In Times of Trouble

Photo:  OnStar.com

“She was going way too fast.  Before you knew it she was spinning on a thin black sheet of glass.  She saw both their lives flash before her eyes.  She didn’t even have time to cry.  She was so scared.  She threw her hands up in the air.  Jesus, take the wheel.  Take it from my hands….” – “Jesus, Take The Wheel” from, Some Hearts album recorded by: Carrie Underwood (2005).  Composers:  Brett James, Hillary Lindsey, Gordy Sampson.

Have you seen it?  It’s the latest OnStar television commercial.  It begins with a peaceful night scene in the forest with a young deer drinking lightly from a moonlit stream.  Incoming fade of a car horn blowing as if stuck.  Then the camera pans up to a freshly stranded white SUV caught in the thicket of young trees, angling downward toward the deep embankment.  The driver, who had activated her OnStar button, hears the soothing voice of a customer service representative.  After asking how he might help her, she seems a bit more settled as she is told help is on the way.  She mentions something about how the deer came out of nowhere.  Isn’t that the way trouble comes to us?  Out of nowhere.

OnStar Car

Photo: OnStar.com

It’s a fascinating technology, isn’t it?  Frankly, I recall the first time I saw a GPS (Global Positioning System) handheld civilian unit.  One of my co-workers bought one around 1993.  It was about the size of a Motorola cell flip-phone of that time.  He simply loved gadgets and this new civilian technology was just too good to pass up.  Now, it’s commonplace.  The satellites above can, and will, navigate you to any corner of the earth.  They also will help to find you, wherever you are.  That’s good and bad news.  Truly amazing.

OnStar technology was born out of the GPS drawing-board.  When you find yourself in times of trouble, who comes to you?  In certain OnStar selected vehicles, you can leave your cell phone where it is.  You push the OnStar activation button, installed in your vehicle and an operator, usually from another part of the planet, speaks, asking how they might be of assistance.  They use GPS on their end to find where you are located on the globe as they then connect with the local authorities, search and rescue, firefighters or auto garage, whatever the need is.  The OnStar customer service coordinator gets back with you confirming that help is on the way, offering to phone a friend or family member on your behalf.  On the television commercial, the calming voice from OnStar tells the driver, “Don’t worry, I’m going to stay with you until they arrive.”  No doubt, during a traumatizing event, it is comforting to hear.

I have an old friend, with a good heart, who lives in New York.  She’s a long-time Broadway actress, singer and dancer.  A few days ago she posted online asking for good vibrations and good thoughts to be sent her way.  She never indicated what her troubles were, just that she needed her friends to send good vibes and thoughts to overcome her current trial in her life.  Understandably, she was being very private about the unspoken issue.  Only God knows.  I have loved my friend for 43 years and would never want to offend her.  I responded, alerting her of “prayers” coming from my house to hers.

Imagine, you are the lady in the stranded SUV out in the forest along the bridge.  Your OnStar button is there, beneath the rear-view mirror, brightened by back lighting with a red circle around it.   You sit there, hanging only by your seat-belt in the darkened woods, 30 miles from humans.  The only thing keeping gravity from taking your vehicle into the embankment, to the river below, are a couple of very young four-foot oak trees with bending trunks.  After you catch your breath, you bellow out toward the animals in the forest (the only ones near you with ears) and shout out, “I need good vibrations here!  Please, send me your good thoughts!”  After the animals run away from your screams, you decide to reach up and push the OnStar button as a last ditch effort.  The live customer rep asks how he can serve you.  You tell him the same, “I need your good vibrations and thoughts.”  He acknowledges the fact that he will have good vibes and thoughts, followed by, “Have a nice day” (click).

