A Wonderful Distraction

“When you feel down and out, Sing a song (it’ll make your day).

For you, here’s the time to shout Sing a song (It’ll make a way).

Sometimes it’s hard to care, Sing a song (It’ll make your day).

A smile is so hard to bear, Sing a song (It’ll make a way)…”

(1975) Recorded By: Earth, Wind & Fire Composers: Maurice White/Al McKay

Can I be real frank with you, yet remaining to be Alan at the same time? Okay, I take it that’s a “Yes”.

Over the summer, death has taken a few friends and acquaintances, including one family member, and almost lost another. The losses have been almost on a weekly basis. I have been fighting depression concerning my dementia patient mom who is declining much faster than expected. She still lives alone some 60 miles from me. I am facing mountains of decisions in this arena. My health is slowly headed further south. My wife has been faced with health issues herself, and heavy emotional family issues on her side. I feel like I am going under with my hand stretched out above the surface of a deep, dark ocean. I have needed a distraction…big-time.

It seems I have some new readers which may not know about one of my favorite topics, my middle daughter, Megan. Although I recently posted about her wedding over the summer, here I am again with something new and exciting.

Megan with her band, Grosh
Megan shooting a music video

Megan is a bit of a verified rock star in Western New York. Articles and reviews list her as part of Buffalo, New York’s “rock royalty”, and she’s only 31.

Recently, she was asked to audition to perform the National Anthem at the home opener at the Buffalo Sabres game. She, and her band mate, Grace Lougen from their band, Grosh, (Grace is a superb guitar player.), she recently played for me at Megan’s wedding reception, took the plunge with an audition. BOOM! Before you could say, Ice Capades, she got the call. As it turned out, she needed to learn the Canadian Anthem as well, due to the fact the opposing team was the Montreal Canadiens, (Yeah, that’s how they spell it.)

Although, me being in Dallas Stars’ territory, no outlet was carrying the game, with the exception of ESPN+, which my oldest daughter, Tabitha subscribes to. Thankfully, she shot a cell phone video of the performance, which I posted on my Facebook page. (You can see it there. Search for, Alan Brown Carrollton, Texas. That should do it.)

What’s that? You say you wish you could see some pictures? Really? Well, allow me. Let me grab my slide projector.

Megan (R) with Grace (L) prior to the game.

Megan & Grace at work on the Sabres’ ice.

Megan & Grace remembering the lyrics to “Oh, Canada”
.
Singing without a COVID mask is refreshing for a New Yorker!

It does a dad’s heart some good to find several camera angles for different perspectives from fans in attendance, as well as, those viewing from Canadian networks. (The version on my Facebook page is from the ESPN+ broadcast.) I needed to be ushered away from heavy sorrows and raking worries. It served as an inward reboot button. Thank you, Megan.

Although, with live gigs averaging several times a week, with 19,000+ in the arena that night, plus who knows how many in the television and radio audience, I would say it was her largest audience to date. Yeppers, I was one proud dad. Moreover, I was one distracted dad.

Recently I became aware that the Puritans often used a quote I have used before as a performer through the decades. I had always thought the origin of the quote came from Soren Kierkegaard. Nevertheless, it’s a dandy.

“AN AUDIENCE OF ONE”

Sometime in my mid 20’s, when I became a serious Bible student, anytime I performed a song, a theatrical script, or while on radio and audio commercials, I trained myself to imagine performing to He Who sits on the eternal throne, God Himself. It was a process. Prior to that time, I just focused on the audience of humanity in the seats. That’s all well and good, but it can feel shallow. Laser-focusing on the One Who created talents can bring the performance from the head to the heart rapidly, as if He is the only set of eyes and ears in the room. This is what I taught Megan while she was a child actress back in the day. My hope is that every now and then, she might recall the idea.

When needing a good distraction, find it easily in fuel for the race.

“Sing to the LORD a new song; Sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, bless His name; Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.” – Psalm 96:1-2 (NAS)

Conformity

“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?

Photo by Yan Krukov on Pexels.com

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.

The Borg. Star Trek franchise. Paramount Pictures. Memory Alpha Fandom.

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)

That Which Entangles

“And if they stare
Just let them burn their eyes on you moving.
And if they shout
Don’t let it change a thing that you’re doing…

Hold your head up, oh
Hold your head up, oh

Hold your head high.”
(1972) “Hold Your Head Up” Recorded By: Argent Composers: C. White/R. Argent

I admit it. I am an Olympic junkie. I sat on the couch for two weeks, glued to the Tokyo events. I found myself cheering while taking-in certain sports I normally would pass on, like wall climbing. After a few days, I realized I hadn’t even taken a shower. Yeah, sad, I know.

The human spirit in these games was so evident, even in a pandemic. For the most part, no crowds where allowed to cheer the athletes onward toward the goal. Unless a relative was a coach, no parents, wives, husbands, children, significant others were on the grounds. So, in a way, the competitors found the struggle a bit more challenging without the love felt and heard around them.

The human interest stories attached to some Olympians were in abundance. I would list the notables, but the list is way too long. If you weren’t able to watch, trust me, there were plenty of tear-jerking side stories shared.

These games were a bit different for me personally. The daughter of an old friend of mine made the Olympics this year. Melissa Gonzalez is a 27 year old world track contender in the women’s 400 meter hurdles. She has dual citizenship and was able to represent her dad’s country of Colombia. (Her mom, my old friend, was raised in my area.)

Melissa Gonzalez

Melissa grew-up here in my neck of the woods and attended University of Texas in Austin, Tx. She was a track star there, but her speed times were shy of Olympian competition requirements. She work every day for years on end to better her times. She prayed about the decision to tryout for the Tokyo games, made the choice, and qualified. She threw-off the personal disappointment, in her less than luster times at UT, and grew wings on her shoes for Tokyo. Melissa had broken her own Colombian record for the 400 meter hurdles, and in the qualifying heat in Tokyo surpassed her national record for a personal best. A few days later, in the semi-finals, she had to run in the rain against a world record holder, and the up-coming gold medalist.

Although Melissa fell short of winning a medal, coming in the 6th place slot, she remains in the top 24 for women’s 400 meter hurdles in the world. Because of the joy she possesses from her deep faith, she held her head up and displayed God’s love wherever she went. She vows to go to Paris for the next Olympics in 2024. You go, girl!

Scores of friends and family met her at the airport when she came home. There were lots of tears shed as they cheered for a job well done. Really, a life well-lived. I’m very proud of her.

Melissa at DFW Airport

Although I was distracted, as my focus was on Melissa’s efforts and stats in Tokyo, I was literally shaken by another amazing, stunning occurrence in the women’s 1,500 meter qualifying heat. Did you see it?

