Like A Bridge

“Like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down…Like a bridge over troubled water I will ease your mind.” (1970)  Bridge Over Troubled Water   Recorded by:  Simon & Garfunkel   Composer:  Paul Simon

As I gladly munch down on the left-over Halloween candy, I am looking out my studio window spying the very first turning leaves on my street.  Although faint, they are there.  They lack the brilliance of the stop-sign red maple leaves I loved in my Buffalo, NY days, but they do testify of the season in Texas.

Up north foliage-hunters are taking in the unmistakable aroma in the autumn air, as well as taking to the roads gazing at the mix of hues splashing across the wooded landscape.  Depending upon where you are you just might be on an old country road, with all its twists and turns, where after a few curves in the stretch you might just roll the tires up close and personal to something like this.

Covered bridge from Joan

My fiance, at the time, took this shot as we were overjoyed at the find deep in the woods of Western New York.

If you discover one of these in my home state of Texas it would not only be rare, but an oddity at that.  In fact, in the U.S. where covered bridges are not long gone, they will be unless a local proactive community protects them.  Such a lovely view of a time way beyond the scope of our rear-view mirror.

Most were built like this one, humble and narrow, as the horse & buggies and early automobiles were constructed.  Most were designed to accommodate only one buggy, or car of its day going one way.  And finally, most all were covered with roofs, some shingled while others were tar layers or tin.  The majority of old covered bridges in the U.S. were built between 1825-1875.  The traveler of yesteryear would tell you the reason they were covered was to shelter the rider, along with the horse yoked to the wagon, buggy, or stagecoach.  After all, it was welcomed during storms when pounding country roads.  In the heat of summer, it was a natural bull-run and shade.  The breeze would blow from one end to the other while the roof made for a cooling rest stop.  However, even though the functionality existed, the builders of that time would explain the purpose for roof and walls in another way.  The bridges were covered to protect the wooden floor of the bridge from rain, snow and ice, keeping it from water logging and weather-rot.  And THAT’S why you don’t see them much in the dry state of Texas.

If you ever approach an old covered bridge, I suggest parking off to the side to take a leisurely walk through the old rustic structure.  Much like an antique barn, it has that old weathered lumber smell floating through it.  Look up.  Often birds have their nests in its low hanging rafters.  You can hear your footsteps greeting the wooden planks with all its creaks, pops, and knocks.  Examine the railings, the boarded walls, and beams as you run your hand over the aged grain of the timber.  Peek through the occasional knotholes at the water beneath.  Listen for the wind as it communes with the long-standing structure.  Its breezes have been whistling through the old woody frame for over one hundred years or more, sharing tales of older times.  Close your eyes and hear the echoed wooden wagon wheels against the floor of thick lumber.  Listen for the hooves prancing on the planks from one end to the other.  Feel the vibration from a 1918 milk truck slowly making its way through the antique wooden housing.  It’s a very unique experience.

When we were there, I couldn’t help but think about the various travelers who graced the old covered bridge throughout the last century.  Surely there was a doctor in a Model-T on his way to deliver a baby at the next farm beyond the creek.  Then there’s the rancher’s wagon with a new plow horse in tow rumbling the timber slabs.  Back in the day, a circuit preacher on horseback clopping through for services at the Methodist Church, after closing services at the Baptist congregation earlier the same Sunday.  I can imagine, a farmer on an iron-wheeled tractor pulling a flatbed wagon of freshly harvested hay popping the timber floor.  There had to be someone’s great-great-grandparents who raced to the covered bridge during a stormy honeymoon night on the way to the threshold of a new house.  Many, many lives.  Many, many stories.  Many, many who have gone before us to their resting place.

One caution here.  Today’s vehicles are much heavier, much bulkier than what the old bridge was built to accommodate.  Some may have warning signs at the entrance displaying a weight and height limit for those who wish to drive across.  Some SUV’s may be too wide.  Some trucks, too tall for the rafters.  Also, be aware, the buggy wheel of the times never had to worry about flat tires.  Our trek across may find loosened carpenter’s nails.  Due to weathering and age, many pegs and nails find their way back to which they were driven.  There’s much for a driver to consider.

My picture was taken around 2007.  Although a few years have gone by, I often run across the digital shot in my computer files.  When I do, without fail, a warm flush runs through my veins.  A smile visits my face each time my eyes land on it.  I can’t help but wonder if it’s still there.  A simple brush fire can consume its aged lumber within minutes.

At the time I didn’t think of it, but life tends to point to teachable moments at the most simplest of objects.  The old covered bridge is very much a photo of my personal life, my personal faith.

As life would have it, my faith in Jesus is a narrow path.  The objector might point out the age of the object of my faith.  To that person, Jesus only lived to be a 33 year old man, some 2,000 years ago, in a far away sliver of a weakened country ruled by a dominating Emperor in Rome.  At first glance through the knothole of history, it would seem old, ancient, and rickety.  That one without faith may see Jesus as unable to hold up the weight faith requires, much like the old bridge.  My agnostic friends and family would say having faith in a 2,000 year old Jesus doesn’t yield much.  After all, to trust an old, seemingly fragile bridge, accompanied by all the poundage of the day, might very well deliver a carpenter’s nail in your tire, slowing the progress to the other side.  The Apostle Peter might come up out of the water to warn of the winds which shake and rattle the structure on the journey across.  All are true, fair considerations.  Still, it’s not a bridge too far.  Besides, isn’t that what faith is?  Believing on something without hard evidence, or even unseen would be a biblical description.

Yet, the coin flips to another view etched in metal.  The ancient, rickety, weathered, narrow covered bridge is the perfect picture of faith.  (If you need to scroll up to take a closer look at the photo, now’s the time.  It’s okay, I’ll meet you back here.  I’ll be waiting for you.)

My atheist and agnostic friends, who I dearly love, should consider why I stopped to absorb the framed structure.  The detail, the craftsmanship, the engineering from someone who went before me, prepared it for me, knowing I would arrive at the entrance in due time is a fascinating thought.  That mirrors nicely the One known as The Great I Am.

Consider this:

Jesus makes a way over trouble waters on multi-layered scales.

Jesus makes a way, bridging, connecting my unholy state to His righteousness.

Jesus made His way narrow.  In order to tread through it, you will need to unload.

Jesus made the way to be solo, only one-way.  Nobody goes through as a duet, trio or quartet.  Owning humility is the entrance toll.  Pride must be shed.  All must leave behind their wide vehicle.

Jesus made a way with low hanging rafters.  To be in Him, bow the head, the knee.

Jesus made a way with shelter.  He shields from conjured destructive elements.

Jesus made a way with hardships expected.  Life in faith will have its rusty nails.

Jesus made a way to new birth, new teachings, new crops to harvest, new flock, new home with an everlasting spiritual marriage partner, and a new promised resting place.

Jesus made a way with old creaking planks, supported by The Rock Of Ages beneath.

As for me, I drive across this faith bridge daily.  Challenging at times?  Yes, but He said it would be so long ago.  The victory trophy comes at my last stride.

Non-believers will claim my faith is a crutch.  I say it’s a bridge, weatherproofed with fuel for the race.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;  not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”  – Ephesians 2:8-10 (NAS)

Not Seeing Eye To Eye

Photo:  Thiago Matos via Pexels

“Oh, crumpled bits of paper
Filled with imperfect thought
Stilted conversations
I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got…So we open up a quarrel
Between the present and the past
We only sacrifice the future
It’s the bitterness that lasts.  So don’t yield to the fortunes
You sometimes see as fate
It may have a new perspective
On a different date…Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It’s too late when we die
To admit we don’t see eye to eye.” – (1988)  The Living Years,  Recorded by:  Mike and the Mechanics.  Written by Mike Rutherford and B. A. Robertson

The hallway was busy between classes that day.  The platform shoes were loud on the polished hard floor like horses on a brick street.  Everyone was running to their next classroom before the final bell rang.  I, in my bell-bottoms and bell sleeves, was coming out of the choral department rehearsal hall after an a cappella session.  My steps were already inside the broad hallway, but had yet to fully walk through the threshold as my hand remained on the thick heavy wooden door.  That’s when I looked up and saw her.  It was Lori Kennedy high stepping it toward the choir-room door from B-Hall.  She was running a tad late to get to her place on the rehearsal risers just inside the entrance for Women’s Select Choir.  It was a Friday, game-day at our north Dallas suburban high school of 3,500 students.  I recall it was a Friday because Lori was decked-out in her Lionette drill team outfit from a pep-rally earlier the same morning.  As she approached the doorway, I quickly made my way through the entrance while holding the door open for her.  By the time she was within two, or three steps from me, her dark brown eyes pierced mine as she sternly stated, “I can open my own door!” as she swiftly rushed by me.  OUCH!  That was unexpected.  It wasn’t like me to freeze, but I did due to shock.  It was best because it also kept my mouth shut.

Lori Kennedy 1978 RLT

Lori Kennedy, 1978 R.L. Turner High School Yearbook.

Lori and I were 16 at the time, in 1976.  She was about five weeks older than your’s truly.  Our social circles overlapped, so we had mutual friends, but the two of us were mere acquaintances.  In fact, I don’t think we ever had a conversation before that uncomfortable moment.  It’s not that we avoided one another, or even ignored the other purposefully while within earshot.  We both certainly knew about the other, but distantly.  From time to time, over four years, we even dated our close shared friends, but never one another.  There were multiple occasions where we hitched a ride with other friends while stuffed in a 1973 Chevy Camaro.  We were on the same bus during our music concert tours with the choral department’s Spring trip each year.  We also found ourselves sharing a bus for choral UIL contests performed in other cities.  Then there were gatherings at picnics, parties, and popular hangouts, etc.  I should stop here because as I write this I’m remembering many more circumstances where Lori and I shared space through high school.  We, for what ever reason, never made the effort to get to know each other.  One might say, we knew each other through our fellow classmates.

With all that said, it makes her stark, rude remark, (the first words she ever spoke to me), that much more odd.  Maybe she was having a bad day.  Maybe her boyfriend just broke up with her.  Possibly life at home had hit a wall.  Could she had slipped on a banana peel in the cafeteria line?  Maybe there was a social undertow of knowing we didn’t see eye-to-eye on life itself.

full frame shot of eye
Photo by Vladislav Reshetnyak on Pexels.com

One thing is for concrete sure, she didn’t know my mom and granddad taught me how to treat the opposite sex going back to my toddler years.  Chivalry was the order of the day in my family.  I must have been three years old, when walking down the sidewalk with my mom and grandparents, my granddad gently instructed me to always walk closest to the curb when walking next to a lady.  When I asked why, in his rural Texas fashion and verbiage, he explained that if a tire splashes a muddy puddle onto the walkway, she will be spared from the splatter.  He followed it up with, “That’s what men do.”  He taught me to remove my hat if a lady enters the room.  If a lady walks by, you tip the brim of the hat.  If a lady is about to sit at a table, you pull the chair out for her, followed by the adjustment to table-side.  If the lady is ready to remove her coat or sweater, you help remove it from her shoulders.  When she is ready to wear the same, you hold it open for her as she slips her arms through.  You always allow the lady to walk in front, choosing second place.  You always open the car door for a lady before placing yourself in the car.  And yes, you always open the door for a lady as she approaches it.  In fact, I do that for men, as well as women.  To be honest, I still practice all of the above to this day.  It’s an act of courtesy, kindness, respect, and honor.  I’m branded with it.  So, what was up with Lori?

