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)

Hey, What Sign Are YOU?

“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign, blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind.  Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?” – Five Man Electrical Band, released in 1971. Composer, Les Emmerson, Ottawa, Canada.

I just finished listening to that cut from 1970-1971.  Wow, the kaleidoscope of memories from my “mind of mush” years came leaking in.  Google it and hear this obscure anti-establishment lyric.  It’s all about a rush of anger at signs, mainly signs of directives.  The songwriter blathers about disobeying and mocking every sign he sees because…well….uh, because…I guess it was the hippie thing to do to “stick it to the man” and everybody that looks like him.  (Actually, watching the news today, that old sentiment seems to be new again.)  If you give it a listen with mature ears it’ll make you cackle, but when I was 11-12 years old I was singing it as a duo with my radio at the top of my lungs.  But, ya know, it never caused me to act-out with sign damage or civil disobedience.  I think it hilarious knowing after they recorded the tune, they drove up to a stop sign and stopped. It’s evident since they survived the journey home.  I’m happy to report, Les Emmerson, the composer, is now almost 73 years old and still playing their old hits. After making a few million off his songs, he no doubt bought a mansion.  I will assume here he must’ve hung a no trespassing sign somewhere on his high-walled gate.  He, himself, turned out to be “the man”. ($$$$)

Signs are on my mind of late.  My 18 year old daughter, D’Anna, is learning how to drive. She’s really doing very well.  She’s learning how to interpret road signs galore.  If she turns right on a red light where a “no right on red” sign is displayed, off comes the points on her upcoming driver’s test.  If there were no signs of instruction, she certainly would be introduced to frequent collisions.  And, of course, if there were a lack of signage concerning geography, she would wind up two states over in short order.

Almost 10 years ago, while living in Buffalo, NY, I had an evening business appointment in the southern tier close to Gowanda, NY.  The “southtowns” beneath Buffalo are blessed with beautiful, picturesque countryside.  You name it, they’ve got it, including ski resorts. I want to say it was December of 2007.  From where I lived, I knew it was a good hour’s drive.  I looked at the clock and off I went.  As often true in the western New York frontier, in a moment’s notice, a lake effect snowfall began (compliments of Lake Erie) while on my journey.  Dusk was done and I was being mesmerized by the gigantic, flakes flying toward my windshield with a velvet black background.  A word to the wise. Exercise caution!  One can fall asleep as the snow effect can seduce and hypnotize.  I was in my trusted “Moose”, a stout Isuzu Trooper, and felt the 4-wheel drive would get me there on time….(said the all-knowing-Texas-born-and bred-fool). Fast forward about 50 minutes or so, I suddenly found myself lost as a flock of baby Canadian Geese.  My cell phone, and that’s all it was back in those days, had zero bars showing.  Dreams of the tragic movies about Mt Everest climbers raced through my mind as I realized I was experiencing a full-blown blizzard with very little light and very little speed.  Truly, the depth of snow can reach a foot or more in an hour in that part of NY, and it did.  I had printed directions from Mapsco. (Remember Mapsco?  You may have to Google that one too.)  I will tell now, it didn’t cover road directions in certain areas as you’re about to see.

Without too much detail on my wintry maze, I arrived at a sparse area.  If I were to describe it, I would sum it up as an old gas station/general store in a wooden frame-style building that looked to be from Opie’s Mayberry, and then nothing for 6 miles. There was an old silver mobile home from time to time, but there were no street lights to aid my snowy vision.  There was nothing but black and white.  I noticed something else strange….NO STREET SIGNS!  Wrong.  I saw one small street sign at a tiny country road intersection, but it was encased in blowing snow making it illegible.  I got out to see if I could wipe it off, but it was too tall, not to mention the snowbank was already to my hips.  Every other country road, including the main road I was on, wasn’t labelled with signs.  I was just about to give up and go back the way I came in the darkness when I saw a distant light.  As I approached the light, I could make out a building with a few pick-up trucks in the parking lot.  Unlike the gas station/general store a few miles behind me, this looked to be a modern building.  My watch said it was about 9:30.  I pulled up into the parking lot and saw it was a civic/recreational center of some kind.  I made my way up to the front entrance and felt as if I were in another country altogether. Turns out, I was.  I had somehow made my way onto the sprawling Cattaraugus Indian Reservation.

