Words That Stick

“…You might not see him in person,
But he’ll see you just the same.
Yeah, yeah,
You don’t have to worry ’cause takin’ care of business is his name.”
(1973) “Jesus Just Left Chicago” – Recorded By: ZZ Top Composers: Frank Beard, Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill

Oh, the irony of that last verse from ZZ Top.

So, who is God? Really? If He is to be found, then where is He?

Rarely do I write about an artist twice in a row, but this week turned out to be different.

If not familiar with ZZ Top, it’s not important to the thrust of this post. If you know ZZ Top, but you’re not into their style of music, again, keep reading.

ZZ Top has been together for more than 52 years. Around 1969, some Texas boys put together a three-piece band, which became a giant source of sound, with a southern rock twist. ZZ Top became one of the biggest selling names in the rock arena. If you hear them play, you might think you are hearing a five member band. Artistically, they are phenomenal. Billy, Dusty, and Frank created a powerhouse of music mixes which stamped their brand nicely all through the 1970’s and onward. Their concert tours continue even now.

Photo: Wikipedia – ZZ Top, Dusty Hill, Billy Gibbons, Frank Beard

This past week, Dusty Hill, the iconic bass player from ZZ Top, passed away while sleeping in his home in Houston. He was 72 years old.

Dusty was considered far and wide as being one of the greatest bass players ever to pluck the strings. He also held down the back-up vocals, keyboards (when needed), and the cello. In fact, he began playing the classical cello as a youngster. Seeing Dusty at a truck stop, in his cowboy hat, jeans, and boots, complete with his famous chest-length beard, you wouldn’t assume he was an accomplished tower of a musician, or that his net worth was just north of 60 million dollars. He was a master musician and stage performer.

Photo: Wikipedia – Dusty Hill

During my high school days in the 1970’s, I knew about 70% of their music by heart. My friend, and guitar player for my band, was great at picking ZZ Top songs on his guitar by ear. So, I was a bit heartbroken this week when the news came across that Dusty had quietly left us. Somehow, our rock heroes aren’t supposed to leave this life, or ever get old for that matter. At least that’s in the back of our minds.

Dusty had a few health issues he contended with over the years. He was not a stranger to injuries, most of which occurred while on the road with ZZ Top. After a fall, with a much needed hip replacement, Dusty was advised to sit on a stool during stage performances, but his pride wouldn’t allow it. A few years back Dusty’s trusted Derringer fell out of his boot, accidentally went off and left him with a bullet in the belly. He had the wherewithal at the time to drive himself to the hospital before he went into shock. It’s a good thing he did, too. He made a full recovery.

Sometimes words are spoken and forgotten. Often times, words can be iconic, sticking to the minds of the hearers, and label of the persona who delivered the words.

Once Dusty was asked about what he thought about God, being one of the composers of “Jesus Just Left Chicago”. His answer was stark, and maybe not unusual by today’s cultural standards.

“I believe in God. I just don’t know what, or who God actually is.” – Dusty Hill

Dusty’s answer seems to fit the mindset of many. When faced with the question, if someone laughs it off, then it usually means they fear the answer to the question. The nervous laughter is a self-protective distraction. After all, there is the theory that whatever you actually speak out-loud, you believe deep down. Dusty’s honest answer usually comes from someone who has considered the answer prior to being asked. In many cases, when those words are spoken, the person drowns the heart’s desire “to know” with the stuff of life. Some common tools would be, business, career, family time, substance abuse, talents, or entertainment. Others, may follow-up on their admitted loss “of knowing” the answer, and seriously seek God out. Jesus did say, “Knock and the door shall be opened to you.” -(Matthew 7:7).

Scripture is stuffed with passages speaking of this vital Q&A beyond the cosmos we are all faced with. From the beginning of biblical time, God Himself invites us to come and discover Him, to seek Him out while He may be found. One of my favorites is when God invites us to come to Him with, not just questions about Him, but actual debate, when He said in Isaiah 1:18…

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”

Contrary to some schools of thought, God seeks us out. In reality, we run from the subject matter. Why? Because it’s easier to simply believe we captain our own ships, ships that sail into the afterlife. In a sense, humans are control freaks. We want to be the ones who lay in a bed in our home and say to ourselves, “Well, my body is ebbing away, but my spirit is strong enough to take it from here.”

To this, I would ask, if you can’t control your own thought-life today, this hour, or this very moment, what makes you think you can project your own spirit/soul? Seriously, ask that of yourself. Consider, the afterlife, and what is prepared for you, doesn’t belong to you. You don’t own it, like one owns a car.

Photo by Mark Vegera on Pexels.com

The most prominent self-taught statement on a deathbed is: “Sure, I have sinned, but who doesn’t? I’m a pretty good guy/gal, for the most part. That should speak well of myself at Peter’s gate…if there is one.”

As for Dusty’s “who” and “what”, Jesus addressed this several times so there would be no misunderstandings.

“Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ Jesus says to him, ‘Am I with you so long a time, and you have not known Me, Philip? The one having seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own, but the Father, as He remains in Me, does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves.'” -John 14:10-11 (NAS)

For those who believe, these words of Jesus stick. As for Dusty’s words, he actually answered his own question in the last verse of his song from 1972.

Although you may think you are unknown to God, you’ll see anew in fuel for the race.

“And Jesus was silent. And the chief priest answering said to Him, ‘I adjure You, by the living God, that You may say to us if You are the Christ—the Son of God.’ Jesus says to him, ‘You have said; nevertheless I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of Heaven.’” – Matthew 26:63-64 (Literal Standard Version)

Reduced?

“Can’t buy me love, oh,
Everybody tells me so.
Can’t buy me love, oh,
No, no, no, no.”
(1964) “Can’t Buy Me Love” Recorded By: The Beatles Composers: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Here we go again. Or, maybe I should say, here “I” go again.

The memory of Easter weekend is still fresh as a chocolate bunny in the fridge for most minds of the faithful. And so it’s no wonder someone on my friends list on Facebook was so excited that she posted the below.

Ah, yes. You might say, “Alan, calm down. Don’t get so over-the-top over a statement about a candy sale.” You would probably be right in admonishing me during my little fit I’m having. After all, I understand the heart of what this friend was trying to say. At a local supermarket, there is a sale on all things Easter, ie: eggs, bunnies, and jelly beans. No biggie.

Still…it’s the way she worded it. “Easter…reduced to less than…”

You know the word “reduced”. Pull out the thesaurus. You’ll find, decreased, diminished, shortened, liquidated, compressed, subtracted, and so on.

As I write this, I had just finished watching the very respectful funeral for England’s Prince Philip at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor. The service was more than God-honoring. I was struck and uplifted by the many hymns, prayers, and scripture passages. It was a grand send-off to a historic man in the royal family. Most notably, the words that rose up often in song and in reading was, “resurrection”, and “eternal life”.

Photo: St. George’s Chapel of Windsor during the funeral for Prince Philip from Fox News.

Easter itself, the core of it’s meaning, can never be reduced. Sure, it can be a faded holiday memory, as the calendar flips to other pages, but the substance of Easter is for every day. It cannot be lessened, devalued, or compressed to a lower definition. Cancel culture can’t touch it. Slanderers can try, but the resurrection of Jesus is like the Rock of Gibraltar. You and I could never chop down its value.

Resurrection is a word you can never label over the tombs of Buddha, Zoroaster, Muhammad, or Chairman Mao. Every one of those men remain in their graves. It is only unique in the hearts of a Jesus follower.

What is the true value of the resurrection of Jesus? It is multilayered. For me, I want to mention just one of the greatest treasures of the empty tomb of Jesus.

Dare to seriously consider the following. His body was almost emptied of blood. Water poured from His heart due to His horrific injuries on the cross. Six hours on the cross, only after hours of beatings and floggings. Pathologists who have studied what the body of Jesus went through are amazed He lasted as long as He did, much less to stay conscious. His dead body was sealed in a small dugout tomb on a hillside. On the earliest part of the third day, an earthquake, the millstone sized stone, hewed from a boulder, was rolled away, revealing His body wrappings laying in place as if His body vanished from inside the strips while Roman guards froze in fright.

He immediately visited all of His closest followers, and continued to do so over several weeks to hundreds of people. Suddenly, the cowardice Jesus followers, who were hiding in fear they were next to be executed, became brave, outspoken in the public square, testifying how they were witnesses of His resurrection. Some were killed right away, while others testified for the following 4-6 decades. They were ridiculed, jailed, tortured, beaten, stoned, and killed for not stopping their testimony of the resurrection. Easter morning changed them all.

