Spooky Stuff

“Fear of the dark, fear of the dark.  I have a constant fear that something’s always near.  Fear of the dark, fear of the dark.  I have a phobia that someone’s always there.  Recorded by: Iron Maiden, 1992.  Composer: Stephen Percy Harris

BOO!  Did I scare you?  Probably not.  It’s okay, my feelings aren’t hurt.  However, I do have a daughter who understands BOO really well.

Meet D’Anna, my youngest daughter.  The snapshot above was taken three years ago when she was sixteen years old.  We had dinner at one of our favorite eateries for Tex-Mex in a north Dallas, Texas suburb.  We both hadn’t been there in many years and felt the tug to go.  Just inside the front door, in the atrium, is a rather large stuffed (what I assume to be a grizzly) bear.  He stands in the corner of the entry way.  He’s certainly not to be missed as you must walk passed the bear to enter the doors to the dinning area.  When D’Anna was a little one, she was frightened by him, as most small children would be.  She would react by wanting to be held, with her face buried in my shoulder.  She would say, “Walk faster, Dad.”  She wanted us to be out of that atrium as quickly as possible.  As she got older, she would place her back to the opposite wall from the bear, never taking her eyes off of Mr. Grizzly, walking sideways until she quickly made her way to the door where the maìtre d’  was waiting.  Being a badly behaving dad, I am sure I once said, with all fear in my pipes, “I think I saw him breathe!”  (Shame on me.)

So, there we found ourselves.  Same bear, same atrium, same daughter.  This time a well-rounded, indestructible and wise teenager of the world, with her back to Mr. Grizzly.  Again, she hadn’t been there in many moons, so one of her most profound statements, one that truly spoke to me was, “Hey, he doesn’t look as big as he used to be.”  The fear obviously melted away as the giant bear was being viewed through a different lens.

Woods at night

Fast forward to March 2018, just two nights ago.  Our two dogs, Sammie and Shorty, went out into the very dark backyard to do their biz just before bedtime.  Like racehorses they took off out into the blackness of the property barking like country hunting hounds, which they’re not.   My wife Michelle, called for me to come take a look at a large black shadowy figure perched in one of our trees.  There it was, way up high, huge and ominous looking, nestled tightly by its claws on a long sprawling thick limb.  A neighborhood possum, the largest I had ever seen (possibly pregnant) came to visit, but frozen stiff in the canine calamity.  I had forgotten how, as a defensive strategy, in an involuntary response, the possum will play dead when frightened or highly anxious in a traumatic event.  I am sure there is another thirteen-letter medical term for this action, but I can pronounce, “Thanatosis”, a state resembling shock resulting in playing dead.  Frankly, I felt badly for the mammoth marsupial clinging to our tree.  In many ways, it reminded me of myself.

In May, I will turn 58 years old, yet I feel as if I have lived three or four lifetimes.  I have lived through incredible tragedies, traumas and turmoils.  My life was forced into a horrific near death experience (Read my post from mid February.)  There have been abuses suffered in every aspect.  Unexpected health crashes are part of the maze, including a quadruple bypass performed this past December.  A novel could be written of the countless trials, tortures and troubles.  All of which could have ended my mental health, and/or my very life, like a road running out of pavement.  There’s a great possibility I may be the poster child for survival training.  Maybe I should teach a course on the subject.  Yet, I hear the lyrics from Kelly Clarkson’s hit, “Stronger” and wonder why I didn’t write the following section of the song…

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  Stand a little taller…What doesn’t kill you makes a fighter.  Footsteps even lighter…”

Stairs in Savana seawall

The lyrics sound appropriate, and even true, but alas, I am a little girl staring at a stuffed grizzly, or a frozen possum in a tree.  Even though those in the know say about 98% of what we worry about never happens, I must admit it doesn’t help.  Fear overtakes my steps forward too many times.  After the old ship gets a constant beating against its thinning hull, the anxiousness of launching again can override the euphoric adventures of what lies beneath, or around the darkened corner, or down a flight of stairs to a mysterious place.  In recent years I find I tend to freeze.  It’s funny really, I used to be the opposite when I was younger, before the tsunamis ravaged my landscape. How is it I was once known as the brave warrior with sword drawn, leading the charge, forging off into the blackened thicket of things?  How is it I was the kickboxer unafraid of the next punch or shin across the rib-cage from a world contender?  Where are those days?

Lens

In essence, I just spelled out my worldview, my fleshly camera angle with the warped lens through which I tend to filter.  However, I do have another view that is detached from my human knee-jerk reactions to the stuffed grizzly and barking pack in the velvet night.  The view, through my very spirit, that part of me that will never die, outlasting all things I consider mine: my body, my brain, my health.  It is that boundless, reconstructed and renewed spiritual center of my DNA I must default to when the “BOO” in life causes me to grab the nearest tree limb.  There is where I find the “hidden Person of the heart” (1 Peter 3:4).  It’s Twila Paris’ old song spells it out, “The Warrior is a Child”.

It is to be God’s grip, not mine.

After all, the grizzly standing in the opposite corner really is smaller than when I first met him.  When there are bear tracks in the dark, it’s best to be lit with fuel for the race.

“For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” – Paul from, 2 Timothy 1:7. (NAS)

 

Mysterious Visitor

He boldly said, “I won’t be back, but you’re going to be okay.”

A Warning:

Before you read the account below, please read my article entry from last week entitled, “Confronted By Death – February 13, 2013.” This is a continuation of the life-changing event detailed in the earlier blog release.  In fact, I purposefully omitted this chapter of my story from last week’s piece. What is written here will be confusing if you read it prior to reading the entry posted on Feb 12th.

Once again, as I did in last week’s posting, I preface this account with a hard statement:

The documentation below is my accurate testimony, without embellishments or artistic license.  What I have written here was only witnessed by two people, my former wife (depicted for this purpose as “Joan”) and myself.  On more than three separate occasions, I double checked the facts and timelines with Joan in order to be as accurate as possible.  At the time, I told my doctors I would write a book about the experience of the journey I was hurled into.  I never did so.  Then came the promises to family, friends and God that I would tell the story in some format when the time was right.  In one case, I spoke clearly concerning my story during a speaking engagement.  Prior to public speaking of the episode, I documented it for posterity and memory sake.  I was reluctant to share this account on this blog, but was persuaded to do so, only after watching two similar occurrences from interviews with a well known Dallas, Texas business man, as well as Dr. Kenneth Cooper MD, MPH, founder of the renown, Cooper Aerobics Center and the Cooper Institute of Dallas, Texas.  In short, it is what it is.