To say I was a flopping fish out of water would be an understatement.  It was clear by the looks I received from the citizens there, I was no longer in Kansas with Dorothy’s old Auntie Em.  Turns out it was domino night.  A group of men, around a card table, looked at me as if I had a grass skirt on.  I said, “Hi, how are ya?  I could use some help.”  One of the men responded in a frigid way that went nicely with the weather outside.  When I said I was lost and couldn’t figure out why there were no street signs, the man said, “You don’t belong here, that’s why.”  I’m the only one that chuckled at his reply.  When I told them I was on my way to the town of Gowanda, they were slow to give me directions using landmarks only.  Apparently, if you live on the reservation, you have no need for street signs.  It went something like, “At the post, turn right.  At the bear crossing sign, turn left, cross the log bridge…”, etc.  It took a chunk of time, with the icy trek given me, but I made my way out of the reservation.  Embarrassed and frozen, I arrived almost an hour and a half after my scheduled appointment.  They accepted my apology as I warmed myself by their fireplace.  Needless to say, I went back another direction at the end of the meeting.

Signs are important. A necessity, really.  Scroll up and see the picture from an old friend who recently visited the canyons of Grand Junction, Co.  Would Les Emmerson reject that sign and sing, “WHAT GIVES YOU THE RIGHT?”  Watch that last step, Les.  It’s a long one.

How many signs will my D’Anna see as she drives out on her own?  “No U-Turn, Green Arrow Turn Only, Duck Crossing, Elk Crossing, Deer Crossing, Gator Crossing, School Zone, No Passing Yellow Line, Comfort, Tx -7 miles, Cut And Shoot, Tx -5 miles, Woman Hollering Creek, Tx -10 miles, Hell, Michigan -4 miles, Paradise, Tx -25 miles, West, Tx -10 miles, Italy, Tx -6 miles, Fishkill, NY -50 miles, Welcome to Muleshoe, Tx”  etc.  She could see them all.  They exist.

My most memorable signs were not posted on the road. Do you know what I mean? Have you been there, done that?  You’re thinking of one now.  How about the signs that whisper, “Don’t look at a solar eclipse without protection,” “Don’t go to their house tonight,” “Your buddy has an open can of beer in the cup holder.  You shouldn’t be in the car,” “Slow down before rounding this curb,” “Get your eyes off of her/him,” “Don’t stay angry. Peace, be still,” “Apply for THAT job,” “Run from THAT job,” “Don’t invest in that offer,” “Don’t take that last drink,” “Oops, the label says Opioid,” “You’re sinking into a bad place here,” “Refrain from kicking his teeth in,” etc. Some of these can bring a laugh, but most can bring heartache, destruction and depression.  Have you ever had a LOUD thought about turning here or there, only to find out later, a bridge collapsed or a tragic accident took place ahead of your intended direction, at that precise time?  Your default inner response was something like, “Wow.  I dodged that bullet.”  I know, it helped to smooth over, to clumsily explain the obvious whisper that nudged you earlier.  You physically shrugged and off you went with your day.

Some signs will be spoken softly to your heart while other signs can be heard aloud by a passerby, friend, family member or a teacher.  Often, in amazement, you recognize it only in retrospect. Other signs can read like this one: “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” -King Solomon, Proverbs 14:12 (NIV)  Or, from someone who knows you and the road you’re on better than you know yourself, “Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” -Jesus, Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV).

