Oh, Thanks a Lot

“Yeah, but every little boy grows up, and he’s haunted by the heart that died.  Longing for the world that was before the fall.  Oh, but then forgiveness comes.  A grace that I cannot resist.  And I just want to thank someone.  I just want to thank someone for this.” – Andrew Peterson – 2012 from, “Light For The Lost Boy” CD

I slept in the guest bedroom of my grandparent’s house when visiting.  It’s in an old part of Greenville, Texas, built in 1852.  Creaky wooden slat floors, no insulation in the walls and high ceilings.  Unfortunately, the guest room was next to my grandmother’s kitchen.  It was a blessing and a curse.  My mom and I would arrive for Thanksgiving a day early, way before the uncles, aunts and cousins would pull up at the old house.  By that time, my grandmother had already been in prep for the family feast to come.  Needless to say, on Thanksgiving morning, around 4:00am, I would awake to the sound of egg beaters, along with a collage of holiday aromas, drifting and hovering over my bed like a web of tantalizing treats.  THAT was Thanksgiving morning for me.  Those particular family traditions are gone, fading into treasured memories.  I do thank God for the mental slideshows.

Look at the title of this article.  It’s a common phrase we say all the time.  We hear ourselves blurt it out when someone holds the elevator doors for us.  We speak it when shown to our theater seats.  It’s normal to say it at the drive-thru window, after paying for the sack of fast food.  Funny how you can make it sound sarcastic, or very warm.  Try it.  “Oh, thanks a LOT!” (Maybe ending it with the word, “Pal” or something I can’t type on this format.)  Even the word, “Oh…” can be hurtful to an ear.  “Oh” makes gratefulness appear to be an afterthought, as if the offering of it was almost forgotten.  I recommend dropping the “Oh” and go straight for the cherished words.  Why?  Read on, if you dare.

While listening online to CCM Classic.com, I heard, for the first time, an Andrew Peterson song from 2012, “Don’t You Want To Thank Someone” from his, “Light For The Lost Boy” CD.  Let me tell you, tears may come as you hear the song, or just read the lyric.  It will test you.  The melody is haunting.  His verses will pierce you, even reclaim some memories, but guaranteed to make you put down the phone, turn off the screen and ponder once again.  I highly recommend it for a rich Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving should be a way of heart, daily life, like prayer.  Secular society would discover it takes humility to do so.  When calling up a loved one to say, “Thanks a lot”, recall Who gave that person to you.  Recall Who paved the road that brought the intersections of your relationships.  Many will be grateful for the view on a midnight clear.  That’s terrific; however, many will not thank the Painter of the scene, the Engineer who spins the orbits in precised synchronization like the atomic clock of perfection.  Many will be thankful for their jobs.  That’s great.  But, many employees will neglect gratefulness to the One who inspired the business owner who founded the company who hired them.  Many will be appreciative for good health.  However, many will ignore the One who holds all things together.  Many will tell their child how thankful they are for their young lives mingled with theirs.  However, scads will forget to thank the Creator, the Life Giver and the Birth Giver.  Frankly, in the end, when we thank someone, or some object, we are thanking the “thing” or the “person” God created and graciously gave as a gift.

So, yes, do thanks a lot.

It takes a humble heart to give thanks, instead of using it as a throw-away line.  When we accept this truth, it always adds fuel for the race.

“’Cause I can hear the voice of one.  He’s crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready for the Kingdom Come’.  Don’t you want to thank someone for this?” – Andrew Peterson, 2012- “Light For The Lost Boy” CD. (Youtube this one)

I Heard It Through The Grapevine

“Teach your children well, their father’s hell did slowly go by.  And feed them in your dreams, the one they pick(s), the one you’ll know by…”  Recorded by: Crosby, Stills & Nash, released May 1970.  Composed by: Graham Nash

How are you?  I’m glad you dropped in on this west Texas adventure with me.  I’ve just slipped on my Mr. Rogers tennis-shoe loafers (No to Mr. Fred Rogers sweater, as it’s still too warm in a Texas October).  I have something I want to share with you.  Grip tightly.

Take another look at that incredible grapevine above.  I took that picture with my cell phone at Ft. Belknap in Young County Texas.  The old 1850’s fort is chock-full of local West Texas history of which the Wild West movies are made.  (For more on Ft Belknap see my post from July 21, 2017 entitled, “Don’t Let It Hit Ya.”)  Among the old ammo houses, bunkers, stables and school house is an enormous grapevine arbor providing a huge covering.  It measures around 9 feet in height and the main stalk, or trunk, is over 54 inches in circumference.  It spreads over a large picnic area with some 25-30 picnic tables.  It was planted long ago by Burl W. Cox, an early day Ft Belknap school teacher, who was also a talented gardener and naturalist.  The photo was taken during the off season for the Mustang Grapevine, but when fully in bloom, the grape clusters and thick vine leaves are a terrific canopy, well-deserving of a postcard.

I suppose, over many decades of nurturing and growth, it has filled young children with imaginings of a deep dark forest with grapevines ready for Tarzan to swing from one branch to the next.  I was one of those kids.  Meanwhile, multiple family reunions are held there under the arbor each year as the potluck dishes are spread from table to table.  If you close your eyes you can almost hear the laughter, greetings and children running circles around the old arbor.  One family’s reunion, which happens each year under the natural canopy, is my family on my adopted father’s side.  Have you been to one recently?  How do you feel about them?  Are you the first or last to leave the festivities?  If you escape early, ask yourself why.  Better yet, leave me a comment and tell me.

Recently, I attended another family reunion in East Texas.  It was an annual gathering of relatives from another branch of my birth-family tree, or maybe I should I say, “vine.”  It was a pleasant time renewing old friendships with cousins, uncles and aunts.  All had a good day together over some awesome homemade dishes that was to die for.

Here, allow me to disrupt that Norman Rockwell moment for some other realities concerning family.  How brave are you?  Can you pull back the layers of this onion with me?  Warning here:  It might bring some bad memories to you.  Here we go.

