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)

Takin’ It To The Streets

Cover Photo:  FOX

“You don’t know me but I’m your brother.
I was raised here in this living hell.
You don’t know my kind in your world.
Fairly soon the time will tell.
You – 
Telling me the things you’re gonna do for me.
I ain’t blind and I don’t like what I think I see.
(Takin’ it to the streets)
Takin’ it to the streets…”  (1976)  “Takin’ It To The Streets”  Recorded by:  The Doobie Brothers  Composer:  Michael McDonald

Oh, but blindness is a secret ingredient in our sour bread today.

A text dinged my phone late Friday night.  It was my daughter, Megan.  She lives in downtown Buffalo, NY.  She informed me about a rioting mob coming down her street and how she was on her way to move her curb-parked car before the mob arrived.  Although she found a safer place to park her car, other properties around her didn’t do so well in the wake of the raging rioters.  The following morning she explained how the smashing of storefront windows, in concert with the screaming and yelling, kept her awake all night long.  In the light of day she left her apartment to find shops, restaurants, and car windows smashed, along with burned-out vehicles from arsonists.  Her heart was broken over the businesses she frequents.  Many of the owners are her friends.  Megan attacked the broken glass on the walkways with a broom to aid in the aftermath.  She’s a great gal, if I do say so myself.

Of course, this all helped her to understand just how to honor the family of the late, George Floyd, mercilessly killed at the hands of Minneapolis police officers on Memorial Day.  I’m certain she will now want to destroy the lives around her the very next time a rogue city employee invokes a racist action.  After all, isn’t that what is in vogue currently?  Shouldn’t we burn down the local drug store where your son, grandmother, or dad purchases insulin?  If you hear one racial slur, or just hear about it second hand, no doubt you will break the windows of a mom & pop clothing store, and loot everything you can grab.  While you’re at it, take selfies of yourself holding up the stolen goods so it can be stored in the cloud to find you guilty in a future court of law.  In fact, whatever out-of-state wrongdoing we hear about, let’s just drive to the next town over to throw firebombs at the closest law enforcement officer standing on any given street corner.  (You know, the officer who has a spouse and three kids waiting at home.)  In this way, after accomplishment, we can proudly say, “There!  That will teach the *#@%!! wrongdoer I heard about from a state on the other side of the *#@%!! nation!”

It was heart-ripping to watch the brutality which ended in the murder of George Floyd of Minneapolis.  Like most, I felt the boil in my belly as shock and dismay were overcome by raw anger.  The action of the criminal cops was nothing short of outrageous, evil, and abominable.  If the lady who holds up the scales in the courthouse is awake, I am certain justice will be served.

As I write this, there is a planned protest underway at our local police station here in our northern suburb of Dallas, Tx.  America’s freedoms allow such peaceful protests.  It is the way of our constitutional rights to do so, to speak openly and freely, without fear of governmental reprisals, or any other citizen who may have another viewpoint.  It was written long ago in the infancy of our nation to freely assemble, to freely speak, even in “peaceful” protest of our government, local or federal.  Our founders believed these rights were given to us by God, nature’s God.  This indicates that no person, nor a person’s government, nor king, gave us these rights.  We (humanity) inherited them from our Creator from the beginning.  If the “peaceful” protesters, a couple miles from me, keep that in mind, maybe my house will not be burned down tonight.

This would be the same God who also put in writing that it is a sin to steal, kill, and destroy your neighbor.  In other words, when we review this carefully we can see that if we have these rights given by God, then we certainly can say this God is firmly against viciously raping the rights of a neighbor while stealing, killing, and destroying.  Lawlessness has a heavy price tag.  It’s important to note in our day and culture the following…

GOD IS NOT SCHIZOPHRENIC!

Check my archives.  Many times I have written about the scourge of racism.  What we witnessed in Minneapolis was a hate crime, in my opinion.  Of course, the courts will have to decide this based on the evidence at hand.  However, what we have faced in recent days in our country has ZERO to do with racism, or even the tragic slaughter of George Floyd.  I know, there will be some who say it has everything to do with it.  But I dare you to be honest in a bout of reconsideration.  Follow me on this.

Martin Luther King, Jr knew and exercised peaceful protests.  An incredible man following God’s heart for the people of this nation under God.  Efforts to “take down” America, using a scorched earth method in our streets, is not the protest MLK approved of.  In fact, if you read his writings, listen to his sermons, you will find it would grieve him greatly.