Without groveling — dishing out sin-sick self-history — I will say, I am living proof that a non-audible sign can be clearly given, that no one else hears, and then pushed off as silly fears of anticipation or imagination.  Watch the footing, the edge is close by.  Heeding such a sign will definitely add fuel for the race.

“Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be.  And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer.  If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.” – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.

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)

 

Chime Away

“When the blasts of the day shift my times,
When the nature of things birth crimes,
Awaken the strength stored up for me
Lest I become entangled like a clanging chime”  -Alan

Do you like them?  There’s so many to choose from.  Take your pick: ceramic, wooden, steel, iron, plastic (yuck), glass, blown glass, stained glass, seashells, aluminum tube pipes, hardware, engine parts and as my front porch version, bamboo.  Run up to your nearest department store and have a field day with the overwhelming styles for the taking.  A sister-in-law sent me a set of 5 foot long pipe chimes to hang from a higher tree branch.  (It kept the neighborhood awake.)  One of my high school pals replied on a Facebook post that he enjoys building his from scratch.  (I’m still waiting for him to show me some love as I watch my mailbox.)

Long ago and oh, so far away, I must have had an aunt or great grandmother that had chimes swinging in the Texas wind from a porch or an eave.  I wish I could recall just where I fixated on the “magical” sounds from the first set of chimes that caught my eye.  My chime-hanging days didn’t start until I was well into my 30s. Before you know it, I had as many as 4 or 5 sets of chimes hanging from my patio portico.  It drove Wolfgang, our Great Dane, nuts.  When the Texas spring storms came blowing through, we had to raise our voices to hear each other. I know what you’re thinking.  Go ahead, say it.  “Moderation, Alan.  All in moderation.”

When chimes are meant to be seen and not heard it would be a time like this morning on my front porch.  The weather was still without a hint of breeze, laced with light rain and cloud-cover.  It was quiet and pleasant, actually.  But you know, I knew the weather conditions before I opened the front door simply because the chimes were denied their song.  Here in Texas, wait ten minutes or less and the outdoor conditions will change.  A front could roll in from the Oklahoma border that could flip my chimes on their heads, even to the point of seeing them in a horizontal position as the straight-line winds make havoc.  When in the throws of horrific winds or gusts, the chimes ring out in more of a clamoring clash of tones that one might call, clusters.  The audio aroma is lost in the violent sweeping torrent giving way to the chaos of what one might hear while a marching band is tuning-up.  In those times, the chimes would be better servants to the ear if they remained still.

Am I reminding you of anybody you know well?  How about me?  When the storms of life hit me and I’m ruffled up pushing me out of my comfort zone, I begin to clamor and complain with the best of them.  In fact, if panic occurs, I can be like bacon on a skillet.  If you should step into my house on such a day, you will find me rustled and unkempt. More than likely, I will not be able to converse or keep my thoughts straight enough to understand whatever topic you’ve spelled out.  Simply, I can be a mess.  When the floods come or the tornado warning is accurate, I am unraveled.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, there are episodes where I’m able to shut my mouth during those times as if calm and collected.  More often, I shoot-off my mouth like a drunken blowhard.  So embarrassing.

Troubles and pain can turn the gentlest creature into an ill-mannered buffoon.  When those moments arrive and we clamor away like a verbal lawnmower cutting down everything in its path, how can one concentrate on finding solid emotional ground?  How does one concentrate at all?  It’s hard!  Tell me about it.  I know full well.

Let me ask a deeper, more complex question.  Are you cool with that?  Okay, here goes. In the whirlpool of disaster, HOW does one pray and ask God for help?