I love my family.  I do.  I respect my family members…as best as I can.  I say that only because, in my grapevine, there are some family members who can and will hurt you and others.  These, on this vine, appear from time to time along the stalk and produce bitter or even rotten grapes.  Much like the Mustang grapes from Ft Belknap’s arbor, where the raw skin of the grape can burn or irritate your lips, tongue and throat, some family can burn like acid to the heart.  OUCH!  Did that hurt?  How honest am I with you right now?  Are you thinking of a family member with acidic tendencies?  If you’re like most of us, you have a sour grape or two on your branch.  He, or she, could be a criminal, maybe a thief. Perhaps you share DNA with a drug dealer or child molester.  Maybe you have a domestic spousal abuser in your vine.  There very well could be an adulterer sharing your apple pie.  It could be you have a grape in the cluster who loves injustice, or applauds it.  How about one who, without deep thought or heart-searching, publicly displays harshness and venom against another race. (If you are one of those who adopts language that could be printed in a neo-Nazi newsletter, you won’t like this blog at all.  But if so, read on and consider why you do such things, if you’re not afraid of the touchstone of truth.)  I listed these things above because I have them all in my family vine across the various branches and limbs.  Should I just avoid family reunions all together?  Should I go and cocoon myself in the corner hoping nobody will speak to me?  Maybe I should snuggle up to each one, playing the denial actor for 2-6 hours at a time and eat cake.  I feel those options are way too easy to initiate.  Because my Christian faith teaches me differently, I must entertain another method.

The old saying, “No man is an island”, comes from a sermon by the 17th century English author and Anglican cleric, John Donne. (No doubt he adopted it from Paul in scripture, “No man lives or dies to himself.” – paraphrasing Romans 14:7)  It’s true.  The older one grows the clearer this view becomes.  We, whether we like it or not, affect one another.  We persuade one another to the right or to the left.  Some of us cause others around our vine and branch to lean in nefarious directions where the edge is sharp, overgrown and slippery.  Let us be sincerely honest with each other.  The Ft Belknap vine is bent purposefully toward the picnic area where the branches are trained to follow after the wire grid to create a natural roof over the area.  It took effort by Mr. Cox, and those who followed after him, to make this a successful covering.  It reminds me a bit of, “And the LORD God arranged for a leafy plant to grow there, and soon it spread its broad leaves over Jonah’s head, shading him from the sun, and Jonah was very grateful for the plant.” – Jonah 4:6 (NLT)  (Interestingly enough, that was in Nineveh, modern-day Mosul in northern Iraq, where ISIS had ruled for some time until recently.

Ft Belknap under grapevine

Like the great vine being arranged, we too can help to train those on our branch.  It’s easy to excuse some in our family with statements like, “Oh, let him go on with all that nonsense.  Let’s have seconds on the fried chicken.” Or how about, “I see the teens are headed for a joint or two out back.  They’ll be back for some cookies later.  You know how kids can be.”  We might even reply passively to vile words spoken from a pillar of the branch with something like, “Ha-ha, there he goes again, rattling on about ‘those people’.  It’s just where his generation came from.  Let’s play checkers.”  This technique is all well and good, with one exception: We are all followers, whether we want to admit it or not.  Our little ones in our grape cluster are impressionable with rather large ears.  You may not consider they, too, will walk away from things said with a new ideology growing inside them.  Why?  Because no man is an island!       

 “…And you, of tender years, can’t know the fears that your elders grew by.  And so please help them with your youth.  They seek the truth before they can die…” – Crosby, Stills & Nash

What’s wrong with pulling aside a relative, influencing your section of the vine, and privately speaking the hard truth in love about their statements or actions?  I say, nothing is out of bounds.  If that family member laughs you off, or worse, so be it.  At least in the eternal view of your existence, you made the attempt to stand for righteousness that protects the family.  After all, Jesus said we are like sheep and there are wolves.

The next time I enter in under the great canopy of the Ft Belknap Mustang Grapevine Arbor, I will recall the way we train our own branches and what kind of fruit we leave behind when pruned off at the appointed time.

Being grafted into a Holy vine trains us and our next generation, ushering in fuel for the race.

“I am the vine; you are the branches.  If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” – Jesus – John 15:5 (NIV)

Pray for WHO?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

So Long, Harvey

Photo:  NOAA Radar

“Oh, can’t you see the morning after?  It’s waiting right outside the storm. Why don’t we cross the bridge together and find a place that’s safe and warm?” – “The Morning After.”  Composers, Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn, recorded by Maureen McGovern for 20th Century Label, 1972.

Nasty, isn’t it? (Not the song, but Harvey.)  I write this on Wed afternoon, Aug. 30, 2017 and still historic Harvey continues to dump his rain along the Texas coast and Louisiana. Rain totals continue to be calculated in the trillions of gallons.  The mayhem, the destruction of this ravenous hurricane has ripped open the heart and peace of the Texas coast.  The healing has already begun.

When Harvey was first named, I immediately thought of the movie by the same name, based on Mary Chases’s play.  From Universal Pictures, a sweet 1950 comedy-drama, “Harvey” with James Stewart.  It involved a man, a slightly off, yet peaceful man, who claimed he had a close companion named Harvey, a 6′ 3.5″ invisible rabbit.  His family, and most of the small town he lived in, accepted this oddity about James Stewart’s character, Elwood P. Dowd.  Whenever he introduced Harvey to anyone Elwood seemed surprised about the raised eyebrows and opened mouths displayed during the introduction.  Harmless to the core, Elwood explained a bit about himself in a piece of dialogue. (I’ll try to use my best Jimmy Stewart impersonation here.)  “Years ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say, ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be’ – she always called me Elwood – ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart.  I recommend pleasant.  You may quote me.”

It made you smile, or you smiled on the inside, right?  You know why?

Unlike Elwood P. Dowd and his polite invisible associate Harvey, hurricanes tend to be the opposite in nature.  Just ask the 20,000+ homeless flood victims of Houston, Port Aransas or Beaumont.  Take a look at the floating carcasses of cattle and submerged homes.  Far from pleasant or smart.

While watching the radar with hurricane Katrina lodged in my brain, I braced for the worst news and videos to come.  I have kept in contact with a few friends and family living in Houston and praying for a good week now for them all. Yet, at the same time I realized there are people just like Katrina and Harvey. You may know one or two yourself.  Have you noticed?  Allow me to draw a profile for you.