I will make a request of you.  If you begin to read this stunning, and very personal episode, please read it to the end for a greater understanding of the evidence and circumstances detailed here.

CCU Hallway

A Grim Setting

I believe it to have been Friday the 16th, or Saturday the 17th of February, 2013.  I had just awakened for the first time from a coma.  (The first time with ability to observe and reason.) I was quickly beginning to get clarity of thought, consciousness of people around me and my surroundings.  As mentioned in my posting from last week, I was hooked up to various machines with tubes and cords coming in and out of every part of my body.  I was on life support and had my mouth full of tubes, unable to talk.  My wife, at the time, was there with nurses swiftly coming in and out of my ICU/CCU room like a fast food restaurant.  My room doorway in the ICU/CCU ward remained opened, leaving my bed in a clear line of sight from the nurses’ station just across the hall.  This was on the 3rd floor at the Medical City of Plano in Plano, Texas in the North Dallas area.  Opening my eyes, I recall seeing Joan standing close to the door that led into the hallway, as a nurse was tending to me.

To be as detailed as possible, I do not recall how much time passed from when my eyes opened and the following took place.  I will say less than five minutes, certainly no more than that time-frame.

A Grand Entrance

At a point when a nurse stepped out of my open door, a very familiar tall, slender man, clean-shaven with dark brown short thinning hair, walked briskly into my room as if he owned it, without knocking or asking if he could enter, or inquiring if I was awake or not.  He was dressed in a mid thigh dark coat, or a suit coat.  Aesthetically speaking, he looked to be roughly in his late 40’s.  As for appearances this is all I can honestly remember, with the exception of wearing a million dollar grin with joy-filled warm eyes to match.  There is no certainty, but I want to say his eyes were brown or hazel in color.

Without any hesitation or shyness, he walked right up to my bedside, on my left, and took my hand, which was strapped down.  Looking directly into my eyes he stated with a wide white toothy grin, “It hasn’t been a good day for Alan Brown, has it?”  This is a point that is difficult to explain.  As he asked the question, it was as if my best friend was there with a lighthearted phrase.  He was so very familiar to me, as if we had a past, a history.  Let’s just say, ironically, I recognized him, this man I had never met.

In retrospect, what is remarkable to me is the WAY he said the words.  He uttered them with an authority, as if he knew not only my prognosis at the time, but WHY I was hospitalized. As strange as it might sound, it was as if he wasn’t really asking a question, or even delivering a sounding board for information gathering.  When it hit my ears I thought I was missing time, as if he had been an eyewitness to a tragic event I didn’t recall and was following up with a kind visit.

At this time in my health event, I didn’t know a thing.  Clueless would be a good word.  (I knew I was in a hospital setting, but had no idea why or for how long.)  If I am sounding as if reaching or stretching for an explanation, I certainly understand, but he sounded as if he had the complete history of an event that I had yet to find out about.  My former wife told me later she hadn’t seen him before, outside or in the hallway prior to that moment.

My CCU Room Panned-2013

Dim To Lit

He continued to grip my left hand with his in the way we used to call the “soul handshake” with our thumbs nestled against each other at their base.  During his initial entrance, Joan had moved to the right side of the bed while he remained on my left, just between the railing of the bed and the row of machines keeping me alive.

Although intensely focused on my face, he glanced up at Joan a couple of times as he was speaking to me.  Let me add here, I began to get emotional, shedding a couple of tears.  It was unusual for me to get weepy without much context.  After all, this guy was a stranger who had only spoken one sentence at this point. However, I felt as if I was being caressed by a dear old friend, one I had known for a long time.  There must have been some sort of reading in my face for what he asked next.  I might have nodded my head in the affirmative or squeezed his hand because he reacted by saying, “Do you know who I am?”  I nodded my head to confirm.  Why did I?  Because, again, I felt like we had an old relationship.  I know, it doesn’t make sense as you read this today.  I understand.  One thing I want to add here is a certainty of the boldest expression in which he looked at me and spoke to me as if HE, too, had known me for a long time.  Joan described the look on my face as a look of comfort and connection, as well.  She indicated she thought at the time this man was someone I knew well by the glow on my face and the grip of our hands.  She went on to say for the first time she saw a “light” in my eyes.  (Apparently I had opened my eyes before, while in the coma, but nobody was at home, so to speak.)  One of the thoughts Joan had was that he must have been one of my favorite pastors from the metroplex area, prior to our marriage.  Making the point clear, I will repeat this important element: I never saw this man before that moment, yet somehow I knew him intimately. I only know he was there, the first visitor to comfort me at the moment I became conscious with full mental awareness, not a minute before, nor the next hour afterwards.

In a very cherished moment, he spoke some words that, to this day, cause me to shiver.  Joan believed it to be one of the most defining moments.  It was the stuff of raised eyebrows and confirmation that this man was not your average Joe randomly entering a stranger’s hospital room.  Withholding now the comments made, I will say, I speak of something divulged which was highly personal, shaking us both to the core.  However, I feel uncomfortable to share all he had to say, at this time.

“…This is what the Lord, the God of your father David says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you…” 2 Kings 20:5 (NIV) 

For the following I admit I honestly do not recall the next words used, although I would give away my possessions to know.  After some words of warmth and comfort, the man then said something to the effect of, “Let’s pray”, or “I want to pray for you”.  He reached across the bed to grab Joan’s hand. There we were, the three of us, alone in a CCU room without one interruption from medical staff or the various sounds from monitoring equipment, which seemed constant.  As mentioned earlier, the hospital staff was on high alert, constantly entering and exiting like an endless parade.  Yet, suddenly, there was an astonishing hush.

If I were to explain why I cannot bring up the wording of his prayer it would be simply put, I was mesmerized.  It was as if we were somewhere else with frozen clocks.  To describe exactly how I felt during this part of his very quick visit is to solicit judgment from those who will flush this entire account of my mysterious visitor.  I am hyper-aware some will claim me to be a cloaked new-ager of the highest order, or mystic at heart with deceitful intentions of pulling out of the reader a wow factor.  Allow me to reinstate, as the Lord God is my eternal judge, I speak the truth of the matter written in this testimony, without the tool of artistic license.

