When The Rapids Rage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nik and D’Anna did just that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Rockets Launch

“We are strong.
No one can tell us we’re wrong.
Searching our hearts for so long,
both of us knowing,
love is a battlefield.”
(1983) “Love Is A Battlefield” Recorded By: Pat Benatar Composers: Holly Knight & Mike Chapman

“These, ‘so-called’ Christians, like to attack whenever they don’t agree with someone else!”

“I’m DONE with my old high school friends who claim they’re Christians!”

“I’m not surprised anymore by what Christians say. They are all haters and ‘Trumpers’!”

“I’m not surprised either. In fact, I expect it from them (Christians).”

“Yep, most of them (Christians) are uneducated !…#@&*!”

Offended yet? If you are not of the faith, you’ll find it doesn’t necessarily bother you. Or should it? Keep reading.

Let me back up a bit to explain the above.

A “friend” of mine, going back to my high school days, launched a very negative attack on her Facebook post after she read another angry person’s comment on a private group posting memorials of deceased alumni, or teaching staff from my old high school. It’s a very nice service to have, especially when you’re an alumni who cares for old friends and teachers from yesteryear. I have been able to honor former classmates by attending their funeral services due to the fact I was briefed by the memorial page. Yet, all of the harsh words written above about “Christians” were in reaction to the cover photo of the memorial page. Here’s what launched those scathing words thrown at “Christians”. A simple photo.

Photo: R.L. Turner High School Memorial Page

Yep! That’s right, the cross. I guess this gang of vipers would break out in physical convulsions at Arlington Cemetery. It all began with one individual who responded to an obit of a departed alumni. The string of replies were the common condolences, well wishes, prayers for the family, etc, Then came this one who didn’t write anything about the deceased person, but instead questioned the use of the cross as the cover photo. In his complaint, TO THIS PRIVATE GROUP PAGE, he mentioned there were so many classmates and teachers who were not Christians. Stupidly, and yes, I used that word just now, for his assault on the cross, mentioned how the high school is a public school on school district land, therefore religious symbols should stay out of it. Of course, the school, or school district, didn’t put up the memorial page…a “private group” did so on the Facebook platform.

Back to my old high school atheistic chum. She notated on her page a description of what she saw on the memorial page, and how it should be taken down, in the recent flavor of cancel culture. Of course, she wanted to stir the stew, and she certainly did. Most of her friends on her list are far left edge, godless people, who talk about how tolerant they are, but only selectively tolerant. Tolerance for me, but not for thee. So, as one might imagine, a slew of her Christian-hating friends poured it on with a hot liquid steel spew about followers of Jesus. I only shared a short snapshot of what I read. The string of comments went on and on. It wasn’t long until one of the attacking clan aligned all Christians with Donald Trump and overall conservative political supporters. A few foolishly targeted Jesus Himself in their ramblings with despicable adjectives I cannot repeat here.

One of the complaints my old pal had, surrounded the fact that there were some people who responded badly to the man who questioned using the cross as a memorial symbol. Some were defending the cross vigorously from a faith-based point of view, others were chewing on the guy from a civics perspective. However, many replied to him in a loving way. In all cases, everyone was lumped into the “Christian” pile, a pile to burned, or eaten by lions. Been there, done that. Yet, frankly, many did not answer him with an attitude of love, but more on the scale of scrapping with an enemy. The baby hits the ground with the bathwater. Some lambs do roar. Other lambs are just so tired of being attacked by popular culture who thinks a person of faith is a Neanderthal. One vomiting up, “Most of them are uneducated!” (They should remember that whenever they pass by a Presbyterian Hospital, Methodist Hospital, Baptist Hospital, etc.) Otherwise, if Christians stay silent, inactive, and keep their teachings only inside four walls on a Sunday, then all will be right with the world. But a city on a hill can’t be hidden, can it? Salt and light alters things. The Cornerstone continues to cause many to stumble on their dark paths. The spewing haters don’t realize it, but they are indeed proving the scripture to be so accurate.

You might say, “Hey, Alan, wake up and smell the coffee. Are you new to today’s world?”

I spent most of the 1980’s on a job where I was mocked for my faith daily. I’m no stranger to this at all. My reply to such a question lies with another question. What if you take out the word “Christians” from the hateful circle of vile, and replace it with…Jews…Hindus…Muslims…Agnostics…Atheists…LGBTQ…Vets…Mexicans…The Disabled…Blue-eyed people…Bald people… Well, you get my point. The ones shouting, “RACISM!” are usually the most guilty of the sin. Take any of those titles and replace the word “Christians” and the Woke squadron would be all over you like ugly on Sasquatch. Am I right? Are you nodding your head?

I’m not biblically illiterate. Scripture states, humanity ran from God. We still do. We don’t want to be reminded there is a code for living, set by an ultimate Authority. Those who are still running from God’s arms want to make their own codes, their own roads, their own laws. After all, we have to validate whatever we do in action, word, or deed. Am I right? It’s very much like the crowd who shouts in the streets to defund the cops, or delete the police all together. It is why Jesus said if we follow Him, expect haters, expect stones to be thrown, flaming darts released, missiles to be launched. The bottom line here, it’s all part of an ancient Holy war. Israel understands that all too well.

Photo: Fox News Hamas rockets over Israel.

You might be asking yourself if I “Unfriended” my old high school screamer. No, I can’t bring myself to do that. However, for my sanity, I did take a “Break” from her.

Loving others can truly be a battlefield.

The highway of faith is a gauntlet, yet overcome by fuel for the race.

“Blessed are you whenever they revile you and persecute you and they say every evil word against you for my sake, in falsehood. Then rejoice and triumph, because your reward is great in Heaven, for just so they persecuted The Prophets who were before you.” – Jesus – Matthew 5:11-12 (Aramaic Bible In Plain English)

Ripples

“Sometimes even now,
When I’m feelin’ lonely and beat,
I drift back in time and I find my feet,
Down on Mainstreet…
Down on Mainstreet”
(1977) “Mainstreet” Written & Recorded By: Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band

(I’ve always wondered if Bob Seger meant to write, “Main Street” vs “Mainstreet”. Oh, well.)

Deep Ellum is an old section of Dallas, Texas, just off the east cusp of the downtown area. The “main” street is Elm Street. However, over the decades, during the development and expansion of what is now known as Deep Ellum, it is a full-blown artsy neighborhood of small businesses dishing up terrific nightlife, complete with restaurants, sidewalk cafes, coffee shops, and live music clubs. You can also expect a plethora of outdoor festivals. A pedestrian’s party haven.

Photo: deepellumtexas.com

The last time I was there, I was enjoying my daughter’s band at a quaint brick-walled night club. She was on a national concert tour that year out of Buffalo, NY.

Deep Ellum was one of the scheduled gigs before performing at the annual SXSW Fest in Austin, Texas.

There’s nothing like the sound of live music, Texas sunshine, and the smell of street tacos in the air. In a bohemian part of any large city, you can always expect street vendors.

Allow me to introduce you to one of Dallas’ most beloved street vendors, 60 year old, Leobardo Torres Sanchez.

Credit: Miriam Torres Leon

Like a ripple of joy expanding out into the streets of Deep Ellum from Leobardo’s goodies cart-on-wheels, comes the opportunity for cotton candy in a bag, or on a stick, (He always wants you to know it was grown right here in Texas. Come to think of it, I might have seen a crop or two myself). He’s also loaded down with apples, popcorn balls, and often in the summer, balloons on a stick. Along with the tasty treats, he has a gift for dancing up a storm, including a pretty mean moonwalk. Those who frequent Deep Ellum know of the exuberant Leobardo very well. He is hard to miss…or hard to miss hearing.