Just like a venomous storm coming ashore, this person feeds on damaging all around you and all above you and all beneath you with a violence unmatched by anything else you have personally witnessed.  Words of raging lava erupt and in the spewing, consumes everything good in the path of verbiage.  When done and cooled, the flow turns to rock and all loveliness growing under its belly is evaporated away.  In fact, you might have noticed this person blows away any goodness of heart in his/her target range damaging reputation, righteousness and personal renovations.  Usually in retrospect, through cautious inspection and inventory, you align such an individual as a wrecking ball of demolition against house, home and honor.  If a structural engineer could inspect your heart and mind after such, they would deem you structurally unsound, unable to hold up in a strong gust and surge in your future.  Dreams, goals, family and lives are crushed and drowned in the flood of a violent, murderous spirit.  In this person’s intense overwhelming tide to perform a scorched earth, they will delight, even laugh in the wake. I hesitate to write the following line, but I will.  Although I have never been in a hurricane, my life has been wrecked by such a wall of wind and water, so to speak.  In fact, twice the surge within its evildoing almost took my life.  If it sounds like I am a survivor, I am.

Harvey was devastating to millions of my fellow Texans.  The clean up and rebuilding will be tedious and lengthy.   Likewise, if you are close to someone like Harvey the hurricane, who enjoys attacking all that Paul lists in Philippians 4:8, my recommendation is…EVACUATE THE AREA!  On the other hand, if you find yourself to be a destroyer, I urge you to take the nearest, holiest exit ramp.  Ask forgiveness, give aid to your victim and make the u-turn.

“…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things.” – Paul, Philippians 4:8 

Like Elwood, I choose to be pleasant in search for a morning after.

As for Maureen’s song of hope and extended love, “The Morning After”, Harvey the hurricane won’t like the 3rd verse.  It is most significant now and it floods us with fuel for the race.

“It’s not too late, we should be giving.  Only with love can we climb.  It’s not too late, not while we’re living.  Let’s put our hands out in time.” – The Morning After 

www.redcross.org

www.salvationarmy.org

www.samaritanspurse.org

The Incredible Shrinking Man

“I will remember you, will you remember me?  Don’t let your life pass you by.  Weep not for the memories.” – Compose by:  Sarah McLachlan, Seamus Egan & Dave Merenda. Recorded on Sarah’s project, “Rarities, B-Sides and Other Stuff”, released in 1996 on the Nettwerk label.

So will you?  Will you remember Sarah McLachlan in 100 years or more?  What about, Frank Sinatra, John Wayne, John Lennon or Elvis maybe.  (Although, tourism has declined at Graceland in recent years.)  I love Sarah McLachlan, but only the iconic are remembered after a century or more.  Just ask Mozart, Beethoven or Caruso.                 ME:  Or, maybe George W. Johnson! See what I mean? (George was the first African-American vocalist to be recorded in 1890.)                                                                               YOU:  Oh, yeah, THAT George W. Johnson!                                                                                 ME:  Come on, don’t kid me.

Okay, so you’re not an icon….or are you?  Doesn’t it depend on who analyzes you today?  I dare say Barbra Streisand might be a global icon that may survive another ten decades, but you may not be a Streisand.  In the end, does it really matter?  Does it matter to you?

In 1957, Hollywood put out a slew of memorable movies.  One of which, “The Incredible Shrinking Man”.  Surely you remember catching it on a late night movie slot on television.  When I was a kid I recall the fright that went through my body watching the tiny Tom Thumb-of-a-man fight for his life as a normal sized spider wanted him for breakfast.  If memory serves me right, just before being gulped, he slew the spider with a sewing needle, or safety pin that, to him, was the size of a pole.  He kept shrinking into a speck of a man trying to survive the flood of a drop of water, a dinosaur-sized house cat, etc.  Great effects for 1957 cinema.  The smaller he got the more his shrinking voice couldn’t be heard screaming for help.  Before you knew it, his friends could no longer see him as he transformed more and more into the microscopic. It’s the stuff nightmares are made of. I do remember dreaming my mom shrunk and fell into the sound hole of my toy guitar, unable to get out, no matter how hard I tried to rescue her.

We too will shrink.  You realize this, right?  Maybe you already have.  It’s not science fiction.  For some of us, it’s quite alright.  That’s what memorials and tombstones are for. At the cemetery, I am always surprised to have to reboot my memory of birth and death dates of family long since gone.  Sad, really.  The truth is, after you are put in the ground, or your ashes are spread, the memory of you immediately begins to shrink.  Not long after you’re gone, your Facebook friends will be too.  Generation after generation of descendants may not read of you, hear of you, or even know where your grave lies. The Who might ask, “So tell, who are you?  I really want to know.”                                         Allow me to ask again.  Does this matter to you?

“Each day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children” – Chuck Swindoll.  There’s something to be said about the overly used phrase, “We preach our funerals everyday.”

The old faded photo above I believe to be, Robert Samuel Martin.  He was born 12/14/1848, died 8/20/1917.  I say, “I believe to be…” because I am going by old records from a great aunt, I didn’t know well, who is also long since dead.  If I am accurate, Mr. Martin was my great-great grandfather on my mother’s side.  That’s it!  I know nothing else about the man.  He’s only been dead for 100 years this month and I am at a loss when it comes to just “WHO” he was.  I want to pick up my cell phone or hook him up on Skype for an interview.  Was he a singer?  Was he a farmer?  Could he read?  What did he like to read?  What were his habits?  What and who did he love most in life?  What stock did he put in the society and politics of his day?  Better question might be, did he care? Who told him to wear his Sunday-go-to-meetin’-clothes for this photo?  When told, did he laugh, balk or cuss?  Did he know he would have a great-great grandson who would have a similar beard?  Did he fight in the Civil War as a teen?  It’s all guess work.  I’m afraid the good, bad or ugly will stay a mystery concerning grandpa Martin.  Alas, I will never know.

What will they say about me in 100 years, if anything?  How interested today are my own children?  How many questions have they asked me about my thoughts, habits and life? That is a solid gauge to measure what my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will know of me.  Am I preaching my funeral everyday, or will I be another incredible shrinking man out in a cemetery somewhere?

Choices, choices.

“A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth.” – King Solomon, Ecclesiastes 7:1 (ESV)

 

Totality!

“Once upon a time there was light in my life.  But now there’s only love in the dark.  Nothing I can say.  A total eclipse of the heart.” – Composer:  Jim Steinman, on Bonnie Tyler’s, Faster Than The Speed Of Night project- (1983)

Am I right?  Flashback city! (At least for some of us.)  It’s been reported that 66 year old Bonnie Tyler’s 1983 hit, “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” made the current charts again this month all because of Monday’s solar eclipse.  Good for her!  I watched it, did you?  How’s your eyes?  I wonder if my retina specialist is super busy this week.  Hopefully you can read this.