Minn Drone View

Photo: FOX

Our peaceful protests have been hijacked by anarchists who have a vision of the destruction of America.  And don’t be fooled.  Our enemies are circling like birds of prey to see if self-engineered anarchy can leave this nation in ruin, especially so quickly after the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is a great darkness over our land today.  This is a spiritual problem.  I watch these 20 year old hooded puppets of the anarchists, anarchists who cowardly hide behind a curtain, mindlessly hellbent on devouring America and my heart hurts.  Most are teens and up to 30 years old or so. They are full of a rage they don’t even understand, although they are directed to believe they understand.  So, like a master instrumentalist playing a flute, they teach the torching of the cafe and shoe store their grandparents helped to build.  Most are drunk in the thrill of the flames, the shattered glass, the stolen property, along with bodily harm to the innocent.  Not once do these young minds of mush think about what comes next if they succeed.  Do you think that they really know?  The reality is, they would find themselves enslaved to another form of government that deletes their rights, decays their open future for the better, and defies the God Who gave them such liberty of law for the pursuit of happiness.  Endless poverty like they’ve never known.  Tyrannic brutality beyond modern-day description.  Not to mention, they will be forced to the front lines of a nuclear conflict to come in short order.

Minn Aftermath Photo;  FOX

I watch them and see they have no fear of God.  The fear of a Supreme One, who dictates the times, laws, and steps of nations, is not in these street puppets.  The Minneapolis officers displayed no fear of God during the memorial Day murder of George Floyd.  Once based on the Almighty, this country suffers from the willingness of ejecting the Great I Am of scripture for the role of a marionette.

A nation without the fear of its Creator is a spiraling one.  It’s been proven over and over again.  God, help us all.

Hard lessons are rolled up in the scrolls of fuel for the race.

“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people.” – Proverbs 14:34 (NIV)

 

 

The Journey On Highway COVID-19

Cover Photo: t0.gstatic.com

“Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free.
Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me…”  (1968)  “The Weight”  Recorded By:  The Band.  Composer:  Robbie Robertson

The Anvil

By:  Alan Scott Brown

There’s nothing like heat in the desert rising off a paved road.  They’ll say, “Oh, but it’s a dry heat.”  Just tell that to the sweltering backpacker, Levon “Fanny” Gates.  He shockingly found himself in the middle of a wilderness, on the road to a place called, Nazareth, just on the other side of the state line.  I say, “shockingly” because before his boots felt the searing concrete of this wasteland, he had been dreaming of the village with its rolling hills, orchards, and well-established vineyards.  His freshly cut front lawn was the launching point for a pleasurable outdoor hike through the pines, the cool brooks, and lavish meadows.

As if he had awakened from a dream of the plush land of plenty, he now absorbs the dangerous sunrays, feeling every drop of sweat rolling down his torso.  His canvas hat certainly covered his head, but the scorching heat invaded his scalp as if he wasn’t wearing anything at all.  Even his denim backpack was soaked in sweat.  If it wasn’t 112 degrees Fahrenheit, it would be soon, when the afternoon sun comes piercing through.

gray concrete road
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

Not much vegetation thrives out here, with the exception of sage, cactus, and the occasional Yucca plant.  Refreshing rains are welcomed, but scarce and quick.  Fanny prayed for, what they called back home, a “gully-washer.”

With each step, he seriously worried about the soles of his old hiking boots.  The baking surface of the road is far from friendly, and he felt the waves all the way up to his sunburned face.  At first, he wrestled with the thought of his soles melting in the staggering temperature.  Then, as he caught up with his fast-forward mind, he envisioned a potential hole in the rubber sole.  None of the options were comforting to imagine in this desolate landscape.

Prior to walking into this wilderness, he knew how many miles he had traveled, but now all had changed.  His harsh surroundings overwhelmed his calculations, thrusting him into a mystery without a map.  A solitary roadside sign mentioned a couple of towns being 200 miles ahead, but they were unfamiliar to him.  The miles seemed unending, without a mile marker.  Disorientation was setting in as a menacing reality.

Rather than stopping for rest, he made the decision to push himself forward in hopes the next curve, the next hill, or the next valley in the road, would reveal a much needed oasis.  Hooked to his belt, he had one full canteen of water, which needed to last longer than anticipated.  Fanny was self-rationing his meager provisions with intent.

“I can do this,” he whispered with uneasiness.

landscape photography of rock formation near highway
Photo by Quintin Gellar on Pexels.com

Keeping his eyes on the road ahead seemed to help him psychologically.  Yet, wild stallions in search for water, a lone service station, or another traveler with a tent would be a sight for soar eyes.  But each time he glanced to the left or the right, it proved to be discouraging.  In fact, most of the view reminded Fanny of NASA’s photos of the surface of Mars.