A No Latin Or King James Zone

Joan has verified and attests to the following description:  As he prayed, beginning with whatever his opening words were, I was in complete and utter wonderment, we both were, almost to the realm of a trance-like state.  He didn’t “pray TO” the Father, or spoke “AT” the Father, but rather he “communed verbally WITH” the Father.  He gave off the sense of a closeness or intimacy with Whom he addressed.  No dogma, no Christianese, no highbrow factors.  Lacking were the standard Old English verbiage, habitual memorized automatic phrasing, or a listing of the various titles of the Almighty One (often used to impress the human ears).  If you are not a person of faith, or an unchurched individual, you will not understand my meaning, and that’s okay.  Stay with me on this.  If you are a person of faith, let me ask in all sincerity, the following:  Does this make any sense at all?  Has this happened to you in your prayer life?  In my clumsy efforts, I am sure I am not truly revealing, in a comprehensive way, the sheer, raw essence of this man’s prayer.  To say I have known thousands of Christians in my life would be a gross understatement.  It is also a gross understatement to say I have heard thousands of prayers and from many who would certainly be labeled “prayer-smiths”, who could write them as poetry, selling calligraphy or audio copies for years to come.  At no time in my days have I ever been lifted, dazed and amazed as I was with this man’s effectiveness of praying.  He delivered the prayer as if he were speaking to a brother or a dad he had known since hour one.  When you hear someone speaking on the phone with a loved one, where you only hear a one-sided conversation, this is the hew of tone he used with warmth, love and an overwhelming sense of the familiar.  As I laid there I felt as if warm honey had made its way into my IV.  It was nuts!

“There isn’t any problem in my life, there isn’t any uncertainty in my work, but I turn and speak to Him as naturally as to someone in the same room, and I have done it these years because I can trust Jesus.” – D.L. Moody, Founder of the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. 

After he prayed, he walked to the other side of the bed, spoke her name and lovingly hugged Joan, wrapping his hand around the back of her head, patting her as if consoling a long lost daughter, just holding her there for a few seconds.  I watched her simply melt into his embrace like a rag doll.  I had never seen her so moved, nor since.  She later would compare it to a father holding a child in comfort, with designated warmth she had never felt to the point of a physical relaxing of the muscles.

An Astonishing Reveal

The two of us gazed at him as he walked toward the door just as he had entered.  Just before he stepped out into the hallway, while placing his hand on the door frame, he turned and stated something strangely odd for the occasion.  The first part of the sentence was, “I won’t be back…”  It was true, we never saw him again.  Within a six week hospital stay, there were a couple dozen ministers, pastors, chaplains and church layman, with business cards in hand, who took the time to visit with me.  Although I dearly appreciated the encouraging visits and prayers done on my behalf, none could ever compare to this mysterious moment of visitation.  I say his reveal was strangely odd, and it was.  But the proclamation spoken, ending his statement, was the most mysterious phrase of the entire episode. He said something no doctor, EMT or nurse had yet to say and wouldn’t say from that time onward.  Just before his exit, with that enormous grin, in concert with the joy in his eyes, with a forceful delivery, these words were the last thing he uttered, “…but you’re going to be okay.” 

I won’t be back, but you’re going to be okay.”

That declaration was the exact opposite of what we heard during my six weeks in the hospital.  There wasn’t much hope concerning my survival, in fact almost zero when I arrived in the ER.  All through my struggling journey, while in the hospital, I was being told of how handicapped I would be for the rest of my life.  I was told to expect a return to ICU/CCU.  I was told my kidneys were dead and would never come back.  I was told about unexplored brain damage, heart damage, neurological nightmares, motor skills,  muscle depletion, double pneumonia, sepsis in the bloodstream, etc.  So, how dare he blatantly sound off as he walked out the door with these words, obviously said in ignorance and false hope, “…but you’re going to be okay.”  Delivered in the midst of tragedy, as if he knew for certain the outcome of the crucial time, his delivery was smooth and effortless.  How cruel!  Am I right?  Joan, knowing the extent of my condition at that time more than I, was left stunned at this sentence.

My CCU Room Zoom-in 2013

He Might Have Been Olympic Great Jesse Owens

In a state of shock, along with wiping tears from her face, Joan said something to the effect of, “Wow, that was really a different experience.”  She then mentioned to me how she didn’t ask for his card (as was her practice with various ministers visiting me).  Right away she turned toward the door and left to catch him.  After a time, she came back with a pale look.  She told me that he wasn’t seen in the hallway or visiting any other CCU patients in other rooms. (With the exception of my room, the other rooms had sliding glass doors.)  My room was in the corner of two adjacent long hallways where you could see all the way down to other wings, both leading in two different directions.  She approached the nurses at the desk just outside my room, some nine or ten feet from my open door.  After she inquired about our visitor and his description, they claimed they saw no one in my room. Zero, zilch, nada!  I strain to even type the following, but I must.  He simply seemed to have vanished.

My CCU ward layout 2013

Almost as if I had responded to a director’s cue in a tear-jerking scene in Act II, I slipped right back into a coma a short time after he left us.  I remained unconscious for at least another 12-24 hours.

The simple truth sounds absurd.  I awoke, for the first time, before he entered the open doorway, and sunk back under the surface of unconsciousness after his exit.  Beyond being ultra mystifying, it didn’t occur to us until weeks later that while he was there, not one staffer walked in or out.  It was as if time was stilled in that room exclusively for the three of us.  Of course, that never happened again with any other visitors.  It was indeed an exclusive moment.

If you’re like me, your mind is probably scrambling and searching every corner of the imagination to find a key to unlock this mystery.  Don’t spin your wheels, I already have. Joan and I muddled through a mix of scenarios concerning this mysterious visitor.  Between the two of us we came up with a couple of possible explanations.  Allow me to shed some light on our thoughts.

It wasn’t long when I began to wonder about the in-house chaplain service there.  It would be natural for an “on-his/her-toes” chaplain to visit the CCU patients and families every day with some good old fashioned shoe leather, followed by some pressing of the flesh.