Originally from Mexico, Leobardo has been selling his stuff on the curbs of Dallas for over eight years now. Like many men south of the border, Leobardo left his poor village, leaving his family behind, to find work away from home. He did just that with his focus on chipping-in on the American dream. According to his daughter, Miriam Torres Leon in Mexico, he faithfully sends money back to his family. He is seen as wealthy to others back home. He lives alone in a rented room, lives humbly, but considered blessed. He is a man who truly loves what he does each day.

Credit: Miriam Torres Leon

If you visit this section of Dallas, you not only will hear good things concerning Leobardo from the business owners, their patrons, and the cops on bikes or horses assigned to the streets of Deep Ellum, but also the homeless and fellow street vendors. Many of the homeless have had their hands filled with free goods straight from Leobardo’s cart. Another street vendor mentioned recently to the Dallas Morning News how when he was robbed, Leobardo gave him 40 bags of cotton candy to sell to help stretch the dollar. That is a good reflection of the kind of heart you can expect from this man of commerce on wheels.

As you may have heard, Texas was hit in mid February with a freak winter 100 year storm with temps plunging to zero and single digits for much of Valentine’s Week. Leobardo, and street entrepreneurs like him, were forced off the streets. Being concerned after hearing of the Texas freezing storm, his daughter in Mexico called him. On the 12th, he told her the plummeting temperatures was unbearable to him. He told her not to worry, even though he lost electrical power due to an unprepared power grid, explaining to her that he was in his rental room wearing several jackets and had wrapped himself in layers of blankets. His circumstances was not unique here. Millions of Texans lost power, water, and sometimes gas.

After several days, Leobardo’s daughter could not contact her dad. However, she did put out a message on social media about the situation in hopes the Deep Ellum community might be able to locate him. Unfortunately, his daughter, Miriam, didn’t know his address, or just what part of Dallas he lived in. A couple of street vendors who knew Leobardo, and his location, heard of her digital posts and fought through the frigid weather to check on him.

On Tuesday, the 22nd, as the thawing was welcomed in Dallas, the police did a welfare check on Leobardo. He was found deceased in his frozen room. His body was found in his bed under several layers of blankets and wearing multiple coats. This poor man was one of a multitude of Texans who did not survive the single digit blast from a very rare weather tragedy. The heartbreak is real. Leobardo and I were the same age.

As the news of Leobardo’s death began to circulate, the mourners responded in droves with cash funds for his family in Mexico, flowers, written tributes, and a Go-Fund-Me account. It seems Leobardo was indeed a man of poverty. but wealthy in heart.

As I read of Leobardo’s passing, I was awestruck by the outpouring of the kind citizens affected by this man with what many would consider an insignificant life. Knowing that sounds harsh to read, or say aloud, I must state the following. Many who walked by his cart-on-wheels, maybe even purchased an apple from him on a hot summer day, might have seen him as a “lower rung” individual. Those who drove by Leobardo’s cotton candy stand, while on their way to Del Frisco’s for a $350.00 dinner, may have smirked at his efforts to scrape out a buck, or laughed at his dancing in the dust around his cart. Tears filled my eyes when imagining a man or woman seeing Leobardo ahead at the corner, crossing Elm Street just so they wouldn’t hear him ask in his broken English if they would like a popcorn ball. You know why, right? Because if one avoids someone like him, they are conveniently cancelled in one’s mind, as if they don’t exist. It’s that easy to put someone under the foot.

Then, at some point in my thoughts and imagination of these things, I remembered the outpouring of love from gentler hearts. Some of which who knew him, some who just gave him a smile as they walked around his cart, or perhaps some who bought one of his balloons for their child. I read more of the comments made by the many he impacted with his humble life. That’s when I smiled through a tear which had escaped.

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.” – John Donne’s Devotions (1624)

A pebble can be so insignificant under foot. The sound of a hiking boot crushing many pebbles, as the weight is distributed, has a unique tenor. Yet, when the sole applies weight to just one pebble, the resonance is hardly noticeable. But, pick up that single insignificant pebble, toss it into a still street puddle then count the ripples from the point of contact to the outer edges on all sides. Isn’t that all God asks of us while we walk our various pavements? Impact others around you. Sway individuals with your light, so that everyone will see how God works in your heart. In doing so, we make waves.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Making a ripple around you has a blueprint in fuel for the race.

“For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.” Romans 14:7 (NIV)

Cancel Culture -VS- God’s Culture

“Go on now, go, walk out the door.
Just turn around now,
‘Cause you’re not welcome anymore.
Weren’t you the one who tried to hurt me with goodbye?
You think I’d crumble?
You think I’d lay down and die?”
(1978) “I Will Survive” Recorded By: Gloria Gaynor Composers: Freddie Perren & Dino Fekaris

If you’ve not heard about it, you soon may become a victim of it with a blindside punch.

Some say it began about 25 years ago on college campuses across America. There were “safe spaces” for young college students who wished to get away from hearing opinions which didn’t align with their’s. In fact, any speech, just right of center, began to be shunned in efforts to push a more left field of thought. As this ideology brewed over repetition, married with time, a type of brainwashing began to occur among students. Of course, silencing other points of view was dressed up to appear to be an exercise in “safety” and “chaotic avoidance”. After all, if you banish dissenting thought, which evolves into speech and writing, then debate, disruption, and deciphering another view means self-conjured peace and quiet ruling over others not in your camp. In other words, it can be translated simply as, “I WANT MY WAY, AND I WILL HAVE IT MY WAY!” That sounds strangely like little voices from the past. “I WANT THAT ICE CREAM! I WANT IT NOW!” In the end, true healthy debate will be over.

Photo by Kamaji Ogino on Pexels.com

Imagine a world where your opposition is no more…all the time.

Fast forward 35 years, America is full of 40-somethings who are CEO’s, owners of corporations, and last but not least, chiefs of Big Tech Corps. With a great deal of help from social media giants and corrupt news media, we now see where a culture has risen in numbers to browbeat and intimidate anyone they do not like, or anyone they do not want to hear from. In the name of safety and concern, and protection, conflicting voices can now be silenced in America by the few, not the majority.

This culture has now spread their tentacles into a dangerous discard mode. Literally, a culture delving into “cancelling out” of the public, those who dare to disagree politically, culturally, religiously, and ideologically. Just like the little ones who marinated themselves in the make-believe magic of Harry Potter, wishing away, or vanishing, anything perceived as evil.

Moreover, it bleeds into guilt by association. A perfect example would be cancelling all who supported conservative politicians, or whoever worked for a conservative candidate, or a particular administration. If you are a famous, well-established entertainer in comedy, movies, TV, or recording artist, who happens to be a conservative thinker, if you voice it, support conservative views, via donations or speech, you are in danger of being erased in the field of your occupation. Not unlike a pack of jackals on an African prairie, you can be ganged up on, chased through the streets, harassed publicly from your front lawn to your favorite social media site. In severe high profile cases, you can be so smudged because of your views, that you find your bank will no longer serve you. Imagine being turned down for career opportunities after a good screening of who you have been associated with. THIS IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW IN AMERICA. History can be rewritten if not opposed.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Yes, the cancel culture is flexing its biceps in the current political atmosphere, in the wake of recent current events. Make no mistake, if it grows, free speech will shrink. In my opinion, free speech essentially could one day be a part of our history…unless they cancel that part in history books. To vanquish, to erase, to delete opposing opinion out of existence is the goal.