Would you be willing to go through all that for a hoax, a prank, a lie? Sure, many will die for a lie when they believe it is the truth, but no one will die for a lie they set-up themselves for no personal gain.

The impact for most is the fact that Jesus proved He was Who He said He was. He displayed the power over His own death, just like He did when commanding other dead bodies to come back to life. This is something only God Himself can perform. For thousands of years it was foretold the Messiah, the One true Messiah, would have this power over the finality of life leaving the body. And because this is evident, it also means I can trust His words about my own eternal life. My coffin will not be my ending.

Photo: Prince Philip’s Coffin in St. George’s Chapel from Fox News.

So, no. Easter cannot be reduced. So, toss your dollar up on the counter for a couple of chocolate bunnies. Christ’s tomb remains empty. Eternal life remains the highest of values.

Eternal death is also available when lacking a decision offered in fuel for the race.

(The below was recited at the service for Prince Philip.)

“‘Lord,’ Martha said to Jesus, ‘if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.'” – John 11:21-27 (NIV)

Plates A-Spinnin’

“You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog,
Cryin’ all the time.
You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog,
Cryin’ all the time.
Well, you ain’t never caught a rabbit,
and you ain’t no friend of mine.”
(1956) “Hound Dog” Recorded By: Elvis Presley Composers: Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller (Originally Recorded By: Big Mama Thorton in 1952.)

What’s not to love about a hound?

Photo by cheptu00e9 cormani on Pexels.com

Well, maybe a little less drool, and a pair of shorts would be nice. But for a country raised kid, who loves raccoon or rabbit hunting, you just can’t get any better than the amazingly instinctive radar nose of a good hound dog.

It happened around 1905, Young County, Texas. William “WR” Brown, my Grandpa Brown (From my dad’s side.) was a hunting lad with a rifle and a couple of excellent hunting hounds. Later in life, he also had champion wolf hunting hounds. If you’ve ever read the book, or saw the movie, “Where The Red Fern Grows”, then you already have the picture of kids living out in the boonies, raising pups for wild game hunting. Dinner on their mother’s table depended on it. (Sorry PETA, that’s how it was…is.) It’s difficult for me to imagine him as a young teenager. This is how I knew my Grandpa Brown during the 60’s and 70’s…

Before I move on, I must explain a bit of what life was like in west Texas in those times. My family was a pioneering clan which aided in establishing the county, about 2.5 driving hours west of Dallas, Texas. I have written about my Grandma Brown’s father who rode a mule from Georgia right after the Civil war settling in Young County, Texas. My Grandpa Brown’s folks moved to the same area not long after. Life was rugged. You lived off the land, or you starved. You carried a firearm wherever you went as the land was not tame on several levels.

A view from our family homestead in Young County, Texas close to the Brazos River.

They lived along the red waters of the Brazos River. In those days, a hunter had to watch his back at all times. They shared the land with bears, wolves, cougars, panthers, rattlesnakes, razorback wild hogs, etc. A boy grew up by his father’s side when roughing it through the brush hunting for the next meal. By the time a kid was 12 years old or so, he went out solo with a rifle strapped to his back. Often it would be an overnight hunt, especially when it came to chasing down raccoons. I remember well my one and only time raccoon hunting overnight with my cousins. Watching the hounds tree a raccoon was like watching a choreographer at work. It was such a learning experience.

At the age of 15, or so, my Grandpa Brown and a friend, gathered their hounds for an overnight raccoon and possum hunt starting along the banks of the Brazos on foot. The night would prove to be frustrating as the critters outsmarted the hounds a few times. The boys were trained to be persistent, never letting the word “quit” come up in their minds. Following the sounds of their barking hounds, they ate-up the clock and the miles deep into the west Texas wilderness. In fact, youth’s enthusiasm drove their steps much further than they had anticipated. To this day, the family still can’t say how far they traveled through the relentless terrain. Some estimate they must have crossed county lines, but no one can be sure.

The miles were unforgiving through the mounting hours. Calling back the hounds in a state of total irritation, the two boys realized they had gone way beyond their intentions while chasing the ever eluding varmints. Exhausted, the boys huddled with the dogs, made a campfire, and nodded on and off in the pre-dawn hours.

Just before sunrise, the two hungry hunters put their heads together to calculate how long it would take to get back to the Brazos. With a quick step, they retraced their journey among the cactus and mesquite trees.

After dawn, they caught the rich aroma of smoked venison floating through the dewy brush. Being so tired and hungry, they let the hounds guide them to the area where the meat was being prepared. Without a traveled road anywhere nearby, they came upon an old one-room shack with prairie hens pecking the ground. They could see the glow of an oil lamp through a window near the front door. Unaware of who lived there, sheer faith and boldness kicked-in as the boys decided to approach in hopes of a bite to eat. Knowing the times of that day, along with the pioneering spirit of new Texans putting down roots, I imagine the place looked something like this…

An actual photo of a home built by one of my relatives sometime in the 1880’s.

The rickety plank door opened as they approached. An old ragged man, holding a rifle, greeted the two teens and their dogs. He asked who they were. As the duo told him their names, along with their failed adventure, the old man sized them up, realizing their obvious circumstance, and generously invited them in. He told them he was just rustling up some breakfast with plenty to spare. Putting my imagination together, I can say he probably looked much like my relatives in that time, like the two gentlemen from family records show…minus the Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes.

An actual photo of two of my Timmons clan from Young County. Unsure of the date of this shot.

The old man invited the hounds to enter as the boys hit a fine wall of cooking eggs and smoked venison. Inside, by the roaring fire, sat his two hunting hounds eagerly waiting for a plate of food. The small cabin was dusty, with a scent of musk competing with the pan on the iron-cast stove.

As the old man directed, the boys took a seat on a wooden bench at a table near the fireplace. As he asked them about where they were from, as well as, information about their folks, he added a few more eggs to a pan after pouring some hot coffee into a tin cup they were to share. It was clear that the old man and his two hounds lived alone with nothing but sage as a neighbor. As the food was about done, the old timer reached up to an opened shelf where he grabbed three tin plates.

The trio had a fine time sharing stories of the country, hunting and fishing spots, and the wildlife. The cabin was warm, the food was hot, and the bellies were filled.

When the plates were emptied, and the conversation began to slow, the teens wiped their hands on their pants, mentioned how terrific the food was, adding how they needed to get back to retracing their original trek. The old man nodded his head stating he sure enjoyed the unexpected company. He admitted, “Ya know, I never see a soul in these parts. Not hide, nor hair.” Just then, the old man picked up the tin plates, and the iron pan off the stove, and placed them on the creaking floor right by the table leg. Stating as a matter of fact, with a slight chuckle, “Come on hounds, have at it! They always lick the pans and plates.” As if waiting for a cue, the old timer’s hounds raced toward the pan and plates, mouths first. As the tongue-lashing began, the plates started to spin with the force of eager tongues, until the dogs instinctively put their paws on the plates to stop the circular motion. The teens laughed as they watched the licking fracas at hand, partially from the sight of it, but also because back home their mothers would’ve never allowed it. As every drop and morsel had been lapped-up, the aged hermit picked up the pan, along with the plates, and placed them back on the shelf where he retrieved them. My Grandpa Brown and his hunting buddy, never went back there again.

True story.

Are you appalled? Of course, we must put ourselves in the position of this old hermit. No doubt, this man’s habits were out of the norm, but not from his perspective. Obviously, for years, maybe decades, he allowed his dogs to clean his plate and pan. After all, a hounds tongue is long and wide, covering a lot of surface in very little time. For him, it sure saved him a lot of well water. From his viewpoint, those plates ended up looking very spotless. And I’m sure they were after the hounds had their way with it all. However, for my grandpa and his pal, they saw the opposite. They saw hunting hounds, who fetched animals in their mouths, dead or alive. These are the same country hounds who would looked forward to finding a leftover stiff carcass in the woods just for the satisfaction of something to chew on. Yes, as cute as they are, they’re the same animals who clean themselves, every part of themselves, with their tongues. Certainly, these canine tongues should not be a poor man’s dish washing machine.

How hungry are you now?