At the time, the women’s liberation movement was well above surging, at least in the U.S.  It would be foolish to believe that 100% of women living-out the movement appreciated chivalry with its old Victorian manners.  Because I neglected to get to know Lori, the real Lori, I may have missed my cue.  It very well may have been Lori was exercising her newly discovered rules of engagement as dictated by the women’s liberation movement of the times.  I would have been clueless.  Nevertheless, she may have very well been offended by my gesture of holding the door open for her entrance into the choir room.  Sure, I meant well, but she may have seen my action in another angle, unbeknownst to me.  Just like one can peek through a glass of water while another may see a different distorted view.  And here is where I went wrong.

My mind washed my hands of her as I walked away from the moment of friction.  Lori Kennedy and I never had a potential conversation throughout the balance of our school years together.  Never once.  In fact, I totally avoided her.  My misdirected thoughts went something like, “Well, if she’s going to treat me like a doormat, than I don’t have any use for her.”  This is what unchecked anger can do.  And so, in my bitterness over the incident, I made sure I ignored her each time our paths crossed, wherever it was.  And what’s worse, I allowed our very quick moment in 1976 to stain my view of her from that time forth.  Afterwards, the name Lori Kennedy was held in my grudge-peppered heart.  My new title for her was, Little Miss Rudeness.  Yes, it was wrong.  Very wrong.

One would think in adulthood, with all its twists, turns, and teachings, I would’ve eventually understood better, loved more, and forgave even if I never saw her again in life.  However, we did.  God had other plans.

Lori Kennedy 2018 RLT Reunion

Lori Kennedy at a 2018 casual reunion with old friends.

A year ago, I attended two reunions with old friends and classmates.  One was a casual gathering of about 200 as we paid tribute to a friend who had passed away the year prior.  Two months later, it was our 40th high school reunion.  Lori Kennedy and I bumped into each other at both events.  During the first reunion, I saw her before see saw me.  My first thought was to stay away from her, using my old searing angst as justification.  With so many people attending, it would’ve been easy to just remain on the other side of the large club.  Two months later, the 40th high school reunion gala would be upon us where most likely we would find ourselves in close proximity with mutual friends.  Deep inside, I hated the tensity felt over seeing her again.  Getting lost in the crowd was my first thought.

Miles White Reunion Shot

August 2018 at the casual reunion at the Fox & Hound Pub in Dallas.

Someone called out to her through the noisy event.  With a turn, my eyes caught her.  There she was, laughing, drinking, eating and enjoying a cluster of old friends.  My reaction was to look away to protect the sore spot in my psyche.  After looking down at my shoes for way too long, I filled my lungs with lots of air, slapped on my big boy pants, and made my way across the room of revelers.

She had changed so much since our teen years.  Age hadn’t been particularly polite to her.  Lori always lived fast and hard, so I just assumed it all caught up with her.  She was a bit pale and thin, and the spark in her dark eyes had faded.  Name tags are a gift from God in these cases, but not at this casual gathering.  Often, at our age, it’s guesswork.  I acted as if I wasn’t sure it was her.  “Lori?  Is that you?”  She turned toward me, cocked her head and smiled.  “Alan!  Well, as I live and breathe!  How are you?”  I initiated a quick shoulder-hug. (Still showing signs of my grudge in a tiny gesture.  I know, it’s all so stupid.)  We spoke very kindly for another couple of minutes.  After all, there’s not much to “catch-up on” when you didn’t really have a relationship to start with.  I found out she lived alone with her two beloved Chihuahuas.  Still, it was somewhat a relief to see her genuine greeting.  Surprisingly cordial with a true smile, we shared good words between us.  Simultaneously, there was this voice coming from deep inside me delivering a statement I never would’ve believed.  It was so clear.  Despite our differences, we could have been friends.  Part of me began to feel ashamed what I had secretly held against her over the decades.  Of course, I never brought up our one and only verbal encounter from the days of yore.  Actually, she may not even recall the day she was snarky to me, the “doorman” from early in our junior year.  Frankly, the thought had never occurred to me.  Just because I always remembered it, shelving her as a tyrant and a princess prude forever, doesn’t necessarily mean she remembered our game-day intersect whatsoever.

Monday morning, October 7th, I got in my car, turned on the radio to my favorite classic rock station, and there it was, Rod Stewart’s “Forever Young”.  It was the tripwire to heavy tears as I left my driveway for an hour’s drive to Lori Kennedy’s funeral.

After doing some digging, I discovered Lori was told by her doctor how early tests indicated she had Multiple Myeloma.  This form of blood cancer wasn’t new to me.  A church friend has been battling it for two years, as well as my brother-in-law, who is in the final stages of this life-sucking illness.  An MRI had found a mysterious spot on her pelvic bone a couple of years prior.  At that time tests were inconclusive.  Apparently, Lori shrugged it off.  She had been told most Multiple Myeloma patients have 3-5 years after diagnosis, maybe less.  She was looking forward to her first oncologist appointment to confirm, plus discuss various treatments.  That was during the last week of September.  She passed away in her sleep at home less than a week later.  After the very touching service I spoke with her parents.  They told me she had been suffering from symptoms for at least 2-3 years, but had no idea she had been stricken with cancer until a few days ago.

Before the minister spoke, they played Eric Clapton’s Tears In Heaven.  As it washed over the the ones gathered, I bowed my head and listened intently for the first time.

“…Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same
If I saw you in heaven?

Would you hold my hand
If I saw you in heaven?
Would you help me stand
If I saw you in heaven?

Time can bring you down
Time can bend your knees
Time can break your heart
Have you begging please, begging please…”

My hands trembled as I realized my judging heart.  Deeply convicted, I acknowledged my stupidity in not letting go of one moment in time of offense.  At my age, how could I have remained so immature?  When we engaged last year, I was unaware she was in severe pain throughout her skeletal structure.  As we stood there and chatted at the reunion, I was unaware Lori was constantly dehydrated, with bouts of deadly low blood pressure and visits to the ER.  Little did I know she was choking down powerful pain killers just to stand, walk, and sit.  As it turns out, she rarely left her house to socialize due to her struggle.  The reunions were a goal she wouldn’t deny herself.  And there I was, trying to be tempered, holding back my old resentment as she smiled at me, even though she should’ve been in the hospital.  What a moron I was.  So much time wasted.  So much life experience gone.  So many chances crumbled away in the living years.

After the service was complete, I approached the opened white coffin where an unrecognizable body was displayed.  The remains of this person looked as if she was some 25 years my elder, resting among the satin lace.  Even though it was way too late, I looked at the face, which once belonged to Lori, and whispered, “Forgive me, Lori.  Forgive me.”

As I drove back home, I asked the Redeemer to forgive my unsettled anger.

True lessons in life come at the most heartbreaking times.  Lessons of humility learned easier when filled with fuel for the race.

“And whenever you stand to pray, forgive whatever you have against anyone, so that your Father who is in Heaven may also forgive you your faults.  But if you are not forgiving, neither will your Father in Heaven forgive you your faults.”  – Jesus –  Mark 11:25-26  (Aramaic Bible In Plain English)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rewinds

“…Daylight
I must wait for the sunrise
I must think of a new life
And I mustn’t give in
When the dawn comes, tonight will be a memory too
And a new day will begin…”  (1981) “Memory” from Cats by Andrew Lloyd Webber

The young Dr. Frankenstein meets Igor, for the first time, at a foggy depot railway platform.  As they introduce themselves, the great Marty Feldman, who played Igor, presents himself as “I-gor”.  Dr. Frankenstein, played by the fabulous Gene Wildman, thought the pronunciation was a bit odd.  He remarks that he was told it was pronounced, “EE-gor”.  Without a slip of a beat, Igor cocks his head, leans in and says sharply (in his very British accent), “Well, they were wrong then, weren’t they?”  Young Frankenstein, from 1974 from the brilliant Mel Brooks, is not only considered a classic, but it’s also one of my all-time favorite comedies, if not my #1 favorite.  So much so, I have it on both VHS and DVD.  I just cackle at the late Marty Feldman’s comic timing in the unforgettable scene.  He was a comedic genius.  To this day, my finger gets busy on the rewind button, just to treat myself a couple of times before the movie moves on.

As I date myself by the following line, I will be straightforward.  As a teenager, when graduating from vinyl albums, I had to replace most of them with cassettes for my car and tape player in my apartment.  That was a chore.  However, the ease of the rewind button allowed me to quickly scan for my favorite cut from the artist I was listening to.  After all, you couldn’t do that with the vinyl LP.  You had to be steady-handed as you carefully picked up the needle, while locating the correct grove, when hunting for Elton’s “Crocodile Rock”.

Turntable Needle by Pixabay

Photo:  Pixabay

Admittedly so, when on my DVR, or On Demand selection, the rewind button is one of my best friends.

Have you ever noticed, the rewinds are usually not for searching that gruesome scene where the stabbing took place?  My guess is that you rarely push the rewind button to “re-watch” the tragic scene where the little boy, along with his dog, can’t escape the burning house.  No doubt you never raced for the rewind button to capture again the flogging scenes in the movie Amistad.  If so, there’s counselling available for that itch.  Yet, I’m afraid we do it all the time…mentally.  Think about it.

My last post on this format was about too many windows in old hotels.  Well, I’m about to pull back the drapes on one of them for you.

Over 40 years ago, I had a troublesome relationship that went on much too long.  This individual was my friend through much of the 1970’s.  As time went by, we grew close with a very tight bond, which seemingly was permanent.  Fast-forward to December of 1979, things abruptly ended hard with a resounding thud.  Most all of my old friendships are still intact and loving.  I don’t lose friends, for the most part, and I am grateful.  Still, this one was substantially significant in my life…or so I thought.  The relationship needed some healing, which never took place, and fighting became our norm toward the bitter end.  Truly, it was a downhill slope into quicksand.  We were teenagers with mounds of maturity which had yet to settle-in.  Regrets?  Sure, at least for me.  I went back to my friend a few times, during the following days, in attempts to mend, soothe, and restore.  But I learned quickly that it takes two to do so.  Believe me when I say, it was a nasty split.  My friend was wrong, and I was wrong.  Nobody was innocent.  I have been mourning over it ever since.  How sick is that?  There have been 40 years of rehashing the “what if’s”, “why this”, or “why that”.  The questions roll along, wondering what I could have done differently, as it pertained to me and my chosen actions.  If the other person is not able to do the same, it makes it almost impossible to make peace in the heart.  But I know you can’t go back and change anything.  If you pull out a nail in the fence post, you still have a hole.  There’s not been a resolve in my own heart.  Thoughts of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin comes to mind.  Like Jerry and Dean, in retrospect, I believe our lives have been better without each other.