A Visit Of Another Kind 

Not too many days after they wheeled me into my new telemetry room on the 5th floor three weeks later, a middle-aged woman with a clipboard sheepishly knocked on my door.  She wasn’t dressed in hospital garb, but did have a badge identifying herself as a member of the chaplain volunteer service.  I never remembered her name, but she was very faithful to visit me when she was on duty.  She explained to me that she was indeed a volunteer who was commissioned, by the chaplain himself, to visit the patients on each floor.  She said there were just a handful of volunteers who participate in that ministry, which are mostly made up of laypeople from different faiths, to be available and suited for any situation and/or needs of various faiths, creeds and cultures.  With direct intension, she asked if I wanted her to pray for me.  I immediately responded in the affirmative.  She asked what faith I belonged to.  I told her I was Christian and quickly added, “I belong to the Lord”.  How evangelical of me.  Frankly, I don’t know why that phrase came out of my mouth, only to say it was like an involuntary reflux. The health event did rekindle a hearth-like closeness to God from the moment I was awake with the ability to reason again.  Like a survey marketer, asking about my race or marital status, she asked if I was protestant or catholic. By this time I just wanted to say, “Sister, forget the titles and the denominational stats.  Place your rubber-garnished hand in mine and let’s get to it.”  After what I had been through up to that point all religious borders, laws and ideas of what God looks like seemed almost silly child’s play to me.  I knew the true Creator, Healer and Lover of my soul and He is a God of intimacy, on the microscopic personal level, Who cares not for the titles we publish to each other.  Somehow, the truth-is-truth notch had been cranked up in my heart and mind.  Instead, I answered very calmly, “Protestant”.  To this day, I don’t recall when I asked her about the man who visited me, but I did ask if he was the chaplain.  She said he wasn’t there every day.  That was one of the purposes for her volunteerism and her co-minister’s efforts.  When I described the mysterious man to her in detail, she didn’t recognize him, but she didn’t believe he was the chaplain.

Being Sherlock 

After several months at home I gained strength to get myself to the desktop computer.  I initiated a bit of research on the chaplain ministry at Medical City of Plano.  Like a would-be gumshoe, I went to the hospital website in hopes of finding a page on the chaplain ministry and perhaps a photo of the chaplain.  Very little info on the ministry was on the site, but it did give me a phone number to the chaplain’s office.  Like a man on a mission and without hesitation, I called.  The chaplain himself answered the phone.  Without delivering all the fine details, I told him a bit of why I was calling.  He reconfirmed to me about the structure of the volunteer staff.  He explained some chaplain office protocols.  He revealed how they are required to wear badges with their names and what service of the hospital they serve under. He mentioned he too dons a name-tag at all times while on duty.  It seems they all are told they MUST ask permission to pray with the patients when introducing themselves and their general ministry.  Also, they MUST ask the individual’s religion of choice in order to pray the selective prayers with all its slants.  After a nervous swallow I inquired concerning his length of service there, thinking he may be new to that location.  He said he had been the one and only chaplain there for ten years.  A lump grew in my throat when I asked if it might have been him in my CCU room that day.  Right away he began to describe his features to me.  By process of elimination he was out of the running fairly quick when he mentioned how he was heavyset and wore a salt-n-pepper beard.  I asked if he would have been clean-shaven the week of Feb 13th.  He proudly replied that he had his beard for at least six years. Like a snapshot flashback, I was reminded of the slender, beardless, tagless, badgeless man who did not ask permission to pray over me in my CCU experience. Nor did he ask what religion I adhered to.  I thanked him for his service and said good-bye. With remarkable timing, my wife walked through the front door.  Right away I told her of my decision to look up the chaplain at the hospital.  Before I could tell her how the minister described himself to me over the phone, she said he, the chaplain, had come by a few times while I was in CCU.  She had his card to prove it.  Before that moment, I had no idea Joan had met the chaplain.  She immediately stated the mystery man was NOT the chaplain.  Her description of him was spot on.  She vividly remembered both the chaplain and the mysterious visitor being two very different men.

Questions have faded in my brain concerning the man.  There is a good reason too.  FAITH!

No need to ask me where God was in my time of trouble, trauma and tragedy.  He will do what He will do.

Poignant Questions

Without my identity on the door, how did he know my full name?  Moreover, how did he know Joan’s name?  Why or how was it that we seemed to know one another?  Why did he know of my desperate, critical condition without seeing my chart or asking a status at the nurses’ station?  Even so, there were medical privacy rights in play.  Why did he not ask permission from the nursing staff, or the welcome desk, or Joan herself to enter my room and approach me, the guy in the coma?  Why did he not knock before entering my room?  During the time of the visit, why did the hospital staff not enter, as was their custom, regardless of who I was with?  Just before he left the room, why did he make it a point to tell us we wouldn’t see him again? I dare say, the average visitor wouldn’t spell that out in a case like mine.  Why was that important to mention?  Could it be he was saying, “So, take this word of encouragement.  Use it and ride it like a wave.  No need for me to come back.”  Lastly, why did he walk in as soon as I came out of the coma and not before and/or after other friends or family visited?  Why was he seemingly aware I had just awakened and was about to go back under?  The timing was, well…impeccably synced to perfection.  How did he vanish in the hallway, alluding the nursing staff?  How could he exit the long hallways before Joan followed him out of the room?  Was he an Olympic sprinter?  Perhaps other questions may arise, but one thing is for certain.  Whoever he was, there is a peace of knowing that after my life is over this same individual will come to me once again with that brilliant grin and say, “Hello, Alan Brown.  Remember me?”  My response will be, “How could I ever forget?”  In that new day I will not be surprised if he then says, “It’s a good day for Alan Brown, isn’t it?”

My veins have been full ever since with warm fuel for the race.

“Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” – Hebrews 1:14 (NIV)

Why All The Bells?

With the growing disturbances in our world this Christmas, I thought of re-publishing the below from my December 2017 post.

“Silver bells.  Silver Bells.  It’s Christmas time in the city. Ring-a-ling. Hear them ring. Soon it will be Christmas Day.” – Composers: Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. (1950)

Not long ago I heard of a certain residential neighborhood that took a nearby church to court.  Their complaint surrounded the bells joyfully ringing from the church steeple on Sunday mornings.  I will assume these would be the same neighbors who clamored about Sunday morning traffic around the church, before and after services.  I didn’t attend the trial, but I just know that if I read the transcript of the proceedings, certainly someone said something like, “What’s with all the bells?”

Bells too

It’s a valid question.  So, what’s up with all the bells?

Imagine you’ve had a wonderful 18 year marriage with an incredibly loving and supportive spouse.  Whatever the world dishes out, you had shade and shelter at home with your understanding mate.  Growing a family together has been a true gift.  Now imagine, that the love of your life tragically perished in a devastating accident when her clothes caught fire.

Imagine, by way of this nightmare in life, you are left with children to raise on your own.  Your first born son is a stunning, strong 17 year old who is proud to carry on the family legacy.

Imagine war breaking out just down the road from where you buried your soulmate.  Your young son’s enthusiasm for the war’s cause, coupled with his school lads running off to take up arms to fight for their country, pulls your son’s interest to join up.  He fights with you about being a new recruit, as you sternly stand your parental ground.  You debate with him.  You state that he is too young to fight a man’s battle where the blood shed has no respecter of age.  Imagine he shows honor for your wishes, agrees to continue his high school education, along with sharing the household duties.  Imagine for the next two years, each time you looked into his eyes, you saw his smile, or the way he visited his mother’s grave, and how he soothed your grieving heart every day by just being there.