I align it to taking a black felt-tip pen and finely dotting a white poster from corner to corner. Tape it to a wall in a dark room. Go to the other end of the room, hold a flashlight, turning it on with the bulb facing away from the poster. What do you see? In the darker part of the room, you see, through the ambient glow, a blank white poster on the wall. Even taking a step or two closer to the poster, you still can observe a white poster. Yet, if you shine the flashlight on the poster, you suddenly see the speckles you made with your pen. If you dare to bring the flashlight closer, the dots become very present to the eye. What appears to be a clean white poster, is indeed flawed with black dots.

Al Capone, the notorious gangster, murderer, and bootlegger, would perform an action of goodness right after finishing up a most hideous crime. He gave mega funds, over and above to the Catholic Church. He gave away free gifts to the poor. He began soup kitchens for the homeless. Some say it was for laundering money. Yet, all of that was good, but the hound drool was all over it.

Too often, in our measly efforts, the norm to remedy sin’s guilt and shame, we work something we, and others, would see as a good deed. You might say, some see it as an attempt to build a tower to climb the levels of eternal self-insurance. In doing so, it cleans our dirty plate, or so it would seem from our fallen perspective. King David wrote something astonishing. Those who read it were dismayed. Frankly, it is still baffling to most. He wrote, “…There is no one good. Not even one…” (Psalm 53:3 – my translation) He wasn’t saying people don’t do good things, or people neglect displaying explosions of loveliness. Instead, he was showing us the misnomer of a sparkling tin plate, licked by one of the filthiest tongues created. He was pointing out that what we consider good can never rise to God’s holiness, His spotlessness, His sinlessness, His standard.

We see it all the time, even in high places. We now call evil “good”, and good is now “evil”.

I am sure the old hermit died in that shack, believing with all his heart that his plate was cleansed every night. However, two teenagers knew the truth of it.

To leave this earth spotless can only happen with a free offer of washing in fuel for the race.

“All of us have become like something unclean, and all our righteous acts are like a polluted garment; all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities carry us away like the wind.” Isaiah 64:6 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

My Scary Experience

“…He did the mash, it caught on in a flash.
He did the mash, he did the monster mash.”
(1962) “Monster Mash” Composers: Bobby Pickett and Leonard L. Capizzi

At this time of the year in America, you might experience some not-so-paranormal sights. During the Halloween season you just might turn a corner and see something like this…

Super frightening things can pop up from out of nowhere, like this…

Who knows, you may bump into a pumpkin on any given front porch. Or possibly, the most horrid, beastly thing which may be in your path…a political sign.

However, my personal spooky occurrence didn’t happen on a nearby neighborhood street, or a fund raising haunted house, or even a pumpkin patch with a maze. My personal ghastly experience appeared in my own living room a few days ago. Keep reading…if you dare.

It happened earlier this month of October, on a misty autumn evening. We had a family gathering, a reunion of sorts, complete with three generations of family in attendance, a potluck meal, three dogs, and eight people total. (Not to be confused with “ate people”.)

There was an abundance of laughter, snacks, and attempts at social distancing. After dinner, as expected, some games were unpacked and played around the dining table. Before you knew it, someone mentioned the game of charades. The partying group of eight formed a circle in our living room with cards suggesting characters and items to be acted out. It was tough when attempting to guess an apple bobbing in water, or a steam engine train, or Cleopatra. Then a family member read his card, got up on his feet and began to portray a raging, violent lunatic of an individual. This was acted out very well. There was rage plastered on his face with nostrils widening with gnashing teeth, looking down toward the floor while violently throwing invisible items toward invisible characters at his feet. Then ending with the clue of his arms folded and an evil grin of satisfaction on his face. Everyone was shouting out their ideas, “A criminal”, “A rioter”, “An angry sibling trashing his brother”, etc. Then suddenly, to my surprise, someone shouted out…”It’s GOD!” The presenter relaxed his disposition as he let go of the character, admitting that God was the right answer. To be perfectly honest, God was the most distant idea in my mind…but not for some in the room. If someone had shouted, “Zeus”, that would’ve been more of an accurate depiction. For me, it was frightening knowing there were those in the family viewing God in such a way.

You might think me too serious of a so-in-so with my thoughts of the clues given. And, frankly, maybe I should’ve lightened up. But, the One I know in my heart, the One dear to me since my childhood, can not be accurately characterized in such a way. Can one read scripture, especially in the Old Testament, and find God brutal, violent, and scathing? Yes, without a doubt. There have been times when God judged a people, a nation, in fact the entire world in Noah’s time. In context, it is easy to find His actions justified. Here’s a couple of examples: There was a people who offered their living newborn babies as a burnt offering to satisfy their false god. They didn’t have this practice for very long because they were removed from history. You will find entire nations wiped out by God’s hand who assaulted Israel, the people of His promise. Early in human history, you will find two incredibly vile evil cities “nuked” (for a better word) by a duo of angels sent by God. Sure, those actions were accomplished by the Almighty. Yet, what most readers miss is the fact that in each instance, God gave opportunities to stand down, to repent, to live by the truth of His righteousness for blessing instead of curses. Each of His actions teach those left behind. And we still remember. So much so, we make movies about these events.

It is interesting to note that most of God’s enemies knew about Him, knew His works, knew His deeds. At the same time, it’s one thing to know about God, even recognize His existence and authority, and yet another thing to KNOW Him. We may know ABOUT Queen Elizabeth, her likes, dislikes, her family, her homes, her deeds, but we may not KNOW her.

Four hundred years after the Old Testament events were history, Jesus was born. In that miraculous act, divine love, a love that cannot be imitated, was displayed. He came in spirit and in truth. Jesus, in all of His loving kindness, generosity, and unconditional love, told us that if we see Him, we also see the Father. In our finite minds it is hard to wrap our arms around the fact that Jesus, and the Heavenly Father, are One. It is the truth of the scriptures. If I go further on this subject I will write a book here.

Photo: Art.com (Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam”)

Unlike the character portrayed by a family member, God always reaches out in love, not willing to destroy or harm. In fact, the opposite is the case. He sent Himself, in the form of Jesus, to be scourged, beaten, humiliated, and crucified in our place for sin sake. Grace with forgiveness is freely offered by the One who is not willing we all perish…not one.

It’s the reason why you don’t see God as a Halloween character for the front lawn.

True fact-checking is available in fuel for the race.

“…but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. – Jeremiah 9:24 (NAS)

It’s Greek To Me

“In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade, and he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down, or cut him, ’till he cried out in his anger and his shame, ‘I am leaving, I am leaving, I am leaving’, but the fighter still remains.” (1969) “The Boxer” Recorded by: Simon & Garfunkel Composed by: Paul Simon

No worries if you are not a fan of the martial arts. This memory, I hold dear to my heart, is really not about the martial arts, per se, but rather about the essence of the spirit of an individual.

The cover photo above the title is a promotional shot of an old friend, Demetrius “Greek” Havanas. His friends simply called him, “Greek”. I believe I have written about him before a couple of years ago. Greek was a third degree black belt and kickboxer. He won 90 consecutive tournaments, and in 1971 he racked up 13 grand championships at the age of 21.

Greek at 21 in 1971.

He was ranked in the top ten of American Karate fighters between 1971-1975. He was Texas State Karate champ for 6 years straight, and Louisiana State Champ 4 years straight. In 1975, Greek went full blown full-contact fighting in 1975.

Greek in 1976/1977

He earned the PKA U.S. Welterweight Championship title. Turning his focus as a world contender in full-contact kickboxing. Greek amassed a record of 39 wins, 4 losses, with 24 wins as knockouts. The Star System ranked Greek #1 in the world in the welterweight division in 1980-1981. His garage was packed with trophies, wall-to-wall. In fact, he sold some to collectors when money ran short to pay for airfare when fighting in other countries.

Greek in 1975ish

Prior to moving to the Dallas, Texas area, I had spent three years in Sherman, Texas, about an hour north on Dallas. In those days, 7th grade was the first year of what they once called, Jr. High School. I entered Dillingham Jr. High School where they were still working out the issues of integration. Many African American kids and white kids mixed for the very first time, and it didn’t always go so well. This was 1972/1973, when race riots still popped up in the streets, gyms, and little league baseball fields. 7th grade was hard for me. I saw the ugly side of racial distrust and rage as civil rights issues were still fresh. There was gang warfare, mob brutality, and ambush violence in my school. I received the bitter end many times. There was so much a young guy shouldn’t have seen and heard.

During that same year, a church friend of mine taught me some basics in the art form of Japanese Aikido. Meanwhile, my army vet uncle, and former Golden Gloves boxer, did the same for me every so often. Before you could say jump, I became a fairly good street fighter at 12 years old…because I had to.