Ethiopian-born Dutch distance runner, Sifan Hassan, 28 years old, would be unheard-of for the casual sports fan. If you are a fan of world track competitions, than you may recognize her as a two-time gold medalist in both the 1,500 meter, and the 10,000 meter events from the 2019 World Championships.

Sifan was flying out of her shoes as she was entering the final lap in the 1,500, when all went wrong. A runner from Kenya was in front of her, tripped and hit the track on her belly, tripping Sifan in the process, hitting the pavement as well.

Photo: Matthias Hangst – Sifan Hassa in orange top.

Seemingly out of the race, Sifan looked up, watching the world contenders quickly leaving her behind. There were eleven of them, the fastest runners in the world, were now between her and the finish-line.

Photo: Reuters/Dylan Martinez – Sifan Hassan

To everyone’s shock, Sifan looked down in defeat and then looked up again with another expression on her face. The track star then stood up, and turned on the fuel from behind the running crowd. With nothing short of astonishing inward fortitude, Sifan poured on the speed. At this point, I thought, “Wow. Nice second effort, but she’s done.”

The lady from the Netherlands swept passed each and every contender in high gear. I couldn’t help but stand to my feet in my living-room as I watched the focus in her eyes burning like the Olympic torch itself.

As she was gradually making up lost ground, on the final straightaway, she pushed herself passed the front pack of five finalists to outrun them all as she crossed the finish-line in first place.

Photo: NBC Sports – Sifan Hassa 1st place

Later in the week, Sifan Hassan made it through the semifinals. On the day of the final heat for the medals in the 1,500 meters, she won the bronze for the Netherlands.

If you’re not familiar with the Bible, the Apostle Paul was a sports fan, from what he wrote. In his writings he uses some Olympic events to help us understand how spiritual faith works, and how it works itself out into action. It’s as if he saw the women’s 1,500 meter with Sifan, and the 400 meter hurdles with Melissa, and wrote the following…

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” – I Corinthians 9:24 (NIV)

Whenever the winners were given a screen to see their family and friends cheering them on back home, it made most athletes smile, laugh, and cry. When Melissa exited the gate from the baggage claim back in Dallas, when she saw the cheering, weeping crowds with their signs and balloons welcoming her home from an effort well-done, there was joy in her eyes. And so this encouragement was written for us…

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)

Since the days have passed by, I think a lot about Melissa and Sifan. Mostly, I try to get inside their heads when that moment of decision was made. For Melissa, it was holding her head up above the clouds of self-pity as she felt “less-than” from her college track times. She very well could have simmered in the frying pan of loss, holding her away from world competition. For Sifan, there must have been an instant of overwhelming defeat as she tripped over the Kenyan watching the surface of the track come closer and closer to her face. She was faced with walking off the track while calling it a day. But, somehow, someway, she stood to her feet, endured the pain, and found a gear she probably didn’t know she had at the moment.

How about when you have fallen? Do you recall? Do you remember the scrape to the knees as you hit the concrete of life? The losses, the failures, the defeat can be life altering, or even ending for some. I know this all too well. All things CAN BE endured.

Spiritually speaking, we all have fallen short of the target. The goal in our relationship with our Creator is too far away for our arrows to reach. It’s like an attempt at the long jump over the Grand Canyon. You just can’t achieve it. At the same time, God made a way to bridge the great gap we cannot negotiate. Jesus came here to run the perfect race for us, to carry us across the finish-line Himself, for Himself. Otherwise, because of sin in life, which we all are owners, we would be left on the track without a chance to crossover to where we need to be at the end of our heat.

We are born with our backsides on the surface of the track. But we don’t have to stay there.

A race well-done can only be had by grace, through faith, and easily found in fuel for the race.

“Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. So they do it to obtain a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way as not to run aimlessly; I box in such a way, as to avoid hitting air; but I strictly discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” – Paul – I Corinthians 9:25-27 (NAS)

Words That Stick

“…You might not see him in person,
But he’ll see you just the same.
Yeah, yeah,
You don’t have to worry ’cause takin’ care of business is his name.”
(1973) “Jesus Just Left Chicago” – Recorded By: ZZ Top Composers: Frank Beard, Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill

Oh, the irony of that last verse from ZZ Top.

So, who is God? Really? If He is to be found, then where is He?

Rarely do I write about an artist twice in a row, but this week turned out to be different.

If not familiar with ZZ Top, it’s not important to the thrust of this post. If you know ZZ Top, but you’re not into their style of music, again, keep reading.

ZZ Top has been together for more than 52 years. Around 1969, some Texas boys put together a three-piece band, which became a giant source of sound, with a southern rock twist. ZZ Top became one of the biggest selling names in the rock arena. If you hear them play, you might think you are hearing a five member band. Artistically, they are phenomenal. Billy, Dusty, and Frank created a powerhouse of music mixes which stamped their brand nicely all through the 1970’s and onward. Their concert tours continue even now.

Photo: Wikipedia – ZZ Top, Dusty Hill, Billy Gibbons, Frank Beard

This past week, Dusty Hill, the iconic bass player from ZZ Top, passed away while sleeping in his home in Houston. He was 72 years old.

Dusty was considered far and wide as being one of the greatest bass players ever to pluck the strings. He also held down the back-up vocals, keyboards (when needed), and the cello. In fact, he began playing the classical cello as a youngster. Seeing Dusty at a truck stop, in his cowboy hat, jeans, and boots, complete with his famous chest-length beard, you wouldn’t assume he was an accomplished tower of a musician, or that his net worth was just north of 60 million dollars. He was a master musician and stage performer.

Photo: Wikipedia – Dusty Hill

During my high school days in the 1970’s, I knew about 70% of their music by heart. My friend, and guitar player for my band, was great at picking ZZ Top songs on his guitar by ear. So, I was a bit heartbroken this week when the news came across that Dusty had quietly left us. Somehow, our rock heroes aren’t supposed to leave this life, or ever get old for that matter. At least that’s in the back of our minds.

Dusty had a few health issues he contended with over the years. He was not a stranger to injuries, most of which occurred while on the road with ZZ Top. After a fall, with a much needed hip replacement, Dusty was advised to sit on a stool during stage performances, but his pride wouldn’t allow it. A few years back Dusty’s trusted Derringer fell out of his boot, accidentally went off and left him with a bullet in the belly. He had the wherewithal at the time to drive himself to the hospital before he went into shock. It’s a good thing he did, too. He made a full recovery.

Sometimes words are spoken and forgotten. Often times, words can be iconic, sticking to the minds of the hearers, and label of the persona who delivered the words.