Now imagine, one morning your 19 year old son vanishes overnight without a word or a note.  Your heart is pierced.  Your fears serve up the worst scenarios to the point of being unable to function and unable to eat or sleep.  Suddenly, after several weeks, a letter appears in your mailbox.  The envelope is marked with your missing son’s handwriting.  You can’t help but notice how his phrasing, even his handwriting, reminds you of his mother.  As you read through your tears, he explains his disappearance.  He details how he had joined the military to fight on the front lines for his country.  He goes on to describe how he had resisted the temptation to join up, as long as he could, and is now in the army fighting alongside his schoolmates.  He acknowledges how it must hurt you by his abrupt decision, but also making it clear that he is where he needs to be.

Imagine the worry, the fear, the sadness you would go through for the next several months without word of his health or his location.  Imagine a few months later, you receive word that this first born son was gravely injured in a major battle and could no longer be of service.  Now imagine it’s nearing the Christmas season, with the familiar sound of bombs and the gunfire of war echoing dangerously through the county.  The terror of your first born son offering his life each and every day, facing the blasts of the enemy drowns out all Christmas cheer and celebrations.

You can imagine going through such grief, such turmoil and fear, while fighting the clanging sound of Christmas bells all around you, as if everything was truly right in the world with all of its pretend joy, jolly-hollies and Santa’s jinglings.

This is what happened to American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, from 1861 to 1863 during the Civil War.  In his deep depression, coming out of a writer’s block, dating back to his wife’s violent death, he pens an honest reflection of where his hopes and dreams were last seen.  One of the verses written in his poem, “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day,” reads like this:

“And in my despair I bowed my head.  There is no peace on earth, I said.  For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth good will to men.

But the bells are ringing, like a choir singing.  Does anybody hear them?  Peace on earth good will to men….”

After the poem was published some years later, a songwriter put music to it in 1872.  Today we sing this song of Christmas blues with gusto.  I seem to sing it through tears each time. and even louder when I arrive at the next verse.

“Then rang the bells more loud and deep.  God is not dead, nor doth He sleep.  The wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on earth good will to men.”

“So why all the bells?” one might ask.  It’s because ancient bells were an announcement, an attention-getter.  Heralds would ring their bells while shouting, “Here ye, hear ye!”  Bells were meant to be loud.  The bell’s vibration was to pierce the air with a message to be readied to be received.  The bell-ringer assigned to pull the bell-clapper rope had the fervor to bring attention to a message of news.  A newsflash of importance or urgency, so urgent it mustn’t be ignored.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, through his familiar immense pain, wrote of the interruption of the bells of GOOD NEWS.  The bells speak of evil destined to be crushed by a Savior, a Redeemer, a Rescuer being born to us who live in the bondage of a spiritual war.  The bells proved the validity and certainty of an Almighty God Whose death is all about pulling back the curtain on the original fake news of no hope, no future, no God in ultimate control.

Maybe this Christmas will not be your best Christmas.  Maybe this Christmas might even be your worst on record.  This Christmas is not the best our nation has known.  Allow it to come, says Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and let it pierce through the wall that seems so solid, so thick, and so unscalable.  Because death, sin and the grave has been defeated and utterly destroyed already.  Sure, we have the effects of them now, but with that baby from the manger, there is a victory party that has already started that will usher in a nuking of the father of lies in a very short while.

low angle photo of steeple
Photo by Mark Neal on Pexels.com

COME ON, RING THOSE BELLS!  When you do, hear them proclaim, “There’s fuel for the race.”

“And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ The Lord.'” – Luke 2:10-11 (KJV)

Bullets And Bibles

Photo: KSAT.com

“…so he shot down the congregation.” – “Smackwater Jack” -Carole King/Gerry Goffin.  From her Tapestry album, 1971.

Photo: KSAT.com

Once again, here we are.  No words…well, not many.  Truly stunned about our new normal.  It’s interesting how when Carole King recorded “Smackwater Jack”, about a crazed man juiced up on his anger at others, rendering himself to only mass murder on his mind, it was considered a fantasy lyric.  Check out the first verse.

“Now, Smackwater Jack, he bought a shotgun. ‘Cause he was in the mood for a little confrontation.  He just let it all hang loose; He didn’t think about the noose.  He couldn’t take no more abuse so he shot down the congregation.”

The song was to be somewhat of a shock factor because that just didn’t happen in those days.  It was the stuff of movie scripts and shock-value songs.  But not anymore.  Check out American history.  These current events are missing in the track record of American citizenry.  If you do find a similar crime in the yellowed pages of America, it is a rare occurrence.

TRUTH:  The days are hideously showing the rise of evil hearts calloused and seared from desensitization.

In almost every instance, at least to my recollection, almost every perpetrator’s (each mass shooter, bomber, vehicular homicidal maniac) life has ended soon after or during the horrific act.  The murderer becomes the next occupier on the cold metal morgue slab.  Let me say, to those who are of atheistic mindsets, each one of these monsters adds to the truths of scripture.

” ‘Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him.  ‘For all who draw the sword will die by the sword.’ ”  – Matthew 26:52 (NIV)

The last time I wrote of homicidal maniacs, homegrown or otherwise, was just about a month ago. (See my post from Oct 3rd, “A Choice In Vegas”.)

Say what you will, but I call this “EVIL.”  Some call it a “Gun Owner.”  I would agree if not for the majority of good, solid and righteous thinking citizens who own guns who would never murder their neighbor.  So, allow me to point to another biblical truth concerning this topic.

“He said to them, ‘But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack.  And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.’ ” – Jesus – Recorded in Luke 22:36 (ESV)

Did you catch the significance as Jesus was advising His disciples what to take with them on their missionary journeys?  I think the huge phrase is found in the last sentence of the verse.  Notice how Jesus thought the cloak was less urgent than the sword.  In-other-words, “you might be cold on the road, but that sidearm is worth it.” (Alan’s paraphrase)

I sing in two different church bands at two different locations on two different days.  Both are small-medium congregations (below 200 people).  In both, there are security plans to protect the congregation from walk-in violence.  Because it is of a tactical covert design, I will stop there at its description.  However, Sheepdog Church Security is an organization well worth looking into for congregational protection.  It’s not rocket science, but it does take sincere planning.  I know of a pastor in Iowa who once told me the following, “It’s not just the Bible I’m packing when I walk up to the pulpit.” 