We have a free invitation to go to the Author of prayer to find the answer.  You know what He said when asked how we should pray?  I’ll paraphrase it here.  “Our Father in Heaven, your name is truly perfect without a stain.  Bring Your kingdom here soon. Accomplish and complete Your plans for us, right here on earth, just like it is done among those in Heaven…..”  I’ll stop there.  Notice the, “plans for us” are laid out in perfect order as He, the orchestrator and arranger of Heaven above, has done outside of our existence here, where we physically live.  If He can organize and compose the songs of Heaven’s angels and saints beyond our vision of galaxies, then certainly He will perform His plans through your entrance, strife, struggle and exit to come.  In that scope, what can the raging winds do to me that the One has commissioned Himself?  Why squirm in the palm of the One Who tells the sea, “This far and no more”, and it obeys?  Whether you know it or not, wish for it or not, believe it or not, this truth stares you in the face.  We were built, fashioned, to face the torrents to come.

Sure, we will not always be silent and still.  Yet, we do have instructions when the weather opens up its can.  When so, we are able to unlock our caps for more fuel for the race.

“Be still, and know that I Am God…” – Psalm 46:10a 

Flying With One Wing

Photograpy: Animalia-Life.com

“Take these broken wings and learn to fly again and learn to live so free.  And when we hear the voices sing the book of love will open up and let us in.” – Mr. Mister (Richard Page, Steve George, John Lang)

“To be perfectly honest,” he said sadly, “I am a bit incapacitated.”

That’s what I heard him say last week standing before his congregation.  He is a pastor friend of mine, truly one of the finest persons I have ever known.  (His name withheld for privacy purposes.)  We met almost 40 years ago when I applied at a shoe store for one of my first jobs right out out of high school.  For the specific title, he is a Messianic Jewish Christian.  Today, he pastors a well-known Messianic Christian congregation in the Dallas/Ft Worth area.  In the late 70s, before he was in the ministry, I had the awesome privilege to work side by side with him every day for a couple of years.  He befriended me immediately; and I was mentored just by observing his daily life.  We were in the retail trenches together in a business where some unusual people can test you.  We had many casual times away from the workplace, like playing flag football (he always beat me when running a hook route as a wide receiver).  He and his wife had me over at their home for a dinner or two.  Over the decades we continued to bump into one another at different concert events and gatherings.

He would disagree with me if I said he is a giant person of faith.  He is loving and kind, honest to the point of self-degradation, ready to aid and hold you up whenever your personal tank is dry.  He has been at my side on a few occasions, including presiding at my wedding, as well as at my early morning bedside just before they administered anesthesia for a surgery.  He’s also tough, forging through the wars and hurdles of life while working, going through seminary, raising a family and tending to his parishioners.  I would trust him on a battlefield. I would trust him with an unwritten contract, or frankly, with my life.  Yet, here he was, bomb-shelled, pale and thinner than the week before.  He wasn’t himself, or what I have always known him to be.  Just a few days prior, his dear wife suffered (and survived) a mid-level stroke.

She had been in good health with no reason to anticipate such a horrific trauma. Needless to say, it hit them broadside. On this night, facing the congregation for the first time since the stroke, he stood behind the pulpit looking as if he had left himself at home. His love for people brought him there when he probably could have stayed by her side in the hospital as she continued to be treated.  As common with my dear old friend, he was open and transparent about her status and his own condition.  He delivered a short sermon entitled, “What To Do When You Are Suddenly Flying On One Wing”.  He mentioned how strong and supportive his wife is, not only among the congregation, but in their home life as well.  Later someone said it takes about 20 parishioners to do what she does for church service prep, etc.  (I knew this all too well and have seen that in her over the decades.)  Above all, she is in his DNA, not a crutch for him, but an agent of intricate involvement in the very beats of his heart.

Have you had your wing clipped?  Have you been there?  Are you there now?  Maybe for you it wasn’t an unexpected stroke with a significant other, but maybe a lay-off at work, cancer death sentence, divorce, custody loss, abandonment, foreclosure, totaled car, bankruptcy, an addiction, a suicide or a sudden death of your best friend, baby, parent or spouse.  Allow me to apologize here and now if I typed a word that stings to this very moment.  Proof reading that laundry list, I will tell you I hurt, too.  Indeed, I have been on the receiving end of immense agony with selective titles above, and what’s worse, I could have written much more.  These are weapons inflicting even the very best of us.  Why? Well, some blame it on others, like parents or siblings.  Others point the finger at the general environment.  Still some blame it on a failed government or societal ills.  In reality, these are only results of cause and effect from ground zero of a cursed world.