Once Dusty was asked about what he thought about God, being one of the composers of “Jesus Just Left Chicago”. His answer was stark, and maybe not unusual by today’s cultural standards.

“I believe in God. I just don’t know what, or who God actually is.” – Dusty Hill

Dusty’s answer seems to fit the mindset of many. When faced with the question, if someone laughs it off, then it usually means they fear the answer to the question. The nervous laughter is a self-protective distraction. After all, there is the theory that whatever you actually speak out-loud, you believe deep down. Dusty’s honest answer usually comes from someone who has considered the answer prior to being asked. In many cases, when those words are spoken, the person drowns the heart’s desire “to know” with the stuff of life. Some common tools would be, business, career, family time, substance abuse, talents, or entertainment. Others, may follow-up on their admitted loss “of knowing” the answer, and seriously seek God out. Jesus did say, “Knock and the door shall be opened to you.” -(Matthew 7:7).

Scripture is stuffed with passages speaking of this vital Q&A beyond the cosmos we are all faced with. From the beginning of biblical time, God Himself invites us to come and discover Him, to seek Him out while He may be found. One of my favorites is when God invites us to come to Him with, not just questions about Him, but actual debate, when He said in Isaiah 1:18…

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”

Contrary to some schools of thought, God seeks us out. In reality, we run from the subject matter. Why? Because it’s easier to simply believe we captain our own ships, ships that sail into the afterlife. In a sense, humans are control freaks. We want to be the ones who lay in a bed in our home and say to ourselves, “Well, my body is ebbing away, but my spirit is strong enough to take it from here.”

To this, I would ask, if you can’t control your own thought-life today, this hour, or this very moment, what makes you think you can project your own spirit/soul? Seriously, ask that of yourself. Consider, the afterlife, and what is prepared for you, doesn’t belong to you. You don’t own it, like one owns a car.

Photo by Mark Vegera on Pexels.com

The most prominent self-taught statement on a deathbed is: “Sure, I have sinned, but who doesn’t? I’m a pretty good guy/gal, for the most part. That should speak well of myself at Peter’s gate…if there is one.”

As for Dusty’s “who” and “what”, Jesus addressed this several times so there would be no misunderstandings.

“Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ Jesus says to him, ‘Am I with you so long a time, and you have not known Me, Philip? The one having seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own, but the Father, as He remains in Me, does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves.'” -John 14:10-11 (NAS)

For those who believe, these words of Jesus stick. As for Dusty’s words, he actually answered his own question in the last verse of his song from 1972.

Although you may think you are unknown to God, you’ll see anew in fuel for the race.

“And Jesus was silent. And the chief priest answering said to Him, ‘I adjure You, by the living God, that You may say to us if You are the Christ—the Son of God.’ Jesus says to him, ‘You have said; nevertheless I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of Heaven.’” – Matthew 26:63-64 (Literal Standard Version)

For The Love Of Stuart

“I love you in a place
Where there’s no space or time.
I love you for my life
You’re a friend of mine.
And when my life is over
Remember when we were together.
We were alone and I was singing this song to.”
(1970) “A Song For You” – Recorded & Composed By: Leon Russell

Does the name, Stuart Sutcliffe mean anything to you? Does his name sound familiar, as if you think you “should” know who he is? If you’re in the dark on Stuart Sutcliffe, don’t feel badly. Most would be, if asked.

Stuart Sutcliffe was an artist (mainly abstract paintings). In fact, as a teenager, he attended the Liverpool College of Art. While there in the late 1950’s, he met another blooming artist named, John Lennon. As friendship grew, John and Stuart found yet another love, other than artwork, in the form of music. John had a struggling band of young musicians, and asked Stuart to consider joining his group. Before you could say, The Quarrymen (One of John’s earlier titles for the band.) Stuart was playing the bass in this ragtag Liverpool crew of schoolboys. At times it was a band of three lads, other times a band of five. If you’ve ever been part of a music act, than you know this is so common of a problem.

Photo: Amazon.com Stuart, with John Lennon and George Harrison

It’s funny how things work sometimes when unforeseen events help to make other unforeseen events happen. Step 1-2-3…

Stuart was a good artist with the brush and canvas. In fact, one of his paintings sold while he was learning songs with the band-mates. Paul McCartney speaks today of how poor they were. They couldn’t even afford a tape recorder. When the proceeds landed in Stuart’s pocket, John & Paul persuaded him to buy a quality electric bass guitar with it. Feeling the pressure, he did just that.

Stuart can also be applauded for helping John come up with the name, Beatles, although it did go through a couple of spelling changes. So, off they went, playing mostly cover songs in any and every club in Liverpool, along with, surrounding villages, school and church dances, even hitting the road up to Scotland for a short tour.

Photo: All That’s Interesting – The early Beatles, with Stuart seated on the left.

Early 1960, (Two years before Ringo joined the band.) when Stuart was only 19 years old, and George Harrison even younger than that, the manager of the Beatles booked a 3.5 month residency in the red light district in Hamburg, Germany. They were contracted to play a certain amount of gigs at a club which had recently made a conversion from a strip joint to a live music club. What could go wrong, right? Well, lots did in between packing in the crowds. (Yeah, I won’t go into all that.) Because of some bad episodes, and bad decisions, the contract was cut short. However, not all things were bad, depending on who you ask.

While the lads were turning up the volume in Hamburg, Stuart met a German girl who was a shutterbug with a camera, Astrid Kirchherr, who was also an art lover. Astrid took loads of photos of the band live on stage and elsewhere. Stuart and Astrid spent a lot of time together during their stay in Hamburg. When it came time to leave Hamburg, Stuart wanted to stay. He even went so far as to enroll in the Hamburg College of Art. While there, he told his new love, he thought he might like to become an art teacher someday.

Before you could say, “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, the decision was made. Stuart left the Beatles, but gained a fiance.

Photo: AnOther Magazine – Astrid and Stuart

I know, the two don’t look too happy. But they were both artistic, so they could get away with not smiling. Frankly, I couldn’t find a photo of Stuart smiling or laughing…anywhere. I’m not sure what that says, if anything.

Of course, many will say, “Oh, wow! What a missed opportunity! This guy probably kicked himself later. He should’ve stuck with the lads and said so-long to the photographer.” Others will look at Stuart’s choice as, “Awe, how sweet. He loved her so much that he was willing to leave behind his Beatle band-mates. Instead of rolling in the dough, he wanted to roll in his his love for Astrid. How romantic.” Then there are some who will be more cynical with something like, “Yeah, it was love alright. Truth be known, he loved the art-world too much and it messed with his head. Priorities, priorities.” Paul McCartney says Stuart left for love, no matter what other sources might print. How do you see it?