There should be no more, “Eh, it’ll never happen here.”  Or, “We’re too small of a congregation to worry about that big city stuff.”  Or, “We don’t need any of that mega-church planning.  The Lord watches over His small flock here.”  YES, the Lord never sleeps, however, the Lord Himself said, “sell your cloak and buy a sword.”  Why?  Simply put, the roads from village to village were laced with waiting thieves and murderers. (Barabbas was one of them.)  Jesus was instructing them to be ready with a sidearm for such dangerous times, for defense only.  Plus, there were aggressive theological zealots who were eager to kill Jesus and His followers early on.

As true with most terroristic murderers, domestic or foreign, all are without God and God’s Spirit who directs, conducts and trains.  Biblically, we are to recognize them by their fruit.  If the fruit is rotten, so are the trees’s roots.  These wolves plan for destruction either through false doctrine or ideology or physical violence.  If you describe yourself as one who holds to no faith, consider yourself, also, in the cross-hairs.  If you are under the flag of freedom, liberty and justice for all, you too are a target. (IE: Las Vegas, Oct 1, 2017, a Christmas office party in San Bernardino, a school in Columbine, a baseball practice in Washington DC, or a dance club in Orlando, etc.)  If the beautiful sanctity of a small town Baptist church in the heart of Texas, where babies and elderly are worshiping, singing and praying on a Sunday morning is disrupted by a mass shooter from the next county, then you, whoever you are, will be vulnerable as well.

“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.  I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” – Jesus – Recorded in John 10:10 (NKJV)

I had a weekly radio talk show many years ago.  Shortly after Sept 11, 2001, one of my guests was a local FBI agent who was a special op team member of investigators focusing on terrorism.  His message was extremely clear.  Be diligent. Be a busybody.  Notice out of place scenes, people or objects.  Report what you see, even if it seems insignificant.  You can always remain anonymous.

Unfortunately, we also have witnessed radical Jihadists doing their hellish work for some time, attacking Christian congregations and the clergy in the middle-east and now in Europe.  Whether the chosen form is a rental truck, sword, knife, bomb or bullets, it is the sin-sick heart that kills.

There may come a time when little old ladies heading into church will be carrying their Bibles in one hand and a .357 magnum in the other.  Maybe we’re already there.  But for today, I carry, but not conceal, a tank of fuel for the race.

“For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now – and never to be equaled again.” – Jesus – Recorded in Matthew 24:21 (NIV)

Ghosts Litter

If you could read my mind love
What a tale my thoughts would tell
Just like an old time movie
About a ghost from a wishing well
In a castle dark or a fortress strong
With chains upon my feet
You know that ghost is me
And I will never be set free
As long as I’m a ghost you can see
-Gordon Lightfoot (1970)  Warner/Chappell Music

Candy Corn for everybody!  Tis the season, until Nov 1st.  Seems like there’s a ghost here, a ghost there, a ghost everywhere.  Well…maybe so.

Last year I read about a special kind of ghost, a herd of them actually, from an author who was writing about preparing for marriage, or remarriage.  It was enlightening, and I found it to be spot on.  Let me give you a spin-off thought based upon his premise.

When it comes to old spooky ghost stories, which I find far more of a tremble factor than most of the blood and guts writers of today, it usually surrounds people or places long ago or far away.  Mainly, the haunted one is injected mentally with the memory of someone they knew.  Bob Marley comes to mind in Dickens’, “A Christmas Carol.”  Poor old Ebenezer Scrooge.  As you might recall he was visited by his old business partner’s ghost (Bob Marley) to remind him of his past and current transgressions in his dealings.  Mr. Marley spoke of his heavy chains, shackled to his spirit for all eternity, due to his own dark decisions in life, warning Mr. Scrooge to shed the chains while he was still alive.  “What Lies Beneath,”  with Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer from 2000, is a great modern-day script. It entails what encompasses a person of guilt due to horrific, damaging decisions.

We do haunt ourselves.  We litter our own souls.

Biblically, there seems to be a ghost story found in the Old Testament.  King Saul of Israel was so worried about a vicious enemy at his gates ready to slug things out with Saul’s army.  Saul asks for a medium known to have the ability to conjure up spirits.  So while  incognito, the king went to consult the “Witch of Endor”. (Really bad mistake)  He charged her to “bring up” Samuel, a prophet who had died.  When the old hag makes the supernatural cell tower ping, it is interesting that when a robed old spirit appears to the witch, the passage says that Saul “perceived” the spirit to be Samuel.  The conversation that follows is one for the books…LOL.  (Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself.)  Theologians debate about this page in I Samuel 28 to this very day.  Without going into WHO the spirit was, I will say I think one word in the story sparkles like a cut diamond in the verb, “perceived”.  However, the point I’m wanting to make is Samuel was on Saul’s mind because he knew the prophet spoke truths, but was no longer available…or was he?

People and places haunt our memories and emotions.

Me As Ghost

As so many think of things that go bump in the night, why not take a moment and shed some light on our REAL ghosts.  What haunts you way down deep inside?  Grab that mirror and be brave for a moment.

“…But I sing of things I miss, or things that used to be…” – Barry Manilow from “This One’s For You” (Lyrics based upon reflections of his grandfather long since passed away.)

What or whom do you dream about, good or bad?  What ghosts come out of your closet? Some have haunting memories of a failed marriage (guilty here) and the memories linger.  Some ghosts hang around from a failed business.  When starting a new business, the chains from the collapsed venture come rattling when least expected, often holding the owner back without traction.  Some are littered with ghosts among the ruins of a termination from a dream-job.  The career ghosts pour out the sour memories like rapids over boulders which brings tossing and turning.  Am I right?  Before you drag out a ghost buster in a robe, electromagnetic sensor and a bundle of burning sage, let’s do an exorcism of our own.

“The horrible reality occurs when one refuses to acquaint oneself with one’s personal ghosts.” – Anonymous Author

Let me be brutally up front about my ghosts.  My ghosts don’t consist of a draped, hooded figures floating across my bedroom floor.  My ghosts litter me with past failures.  The stumbles, shatterings and slip-N-Slides in life haunt me.  The old, “I should’ve done this or that” reverberates the walls of the mind.  Why?  Because I ALLOW them to come in and fester in my memories.  Then there’s the ghosts of “What might have beens” that are most talented with their nests of the soul.  Ooops, here comes the ghosts of “If I had onlys” drifting above me overnight.  Yep, they’re all there to keep me company…it’s miserable, isn’t it?  Why not try an experiment?  Take the phrases, “What might have been”, “If I had only” and “I should’ve done this or that” and tag them all at the end with the following…”BUT GOD!”

With Biblical perspective the “BOO!” in life is nicely watered down with fuel for the race.