Simple, but true.  Like a bird with an injured wing, you flutter the best you can in hopes you can stay aflight without spiraling to the wreckage below.  Finally, you find yourself unable to keep the wind beneath the afflicted wing, then a loss of altitude takes over. There you sit, in a busy trafficked parking lot, flapping as if there was a hope of getting off the ground again.  If only the one good wing was enough for liftoff, but alas, the universal science of gravity and aeronautics denies you the freedom of the sky.  Being grounded is a very lonely place to be.  I must add here that I have a few friends who share that ground even now and in various conditions.  And if you’re wondering, it doesn’t matter how “good” of an individual you are.  Those dastardly twins, cause and effect, don’t have favorites.

I have an old beloved friend who calls a life of faith (in my case, a life that follows the teachings of Jesus) a “crutch”.  (For a wounded one, even a crutch would be helpful.) However, where is that “crutch” if there is a fire?  What happens to the “crutch” if it snaps in two pieces at the whims of a pothole?  Where is the aid of the “crutch” when you lose your grip and Mr. Gravity has his way?  If another earthquake jolt comes to the Dallas metroplex, how will a “crutch” hold up?  As for me, I have found a solid rock, a cornerstone to build my house by which all things are measured.  I dare say, if I stand on the cliff-edge of the Rock Of Gibraltar looking down at the Mediterranean, some 1,388 feet below, gravity doesn’t take me to the crashing waves.  Why?  Because the Rock of Gibraltar isn’t a crutch.

My friend and his wife will be fine.  She is currently in a rehab hospital and making terrific progress.  He continues to be perched at her bedside where he belongs gaining strength for the road ahead.  He has always been a super compassionate servant-of-a- guy.  I suspect he will be even more so as his ministry work continues.  The teacher is, once again, the student as they both will find their tank of compassion expanding to aid others who find themselves strapped down by illness.  I believe I see a sling holding up a mending wing.

My weight is on the One Who gave the fowl their feathers and the wind to elevate. Contrary to a false echo, your runway is always stocked with fuel for the race.

“Be not afraid, for I AM with you.  Don’t be dismayed, for I AM your God, I WILL strengthen you.  Yes, I WILL help you.  Yes, I WILL uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness.   —   but those who HOPE in the Lord WILL renew their strength.  They WILL soar on wings like eagles; they WILL run and NOT grow weary, they WILL walk and NOT be faint.”   – Isaiah 41:10 (World English Bible) -Isaiah 40:31 (NIV) 

Do You Hear IT?

“And in the naked light I saw then thousand people, maybe more.  People talking without speaking.  People hearing without listening.  People writing songs that voices never share.  And no one dare disturb the sound of silence.” – Simon & Garfunkle

So….do you?  I mean, really.  Can you?  (Alan waits as the reader pauses to understand what he is expecting as the answer.)  Can you hear the sound of silence?  If you go on to read the rest of the thought provoking lyric from Simon & Garfunkle, you get a better picture.  I always wondered where they wrote the song and if a large transit bus pulled up close right after laying down the last line. (LOL)

Where were you when you were slammed with true silence?  Was it a hike in the woods? Was it perching out on the patio after a heavy overnight snowfall?  For you, it might simply be a hot bath with low lights.  Or maybe while sitting in a cold basement after a domestic dispute upstairs that lasted way too long.  (Yep, been there, done that.)  For me, two places come to mind beyond all else.  A lonely, out-of-tourist-season beach and December 25th.