You don’t have to tell me how unhealthy this species of mourning and regret can be.  I know all too well.  If you’re like me, then you know you can beat yourself up over and over again.  Of course, just as you think you have conquered the pain and trauma, you drag out the old dusty remote, hunting for a decades old mental movie from your life, and hit the rewind button. <<

Remote Dusty Buttons

How sad, that we keep an old dusty remote in our minds just to relive heartbreaks which don’t have to be replayed.  We lie in our beds, refusing sleep, as we replay infractions from the days of yore.  Other times we scan back to a fork in the road, where we turned left instead of right, wondering what might have been.  Am I accurate?  The scene WILL NOT CHANGE!  Oh, sure, you want to see a different outcome, but it is what it is.  Yet, in acknowledging that truth, it is also history, where it belongs.

Recently, to my surprise, I discovered my old friend may be struggling emotionally more than I have.  While on Facebook, the morbid side of me decided to look for my old friend’s Facebook page.  Shockingly, this social butterfly wasn’t anywhere to be found.  Later, I sadly learned my old friend blocked my name so that I would vanish when on our mutual friend’s pages.  I guess it shouldn’t bother me when thinking someone wants to scrub me from the earth, as if I never existed.  There’s not been one word of any communication since January 1980.  I was blocked as if I were a troller, stalker, or a monster to be shunned from the town square.  “Sanctuary”, cried the hunchback in his chains.  I thought it interesting that after 40 years, my name was a curse in the eyes of this person.  Wow, maybe I unknowingly inflicted more harm than I received.  Somehow, it added salt to my wounds.

Why do we do this to ourselves?  What betterment does it apply to our mental and emotional state?  Better yet, why do we crave it?  We do, you know.  We pick up the mental remote, push rewind to find the old scabs in life way too often.  What’s more, we push the pause button to gaze for a bit, which makes matters worse.  It’s a choice, isn’t it?

I don’t have a psychology degree, but I do know a bit about human nature.  Under my belt, there is a ton of biblical advice in which I have marinated.  In God’s camera angle, guilt, self-damning, and judgement is what we are to ween ourselves off of.  Sure, biblically speaking, when we recognize our own wrongs, we are to loosen our grip, while placing them at the feet of the Righteous Judge.  It is written, so we would understand, when wrapped in His forgiveness, there is no divine condemnation staining the humble who apply His forgiveness in a true, heartfelt confession.  In doing so, we are to learn to forgive others…and ourselves.  The old dusty rewind button should only be for scenes of joy, love, and laughter.  Otherwise, take out the batteries.

Thank you Marty, Gene, and Mel.

When in play >, or fast forward >>, always expect fuel for the race.

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.  As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.”  – Psalm 103:11-12  (NAS)

“I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins.”  – Isaiah 43:25  (NAS)

“Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish. In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back.” – A prayer by King Hezekiah found in Isaiah 38:17  (NIV)

Heart Hotels

“Well there’s too many windows in this old hotel.  And some rooms filled with reckless pride.  And the walls have grown sturdy, and the halls have worn well,  but there is nobody living inside.  Nobody living inside…”  Heart Hotels (1979)  Recorded and composed by:  Dan Fogelberg

You know how it is.  You grow up in a place, or visit a place as a kid, while often driving by stunning landmarks, oblivious to their existence.  Honestly, I still do it.

I didn’t grow up in Greebville, Tx, about an hour’s drive east of Dallas, but I feel like I did.  I was born there, but we didn’t stay.  My mom’s family lived there, and still do.  To describe it, I would say there are certain parts of town that still remind me of the old southern neighborhood scenes in the movie, To Kill a Mockingbird.  My brain is sprinkled with fond memories of looking out the car window at the park I played in, the old gothic-style church on the corner near the downtown square, and the narrow street where I would grin from ear-to-ear as we drove toward my grandparent’s house.  Those are the simple snapshots a little lonely kid recalls about a place.  However, there are so many things this young one missed, probably because it was the loved ones in his focus.

One thing which escaped my interest was an old hotel on Washington Street, across from the old church.

Greenville Cadillac otel Old pic

The Washington Hotel – Greenville, Texas.  Photo:  Texas Historical Commission.

In its youth, it was called The Washington Hotel.  Later in years it was changed to The Cadillac Hotel.  In 2010, it was awarded a designation in the National Register of Historic Places.  Built in 1926, about two blocks down from the train depot, it stood as a gem, a glimmering star in the downtown Greenville landscape.  She has six floors ascending up to what was a garden roof, with plenty of space for romantic evening dances.  A monumental marble staircase rises from the lobby with iron railings.  Celebrities, tycoons, and diplomats were served by the old place through the decades, including Frank Sinatra, President Lyndon B. Johnson, and many more.  My mom and her parents attended a campaign speech delivered by President Harry S. Truman from the back of his train caboose at the depot near the hotel.  (Apparently, it was customary to build a hotel within a short walking distance to the train depot.  It makes sense, considering the times.)

Greenville Train Depot

The old Greenville train depot.

However, a gem no more.  The Washington/Cadillac Hotel, in all of her history and glory, was closed long ago as the town grew.  Time and neglect were her new caretakers.  In fact, it was abandoned in the worst possible way through the years.  Before you could say, “Texas tumbleweeds”, looters and vandals had their way with it.  In the early 1990’s a fire was set, destroying much of the interior of the old royal lady.  A couple of times in recent years, developers drew promising plans to refurbish her amidst intentions of a rebirth with condominium lofts, studios, and flats on the blueprints.  Still, plans fell through for one reason or the other.  And now it sits in an almost ruined state.  Much of it boarded up, and if not, windows cracked or broken out.  I have interior photos, but to be frank, it hurts my heart to look at them.  I would rather dream of her glory days.  My fear is, the city will give up on it, setting a date for a heartbreaking demolition.  My hope is, some wealthy decision-maker will grab a new vision of what this queen could be with some funds and lots of loving care.

Greenville Cadillac Hotel Photo:  The Herald Banner

Realistically, it’s a long-shot.  She sits at the threshold of a section of town in need of a gigantic face-lift.  And I mean more than a simple Botox injection.

Recently I heard Dan Fogelberg’s very familiar “Heart Hotels” over a classic soft-rock radio station.  You should google it to refresh your ear’s memory.  Immediately the old Cadillac Hotel came to my mind.  I began to listen to the lyric with larger lobes while realizing I sing-along to it all the time without allowing the lyric to penetrate.  The late Fogelberg was an incredible, thoughtful lyricist.  “Longer (Then)” was one I did for many weddings since 1979.  It’s considered a classic now.  He has so many greats in his music catalog.  Many bring tears to my eyes.  This is one of them.

He aligned his heart in the fashion of an old hotel with way too many windows for outside viewers.  Of course, he chose a hotel because he spent his life on the road from city to city.  Many artists are introverts.  I know I am, to a degree.  His lyrics speak of closing the shutters, pushing everyone out, leaving offers of synthetic love, hoping for true love to arrive.  In the third verse, his lyric pressed him to include an admittance that the soul needed to be repaired.  He wrote of craving the vacancy, while hearing distant echoing voices from the stairwells which brought memories of unanswered prayers.  OUCH!

Man, the song hurts!  It’s just like the interior photos of the Cadillac Hotel, which I refuse to add here.  At the same time, I love heart-breaker songs.  Performing them multiple times in my day, I know the powerful movements they deliver.  (I trust that doesn’t make me a twisted, bad person in your eyes.)

Truly, he wrote what most of us won’t.  I think Fogelberg was a very straightforward composer.  His songs spotlight his honesty.  If we were forthright with each other, as Dan was, we could relate to the lyric of “Heart Hotels”.  Just like too many windows in this old hotel (heart), there are also too many jumping off the roof surrounded by a garden, dancing, and romance.  Have you noticed?

The heart is a strong machine.  We call the pumping muscle in our chest the strongest organ, but the heart of the spirit is even stronger.  The rooms are full of reckless pride and the halls are worn well, but there’s nobody living inside…  When empty we are left to our chosen devices.

Like Fogelberg, if there is an honest recognition of “soul repair“, I think Fogelberg would be the first to say, you can’t do this on your own.  Sure, try all you want, but the carpet wears out in the pacing years of frustration, loneliness, and heartbreak.  Soon there after, the present reality hits like a brass doorknocker where the echoing voices in the stairwell repeat the failures of the past.  They do remind us, don’t they?  What do we have to show for it?  A worn-out carpet, wishing it were a magic carpet for flying.  A quick trip to the fire escape proves to be a faulty idea, as the decades have rusted the old scaffolding.  Thoughts of the roof flow in again, or medicate with the devices at hand for the numbing of our pain.  Honestly, this song should be longer than Stairway To Heaven or Alice’s Restaurant, because it should be a theme and variation which is in loop.

Should I mention something worse than our own heart-sickness?  Dare I?

How often do we drive by a dis-connected, seemingly empty person, who for whatever reason, has pulled down the shutters and rolled up the carpet inside?  How many of us are shocked when someone we know, or someone we love, takes to the roof for a final inhale of the garden?  The shock usually coats our minds because we thought they were doing just fine, as we occasionally peered through their many windows.  Still, we drive by them, distracted by the gothic-style church building across the street, not noticing there’s a soul is in trouble and needs repair.  Don’t kick yourself too badly.  I am the first to say, I am sooooo guilty.  My hull has been breached a few times by deliberate final exits of people I love.

Often in my life I have heard others speak of unanswered prayers, as the late Fogelberg penned.  Like me, I bet you have, too.  You didn’t ask for this, but allow me to quickly shed a laser light on this familiar topic.  Prayer-life is a mystery.  Make no mistake about it.  Scripturally speaking, the problem is solved through three different camera angles.

#1 – Know God first.  Read and study Him before you climb up His sleeve.  The passage states:

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who approaches Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” – Hebrews 11:6  (Berean Study Bible)

#2 – We frequently petition God in a misdirected way.  We envy, we crave, we itch for this and for that.  In the old King James language, we “covet” in general.  We also want a rabbit’s foot to stroke, or a genie in a bottle to grant us three wishes, or an item hanging from our rear-view mirror in which we trust to have some sort of empowerment.  As often the case, what we ask for could bring us to an intersection which may be unhealthy for our future…the future we are hidden from.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV)

Unfortunately, when we pray, asking for our “coveting” heart to be satisfied, it goes against God’s target for our lives.  (IE: ” Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?  My friends all drive porches, I must make amends…” (1971)  Composers:  Bob neuwirth, Janis Jolin, Michael McClure.)   Fun song, yet the humor of it stresses a fundamental truth.  One can be wealthy, socially honored, and in need of nothing, yet in reality, naked, poor in heart, and without spiritual sight.  Jesus mentioned this many times.  After all, God wrote it down so we would know, “Do not covet”.  Asking for peace, safety, protection, insight, direction, needs, and most of all, His plans to rule over what we cannot see, is always well applied.  Another way of putting it, sometimes our motives are off rhythm, as in an engine which lacks oil on its timing chain.