It’s always surprising to me, to an extent, how a cosmic event rouses the curiosity and exuberance of the general public.  People from all corners of the planet spent thousands of dollars per person to make it to the American solar eclipse to view it in its totality.  As for me, I went out to the front yard to watch a partial eclipse right here in the Dallas, TX area.  It made for an eerie sky-show and a good Monday afternoon with my wife and daughter.  The effects of the moon’s robbery of sun-rays are amazing indeed.  Before I knew it, around 12:45 pm, the interior of our house faded to a dusk atmosphere. Nature was flipped on its ear.  Animals were confused, temperatures dropped and the shadows did a mysterious dance. The media reported roosters crowing in bewilderment.  Unlike some, I neglected to wear an aluminum foil hat.  I’m happy to say I made out okay without one.  All in all, it was a good Monday.

An old friend sent me good-natured message ahead of the galactic event.  It read, “Mind the power of Monday’s eclipse crossing America coast to coast, positive energy for new beginnings.”  One thing written there came true for a couple of hours: America stopped chewing on each other over politics and statues of old dead Americans.  Like a great anticipated Star Wars movie debut, all eyes were fixated on the show in the sky. (Although a Star Wars sequel would’ve lasted longer.)  Beyond that, have you had a renewal since Monday afternoon?  Is your personal energy different than it was this past weekend?  Will you never again in your rush to head out the door on time say to yourself, “I’ve got to get myself together!”  In other words, are you together?  Would the person who knows you best, and has seen it all, say you are in a personal…totality?  Do you find you are made aware of a more positive outlook on the world, concerning things around you, since that good celestial and sequenced display above us?  (I say “sequenced” only because we ourselves proved it to be so.  We have expected it since, or before, 1918 as the astrophysicists calculated its clock-like arrival down to the synchronized millisecond.  There was no chaos involved as observed in fragments from a bomb explosion.  I’ll stop there.)  If you have more positive energy with a sparkling new beginning in life since that 2:28 long eclipse totality, compliments of the orbit of the moon, I’m happy for you.  I really am.  Tell me your lasting euphoric secret.  As for me, I don’t hang my spiritual joy hat on an eclipse.  Just like the eclipse, whatever burst of positive energetic renewal experienced, it is momentary with a quick shelf-life. Just take a look at the news, or Facebook, to see what the truth is about the matter. In spite of my obvious nay-saying above, it made for a good Monday.

Let me ask you a question.  If it’s too bold of a question, or too private, I will understand. Here goes.  Are you ready for this?  Have you ever used the word, “TOTALITY” prior to the days of the eclipse?  Maybe you have.  In all of my uneducated buffoonery and slaughter of the English language, I don’t believe I have ever even heard it.  However, I like the way it sounds.  Very brainy.  Very scientific, don’t you think?  NASA must utilize the word in common lingo in Houston, TX.  If used, I think I should understand its definition.

For a 70 mile swipe across America, the eclipse certainly was seen in its…totality, its completeness, its conglomeration, its wholeness, its entire kit and kaboodle.  The totality was part of the ingredients that mixed well for a good Monday had by all from Oregon to South Carolina.

Here’s the next hard question.  First, allow me to ask, are you brave enough for this curve-ball I’m about to type?  Inhale and hold it now……How is YOUR “totality”?  How complete are you? When the lunar dust settles, are you all-together?  Could it be you’re still looking for another eclipse to straighten out your existence?  It truly is in that word…“TOTALITY”.

Totality truly does come interestingly close to another original word we get from classical Greek.  The word that comes to mind is, “TETELESTAI”, (tuh-TELL-eh-sti), at least that’s how I recall it is pronounced.

My brilliant stepson, Alex, whom recently, after completing years of rigorous study and microscopic examinations, received his doctorate in computer science.  After defending his dissertation he was awarded his PhD.  A true completion.  An earned accomplishment.  A good day for Alex.  An Australian man, after spending $4,000.00 (That’s a long flight), arrived at his destination in a field in Idaho to harness a totality view of the eclipse.  A reporter asked him if there was a sense of completion, as he was folding up his pup tent in the crowded pasture, he answered in the affirmative.  A good Monday for the Aussie.  Whenever I wrote, cast, produced, directed, performed and finished post production on one of my radio theater plays, I always had this peaceful sense of accomplishment.  Hundreds of excruciating hours ended in a release of tension, listening to the end product of the body of work.  It always made for a good day. Completion, accomplishment, attainment or achievement can all fall under the definition of “tetelestai”, but they also fall shy of…you guessed it, totality.

How about this for “positive energy for new beginnings”?

Greek is a very colorful extended language.  It shades, colors and deepens the vocabulary in multi-level arrangements.  The word “tetelestai” was mainly used by accountants, bankers and merchants.  During, and hundreds of years prior to, the first century, any country who used Greek as a first, second or third language, understood the labeling of “tetelestai” as written confirmation for the purchase of goods and the paying off of a debt.  Some, after paying off a mortgage, have a mortgage burning party to celebrate the victory of completing the loan on their home. Before its tossed into the fireplace, somewhere on the paperwork, it is indicated the mortgage has been successfully paid for, completed, accomplished.  The homeowner could shout, “TETELESTAI!”

This ancient Greek accounting term was used only twice in biblical scripture.  Its final appearance in the original Greek text was translated by the English scribes as the word, “finished”.  The text depicts a Friday afternoon.  It’s found in John 19:30. “Then after He received the sour wine Jesus said, ‘It is (tetelestai) finished’, and bowed His head and gave up His spirit.”  A Greek word, chosen by an eye-witness at the cross of execution, the Apostle John, literally points to a certificate of debt paid in fullness. That is probably the most profound theological statement in all of holy writ.  NO MORE INSTALLMENTS, TEMPORARY COVERINGS, (eclipses) OR ETERNAL DAMNATION FOR THOSE WHO BELIEVE AND RECEIVE!  Fabulous news that shifts the earth’s tectonic plates to this day.