If you know world history, you have seen this before. It doesn’t take long to discover nations who lost their freedoms in this way. How about the Salem witch trials right here on our soil? Because of a few disturbed accusing girls, many were executed as they were falsely accused of being witches. It didn’t take long for that small cancel culture to ignite hysteria, anger, and ruin.

At the same time of the growth of this twisted cancel culture, who couldn’t stand up to their own standards for very long, there is a Redeemer Who spent a very short time being crushed by a cancel culture.

Throughout this Redeemer’s life, He taught and exhibited the opposite of a cancel culture. He was okay with being ridiculed to meet up with a Samaritan woman at a well in a town nobody in His culture would ever go through because they had “cancelled” the people who lived there. They thought of it as cursed land. (Sound familiar red states?) He met with her, offered her living water and freedom from accusations. After visiting another town, He invited Himself to the house of a little man who had been “cancelled” by his own fellow citizens because he was a chief tax collector for Rome. Zacchaeus soon found freedom of the spirit after this Redeemer went home with him for a dinner. One day, this Redeemer was approached by a gang of “cancellation experts” who wanted to stone a young woman to death for an accusation of adultery. Even though the law at the time demanded an execution for the crime of adultery, this Redeemer stood between the mob with stones and the accused, boldly challenging the pack of “cancel lovers”. “Whoever here is without a sin in life, let that person throw the first stone at her.” (My paraphrase.) Each one, from the oldest to the youngest, evaluated his own corrupt heart and dropped the stones while walking away. She was not cancelled that day, but rather uplifted.

Jesus was so against a culture of cancellations. He didn’t silence voices of opposition, but asked to hear them. He lived, modeled, and displayed inclusion, not exclusion. Why? Because He knew where it placed a culture. It placed them in a deadly, murderous, unforgiving, and soulless spiral into an inescapable abyss. God’s mercy and grace was rejected, cancelled from the minds of its citizens. In fact, He warned the nation that their stiff-necked destructive behavior, without a turning from it, would direct them to a physical destruction, and a spiritual cancellation. Roughly 40 years passed, and in 70 AD, the Romans utterly destroyed the nation.

In our current worship of cancelling the lives of our fellow citizens, allow me to pick one verse of scripture which shines a brilliant light on how Jesus felt about cancelling those in opposition.

“Jesus then told the crowd and the disciples to come closer, and he said: If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me.” – Jesus (Mark 8:34)- Contemporary English Version)

There’s two things Jesus did cancel. Sin as a master, and eternal death.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Freedom of speech wasn’t new in 1776. It’s first found in fuel for the race.

“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 (ESV)

Train Up

“There is no power on earth
like your fathers’ love
So big and so strong as your father’s love
A promise that’s sacred,
a promise from heaven above
No matter where you go…
always know You can depend on
your father’s love.”  (1998)  “Father’s Love”  Recorded by:  BOB CARLISLE   Composer’s: RANDY THOMAS, ROBERT MASON CARLISLE

I have a secret I want to reveal to you.  But first…

The cover photo above is our young Japanese Maple in our backyard.  One of the many talents packed inside my father-in-law was landscaping.  In his backyard, he raised a tree to grow sideways.  As you view it, the trunk comes off the ground vertically for a couple of feet, then with an extreme bend grew some five, or six feet horizontally to the ground.  As your eyes would follow the great trunk, you then would see an extreme bend to rise upward toward the sky once again.  The house was sold after he passed away a few years ago, so I do not have a photo of this large zig-zag tree trunk.  It is highly unusual, but stunning.  His daughter, my wife, has his genes coming out of her pores.  As you can see in the cover photo, she is training a young tree to do the same as the tree she grew up with.  If you can expand it, or zoom-in, you can see the stake in the ground, as well as a string pulling the lower trunk outward.  It’s all outer space to me.  She knows what she’s doing in this arena.  One thing I do know, training takes time.  Training takes endurance.  Training takes the touch of love.

I was raised by a single mom.  With the dynamics of my biological father, and a distant step-father who adopted me when I was six years old, I don’t have any good stories of great love from a father.  Even my adopted father ended in divorce only four years after the remarriage.  However, I can point to a plumb-line in my life who vowed earl-on to help raise me.  He was old enough to have been my dad.  He was only 42 when I came into the world.

Granddad at the grill. early 1980s. Photo:  My granddad, Martin Atherton  (1918-2008)

My mom’s dad was a giant of a man.  In stature he was only about 5′-9″ tall.  Yet, his deeds, his love, his ethics, his words were from a heart of gold which only could belong to a herculean man of 6′-9″.

Martin Atherton helped to shape my thinking, even though I never lived under his roof, with the exception of a few short months in my toddler days.  He was a blue-collar worker, master auto mechanic, who never wanted his kids to become a mechanic, as he thought the money wasn’t enough for the hard labor involved.  His hard work was displayed in his rough, strong hands.  Although soft spoken, he was a John Wayne type character.  He would’ve done well in the wild west times.  Oh, the novel I could write about this gent.

I will include the fact that he never once sat me down to lecture me on the Ten Commandments, the birds and the bees, or the “career talk”.  He trained me gently by the sheer act of witnessing his life.  He was a leader in his church, a respected man in his community, his workplace, and a man well-known for honesty, sealed with a handshake and a nod.  His word was his bond.

Most of all, he trained me by my willingness to listen to what others would testify about him.  Scores and scores of men and women spoke highly of him, as the countenance on their faces gleamed while the Martin Atherton soundtrack of the mind rolled out of their mouths.  He was someone God would write about.

He trained me by seeing how he loved my grandmother, and how she responded.

6 OMA MRA Bonnie&Clyde Photo:  Martin & Opal Atherton (1941ish)

He trained me by his love for America’s freedom, fighting in WWII while serving in the navy in the Philippines.  He had two young sons, both under five years old, and one on the way, when he could no longer keep himself tied to the title of “citizen” only.  He heard the urgent alarms of military service needed in the Pacific and answered the call at great risk.

He trained me to do all I could to respect and honor the president of the United States, even if policies and personalities were not personally agreeable.

He trained me to search to find the good in the individual, even if looking the other way at times seemed appropriate.

He trained me to love family, nucleus or extended family, even when greatly tempted to hate.

Example:  Back in the late 1940’s he had a brother-in-law, my Great-Uncle Buster, who was physically abusive to his wife, my Great-Aunt Pauline.  She once lost a baby when he punched her in the belly while pregnant with their first child.  She never could have children afterward.  This man was a severe hyper-alcoholic, to the point of drunken violent rages landing him in jail many times.  He often caused havoc in their small farming community.  At one family gathering in east Texas, this man showed up baked to the very bone with bottle in hand.  It’s unclear just how it started, but the man caused a violent, profane stir in front of the family, including the children attending.  As was the “bent” of my granddad, he tried to calm his brother-in-law down, but the sloshed man wouldn’t abide.  Being a WWII sailor, my granddad knew how this would go.  My granddad began to strongly encourage him to leave and sleep it off.  During the altercation, my Great-Uncle Buster pulled out a knife with one hand and broke off the top of his whiskey bottle with the other.  He charged at my granddad to stab and cut him open in front of the entire clan.  Thank God he disarmed him and knocked Buster cold.  He didn’t hold a grudge against his brother-in-law.  In fact, years later, he trusted Jesus as he put away the bottle, sobered up and lived a peaceful, calm life on his farm until the day he died.  In my growing up years, I never knew the “other” Uncle Buster, and I’m grateful.  Throughout, my granddad showed love and respect for him, even though many did not.

He trained me to valiantly defend the home, family, and loved ones.  It was his way to aid any and all, even if it meant personal loss.  He was always looking out for the needy underdog.

He trained me to think and act with an abundance of generosity and benevolence.