I have three precious daughters, Tabitha, Megan and D’Anna, all grown now.  When they were restless kids late Christmas Eve night, we did the entire Santa prep complete with assembly instructions spread out from its 16 different folds with French, Japanese, Spanish and English to boot.  After all was arranged under the Christmas tree, along with Kringle’s eggnog and cookies nicely plated on the hearth, it was maybe 2:30 am.  From childhood I always stayed up as long as I could waiting for the guy in the red suit to enter stage right.  I never caught him, but instead I was educated in the lessons of quietness. Later as a teen I often would come home from a Christmas party and bundle up for a hushed few moments on the front steps.  To this day, after a Christmas Eve midnight candlelight service, I take a few outdoor minutes to absorb the quietness of the hour.  It seems to me the wee hours of Christmas morning are the times of silence, possibly the most hushed morning of the year.  If you have snowfall around you for the holiday overnight, it’s usually still and silent all the more.  You should try it.  (WARNING: It will fail you when it’s Christmas in July.)

Whether you’re soaking in the stillness after being pooped-out from Christmas wrappings, or having the salty water licking your feet on a deserted beach, the silence speaks.  If it doesn’t, maybe you forgot the television is on in the background or you are sitting in quietness, but you’re surfing the web on your cell phone.  How courageous are you to venture out into the velvet audio of nothingness?  I find it serves me well shutting my brain down by shutting down all the noise, all the sounds and the clangings of the stuff of life.  In-other-words, setting oneself apart from the audio chaos of our technological world we build around us can only inspire and bloom the mind.

During my years as a radio on-air guy and voice actor, my hair always had what I refer to as, “headphone hair”.  Hours and hours of audio pumping into the ears from the cans is common in that industry.  Unfortunately, many of us radio vets suffer from some sort of hearing loss.  After years with the headphones you wake up one day with the realization that over time you’ve inadvertently turned up the audio levels because of the scrutiny applied in search of detecting any audio flaws in production or broadcasts. Certainly us on-air folk get seduced by the frequency levels.  Often after a long day behind the mic I headed home with the radio and CD player off with only the sound of the engine.  Such a relief.

Dare you read on?  Here, I ask only because I am a victim myself.  Here goes.  Are you seduced by the speakers and screen?  Have you tripped over the curb because you were caught-up texting your journey away?  Did you miss a loved one’s sincere question because you were deeply into a scene on a network TV show?  Ouch!  It hurts when we get honest with ourselves.  Please, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not suggesting joining a monastery overlooking Mt Everest, although for some, that’s their mission to do so.

Let me say, from actual experience in the art of stillness, there is a dam holding up gold nuggets of thought just waiting to flow down to you.  Downloaded life-changing details often don’t come while encased, wrapped and chained in the noise of the times. Most of all, the One who wants to hear YOUR voice has Himself a still small whisper. Explore it and you may find the sound of silence can be deafening.

Quiet times offer nozzles surging with fuel for the race.

“…Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.  After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.  After the fire came a gentle whisper…”           – I Kings 19: 11b-12  

 

Bubble Babbles

He said, “Hey, look how big my bubble is.  I bet you can’t blow one bigger than that!” What else could a challenged 7 year old say to his cousin with liquid soup bottles in hand?  I rose to the occasion, of course.  My misty memory dissolves at that point.  Maybe when I blew on the sudsy ring it probably burst before its flight into that Texas summer air.  I’m sure our grandma and grandpa got a big kick out of the shenanigans us cousins would showplace on their lawn out in the country.  Blowing bubbles was among the highlights for summer fun, along with catching fireflies at dusk in mason jars.  (Yes, our grandpa punched holes in the lids)

Do you enjoy scuba diving scenes?  There’s a real reason why I ask.  I always loved the old black and white TV series, “Seahunt” with Lloyd Bridges. (You may be too young for that one.  Google it.)  A favorite classic movie that bubbles up on television from time to time is, “Creature From The Black Lagoon” from 1954.  From my earliest recollections, I always felt as if I were scuba diving when an underwater scene was displayed on the screen. Isn’t that what we pretended to do when underwater in the pool?  I would blow out the air bubbles and watch them float above me to the surface.  Suddenly, I was a rubber-clad Lloyd Bridges with a tank on my back.  You always knew there was life under the water if bubbles rose to the surface from the deep, sometimes a thing to be calm about and sometimes a horrid thought of the greatly feared creature from that Black Lagoon.