Truly, I don’t mean to belittle my friend’s sincere request.  I knew what she was trying to ask for.  Knowing her, I understood there are authentic concerning issue(s) she is fighting right now.  As a person of faith, I elected to go to the One Who lives, Who has shown me His responses in times of trouble, over and over again.  After all, I am a man filled with mistakes and wrong, unethical thinking at times.  My “good vibes and thoughts” may be skewed, off target and misguided.  So, I go to the One who is without failure and impurities, the One Who has the original GPS at hand.  He never fails to deliver in His kind, soothing small voice, “Don’t worry.  I’m here with you.  I will stay with you.  I’m sending help.”

No matter what road you’re on, OnStar or not, you know Who to call when filled with fuel for the race.

“…God is our refuge and strength, a helper Who is always found in times of trouble.” -Psalms 46:1 (CSB)

 

 

The Hand That Rocks The Cradle

*****Just a note:  I was recently interviewed for a podcast show on Isle of Misfits podcast/blog.  You are certainly welcome to click on and listen to a bit of my history, including my near-death experience from my own voice. 

Here is the link:  Isle of Misfits

“Blessings on the hand of women!…For the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.” – From the American poet, William Ross Wallace (1865).

To say, the decisive influence of a mother can and will shake a person throughout their decades, is an understatement, in my opinion.  William Ross Wallace believed the future of society itself rested its base in the hand of a young mother.

“Give me the first six years of a child’s life, and I care not who has the rest.” – American educator and author Kate Douglas Wiggin from her book, “Children’s Rights and Others: A Book of Nursery Logic” (1892)

You don’t have to search far to find someone who has damaging memories of their mom.  I know of some in my own family.  With that said, I will state some things here that are familiar to most who treasure their mothers.

Mom salon

My mom, Carolyn Atherton-Brown

Leaving out lots of details, she had every pathway to abort me.  She was only 15 when she was carrying me.  She was newly married to my bio-father, a man full of abuses on every level.  Even his parents feared for my life, warning my maternal grandparents in a secretive meeting.  His lies were uncovered rather quickly, as quickly as the divorce decree, when I was two years old.  She did remarry again when I was five, but it was short-lived.  She has stayed single for the balance of her life.

When bravery and gritty courage is given as a title, I think of POWs, cops, or firefighters, but not today.  I instead picture this incredible, enduring woman of granite-like stability.  This girl, in her mid teens, chose to raise a son all on her own through the 1960s and 1970s.  That alone is like a spelunker forging his/her way into the darkest, undiscovered cavern of the greatest of depths.  To be a young single woman, with a young son in the mix, slugging her way through the male-driven world of those times, was only for the most adventurous, gallant female.  She had to be like the grill on a car, being hit with everything.  Women of that time had to be willing to be objectified, to be broke from low wages, to be able to take harsh words, along with an ocean of dirty looks and rumor.  Yet, she did so because of me.

A woman who represents only the best of motherhood, is a woman who understands and acknowledges selflessness to the broadest degree.  She must make a tripwire decision to place herself last, further than the unwanted back-burner.  Motherhood decrees an oath of pouring out one’s “self” for the one hiding behind her skirt.  It meant, for my mom, two or three jobs at a time, multiple lay-offs, skipping high school and college, dodging unwanted advances, taking judgmental heat from those who allow their love to grow cold toward the divorced female and single mother.  That is what she signed up for.  THIS is my mom’s tip of the iceberg in a snapshot.

In order to post a simple blog article, in lieu of a novel, I will decline here to spell out a few dozen stories concerning the sheer resilience and integrity of my mom.

23 OMA Me and Mom 1967

My mom, grandmother and me – 1967.

“Having children gives you a perspective you didn’t have before.  You are no longer the center of the universe.  It opened my heart, made me a different person.  Every move you make is with someone else in mind…” – Actress, Jessica Lange.   Kenneth Miller’s article, AARP Magazine. Aug-Sept 2017

I would be remiss if I didn’t add the fact the hand that rocked the cradle in 1944, during WWII, greatly shaped the woman my mom grew to be.  My God-worshiping grandmother, as well as her mother before her,  had the right salt-of-the-earth stuff, passing it on to her only daughter.  Today, I can even see their influences in my oldest daughter, raising her young daughter.  The hand that rocks the cradle truly does move and shake the generations behind her skirt.