The feeling of abandonment was authentic, bleeding from his inspirational thought bubbles of solitude.  He tried to be hopeful by telling himself Nazareth must be within 3 miles, 5 miles, or maybe 10 miles.  The attempt to distract himself from the tide of broiling air failed at every turn of the road.  Before the desert sun could bake his mind completely, he scanned through multiple thoughts, thoughts which could fill a library, only to fool himself with wisps of self-constructed hope.

While pushing his legs to walk an incline in the road, he noticed something he had felt once before on this journey.  A pain, a specific pain in his back.  Of all the body aches he had endured, this backache was king of them all.  Hiking slowly up the side of a hill introduced him again to the racking misery coming from his lower back muscles, mainly from the right of the spine.  It was a bit of a mystery in that he hadn’t injured himself, and never had an old trauma from his athletic history.  He suddenly was reminded of the adage, “No pain, no gain” from his high school baseball coach.  He said it aloud, thinking it would be a magic charm the universe would accept.  It wasn’t.  Still, his inward need to persevere pushed his weary bones onward.

As he reached the plateau, he celebrated his efforts shouting into the hot breeze,

“BY GOD, I WILL DO THIS!”

As the late afternoon sun played havoc with his vision, Fanny cocked his head to one side as he caught a distant rumble of an engine.  Since he had begun to adjust to the mirage of water puddles on the pavement, he tossed it up to “hearing things” due to a bit of dehydration.  After a chuckle, he took a couple of strides when he stopped in his tracks.  The sound was getting louder.  He looked up in the blue sky to see which direction the plane was coming from.  It sounded like a single engine airplane from the 1920’s.  As he was hunting for the aircraft, he recognized the distinct sound wasn’t a plane at all, but rather a vehicle approaching from behind.  He quickly turned to scope out where it originated.  Wiping, then squinting his tired eyes, he saw an old blue pickup truck bouncing down the road toward him with its radio blaring a 1940’s big band tune with heavy brass.  He wondered where it came from since the area was void of ranches or farms.  As it approached, he could see only one occupant in the cab.  There was nothing impressive about the old truck, with the exception of the fact it was an older model one might see in a vintage car show, and overly worn, to boot.

 

blue single cab farm truck on brown grassland
Photo by Renato Abati on Pexels.com

As the truck began to downshift, coasting slowly as it pulled alongside him, he could see more clearly the one behind the wheel.  The driver looked as if he had just fallen off a hay trailer.  He was donning faded grey pinstriped overalls, like the old train engineers used to wear.  His misshaped straw hat went well with the old beat-up truck as it, too, had seen better days.  With a metallic squeak, the truck came to a halt.  It was clearly in much need of a muffler replacement.  The ragged driver turned down the radio and leaned over to roll down the passenger side window.  It was then Fanny could take-in what the man looked like.  He was an old-timer with a weather-beaten face.  His bushy eyebrows were salt & pepper mix.  His chest-length beard was white and wiry.  He had piercing ice-blue eyes which displayed a kindness, all by themselves.  Before Fanny could speak, the old man greeted him.

Spoken with a healthy snicker, “Howdy there, young man.  Nice day for a stroll in the badlands, wouldn’t ya say?”

The backpacker detected an accent, which reminded him of the deep south of the United States.  He wasn’t sure if he was being mocked by the question, or if it was an attempt at levity.

“Yes, sir.  It would seem so,” said Fanny, as he took his hat off and wiped his wet forehead.

Without hesitation the elderly man asked with a nod, “What’s your name, kiddo?”

“I’m Levon.  Most everyone calls me, Fanny,”  revealed the traveler.

The old man broke out in a belly laugh, “Well, who on earth pinned that nickname on ya?”

Fanny grinned, uncomfortably so, looked away and explained, “Yeah, that’s a long story, I’m afraid.”

“I bet so,” replied the old man.  “The name’s, Christopher.  Through the years, lots of folks have called me by a slew of other names.  But, Christopher will do.  So glad to meet ya…Fanny.”

“Happy to meet you, Christopher,” the young man said.  “Hey, where did you come from?  I’ve been on this road all day and I’ve not seen one house, truck stop, or vehicle coming or going in either direction.”

“Oh, don’t ya know?” asked Christopher.

“Know what?” inquired the trekker.

Pushing his hat back to the crown of his head, the old man responded, “Well, it’s very possible you were never informed.  This is a one way road you’re on in this dust.  Always been that way.  It’s true, only one-way traffic on this stretch.  That’s the reason why I drove up behind ya.  I’ll tell ya, that afternoon sun is brutal through the windshield.”

“Tell me about it,” agreed the young hiker.  “You know, maybe you can tell me something.  Would you know how far Nazareth is from here?  I really thought I would have spied it by now on the horizon, but nothin’ doin’.”