“…I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching to what lies ahead…” – Paul – Philippians 3:13 (NAS)  

Move Over, Mr. Weinstein. (No, really. Move over!)

“So tell me what you want to hear.  Something that’ll light those ears. Sick of all the insincere….Don’t care if critics never jump in line.  I’m gonna give all my secrets away.” – Recorded by OneRepublic, 2009.  Composer: Ryan Tedder

A couple of days ago, I stepped out of the shower, threw on my bath robe, came out of the bathroom spouting off (in jest) to my wife, “Happy Halloween!  I’m Harvey Weinstein!”  Before she could even react to my failed attempt at humor, I felt a huge conviction way down deep inside.  Right away I admitted to her that wasn’t really funny and walked away from it.  Unfortunately, I feel many will wear a Harvey Weinstein costume for Halloween parties this year.  How sad.

It’s brutal, isn’t it?  I mean, your darkest secrets to be revealed publicly.

I am not intentionally jotting with one hand while gathering stones for Mr. Weinstein with the other.  Frankly all of that (throwing stones bit) would be too easy and almost recreational, in a therapeutic camera lens.  However, with Harvey Weinstein’s horrific actions of sexual abuses and allegations coming out in the public square, with virtually every news agency repeating it as other victims step up to the truth-plate, I won’t keep my computer off.

Sincerely, Mr. Weinstein’s conduct is about as degrading as a human action can get.  In fact I’ll go so far as to say it is next to the act of mind-bending torture and murder.  Allow me to explain my thinking.

One of Harvey’s excuses is that it’s been well accepted and even applauded when it comes to the ancient casting couch.  I’m afraid that is true.  While on Howard Stern’s radio show, he was quoted as saying something like, “Well, it’s not how it used to be back in the day,” concerning the ability to look the other way.  You might be asking yourself just how many sexual victims are out there.  I don’t even want to think about it.

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine why so many victims of this brand of cruelty and shame hold their silence.  After all, they have been victimized, brutalized and used like a wet rag by a powerful man in the entertainment field who shakes the proverbial trees and bushes in his business.  He is the king of that kingdom.  You would think they would leave his office and make a straight line to the police station. If so, they might appear to be liars with a grudge on a tear to dethrone and destroy someone’s career and family.  (Let me say the unpopular here.  THAT DOES happen more times than you will ever hear about.  But that is not the focus of this post.)

My past is a collage with multiple hats.  Among the hats: director, casting director, producer, playwright, copywriter, editor, actor, music director, voice coach, program director, voice actor, voice-over talent and singer.  I have worked with some of the best actors from Hollywood to Texas, New York to Toronto and from the BBC in the UK.  Many of my best friends are in show business, splintering through a wide range of talents and titles.  None of these have personally confessed to me they have been at the hands of a sexual predator in high places, with the exception of one.  Since the Weinstein media explosion, the #ME TOO social media campaign has ignited, for solidarity purposes, in warp speed.  I was saddened to see a couple of my friends post the two-word reveal in recent days.

Harvey Weinstein’s victims are not all A-List actors worth millions of Hollywood dollars.  I am certain, simply by the shear numbers who work in the entertainment world who are grunt workers, extras and one or two jobs-a-year-actors.  Between auditions, these are women and men who are slaving away slapping burgers together at McDonald’s or washing dishes at Denny’s.  They have bills to pay and kids to feed, many without health insurance.  They are living in a world where friendships are often shallow as they step on one another to get that next solid connection.  Back-stabbing is common as a way to dominate or prosper.  An actress at 40 years old is considered old, yesterday’s flavor.  The younger actress can be blackballed and fired if she gains an inch or five pounds, which ever comes first.  It happens all the time.  Flaky is the real word for Hollywood.

For a few, suddenly, a nice break might be in the wings with a principle role on a new project coming up next summer.  It goes something like this.  He/she is thinking, if I can only get that pay scale for a year I could pay off a year’s lease, send my kid to camp, college, or get my mom and dad into that care facility they so desperately need.  Let’s say The Weinstein Company is the executive producer of the new project.  Harvey Weinstein holds futures in his hands like a puppet master.  The agency sends he/she to Weinstein’s party the next weekend because it would be expedient.  While there, he hands him/her a script and states he would love to hear a read for the role at his apartment in the city the following day.  He/she agrees, asks off for the private audition and off to Harvey’s for an enormous opportunity.  After arriving, Harvey himself lets him/her in and apologizes for having to take a quick shower first.  After a few minutes, he comes out in his bathrobe, offers the actor a drink before the read.  He/she is doing all he/she can to be on his/her best possible behavior.  Then, at an unanticipated moment, Mr. Weinstein opens his robe, suggesting a full-body massage before the read.  While in a state of shock, he/she has a quick life-altering choice to make within a second or two.  Unfortunately, often the actor prostitutes herself at the alter of Mr. Weinstein and others like him.  Why?  Money, career, or for the love of the craft and family.  Seemingly, it’s seen as a fork in the road to end years of poverty.  What does a starving artist do?

“Some of them want to use you.  Some of them want to get used by you.  Some of them want to abuse you.  Some of them want to be abused.” – Eurythmics – 1983.  Composer: Allen Toussaint

You may not like the next line, but if you read my posts you know I don’t shy away from realities.

Mr. Weinstein and his victims are slaves to their own creation.  Before you write your nasty comment in response, allow me to shine a brighter light on this.

More times than not, Hollywood, Broadway and the recording industry celebrates, highlights and nurtures scripts and lyrics of violence of all types, including the violence of sexual assault.  Moreover, they pump out sexuality to the max like a sausage machine.  Playing to the core lusts of the human mind, the machine targets the libido with all of the visual and audio tools to arrive there.  Too many times, a producer might toss back the original screenplay saying it doesn’t have enough sex, nudity and violence.  So, the poor screenwriter does a rewrite on a piece he/she has been working to sell for maybe thirteen years or more.  Often an actor is asked how they are able to perform a sex scene with a virtual stranger while 20 crew members are watching.  Usually they will say, they mentally take themselves out of their own body.  (Interestingly enough, rape victims often say the same.  I know this because I have known a few.)  How often can you perform this mental escapism, talented or not, and not damage your own soul’s outlook?  All in the name of the buck.  Sex and violence sells.  Way too often a film has to get back to the editor for cuts just to get a downshift to an R rating.  So, someone who deals and peddles sex and violence on a day-to-day basis is a seeded individual.  Furthermore, we, you and I, BUY the product like a thirsty dog.  How dare we show shock and dismay that a movie exec gets a pass to force his way with those he might hire.  Seeds grow.  And like a seedling punching through the soil, so does the acting out of a seeded one who uses it as his/her income.  Thus, Mr. Weinstein, who in his value system, considers sexual assault to be part of the biz.  As he told one actress who complained of his grope while secretly recording him, “Come on, you know you like this.  You’re used to this.”    