Totality simply isn’t strong enough a term to place in John 19:30.  John was reflecting the last words of Jesus as He cried out the fact that the penalty, the price of the sin-debt owed by all humanity, had been “TETELESTAI”…PAID IN FULL!  An offer no other “god” or ideology extends.  What Jesus did was the zenith of uniqueness.  A debt from my failures, my stupid leanings against God’s perfect road laid out for me, my infractions, my transgressions slapping up against of His holiness, not only had been forgiven, but the certificate of debt, the mortgage for this corrupt “house I live in” was burned away and placed in the fire of His grace of forgetfulness.  It is in that correct biblical aspect of the divine pro-action He placed upon Himself, we see a gift card of sorts.

I still have a Starbucks gift card in my wallet I received from Christmas, nine months ago.  Although, I have yet to receive my java.  Someone loved me enough and went ahead of me to purchase it, not with MY wages, but out of his unconditional love for me.  Jesus’ gift card has been offered to you, but it truly isn’t yours to “cash-in” until you take it to your own wallet of heart.  The debt of all disobedient actions placed on your record is ready to be burned away forever because of “tetelestai”.  If this is news to you, take note. Although tetelestai happened some 2, 000 years ago, the itemized list of infringements against God’s righteousness remains on your balance sheet.  Being a great person, a good citizen or decent parent, falls short of the majesty of God’s holiness.  NOBODY CAN OBTAIN IT!  We are automatically in the red.  It’s like someone saying, “Mind the power of Monday’s eclipse….positive energy for new beginnings” and now you find the eclipse didn’t perform such spiritual depths.  Try going to the shores of San Francisco and make the leap to Hawaii.  It can’t be done.  It fails you every time, just like our good Monday of totality. The answer to this dilemma? (My paraphrase) “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him will not eternally perish but will have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Yes, Virginia, there was a good Friday and those who believed and received continue to see perpetual fuel for the race.

“When I consider Your heavens, the works of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?” – King David, Psalms 8:3-4 (NAS)

Let That Be Your Last Battlefield

“Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony.  Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh Lord, why don’t we?” – Paul McCartney from “Tug Of War” project in April, 1982. Guest artist, Stevie Wonder. (Parlophone and Columbia labels)

Did I catch you singing the line?  Come on, admit it.  Unless you were away from the radio in 1982, you know the giant hooks in this ear-candy song from Sir Paul, with a little help from his friend, Stevie Wonder.  Stevie isn’t his friend because Stevie is white or black.  Stevie is his friend because Stevie and Paul respect and love one another.  Where am I going with that bold statement?  Stay with me and allow me to surprise you.

When I started this blog a few short days ago, I swore I would not write about politics, and I will not start today.  (There’s plenty out there for your selected pleasure.)  So, fear not!  No political pundit rhetoric here, but I reserve the right to speak eternal truths.  It takes a strong person to read on at this point.  Are you up for it?

There was a little boy about three or four years old who lived with his mom and her parents in Greenville, Texas, about an hour east of Dallas.  On Saturday mornings, during commercial breaks on Bugs Bunny, his blue eyes grew larger as he found himself peering out the living room French door.   For him it was more than a weekend ritual for one reason and one reason only.  Usually before lunchtime, an elderly weathered African-American with old hard leather lace-up shoes would walk up the street dragging an old lawnmower.  His name was Mr. Amos.  (No one really knew if it was his first name or his surname.)  He was easy to spot.  He had a red rag hanging out the back pocket of his worn-out pants.  When the song, “Mr. Bojangles” hit the airwaves in 1971, the lyrics would remind that young kid very much of Mr. Amos from years prior.  Unlike Mr. Bojangles, Mr. Amos wasn’t a homeless nomad roaming the country.  He lived in the neighborhood, although he was a man of poverty.  He took great pride in his work.  He would come to the door to let the grandmother of the boy know he was there and ready to get started.  He was always welcomed with a smile and a handshake.  He was hard-working, kind and honest. Generally, after he wrapped up the front yard, before he made his way to the backyard, the little lad would ask his grandmother for a cold bottle of Dr. Pepper right out of the fridge.  She expected the request because she once gave the little munchkin the idea.  She would pop the bottle-top open handing him the chilled bottleneck.  With an enormous grin on his face that would make a dentist proud, he would run out the door straight up to the sweaty old man and say, “Hi, Mr. Amos! Here’s your Dr. Pepper.”  Without hesitation, the elderly man put it to his mouth and pointed the bottom toward the hot sun for a marathon swig.  The young boy’s jaw would drop every time as he watched in amazement Mr. Amos chugging down the entire bottle of Dr. Pepper without taking a breath.  Afterwards he wiped his mouth on his sleeve, handed the empty bottle back to the tot and say, with a hardy rough voice like Louis Armstrong, “Ahhhhh, that’s my boy!”  The boy would giggle and run back inside to hand the empty bottle back to his grandmother.  Still in awe he would shout out, “Grandmother, he did it again!  He drank the whole thing!”  For a brief moment the little one thought it cool that the old wrinkled man felt akin to him.  After all, he did say, “MY boy”.  There is an uncertainty just how many years went on as Mr. Amos aged, sucking down Dr. Peppers as the growing boy looked on.  As always, Mr. Amos would receive a nice sum in cash for his work and off he went to his next yard.

One day, while Mr. Amos was mowing the lawn, his adult son and daughter-in-law suddenly drove up and parked in the driveway.  There would be shouting between the old man and his son as if it were an ongoing feud.  The boy hurried to the nearest window to hear what he could hear as his grandparents went to the door to see what the disturbance was all about.  The young lad heard the son raising his voice about how he shouldn’t be mowing lawns at his age.  Mr. Amos pushed back as he defended his valuable work ethic.  When the son seemed to come to the end of his case and point, he made a snide comment concerning working for these “white folk” and how he was being “used” by the “white folk”.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Mr. Amos was respected and appreciated by the family.  He did solid work and was paid well for it.  Yet, his son was reflecting a racial issue of that time, being in the mid 1960s.  I’m sorry to say, he was using the race card to pull him back home, against his will.  The grandfather of the house slipped Mr. Amos some cash and told him it would be best to go with his son and work out their differences at home.  He was never seen again.

I loved Mr. Amos.  Did I know he was black, a different color than me?  Sure, I did.  In fact, I would intentionally touch or shake his hand just to see if the color would rub off onto mine.  He brought me a bit of joy on Saturday mornings.  I loved serving him those Dr. Peppers, too.  Why?  It’s simple.  He loved Dr. Pepper and I knew it.  I wanted to share something I had that produced a big smile.  Although I could see he was a different color than me, it mattered not through my lens of innocence.  It was the man I cared for.