“Nazareth?” inquired the old one with one raised eyebrow.  “Is that where you’re off to?”

“Yes, sir,” replied Fanny.

While pointing his finger, the old man said, “Well, kiddo.  I can tell ya this, ya won’t get there carryin’ that anvil.”

Puzzled, the young man froze.  He looked behind him, turned back again and asked,  “Anvil?  What anvil?”

The elderly one broke out in laughter once again at Fanny’s answer.  “Boy, it’s that 95 pound chunk of solid iron at the end of the rope, the rope draped across your right shoulder there,” Christopher pointed out.

“Ah, yes.  THAT anvil,” Fanny stated with pride.  “Frankly, I forget it’s there.”

The elder wrinkled up his nose in an inquisitive expression, “You mean to tell me you’ve not felt every muscle in your body burning from the weight you’re towin’?”

“Come to think of it…yes.  Yes, I have,” Fanny admitted.

“Well, if that don’t beat all,” Christopher said in response.  “I’ve got the perfect solution for ya, Fanny.  Take a look inside the bed of my truck.”  Seeing the young man’s hesitation, he continued sharply, “Go ahead, son.  The Loch Ness Monster ain’t gonna jump out and bite ya.  Feel free, take a look.”

Fanny took a cautious small step toward the side of the pickup.  As he leaned closer to get a peek, his mouth fell open with a hushed gasp.

The old man said, “Tell me what ya see, boy.”

Fanny took a big swallow to say, “It’s a truck bed full of…well…full of anvils!”

“A whole stack of ’em, I’d say,” described the old driver.

In amazement, the young man questioned, “But, why are they there?  I mean…what are you doing with all of those anvils?  Are you selling them?  Do you work for a salvage yard or something?  I’m shocked this old antique can carry the load.”

“Fanny, I guess you could say I collect ’em,” answered the old rugged driver.  “In fact, I’ve been addin’ to my collection for many moons now.  I could tell ya how many travelers have allowed me to take the load off their backs, but you’ve been sun-baked enough today to appraise anything.”

The young traveler concurred, “You’re right.  I’m a bit fried.  However, these travelers you’re talking about, are they on this road?  I’ve not seen a soul until you drove up.”

“Yes, but everyone has their own journey, and most have similar burdens,” replied the old man.  “At the same time, some heavier than others.  As you can see, there’s various sizes of anvils here.”  After a brief pause of silence, Christopher added,  “Here’s my offer, kiddo.  If you trust me with your anvil, every pound of it, I’ll help ya toss it behind us, addin’ to the pile.  You can unload, and load-up in the cab with me for a straight shot to where you’re meant to be.  I just love playin’ the Uber out here.  But…keep in mind, the anvil stays in the back.  Alligators aren’t allowed in the cab with me neither, ha-ha-ha…”

Fanny looked down at the scorching concrete between his hiking boots and bit his chapped lips in thought.

Christopher, seeing the struggle to find words, added, “There’s rockslides out here, ya know.  As ya get close to a hillside, or an upcomin’ canyon, ya might stumble over a stone in your path.  When your strength is wrenched, you’ll find it difficult to keep your stance.  It’s even worse to find footing after a heavy fall with nobody around to shoulder the load.”

Shaking his head with a look of uncertainty he replied, “No, sir.  I have made this trip on my own strength, and I intend finishing it on my own.  Besides that, you’re a stranger to me in a beat-up old clunker.  No offense, but who’s to say you could get me to Nazareth?  I’m sorry, sir, but your offer doesn’t look promising from where I stand.  I will do this on my own fuel, and navigation!”

The old man smiled, put his right hand on the stick-shift, looked deeply into Fanny’s eyes and said, “Boy, ask yourself why.  Why don’t ya wanna take your load off?”

After a quick mental search, Fanny answered with a tone of resolve, “Christopher, the only honest answer I can come up with is, I’ve grown accustomed to my anvil.”

With a serious timbre in a lower register, Christopher asked, “And the weight of it?”

“I deal with it, just like this unexpected desert,” explained the young one.  “Do you understand, old man?”

“Oh, I do, son.  I really do understand,” replied Christopher.  “Listen, dusk is knockin’.  No need for walkin’ in the darkness.  I’d say, grab some winks for a fresh start in the mornin’.”

As the elderly man began to roll up his window, he grinned through his long mustache and said, “Well, I know you’ll give it your all.  Still, keep in mind, it’s needless for ya to take this desolation, with all its loneliness, and the weight you’re carryin’ solo.”  With that, he put the truck in gear, turned up the radio, and off toward sundown he drove.

silhoutte of a man
Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Pexels.com

Fanny continued his trek with a bit of angst in his steps.  Christopher somehow offended him with the offer of a free lift, as if the old man thought him weaker, frail, and without survival skills.