He trained me to troubleshoot difficult circumstances, even if it was a painful road.

He trained me to walk closest to the curb when walking with a lady on the sidewalk.

Many pages could be filled about my granddad.  Again, he was a soft spoken man with very little words, but with great deeds of a legacy to ponder.  Truly, a salt of the earth gentleman.

There is a passage that’s always caused me pause.  It comes from Solomon.

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6 (KJV)

There have been many a commentary on just how to interpret this scripture.  Some believe it simply means, instruct a child in the way he is bent while still pliable.  Some say it speaks of training the child in the tenor of his way.  A few will say this only applies to academia, in which Solomon was a champ.  Another will say, instruct a youth about his way(s), common or uncommon.  Some will say it’s concerning training in a specific trade inside a youthful life.  (You might be a piano player, yet the child shows gifting in construction.)  Some will teach it’s all about moral training from childhood.  Sermons are built on the idea this passage speaks of training in the things of God, and His Law.  While others will preach the meaning surrounds the training of the ways of the culture, the civility of the community one grows up in.

Personally, I think it’s possible all of the above options are accurate.  Whatever the subject matter, not one child will be schooled if there is a lack of an instructor.

At the same time, we all can attest to the well-known fact that all kids do NOT grow up clinging to what they have been taught.  Just ask most ministers with older kids.  How can one say a young rioter deems it righteous to loot and burn down a place of business, if he was trained to honor and respect his/her neighbor?  The other evidence can been found in generations of weeping parents.  It very well could be Solomon was not “promising” a life of roses for all who were trained to observe righteousness and love.  Much of Solomon’s own children were lawbreakers.  For me, I believe the scripture pertains to a generality of the averages.  Certainly the principle is there.  I know my daughters were trained up to observe righteousness, civility, and ways of career and education.  However, as adults, they don’t always abide by what I trained them to do.  Regardless, they have my love and respect even so.

Girls & Me-March 2015

Photo:  L-R:  Tabitha, Megan, me, D’Anna  (2015)

For me, the explosive word in Solomon’s text just might be…”Train UP…”  The idea is, onward and upward for a better future, not the opposite.  It’s always an advantage to have a grandson write about how great you are sixty years from now.  Wouldn’t that be commendable?

The Japanese Maple in our backyard is being trained up with a bend in its trunk.  Although we have plenty of winding, bends in our road of life, if trained well, we trend upward.  My hope is that it will survive gravity and the Texas weather in the years to come.  It takes a stick and a string for now.

Oh, yes.  I mentioned I would share a secret with you.  Here it is.  My secret is, I have failed way too many times to even measure closely to my early training.  When I get it right, I just consider it a special moment from above.

Training UP has a manual within the heart of fuel for the race.

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as reminders on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Teach them to your children, speaking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates,…”  – Deutoronmy 11:18-19  (Berean Study Bible)

 

Fear Itself

Cover Photo:  South Bend Tribune

“…So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”  –  Franklin D. Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933

Due to retinopathy and glaucoma, I have experienced many an eye surgery over the last five years.  No fun whatsoever.  As part of the give & take, my natural night vision has been damaged, bit by bit.  I still drive at night, but I don’t unless it’s necessary.  Craving light is what I do.  If the road I’m on is dimly lit, or without reflectors along the stripes or curbs, my vision struggles to pierce the velvet blackness just on the other side of the headlight’s reach.  At home, I am so grateful for the little nightlights plugged into the wall sockets for an easier overnight walk to the bathroom, or kitchen.  With a portion of my night vision missing, the difference is truly noticeable.

Let’s say you blindfold yourself, just for a personal experiment.  Once your eyes are covered you begin the attempt to navigate through your house.  Better yet, try this in a home you are unfamiliar with.  Each step is carefully placed as you bump into the baseboards and steps.  Your hands search the walls for maneuvering safely, or the hope of it.  Slowly your feet pioneer themselves across an unknown room, when suddenly they trip over the edge of a rug.  You fall as if it were in slow motion.  On the way down you think to yourself, “It would be helpful if the owner of the house, who knew this floor-plan, were in front of me, guiding me with their vocal directions.”  As you get back up on your feet, you find within yourself a growing emotion…fear.  The fear of falling again.  The fear of breaking your nose on a door.  The fear of knocking out a tooth on the staircase.  The fear of…the unknown ahead.

black metal window frame
Photo by Octopus soul on Pexels.com

We have been dreading the essential drive to the grocery store ever since the Coronavirus began its crawl across the USA.  Droves of unreasonable citizens have been raiding the store shelves as if there was a run on dwindling inventory, buying more than average cupboards could hold without thinking of their neighbor’s needs.  The day came.  My wife fought through the mob to buy staples for the week.  She found a severe lack of eggs, milk, meat, rice, pasta, to name a few.  Just amazing for the average grocery store in America.  The funny part of it is…there’s no real shortage of anything.  She witnessed frantic shoppers racing about with wrinkled foreheads and frowns.  The store was filled with consumers tied up in knots on the inside.  We’ve seen this type of hysteria with gasoline in the past, haven’t we?

There must be a study somewhere within the bowels of a sociology think-tank which can tell us how mass hysteria occurs.  Unfortunately, part of the reason for empty market shelves is greed.  There are those who are so full of themselves that they purchase in large quantities of a targeted item for the purpose of private resale with an enormous price hike for others to pay.  Trust me, this type of individual will receive their reward.  However, the majority of consumers overstock in a crisis for another reason.

What fuels the tanks of the one who fills two or three basket-fulls of toilet paper during a pandemic is…fear itself.

There is a healthy fear each of us possess.  It’s evaluated when you pull away from the edge of a cliff.  We jerk our hand back when a fire ignites.  A healthy fear reminds us to drive under 90 MPH.  Then there are wonderful moments where healthy fear is suppressed by the weight of love.  You see it when a parent runs into a burning house in efforts to save their child.  Fear is quenched when assisting an elderly parent when they are down with the flu.  Fear is pushed aside when a dog owner runs out on the a frozen lake to rescue their four-legged pal who fell through a patch of a thin layer.  Stories like this are inspiring, along with soul searching.

Those prone to unreasonable, unjustified fright are minds that have conjured up scenarios which most likely are not realistic.  Sure, COVID-19 is real.  It is upon us all.  The remedy is on its way, but not yet available.  Citizens are to take precautions.  It is a healthy fear to do so.  Yet, we should guard against being tied up in knots during the panic.

An unhealthy fear is to fill a home up to the crown molding with a few thousand rolls of toilet paper while not have any produce in the fridge.  A person who does this is one who feeds on the extreme as they envision it to be.  Even though retailers, the retail workers, the CEO’s, the government itself, implores consumers to think reasonably with the news that there is no shortage of goods, they dive into a darkened place where they believe they will be in want for all things.  The lack of “items” is the constructed fear.

Shelves - Star News Online

Photo:  Star News Online

FDR wisely raised the issue of unhealthy fear in his inaugural address in 1933.  Yes, people where going through an economic depression.  Americans were going hungry, losing jobs, standing in line at soup kitchens.  The fear was real.  Yet, he sensibly pointed out the deadliest fear facing the nation at the time.  The most costly was, “fear itself”.  He knew, all too well, unhealthy fear can bring someone to harmful illnesses, anxiety, even insanity.  In fact, it was a contagious anxiety.  He was aware unhealthy fear grows hurtful selfishness.  FDR saw the men and women of his nation were not standing strong in the stiff winds of a fierce depression which carried many to suicide, murder, and hatred of neighbors.  Truly costly.  Even the children of those who tied themselves in knots began to lose hope.  In essence, FDR was saying…“FEAR KNOT!”