#3 – Unanswered prayer…at least that’s what we call it.  We perceive a prayer hits the ceiling, bouncing back like a rubber ball.  In reality, God promises to hear our prayers.  If you don’t get what you want, like an angry kid on December 25th, it could be the answer is “No”, or “Not yet”THIS has occurred in my life many times following premature prayers, where the answer came clearly months or years later.  Retrospect is a supreme teacher.  I could write a list of times this has happened in my life.  Keep in mind, there’s a solid case for follow-up prayers, asking God why He didn’t answer, as you personally weigh answers.  Other times, an immediate answer arrived during my prayer-life.  In fact, I have had prayers granted before I even finished the prayer.  The acknowledgement is always astounding to me, reminding me of my lack of 100% trust in God.  There’s a bold statement from Jesus which speaks loudly…

And when you pray, do not babble on like pagans, for they think that by their many words they will be heard.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.    Matthew 6:7-8  (Berean Study Bible)

A sweet friend of mine, a vocal harmonizer for Joan Baez, recently said she believed the “Universe” wants her to move to Texas.  I should have explained the following, but I didn’t.  Unfortunately, the universe doesn’t love her.  The universe never reached out to counsel her.  The universe never cared for her.  The universe never burdens itself with restoration of life. The universe doesn’t oppose evil.  The universe never offered a free gift of redemption.  The universe never bothers itself to tend to her when naked, poor, and blind.  The universe doesn’t have a count of every hair on her head.  The universe never wanted to remove her transgressions and faults.  The universe never protects her, defends her, or gives grace to her.  The universe is faulty and proves to be imperfect, as we are.

Bottom line…the soul/heart, never has to be empty and alone.  There is One who loves closer than a brother.  Search the world’s religious history.  After exhausting yourself, you will find religious systems demanding your “works”, your “efforts”, your climbing up Mt. Olympus to earn the favor of deities.  It’s easy to accept because it’s based on our human nature to work, to earn what we want.  Then there’s “touch this”, “burn this”, “kiss this”, or my favorite…”buy this”, etc.  Do the research.  If you know me, you already know I say this out of love, not hatred.  I hurt for religious beachcombers.  We’ve all been there.  Some doctrines even demand starvation, suicide, murder, and self mutilation to achieve a cozy suite in an afterlife hotel.  Have you noticed?  Only God, through Jesus, who, as a baby, couldn’t find room in the inn, proves to be of this magnificent heart of love, without condition,  and grace toward us imperfect people.

(Most recommend reading the book of John, in the Bible, to learn Who Jesus is, and why He is so different.)

Heart hotels don’t have to be vacant.  Room service is available with fuel for the race.

“What can I give Him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;

If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;

Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.” 

      Excerpt from:  In The Bleak Midwinter (1872)  

      By: Christina Rossetti

 

 

EMPTY! But Why?

If you read my posts you will find this to be a bit different in flavor.  My request is that you read this one, leaving bias or preconceived ideas at the door.  Just humor me for now.

Imagine, you wake up in the back of a transport van.  Your wrists and ankles are shackled to a pole attached to the metal bench you’re laying on.  Looking down you find you’re dressed in an orange cotton jumpsuit with your full name sown into fabric across your chest.  Next to you is an assigned armed guard watching.

“What have I done?” you ponder silently.  In frustration you inquire aloud to the guard, “Excuse me, sir.  Why am I here?  Why have I been apprehended in this way?  Where are we going?”  The guard sits there ignoring you, as if you spoke nothing.

Imagine, the van stops just about the time you decide to ask the guard once more, with attitude.  The back double doors fly open as two more armed guards await your wrists and ankles to be unlocked from the pole.  As you continue to wear the shackles, dragging the chain between your feet, you begin to struggle to walk toward the open van doors.  The guards reach out, taking you by both arms, pulling you out of the vehicle.  They walk you into an enormous courthouse, a stately building, you do not recognize.

Imagine, you gasp at what you see as you are led into a large, wide hallway filled with other people who appear to be in the same circumstance.  You are struck by the incredibly long lines of the incarcerated, hugging the walls to the right and the left, as they stand single-file down endless corridors.  Each prisoner lacks the individual ID numbers, as you would assume.  Instead, each one has their name etched across their torsos, just like yours.  As you stumble with the shackles hindering your stride down the hallway, you read some of the names, ordinary names…Bohoah Yudo, Jack Nelson, Zhang Wong, Sherry White, Jesse Mundos, Amy Jones, Ahmad Siddiqui, Running Bear Parker, Angelique Pascal, Lorenzo Giordano…all assorted from every corner of the earth.

Imagine, you have been escorted to a guarded giant set of double doors, made of bronze.  This is odd, considering nobody else is in line for this entrance.  As you are led to the threshold, the thick doors are opened.  As they reveal the interior, your eyes widen in awe of a high judge’s bench made of, what appears to be, the finest mahogany.  There are no spectators, or spectator’s chairs.  In fact, this courtroom lacks a jury box, as well.  Only court officers and clerks are present.

Imagine, an announcement is made that all should rise as the judge is preparing to enter from his chambers.  The chamber door opens.  An amazing, distinguished, and striking robed man makes an appearance, taking his place at the judge’s seat.  You immediately notice the baffling brilliance of his eyes.  If you were to describe them, you would say they were transparent, somehow.  When he looks into your eyes, you feel as if he has known you all your life.  There is a sense he can see through the shell you often use with strangers.  What’s more, he never blinks.

“Are the books opened?” he asks the clerks with a reverberating bass voice.  You didn’t hear the response as you found yourself mesmerized by three enormous antique books, bound in gold leaf.  These books were so thick, it took four clerks to open the volumes.

“Bring the perpetrator before the court,” demands the judge.  “The transgressor will remain bound through these proceedings,” the judge adds.  As the guards nudge you forward, immediately you wonder what kind of judicial system this is.  You know you’ve done nothing wrong, and yet the judge seems to not believe in “innocent until proven guilty.”

Imagine, you stand before this awesome judge as he gazes at your name found in one of the colossal bindings.  As he calls you by your full name, including your middle name you never reveal to anyone, the chains hanging off your limbs rattle as you slightly tremble in fear.  Furthermore, your very soul quakes as you feel the injustice hovering over you like an anvil ready to drop.  His next statement causes your face to go pale as you fight the feeling of tears pushing against your eyelids.

“Are you aware of the charges made against you in this case?” he asks with piercing authority.

You take a deep breath, as if it were your last, and proclaim in a louder voice than you had intended, “No, your honor.  I am stunned I am here at all.”  The judge nods as if to acknowledge he has heard this before in his court.

With a laser-beam glare, the judge turns his unusual translucent eyes toward a rather polished-looking man standing behind a half-wall, where the jury box would normally be located.  He is a handsome looking gent, dressed to the nines, with his hair slicked back in perfect order.  To say he looks wealthy and studious would be an understatement.

In a lower tone, unlike any sound from his voice thus far, the judge states, “The prosecutor, your legal adversary, will now recite the charges against you.  It is imperative you remain silent, without outbursts, during his delivery.  Prosecutor, you may begin.”

The prosecutor rolls out a thick stack of legal documents from his briefcase.  He begins thumbing through the papers.

“Your honor, this one has violated every law you so diligently protect,” the prosecutor quickly cites with a silky, smooth voice.  He continues, “Naturally, you have the full record already prepared in your book.  I will summarize from my copies.  To begin with, this one uttered false notions to the parents multiple times, starting at infancy.  Later in life, while in heated unjustified anger, there would be thoughts of assault, without striking out.  As a preteen, there was a candy bar taken without payment from a local convenient store.  There have been periods of lashing out with words of destruction, targeting the spirit of others, with intent, and without good cause.  Starting during the teen years, this one followed through with lust for others in the classroom.  Then, if that wasn’t enough, your honor, there are countless traffic violations.  Yield signs were neglected, yellow traffic lights turned red while in the process of driving through the intersections. At one point underage drinking took over, with bribery in full play, to keep the infraction quiet.  While on the subject, there was one DUI, but got away with the transgression.  There was an event concerning road rage where the defendant cursed another, while utilizing a selected finger, signaling a violent nature of the heart.  I have a list of selective years this one cheated on taxes, unseen by the government.  The record shows the act of false statements to a supervisor concerning sick days.  When a neighbor bought a bigger house out in the country, this one became secretly envious, followed by malicious desires, developing into severe covetousness.  There are charges of delinquent bills from time to time.  The removal of love comes and goes.  The act of pre-judging fellow man is outrageous on its own.  Even discriminatory hatred, applied to others, appears over the decades.  Admittedly, there is no guilt of carrying out the act of murder or adultery, but on several occasions the mind entertained as much concerning others.  You, yourself, your honor, claimed if one even thinks of murder and adultery, that one is just as guilty as the one who acts upon the thought.  May I remind you, this ruling came from your court, your honor.  It is your prerogative to expunge the law you so graciously gave, if it serves the defendant well.”

(CRACK!)  The gavel came down extremely hard.  The walls seemed to vibrate at the crashing sound of the impact.

“ENOUGH!  My law set forth is who I am.  The law is my very essence.  It will be defended.  The law is a school teacher, educating the public of a guide for a life of goodness.  It will be carried out.  Each law will be filled and completed, and will never be removed.  Once more, I will remind you of the rules of my court, prosecutor.  You have heard it said from this bench in prior cases.  As long as there are lawbreakers, if you violate my rules, here, in this place, I will call for your banishment and have you held in contempt.  You may continue,” the judge remarks with the pointing of his finger.

“As you please, your honor.  As usual, I could go on.  The rap sheet is lengthy.  The guilt is undeniable inside every day, of every month, of every year of this one’s life.  Beyond all, perhaps the most grievous crime, this one wallows in a lack of faith in the Lawgiver, the law’s sincerity, with total disregard of the ramifications.  My office recommends extreme punishment to the law’s fullest extent, as written in your own manuals, your honor.  I rest my case, your honor.”  With that, the prosecutor shuffled his documents as he returned them back to his thick briefcase.

Imagine, you are bursting at the seams to defend your good name.  After all, you never thought of yourself as a lawless individual.  Most everyone you know would stand by your side, testifying to the fact that you’re a pretty good person overall.  Just then, the judge interrupts the thought.

After calling out your name, he asks a hard question, “Do you have counsel to represent you here today?”

You quickly respond in helplessness, “No, your honor.  I am without a defender.  I do have friends that can testify on my behalf, but…”

“Unfortunately for you, they too are in the halls of lawlessness.  Your deeds done are not to be measured by a lawbreaker’s plumb-line.  Your peers are not the surveyor.  The human heart is faulty.  They will morph as their opinions shift.  However, the law changes not and is unforgiving.  It was etched in ancient stone for a purpose.  It is relentless and ferocious.  The law is…quite simply…unable to be kept, ” the judge points out.

Imagine, your jaw drops.  You are in shock, more than you were in the beginning.  You are being prosecuted for transgressions which you always deemed as minimal, unimportant infractions, and now your judge admits nobody can keep the law in its entirety!