Mom and Skylar Dec 2017

My granddaughter with my mom. December 2017.

If a mom truly wants joy for Mother’s Day, she should not hesitate in filling her child with fuel for the race.

“In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly.  And she made a vow, saying, ‘Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life…’ ” – 1 Samuel 1: 10-11 (NIV)

Nothing To Get Hung About

“Let me take you down, ’cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields, nothing is real.  And nothing to get hung about…”  – Beatles, 1967.  Composers:  Lennon/McCartney

As he rose above the bubble he found himself in, clarity rebooted his mind.  He shouted, with enormous struggle, compacted by a broken heart, “You just stay away, Molly!  Just stay away!  (singing the next line)  For I could never say goodbye to you again.”  This ended his soliloquy.  Yet, some things aren’t always what they seem.

Molly - Me & money cropped

Allow me to revel in the cover photo at the top of this post, just for a moment.  It represents mounds of wonderful memories and life-long friendships I hold dear to this very day.  It was February of 1978.  Certainly a launching pad for the beginning of many things for me, including my very first leading man role that ushered in decades of various roles acting, directing, producing and lots of make-up jobs on the face.  It was a highly celebrated performance of “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”  I was honored to be awarded the role of Johnny Brown, Molly’s hubby.  (The actress who played Molly, on the left, hasn’t aged a bit in 40 years.  I, on the other hand…well… I’ll move on.)  If you’ve ever seen the show, or movie, then you already know he goes through a living hell in trying to be the husband she wanted, but failing to “live-up” to her bar of approval.  They had separate visions of what marriage would be like, while in the throws of passion, goals, new life and new money.  All of the latter perspectives were very different for each person.  In the end, a divorce occurs.  Here, in this promo shot, Molly and Johnny are meeting Mrs. Gladys McGraw, a socialite who lived next door to the Brown mansion.  Mrs. McGraw, being the stuck-up, highbrow, blue-blood that she was, couldn’t be more displeased to have these, now wealthy, country bumpkins residing in her royal flush neighborhood.  Her priest had urged her to do the Christian thing and welcome them into her home to break the self-applied ice.  Johnny Brown is doing his best to greet her in the newly polished way he assumed would meet expectations, although alien to him.  As you can see, Mrs. McGraw barely tolerates the meet-n-greet.  Her face and body language say it all.  She can hardly stand his touch, even through two formal tux and gown gloves.  A bit of irony here.  As well as the scene was played, and as talented as the actress who took the role of Mrs. McGraw was and is, we were actually a dating couple at the time, spending lots of time with each other.  Some things aren’t always what they seem.

22 OMA Lorne Greene Aug 1962

A few years before the Molly Brown production, my grandparents had a unique theater experience themselves.  Martin and Opal Atherton were western fans.  Most of the television shows and movies they watched were “saddle-up and drive-’em out” westerns.  From John Wayne to Clint Eastwood, their minds (mostly my granddad) lived in the 1800s, set in the western United States, which had yet to be tamed and settled.  One of their must-see TV shows was the long running “Bonanza” series with Lorne Greene, seen with my grandmother above.  (She looks like a movie star there, as well.)  One year the Athertons planned a vacation road trip that would take them to the Ponderosa ranch house from the TV show.  It was built with huge timbers in a scenic mountainous region. It’s a sight to behold.

Ponderosa House Ext

Photo: Pinterest.com

In those days, as is true today no doubt, they gave tours of the exterior and interior of the famous ranch house.  My grandparents were in hog-heaven.  When they walked through the interior with its wide wooden floorboards and enormous fireplace, they asked to see the second floor where the bedrooms were.  They were told that the door at the top of the staircase was fake, as well as the second floor.  All the second floor scenes were shot on ground level sets.  They were beside themselves.  So much for theater-of-the-mind.  I can still hear my granddad’s soft voice saying in astonishment, “Gooood-night.”

