviously had taken place over the decades. There was a drastic color change, new pews, reconstructed stage, etc. Right away, just the fact the building looked like a different place gave me some relief from how I was feeling.
(Photo not from the location.)
Truly, the greatest aid toward my sore, bruised heart, was the actual congregation. Long-gone was the “old guard” who had been shaped by the now retired, misguided pastor. I had also learned that the corruption hurt the congregation to the point of reduction of parishioners. (Once 500-600 attendees strong.) Apparently, due to a modern-day exodus, all were victims, to some degree, of a power-hungry clergyman who ruled over the unsuspecting flock. In the end, there was no one there to remind me of the way things once were under the roof of the facility. All of those years there was no need for the angst and bitterness I harbored. If you find false teaching in a place, move on until you find where a correct biblical doctrine is taught. God certainly has His ways.
Walking away from the memorial service for my departed friend, I was struck by a deeply-seeded biblical truth. The classical Greek, the original language of the New Testament, spells it out: “Ekklesia” (ek-Klay-See’-ah). In Hebrew it is very close to the word, “Adat” (uh-DOT’ or uh-DOTH’). It is the the word Jesus used to describe HIS “church.” It is NOT a building, even though we might say the wedding is “at the church,” or turn left “at the church in red brick.” “Ekklesia” means an assembly, or a gathering of people. In short, we might say, congregation. Sure, the building had been updated, painted, remodeled, but also, the local “ekklesia” who assembled at the address, had been changed. He will do what He will with His ekklesia.
His ekklesia was to be built on ROCK, not shifting sand. What foundation could manage shifting sand?
As a serious believer in the teachings of Jesus, my job is to be sure the attitude of my heart is remodeled, painted and updated. He came to make all things new. Therefore, I should follow in His newness, adding fuel for the race.
“…upon this rock I will build My chucrch (ekklesian); and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” -Jesus. From Matthew 16:18b (NAS)