Knot Pinterest

Photo:  Pinterest

Fear itself is like being blindfolded in a house not your own.  It’s like driving a dark road at 4am while wearing thick sunglasses.  When blind to the unknown, it can cause delusions.  Fear itself develops a mental picture of what might occur, what could happen, what possibly would be in store, all without remedy.  So many who have studied fear say about 90% of what we fear never happens.  In that perspective it gives something to wake-up to tomorrow.

If only we had the owner of the house, who built the floor plan, to give us strong directions just ahead of each step we dare take in the darkest of moments.

I know Who that is.  He is the Author of light, direction, and hope.  He is the One who promised there were new mercies on the shelf every morning.

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’…your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”      – Jesus – (Matthew 6)  (ESV)

Certainty can be defined as this:  Filling a tank with fear is contrary to fuel for the race.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of instruction.”   – Apostle Paul –   2 Timothy 1:7  (Aramaic Bible in Plain English)

A Quiet Hero

Cover Photo:  findagrave.com

“…Well I thought about it, you know I’m not playing.  You better listen to me,
every word I’ve been saying.  Hot is cold, what’s cold is hot.  I’m a little mixed up, but I’ll give it everything I’ve got.  Don’t want your money, don’t need your car.  I’m doing all right, doing all right so far.  I’m givin’ it up for your love – everything.”  (1980) – “Givin’ It Up For Your Love” – Composer & Recorded:  Delbert McClinton

Merriam-Webster defines “Invest” with three different entries.  The third is this:  “To involve or engage especially emotionally.”

Most see it like this…

Coins

I was given a gift when I was about 10 years old.  It was a piggy bank, but not in the traditional.  It wasn’t in a “piggy” shape at all.  It was transparent glass cylinders melded side-by-side.  There were four of these cylinders, each just the size of each denomination of American coins.  Much like a rain measurement gauge, the cylinders were marked-off to indicate how much was accumulated, depending upon how high the stack of coins.  Unlike the old piggy bank, I could see and count how much my investments added up to based on my deposits.  What a great teaching tool for a little kid.  Within this profile of the man below, I will get back to the transparent bank of deposits.

Today, the north Dallas suburb where I live has a population of around 140, 000 citizens.  When my mom and I moved here in the summer of ’73, it was far smaller.  The suburb is clustered with other suburbs to the point of not knowing which one you are driving through if you are unaware of the borders.  It’s always been a busy place with lots to do for whatever interests you might have.

Perry Road was between our apartment complex at the time, and the school I went to.  It was explored the first week we arrived so we would know the route to my school.  I walked that road every day during my 8th grade school year.  Later, I would consider it my jogging street.

I often saw a little old African-American man walking down Perry next to the curb in a brisk gate.  At first I didn’t really pay much attention to the man as we drove by.  After seeing him a few more times, as the summer went on, I took a bit more notice of the old man.  Once I got a good look, he appeared to be a vagrant, a poor homeless man, with weathered skin like leather.  He looked to be in his 70’s.  The idea of “Mr. Bojangles” came to mind.  His thin faded shirt was oversized, ragged and dirty.  His pants were either old cotton khakis, or worn-out bluejeans, complete with holes in various spots.  There were times he was seen wearing a postal carrier’s uniform, but it was old and frayed.  I always wondered where he got it, as I knew he wasn’t working for the post office.  He always wore an old sweat-stained baseball cap.  After awhile, it was the norm to see him with a burlap bag, or an old army duffle bag, swung over his shoulder with a couple of baseball bats sticking out.  Being new in town, and knowing I would be walking to school, my mom was hoping we had moved to a neighborhood where transients wouldn’t be an issue.  Seeing this old man caused her pause.

After the school year started, from time to time I would see this old man at my school’s baseball diamond swinging bats, hitting old lopsided beat-up baseballs with the stitching unraveling.  There were always kids around him, from 6 year olds to teenagers.  One day, I watched him from behind the backstop knocking one ball after another to whatever part of the field he pointed to.

Jimmy Porter Baseball

I wasn’t into baseball, but this old man was surprisingly talented at the sport.  They say from time to time a kid would beg him to hit one over the fence.  A crooked grin would launch from his sweating weathered face, followed by a soft chuckle, then pick up a ball and at will, knock it over the fence.  Two things come to mind.  First, he did it with ease.  Secondly, he looked far too skinny and old to put one over the fence.  Like a finely tuned choir, the kids would say, “Wow!  Cool!  Far-out!”  I could’ve hung around longer but, there were other things to do, places to go, people to see.  Plus, baseball just wasn’t my sport.

Jimmy Porter - Newspaper - findagrave.com

Photo:  Findagrave.com

The kids in the community knew him simply as, Jimmy.  You could say he was like the Pied Piper, leading countless boys and girls to home plate and the pitcher’s mound.  He was well-known for walking to various elementary schools, as well as the Jr. High schools, and city parks to start pick-up games for whoever wanted to play.

Little did I know he had been doing this for the neighborhood kids since the 1960’s.  This mysterious old black man would come walking to these various baseball fields from seemingly out of nowhere.  Out of his old worn-out bag came a couple of old baseball bats which he held together with screws and nails after being split or cracked.  An armload of old baseballs, three or four ancient left-handed baseball gloves would fall out of the bag.  He coached.  He taught.  He umpired.  He pitched.  He chose players for the teams.  It didn’t matter to him if girls showed up.  Jimmy saw them as no different than the boys.  They all played their roles on the diamond, or outfield.  If there was a kid who struggled at the game, he spent more time with them for encouragement and personal growth.  Many an afternoon was spent teaching the art of baseball to the young community of our suburb.  He loved the kids.  They truly idolized the man.  Jimmy would stay until the very last child had to go home.  After waving the last player homeward, he would gather his baseball equipment in the bag and off down Perry Road he would go.

A few of my friends grew up being coached by Jimmy in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  It’s amazing to me that I never really learned about Jimmy until I became an adult.  Little did I know we had a baseball star in our midst.

Jimmy Porter was born September 2, 1900 somewhere in Tennessee.  For some unknown reason, Jimmy Porter came to Carrollton, Texas in the 1920’s.  Prior to his journey he had played for the old Negro Baseball League in St. Louis.  When he arrived in Carrollton, he was unemployed, uneducated, and didn’t have a dime to his name.  Considering the times, he was what they called a “hobo”, destined for a pauper’s life out on the streets.  On top of that, being a black man in the south, life was not promising in the 1920’s.  At the same time, he was rich in talent with a higher vision.

Shortly after he set foot in our community in the 1920’s, he formed a black semipro baseball team known as, The Carrollton Cats.  He played and coached The Cats for several years until they eventually disbanded.  Later, Jimmy convinced the leaders of the community to found a Carrollton Little League for the children.  As expected, Jimmy coached the league for many years.  Even after the Little League grew way beyond what it was in the beginning, after he no longer was the “official” coach, he continued to coach outside the league through pick-up games, not only in Carrollton, but also in the neighboring suburb, Farmers Branch, Texas.  The games were casual, friendly, and educational.  Jimmy was a small man, so he always made sure the smallest kids got to bat first.  Everyone was welcome to use his old baseball supplies.  Often at the end of the games, he hugged all the players with the warmth of approval.  They say he always left them with a wave and yelled out, “Everybody just love everybody”.  It’s ironic in that his motto described who he was.

Jimmy Porter - Glove Color - findagrave.com

Photo:  Findagrave.com

Jimmy’s coaching grew some fruit.  For many years, our high school’s baseball team was considered one of the best in all of Texas.  In the trophy-case on campus, you can check out the championship trophies racked-up through the years.  Some players went on to terrific college teams and minor league teams across the nation.