Here’s what we DO know. Beyond, “Love, love me do…” if you live long enough, you find the richness, and the depths of love. If you live long enough, you’ll discover love changes everything. It can change your outlook, your scope on life, your plans, and priorities. Love defined is a mystery, really. For me, love is like a powerful current, an undertow beneath the surface unforeseen, undetected by sight. Love can donate a kidney. Love can empty out all self-awareness. Love can give away life for the benefit of another.

Could it be, Stuart left something he loved for something he loved more?

“‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” – Alfred Lord Tennyson

Jesus defined love in John 3:16, “For God SO loved the world, THAT He gave his only begotten Son, THAT whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting (eternal life after physical death) life.” (emphasis mine)

Notice the “action” love takes in that passage.

Somehow, in someway, love is linked with loss. It is like a clipping of the wings that we have grown accustomed to since birth. When a parent holds a newborn in their arms for the first time, suddenly there is a shift. Inwardly, we declare, “I will do whatever I must do to give you a good life.” In a strange way, in that moment, we put “self” on the shelf.

I, for one, have failed at love many times in my life, especially as a younger individual. Yet, life has taught me that when true love is exercised, one does not mind cutting off part of one’s “self”. Stuart Sutcliffe, all of 19-20 years old, may have understood this.

Unfortunately, Stuart and Asdrid had very little time together. In 1962, while in art class in Hamburg, after complaining of headaches and sensitivity to light, he collapsed and passed away. After an autopsy, the cause of death was listed as a Cerebral Hemorrhage. In a twist of fate, it was yet another unforeseen event for Stuart Sutcliffe.

Astrid was asked to be an advisor on a 1994 film, “Backbeat”, which focused on the Beatles early years in Hamburg, which included Stuart and Astrid. She kept her toes in the love of photography all of her life.

In May of 2020, Astrid died after a short illness at the age of 82. She lived alone.

Be ready for the unforeseen. The instructions were left with love in fuel for the race.

“He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ Peter was hurt because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend My sheep.'” – John 21:17 (NAS)

Roads Chosen

“Somewhere out on that horizon,
Out beyond the neon lights,
I know there must be somethin’ better.
But there’s nowhere else in sight…”
(1979) “In The City”, Recorded By: Eagles Composers: Joseph Fidler Walsh, Barry R. De Vorzon

Last week, my wife and I decided we would go out to dinner on a whim. We chose a certain national chain restaurant, common to most medium to large American cities. It was about 6:30pm when we found ourselves alone, waiting for someone to seat us there in the small waiting area. About 3-4 minutes went by without anyone approaching us. The dining area was empty with the exception of one couple eating at a table, and the bar area had 3-4 people on bar stools. Finally, an employee, dressed as if from the waitstaff, or kitchen staff, walked up to us.

He said, “It will be about a 20 minute wait.” We looked around again to find we were the only ones waiting for a table, and 99% of the dining area was empty. My wife asked, “You mean, you can’t seat us with all those empty tables and booths?” (You go get ’em, honey.) That’s when he said the most unheard of thing, “We don’t have a hostess here to seat you. For now, I can offer you the bar, or you can wait here in the lobby.” Guess how we answered in response. “Uh, no thanks.” We scratched our heads as we drove 10 minutes up the road to their competitors for dinner. As time went by, we thought the true story might be a lacking of kitchen staff, or waitstaff.

As I posted our experience on Facebook, many of my friends replied with similar situations. Most felt it was a sign of too many stimulus checks, and unemployment checks left over from the pandemic shutdown. Way too many are depositing more funds than the salaries from their last place of occupation. No wonder so many establishments have “Now Hiring” signs up.

This circumstance we find ourselves in would be very foreign to these students…

Photo: Traces of Texas. Dallas Telegraph College – Class of 1904.

Meet the class of 1904 from the Dallas telegraph College. Nobody looks real happy. If it was 98 degrees out, with those suits and ties, I can see why. My eyes were quickly caught up to the third row where a single woman proudly stands among the men of graduates. In those times, she was an oddity. I wish I knew her story. I am sure she was a bold, “grab the bull by the horns” lady.

Think back on those times. These were lads, and lady, from all walks of life, many from the country. No doubt some were from sharecroppers, ranch families, or hired ranch hands. Others might have been orphaned, just taking the opportunities for a work and trade. A selected few may have gone to telegraph school and worked at the hotel down the street as a bellhop at night. The female in this photo may have been a runaway. Much like my great-grandmother, Roberta Martin, from my granddad’s side of the family, who went to college in disobedience to her father’s demands. Her three sisters stayed at home where their father had told them it was their “place” in life, but not my great-grandmother. Roberta boldly left for college.

One thing is for certain, each and every one of these students of telegraph had to interrupt life as they knew it to reach a higher goal. Each individual had to drop the plow, hang up the spurs, or bought a train ticket to Dallas from out of state to enroll in the Dallas Telegraph College. The grads in the old photo didn’t believe in being spoon-fed. Instead, they all made hard choices.

Photo by Christian Heitz on Pexels.com

At some point, like all of us, each student came to a fork in the winding road, not a spoon. Am I right?

“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
Excerpt from: “The Road Not Taken” – Robert Frost

I have always loved Robert Frost’s work, especially, “The Road Not Taken”. It speaks and serves so well.

Jesus said something similar, although clearly an eternal view, but the principle is the same.

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is narrow and the way is constricted that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” -Jesus (Matthew 7;13-14 NAS)

Someone might have said to a boy looking at his fork in the road, “Stay on the farm, lad. Every man in the county got his own pigpen by staying on the farm.” Some desk manager possibly could have told a young bellboy, “Hey, someday you might be a night desk clerk at this hotel. Stick with the baggage, boy.” Our lady grad might have heard the words, “No daughter of mine ain’t goin’ go to that there college with all them boys! Why, who ever heard of such a thang? You best stay here and help your mother with house chores. After all, that’s what a man looks for in a woman.”

With that said, the roads mentioned above were more traveled, and wide, too. They were considered less risky. As you can see, the class of 1904 wasn’t a student body of 850. No, it was a more narrow path to work for that diploma. I am sure most said it was worth it… until a few short years later when this happened….

Photo by Eneida Nieves on Pexels.com

In 1914, there were about 10 people for every working telephone in America. After WWI, the number of available telephones for the public began to multiply. Suddenly, telegraph operators were out looking for other employment. No doubt, many of our 1904 grads were in that number. Technology moves onward, no matter what we want, or what we’ve trained for.