My single mom and I moved to the Dallas area the following summer (1973). Trust me, it was a much needed move. Although the north Dallas suburb we moved to was quiet and calm, with very little violence, I was not going to be surprised. I searched for a karate school, but found nothing in our new neighborhood. I talked my mom into letting me take the Korean form, Tae-Kwon-Do at a gym once a week at the campus where she worked, (Texas Instruments). It was free for employees and their families. Even though it was only once a week, I started and was hooked immediately!

Not long after, a top-notch Tae-Kwon-Do school opened up just five blocks from our apartment. BINGO! Great place. My instructor was once a Marine hand-to-hand combat instructor and a world karate champ from the early-mid 1960’s. Once again, I talked her into joining the school. About a year later, the school had to shut down. I was broken-hearted. I was alone with my instructor as he was packing up his belongings in the rented space. He told me of some karate champs he had trained and asked if I was sincere about continuing on with training. After he got my exuberant answer, he introduced me to this young, 5′-5″ stout sweaty guy in a shag haircut. It was Greek. He invited me to his small training center in the downtown Dallas area. Yes, I talked my mom into it. My karate buddy, Steve & I, caught a ride for workouts at Greek’s school. As soon as we walked in, we could see we were entering into the realm of some serious competitive fighters. We were sparing with national & world contenders. You might say we had landed in the cream of the crop in the karate/kickboxing world.

I took this shot of Steve and Greek in 1976.

Through most of my high school years, we ate, slept, and breathed Karate/kickboxing. Chuck Norris would come to visit from time to time as we trained, or fought in tournaments.

Greek and Chuck Norris 1979(?)

Greek was highly respected around the world, and we were grateful to be trained by the very best. I was even more grateful to hear his voice from my corner cheering me on, and giving vocal cues as I fought my opponents in the ring. Being trained by, and placed around talent like that, caused an attitude of never thinking about the possibility of losing bouts. And of course, it was good training for the stuff of life’s struggles.

One summer, when I was 14 or so, I got into a fight while away at summer camp. I lost that one. I was very ashamed. When I was brave enough to tell Greek about it, he said, “You didn’t tell him who trained you, I hope.” Although it was a tongue-in-cheek remark, it was a tad hurtful. But in his own way, he was teaching me something with those words. I had to remember who I was representing with my skills. Greek didn’t train losers. It was understood I was to be an ambassador, a representative of the House Of Greek wherever I went. It was birthed out of the idea of belonging, yet sharing the quality of Greek’s training with those around me who didn’t have a clue. It was a hard lesson. I never forgot it.

During my senior year, I began to be overwhelmed with the music and acting side of my life. For the first time I began to drift a bit from the regular routine of working out at Greek’s place. After graduation in May of 1978, I began to train with him again for about a year.

The only photo of us together. I believe this was in 1976/1977.

Through the years, he became more and more of a friend than a martial arts trainer.

Greek in a surprise shot in 1978.

A phenomenon became apparent as the years wore on. I started to notice how my peers almost mimicked Greek’s style while sparing, or fighting in the ring. When seeing video of some of my fights, I took notice of it about my own style. Noticeable to some, a certain way of blocking punches and kicks, arm positions, stances, weaving and bobbing, etc. I don’t think it was intentional. Greek always taught us to take what we learned and develop our own style. Even today, when I look at his bouts on YouTube, or any of my peer’s fights, I can see it. Following a master closely can do that.

Once again, I broke away from regular training in 1980 as singing, life, love, and thoughts of marriage began to take more of my time.

In late 1980, or early 1981, I was engaged. One night we were seated at one of our favorite eateries in the north Dallas area. Out of the blue, in walks Greek with a few friends. There he was, looking as he always did after a workout, sweaty cut-off t-shirt and Gi pants in much need of a washing. Our eyes connected, he came over to quickly say hello. I introduced him to my bride-to-be. He made a quick joke to her about questioning my gender. I laughed, he laughed, but she was appalled by the colorful language and topic. She wasn’t impressed. Yet, I knew him and his manners, or the lack thereof. He truly was being friendly in his own way. She was a bit of a stuff-shirt from the other side of the tracks from Greek and his crowd. It was awkward, but grateful it happened. God’s timing is always best.

A few months later, on July 23, 1981, Greek, and four friends, were flying in a single engine plane from Dallas to Atlantic City, New Jersey to work the corner of one of his students who was defending his world title. While over the hills of Tennessee, the plane flew into a horrific storm and broke apart in mid-air. There were no survivors. Just like that, Demetrius “Greek” Havanas was gone at 31 years of age. I wept for days, weeks, even years.

His funeral was packed with the highly notables in the world of the martial arts at the time. Chuck Norris was a pallbearer. With tears, I thanked him for making the trip. He didn’t hide the pain in his eyes. The chapel at the funeral home couldn’t hold the crowd, as many stood in the lobby and outside. A half brother of Greek’s, who was in the Eric Clapton band, sang Joe Cocker’s, “You Are So Beautiful”. There wasn’t a dry eye among us. A minister friend of mine, who was also in Karate, was chosen to officiate the service. In his sermon, he said something like this:

“If you had the misfortune not to have known Demetrius Havanas, just look around you. Look at all of his students, competitors, and close friends. There, you will find Greek.”

He was right. Following a master closely can do that.

Greek was inducted into the World Tae-Kwon-Do Hall of Fame, American Black Belt Hall of Fame, and the Texas Martial Arts Hall of Fame. All of the martial arts publications ran a tribute to Greek, as well as sports broadcasters of that day. And I still grieve.

I honestly don’t recall much of the sermon my old friend delivered, with that one exception. But I still carry a little bit of Greek with me every day. Most who know me wouldn’t know the difference as Greek meshed with me so long ago in so many ways.

Greek’s headstone. Also, the last picture I took of Greek as he sat on the edge of the ring with his trophy after winning a bout in 1980.

The same is true for a person of the Christian faith. If you are not of Jesus, you will not fully understand what I am about to say.

When the heart of Jesus enters, by Spirit, into the believer’s heart and spirit, a “Little Christ” begins to grow within that follower. In fact, that’s what the word, “Christian” means, “Little Christ”. Of course, sometimes the fleshly side of self doesn’t allow His Spirit to fully inject into the daily free-will of a follower. The result is the disciplines suffer. We are not robots, or programmed computers. Each believer must wear the helmet of salvation, the breastplate righteousness provides, and the spiritual cleats for traction up the steep climb of fault-hood. Each one must choose to suit-up each morning, just like the protective gear we wore in our sport.

A part of my grief remains entrenched in my lack of living-out my regenerated heart in those times. I doubt Greek ever knew I was a Christian in all the years he knew me. I was a young believer with only “lite bread” spiritual training.

I’m a big CS Lewis fan. In his book, “Mere Christianity”, he describes this process in a terrific way of imagery.

(Jesus would state:) “No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here, or a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.” – CS Lewis “Mere Christianity”

Following a master closely can do that. It will always breed fuel for the race.

Getting A Bit Rusty

“…Your silvery beams will bring love’s dreams.
We’ll be cuddlin’ soon
by the silvery moon.”
(1909 For Ziegfeld Follies) “By The Light Of The Silvery Moon” Composers: Gus Edwards & Edward Madden. Notable recording: Doris Day in 1953 for a movie by the same title.

If you are of a certain age, the cover photo above the title can be so relatable. Way too often I feel like an old rusty truck.

In fact, if you live close to the ocean, or a Great Lake, you know the ads for special pricing for rust-proofing your vehicle, especially if salt is used for wintry road conditions. But, aging doesn’t have to display rusty wear.

From 2004 working my afternoon drive-time radio show in Buffalo, NY.

That blue denim shirt above was old when I wore it in 2004. It’s a 30+ year old shirt that is still in my closet today. Oh, sure, it has fallen victim to some minor raveling here and there, but I still wear it when mowing the lawn. It’s just that comfy to me. Why get rid of it?

Yes, wear and tear can show on almost anything, and everything. Which brings me to a news item blasting the journalistic arenas this week.

Our moon is showing signs of rusting! It’s true.

Photo: CNN

Can you see it? It looks a bit like someone with a gigantic bucket of red paint had their way with our moon.

Scientists are stunned. Apparently they are scrambling to find the answer as to why the airless lunar surface displays a growing rust. When you read some of the comments from scientists concerning this phenomenon, you will see sentences like, “At first I didn’t believe it…”, or, “…It can’t be happening, but it is.”