In your chains, you melt at the idea of hopelessness.  Somehow you are able to catch your breath from this gut-punch, “Your honor, I cannot defend myself against these charges.  How can I?  The law list is too heavy.  It rules over me in such a way that there’s no escape.”

“Yes, the law is rigid.  It was written to be so.  Where one law is broken, all laws are broken collectively,” the judge explains.  “It instructs that no one is good enough to keep its commands as a whole-not even one person outside these walls.  As you stand before me, the written record concerning your life is damning, indeed.  I find you are guilty as charged.  There is a certificate of debt which I will sign.  It has my seal.  It will state you were born guilty, without self-remedy.  The law is clear.  The payment for your offenses will be…certain death.”

Imagine your fear, your terror, your inability to redeem yourself.  You feel like someone has demanded that you jump across the Grand Canyon.  It can’t be done.  All you can do is hang your head in shame as the tears begin to build and fall.

Imagine now, at that point, a gentle hand strokes your hair, like your mom did when you were a kid.  It startles you, causing you to flinch.  Your head snaps back up in reaction.  You look quickly to your right to see a man standing next to you.  Your eyes glanced his way earlier, but he was unassuming, sitting back away from the proceedings in a shadowed corner.  This man would be easily ignored if you strolled by him on the street.  He isn’t dressed well for an officer of the court.  As you wipe the tears from your eyes, you can see his face more clearly.  There’s nothing really handsome about him.  In fact, it seems he’s a bit on the weathered side.  His hair, clothes, and shoes are unclean and unkempt.  His hands are rough, stained from dirt and grime, like a construction worker at the end of a day’s work.  It’s a mystery to you just why he is in the presence of such a pristine majestic courtroom.  He places his arm around your shoulders as if to comfort, or encourage.  You are moved that you find it warm, even consoling where he touches you.

With kind eyes, he speaks softly to you, “Wait here.  I will return.”

He addresses the judge with great admiration, “Your honor, this one doesn’t understand how this guilt shrouded life.  They don’t know what they are doing.  I will approach for private deliberation.”  Openly, he is welcomed.

He walks toward the judge’s bench.  You can see in their faces that they know one another very well.  Instead of asking the judge’s permission for a side bar consultation, the soiled man makes his way unhindered around the mahogany structure, walks by the clerk and bailiff, as they step aside, and straight up the steps to the judge himself.  He places his arm around the judge’s shoulders as they begin to consult.  You would give anything to hear what is being discussed, but the topic remains a mystery to you, as well as everyone else in the courtroom.  Soon thereafter, the man comes down from the judge’s seat, approaching you with a comforting smile of resolution.

He says only one thing as he leans to reach your ear, “You must trust me.”

With that, he steps back from you, turns, and stands between you and the bench, blocking your view of the judge.

The prosecutor, who has been closely watching the unusual conference, speaks up, “I object, your honor!  This is highly irregular, and certainly…”  (BOOM!)  The gavel pounds the bench in force.

“Objection overruled,” declares the judge.  Silencing the prosecutor soundly, the judge continues, “It is now official.  May the record show the defendant has court appointed counsel at this time.  Counselor, I will ask you one more time for the court record.  Is it your intention to now represent this defendant, this one who has already been pronounced guilty of lawlessness?”

“Yes, your honor.  This one belongs with me,” remarks the defender.

“May it be so.  May the record show I have agreed, thus appointing the defender to this defendant,” states the judge.

Your defender faces you once more.  He finds you’re fixed on the prosecutor’s smirk as he straightens his tie.  At the same time, you feel the eyes of your counselor penetrating your focus.  You turn your eyes to his.  You sense an assurance from him.

“Believe in what I will do for you,” he says with a deep sound of conviction.

With that, he is escorted out a side door by two guards, as if in protection mode.

You seem frozen at the moment at what just happened, even though you do not understand it.

The judge addresses you once again, “Fortunately for you, there is one of this court who has agreed to defend you, even though you have been found guilty and sentenced already.  Many documents must be written and published.  There are facts in this case which will be entered into the ledgers.  This will take some time.  Because you have previously been found guilty by this court, you will not go free, as you count freedom.  You will remain shackled and placed in the hallway of lawlessness with the others, who are due in court.  There you will remain until you hear your name called.  At that time, you will report to the doors of this court for the details of your final sentencing.  Do you understand these words I have spoken them to you?”

You hesitate but respond in puzzlement, “Yes, your honor.”

Almost sounding like a counselor himself, the judge speaks to you one last time in a softer tone, “Let it be known, it is not required for you to understand the timing and ways of this court, or its officers.  Trust your defender.  Listen for your name.”

(BOOM)  The gavel comes down as the judge orders, “Court adjourned!”

At this juncture, you are led, with chains rattling, to your hallway of waiting.

Imagine that it seems no time has passed at all when you hear your name called.  You look up to see the bailiff standing outside the courtroom doors with documents in hand.  Right away, your brows wrinkle, as you whisper to yourself, asking where your defender has been.  You fully expected him to consult you in the hallway at some point, but he never arrived.   There’s a feeling of unmistakable abandonment as you try to pick yourself up.  You stumble a bit with your ankle chains as you attempt to make your way across the hallway toward the waiting bailiff.  You approach him.  He looks at you as he restates your name, even though it is plainly written across your chest.  You acknowledge with a nod of your head, not wanting to hear the outcome of your defender’s work.  That is if any work has been done at all.

Imagine your amazement when the bailiff’s next words are, “You are free to go, if you choose.”

The wrinkles on your concerned face vanish as your mouth drops, “WHAT?”

“Yes, you may walk away, if you so desire,” replies the bailiff.

“Wait a minute.  How can this be?  My defender hasn’t shown his mug at all,”  you quickly point out.

“Oh, your defender arrived exactly at the appointed time.  The judge is appeased.  You were not present to witness it, but he made his appointment,” states the officer.

You cock your head at his strange reply, “What ever do you mean?  He arrived?  Where?”

“Your defender’s father was there to witness his work on your behalf, until it he could no longer observe,” said the bailiff as he enveloped a document.

You eagerly inquire, “My defender’s father?  Who is that?”

The bailiff seems struck by your lack of information, “You didn’t know?  How could you NOT know?  The judge is your defender’s father.”

In a state of perplexity you try to find the right words to ask, “I don’t get it.  That would be a conflict of interest, right?”

“No conflicts between them, ever,” replies the bailiff.

“What did my defender do for my case?” you ask.

At this point the bailiff offers you a document from the court.  As you look closer, it is the certificate of debt, describing your crimes, along with the sentencing of capital punishment.

“Your debt has been paid,” explains the officer.  “Freedom from the judgment rendered is now available.”

“How…what did…I don’t understand,” you admit.

“A reckoning has been accomplished.  Your defender volunteered to pay the debt to the court on your behalf,” explained the man.

You mutter almost under your breath, “You…you mean he…”

“Yes.  Your judge and his son, your appointed defender, agreed to release you from your lawlessness status.  Your defender volunteered to be sacrificed in your place,” replied the officer.  “I was there to witness it.  It was brutal, but it was decreed.  The judge, once the sacrifice was accomplished, was satisfied with the work of your defender.  Retribution has been completed.  There is nothing else needed to be done.  The court considers the matter finished.”

The magnitude of the news stuns you.  You take the certificate of debt from the bailiff as you attempt to summon the right words to the question in the very core of reasoning.

“Why would the judge agree to do this?” you ask.

“Love,” replied the bailiff.  “The judge not only pities your plight, but also expresses great compassion from an endless well of love for you.  He and his son designed this incredible plan together.  Now, it is up to you to accept this gift you have been offered.  You can remain in your shackles, or accept this act of the court’s finding of love toward you today.  Keep in mind, if you choose to deny it, you will remain condemned.”

“How can I thank him for this?” you inquire.  “My defender is dead, but I can still show my gratitude to the judge.”

The bailiff spoke up quickly with urgency, “First, you must take the certificate of debt to the court cashier on your way out.  If you choose to accept this offer of love, hand this certificate to the cashier, stating the debt has been paid.  The cashier will then stamp it, ‘PAID IN FULL!’  After sealing it, your shackles will be removed.  You will then be given new clothing to wear.  It truly is a phenomenal great exchange.  You will discover the doors are already open for you.”

Sheepishly you bring up the obvious, “I hate to be the devil’s advocate here, but what if he changes his mind and sends his guards to bind me again?  Is it possible he will reverse his decision?”

The officer responded, “The judge now sees you as blameless because of his innocent son taking your condemnation upon himself.  Trust this decision.  It will always be a matter of trust.”

Really, you don’t have to imagine.  This is what occurred when Jesus offered Himself to be crucified.  For thousands of years it was foretold this was God’s plan.  The Old Testament is blanketed with the prophecies of where it would happen, why it would happen, the week it would happen, and how it would happen, including the specific wounds he would receive.  On several occasions, Jesus Himself told His followers what would transpire, making it clear He was choosing to give His life away for the redemption of humanity.  At the time, they didn’t quite understand it either.  Although He had multiple opportunities to change plans and escape the arrest, the sentencing, and the cross, He went out of His way to stand ready for it all.  So, some 700 years before Jesus was born, the Old Testament passage was written to assist on identifying Him,

“He was oppressed and He was afflicted.  Yet He did not open His mouth.  Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth.” – Isaiah 53:7

When you think about it, forgiveness takes sacrifice.  It was that way in the Old Testament, as God dealt with humanity’s ills, and the guideline continues today.  When forgiving someone who has raped your good name, or one who offended you, you first must swallow down the idea of your gut reaction.  When being slandered publicly by someone who walks all over your integrity, your first thought is to ring his neck.  A kidnapper takes your four-year old and murders him.  Immediately, you want to hunt him/her down to take retribution to satisfy your screaming grief and rage.  Am I right?  If you’re an average person, you would agree with me on this.  To forgive, as you have been forgiven, is to sacrifice your hot satisfaction of revenge.  It’s so much easier to punch the offender’s lights out.  Forgiveness says, “No.  I will not satisfy the overwhelming desire to inflict my retribution on the offender.  Instead, I will wipe away the debt I want to levy.”  This is what Easter is all about.

Theologically, there is so much more to explain concerning the cross of Christ, along with the plan to redeem fallen humankind since Genesis, and the work of Jesus in the future.  However, simplicity was what God decided to spotlight in this case, so we may not have an excuse to ignore His gift.

So, the tomb is empty.  But why?

Buried in a borrowed garden tomb of a secretive wealthy follower, Jesus was wrapped, placed in the tomb, and a large stone was rolled over the door with a Roman seal.  Several Roman soldiers were placed there to guard the tomb.  However, Jesus would not be held by death, or a sealed grave.