Have you been there before? Did you ever feel like you were put out to pasture? A nurse from 50 years ago would have to go back to nursing school today. Telephone operators from the 1990’s found themselves out of work due to the internet and telecommunications technology. The communicator from the Star Trek series on Captain Kirk’s belt is now in every pocket in America. Not a whole lot of phone booths are left.

We plan our course. We draw up our five-year plans. We obtain mortgages based on those plans. We choose our majors and minors. Still, most grads don’t stick with the degrees they earned. Things change. Times develop. Our forks continue to face us. Pandemics come, we get sidelined. Washington throws money at us while we wait. Things open back up, and many are faced with the road of being spoon-fed, or earning their true worth. At the same time, many will forget the plans God has for each footstep. So many of us refuse to ask Him to show the road not taken.

Although it has nothing to do with career, or income, I am facing a new fork in the road currently. It will change our lives drastically. I didn’t ask for this fork. I didn’t exactly know when the fork would arrive. Yet, it’s here. I am faced with heavy choices. Dare I say, I am forced to make a choice? Yes, in honesty, I am.

Somewhere, there’s a hostess from a local restaurant trying to make a clear, worthy choice. Hopefully, she’s not standing in a line at the Dallas Telegraph College.

No need to ask Siri. When choosing the right road, find directions in fuel for the race.

“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” – Proverbs 16:9 (NIV)

When The Rapids Rage

“…And the rush of crashing water
surrounds me with its sound.
Striking out to reach you.
I can’t get through to the other side,
When you’re racing in the rapids,

there’s only one way, that’s to ride.
Taken down, taken down
by the undertow…”
(1974) “In The Rapids” Recorded By: Genesis Composers:Anthony Banks, Michael Rutherford, Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Steve Hackett

Earlier in June, I wrote of my experiences while attending my daughter’s wedding in Buffalo, NY. My other daughters, D’Anna and Tabitha, and Tabitha’s daughter, Skylar, as well as, D’Anna’s fiance, Nik, all made the journey from Texas to be at the incredible occasion.

Being former citizens of the Buffalo area, naturally the family wanted to check out old stomping grounds, our old house, and iconic places of the area. Nik, on the other hand, had never been there. D’Anna was on a tear to get Nik to Niagara Falls. Before you can say, “Drip-drip”, the family hightailed it over the Grand Island Bridge to see one of the Seven Wonders of The World. I have never gotten tired of visiting and revisiting this magnificent awestruck creation.

From the Skylon Tower on the Canadian side. Horseshoe Falls of the Niagara.

Once there, the kids did what they had time for. They visited The Cave of The Winds behind the falls. They explored the panoramic view from the foot of the falls, while on the deck of the Maid of The Mist touring boat, where you can feel the churning rumble beneath your feet. And of course, what’s a summer day if you miss getting sprayed really nicely climbing the wooden staircase next to the American side of the falls. They were immediately reminded the water is always cold in every season.

For me, the drive just outside the falls, in itself, is something to behold. Before you arrive at the falls, you travel a road which stretches alongside the upper Niagara as it speeds toward the falls. The closer you get to the falls, the more turbulent the river becomes. Some 100 yards, or so, before reaching the rim of the falls, the upper rapids churn and toss the waters filling the misty air with the roar of its rage. I have written before about the ominous, “point of no return” warnings set for boaters, which may be about a mile upstream. By the time you see the rapids racing to the brink, the force of the poundage of the water could violently toss the Empire State Building over the edge. It’s massive. It’s powerful. It’s unforgiving. It’s stirring to walk alongside the rapids as you feel its unmatched strength.

Nik and D’Anna did just that.

At some point, Nik noticed something that caught his eye. Most wouldn’t even notice, or even think about how it happens, but someone with a observant mind would take note. It was this…

There, just a few yards from the brink of the falls, a stubborn tree in the middle of the roaring deadly rapids. They noticed it didn’t budge, sway, or even wobble. There was no detection if the tree was rooted beneath the torrent on the riverbed, or if it was an uprooted tree from upstream which found a stabilizing foothold in the boulders beneath the surface. Nik was amazed at the tree’s resilience as the crushing flood crashed into its trunk, pushing, tugging, and grappling through the might of the raging undertow. So astonished by what he saw, he took the picture with his cell phone. My theory? I believe it to be a driftwood tree carried downstream which jammed one of its limbs in a crevice of a boulder, or two, anchoring it in place, forcing the rapids over, or around it. From what they observed, unless authorities remove it somehow, that tree might never see the edge of the falls.

Flying back to Dallas, Texas, while on my layover in the Baltimore airport, as I waited to change planes I took out the phone to catch myself up on the news of the week. I had been so busy while in Buffalo, I hadn’t seen any news reports Of course, as I began to scroll through the headlines, I regretted stepping out of oblivion.

So much anger, rage, and social idolatry has become the norm in such a short time. Hatred, deception, chaos, Marxism, and crime are on the rampage. Oh, and did I mention hatred?

The one giant elephant in the room parents discovered over the pandemic, as their kids were going to school online, was they actually got to see what their children were being taught. One of which, is CRT (Critical Race Theory), birthed out of the BLM movement. If not familiar with the CRT protocols, its statements, and its goals, you should look it up for yourself. In a nutshell, in very seductive undertows, it pits one race against another. The focus demonizes the white race, teaching all white people are born oppressors. How blatant is that? The focus is to shame the white race with the false idea that if born to white parents, you are unable to rid yourself of being an oppressor, a white supremacist, or a flat-out racist. Even our own president has said as much at his podium.

This twisted, deranged lie indicates a white person can, and will, never shed the haughty attitude of automatically degrading, from the very soul, other ethnic categories of color, especially anyone of African decent. According to CRT, this happens in infancy.

This is all where the phrase, “Systemic Racism” is developed. If you are one of my readers who has brown, or black skin, this places you in a cultural psychological pit in which you do not belong. CRT, if it has its way, has a dangerous, venomous seedling to be planted in your mind. The seedling will root itself in the crevice of your brain, programming you to believe that today, tomorrow, and always, you will be an “oppressed victim”. No matter how much income you deposit in your bank, no matter what level of education, no matter what position you take in the marketplace of careers, you will always have this root growing its limbs and branches, wrapping its warped ideology around and around your mind like a grapevine, or like a vicious cancer. In the end, you will never displace its roots once they have taken the foothold within. The result will not have you moving forward in our culture, but backward to the 1860’s after America’s war to abolish slavery. Instead of what Dr. Martin Luther King spoke about, judging by the character of a person, and not by the color of their skin, you and your children, and their children, will be indoctrinated to adapt the lie of being beneath all whites at birth. That is not a free person. That is not the truth. That is not God’s hand.