In layman’s terms some scientists are brave enough to give out theories on just why our moon is rusting like an old pick-up truck on the shores of Lake Michigan. I will try to hit a couple of interesting highlights.

There’s a theory, which takes us to nothing, that says “we” are doing it. (Have you noticed anything in nature that occurs which is deemed bad or hazardous, is never labelled as a natural event anymore? It’s always labelled as the fault of humanity.)

Rust must have oxygen and water to exist or spread. Earth’s magnetic field streams outward into space. For about six days a month, the moon crosses the magnetic field’s tail. Some oxygen lies within that tail, bringing bits of oxygen to the surface of the moon which faces the earth. In recent years an Indian space orbiter confirmed that some water molecules have been discovered on the moon’s surface, mainly the north and south poles. Thus, the right conditions for rust to develop where iron deposits in moon rocks are found.

Photo by RF._.studio on Pexels.com

Yet, there are some scientific facts pushing back on this theory placing us back to more head-scratching. Without going into lots of scientific jargon, spelling out NASAese, with 9-letter astronomical terms, I will be the blue-jean science translator.

Our moon is blasted, way more often than our magnetic field, with solar winds from our sun. Solar winds are rich in hydrogen filled with electrons bathing our moon’s surface. Rust is produced when oxygen (from earth’s 6-day a month delivery) removes electrons from iron. Yet, hydrogen does the opposite as it adds electrons to our lunar surface. This makes it almost impossible for oxidation to manifest on the hydrogen friendly lunar landscape. And if that wasn’t enough, the Indian science orbiter also confirmed oxidation belting the opposite side (non-earth-side) of our moon which never gets to enjoy our magnetic field monthly tail.

Then there would be the question of why now? Why hasn’t this process been going on for the last 6 thousand years or so? In that case, our moon would be covered in rust by now. Or, could it be our sun is getting so old that it no longer flings off the amounts of hydrogen any longer? “Hummmm, very interesting”, says the science community.

While the experts are spinning in their current wow-factors, those who have studied scripture understand it’s not “OUR” moon at all. It belongs to the One Who placed it there and commanded its orbit.

You have to be living in a cave if you are unaware that science is the new “god”. We have forgotten how the word, “science” is defined. Science is a search, a hunt for knowledge, not necessarily the answer to theory. Too often theory, without fully observing all evidence, or any at all, has been taught as factual, as if proven. Before you read on, or re-read the above, keep this in mind.

It very well could be you have been taught that you cannot have a telescopic view while holding to a biblical world view simultaneously. Go ahead, pick up that telescope, but search the scriptures as you explore. As many scientific theories age, many have to be amended, or re-written altogether. Have you noticed? In fact, the more knowledge we obtain, via modern advanced technology, the more accuracies we find in ancient text of scripture. Allow me to point a couple out. Dare you grab the nearest distraction for blog post escape?

As for a rusty old moon, we were told long ago our earth and heavenly bodies would show age, wear & tear.

“Lift up your eyes to the sky, Then look to the earth beneath; For the sky will vanish like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a garment…” – Isaiah 51:6a (NAS)

Sounds like my old denim shirt.

“Of old You founded the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands. Even they will perish, but You endure; And all of them will wear out like a garment; Like clothing You will change them and they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will not come to an end.” – Psalm 102:25-27 (NAS)

Sounds like the old rusty pick-up truck to me.

“All the stars of heaven will be dissolved. The skies will be rolled up like a scroll, and all their stars will fall like withered leaves on the vine, and foliage on the fig tree.” – Isaiah 34:4 (Berean Study Bible)

Sounds like a black hole, collapsed star event to come. The Hubble Telescope has revealed such out there.

I know. It’s not what some might call inspiring. It depends upon which side of the stained glass you look through. Yet, to be armed with other views is the beginning of wisdom. To cancel out other views is like “wishing them away”.

Because of my biblical world view, my mind went to some promises spelled out by an old Hebrew prophetical passage. This prophet wrote down the words he heard from God’s voice at the time, approximately 835 BC. He writes much in imagery, or does he? it speaks of a new chapter the earth has not yet seen. Take note of the 5th word for emphasis.

“The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.” – Joel 2:31 (NAS)

The word “turned” sets up the never-before changes in the sun and the moon. It’s a Hebrew word which is used in a sentence when a chef is “turning” a cake in an oven. The original Hebrew word used here has been utilized to describe “convert”, or “overturn”. In all instances it can be an action of speed or gradual conversion in change. The highlight for me is the color of red, like blood that Joel used.

Over 800 years later, while the Apostle John was placed in a Roman penal colony for teaching about the life and message of Jesus , John was given a vision of events to be had for the ending of days on God’s timeline. It’s strangely similar in imagery to Joel’s writing. Note the word “became”. Check this out:

” I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood…” – Revelation 6:12 (NAS)

The moon not so silvery.

The Greek word John wrote, which translates to “became”, is virtually the same definition as the Hebrew word Joel used. It literally means to “grow”, “made to be”, “to be turned”.

So, yes, one day the “whole” surface of the moon, as seen from earth, will be made to convert to the color of red. Not like the blood moon shade we see every so often, but to a shade of red we have never seen in the moon before.

But the most outstanding passage concerning this conversion of the surface of the moon comes from a promise from Jesus Himself. If you read the entire chapter in context, it seems as if Jesus wasn’t going to speak about the following without a prompt. As it turns out, his disciples point blank asked Him when the ending of days would be and how will they (we) know what to look for warning. As Jesus spells specifics out for their following years, and the times in earth’s future, He gives snapshots, like a painter, or cartoon artist building his/her frames in a newspaper. Notice specifically the response of humanity as they will see these things come about in frequency and an escalation in force. Keep in mind Who is describing the events here.

“There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken…” – Jesus – Luke 21:25-26

And they spout out that “WE” are turning the moon red.

Anytime you read the word “signs” in scripture, it dictates “changes”, or
“a changing” seen as abnormalities of increased activity our past recent generations did not see. So when Jesus said watch for “signs” in the moon, and such, He literally meant unusual overturnings, events that WILL BE noticed.

Blatantly we see events in the news that have made our jaws drop. So we say things like, “I don’t believe that happened.” Or, “What on earth is going on?” Or, “Why is all this happening?” Or, “More of the icecaps melting?” Or, “Is the whole west coast of America going to burn?” Or, “Here comes another 400 year hurricane, just like the one last month.” Or, like in recent days in the halls of NASA, “At first I didn’t believe it…”, or, “…It can’t be happening, but it is.”

You don’t have to be an eschatology student to see the connection. Please don’t misunderstand what I am writing about in this post. I’m not saying we are in the final days of earth as we know it. Maybe we are seeing the foothills of what is to come. However, I do believe that when I see “signs” of things uniquely coming upon our world, society and culture which have been spoken of as warnings in ancient biblical text, I will point it out.

However, on this side of the stained glass, my faith has found a resting place only tried and tested in fuel for the race.

“…day and night they do not cease to say, “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME.” – Rev 4:8b (NAS)

I Almost Couldn’t Bear The News

“When I know you know baby, everything I say
Meet me in the country for a day
We’ll be happy and we’ll dance
Oh, we’re gonna dance our blues away…”  (1972)  “Listen To The Music”  Recorded By:  the Doobie Brothers  Composer:  Tom Johnston

Someone very wise once told me that you never are really sure what you’re praying for when praying for your children.  Usually it becomes more clear in retrospect of a life event.

Megan is my middle daughter, now 30 years old.  I have written of her before, so forgive me if part of this post sounds redundant.

Out of three daughters, Megan is the one most like me, in various ways.  My girls are precious to me, and Megan is the one who aligns more closely to who I am.  It could be because when she was a toddler and pre-schooler, I was Mr. Mom for a few years.  When Tabitha, her older sister (2 years older), went on to kindergarten, Megan and I spent lots of solo time together.  In fact, the solo time lasted two of her young years.  Although she lives in Buffalo, NY now, and I live in Dallas, Tx where she was born, we do still have a special bond.  It’s always apparent when she comes home for a visit.

Megan hug April 1st 2017

Megan was a child actress before she turned singer & recording artist.  Megan has racked up a mound of accolades in upstate NY for the last 12 years.  The bands she fronts have been news worthy and award-winning.  (Currently you can see some of her videos when you look-up Grosh, or Grosh Band.)  She’s on stage about as much as she sleeps each week.