Ponderosa House Int

Photo: azcentral.com

Some things aren’t always what they seem.

While watching the original “Star Trek” TV series from the late 1960s, often when a character leans on a boulder, or a wall of a cave in a scene, you can see a slight give in the sponge-like foam that’s been painted to look like stone.  William Shatner could tell you all about it.  It’s fun to catch these gaffs in scenes, but it also displaces you from the theater-of-the-mind the writer intended for the viewer.

“Alan,” you might be saying, “There’s a point to this tour of mothballs, right?  Where are you going with this?”

I think I’ll let the first line of the second verse of Strawberry Fields help to answer the question.

“Living is easy with your eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see…”

It’s been 40 years since I played Johnny Brown.  Lots of water has gone under the bridge, much of it troubled.  How often, in retrospect, do we say to ourselves, “I can’t believe I fell for that.”  Or, “Why did I believe him/her?”  Or, “How could I not see the truth behind the wizard’s curtain?”  Or, “I will never trust again, now.”  Ouch!  Face it, in a world where fake news is not only the norm, but well accepted, along with general misdirection and sleight-of-hand, it’s no wonder trust is dashed all the time.  Trust matters.  Often we rest in what someone tells us, wanting to believe them, only to be dropped by the sledge hammer of truth after the fact.  It’s so difficult to get back up.  Frankly, the ugliness of it all leads to soaring divorce rates, surging court cases and the handshake no longer being the norm for deal-making.  Some things aren’t always what they seem.

From Hollywood to the stage, frontage framed walls without interiors are created to be misleading.  False breakaway tables, chairs and banisters help the writer seduce us into a scene to make us feel like we’re there.  CGI animals and extras, fake doorways, fake windows, fake food and painted backdrops are visual vacuums assisting to suck us into a world of pretend.  We say it often, but rarely do we see it spelled out with an emphasis on the word “MAKE-believe”.  You don’t have to search long to find someone who understands these props, to manipulate the viewer, when the name of one of Hollywood’s favorite sons, Harvey Weinstein pops up.  Better yet, Washington D.C.

When a victim of illusion, where does one start to snap out of it?

Rise above the Ponderosa of your personal existence.  Lift off the shifting sand with the drone of your eternal goggles firmly strapped on, and orbit with a satellite.  When you fly over the minefield, you will see it is only a tiny bubble you are living in, with an entire unexplored universe all around.  Ultimately, this is the view the Creator of your next breath desires for you: see past the façade. Our responsibility is remembering to do it, day in and day out.

Wait a minute!  Hold on!  I think I smell freshly cut hay.  Are those cows I’m hearing in my backyard — dun, duddle-un, duddle-un duddle-un duddle-un dun — in your best Bonanza theme!!   Nah.  Some things aren’t always what they seem.

In the scope of eternity, there’s nothing to get hung about when hooked to fuel for the race.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You believe in God; believe also in me.” – Jesus – John 14:1 (NIV)

Short Fuses

Photo: Shutterstock

“Stop draggin’, stop draggin’, stop draggin’ my heart around…”  Recorded by: Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (1981).  Composers: Michael W. Campbell and Tom Petty.

He said, “NO!  This is my band, it’s my song catalog!  BYE!”

Electric-guitar

Photo: todayifoundout.com

Recently, I interviewed a well-known Grammy-winning lead singer of a rock band you would recognize, for a three-hour radio special.  This man is now a solo recording artist who has about 50 years of a rewarding rock career.  He and his band once opened for Janis Joplin, Chicago, B.B. King and others.  Off air, he told me an inside story, which I couldn’t share, concerning a major riff between band members in talks of a reunion tour, as well as a new CD of their reworked hits.  The founder and band-mate, of this famous band, had some health issues and wouldn’t give his nod on multiple topics related to the reunion efforts.  It became a huge political squabble behind the scenes.  It grew into the founder refusing to take part of any reunion efforts.  Soon, the word “lawsuit” was mentioned.  This, after 40 years of being part of a tightly knit musical family.  Ouch!