CRT divides us into tribes, into mental masters and slaves, and how one race will always be evil. It is also designed to create stigmas of hate within the family unit itself. Ironically, unlike what CRT teaches, so many families are made up of various representatives of races. At American restaurants tonight, many tables will be full of loved ones dining together, who happen to be white and black, Hispanic and white, Asian and black, etc. Not to be missed, there are those wonderful families who have adopted children of various races. I have several white friends who have adopted, or fostered, black children, as well as, kids from other colors of God’s rainbow. CRT targets the family unit at its very DNA strand, which feeds discord. It’s clever, it breeds racism, and it’s deadly.

Is this what we want? Is this leading to a healthy culture, and respectful society? Is it not true that we are all created equal? In the biblical aspect, yes, we ARE created equally. In Jesus, we are no longer these categories: slave and free, women and men, Greek or Jew. (Galatians 3:28 Paul’s writing.) If someone comes along in history with another teaching, they are not of the doctrine of the God of Creation.

Some corporations have adopted the ideology into their HR requirements, especially for leadership positions. The fight to keep it out of our military is a current debate on Capitol Hill as I type this. Now, where various school boards have adopted the indoctrination of CRT into the curriculum, out of social fear or political pressure, some parents are beginning to vigorously speak out at public board meetings. That’s what it will take, patriots who love this nation to stand up for truth, justice, and the rule of law against the rage of a few who wish to see America crumble.

As for me, I hope that tree, in the middle of the rapids in the Niagara, holds tight to its stabling rock. I sure would hate to see it let go due to the sheer weight of the rushing torrent against it, only to see it go over the edge into…oblivion.

A solid rock in midstream was introduced from ancient days in fuel for the race.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, And whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water That extends its roots by a stream, And does not fear when the heat comes; But its leaves will be green, And it will not be anxious in a year of drought, Nor cease to yield fruit.” – Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NAS)

Show Me The Door

“…That cold black cloud is comin’ down.
Feels like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door.”
(1973) “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” Composed & Recorded By: Bob Dylan

Be honest. Give it a moment of thought. What do you first think of when you see a shut door? Like a photo of the sun kissing the horizon. Is it dawn, or dusk? Is the door an exit, or an entrance?

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

July 4, 1987 was the official date when I had the honor to join the air staff at a brand new Christian music radio station in the Dallas/Ft Worth area. That July 4th was our debut. I had just turned 27. It was my very first radio job. We were building a 100,000 watt blowtorch of a pop/rock Christian station like no other. It was called, KOJO (Ko-Jo). people laughed as it reminded some of Stephen King’s novel and movie, “Cujo” from earlier in the decade. Ironically, although the name stuck very well to the ear, the call letters were changed in 1989 to KLTY, which it remains today. It didn’t take long before we were named the most listened to Christian station in the world. In just a few months we had accumulated over 400,000 listeners in the Metroplex, and that was just the beginning.

We were in full-court press with promotions, contests, and live remote broadcasts constantly. For several weekends in a row we poured the audience a huge opportunity for various winnings of some kind. After the announcement, the 9th caller would be the one who had their name added for a Monday morning drawing for the prize. We had a knack for making it fun and even silly. A good example was our “KOJO-94fm, Win A Wonderful Waco Weekend While You Can!” contest. We had to mention it every other time we spoke on mic. You can imagine how the tongue had to do gymnastics on the phrase. I had to practice at home. Yet, it was lots of fun for everybody. But now, back from my rabbit trail.

About two weeks prior to “Turning on the light”, which was our handle, we had our very first on-air staff meeting. We went around the table introducing ourselves, stuffing our faces with donuts and coffee. About 98% of us were hired from outside the area. I felt proud that I was one of the home-grown lads. The talent was amazing as each one gave a snapshot of a verbal resume. In fact, since I was the rookie among those radio vets, I felt extremely intimidated. However, the blessing of knowing how much I could learn from such a team was endless in my mind. One guy I hit it off with that summer was a transplant from Seattle, Washington. Meet the incredibly talented, J.J. Hemingway.

(Unfortunately for us, J.J. passed away in 2019. His voice has indeed been silenced, but his memory lives on for all who knew him, or listened to him over the airwaves.)

J.J. and I became friends right away. he was so easy to befriend. His humor, his fast-draw wit was quick as lightning, like a stand-up comic. His gruff, yet smooth voice, was highly unique, and very difficult to describe, to the point of exclusivity. His love for God was open and exceptional. He loved the treasure of God’s grace. He was so imperfect, like all of us, and he knew himself well. He knew where he would be if not for the grace of the Grace-Giver. Throughout his career, his sign-off line was, “And remember, no matter what the weather is like, you can always let the Son shine in your life.” He always meant it. J.J. had many a cloud hanging over him. We worked different parts of the day, so we didn’t see each other on a daily basis. However, on Saturdays, our schedules were deviated. So, I followed his show on Saturday evenings and that’s usually when we were able to catch up.

Every month we had a standing on-air staff meeting at a large well-known pizza place. Alongside business topics from our program director, we had a blast. It was always a casual time with lots of laughter and chit-chat. On one occasion, we decided to share personal funny stories of unforeseen happenings while on the air. Most chose hilarious stories from other stations from the past. One co-worker, Ernie Brown, originally from Houston, gave a whopper of a situation he experienced. In Houston, the station he worked for had a 1950’s converted (No pun intended.) gasoline service station as their broadcast studio. If you’re old enough you remember the type, usually they were small box-shaped buildings. As so many of them were back in the day, the restroom was only accessible from the outside toward the back of the building. He was on the air late one night when he chose to take a trip to the potty. He started Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven” (8;02 in length) on his turntable. The outside door was a thick, heavy soundproof Teak wood door. Teak is very costly, but solid. For some odd reason, he left the key hanging on a hook in the control room. He propped it open slightly with a reel of recording tape. That was a bad mistake. Just as he was outside, walking toward the back of the building, he heard the door close behind him. The door was way too heavy for the reel of tape. His story went on about doing all he could to break down the door. Eventually, he rammed it with his car. Yep, he didn’t last long at that radio station.

After we collected ourselves from that tale of adventure, J.J. felt the urge to unload his story about what happened a couple of hours before I showed up to relieve him on a Saturday.

Photo: The late J.J. Hemingway.

We (KOJO) were sharing a two story broadcast building which housed KOJO, along with, a longstanding Spanish radio station. Their studio was on the second floor with us, with the sales department’s couple of dozen cubicles between us. We shared the lounge, the kitchen, conference rooms, and restrooms. Downstairs was a state of the art recording studio owned by another entity. Because of the hourly booking nature of a recording studio, it often was empty. The owner of the building was having the downstairs remodeled for more production studios, as well as, office space for commercial copy writers.