Meganfest

MEGAN-BROWN in Artvoice June 23rd 2016

Photo:  Megan in Artvoice Magazine, June 2016.

Exhaustion and burnout can be an issue if not careful in that business.

So, enter kayaking and camping.  We didn’t do either of these things for outdoor activities when she was a kid, but she always wanted to.  She and a small group of close friends often rough-it out in the beautiful countryside of the southern tier of New York State, or northern Pennsylvania.  With kayaks and tents loaded up, they always manage to find these areas of serene landscapes to unplug and get the fingernails dirty.  Last weekend, they chose the gorgeous hills of the Allegheny National Forest.  Megan always takes pictures for us.  (Why am I hearing the whistle of the old Andy Griffith Show theme song?)

Kayaks PA The lakes and streams are crystal clear, and cold.  With an oar in one hand, and a camera in the other, I love getting to see her kayak perspective.

Kayak 2 PA

Honestly, can’t you just smell the pines and feel the cool breeze rising off the calm waters?  Yeah, me too.

At night they circle the campfire, laughing at each other’s stories, and roasting s’mores over the open fire.  Usually, it’s the wee hours before everyone hits the tents and rolled out sleeping bags.  Ah, youth.

Early last Sunday morning, Aug 2nd around 5 o’clock, while nicely wrapped in their sleeping bags, the piercing quietness of the forest suddenly was shattered by the canvas-shaking roar and snorts of a loud animal in the camp.  Everyone jumped a couple of inches off the ground by the unexpected wildlife just a few feet from the tent stakes.  Peeking out from the flaps of the tent opening, Megan saw something huge and hairy hovering over the food supplies by the now quenched campfire.  Someone turned a flashlight on the enormous growling mass of a creature to find a extra large black bear.

Black Bear Wiki

Photo:  American Black Bear (Wikipedia)

The flashlight in his face didn’t disturb him one iota.  Then someone began to yell and scream at the hefty bear with hopes of frightening him away.  The vocals fell deaf on his slightly rounded ears.  About that time, someone, probably the drummer, had the idea to grab a couple of metal chairs, and beer bottles, and proceeding to clang them together in a sharp ruckus sound for the bear’s fear factors.  No doubt the sound echoed throughout the hills with an ear-shaking frequency.  Still, the bear did not flinch.  Not one eyelash was batted.  It seemed an 18-wheeler could hit the big wall of black hair and he would’ve only be slightly annoyed.  Fright began to turn in the minds of Megan and friends as their bear-banishing choices came to an end.  In cases like this, experts say to flap your arms way up in the air while growling and yelling as you jump up and down to make yourself look bigger than you are.  For some reason that is the best way to scare-off a bear, and other wildlife.  However, no one was brave enough to try it as close as they were to the massive beast.

Nothing they did worked to spook the animal away because he was laser-beam focused on a nylon backpack full of all the ingredients for s’mores.  That’s right.  Inside were graham crackers, marshmallows, honey, and chocolate bars.  He tore into the tough nylon exterior of the pack, as if it were rice paper, and began to chow down, cardboard boxes, plastic wrappers and all.  Nothing that they could do, percussion, scream, or shine on him mattered.  His mind was in tune with one thing…his sweet-tooth.  Interestingly enough, right next to him was a cooler full of hot-dogs, deli turkey meat, and cheese.  I am sure his nose picked up on the scent of the meat and cheese, but even so, the sugar in the backpack was his priority.  THANK GOD!  Finally, the brute of a beast knocked over a cooking kettle next to him and with a dart, he ran off with the makings of s’mores.  The key was…he frightened himself.  His own, “fear itself” shook his core.

I told Megan if that had been a mama with her cubs looking for food, they all would be dead in the woods, far from civilization.  (It was just the dad in me adding that tidbit.)

alone calm faith light
Photo by Garon Piceli on Pexels.com

Yep, sometimes when you pray for your kids, you often don’t know just what you are praying for until after a life & death event occurs.  The Everlasting Arms searches the prayerful heart while holding the future in His hands.

In this strange and spooky election year, full of rage, riots, fires, loud voices, along with a frightening pandemic, we can choose to be the bear, or we can choose to be the kids with noise-making talents.  Personally, call me Yogi.  With all the distractions of our uneasy, restless times, I shall not be moved.  My choice is to stay focused of the life, liberty, and the sweet pursuit of happiness our founding fathers placed in a bag just for me and my descendants.  I will NOT be distracted from it by all the noise-making.  My choice is to stand on what I know to be true in my heart, that core which turns me to the east or west, north, or south.  I will keep my nose in that bag of treats from 1776 and disregard all else that attempts to woo my attention.

Thank you, bear.  Thank you for the personal application at this time in my life.  Most of all, thank you for obeying your Creator by not caring if my daughter was five feet from you while stuffing your cute face.

Speaking frankly, the bear necessities can be rediscovered in fuel for the race.

 “Let a man meet a bear robbed of her cubs, rather than a fool in his folly.”                – Proverbs 17:12 (NAS)

 

Muleskinner

Cover Photo:  Wikipedia (Pack Mule)

“Well I’m a lady mule skinner
From down old Tennessee way
Hey hey, I come from Tennessee
I can make any mule listen
Or I won’t accept your pay
Hey hey I won’t take your pay…”  (Composed: 1930)  “Blue Yodel No. 8” (Mule Skinner Blues) Recorded by:  Dolly Parton (1971)  Composer:  Jimmie Rodgers
Odd title, isn’t it?
There’s two solid favorites in my life, animals and the American old west.  An old western movie, or television show, has both.  Of course, before the industrial revolution,  back in the 1800’s, animals were a vital part of life.  Without a horse, donkey, or mule, you had to walk.
Mule Spotted
Photo:  Wikipedia  (Spotted Mule)
Often in an old western novel, or up on the screen, you might come across a person who is called a “Muleskinner”.  The first few times I heard of it I thought it was just a derogatory term for some back-woods liquored-up buffoon without a lick of horse sense.  (You can tell I’m well versed in old-western jargon.)  Usually in description, either in print or film, the “Muleskinner” seems to always wear buckskin coats or pants with the fringes hanging loosely from the edges.  Right away, with a title like, “Muleskinner”, you wonder if the hide adorning such a character is from a mule he skinned out on the prairie somewhere.  To me, that’s a person I wouldn’t want to belly-up to a saloon while jawin’ in a dusty, God-forsaken wet-whistle of a town.  (Ah, there I go again.)
The mule is a beautiful creation.  Actually, the mule is a hybrid of a horse and donkey.  Brilliant minds bred them, for the first time, in what is now known as Turkey prior to 3,000 BC.  Ancient Egyptian history chronicles the mule as a working animal.  King David and King Solomon owned and bred mules in biblical texts.  And it’s no wonder.
Mule Packing
Photo:  Wikipedia  (Mule as beast of burden.)
By definition, the mule is a “beast of burden”.  It can be packed with a household of goods that a horse couldn’t come close to carrying.  The mule doesn’t eat as much as a horse.  A mule is stronger than a horse, yet slower than a horse.  The mule has much stronger  hooves for rocky trails.  And a mule’s skin is not as sensitive as horse hide.  Its hide can take weather elements better, as well as, desert sun, and yokes.  Many farmers traded in plow horses for mules.  It’s been recorded that long-haul stage coaches, which traveled over harsh terrain, often utilized mules because of their outstanding physical endurance.  Their life-span is also greater than a horse.  They can live up to 50 years.  Yoked teams of some 20 mules were used to haul heavy loads, or train-wagons across rugged country.  In the early days of the locks of the Erie Canal, mules were used on the banks to tow boats.
Mule Team
Photo:  Wikipedia  (Mule teams for multiple hitched wagons.)
What an animal.  By the way, the driver of the mule-team in the photo above is…a muleskinner.  No, he doesn’t take a large hunting knife and skin the hide off a mule.
The truth of the origin of the nickname, “Muleskinner” is not pleasant.  Because the skin of a mule is not as sensitive as a horse, many drivers of the mules, with reigns in hand, often whipped the reigns on the mule’s back too harshly.  Many times the end result was the leather reigns, or whips, would cut the mule’s skin in the process of lengthy hauls.  Thus, the nickname, “Muleskinner” was birthed.  It’s sad, and brutal, but true.  I will assume here there were also animal-loving drivers who cared well for the mules they drove and left them unmarked after the yokes and harnesses came off.
No doubt we have all had times in life when we felt whipped, bloodied, and beaten during our path forward.  For whatever reason, being burdened-down with the heaviness of life and life’s masters.
Maybe I’m not describing you, but maybe you know of someone fitting this description.  Maybe it’s someone you’ve not seen for many years, then suddenly your roads cross and you find yourself astonished, or almost speechless.  Your old friend, co-worker, or loved one looked weather-beaten, appearing to be 20, or 30 years older than they are.  You immediately want to ask them what happened in life’s journey which lorded over them.  Maybe you got up this morning, gazed at the stranger in the bathroom mirror while asking yourself, “Why do I look so worn-out lately?”  You’re reading someone like that.
There were wealthier people in the times of Jesus who would’ve owned a mule, or a few.  As Jesus was speaking at one time, I picture a perfectly equaled team of mules going by, yoked up pulling a large wagon piled with a full load of items, including a millstone for grinding grain.  I imagine the well-dressed man of means whipping the backs of his beasts of burden to the point of splitting the hides with each lash of leather.  And just then, Jesus would say…
“Come to Me, all those toiling and being burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  – Jesus – Matthew 11:28-30  (Berean Literal Bible)
So many of the world’s religions are wrapped in “Do this”, “Do that”, “Recite this”, Recite that”, Walk on your knees here and there”, “Pay this, or pay that”, “Suffer for heaven’s reservation”, “Earn your glory”, “Kiss this stone”, “Pray this many times or lose favor”, etc, etc.  Jesus knew about these legalistic demands to GAIN spiritual status and treasures of eternity from a god with a whip who is so distant.  Can’t you just see a religion founder, or leader sitting on the driver’s bench, whipping his yoked-up subjects shouting,
“Here, let’s burden you with this, or with that.  Let’s strap on this unnecessary load upon you because past generations dictated it so.” 
Now, read again what Jesus said, but slower this time.
He left His divine throne to spend 33 years here, living among us, teaching us God’s true heart toward us mules.  His “easy yoke” offer still holds true with the promise of a light load for however many years you have left on this rocky road.  He earned it for you.
When yoked-up with The Everlasting, the burden is lighter with fuel for the race.
 “Surely He took on our infirmities and carried our sorrows; yet we considered Him stricken by God, struck down and afflicted.  But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” – Isaiah 53:4-5  (Berean Study Bible)