A few years later I watched a Star Trek episode in January of 1969 entitled, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”.  (Google this one)  If you’re a 1960s Star Trek fan, you’ll recall it. Without going into great plot detail, I will give you a snippet of story-line.  It had to do with the hatred of two mutually belligerent aliens on a distant planet. They shared the same planet, the same air, but despised one another because they were trained to have disgust for the other from generations gone by.  The prejudice manifested itself in mindless violence.  The two men were from one species, but from different ethnic bloodlines.  The difference?  Both were the same at first glance.  Half of the face was black, the other half was white.  However, one had white skin on the right side while the other man had white skin on the left side. DONE! That’s it!  One was subservient to the other because of that tiny, molecular contrast.  (You may have noticed, like Rod Serling, often Star Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry would carve-out social issues of the day in the scripts.)

Then came my 7th grade year.  I was often found in the middle of racially charged fights at my junior high school in Sherman, Texas.  Interestingly enough, I was friendly to everyone, but I was white and that made me a target. White attacking black and black attacking white. The national civil rights disputes and riots were still lingering, and busing students for desegregation purposes had begun.  That atmosphere was so far removed from my relationship with Mr. Amos.  It confused and saddened me.   Memories of the verbal battle I heard from my grandparent’s window flooded my mind. The bigotry was a vile hatred that blocked out honor, respect and love.

Fast forward to August 12th, this past Saturday morning in the streets of Charlottesville, VA, once again two factions from the same planet, who could take blood transfusions from one another, replayed the old Star Trek episode in a very real, organized, and damaging slant. You’ve seen the news, I won’t relive it here blow-by-blow.  What I will spew out is my “hatred” for the evil that fathers such darkness. Yes, I used the word, “evil”, as if it were a reality, because it is. To neglect its existence is to surely become its constant victim.

No matter if you are black or white, BLM member or card-carrying KKK associate, Jew or Gentile, Christian or Muslim, if you bring a weapon, shield and helmet to a protest rally, you are coming to shed blood.  Enough said!

White supremacy doctrine follows the director and producer, the event promoter of such rallies…the ancient Fallen One Himself, the original Divider, a master at the chessboard with humanity as the pawns. It’s not a political movement, or an organization to preserve the history of southern states.  It’s hatred 101.  It’s putrid sewage stains without true removal.  It goes way back to Cain and Abel in Genesis.  Neo-Nazis, KKK, Skinheads and the like, are all condemned with a platform of a cursed notion poisoning the very soil of the earth.  In fact, the same goes for civil lawlessness, destruction and violence from any race or school of thought.

Yesterday, my daughter decided to educate herself on the white supremacists.  She looked up a couple of websites and got an eyeful.  The lewdness from their creed describes the degradation of women.  She read if a woman can not reproduce, she should be removed and exterminated.  Woman was created to serve man and be pregnant, etc. Among other outrageous atrocities, it mentions, “the Jewish problem”.

I always wondered what happened to old Mr. Amos and how much longer he lived.  He was a kind soul.  I am sure he lived long enough to understand that racism is here to stay, in fact, within his own house.  I’m certain with aging eyes he saw racism will not ebb away like erosion because of the so called, “evolution” of humanity.  Nor will you.

The one thing the white supremacists were right about.  THEY HAVE A JEWISH PROBLEM! THE KING OF THE JEWS WILL BE THEIR ULTIMATE JUDGE!  That gives this adopted Jew, fuel for the race.

“Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  And He will place the sheep on His right, but the goats on His left…” -Jesus, from Matthew 25:32-33 (ESV)  

Everlast…Really?

“All things must pass.  None of life’s strings can last.  So I must be on my way, and face another day…” – George Harrison, “All Things Must Pass” (1970 Apple Records)

Old Joe was given to me in 1985.  He was my first non-speaking workout buddy.  He was also a terrible sparring partner.  I should’ve known from hearing the words of the great Bruce Lee.  Famously, the master himself said, “Bags don’t punch back.”  I will take issue with Mr. Lee in one area.  A 70 pounder will indeed obey the laws of physics as inertia has its way, swinging back to your body.  70 pounds of dead weight will eat your lunch.

I had been a martial artist since 1973 and was trained in boxing, albeit ever so lightly, by an uncle as a kid.  When I finally dove headlong into training in Tae-Kwon-Do and kickboxing, the following year, I was immediately enamored by the pro fighter’s work on the heavy bag in the corner of the heat balm scented dojo.  The sheer thrust of a step-sidekick firmly planted in the middle of the bag (with an impact of maybe 50mph or so) can fold the swinging bag into an “>-shaped” lump of canvas, cotton and sand.  Imagine what that can do to a human attacker taking two steps toward that flying foot targeting the ribs or chest.  You get the picture.  You should hear the tremendous sound it makes.

I had lived in an apartment during my teen years never having the opportunity to own a heavy bag myself.  Later, adulthood landed me in a house with a nice garage for such a purpose.  If memory serves me right, it was a birthday gift.  I wasted zero time in hanging it from the rafters, via a thick chain. I dubbed him, “Old Joe”.  Old Joe made me feel pretty old after a few years.  We both aged.  The only difference was, he never gained weight. (How does that happen?)

Old Joe watched from the garage as three baby girls were added to our routine.  Old Joe was especially present when I had gone through a rough day on the job, or when the lawn mower broke-down, or when a lay-off entered my day.  Yep, he was very understanding as I beat the dummy right out of him.  He had no face, no snide comments or selective profanity to fling my way.  Old Joe was guilty of one infraction during those sweaty sessions.  He always taunted me as I punched and kicked through my pains and sorrows with the uppercase inked word, “EVERLAST”.  Somehow frustratingly reminding me I can endure even when beaten down.  Other than that word, often sarcastically jabbing me in my weakest emotional days, he was always there, just quietly hanging around.