He began grumbling to himself, “How dare that ancient dinosaur-of-a-coot say I needed help through this parched piece of earth.”  Still, in the attempt to bolster his decision, he raised his voice a notch, “Who does he think he is?  He’ll see me in Nazareth, sitting under the shade of an apple tree, sipping on a glass of their best vintage.  He’ll be shocked to see me resting on my anvil, without any aid from his sorry rack of rust.”

With all his energy depleted by his rant, Fanny began to look for a safe spot to sleep for the night.  Darkness had fallen, but the moonlight helped in the hunt for a place to bed-down.  Soon, he located a soft sandy mound with his name on it.  He found sun-dried chaparral fit nicely for kindling.

Overnight hours passed and the silence was deafening.  As usual, he used the anvil as a pillow, even though the shape was not friendly for his head.  He found the surface of the iron was still warm from the sun, which was welcomed as desert nights tend to issue a chill.  Unfortunately for the camper, as the nature of anvils, its surface turned cold.

From time to time he heard a small rock roll off the side of a rise just feet from where he was laying.  Another time, he was awakened by what he thought was the flapping of large wings.  He imagined buzzards mistaking him for a dead man.  He then tried to keep one eye opened, but exhaustion won the moment.  Another awakening caused him to jump when he heard an insect scratching on his ear.  He began to inwardly acknowledge his sleep would be thin at best.

Without knowing why, he opened his eyes from a sound sleep.  It was just before dawn.  Across the road from where he camped, he swore he caught a shadow figure racing from the road into a ravine on the other side.  Startled, he bounced up to a sitting position while fixed on the area where it vanished.  What he wouldn’t do for a pair of night-vision goggles.  After a minute or so, and a few hyper heartbeats, he shook his head and took a helping from his canteen.

Unable to go back to sleep, Fanny stretched his legs, and his sore back, in preparation for the day ahead.

“The sun is winking at me from over the hills, ” he said as he reached for his anvil.  “There’s no time like the present.”

He peeled back the wrapper of an energy bar from his cargo pants thigh pocket, finishing it in record time.

With the young morning sun at his back, and the anvil dangling once again from the rope hoisted over his right shoulder, Fanny felt new aches making themselves known in his calves, ankles, and feet.  He thought to himself that if he just put one foot in front of the other, the pain would work itself out.

As he made his way, his mind was flooded with the movements and sounds he heard overnight.  He convinced himself that he was in no real danger…or was he?  Like a video clip running through his mind, he couldn’t erase the glimpse of the unknown shadow figure dashing away from his makeshift pallet.  As hard as he tried, he remained at a loss concerning its identity.  In the end, he boldly rationalized the thought.  He determined the quiet swiftness indicated a cougar, or a coyote.  The “what might have beens” gave him a sense of authentic fear he had not felt before.

Hill after hill, ridge after ridge, no sight of his goal.  With every turn, curve and valley, he had hopes of seeing the ornate village painted in his mind as the heated hours wore on.

During the mid-morning, the searing winds kicked up with a devastating blow of a wall of dust and sand from the west.  Immediately, it became a battle for each inhale.  Fanny pulled his hat over his nose and mouth for protection.  Vision became sparse.  Tiny grains of sand stung his skin like miniature darts speeding from a horizontal projection.  Through the torrent of hot dust and sand, he spotted a boulder nearby and ran to the east side of it, blocking the onslaught of the turbulent blast.  After what seemed like an hour or so, the sandstorm passed.  With tremendous relief, Fanny came out from behind the boulder, grateful he had discovered it when he did.

With a couple of clearing coughs, he thought to himself, “What else can happen on this journey?”

bird s eye view photography of road in the middle of desert
Photo by The Lazy Artist Gallery on Pexels.com

By early afternoon, he was running low on water.  His fear rose each time he shook the canteen to hear the lessening of the swish.  His quads were beginning to burn in his thighs.  His shoulder was bruised from the rope slung over it, cradling the anvil.  A growing headache, once only a nuisance, now pounded from the top of his head.  Realizing he was experiencing a deeper dehydration, he guarded against panic.  He was beginning to despise the constant mirages of heatwaves appearing as glimmering bodies of water.  Suddenly, he heard Christopher’s words from the day before, challenging him with the question of why.  “Why don’t ya wanna take your load off?”  He found himself flirting with the question.

Mid afternoon descended.  After following a sharp curve in the blistering road, Fanny peered into the shadow of a small canyon wall just ahead.  The shade spread all the way across the road, and then some.  There, on the shoulder of the roadway, about 40 yards away, was a figure of some kind.  Cautiously advancing toward it, there, in the shadow of the rock wall, he saw Christopher casually leaning against the tailgate of his blue pickup.