Although he was poor, he didn’t ask for money for any of his work with the kids.  He was never seen begging in the streets.  Jimmy did receive high praise from the community through the decades of his selfless work.  Many offered him jobs.  He was known for odd-jobs when he could get them.  He did yard work, janitorial jobs, and grunt-work nobody wanted.

Despite his state in life, there would be awards of honor given, parades where he would be featured, as well as, a front row seat just behind home plate at all Little League games where he would hoop & holler encouragement to the players.  In 1973 a city park, named in his honor with a beautiful baseball field, was built which included a Jimmy Porter monument.  Jimmy didn’t have a family, so in 1977, Jimmy was awarded a lifetime membership by the Texas PTA.  He was featured in several newspapers, local television, as well as, the NBC Today Show in 1982.  Each year there is a recipient who is elected to receive The Jimmy Porter Award for outstanding community service.  Today, some of Jimmy’s old baseballs, caps, bats, and gloves can be seen under glass at the Carrollton Historical Museum.

Little did I know at the time, Jimmy Porter lived in an abandoned railroad boxcar just off the depot about 3 miles from most of the ball-fields he visited.  Frankly, I don’t believe most of the town knew where he lived.  In the early 1980’s, Jimmy’s health began to decline.  A few civic leaders, who once were under Jimmy’s wing in the dugout, built him a small frame house.  It was way overdue.  This old, quite hero shed a tear or two as the keys to the humble house were given to him.

At this point, I must admit I have some lingering anger.  It spews from the fact that decades went by before this community offered Mr. Porter decent room and board.  Think of it.  In 1973, when he was 73 years old, they built a city park for the man and named it Jimmy Porter Park.  Afterward the ceremony, they watched him walk back to his boxcar.  I’ll leave the subject here.

Jimmy Porter - House - Findagrave.com

Photo:  Findagrave.com

Mr. Jimmy Porter softly left us December 11, 1984, just about a year after moving into his new home.  He was 84 years old.  The community purchased a modest plot in one of our cemeteries, on Perry Road, where he wore out his shoes walking to and fro the school’s ball-fields.  His humble headstone features two baseball bats crossed.

Mr. Porter had no idea how important he would be to Carrollton and Farmers Branch, Texas.  Sure, he was a pauper, an uneducated man, a man seen as a vagrant in the eyes of the misled and misdirected.  Yet, as poor as he was, he gave.  Much like the Apostle Paul in scripture, he was willing to be poured out for others, and the generations to come.  Jimmy Porter gave of his personal value, the God-given special wealth inside of him.  Like a transparent piggy bank, he lived long enough to see the dividends of a lifetime of deposits from his heart and talents.  Multitudes who are now between 40-70 years old, who were raised in my neck of the woods, were, and are, his treasures.  His investment was enormous.  I would say, not so poor.

Like any good teacher, Jimmy Porter left an indelible mark on young lives that can be seen to this day.

Often I drive down Perry Road for old-time sake.  It never fails, I admit to looking down the street for an old tattered black man with worn-out baseball bats slung over his shoulder.

Investing in the lives of others, without seeking anything in return, pours out in fuel for the race.

“Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days.’ – Ecclesiastes 11:1 – King Solomon  (New American Standard Bible)

A special thanks to Dave Henderson for some of Jimmy Porter’s memories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

COVID-19

Photo:  Corona Virus – NPR

“See me.  Feel me.  Touch me.  Heal me.”  (1969/1970)  “See Me, Feel Me”  Recorded by:  The Who.  Composer:  Peter Townsend  (Later, this song was part of “Tommy”, the rock opera.)

Embedded in my mind are the regular visits I would make to an old cemetery, a couple of blocks away from my grandparents house in Greenville, Texas.  Maybe it was a morbid curiosity, but I really don’t think so.  I first recall walking among the old, weathered tombstones at about 7 years old, enamored with the dates of births and deaths.  I had a love of history even then which continues today.  Among some of the headstones are many which are no longer legible.  The Texas weather, which tends to be extreme at times, has become a giant eraser for engraved letters and numbers, especially with sandstone.  Yet, the old stones remain as monuments of someone who lived in the community long before it was a certified town.  The oldest tombstone you can still read is of a man born the same year George Washington died, 1799.  Here in Texas, that’s old, considering Mexico owned the land at the time, and largely uninhabited by white pioneers from the east.  One thing is for sure, he was a brave soul, staking out land belonging to the Caddo Indians and Mexico.

pexels-photo-460617

Photo:  Pexels

One summer day, I ran from the old cemetery, to my grandparents house, crying all the way.  My grandmother, being concerned, asked why all the tears.  I told her how I had discovered scores of tombstones of babies, toddlers, and kids my age (at the time), all passed away together, or around the same year.  When I told her they died in 1917/1918, she told me of the horrid story of the Spanish Flu pandemic which thrived toward the end of WWI.  The numbers are staggering.  Globally, approximately 500 million were infected.  20 million to 50 million perished, with 675,000 being Americans.  Of course, the elderly, the young, and the weak, were highly susceptible to the pandemic’s reach.  The shared grief among the towns and communities must have taken its toll.  As a little kid I understood it.

Of course, the new Coronavirus, also labelled, COVID-19, doesn’t even come close to those numbers.  As I write this, China quarantined over 60 million people, roughly the size of Italy.  It’s unprecedented.  Again, as I write this, approximately 1,400 have died from the virus in China.  60,000 confirmed cases recorded in China.  Unfortunately, I should mention there are rumors the numbers have been downsized by the Chinese government, and that the actual totals are far above and beyond what they have reported.  Adding to speculations, rumors are growing concerning how and why the outbreak occurred.  Some say it originated from a military bio lab where experiments with bio-weapons takes place.  Others spread rumors that it was done by the Chinese government to distract from the news of the freedom protesters in Hong Kong clashing with the Chinese military and police.  I truly hope it is not the case.

What is without rumor, are hard facts like, no cure, no medical answers, no recourse for the cases but isolation.  Case numbers are growing all across the planet.  Cruise ships have been quarantined.  Ports have been shutdown.  Many cases, who recovered and released, have returned for medical help after resurrected symptoms.  Frankly, the news is bleak, dark, and grave.

In one hundred years, will there be a little kid astounded at the number of tombstones displaying “2020” as a collective death year?  Let us all pray this will not be true.

Check out this inspiring picture…

Corona Virus Prayer at Western Wall in Israel from Israel National News     Photo:  Western Wall in Jerusalem.  Israel National News.

This photo shows a prayer gathering at the sacred Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.  It’s not the average prayer meeting among the people of Israel, but a poignant one.  This shot displays an organized prayer assembly for the COVID-19 victims, as well as, medical organizations working around the clock to defeat it.  The question is…why aren’t we doing this?

When Jesus walked the grounds of the ancient temple there in Jerusalem, He saw multitudes of the infected, the “unclean” outcasts due to leprosy.  Like the quarantined cases, victims of leprosy were bound by law to keep away from the general public.  There were leper colonies where they spent their final days.  If one got too close to the general population, he/she had to yell, “UNCLEAN!”.  Jesus had great compassion for these unnamed cases.  Against the enforced law, He went to them, touched them, healed many, and showed love and grace toward the “Unclean”.  Someone who hasn’t read about Jesus, or maybe not have taken the opportunity to study about Him, may be asking why He would do such a thing.  It’s a fair question.  Why would Jesus risk His own health, and His physical life to see, feel, touch, and heal desperate infected outcasts.  After all, it was hopeless, or so they thought.  There is an answer.