One day, Old Joe was awarded with some fresh air. (He began to stink.  Honest admission.)  We had moved to another part of town into a bigger house as my second daughter, Megan was born in December of ’89.  The backyard patio was larger than what I had before, with a nice portico laced with heavily beamed rafters above.  I grew older and more out of shape, no longer training regularly in the martial arts, while Old Joe began to show his age too.  Yes, I became a bag abuser.  Over the years of slackness the weather slammed Old Joe around.  I covered him a few times with Scotchgard rain repellent and then I got lazy.  Afterwards, the expanding years brought a new member to the family.  Wolfgang, our salt-n-pepper Great Dane was adopted into our home, all 134 pounds of him.  You could label him, Puppus-Maximus-Rex.  One of his many adventures was taking a large frozen beef roast off the kitchen counter consuming not only the hunk of bovine, but the plastic and Styrofoam wrapping to boot.  I swear, I saw him smile that day.  He, too, wanted to workout from time to time, often while I was at work.  To spare you the gruesome details, just know Old Joe took the canine brunt.  After taping up Old Joe with silver duct tape, I got a second wind, ushering a workout schedule that only pro athletes could understand.  We were pals once again.

George Harrison was right, all things must pass away and so did Old Joe.  He had hung around for 16 years only to be introduced to the middle school years of my daughters, Tabitha and Megan.  On one of their free afternoons they invited some neighborhood kids over.  One of the boys thought it cool to take a broomstick and flog the old weathered canvas bag, resembling a Roman soldier on a penal colony.  You guessed it, the stuffings began to pour out as the canvas suffered an irreversible split.  No more surgeries for Old Joe.  (Let’s bow for a moment of silence here.)  After the memorial service, off to the curb he went.

“EVERLAST”?  Really?  Obviously the company lied to us, ya know.  Old Joe, according to the manufacturer’s name, should still be with me.  Right?  Maybe they will take a customer’s suggestion.  How about renaming the trademark, “Somewhat Last”? That also goes for the Eveready battery.  When your flashlight is needed and it won’t turn on, remember that.

The universe is not improving.  It rolls in the laws of deterioration.  I’ll go further than that, because if you have read my posts you know a speak frankly.  Even our humanity is ebbing away.  You feel it don’t you?  The cosmos is wearing out like Old Joe.  Ancient scrolls written thousands of years ago on parchment and skins concerning the earth and the cosmos will wear out like an old garment. (Isaiah 51:6)  Yet, in the same passage, “…BUT my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail.”  (Google it.  I’ll wait here for ya.)  Literally, outlasting all else including the ground under our feet.

EVERLAST is a super-great company serving countless generations of athletes worldwide with high quality products with long shelf-lives. The founders seemed to understand the meaning of that special title.  After all, they took it from scripture.

“Everlasting” is a treasured word of mine.  Biblically speaking, it’s one of God’s favorites, a queen among words.  Everlasting covenant, everlasting arms, everlasting kindness, everlasting love and everlasting life, among many other phrases.  If you do a Hebrew or Greek word study from the original texts, you will find it to enrich the thoughts, the very comprehension of,  “Age-long”, “Of old”, “Age-less”, “Ancient Of Days”, “Immortal”, “Eternal”, “Without end or beginning”, “Unmovable duration”, “Perpetual”.  The title God Himself used early-on for the pure absence of true human linguistic definition, “I AM”, is linked to the endless view of “Everlasting”.  In the tiny, minuscule box of our understanding of existence, “I AM” lends itself to the limited picturesque vision of, “(Before all), I AM”.  Take it upon yourself to count the grains of sands on the beach, the particles of lunar dust on the moon or the stars NASA continues to discover.  It’s just a hint of forever.

“Alan, what does this have to do with an old canvas bag?”, you might say.  So glad you asked.  Unlike Old Joe’s taunts with the word, “EVERLAST” as I wore myself out, “EVERLASTING” is really an invitation to a redemption.  Old Joe, old houses, old cars fall apart. Your aging body is too.  Notice?  Yet, there is an eternal, an everlasting spirit/soul (Often the words are interchangeable) within you that is pleasantly spoken of at funerals. By nature, it is currently unseen.  It is that triune part of you that is meant for a relationship, a warm cozy love with the unseen Everlasting One.  Because of His everlasting love, kindness and covenant offered, He spoke it directly, often spotted in NFL games.  As your body wears out and is placed at the proverbial curb, YOU, and who YOU are, will continue.  Some of us refuse to believe that we do go on, yet reality takes over after the brain no longer makes faith choices.  When it (spirit/soul) separates from the body, the “house you currently live in” shuts down.  You will have nothing, zero, zilch to do with it.  Think of it as part of your spiritual autonomic system, like when your thyroid regulates without your cognitive initiatives.   I’m grateful I KNOW the Collector Of Souls.  The Everlasting One, the One who titles Himself as the “A to Z”, “the One who is, who was, and who is to come”, also spoke the “Everlasting” below that perpetually pumps fuel for the race.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should NOT perish, BUT have EVERLASTING life.” – Jesus, John 3:16 (American King James Version)    

Unlike An Island

“Like an island in the sea, I’m drifting your way and you land next to me.  Will you stay the day?” – Phil Keaggy, “Like An Island” from “Getting Closer” album, 1985 on Nissi Records.

Go ahead, say it.  I’m okay with your first thought.  It’s blurry.  I’ll give you another observation.  It’s old too.  Therefore, it should be blurry.  I’m thinking it was my mom’s Instamatic camera.  (You may have to Google that one)

It was the spring, possibly April of 1978.  We were part of a rather large high school choir tour landing in Nashville, Tennessee.  It was our last choir tour for the four of us seniors. We would perform here and there, including our final UIL high school choral contest for the year.  On the way we toured Graceland, Elvis’ home, in Memphis.  He had passed away just a few short months before that.  We would take in the sights and sounds of Nashville, also taking in the Country Music Hall Of Fame where some of us bumped into the beautiful Crystal Gayle. (She did make some brown eyes blue.) It was mapped out that there would be four of us crammed into a hotel room.  I was grateful to be teamed up with some of my closest friends.

Allow me to introduce to you some iconic people in my life.  I have a reason for it, bear with me.