“It seems we meet again, kiddo,” shouted Christopher with a wave.  “The shield of a nice-sized rock in a desolate place is mighty fine, wouldn’t ya say?  It’s nice and comfortable to me.  Come on over, I’ve been waitin’ for ya.”

Fanny found he was somewhat relieved to see the old man, and a convenient shade.  He smiled, shook his head in amazement, entering the cooling shadow of the canyon.

As Fanny got closer to the truck, he scratched his head and asked, “How did you know I would be here at this time of day?  Are you stalking me, old man?”

Christopher laughed at the question and replied, “Who knows?  Maybe the old truck is equipped with radar for weary travelers.”

Wiping his hands on the front of his well-worn overalls,  the elder turned to the pile of anvils in the bed of the truck where he pulled out ice cold bottles of water from a Styrofoam ice chest.

“Here ya go!  Fanny, take a load off.  You deserve it.” ordered Christopher.

Right away, before breaking the cap seal, Fanny first put the cold bottle against his neck, and then his forehead.  With a deep heavy sigh, an expression of relief fell over his face.

“Ahhhhhh, that feels so good,” said the hiker.

“No doubt,” answered Christopher.  “Tell me, how did ya sleep last night?”

After opening the bottle for his first couple of gulps, the backpacker responded, “I hate to say it, but it wasn’t that great.”

“Oh, really?” replied the old man.

Delaying his answer with another long swig of water, “Let me tell you, the desert may not be my kind of surroundings.  I heard noises I couldn’t examine.  There were sounds coming from everywhere, including what I think were buzzard wings.  That’s way too close for comfort.”

“Is that right?” Christopher said slowly.  “What else?”

“You may think I’m nuts, but I spotted a quick shadow I couldn’t identify just on the other side of the road,” described Fanny.  “It’s not something I look forward to seeing ever again.  By the way, just how many miles is it to Nazareth from this canyon?  As far as I can tell….”

“Ya know, owls are night hunters,” Christopher interrupted.  “They keep rabbits and rats on the run for sure.  Wingspans can be impressive.  Such a wonderful creature.  As for nocturnal critters in general, I could write volumes on the kinds and species out here.  They’re everywhere in the cool of the night.  Some folks just let their imaginations run away with them like a train on grease.  Truth is, they all were created with excellent night vision.  In that respect, they’ve got a leg up on ya.”

The young traveler admitted, “It sure made for an uneasy night.”

While checking the lose left side of his back bumper, the elderly man stated, “Ya know, fear is an enemy.  Fact is, it comes in many forms.  You might even compare it to a parade coordinator-sending one flatbed float rollin’ by after another, all designed to frighten every person from every walk of life.  Your walk of life happens to be on this very road, in this very desert.  But always remember, fear is a liar.  It promises the worse case scenario in most all situations under heaven, and yet rarely delivers.  Son, it’s always best to think of all things as fleeting.”

Fanny laughed and belted out, “FLEETING?  Ha, this desert isn’t fleeting  Did you see that sandstorm?”

“Hang on now.  A liar’s performance is to convince his audience,” stated the old one.  “The sudden desert you approach will be full of woes.  Hard things happen.  Expect it.  It’s part of the learnin’ curve.  Oppression bubbles up.  Depression develops.  Illness lurks here and over there.  Pain arrives, creeping into your skin, your muscles, your mind, and even your very soul.  Soon, a lacking drains your strength, your joy, and eventually, your reasonin’.  Yes, the desert is all of that and more.  It’s a beautiful place, too…in its own way.  The colors and scattered shades are brilliant.  Yet, there’s danger out here.  There’s isolation expected, married to obscurity.  It’s all about who ya face it with.  But the sweet truth is, when journeying through the desert, like ya are, you’ll find it’s only temporary.  All parades must end, even sandstorms.”

The young man paused for a moment before speaking, “But if there is a learning curve to suffering, what and where is it?  I mean, where’s the final exam in this hellish classroom?”

Christopher stroked his wiry beard for a moment.  He turned toward a scenic view of the desert and explained, “The better question would be…Why experience it alone?  Look out at this barren ground.  Each step is a test.  You are gettin’ an education, albeit in a lesser degree without an instructor.  My offer still stands, kiddo.  Let’s take this anvil off your back and put it where it belongs…behind ya, without a rope attached.”

Fanny bent down to tighten his boot laces during an uncomfortable silence.  He then stood up, adjusted his canvas hat, looked at Christopher and responded, “No, sir.  I will finish this challenge I’ve walked into.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate your free offer, but, there’s something to be said about knowing my own conditioning will push me to my destination.”