Have you noticed in this post, when referring to COVID-19 victims, I often use the word, “cases”?  For the most part, the media, and the medical community, are doing much of the same when reporting on this expanding concern.  Why not?  Unlike a little kid looking at the name of John Lee Anderson, son of James & Mary Anderson, who died of influenza at 2 years old in 1918, we see a number.  Today we would see the next victim of death in China as 1,401 of 1,401.  The dead one (case) is taken outside of town, to a COVID-19 fire dump, where the bodies piled up and burned.  So much for #1,401.  A cruise ship of 2,000 vacationers may have 52 confirmed cases of COVID-19, quarantined away from shore.  No name, no age, no grandma or grandpa of 18 kids back in Knoxville, Tennessee.  We are just counting the diagnosis leaving out “who” they are and what they are to the loved ones waiting to hear of their condition.

It’s sad, don’t you think?  In these colder times of humanity, we tend to not care of the hurting hearts involved, or the hardships others must take on to themselves.

Jesus saw “the individual” and their need.  Being Who He was, He knew their names, their children, their hopes and dreams.  He knew intimately little John Lee Anderson from 1918.

Count on this.  There are never any “cases”, any “42 0f 57’s” inside fuel for the race.

“And having seen the crowds, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were wearied and cast away, as sheep not having a shepherd.  Then He says to His disciples, ‘The harvest indeed is plentiful, but the workmen are few.'”  – Jesus –  Matthew 9:36-37  (Berean Literal Bible) 

 

L-O-V-E

Photo:  My grandparents as newlyweds in 1938, nesting at the Brazos River, Texas.  They were married 69 years until his death.

“Ohh, whatever happened to old fashioned love, the kind that would see you through? The kind of love my Momma and Daddy knew. Yeah, whatever happened to old fashioned love, the kind that would last through the years, through the trials, through the smiles, through the tears.  (Bridge)   For now the tenderness has been replaced with something less, and it’s hard to find what we left behind…..”                         

(1983) “Whatever Happened To Old-Fashioned Love?”  Recorded By: B.J. Thomas  Composer: Lewis J. Anderson

I love the truthful lyrics in the bridge section.  “…the tenderness has been replaced with something less…”

There I go again, using the highly overused word, “L-O-V-E” when I didn’t mean it.  Oh, sure, I like the lyric, but I can’t say I “love” the lyric…or can I?  Come on, you know what I mean.  My brain, my emotions, my gut, truly holds the lyric close to my heart.  Is that love, or infatuation?

Valentine’s Day can be so cute in so many ways.  The little Valentine cards we used to swap out in out elementary school days cause me to chuckle now.  Just like the little heart candies, “Be Mine”, “I think you’re cool”, “Here’s a heart for you”, etc.  It was all so very innocent, wasn’t it?  Then, we grow into our hormone-owned teen years.  Yikes!  Us guys can truly be a grand example of what love is NOT.  You girls seemed to have a better handle on it.  Maybe I’m wrong about that.  You tell me.  It reminds me a bit when I think of the old TV show, “The Love Boat” from 1977-1986.  You remember the first couple of lines to the theme song, “Love Boat”.  Singer, Jack Jones piped it out:

“Love, exciting and new.  Come aboard.  We’re expecting you….”  (1977)  Composers:  Charles Fox & Paul Williams.

I think that has been one of the distractions about the definition of love in our culture.  Love can be ‘exciting and new’, but usually not.  In fact, ask any couple who just celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary about “excitement” or “newness”.  They will laugh at you.  But wait a minute.  Isn’t passion, sexual desire, and infatuation exciting and new?  My twist would be, yes.  Passion, sexual desire, and infatuation can be exciting, especially if it has just redirected your focus in life, a new focus, even if only for a brief amount of time.  But….is passion, sexual desire, and infatuation, L-O-V-E?  Let’s ask the British rock band, 10cc from 1975…

“I’m not in love, so don’t forget it.  It’s just a silly phase I’m goin’ through.  And just because I call you up, don’t get me wrong, don’t think you’ve go it made.  I’m not in love, no-no…..”

Actually, some of the lyrics in this hit can be downright hurtful, like:

“I keep your picture upon the wall.  It hides a nasty stain that’s lying there.  So don’t you ask me to give it back.  I know you know it doesn’t mean that much to me.  I’m not in love, no-no.  It’s because…”  Composers:  Eric Stewart & Graham Gouldman

OUCH!  I wonder if he was that honest to her face, or if the song was just therapy written on the road in a cheap hotel?

couple walking on city street
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

Valentine’s Day can be a danger for some unsuspecting romantics out there.  (I know of what I speak.  I can write about this with real-world experience.)  Let’s face it, we want to be loved…right?  That desire is in the human heart even before birth.  Like an empty blender just waiting for the colorful mix of goods to be poured into us.  Am I right?  Come on, be honest with me.

So, sure.  We love dogs.  We love cats.  We love horses.  We love romantic movies.  I love that color on you.  I love a brilliant, blazing sunset.  I love Tex-Mex and Chinese food.  Boy, do I love that ’68 Ford Mustang.  What kind of L-O-V-E is that?

Resturant Table tomesto.ru

How ’bout this?  You see him/her from the other side of the restaurant, munching on a burger.  The view is of a nice looking specimen of humanity.  You toss away your slightly tomato-stained napkin and walk briskly straight for him/her.  You only have two words in your vocabulary at the moment as you lock eyes on this beautiful person.  As you arrive at the table, your mouth opens and out comes the channeling of David Cassidy…“Hi, I think I love you.”  He/she chokes on a slice of onion.  After the Heimlich Maneuver, he/she is bold enough to ask…“How do you know?”  Good question.  I guess you could say, “It’s your crystal blue eyes, your matching blue suit, the tattoo of the hammer and sickle over the entire left side of your face.  I love everything about you!”  Okay, got it.  A wise person, with a head on their shoulders, might say you idolize the look of this person.  What you don’t know is, he/she is a closet Neo-Nazi, an axe murderer, and someone who leaves their filthy Mini Mouse socks on the floor.  So, after he/she reveals these details of “WHO” he/she is, you lower your head with embarrassment, turn and walk slowly back toward your table to rejoin your spouse and five children.

It took me decades to reevaluate using the word, “love”.  If you THINK you’re in love because of what the other person can do for you and your life, you should reevaluate.  Too often this is the case.  Or, you love the “idea” of falling for someone with an Irish accent, or someone from your hometown, or someone with red hair.  So, you go on a hunt to find an Irish redhead who just happens to live where you grew up.  Careful.  That smell is from a dead relationship.  Take inventory of your motives and fantasy life.   

I’m grateful for the letter “L”.  It launches both “Love” and “Like”.  If you start to say “love”, and don’t truly mean it, you can easily self-edit as you evolve your pronunciation into “like”.  Try it.  “I need you to know I really, really LLLLike you.”

Are you confused yet?

Scripture defines love as a verb, not a feeling.  Some reveal they didn’t understand love until they had a child added to their lives.  Getting into the weeds of original root word languages, you could discover there are different brands of “love”.  Yes, we should love our neighbors as ourselves.  We should love our families with all that we are.  And yes, we should love our enemies.  “That’s hard”, says Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump.  There’s a picture burned into my mind, from the Desert Storm War in Iraq.  It captured the image of U.S. Marines feeding and hydrating Iraqi POW’s in the sands of southern Iraq.  What high bar to hurdle.

Jesus labelled the highest, premium degree of authentic love.