Since the payment for our sin is a death sentence, He needed to show proof of His deity.  Once a guilty inmate is pronounced dead by lethal injection, he stays dead.  That’s the finality of capital punishment.  The penalty states, your life is quenched forcibly.  Over a three year period, Jesus publicly raised other corpses to life.  Even random people came out of their graves the same day Jesus walked out of the tomb. (Matthew 27:50-53)  The account in scripture says the righteous dead appeared to many in the city.  An event uniquely placed for Jesus’ miraculous actions during this time.  He was not bound by nature’s law as He was from outside of nature, looking in.  On Easter, Jesus not only proved He once again had power over death itself, authority over the payment for sin, but He also was following through with His teaching of new life offered.  Death is final.  We all know that.  Conquering death is something the living can not do.  With Jesus, it is a gateway to eternity for the soul.  His sacrifice-replacing my debt for my chronic lawbreaking, satisfied the Author of the Ten Commandments.

The resurrection of Jesus was witnessed by Jews and Gentiles alike.  For some forty days after that Sunday morning, He ate, walked, and talked with all of His friends and family.  In fact, scripture has an account that speaks of a crowd of over 500 who saw Him after the resurrection.  The news of it couldn’t be stopped by the local governing class, or even Rome’s iron fist.  Early Christian history is filled with the accounts of Jesus’ followers being tortured, burned alive, and crucified because they would not stop with their testimonies of the risen Messiah.  Ask yourself what you would be willing to die for.

So yes, the tomb in Jerusalem is empty.  My certificate of debt was paid in full and He, being Who He is, survived it all.

I have been purchased with a great price.  My life was changed from old, to new.

 “I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men (His disciples) testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.” – Charles Colson   (Special Counsel to Pres. Richard Nixon, commonly known as Nixon’s “Hatchet Man”.  He was also named as one of the “Watergate Seven”.  He plead guilty to obstruction of justice and served prison time.)

      “…having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” – St. Paul – Colossians 2:14 (NAS)

“…that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.   For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.…  – Jesus –  John 3:15-17 (BSB)

Upon This Rock

Photo:  Sierra Club, iStockphoto/MikeNorton – Palo Duro Canyon, Texas

“I’m gettin’ married in the morning.  Ding-dong the bells are gonna chime.  We’ll have a whopper, pull out the stopper.  Get me to the church on time.”  Composers:  Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, “Get Me To The Church on Time” from “My Fair Lady”

Have you ever been somewhere, a geographical location, in your life where you have bad memories attached to that location?  Have you ever had something horrific occur either to you, or witnessed something horrific, so much so that whenever you drive by that location your hair stands up on your neck?  Most of us have.  In the swarm of the rage, locale seems to be what sticks to the memory.  In most cases, just the street, the structure, the building, or the name of such, can cause flashbacks of darker days, hurtful moments.  In fact, often times, that street, structure or building is avoided, even if it takes a few turns out of the way of traveling from point A to point B.

Church Exterior

(The church photo above is not the church building mentioned below.)

Recently, I got a phone call concerning an old family friend’s passing.  I wanted to attend his memorial service, regardless of when or where it might be.  Waiting each day after his death, and keeping my eyes on obituary notifications, I finally learned where the service would take place.  It wasn’t a surprise to me where the tribute would be held when I read of the location.  He had been serving as an usher in Sunday morning church services not far from where I live.  It happened to be at a church building where I attended in my teenage years.

It had been 40 years since I worshiped there.  Frankly, when I did leave that congregation at the time, I ran and ran hard.  Many others did the same.  Unfortunately, because of the twisting of what Jesus taught, there are several former parishioners that never darkened the doors of another church again.  In fact, as for me, never in my wildest dreams did I ever construct a scenario that would drag my feet across the threshold of the front door of that place.  There is much to tell here, but I will spare you the gory details.  Just know, even as a teen, I knew the scent of harmful and secretive inner-church politics, dominated by a corrupt dictator of a pastor. Extreme unjustified hyper-judgmental teaching ruled the day every time the doors were opened.  It would be a mistake to not include the fact that I was a victim of some of the false teaching which fueled the attitudes of parishioners delivered by the man in the corner church office.  This species of spiritual abuse stunts spiritual growth, amputates joy and plants painful shaming as the end result.  Unlawful, unbiblical teaching can and will shadow the listener for years to come.  The shaping from false biblical thought is like a child working with wet putty, resulting in distorted shapes.  It’s the same reason the warnings against this practice in biblical passages are so stark, hard and ominous.

At that time in my life I was not a true student of the scriptures.  I was ignorant of the textual evidence to support what my spirit already knew.  Later, many years later, I became more studious with biblical text.  Then, and only then, did the realization wrap me in the confidence that God had placed the unrest inside of me back in the day.  When teaching is contrary to scripture, the consistent Bible student knows the difference.  After all, God does not suffer from multiple personality disorders.

When Bible readers take the time to truly study what has been written down for us, then we know the ways of the great I AM often comes across as humorous.  Yes, God has and shares His sense of humor.    The day of the funeral, I re-discovered this truth once again.

Driving into the parking lot, I began to show familiar signs of stress and anxiety.  I had donned a sports jacket which hid the sweat soaking through my shirt.  Seriously, walking through those doors was a true test of my endurance.  Immediately, I began to see the extensive remodeling of the building which obviously had taken place over the decades.  There was a drastic color change, new pews, reconstructed stage, etc.  Right away, just the fact the building looked like a different place gave me some relief from how I was feeling.

Church Interior

(Photo not from the location.)

Truly, the greatest aid toward my sore, bruised heart, was the actual congregation.  Long-gone was the “old guard” who had been shaped by the now retired, misguided pastor.  I had also learned that the corruption hurt the congregation to the point of reduction of parishioners. (Once 500-600 attendees strong.) Apparently, due to a modern-day exodus, all were victims, to some degree, of a power-hungry clergyman who ruled over the unsuspecting flock.  In the end, there was no one there to remind me of the way things once were under the roof of the facility.  All of those years there was no need for the angst and bitterness I harbored.  If you find false teaching in a place, move on until you find where a correct biblical doctrine is taught.  God certainly has His ways.

Church Congregation

Photo:  ramsey-and-district.ccan.co.uk

Walking away from the memorial service for my departed friend, I was struck by a deeply-seeded biblical truth.  The classical Greek, the original language of the New Testament, spells it out:  “Ekklesia” (ek-Klay-See’-ah).  In Hebrew it is very close to the word, “Adat” (uh-DOT’ or uh-DOTH’).  It is the the word Jesus used to describe HIS “church.”  It is NOT a building, even though we might say the wedding is “at the church,” or turn left “at the church in red brick.”  “Ekklesia” means an assembly, or a gathering of people.  In short, we might say, congregation.  Sure, the building had been updated, painted, remodeled, but also, the local “ekklesia” who assembled at the address, had been changed.  He will do what He will with His ekklesia.

His ekklesia was to be built on ROCK, not shifting sand.  What foundation could manage shifting sand?

As a serious believer in the teachings of Jesus, my job is to be sure the attitude of my heart is remodeled, painted and updated.  He came to make all things new.  Therefore, I should follow in His newness, adding fuel for the race.

“…upon this rock I will build My chucrch (ekklesian); and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” -Jesus.  From Matthew 16:18b (NAS)

Radio – Theater of The Mind

“Let’s dance.  Put on your red shoes and dance the blues.  Let’s dance, to the song they’re playin’ on the radio…” –  Let’s Dance, by David Bowie (1983).  Composers:  Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman.

With his smooth and cool, Dick Clark-style radio voice, the great Chuck Conway of KRRV/Sherman, Texas said, “Be the 9th caller now for your chance at a large, chilled bottle of Coca-Cola, compliments of KRRV-Sherman.”  A wide-eyed, curly-headed kid had been waiting all day for the invitation.  One needed to be quick on the draw with the old rotary dial phones.  Phone contests for promotions at the medium market station couldn’t afford $1,000 give-aways, or a new car, but offers of Coca-Cola’s new large bottles was a thrill!  It was the summer of 1972.

Radio Kitchen

Photo:  pinterest.com.au

The music-loving kid was always glued to the little shoe-box sized, mono radio sitting on top of the fridge in the kitchen.  His single mom worked a third-shift, leaving him dipped in the ways of radio formats.  The lad often stayed up to watch Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, then off to his bedroom alarm clock radio.  It just fit nicely on the shelf of the bedstead where the boy would fall asleep listening to top 40 hits, or a local late-night talk show out of Dallas.  (Yes, a talk-show.  What does that tell you about this 11-12 year old kid?)  He had his keen ear plastered up against the speakers.  Bouncing off his face was the soft amber glow of the tiny bulb behind the frequency dial.

Radio Alarm Zenith_C520W

Photo:  web.eecs.umich.edu

During the summer days, he did house chores while listening to the tunes on the charts.  Floating through the air from the AM radio was, “Run To Me” – Bee Gees, “I Can See Clearly Now” – Johnny Nash, “My Guy” – Mary Wells and “Betcha By Golly Wow” – Stylistics, just to name a few.  Lost in the music, he would dance and sing to the top of his lungs, unless his mom was sleeping during the day.  However, it slowed the boy down on the list of chores that needed to be completed by the end of the afternoon.  Trouble always followed.  Yet, he knew every lyric, the artists, as well as the 3-1/2 hour rotations for each song from the top 10 list.  This kid was studying radio without even realizing it.  Let’s face it, he was hooked!

Radio 1930

Photo:  census.gov

The love of radio must have been in his genes.  His grandmother used to talk about her days as a child sitting in the living room at night, with the lights off, in front of their RCA floor cabinet-radio.  She would talk about dramas, comedies, big bands, preachers and the like.  The one person she recalled, that pierced her mind, was hearing FDR’s speeches.  She said there was just something about the president’s voice coming through the fabric cover of the speaker.  She must have passed the intrigue down to this little guy.

It wasn’t too long when the lad began to spin 45s on his little mono turntable in his bedroom while tape recording himself.  He went all-out playing the role of the radio personality while back-announcing and pre-selling the cuts played.  Of course, one had to include doing public service announcements , weather, traffic, etc.  I am sure he wishes he could find those old mock-radio shows recorded on cassette…I doubt it!  At that young age he understood the ability of radio which could take a bored pre-teen, with a huge imagination, and put him in a different place altogether.  Theater of the mind can and will take you to a variety of levels on the canvas of the brain.  He figured it out right away.

He and his mom were poor.  In those days, he didn’t know what FM was.  His mom’s car only had AM, just like the two radios at home.  Years later, for the first time in his life, when finally he heard FM in his uncle’s car, it was shocking.  By today’s standard, it would be like going from a tin-can with a string to an HD theater system.

Radio Car Vintage 1966

Photo:  vintagecarradio.com

That was many moons ago.  The times are mysteriously foreign to what they are today.  We all have to grow up….or do we?  Could fantasy turn into reality, even for a poor fatherless kid?

Part of me wants to say I planned my career during those bonding times with the magic of radio, but I can’t be certain.  Nevertheless, in my mid 20’s, I made the career change to dive into live radio for a living.  Honestly, it was so comfortable, like an old favorite denim shirt.  The radio bug still remains after all these decades.  Radio continues to be my friend.