From left to right:  Mike, Mark, Myself & Tommy, from the class of ’78 at R.L. Turner High School in Carrollton/Farmers Branch, Texas (north Dallas area).  Before we settled and unpacked, I had the idea to take a picture to stamp our time together.  At the final couple of seconds before the shutter clicked, I said something like, “Hey, let’s look like we’re thugs looking for trouble.”  That statement became prophetic, I’m afraid.  We wasted zero time for the usual shenanigans and pranks, most of which I can’t tell you about. However, one in particular haunts me. We had trapped one of our pals outside his locked room next door in only his nice white underwear.  We had persuaded him to be brave enough to step outside in his jockeys for a five second count.  With some collusion with his roommates, the poor soul took the dare but then heard the door shut behind him. (What’s worse, we were on the outside second floor with the walkway and doors facing the busy parking lot below.)  Pretending to feel badly for him, we opened our door just enough for him to run to it for sanctuary, only to slam it in his face, while he was invited to the next room with an opened door, where his fate was the same.  We didn’t let it go on too long….really.  It was hilarious at the time, but now, in all of my maturity…..NO, IT WAS A HOOT!!!!  Poor guy.  I actually had remorse about it later.  Then there would be the famous pillow fight where one of us obtained an unintentional fabric burn on the cheek. (We got in huge trouble for that one.)  Today, we look at this picture that we’ve shared with one another and realize, by today’s standards, it looks more like an album cover for a young garage band.

I hear you loud and clear.  In your most bored tone you’re saying, “Fine, but why is all that important enough to write about?”  In response I would refer to a phrase above.  “…iconic people in my life.”

If I were to spell-out my fondest memories concerning these men, each person would have their own novel.  I won’t do that here, but I will point out some threads from the enormous fabric of recollections.

On the right, Tommy.  We became solid blood-brothers in our freshman year.  We were both rough around the edges in some areas and, to be frank, tough as nails.  We were in the same Tae-Kwon-Do school, together morphing into the world of kickboxing before kickboxing was cool in American sports.  We worked-out together and sparred privately, as well as in sessions at the dojo.  Notorious for after school raids of his mom’s stash of frozen tater-tots, we knew our way around her deep fryer, all before she got home from work of course.  We were runnin’ buddies in all seasons through high school.  Starksy & Hutch had nothing on us.  We always had each other’s backs and never stole each other’s girlfriends. (LOL)  Again, there’s so much I could tell you about our adventures, but I would have to have you silenced.  Not long ago, Tommy was at my side at my near-deathbed. Standing there looming over me in his now white hair, that day I was reminded of our in-tune hearts.  We’ve both seen our share of health issues and many, many sorrows in adulthood. We remain close friends to this day.

To your left in the shot, Mark.  Like Tommy, Mark and I became good friends during our freshman year.  We were all talented musicians/singers and had lots in common when it came to making music.  Unlike me, Mark was given the gift of songwriting.  He has penned many through the years and I always enjoyed listening.  He was my #1 choice for a duo partner on vocals.  He played back-up guitar for me when I needed a good guy on the ax. I could always count on him.  When I couldn’t sleep and had the urge to hit Denny’s for an overnight patty melt, I would call him up, “Hey man.  You wanna go for a late night salad or patty melt?”  No matter the time, I would drive over and off we went. One night, God would arrange us to be at Denny’s during the wee hours when we saw another high school friend there highly intoxicated.  He wanted to drive home.  We left there, escorted him home and put him to bed.  We left a note for him to know just how he got home and that his car was safely parked in its place.  (That would be the last time we would ever see him alive again.  He passed away not too long afterwards.)  However, we both knew we saved his life for that night.  Fast forward, we were the best man in each other’s weddings, (his lasted, mine didn’t).  He became a champion of adoption and foster parenting through the decades. He has been a pastor in Iowa now for many years where he should remain mum before his congregation lest he shares too much about our times together in the 70s.

To the far left, Mike.  I’ve never personally known a more talented musical individual in my life.  Mike was blessed with an amazing gift of musical abilities that placed him in the Paris Conservatory of Music.  We all had a terrific sense of humor, but he had a very dry wit that could make White Sands, New Mexico jealous.  With a stone face like a poker pro, he could blurt out an unexpected one-liner that had everyone in stitches within earshot.  Overlooking his musical genius, he knew how to blow you away with one wisecrack. Involved in band, jazz band, orchestra, music theory and choir, there wasn’t an instrument he couldn’t play, a song he couldn’t transpose or arrange, or a pitch he couldn’t decipher.  When I needed a horn section for a song for my band, I always counted on him and his abilities.  We lost track, but I heard back in the 80s he was in France working his music wizardry for the Russian Orthodox Church.  Unfortunately, I wish I could tell you about his latest composition. Many years ago, still in his 20s, Mike fell victim to a horrific car crash just outside Paris.  To this day, I mourn the light that was snuffed out and taken from us.  It forever broke our hearts.

Too many of us don’t realize that we are made up of our moments.  We are formed by our times.  We are shaped by our days of experience.  How we need to remind ourselves of this fact.  It has been said, no man/woman is an island.  Have you ever endeavored to examine the idea, the picturesque power of that phrase?  An island has its own limited mineral sources, its own limited trees and animals.  It has its own fruits and flowers, as few as there may be.  The beaches are exclusive, no matter how beautiful and rich with sunshine, but lonely in the broader view all the same.  It is geographically pruned of allies without connectivity.  Its one tsunami away from being erased off the map.  Yet, across the causeway, some distance away, there is the mainland, a continent endowed with a wealth of vibrant fanfare, music and love.  Its commerce, its glorious community, its outreach is known firsthand and admired by those linked with it.  It is separate from the island’s attributes, while the island itself is void of the influence of the mainland’s depths, width, length and heights with its vast array of endless potpourri of lifestyles, genetics of creation and schools of thought.  Lewis and Clark would understand the greater adventures of the mainland.

I have found there is something to be said for “old love”.  I was at a loved one’s funeral in July of 1981 who was taken in a plane crash.  He was a world renowned kickboxing contender and my martial arts trainer.  Taking inventory of those who packed the funeral home’s chapel, I saw I was seated not far from Chuck Norris, an acquaintance in our circle of fighters.  We listened closely to the reverend officiating when he said, “If you didn’t know the man, just look around the room and see his imprint on all of us here.”  He was right.  We affect one another.  We may not realize it, but we invest in one another. Sure, sometimes in a way we ought not to go.  But I can say now, I have been “added to” by my friends of the soul.  As we continue to learn about how life works, it always seems to surround those we love who go through it with us.  When we intersect, our roads veer and detour. Our journeys, in retrospect, were fashioned and wondrously altered because we met and meshed with a stranger.  Your influence on me matters.  My influence on you matters.  It may surprise you that it is an ancient notion.

Yes, the photo may be blurry, but not in my mind, nor ever will it be.  In fact, each time I recall the truths learned from those friends it adds fuel for the race.

“For none of us lives for himself, and no one dies for himself…” – St. Paul  (Romans 14:7 ISV)