J.J. told the story of this particular Saturday night calamity. With the quick wit of a Robin Williams, he began to blurt out his experience.

J.J. was on the air when nature began to call. The 2nd floor restrooms were just a few feet down the hall from the studio, so we all had it timed in our heads how long the walk took from the control board to the facilities. (In those days, nothing was automated on-air.) J.J. put on a longer song from the artist, Carman, known for his lengthy tunes. J.J. gets to the restroom to find it full of people waiting in line. Apparently, the Spanish station was having some kind of on-air party with selected listeners. J.J. couldn’t wait. So, he runs downstairs to a small restroom not far from the recording studio. He slammed the door and proceeded with his business. After he was ready to go back to the studio upstairs, he couldn’t get the door opened. Apparently, it was a new door that had not yet been leveled with the door jam. When J.J. forced it shut, it was as if it had been locked from the outside. No matter what he did, he couldn’t open it. He was trapped while the Carman song played on toward its ending. He started to panic as he looked at his watch while fearing dead air upstairs. (Dead air is a no-no.) It being a Saturday night downstairs in a construction zone, he was haunted by the ominous echos of a U-Haul truck engine invading his thoughts. His only hope was to scream at the top of his lungs while kicking and beating on the jammed door until someone upstairs could hear him…maybe. After about five minutes or so, a lone sound engineer, working late in the recording studio, heard the clamor down the hallway. He followed his ears to J.J.’s temporary jail cell. The engineer tried desperately to open the restroom door from the hallway side, but it wouldn’t budge. J.J. asked the guy to go to the KOJO control room and start another song. The poor guy had never been upstairs, much less inside the KOJO studios. But, sensing J.J.’s distress, he went to do just that. Listeners hearing dead air suddenly heard an mysterious unfamiliar voice say, “And now, one of my favorite songs.” before another cut was played. After he returned, he realized the only escape plan at that point was to remove the hinges. After finding some tools, he was able to remove the hinges and free J.J. from his solitary confinement. And yes, there was dead air. Needless to say, we all were just rolling on the floor at the pizza place laughing our lungs out. However, the program director didn’t look amused. Still, J.J. kept his job.

Doors. We can’t live with them and we can’t live without them. So what do you see? Is it an entrance, or exit?

Most people see a blockage from whatever lies on the other side. It seems no matter how the door looks, it still holds us back from the other side, maybe from where we want to be. In many cases, we might not want to know what’s on the other side. Yet, if you arrive at a loved one’s home, you step on the porch, and you are faced with a door keeping you from your loved one. What a great thing when your loved one opens the door to reveal their wonderful, inviting smile.

You’ve seen this famous painting before.

Photo: Jesus At The Door – zazzle.com

It comes from a passage, in Revelation Ch3, where Jesus Himself is offering an opportunity to a handful of first century churches. He mentions that He is outside, rapping his knuckles against their tightly closed door. Apparently, at some point, the reel of recording tape they used to prop the door open had slipped out shutting tight the door. It clashes with the irony of how the door of the ark of Noah was shut and sealed as the rains began. At the same time, it’s wise to notice how the door Jesus knocks on has no outside door latch. It indicates He will not force His way in, but rather He must be invited.

Yet there’s another tightly shut door of note.

Prior to His death and resurrection, Jesus mentions an imagery to remember. He paints His self-portrait as being door for entrance. He had said before how He was the WAY, the ONLY WAY to the Father. By saying such, He literally is feeding us highly valuable information so many ignore. He was saying, “If you rely on some other one to give you access to the other side, the door will remain shut.” By teaching He was a door for access to the the other side, this door is unlocked, unjammed, and unlimited for those who accept the invitation. For anyone who feels trapped in life, trapped in abuses, trapped in sins, He opens Himself up for us to escape the solitary into His fellowship, His home, His freedom.

Photo by Skylar Kang on Pexels.com

No need to pound on a jammed door when drinking from fuel for the race.

“I am now standing at the door and am knocking. If any one listens to My voice and opens the door, I will go in to be with him and will feast with him, and he shall feast with Me.” – Revelation 3:20 – (Weymouth New Testament)

A Great Fall

“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)

Plates A-Spinnin’

“You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog,
Cryin’ all the time.
You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog,
Cryin’ all the time.
Well, you ain’t never caught a rabbit,
and you ain’t no friend of mine.”
(1956) “Hound Dog” Recorded By: Elvis Presley Composers: Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller (Originally Recorded By: Big Mama Thorton in 1952.)

What’s not to love about a hound?

Photo by cheptu00e9 cormani on Pexels.com

Well, maybe a little less drool, and a pair of shorts would be nice. But for a country raised kid, who loves raccoon or rabbit hunting, you just can’t get any better than the amazingly instinctive radar nose of a good hound dog.

It happened around 1905, Young County, Texas. William “WR” Brown, my Grandpa Brown (From my dad’s side.) was a hunting lad with a rifle and a couple of excellent hunting hounds. Later in life, he also had champion wolf hunting hounds. If you’ve ever read the book, or saw the movie, “Where The Red Fern Grows”, then you already have the picture of kids living out in the boonies, raising pups for wild game hunting. Dinner on their mother’s table depended on it. (Sorry PETA, that’s how it was…is.) It’s difficult for me to imagine him as a young teenager. This is how I knew my Grandpa Brown during the 60’s and 70’s…

Before I move on, I must explain a bit of what life was like in west Texas in those times. My family was a pioneering clan which aided in establishing the county, about 2.5 driving hours west of Dallas, Texas. I have written about my Grandma Brown’s father who rode a mule from Georgia right after the Civil war settling in Young County, Texas. My Grandpa Brown’s folks moved to the same area not long after. Life was rugged. You lived off the land, or you starved. You carried a firearm wherever you went as the land was not tame on several levels.

A view from our family homestead in Young County, Texas close to the Brazos River.

They lived along the red waters of the Brazos River. In those days, a hunter had to watch his back at all times. They shared the land with bears, wolves, cougars, panthers, rattlesnakes, razorback wild hogs, etc. A boy grew up by his father’s side when roughing it through the brush hunting for the next meal. By the time a kid was 12 years old or so, he went out solo with a rifle strapped to his back. Often it would be an overnight hunt, especially when it came to chasing down raccoons. I remember well my one and only time raccoon hunting overnight with my cousins. Watching the hounds tree a raccoon was like watching a choreographer at work. It was such a learning experience.