44 OMA MRA, Swindell side and B, D&C

Photo:  Ella Swindell (Far left)

Rewinding back to 1971, my great-grandmother Ella Swindell passed away.  She was one of the most selfless, sweet, servant-type person you could ever meet.  Her mother was an invalid with many children.  Somewhere around 1910, when it got to the point where she was unable take care of her children, along with the household in general, my great grandmother dropped out of school (3rd grade) to take over, instantly becoming an 8 year old mother, nanny, cook and bottle-washer.  At that young age, she raised her siblings as well as taking care of her parents.  All her life she played the role of the humble servant, the giving of herself.  In 1971, after her funeral, there was a gathering of her siblings and children (my grandmother and great uncle).  They met in my great grandmother’s house to discuss the property and possessions, tiny as it was.  In the meeting a knockdown-drag out occurred among these individuals she helped to raise (now elderly themselves) over the smallest personal affects.  Greed took control, even though she was a poor woman with very little.  What she did have was not valuable.  Still, they wrestled one another, making total fools of themselves.  A family split ensued.  Ouch!

Shorty At Attention July 2014

My dog, Shorty and I, moved into the house where we currently live, right at a year ago.  My wife and I were newlyweds and we moved into her house.  Next door, there are three dogs.  One looks to be a Dingo mix, the other two are Chihuahuas.  The two little bosses, with a little Caesar syndrome attitude, have real names, but I call them Yipper and Yapper.  They didn’t like Shorty from the very start and they made it clear, loud and clear.  Shorty is a kind, sweet dog who loves everyone he sees.  He has a firm belief that everyone he sees wants to play.  From the first moment he saw them at the adjacent fence, he ran over to initiate playtime.  NOTHIN’ DOIN’.  They nipped, yipped and snipped at his friendliness.  A few weeks later, after many attempts to become pals, to no avail, he slowly walked over to the barking pack, got close to the fence, lifted his leg and peed in their direction, running off afterwards like a celebrated conquering king of the neighborhood.  I laughed, but I was also quietly proud.  (I’m his dad.  What can I say?)  Ouch!

How quickly we burn our fuses and usually for small, insignificant reasons.  You say one thing that I may misunderstand, followed by my knee-jerk reaction, followed by your shock of my tone and then you raise it another level, etc.  Isn’t that the way it goes?  While in heavy traffic, someone rolls down their window as you hear “Hey, your car needs to be smashed!”  You love your car, and of course without thinking, the reaction comes quickly as you roll down your window to shout, “Well, how about I smash in your ugly grill?  Oh, sorry, that’s your teeth!”  The tragedy is, the actual words spoken were from a British chap, “Hey, your car is super smashing!”  Oh, the lessons learned.

Candle 2014

Unlike the band-mates of the rock star, my great grandmother’s siblings, along with Yipper and Yapper, we can, and we have, the ability to lengthen our fuses a great deal, allowing peace to rule the day.  It’s what love does.  Love denies self.  In fact, if we see our short fuses as short wicks, we can find the light diminishes as the dark side takes over like a long black cloak.  The longer the wick, the brighter the true view.  The shorter the wick, the darker the mask which shades the actual subject, distorting the view.

Who said it was easy?  Yet, there’s power in fuel for the race.

“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” – Paul – Romans 14:19 (NIV)
Continue reading “Short Fuses”

Life, So They Say…

“Life, so they say, is just a game and we let it slip away…..Like the twilight in the road up ahead, they don’t see just where we’re goin’.” – Recorded by: Seals and Crofts (1973).  Composers:  James Harris/Janet Jackson/Terry Lewis.

Where do you think you’re goin’?  No, really.  Where?