Bubbles are fun to watch, especially when sunlight hits the thin membrane walls.  A rainbow of colors swirling, mixing around and around the dripping sphere.  I would love to get some little ones to put down the tablet pumping out CGI then hit the back yard with a bottle of blowing bubbles and watch their faces.  Too wishful?

Once I had a friend who went from rags to riches in a very short time.  Full of talents, he mourned the mundane job he had, not to mention it didn’t polish the bank account.  One day he decided enough was enough.  He quit his boring profession and launched a new career.  He did so well at his new venture, his entire existence changed.  There was a new exotic house, new his/hers loaded vehicles, jewelry, high fashion clothing and even new friends of the jet-set kind. I admired him.  I suppose I was grateful to be kept in his circle of pals.  As we would get together I began to notice a trend in our conversations. Suddenly the main babbling seemed to surround his rise to a wealthy status and how he did it.  Don’t misunderstand.  The topic was fine with me until I began to realize it was all he had to say, for the most part.  Simple basic themes were no longer fun or important. Once more, at a later date my career had changed for the better, although not in the same financial arena as his, and he didn’t really take note of it.  I must admit that hurt. Over the years his house(s) got bigger, the expanded lawns were nice and sculptured by only the best landscaper in town and, of course, there had to be a yacht or two for the family.  Over the years we remained friends, but I found myself striving to remain close. I felt like Lloyd Bridges on the seafloor looking up as my friend’s bubbling life rose to the surface for all to see.   Fast forward a good twelve years or so, along with geographical moves, we lost touch.  The last time I checked he was still doing very well.  I do hope he has joy to this day.

Truth serum, please.  How guilty of the same bubbles can we be?  Isn’t it true?  Various forms and degrees occur, but we all have these bubbles we blow while comparing the status of other bubbles blown from our soapy–handed friends.  Look at the photo above. The weight of the deepest basin of ocean cannot suppress these pockets of air.  Millions of tons of H2O isn’t strong enough to keep those bubbles from escaping to the top.  Yet, when they arrive on the surface they pop into nowhere.  The freed bubble may be enormous, colorful and even loud as it parts the water, but it fizzes and collapses.  Just like my 7 year old cousin’s prideful moment of his sphere of foam rising into the hot Texas sky of forgetfulness.  It is seen for only a few seconds and vanishes with a burst.

How many lessons have I learned and remain prone to fail?  How honest are you about it?  It matters not my clout, my famous friends, my savings account, my promotions, my talents, my home, my cars, my investments, my career, my health (or lack of it), my my, my, my, my….bubbles.  A bubble might look impressive, but don’t try to stand on it.  Go ahead, try to keep it in a punctures mason jar or a pedestal and count the seconds of endurance. That’s who we are.  Our successes, the impressive tags we place on ourselves are only bubbles with nothing lasting.  When they do come to maturity, we find them to be hollow.  What truly matters in life that is lasting?  Better yet, where do you find what matters as you shove over all the stuff of life?

It is wise to “unwrap” oneself, not only once or twice, but often.  Like the onion, strip off the layers one by one as the tears fall, and find the core of what’s everlasting.  Bursting one’s own bloated bubble is always best.  So is rediscovering again the soul and spirit God created within, and build the house there.  The neighbors will notice.

One thing’s for sure, there are no bubbles found in the fuel for the race.

“…who knows what is on the next day.  What is your life?  It is just a vapor, appearing for a little while, and then vanishing.” – James 4:14 (Berean Literal Bible)