Radio Theater Trophies

After 11 years into my radio career, while at my fourth radio station, I launched a radio theater department at a non-commercial station in Dallas/Ft Worth.  I was a playwright, actor and director prior to radio.  The idea was pitched to the general manager and off we went like a bottle-rocket.  We named it, Criswell Communications Radio Ampitheater.  Overall, at last count, I have produced seven audio movies (One produced in Buffalo, NY.), three of which won national and international awards, along with multiple :60 second dramatic scenes for a radio feature series.  Now THAT is theater of the mind at its zenith.  My grandmother was so proud.

Me at KCBI 2012Speaking of theater of the mind, lots of radio listeners imagine the air talent they follow, tends to look a certain way.  With the visual gone, radio forces you to paint your own painting.  It’s often funny.  Right after they meet me, most listeners usually say they thought I sounded blonde, clean shaven, tall and skinny.  (Question:  How does a blonde, clean shaven, tall and skinny guy sound?)  It seems I’ve burst a few bubbles in my time.  They also imagine their favorite radio personality listens to what he/she plays on the air at home or in the car.  It may come as a surprise to you, most of us don’t.  If you ever flipped burgers for a living, you usually don’t want a burger for dinner.  An old friend of mine was a well-known, on-air classic rock personality.  At home he listened to Braums, Beethoven and Mozart.  Because I was raised to be highly eclectic musically, I have always listened to other formats after I got off the air.

“…FM – no static at all…FM – no static at all…” – FM by:  Steely Dan (1978)  Composers:  Walter Becker and Donald Fagen.

Me@WDCX board

Does this happen to you?  In recent years I have been playing CDs in my car, as well as in our studio/office at home.  I find it clears my head when all the chatter is missing.  Sometimes you just have to shut down all the quacking that comes over the speakers.  So, for years now I have had my radio off in my down times.

CDs in Study

In my last posting, I mentioned the excessive heat our July dished out.  Some parked cars registered 127-140 degrees inside.  It certainly did some damage to my dashboard CD player.  It has malfunctioned and refuses to spit out the CD when I push the eject button.  Yet, a great love came to visit when I was forced to power down the CD player.  My radio mode was waiting for me, set on a retro AM station I had forgotten about.  They were playing power-gold hits from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.  Everything was there, Paul McCartney and Wings, Dobie Gray, Three Dog Night and Carly Simon.  I felt the splash of sonic fresh waves weaving through the monitors in my car, filling my ears with some precious jewels from dear old friends.  I found I missed radio, even with the slightly muffled crackling of AM frequency.  LOVE IT!  I’m singing at the top of my voice again, dancing the best I can while driving.  Who knows, I may buy myself a little hand-held transistor radio for old-time sake.

Isn’t it strange how you can leave something you love so dearly without even realizing the drift that takes you away?  It happens in education, relationships, values and your core beliefs.  I find it serves me well just to put a keen ear to the ground while listening for the familiar distant sweet spot.  Sometimes, just a quick revisit is all it takes to see the scope of lacking.  But beware, it takes courage.

By the way, just in case you were wondering…I was Chuck Conway’s 9th caller.  It was my first time on the air, and my first, and last time, to ever win anything!  My mom drove me about three miles to the tiny studios of KRRV where Mr. Conway sent his studio engineer to the lobby with my bottle of Coke.  There are things you just never seem to get over.  I had hoped to meet, the blonde, clean-shaven, tall, slim Chuck Conway.  But alas, it didn’t happen.  He was probably a 300 pound red-head with a beard down to his chest.

So, turn your radio on, using filters that spring up from the pools of fuel for the race.

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  – Jesus –  Matthew 11:15 (NAS) 

It’s Only Dinner…Right?

Photo:  tomesto.ru

“I’ll light the fire.  You put the flowers in the vase that you brought today.  Staring at the fire for hours and hours while I listen to you…Our house is a very, very, very fine house…”  From 1970, “Our House”.  Recorded by: Crosby, Stills & Nash.  Composed by: Graham Nash

A very talented friend of mine, going back to my high school days, recently pitched the idea of having dinner together.  I loved the gesture.  I even can say I had a spark of excitement run through my heart when he suggested a casual dining get-together.  But, the spark was quickly quenched.  It’s not like we had never been in a casual setting before.  Indeed, about three years ago we had a great time with a handful of school chums, from our teenage years, along with some sour cream potato skin appetizers.  We discussed old times, careers and swapped stories concerning our families.  Before we knew it, three hours scurried by.  We took some pics together, promised to do it again soon and went our separate ways.  However, THAT was before the presidential election.  Keep reading and bear with me.

My old friend is one who I have admired for over forty years now.  His talent in the acting, producing and directing arena is well-known.  I learned so much from watching his stage work, so much so, I utilized his methods during my theater years.

Enter stage right:  Donald Trump.  BOOM!  Suddenly, I was reminded of how opposite we were on the political and cultural spectrum.  How do I know this?  Because he has gone rabid on social media.  You know the type.  Posting anti-this and pro-that, some real news stories concerning the politics of the day, along with some false stories and spins of the same.  Discouragingly, he often spouts off, in cyberspace, with degrading mockeries that often offend me on a personal level, yet not targeting me directly — even to the point of trashing anyone who may have opinions differing from his, like mine.  Recently, he got as good as he gives from another online friend.  This friend of his was pushing back, displaying a couple of profound foolish statements our mutual friend had made.  My friend “Unfriended” him because he disagreed with the vigor my friend typed out daily on his page.  It’s sad to watch his meltdown.

Angry-man_on_computer

Photo:  fallout.wikia.com

Unfortunately, since the election, he rarely posts anything about his life, his joys or his family.  Frankly, I miss my old friend.  He seems unable to put down the political hammer and just be his peaceful, cuddly self again.  It’s as if something has taken over his kind spirit.  It’s like he has been swept away, kidnapped by tons of foaming-at-the-mouth pundits.  Regrettable isn’t close to the sadness I feel concerning this new person I once loved spending time with.

If you read my blog articles, then you know I don’t pitch a tent on politics, per se.  Really, I would rather talk about the thickness of tire tread than debate political discourse on public forums.  As for my old friend, I avoid the temptation of replying to his heated political rants.

We have seen an evolution in our culture over the past couple of years.  My friend represents a huge part of the population in America who are dangerously close to sparking another civil war.  I’m serious.  Do you get that notion sometimes?  Peaceful gatherings for protesting policy has now flipped into dog-fight style, in-your-face-screaming and shoving contests.  We now have elected officials calling for a civil disobedience once viewed as beyond the laws of our society.  There’s been a call for public stalking and harassment of others who speak opposing rhetorical discourse.  Violent insults now vomit out of the foul mouths of ranters toward fellow Americans who hold rival thought.  Profanities that are violent in nature, which I won’t type here, are dumped publicly on people of another political persuasion.  These reckless mouths of venom, with sledge hammers for tongues, are applauded from those who live in their bubble, without a sense of shame or proper decency.  It’s almost numbing to me now.  Where have we seen that before?

White Mob

A demand from a misguided elected official has gone out to the public.  It involves finding people of other views in order to kick them and their families out of restaurants during a meal, shouting and cursing at shoppers in a store, or filling-up for gas at a gas station.  For some, public spittle seems to be an acceptable form of shaming, disgracing and humiliation of others at the movies, street corners or even at the front doors of their homes.  (There’s plenty of videos.  Don’t just take my word for it.)  This activity cuts gravely into what we are to give and share with our neighbors, to uphold the standard right of  “…life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  We’ve seen this activity before in all its ugliness.

White Cafe Mob

Honestly, what are we doing to our nation?  Have we not learned from our past?

Someone might say, “Oh, Alan, It’s just words.  No one is being harmed.”  Really?  Try asking Congressman, Steve Scalise about that.  Try asking a dozen or so Republican lawmakers who were there at softball practice when the politically crazed gunman, purposefully targeting Republicans, opened fired, almost killing Rep. Scalise.  Try getting an answer from William McKinley, John and Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr.  Try asking the many in our history who were illegally hanged by hooded mobs due to extreme hatred, or without due process or trial. (Oh, that’s right, you can’t ask.  They are all dead.)

Name-calling has become the norm in the public square.  The word, “Nazis” has been labelled on public officials and citizens just right of center.  Think about that!  If we really believed Nazis were taking over our country, wouldn’t we feel the patriotic duty to load some weapons and take a position?  Calling anyone a Nazi who disagrees with another slant is way out of orbit.  I have friends who lost multiple family members in the Holocaust.  They know the genuine article.  Trust me, today’s Neo, white supremacist versions are like nursing babies in comparison.  The irony of falsely pointing out a family who has a different viewpoint than our own, calling them a despicable term like “Nazi” is indeed acting like…a Nazi!  Ask anyone with dark skin, a Jew or a member of the gay community from WWII what it’s like to be labelled a “rodent” that should be purged from neighborhoods and exterminated.  Again, most are dead now.  This damaging spew must stop before the heat rises to uncontrollable levels.  It will be too late after that dragon is released from his cage.  We’ve seen where that takes us here and elsewhere.

“Stone is heavy and sand a burden,
    but a fool’s provocation is heavier than both.”. – Solomon – Proverbs 27:3 (NIV)

White Arab Spring

No, I’m not done.  Why?  Because words, spittle and stalking matters.  What’s worse, it will matter much more to the next foolish John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald or John Hinckley Jr.  It matters to the next wacko in a high-rise with an arsenal peering over an audience at a concert.  Better yet, it will matter tremendously to the next political harassment victim, when violently reacting to public assaults from aggressors because they simply snap.  What father or mother wouldn’t defend their young if attacked, shoved or spat upon from a group of screaming agitators at a mall?  Some celebs (without much cerebellum) have called for assassinations, attacking the White House with explosives and kidnapping politician’s children.  One well-known bright bag of gas celeb called for the kidnapping of the president’s 12-year-old son in order to promptly throw him in a cage with pedophiles.  Another threw out the idea that the Trump family females should be raped.  Holy piles!  Mob mentality ignites easily when soaked in gasoline.  The irresponsible blathering of those calling for this dishonorable aggression need to be careful what they are asking for.  Wars have begun over far less.

Civility can, and is exercised, among those who are on opposite ends of the house in Washington.  It’s a sure sign of a healthy republic.  Why measure love with the caliper of a political obstacle course?  Even in the House of Representatives, dear friends, from across the aisle, go to dinner together and play golf.  Just because you are anti-this or pro-that, doesn’t mean you must alienate the ones you love with hateful shellacking.  Taking deep breaths or counting to 10 or 20 really helps perspective.  Recall that before a policy initiates, before an election, before a current event, you loved and accepted another person with another persuasion or doctrine of thought, for a reason.  Remembering why you loved originally, should aid in bringing back focus away from the dizzy political news cycles, policies and videos of public humiliation and harassment.  From a socialist, to Republican, we should be about peace and respect first, before we crucify each other.  Self-absorbed loss of respect for others will always take a dark and dangerous exit ramp to where you really don’t want to be.