Earlier this week I watched a very thought-provoking PBS documentary on various perspectives on life and death, especially death.  The perspectives came from a wide range of individuals with varying degrees of education, faith and science.  I was amazed at the vast differences concerning the leanings about death and the afterlife.  It turns out, we all agree on death.  It happens.  It’s unavoidable.  We know it’s real because we watch it happen here on earth every day.  We all agree, death is as natural as birth and life itself.  And then there comes the next step, that is also very natural, the afterlife of the spirit/soul.  That is where the tapestry becomes unraveled in the minds of humanity’s plethora of paths.  It’s fascinating how we, around the globe, concur on these things all the way until the muscle, called the heart, stops pumping.  Why is it that there we splinter into a wide field of thoughts?  Why is it that there we debate?  I’m pretty sure of the reason.

As a life-long follower of Jesus (Yeshua), I was introduced to the theology of life being eternal early-on in childhood.  I received the news from my mother first, followed by Sunday School in our church and so on.  I really don’t recall never having a faith in Jesus and His teachings.  Yet, at the same time, I was left hanging on God’s purpose in some aspects of the life of Jesus.

Here we are, in what many call, Holy Week.  It’s the week Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, at the beginning of Passover week, to shake things up for the religious establishment that had become so hypocritical and corrupt, even by secular standards.  He had been teaching (sometimes even talking…You’ll get that if you read it again.) throughout Israel for about three years, by this time.  A tremendous amount of the public had witnessed His miraculous acts and magnetic teachings of God’s grace, kindness and love.  It was new.  It was fresh.  It was brilliant in an authoritative way that was clearly noticeable.  It was liberating.  Forgiveness was His good news, regardless of wrongs recorded.

The religious hierarchy of the day were amazed at the throng following Him and said, “…Look, the whole world is following Him!” (John 12:19)  Of course, it wasn’t the “whole world” at the time, but to them, with the Passover holiday crowds, it seemed to be true.  Now, He came to the hub, the capital of Israel, to set the record straight concerning God’s intentions, along with God’s anger, at the corruption among the religious leadership who continued to twist the system of laws, and create needless judgment upon the poor and afflicted.  They didn’t like it, either.  So much so, they were conspiring to shut Him up for good.  By late Thursday night, right after the Passover feast was consumed, they had Him arrested.  A mock overnight secret trial (kangaroo court) followed with the decision to do what they could to have Him executed.  A few hours later, He was flogged, beaten, spat upon, beard yanked out by clumps, slapped, a cap made of thorns in mockery, etc.  (See the movie, The Passion Of The Christ for a better visual, but be ready.) He hung on a Roman cross the following morning for six hours until He expired.

Cross

His execution wasn’t a total surprise.  He told His followers many times He was going to lay down His life for the world He loved.  He went so far as to make it clear He wasn’t going to have His life “taken away,” but rather He was going to “give it away.”  A side note:  In the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem, where He was arrested, He and the disciples were very familiar with the place.  Knowing they were coming to arrest Him, He refused to run.  There are exit steps in the back of the garden that remain to this day.  He could’ve made a way of escape easily and timely.  His mission from birth was to become the sacrifice for the sins of all humanity, the perfect lamb, God Himself had prepared, so to speak.  Since Genesis, sin had to be covered and an innocent animal — a life not guilty of the transgression — had to pay for the sin by its blood.  This is the way God would teach us how serious law-breaking would be, helping us understand what it means to Him.  Otherwise, we would be clueless.  Out of love for us, He chose to move on with the sacrifice, knowing full well the torture involved.  THAT, I understood.

Mainly, I had trouble with the Resurrection on the third day.  The purpose puzzled me.  After a slew of decades, wondering, then studying the scriptures concerning God’s redemptive blueprint, I finally got it.  At first, and still true for so many aspects of God’s designed timelines, it’s like an ant looking up at the Empire State Building in New York and wondering how it got there.  We have finite minds, unlike the I AM, the One Who Was, and Who Is and Who Is To Come.  How does a pencil look at the artist and say, “Hey, I know how you made me, everything you are doing and will do?”  If we think like the pencil, we are not too sharp and we certainly can’t erase our gargantuan ignorance.