My suggestion?  Never ask why the victim stays silent.  It’s a tad more obvious when you place yourself in their loafers.  True, in their loafers you might make a more dignified decision, and many do, and are never heard from again. The artist often sees their very life on the line.  Silence hides their shame.  Silence will keep them working at what they love.  Silence passes the buck to the next victim with choices.  It’s indeed a vicious trap. Too many suicides come from this industry.

I could go on, but I won’t.  I will add that the one actress I worked with who admitted to being a victim of a Weinstein, also admitted she had twelve abortions over her lifetime.  (On the surface you would never detect that she was a disturbed individual in many ways, but I did not question her sincerity on this topic.)  Years ago she moved away from Hollywood to escape the depressing gauntlet.  However, around 2007 she returned to it.  She has yet to became a steady-working actress.

Compassion says, hurt for them.  Righteousness says, pray for all involved while revealing the truth.  Forgiveness says, as for me, I must release the offender to God’s justice, not mine.  God will do His work in the life of Harvey Weinstein, no matter what the result may be.  No sexual abuse rehabilitation center in the world can remove sin and forgive the offender.  Only the Redeemer, Jesus Christ, Who sacrificed Himself as the replacement for God’s wrath for sin can do so.

If you have ached from an abuser, just know there is an escape, even though it may seem impossible.  Your exit starts with fuel for the race.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” -Psalm 147:3 (NIV)

 

 

 

 

 

A Choice In Vegas

“Mother, mother, there’s too many of you cryin’.  Brother, brother, brother, there’s far too many of you dyin’.  You know we’ve got to find a way to bring some lovin’ here today…” What’s Going On, recorded by Marvin Gaye.  Released on Motown subsidiary Tamla label, 1971. Composers: Al Cleveland, Renaldo Benson, Marvin Gaye

As I write this entry, I am waylaid once again by grief pressed down on me.  The grief I speak of is not directly personal, in that I knew none of the victims of the massacre in Las Vegas which occurred last night, October 1, 2017.  My grief is not lonely.  The nation, in fact masses across the globe, joins me in the sorrow which is almost indescribable.  There is no understanding.  No discernment, no comprehension to declare here.  Really, I do not know how I am writing these sentences in that truly there are no words that can measure the outcry felt deeply within.

Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires, mudslides, landslides, tsunamis, floods, and volcanic eruptions have no evil within their cause and effect.  Nature and nature’s realities can be, and will be, dangerous, devastating and deadly.  Those disasters listed are often called “an act of God.”  The one shooting thousands of rounds of ammo from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas, wasn’t a force of nature directed by an act of God.  This madman had a choice.  In fact, from what investigators are reporting, this early in the process of the aftermath, the man had planned the mass murder over several days, at least.  He was meticulous in preparing his blueprint of what would be labelled the worst mass shooting in American history.  There was a way to forego his path of destruction.  The sign in the road read, “CHOOSE LIFE.”  He did not hold life as precious.

Evil is calculating.  Evil is aware.  Evil is intelligent.  Evil adjusts for its namesake.  Evil cares not for age, race, color, creed or who will, or will not stand for a national anthem.  Evil is not a respecter of politics or persons, nor will it ever be.  Through the history of humankind, has there been a time when evil was wiped away from the earth?  Has there ever been a time when evil relented, retreated or repented?  Has there ever been a time where we grew as a society to the point of eradicating evil and its actions?  I loudly proclaim “NO” to each of the above.

As we mourn the loss, while praying for the hundreds of injured and their families, let us ask, what now?  Is there a remedy?  Will we get better when left to our own devices?  Have we yet?

Once again, the chosen tools evil utilizes will be debated.  (I am not willing or intending to utter anything political at this point.  However, I am a supporter of Evil Control.)  Do we melt down all the guns?  We would also need to melt all knives, box cutters, hammers, scissors, corkscrews, axes and swords.  We would need a global military with inspectors to confiscate all piano and guitar strings, rope, cable, and baseball bats.  There would be worldwide campaigns to crush all motorcycles, cars, vans, trucks, and 18-wheelers.  Great work would be had to discover and destroy all bomb-making materials, gas tankers, propane cylinders and, of course, pressure cookers.  No longer would humanity fly from point A to point B for all airplanes would be grounded and placed in museums.  Erase all chemicals, all pesticides, all fertilizers, all fire-starters……need I go on?  Yes, we can dive headlong into the debate of removing any and all weapons evil uses, but we would be busy building shields to deflect the rocks bound to be hurled at any given time.

Ask yourself the following.  Where does evil reside?  Where does evil fester?  Where does evil grow?  Where does evil hide?  Where does evil plan?

“The battleline between good and evil runs through the heart of every man.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

“Silence in the face of evil is in itself evil;  God will not hold us guiltless.  Not to speak is to speak.  Not to act is to act.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer     

There is no simplicity to evil, with one exception.  Those who have studied it and its source, know full well, evil resides in the heart of each one of us.  I know that is hard to hear.  The truth is, you can be a good person, a great model for your community, even a terrific Bible thumper, yet while attempting the feats, we have the righteous plumb-line to measure ourselves by.  You and I will always fall short of it.  Each living person has the ability to express evil at will.  Some, like the mass murderer in Las Vegas, will exhibit various depths of this cancer within the human heart.  All have broken God’s law — His outline for life’s objectives wrapped in divine purpose.  WE make the choice.

“Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.” – I John 3:15 (NIV)

Things done in Vegas do not stay in Vegas.

There is evil.  Evil was birthed from the Father of Lies.  That ancient adversary delivers a false promise.  This serpent, this dragon, uses vast intelligence as he presents the promise that evil will satisfy; evil performs justice.  Just ask the heavily armed dead man on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas.  Oh, that’s right, you can’t.  He had an appointment to face the Righteous Judge.

The timeless classic song, mentioned at the top of this post, was released as a single.  Interestingly enough, the “B-Side” of the 45 vinyl was a song called, “God Is Love.” Thank you, Marvin Gaye for reminding us in 2017.  Its poetry certainly applies for this day of grief in October.  Choosing well in the here and now, in the time of decision, delivers fuel for the race.

“Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” – Jesus, Matthew 10:28 (NAS) 

Chasing Unrest….AWAY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deep Calling Deep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pray for WHO?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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