Up On The Roof

“When this old world starts getting me down
And people are just too much for me to face
I climb way up to the top of the stars
And all my cares just drift right into space
On the roof it’s peaceful as can be
And there the world below can’t bother me…”                                                                   
(1962)  “Up On The Roof” – Originally recorded by:  The Drifters  (Multiple artists have covered this song.)  Composers:  Gerry Goffin & Carole King
In “Your Song” (1970) from Elton John, we get a hint of where his songwriting lyricist partner, Bernie Taupin liked to construct his lyrics.
“I sat on the roof and kicked off the moss.  Well, a few of the verses got me quite cross…”
Lots of creativity can happen up on the roof.
It was July 4th, 2003 when I moved from Dallas, Tx to Buffalo, NY.  It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done.  I left my wife and three daughters to take an afternoon-drive radio show at a long-standing Buffalo radio station.  It was a promising, career-healthy move which was almost impossible to refuse.  I had a lengthy radio resume in Dallas and I was at a place in life where a next step was essential.  The idea was to live a lean solo life while hunting for a house to purchase.  After the papers for the mortgage were to be signed, then I would move the family of five to our new home, along with our Yorkie, Great Dane, a hamster, a mouse, and a gerbil, all in an Isuzu Trooper.
Roof Elmwood
Photo:  Google
After my feet hit Buffalo pavement, the first couple of weeks were spent in a motel room while searching for an apartment near the radio station in the downtown area.  All I had with me was a stuffed suitcase, duffel bag, and a briefcase.  Within walking distance of the radio station, I landed a tiny little furnished efficiency in an old brownstone right in the artsy district.  It was near perfect for my needs at the time.
Never living in a city-life efficiency before, there was a learning curve to it.  No elevators.  I was on the top floor, the 4th floor.  The basement (five flights down) housed the laundry area for the building.  I was in good physical shape at that time, but it still challenged me each trip to wash my clothes.  There was no air conditioning, of course, being Western New York.  For this Texas lad, I wasn’t sure I could do without an air conditioner.  However, the only silver lining, to the warm humid days, was the welcomed cool constant winds coming off Lake Erie.
As you can see in the photo, my two windows gave me a view of the apartment windows of the next building just a narrow driveway’s width away.  Nobody kept their blinds shut when the windows needed to be open on warm summer days.  You guessed it, very little privacy.  Jimmy Stewart, in “Rear Window”, never would’ve needed binoculars in my apartment.  In clear view of my neighbors, from the next building, was my bed.  It was vertical inside a wall of my living room, just an arm’s-length away from my kitchen mini-fridge.  When bedtime hit the clock, I just opened the door, pulled down the bed to the living room floor.  The springs squeaked as my body stretched out on the thin musky mattress.  Yep, there was a lot of adjusting for this suburbanite boy.
It took over three months to buy a house for my family, and moved in toward mid November.  So, I had plenty of time to adjust to my new temporary home in the city.  The streets were loud and busy.  With the windows opened throughout the summer, the sounds of yelling, sirens, and the occasional car crash bounced off the walls of our buildings on the block.  It always sounded as if everything was happening right outside my window.  It proved to be a struggle keeping my focus when writing letters to my family, or trying to get some shuteye.  Sometimes the noise was so overbearing, it pushed me out the door for a jog down by the Niagara break wall.  At dusk it was a sight to watch the Canadian side of the river light up their street lamps.
Peace Bridge Break Wall
On my trips up and down the hallways, I would pass a stairwell just off the 4th floor.  Knowing there wasn’t a 5th floor, I would shrug my shoulders and move on.  One day, after curiosity got the best of me, I followed the stairs to a set of old partially rusted Bilco doors.

staircase with black metal handrail
Photo by Octoptimist on Pexels.com

As I reached the top of the stairs I saw the double doors were latched by a bolt from the inside.  When I slid the bolt back it made a loud metallic clang that echoed down the stairwell.  When I pushed open the heavy metal doors, the cool Erie winds hit my face.  I had just discovered a large tar-sheeted flat roof of the building.  I was pleasantly surprised.  Whoever the property owners were they evidently didn’t see the value of constructing a patio-style wet-bar area with outdoor furniture, complete with table umbrellas.  Instead, a large wasted space.  But not for me.  Immediately I found the sounds of the city were faded while displaying a view filled with the downtown slope which met the harbor and the mouth of Lake Erie.  I personally enjoyed seeing the rooftops of the neighborhood showcasing old world architecture from the day when horse-drawn carriages, top-hats, and bonnets were the norm.

Throughout my time there, I visited the old quietened rooftop many times.  I remember signing off the air at the studio, looking forward to climbing up the stairs to my new favorite place.  It’s was a get-away where I would meet with the Creator, watch the sunset over the horizon, and sit on the half-wall at the edge of the roof thinking of how our new lives would be in Western New York.  One weekend, in the fall, I remember seeing The Northern Lights for the very first time.   God truly knows how to put on a light show.  It was a place of comfort from the days of hardship, the rowdy sounds of the streets, and the worries of relocating across the country.  When I see the photo from Google, my eyes first look up toward the rooftop.
Peace, enlightenment, and healing found on rooftops shouldn’t surprise anyone.  In scripture, I am reminded of how a handicapped man was carried by four of his friends to the flat rooftop of a home where Jesus was meeting with a crowd who packed a house.  The entryway was not negotiable.  The Miracle Worker was healing gobs of people in need all throughout the region.  In a desperate move by these men, they reached the roof above where Jesus was teaching, punched a hole in the roof to lower their lame friend to Him on a mat.  Up on the roof love and faith was accessed that day.  In Acts 10, the Apostle Peter was praying up on the roof of a friend’s house when God got his attention concerning the issue of grace vs law, love vs religious racism.  Peter found access to the truth up on the roof that day.  In the book of Joshua, a woman hid two spies of Israel in Jericho from their enemies up on her housetop.  For them, there was access to security up on the roof.  After Solomon felt weary of domestic feuds in the home, twice in Proverbs he mentions it’s better to live in the corner of a roof than with a person (woman) of contention.  (I’m trying to be kind on this one. Apparently he must’ve lost a few battles with some of his wives. LOL)
Roof French
Maybe your place of solitude isn’t up on the roof.  It could be your roof isn’t easily accessible, or physically safe.  For you it might be in your car with the radio turned off.  Possibly it’s on your bike on an open road.  Maybe it’s a place in your garage, or your barn.  I have an old friend who found his access under the roof of his lawn shed.  For many, it’s out on a lake in a boat, a coastline of a lake, a boulder sitting by a creek.  I have a cousin who finds her place of solitude up in the saddle of her horse.  Scripture reads the closet is a good place.
One thing is certain, there is a way of escape.  There is a stairwell to a place to be solo.  You might need to “kick off the moss” first.  In these times of violence, disturbance, pandemic, and masked faces, meeting with the Spirit of God can happen anywhere.  When you find it, that is a place you will always be fond of.
Getting away from the news, social media, and the crashing noise of profanity, there’s always room for two up on the roof with a ample supply of fuel for the race.
“What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops.” – Jesus –  Matthew 10:27 (NAS)

Lessons From The Backyard

“…Climbed a mountain and I turned around
And I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills
‘Til the landslide brought me down.”  (1975)   “Landslide”  Recorded by:  Fleetwood Mac  Composer:  Stevie Nicks

The cover picture above tells the tale fairly well, before I get to the tail of this post.