If you are one who will read this and say something like, “Yeah, but he said this first, or she said that first,” I just have one thought for you: visit a summer camp of middle schoolers and take your mirror.  We are all responsible for our own words, actions and thoughts.  Each of us.  We should do what we can, as individuals, to bring peace and a cool, mature level-head.

Like a watchman at the gate of a fort, I wait for my friend’s dinner invitation.  Visions of harassment and vile debate (and maybe chanting) being spewed across the dining table give me pause.  Still, hope exists of seeing him again and sharing a peaceful meal. It’s only dinner, right?

A nice summer salad, grilled fajitas and good conversation would go well with a tank of fuel for the race.

“And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” – Jesus – Mark 3:25 (NKJV)

 

 

Dog Training

“Me and my Arrow, straighter than narrow.  Wherever we go, everyone knows it’s me and my Arrow.” – Me And My Arrow (1971) Written and recorded by: Harry Nilsson

Ah, the dog days of summer.  Finding those video clips on Facebook just kills me.  You know, the clips of a guilty dog in trouble, being confronted.  It might be a stolen cookie on the table, a trash can raid or a pile of poop in the hallway, the look of guilt on the face says it all.  I can’t hardly catch my breath from the bursts of laughter.  Cuteness on wheels.

Shorty Confession

My Shorty is a well behaved, highly intelligent dog.  Many years ago, I adopted him from a rescue operation and so glad I did.  They found him caged in a kill shelter with just days to live.  Honestly, he is one of the most obedient dogs I’ve ever had.  BUT, when he needs to be confronted about a bad decision on his part, he might first give you a look that says, “What?  All things are as they should be.”  However, it only takes a frown from my mug, or a second vocal nudge like, “Shooortyyyyy?” (Inflection going up at the end.)  That’s all it takes.  Then he goes into a different mode altogether.  Sometimes, it’s a look of denial.  He will turn his head, shifting his chocolate brown peepers away from me as if to say, “Nothing to see here.”  Or, “If I don’t look at him, the issue will disappear.”  The eyes are indeed the window to the soul.

Shorty Couch Denial

He truly speaks with his face, especially when he doesn’t want to hear the words, “Shorty, I’ve got to go, but you have to stay.”

Shorty Guilty

Because we’re so close, like Velcro, just like the “Me And My Arrow” story about a boy and his dog, Shorty knows he can find comfort with me.  There are times he even snuggles his face in the crook of my arm, or the first half of his body behind my back.

Shorty Chair Hidding

At other times, after he shakes off the initial confrontation, he distracts himself with his toy box consisting of bones.  It’s his own collection.  He drags each one out, across the rug to an area in the living room floor.  I call it his boneyard.  (He thinks he is such a fierce creature.)

Shorty Boneyard

At other times he chooses to forego my welcoming arms in efforts to comfort himself.

Shorty Chair Comfort

Way too many times I find I am being trained by my dog.  Have you ever felt that way?  I can really learn about myself from watching Shorty’s behavior.

It’s funny what guilt can do, isn’t it?  Guilt can freeze you to the point of arrested development, even if you’re 75 years old.  Guilt can cause a multitude of reactionary behaviors.  Mostly it stems from a need to cover up the pit you find yourself in.  It’s very much like a device planted in you from birth, signaling a twinge deep inside the soul flagging a misfire, a misstep away from the correct path, the better path laid out for you.  It’s what law was designed to do, to educate the perfect target intended for a peace that is the opposite of imperfection.

Maybe for you the chosen tool is temporary comfort.  Often those tools can be detrimental to your overall health, soul, spirit and body.  Guilt can cause you to shutdown altogether.  For some, it’s sleeping for 12 hours for numbing sake.  For others it’s dragging something familiar from one’s personal treasure toy box, only to find it really is a boneyard when perspective comes.  Guilt often produces a big fat plate of denial.  Like Shorty, you might just look in another direction believing the distraction you focus on will be your way of escape.  Maybe it’s in an effort to say to the guilty self, “There’s nothing to see here.  Nothing is really wrong.”  We do like smokescreens and foggy tints of grey, don’t we?  Somehow it makes it much easier to digest falling short of what it is to be at peace.  Yet, when perspective comes tomorrow, the memory of wrongful acts hits again like a pie to the face.  The morning after syndrome is so common.  Unfortunately, the process begins again like a dog chasing his tail in a loop of behaviorism.  Am I right?  Yep, me too.  We all have that gene in our DNA.  Don’t try making an attempt to cut the gene out of your strand.  You can’t.

No matter how hard we try, guilt must be dealt with.  If not, you will continue to be chewed on like an old soup bone from a box.  Too many times you have noticed you can’t drink it away, eat it away, sex it away, nor work it away.  Driving to a scenic lookout point is nice, and for the moment may ease what drags behind you, but you still have to go back home again.  There are stains, inward tattoos, you just can’t remove on your own, no matter what chemical is your favorite.

We were created that way, you know.  It’s true.  Sure, our society, our misguided culture, has degraded to a level where we trust in relativism.  What’s wrong for me might be right for you, etc.  I get it.  Even ISIS believes they are doing righteous acts.  Yet, relativism will not defy gravity at the edge of the Grand Canyon.  Gravity is gravity because gravity is absolute truth.  The top half of Shorty’s ears flop forward, no matter how hard he might try to point them upward.  That basic doctrine of relativism is faulty at best.  Do not jump off the edge of the Grand Canyon.  It’s like a house built on wet cement.  Would you do that?  The Savior available to the world put it like this, “It’s like a house built on shifting sand.” (Jesus paraphrased from Matthew 7: 24-27)

We act-out in order to cover over where our, often unspoken, fault lies.  Read the story of Adam and Eve.  When they understood they had gone against a perfect rule set for them by God Himself, they did all they could to cover it over, to hide.  That’s what guilt does.  Times haven’t changed.  It’s very much like, “If I don’t look at him, the issue will disappear.”   None of us are innocent of the perfect standard.  Try it, just for one day.

Shorty is a dog, a sweet dog with a terrific disposition, but a dog just the same.  However, in watching his little life, and his acting out, I often see myself.  In fact, Shorty may have been placed with me to be a teaching tool.  My unearned grace and forgiveness toward my pal comes from my unconditional love for him.  Unknowingly, Shorty may be showing me how God views me as His child.  It’s great training from a dog.

Shorty has it right.  Being humble enough to examine the stain on the heart is the first step toward the act of giving up and praying to the original Stain Remover.

Shorty Prays

Understanding the authentic design of the spirit and soul will expose the truth of the need for the removal of sin.  It’s an expensive spiritual surgery.  You can’t perform this surgery on yourself.  The operation has been paid for by your appointed surgeon.  I find Jesus has multiple initials after His name and covered the expense way ahead of time. 

When revived, you not only will find you are an adopted son or daughter, being held tightly to his chest, but also the recovery will require a gift from Him which is fuel for the race.

“…just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Jesus (Speaking about Himself.) – Matthew 20:28 (NIV)

Peace Paradox

“Like a bridge over troubled waters, I will lay me down…” Simon & Garfunkel (1970)

The gusts coming off Lake Erie can, and will, knock you over as you jog on the break wall stretching out under the Peace Bridge in Buffalo, NY.  Erie feeds into the mouth of the Niagara at the end of the break wall.  After moving there in 2003, I couldn’t wait to make this my new jogging track.  The cool mist from crashing waves kissed my face as the gulls flew about with their unique vocals, the experience was almost addictive.  A friend told me that by the time November arrived I would find another place to run.  Being a tough Texas boy, I laughed.  He was right!  Little did I know the wintry winds off Lake Erie, along with the dipping temperatures, went right through me with a piercing I had never felt.  Plus, the strong, rising waves hitting the break wall, tends to splash over the walkway.  By December, horizontal icicles form on the railing.  The walkway is a thick sheet of ice by then and the winds are often 60-70 mph and well below zero.

Peace_Bridge

Photo: wikipedia

The Peace Bridge connects Buffalo, NY to Ft Erie, Ontario, across the Niagara.  If you are able to zoom-in, you can make out two flags (American and Canadian) flying halfway by its railing where the U.S. and Canadian border is designated.  Have your passport in hand.

Further out on the break wall, it’s a very peaceful place to be, but it wasn’t always.  Cannon fire was common in this area coming from the banks on both sides of the river.  Many ships were sunk as they made their way from Lake Erie.  During the War of 1812, the battles were daily as the British and the Americans were locked and loaded for their causes.  Extraordinary history was made in the area.

The Peace Bridge commemorates the peace accords signed by both nations to cease hostilities, putting away their arms.  The bridge is more than a stretch of concrete and steel for 18-wheelers executing open trade between our countries.  To a point, the bridge has a voice, loud and clear.  It shouts out to all who pass by, this is a peaceful place, decided equally by two powerful nations.  It shouts out there were individuals, patriots, who met across the tables and hammered out a deal, a contract that fitly benefited both peoples to the south and the north of the Niagara.  It shouts that a promise was given long ago, by men in powdered wigs with swords resting in scabbards, that their future generations would not see bloodshed between them again.

Peace bridge Buffalo Night

Photo: thousandwonders.net

Now imagine, if the builders extended their end of the bridge just slightly off from center.  Let’s imagine the builders on each side spanned their half of the bridge unequally so that when they met in the middle, one side was three feet off from the other, rendering the roadway useless, but rather created a drop-off down to the chilly currents below.  One might ask where the mutual benefit lies.

In peace talks, whether with North Korea or anywhere else, one side cannot benefit while the other does not.  A bridge built must have negotiated plans and well-thought out profitable reasoning for both parties’ satisfaction.  Give and take are not just words, they must be actions, as long as the end result doesn’t weaken one party or the other.  Should one party deliver a boatload of cash to the other to buy a synthetic peace that would be fruitless in the end?  Common sense says….NO!  That would be approving, even engaging in simple blackmail.  Threats should not be profitable to any nation.  Only the aggressive nation benefits from that mistake.  One party cannot come to the table expecting everything it wants on a silver platter while giving nothing in return, hoping to acknowledge goodwill.  Otherwise, there will be no lasting bridge.

The same is true with our personal relationships.  When wronged by another, something must be said at the table of reasoning.  If the one injured, by the first strike, comes in peace to remedy the cause of the aggression, only to be met with a shrug of the shoulders by the aggressor, there is no bridge.  Troubled waters remain without a crossing.  The ministry of reconciliation is just that…a ministry.

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” – St Paul (Romans 12:18 NIV)

To eat from the tree of peace, one must starve self.  Peace-making has a chronological cycle in the psyche that says peace must first administer a choke-hold around the neck of the “Me-first” mindset.  There is a biblical concept that states, to die is to gain.  To live one must first die to self’s raging appetite, to give up the self-buffet daily lunch one is accustomed to.  When making peace, humility and self-denial is key.

It boils down to loving one another, looking out for the other’s best interest with a generous heart.

When peace is settled, run free where the fiery cannonballs once flew without fear.  When sprinting with fuel for the race, the trail is found dry and clean.

Cistine Chapel Artwork

” ‘Come now, let us reason together,’ Says the LORD, ‘Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool.’ ” – Isaiah 1:18 (NAS)