The elderly man’s ice-blue eyes twinkled as he challenged the young traveler, “And when your anvil of comfort breaks your fleeting, temporary strength, with no one there who is stronger to save ya…what then?”

“Thus far, I’ve adjusted to its weight.  It’s okay, really it is,” said Fanny in a softer, kinder delivery.  “It may take me a while, but I will get through this desert.  But, I can’t wait to feel the soft, cool blades of grass in Nazareth under my bare feet  The universe will give me strength.”

“Don’t count on the universe.  She’s unforgivin’, and unable to love, ” said the old one.  “You, my young man, will find you’re bein’ schooled in the land of waitin’.”

With that said, Christopher watched Fanny strap on his anvil for the journey out of the shadow of the rock wall.  Just then, the old man pulled out a brown paper bag and two more bottles of water from the bed of his truck.

“Okay, kiddo,” holding out the items.  “Here, ya take these.  You’re gonna need it.”

Fanny displayed a large grin at the kindness Christopher displayed.  “What’s all this?”

“Well, there’s various items of protein in the bag, some nuts, dried figs, jerky, and some cold sliced pineapple you’ll wanna eat pretty soon,” explained the elder.

Laughing, the hiker inquired, “Pineapple????  Where did you get pineapple out here?”

Christopher just giggled with a lovely childlike delivery as he opened the door to the truck, got in, and started the rattling engine with a backfire.

“Here’s to hopin’ we will see one another again, ” said the old man.  “Ya know, hope is a healin’ thing.  Even in a deserted place.”

Fanny replied quickly, “I could use that for sure.”

“I know ya do, son.  I know ya do,” stated Christopher as he put on his sunglasses.  “Be aware of the shadow figures, Fanny.  It’ll serve ya well.  But, with that said, I’ve never read an obituary where a shadow killed anybody.”

With a whistle on his lips, and his hands on the wide steering-wheel, Christopher began to slowly drive back into the punishing sun.  The young trekker raised his hand slowly to wave the old man off.  Just then, Fanny realized he never thanked Christopher for the provisions.

Two days and nights passed.  It was about noon when Fanny found himself dragging his feet, literally, across the baked concrete in near total exhaustion.   With each painstaking stride, he began scanning the horizon for the old man’s pickup.  His energy was virtually depleted, and he knew it.  The morning delivered some scattered clouds, which aided the weakened young rambler, but now, nothing but abusive piercing sun shutdown all effort.  He felt himself wanting, even craving, a visit with the caring driver.

Just as Fanny journeyed down a slope, from a crest in the roadway, he tripped on something.  As if in slow motion, he fell forward, hard onto the hot pavement, in unison with a loud ringing thud as the anvil met the road.  He screamed in pain from the impact and fierceness of the raging temperature of the road.  He quickly turned over on his backpack as a buffer from the concrete.  It took him a minute to collect his mind.  He looked for wounds, finding a few scrapes and cuts to his elbows, cheek, and the palms of both hands.  He noticed his pants were ripped at the left knee as blood began to find its way through the khaki fabric.  Troubled at what caused him to lose his traction, Fanny looked around to find the object which caused the fall.  There was nothing there.  Unable to bend his left knee, he struggled to push himself up on his right leg.  With the rope still in his hand, he tested his body for limping to the side of the road.  The pain in his knee was crippling.  It was a mammoth project as he slowly hopped his way to the sandy shoulder, dragging the anvil against the hot pavement.

Assessing his ability to trek ahead, he noticed something protruding from the bottom of the toe of his right boot.  A closer look revealed a piece of the sole of the boot had come loose, and had partially folded back while dragging his feet during the endeavor to keep walking.  Whether it was heat exhaustion, the brutal conditions, or a pure wake-up call from injuries, the young hiker admitted being trapped, for the remainder of the day, right where he sat.

As the sun slowly descended into the western sky, Fanny tried to lift his spirits.  Finding a small bit of shade under some brush, he began to sing every hit song he could recall from his teen years-songs that made him smile.  He busied himself mentally listing his family tree as far back as the war of 1812.  With each mental exercise he was surprised at the slowness to fire-off a thought, or memory.  He wondered about heat stroke.

“It would seem the elements are doing a number on you, Mr. Gates,” he sarcastically mumbled to himself.  In pain, the hiker laid under the tiny shade of the brush for any relief he could manage.