Pencil

Watching the PBS documentary, I was glued, soaking in what the agnostics had to say, as well as the atheists, the scientists and the faith-filled individuals.  Death is nothing more than an end of the flesh getting blood flow, brain matter becoming inactive, while the organs are instructed by the brain to shut down.  Done!  Off to the mortician slab, our remains go.  Or, are we (our spirits) actually done?

If you read my “Confronted By Death” post from Feb 13th, you will know, I too, am one of the few in the percentage of Americans who experienced a near-death, or flat-line death experience.  I LOVE the fact that the One I follow, Jesus of Nazareth, Israel, experienced the body losing life.  He is acquainted with suffering and depression.  He has been there, done that.  I LOVE His willingness to give His life, according to God’s plan, to bridge the separation of my imperfect life to His holiness.  Like a never fading dye, it was applied to my spirit.  I accepted the fact and received, or inherited, an afterlife with my Creator, not because I deserved it, but because He offered it freely as a gift.  I am so glad I took it and opened that gift certificate, as all who follow Him have done.  Yet, I remained stunned at the idea of a resurrection in the mix.  It seems like His sacrifice for us was enough wow factor to spread over the eras of history.  Why a resurrection?

Not only was it prophesied in the Old Testament that Messiah sent to us would come back from death, bringing back life with Him, but Jesus Himself also told His followers on several occasions to expect it.  In some biblical scenes, it’s almost as if He were saying, “Watch and learn.”  And they did.

Like John Lennon’s grave, his bones remain.  Buy a flight and find out that it’s the same story for John Kennedy, Elvis, Bruce Lee and Winston Churchill.  Their remains are still in a box.  You have the testimony of your loved ones who have passed away each time you go to their funeral or graveside.  The remains are just that…remains, but they speak out to you.  “Its” flesh has hardened and stiffened.  It begins to decompose the moment the heart stops.  If you touch the remains lying in the coffin, you will feel a coldness, like touching a cold aluminum flagpole in the winter.  Your loved one is not home, even so, they testify to the strength of death, and it’s so very apparent!  It is, at this point, where the divine contrast shines.

So again, why is the resurrection of Jesus so important?  He said it would happen, but why?

Instead of being the final nail in the coffin, the incredibly broken, nearly bloodless body of Jesus, once again breathing air with blood flowing without restraint to the organs and tissues, was part of a final piece of His testimony. The statement was loud, showing the world He was Who He said He was.  After the time I experienced death and resuscitation in 2013, I was damaged with ongoing disabilities due to organ shutdown, heart damage, lack of oxygen and hypothermia.  You just don’t bounce back to normal after death.  I do not have the power, the control, the on/off switch to death.  I do not have the strength, the ability, the know-how to fight death and tame it.  I can not will it away, negotiate with it, or slow it down.  Furthermore, I don’t have the energy to get myself up off the floor when life’s sledgehammer slays me, when the rug is pulled out, when the items of stability are removed, when the very base where all things stand is crushed.  But, I KNOW WHO CAN AND DOES!  That Sunday morning of significance displayed triumph over tragedy, death to darkness, hope for the hopeless and deliverance for the damned.  He created life, created organs and created lifespan.  He marked out the borders of life’s existence from outside of it, very much like the creator of that pencil.  The pencil-maker knows how it works, how it is to be sharpened and how short it will get with use, ALL CRAFTED FROM OUTSIDE THE PENCIL.  All, from conception to the grave, has been conquered by the One I hope on, live on and lean on.  The empty tomb reminds me of my spirit’s future.

Empty tomb

PBS gets it.  Life here is a puff of smoke.  It’s here and gone.  Much like a Texas wildflower in the spring.  It blooms and it withers so quickly.  Life everlasting is immeasurable.  As He exited the tomb on that Sunday morning, He was telling all generations of imperfect humanity……. “I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in me will live, even though they die…” (John 11:25) (NIV) 

Easter is always more satisfying when you have answers from a great amount of fuel for the race.         

 

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)