At the age of 15, or so, my Grandpa Brown and a friend, gathered their hounds for an overnight raccoon and possum hunt starting along the banks of the Brazos on foot. The night would prove to be frustrating as the critters outsmarted the hounds a few times. The boys were trained to be persistent, never letting the word “quit” come up in their minds. Following the sounds of their barking hounds, they ate-up the clock and the miles deep into the west Texas wilderness. In fact, youth’s enthusiasm drove their steps much further than they had anticipated. To this day, the family still can’t say how far they traveled through the relentless terrain. Some estimate they must have crossed county lines, but no one can be sure.

The miles were unforgiving through the mounting hours. Calling back the hounds in a state of total irritation, the two boys realized they had gone way beyond their intentions while chasing the ever eluding varmints. Exhausted, the boys huddled with the dogs, made a campfire, and nodded on and off in the pre-dawn hours.

Just before sunrise, the two hungry hunters put their heads together to calculate how long it would take to get back to the Brazos. With a quick step, they retraced their journey among the cactus and mesquite trees.

After dawn, they caught the rich aroma of smoked venison floating through the dewy brush. Being so tired and hungry, they let the hounds guide them to the area where the meat was being prepared. Without a traveled road anywhere nearby, they came upon an old one-room shack with prairie hens pecking the ground. They could see the glow of an oil lamp through a window near the front door. Unaware of who lived there, sheer faith and boldness kicked-in as the boys decided to approach in hopes of a bite to eat. Knowing the times of that day, along with the pioneering spirit of new Texans putting down roots, I imagine the place looked something like this…

An actual photo of a home built by one of my relatives sometime in the 1880’s.

The rickety plank door opened as they approached. An old ragged man, holding a rifle, greeted the two teens and their dogs. He asked who they were. As the duo told him their names, along with their failed adventure, the old man sized them up, realizing their obvious circumstance, and generously invited them in. He told them he was just rustling up some breakfast with plenty to spare. Putting my imagination together, I can say he probably looked much like my relatives in that time, like the two gentlemen from family records show…minus the Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes.

An actual photo of two of my Timmons clan from Young County. Unsure of the date of this shot.

The old man invited the hounds to enter as the boys hit a fine wall of cooking eggs and smoked venison. Inside, by the roaring fire, sat his two hunting hounds eagerly waiting for a plate of food. The small cabin was dusty, with a scent of musk competing with the pan on the iron-cast stove.

As the old man directed, the boys took a seat on a wooden bench at a table near the fireplace. As he asked them about where they were from, as well as, information about their folks, he added a few more eggs to a pan after pouring some hot coffee into a tin cup they were to share. It was clear that the old man and his two hounds lived alone with nothing but sage as a neighbor. As the food was about done, the old timer reached up to an opened shelf where he grabbed three tin plates.

The trio had a fine time sharing stories of the country, hunting and fishing spots, and the wildlife. The cabin was warm, the food was hot, and the bellies were filled.

When the plates were emptied, and the conversation began to slow, the teens wiped their hands on their pants, mentioned how terrific the food was, adding how they needed to get back to retracing their original trek. The old man nodded his head stating he sure enjoyed the unexpected company. He admitted, “Ya know, I never see a soul in these parts. Not hide, nor hair.” Just then, the old man picked up the tin plates, and the iron pan off the stove, and placed them on the creaking floor right by the table leg. Stating as a matter of fact, with a slight chuckle, “Come on hounds, have at it! They always lick the pans and plates.” As if waiting for a cue, the old timer’s hounds raced toward the pan and plates, mouths first. As the tongue-lashing began, the plates started to spin with the force of eager tongues, until the dogs instinctively put their paws on the plates to stop the circular motion. The teens laughed as they watched the licking fracas at hand, partially from the sight of it, but also because back home their mothers would’ve never allowed it. As every drop and morsel had been lapped-up, the aged hermit picked up the pan, along with the plates, and placed them back on the shelf where he retrieved them. My Grandpa Brown and his hunting buddy, never went back there again.

True story.

Are you appalled? Of course, we must put ourselves in the position of this old hermit. No doubt, this man’s habits were out of the norm, but not from his perspective. Obviously, for years, maybe decades, he allowed his dogs to clean his plate and pan. After all, a hounds tongue is long and wide, covering a lot of surface in very little time. For him, it sure saved him a lot of well water. From his viewpoint, those plates ended up looking very spotless. And I’m sure they were after the hounds had their way with it all. However, for my grandpa and his pal, they saw the opposite. They saw hunting hounds, who fetched animals in their mouths, dead or alive. These are the same country hounds who would looked forward to finding a leftover stiff carcass in the woods just for the satisfaction of something to chew on. Yes, as cute as they are, they’re the same animals who clean themselves, every part of themselves, with their tongues. Certainly, these canine tongues should not be a poor man’s dish washing machine.

How hungry are you now?

I align it to taking a black felt-tip pen and finely dotting a white poster from corner to corner. Tape it to a wall in a dark room. Go to the other end of the room, hold a flashlight, turning it on with the bulb facing away from the poster. What do you see? In the darker part of the room, you see, through the ambient glow, a blank white poster on the wall. Even taking a step or two closer to the poster, you still can observe a white poster. Yet, if you shine the flashlight on the poster, you suddenly see the speckles you made with your pen. If you dare to bring the flashlight closer, the dots become very present to the eye. What appears to be a clean white poster, is indeed flawed with black dots.

Al Capone, the notorious gangster, murderer, and bootlegger, would perform an action of goodness right after finishing up a most hideous crime. He gave mega funds, over and above to the Catholic Church. He gave away free gifts to the poor. He began soup kitchens for the homeless. Some say it was for laundering money. Yet, all of that was good, but the hound drool was all over it.

Too often, in our measly efforts, the norm to remedy sin’s guilt and shame, we work something we, and others, would see as a good deed. You might say, some see it as an attempt to build a tower to climb the levels of eternal self-insurance. In doing so, it cleans our dirty plate, or so it would seem from our fallen perspective. King David wrote something astonishing. Those who read it were dismayed. Frankly, it is still baffling to most. He wrote, “…There is no one good. Not even one…” (Psalm 53:3 – my translation) He wasn’t saying people don’t do good things, or people neglect displaying explosions of loveliness. Instead, he was showing us the misnomer of a sparkling tin plate, licked by one of the filthiest tongues created. He was pointing out that what we consider good can never rise to God’s holiness, His spotlessness, His sinlessness, His standard.

We see it all the time, even in high places. We now call evil “good”, and good is now “evil”.

I am sure the old hermit died in that shack, believing with all his heart that his plate was cleansed every night. However, two teenagers knew the truth of it.

To leave this earth spotless can only happen with a free offer of washing in fuel for the race.

“All of us have become like something unclean, and all our righteous acts are like a polluted garment; all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities carry us away like the wind.” Isaiah 64:6 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)