Bonnie Piano

Photo:  Bonnie taking her naps on my printer.

I’ve never been a cat person.  I was born and raised with a dog which started a long life of canine palship ever since.  For a short stint, when I was five years old, we had a couple of cats named, “Pete & Repeat”.  They didn’t have much to do with me, with the exception of giving me cat scratch fever.  So, my heart has been wrapped around, what one of my daughters once called, “Dogness”. 

Then in 2017 I remarried.  Inheriting a step-cat was part of the wedding vows.

Bonnie-Bon, as we call her, stole my heart right away.  This little brindle feline loves to cuddle with me when she comes inside for some family time.  She curls up in my lap next to the arm of the recliner, along with a light blanket under her.  She enjoys cocking her head in focus as she paws at my goatee.  If I’m writing at my desk she will often make her place on my printer, only after she walks across my keyboard, jotting down statements only she can decipher.  She will scare the stuffings out of me as I sit in the living room when I suddenly hearing someone playing the piano in the study/studio two rooms over.  Frankly, it sounds like a kid banging away on the keys in efforts to mimic a maestro once seen on Great Performances on PBS.  I’ll jerk my head over to see the doorway of the study/studio just in time to see little Bonnie prancing out of the room as if she had accomplished something of high esteem.  The shocking part is, she is not sporting tux & tails.  (Well, maybe the tail part.)  The best part of Bonnie’s personality, she enjoys our two dogs, even to the point of running about with them as if she’s part of a pack.  Believe it or not, she has learned to mimic a dog’s bark.  She needs to be a guest on a late night talk show.  Yes, I’ve grown very fond of our Bonnie.

Bonnie & Me

Bonnie enjoys selfies.

If you’re a pet-person than you know how it is.  There’s a tendency to be massaged into thinking of your pal-of-another-kind as almost human.  Thus, we begin to speak to them as if they have human minds, wants, and needs.  So true, until they bring in a dead rodent to present as a trophy right in the middle of the kitchen floor.  Not long ago, not once, but twice, Bonnie brought in a live lizard, about 4″-5″ in length.  Not realizing she had it jailed inside her mouth, there was no urge to run her outside.  Instead, she plopped herself down, looked up at us and dropped her prize on the floor, accompanied by a gigantic meow.  Of course, once free from its cell, it ran across the room making a mad dash under the range oven for shelter.  Arg!  Suddenly, I came to the realization that Bonnie was not a human little girl after all.  In both events we caught the reptilians in another room of the house the following day.

Backyard MirrorBonnie spends most of her time in the small sun-room adjacent to the back-steps leading to the backyard.  You might say, the backyard is her jungle, her domain, her personal wildlife preserve, where I’ve witnessed her sitting like a statue in the bushes, as if to say, “Nothing to see here.  Move on.”

Backyard BenchA few days ago, my wife, Michelle, was in the backyard watering the plants.  Our two dogs and Bonnie were out with her enjoying a warm morning in Texas.  Michelle heard a loud, frantic call from a nearby bird.  She spotted an agitated mockingbird yelling her obvious profanities from a lower limb from one of our trees.  She quickly flew from that perch to the top rail of the fence, to another tree, and so on.  Michelle tried to calm the feathered frantic female as she walked around with the garden hose.

The following morning, Michelle walked out into the sun-room and spied the body of a juvenile mockingbird laying at the back door threshold.  The body wasn’t mangled, half-eaten, or torn.  Of course, immediately she put the backyard events from the day before together with the current crime scene.  With a huge sigh, she shouted, “Bonnie-Bon!  You baby bird murderer!”  As expected, Bonnie just sat there on her fanny looking very proud.

Then, morning #2 came.  Michelle walked out into the sun-room to put cat food in Bonnie’s bowl when she saw it.  Another crime scene, in the very same location.  This time, two baby mockingbirds side-by-side, lined up ready for the crime scene photo for the crime lab.  She heard a bird chirp a few feet away.  There, on the back-step handrail, the mama mockingbird.  She was just looking at her deceased babies and Michelle.  She chirped again as if to utter, “Can you fix them?”  Michelle told me later she almost cried at the sight of the saddened mama.  She spoke to her in shared grief, “I’m so sorry, little mama.  I’m so sorry.”

(Excuse me while I grab a tissue.  Wait right here.  I’ll be back.)

A couple of days later, I was watering the plants in the backyard.  I heard several sirens going by in the distance.  The city had warned the residents of a local protest event just a few blocks from our street.  With the riotous mayhem of late, leaving cars and businesses burned or looted, all I could think of was protecting my home.  Then the mockingbird and Bonnie came to mind.

America, and the entire world, have suffered great loss at the jaws and claws of COVID-19.  Then, just as America began to show signs of improvements in the struggle to defeat the virus, the tragic murder of a black man at the hands of a white police officer took place in Minneapolis, launching a barrage of protests across the nation.  Inside the various groups of protesters were anarchists stalking, waiting and ready to use the peaceful protesters as a front to scorch us…we, the people.

It has been said many times in the media that many will not come out the other side of the pandemic intact, some, not at all.  Suicides jumped to record highs.  Drug use has skyrocketed.  Domestic violence has forged its way into the record books.  Vast unemployment landed on most of the population.  Many small and medium sized businesses went belly-up, unable to glide through the torrent of the shutdown’s gravitational pull.  Untold amounts of students have fallen behind due to the closure.  A multitude of deaths have been recorded due to the pandemic.  The punch has been painful.  No one, being honest, would say we are not in a weakened condition.

The leadership of anarchist groups sat still in the shrubbery of the COVID calamity, injecting a dose of national turmoil, just planning a time when a tripwire would be sprung for the pouncing of evil deeds to be lashed upon a battered society.  Yes, that’s right.  I called it “evil”.  If you’re offended, just know I was offended first.  Since the planning and stalking of these murderous groups, countless people have been displaced, injured, and murdered.  The enforcement of public safety for our neighborhoods has been violently assaulted, abused, and dishonored.  In the wake of this pouncing on our nation’s remains are ruined lives, torched dreams, hell-lit hopes.  In the clearing fog of the crippling pandemic, were those perched to destroy America from the inside out, having attempted to breakdown whatever else remains intact.  Meanwhile, those left alive who helped to build this commonwealth of people at liberty, sit helplessly on the handrails to weep at the carnage and wreckage the emptied-souls have waged.

Solomon wrote that there is a time for mourning.  It indicates the mourning is momentary.  When mourning is over, there is the courageous fight, the strength, the victorious raising of the torch for those who come after us.

On a hopeful note, THIS is AMERICA!  Our liberty was fought for several times over.  Our roots are buried here in blood-soaked soil.  The majority of citizenry, the loving, hard-working public of all shades of skin in this nation will stand for justice, law and order, as well as flushing out injustice.  Beyond this truth, there is a God of Righteousness Who birthed this country.  He gave us the right to vote in free elections to remove and place our local and federal representatives, along with various public servants at will.  He still sits on His throne.  Nothing, has not been filtered through His Almighty hand.

As for Bonnie…I’m so grateful she is not 500 pounds.

Bonnie Face 1

Gravity is a harsh reality when out of the nest.  Nestle safely in fuel for the race.

“Be alert, be reflective, because your enemy Satan roars like a lion and is walking and seeking whom he may devour.”  1 Peter 5:8   (Aramaic Bible In Plain English)