““There is no greater love than this: that a person would lay down his life for the sake of his friends.”  – Jesus – (John 15:13 (Amarmaic Translation)

Literally, if you cannot agree to die, or be tortured, or to take-on someone’s cancer (if possible) for another person’s well-being, their life, their health, than most likely the highest shelf of the zenith of love is not an active agent in the relationship.  Would you give a kidney to an old friend with stage 5 kidney failure?  Would you run into a burning complex to rescue a co-worker?  I think all various levels of love can be measured starting with the definition given by Jesus, Who loved you enough to do just what He said.

No, I am not willing to be sacrificed for a plate of tacos & egg rolls.

Be careful little mouth what you say.  Be careful little hand what you write.  If Valentine’s Day causes someone to misread your true heart for them, it isn’t kind.  In fact, it would be cruel.  Honesty is always best.  It might be best to find a stain on the wall as you decide which 8×10 should go there.

One thing is certain, love is the very theme of fuel for the race.

Love ya!  Mean it!

 “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a ringing gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have absolute faith so as to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and exult in the surrender of my body, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.   It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no account of wrongs.   Love takes no pleasure in evil, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.  – Apostle Paul –  1 Corinthians 13:1-8a  (Berean Study Bible)

 

B-17

Cover Title Photo:  Pexels

“Please, Mister, please, don’t play B-17
It was our song, it was his song, but it’s over.
Please, Mister, please, if you know what I mean,
I don’t ever wanna hear that song again.”  (1975)  Please Mr. Please   Recorded by:  Olivia Newton-John  Composers:  Bruce Welch & John Rostill

Mama’s Pizza came to my north Dallas suburb in 1976, or so.  It was the first New York style pizza to land in our area and it was a true hit.  In fact, my single mom and I were one of their very first customers after they opened for business.  The interior was very much like the no-frills, old pizza joints in New York City.  It had its dark maroon painted brick walls kissing the eight or ten booths lining the long dark narrow dining area.  There were three, maybe four tables for those that preferred them.  The kitchen was out in the open with its used pizza ovens.  (I say “used” because they didn’t look brand new to me.)  Two brothers ran the place, both from New Jersey.  They were both in their 20’s and going to school.  One was in dental school, the other in business studies.  They often fought publicly, but it only added to the atmosphere.  They didn’t care how loud they were, or who could hear them.  I smile thinking about witnessing shouts of, “DON’T BOTHER ME WITH THIS!”…”I CALLED MA LAST TIME.  IT’S YOUR TURN, BOZO!”…”AH, FORGET ABOUT IT!”

One of my favorite things Mama’s Pizza had, there on the far back wall, an authentic mounted moose head, possibly a caribou, hanging out from the brick wall.  It’s nose was just about eye-level.  A couple of friends of mine had a tradition of kissing the nose of the poor beast.  Just beneath the animal’s mounted head, an old classic jukebox.  My classmates and I almost wore that thing out over our high school years.  It looked something like this…

woman lying forward on parquet floor in front of jukebox
Photo by Cleyton Ewerton on Pexels.com

From what I recall, you could select your song for a dime, or a quarter if you wanted to push more buttons for a few more tunes.  It seems they had current hits from the 70’s, as well as, some hits going all the way back to the late 50’s.  Zero country songs.  Very seldom did you ever see a goat-roper (Our word for cowboys back in those times.) come in for NY pizza.  That’s was fine with us.  We didn’t like country-western music.

Mama’s Pizza hasn’t been here in many years now.  I miss it.

One thing Mama’s didn’t have was this…

Jukebox Tableside Dallas memories

Photo:  Dallas Memories Facebook Group

Now, depending on how you are, you might not recognize what this is.  Back in the day many small diners often sported these little treasures.  Although most have thrown them out as the years marched on, from time to time you can still find some table-side jukeboxes.   It seems like the last one I saw was at the Lake Effect Diner in Buffalo, NY.

Lake Effect Diner curtinresturants.com

Photo:  Lake Effect Diner, Buffalo, NY.  curtinresturants.com

As a kid, and as an adult, sheer excitement would take over whenever I spotted these babies.  In fact, I remember searching for songs even before picking up the menu.

I will pretend you’ve never seen one.  So, allow me to describe the experience.  tThere is a knob, or lever, which turns the pages of the lengthy song-list.  As you scan the titles and the artists, you should have your dime ready for your selection.  Suddenly, you find your favorite tune, “You Ain’t Nothin’ But A Hound Dog” by Elvis.  Next to the song is a letter or number, or both, that you would push the coordinating button for choosing.  Boom, somewhere in the building is a jukebox remotely playing your selection over the speakers at your table.  But usually there are speakers mounted in the ceiling for everyone’s listening pleasure…or hatred.  And there’s the rub.

Like Olivia, there always seems to be a B-17 in our memory.    Maybe you dislike Elvis, and there he comes, forced on your ears because some button-pushing customer in booth #3 selected it without consulting you first.  What’s worse, he might have added a couple more Elvis tunes with a quarter in the slot.  By the time your selection comes around, it may be time to tip the waiter and leave.  Before you know it, just about the time the second verse of “Blue Hawaii” comes around, you’re thinking of taking your sliced tomato off your burger and throwing it toward booth #3.  Do the math.  B-17 + Communal Music = Internal Sour Notes.

Turn Table wikihow.life

Photo:  wikihow-life

For me, the heavy remains to be my personal B-17’s.  You know what I mean.  It’s not so much a disliked artist, but rather a song.  There’s nothing like music that drags you back to a memory, whether it be a good one, or a bad one.  It could be a relationship that went south and the song on B-17 in the selector was what you called, “Our Song”.  Tell me about it, I know it very well.  I could cry a river a few times.  Maybe it was the song on the radio you were singing along with as a truck pulled out in front of you, leaving you in a body-cast for a few weeks.  Someone might think of a song sung at a funeral for a loved one.  That’s what happened to me with Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful”.  To this very day, I sink in sadness when it plays over the air.  The song was performed over the coffin of my friend and mentor back in July of 1981.  All these years later the song stings me.  Music has Velcro.  It’s the way God created it.  Music stamps visuals, times, and places.  So many songs do deliver sweet mental-videos of first cars, first dates, weddings, births, and graduations.  If the guy in booth #3 selected one of those I might be persuaded to buy his grilled cheese sandwich.

Sometimes being in a community isn’t always a pleasant thing.  Am I right?  It’s all about how you handle what you don’t want to hear, or see.  Maybe the group of kids in the corner booth are dropping the F-bomb for all of us to enjoy.  Maybe the idiot cutting people off in traffic gets your match lit.  It simply might be a neighbor with a political sign in the front yard you wouldn’t vote for.  Yep, sometimes being communal isn’t always tasteful.  What’s your B-17?

So Olivia is spot-on with, “Please, Mr. please, if you know what I mean, I don’t ever want to hear that song again.”

Grace, living out grace, handing out grace overcomes a lot of B-17’s in life.  Biblically speaking, it means giving favor to someone, or some thing, who you feel doesn’t deserve favor.  Grace fuels merciful action and thought.

“Lady” by Kenny Rogers is a B-17 for me.  It brings up a life-long choice which turned out to be a youthful mistake.  For many moons the sound of the song angered me, literally.  However, when hearing now, I work hard on hunting for the true value the lyrics have for others, not focusing, or feeding on the sour notes of my own past decision-making.  What’s history is history, grace would say.  I for one, need grace all the time, every day.  So glad the Creator invented it, and distributes it.  It’s what’s on God’s menu for us, the consumer.

Before selecting that button, it’s wise to order-up a good warm cup of fuel for the race.

“Give, and it will be given to you; a good measure–pressed down, shaken together, and running over–will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”  – Jesus –  Luke 6:38  (Holman Christian Standard Version)