Sounds seem louder when sleeping.  Fanny jumped with a start from a nap he didn’t intend on taking.  After a few seconds of clarity, he realized he was hearing the tail of a rattlesnake.  By sheer instinct, Fanny turned over from his position, discovering in the sand to his left a five foot rattler, curled up maybe 12 feet away.  Fear raced through his senses.

close up photo of a brown sidewinder snake on sand
Photo by Miri on Pexels.com

Somehow the young man pulled himself together and looked around for a rock.  There, by his left boot, were five golf ball-sized sandstones.  His eyes once again shifted back to the poised snake.  Visions of film footage of how quickly snakes can crawl and strike ran through his head.  Unable to bend his left knee without shooting pain, he grabbed the anvil rope, tossed it at the rocks, maneuvering one within reach.  He thought to himself, “I have one shot at this and it better be right, or I’m toast.”  He methodically, but slowly, reached the rock, grabbed it, then threw it at the rattler with a shout, all in one motion like a professional shortstop.  Speedily, the snake reacted, slithering out to the middle of the road and stopped.  Fanny trained his eyes on the reptile as it turned its head toward him again.  The hiker pitched another rock toward the snake, but this time unmoved.

“Oh, no you don’t, you little beast!  Don’t even think about it!” threatened Fanny.

Keeping his eye on the snake, he examined his precarious position.  Unable to move quickly, due to his knee, and without a weapon at his disposal, he knew he was a sitting duck.  The unexpected desert miles had been cruel, but he covered much ground.  Just as he began to question his endurance to reach the other side of the wilderness, he now might see it end-thanks to a new enemy-and a damaged sole.

Surveying every item within reach for a defense, the young traveler’s anvil caught his eye.  His mind landed on the reality of the weight of it.  Mentally, he began to blame it for his current dilemma.  Ninety five pounds of iron needlessly held him down from where he wanted to be.  In the assumption he could’ve run from the snake just minutes prior, the anvil would’ve proven to be the end, holding him back for the snake’s lunge.  However, in a sick, twisted thought process, his admiration for the useless anvil melted the angst.

Late afternoon approached, and Fanny’s nemesis remained vigilant in a curl, with its expressionless cold stare from the road.  The scene was looking darker for the injured young man.  He imagined the worst.

Feeling a bit delirious, the trapped hiker’s anger boiled, “So, do you have a nest around here?  Maybe you have a brood nearby you’re protecting.  Is that why you’re gawking at me?  They’ll all make terrific belts, you pile of scales!  How does that make you feel?  Tell me, is your crawl really quicker than my hop?  Look, I know what you’re waiting for.  You can’t fool me,” he said, taunting the rattler.  “When darkness comes, you’ll slither your measly self over here and take chunks out of me, as I slowly kill over from your venom.  I know your kind.  I was married to someone like you!”

Fanny was massaging his emotions to accept his coming death.  Dreams were dashed, hope only a dream, and his efforts toward his goal had been wasted energy.  In a moment of clarity, he looked over at his companion: the anvil.  In the light of his circumstances, he knew it suddenly didn’t seem to hold much value.  True, Fanny had grown accustomed to the weight on his back, but in the reevaluation, it seemed foolish to have imagined it to be part of himself in daily life.  In an odd, and maybe an ironic way, it took a trauma in a desolate place to see the fulfillment of the truth.

Another hour slipped by, closer to the coming dusk.  Fanny suddenly had gained a fever.  He could feel chills and cold sweat rolling down his chest.  His time waned in the growing darkness.  His new enemy seemed to detect Fanny’s weakened state, raising its head off the pavement.  Desperation danced through the stranded hiker as he grabbed the empty canteen, the only defense against the waiting venomous reptile.

During a somewhat morbid consideration, Fanny pictured where the fangs might sink in first.  Like a strategist, he began to maneuver his body so that the strike of the rattler would target closer to his hands and arms for a better shot at defense.  About that time, his ears detected a familiar remote sound.  He cocked his head as he zoomed-in on the distant echo of what appeared to be a big brass band, combined with the hum of an engine.  The young man smiled as he identified the modulation of old pistons, pushing an antique pickup in his direction.  Fanny caught a glimpse of the old blue truck rounding a curve, where it began to slow down with its radio blaring away, until coming to a complete stop.  As it did, the right front tire crowned the head of the cunning rattler with a defining crunch.  The driver’s side door opened and out stepped Christopher.

“Well, if it ain’t young Fanny restin’ on his laurels,” he said with warm grin as he walked toward the young man.

Fanny had gasped when the truck’s tire parked on the snake.

Christopher sarcastically asked, “Son, are ya hungry?  Your mouth is wide open like a newborn sparrow in the nest.”

“You…uh, I guess you know, you rolled right on top of that rattlesnake.  How did you manage to do that?” quizzed the injured traveler.

“Oh, practice, I suppose.  It happens,” answered the lighthearted elder.  “I see ya got yourself all banged-up there.”

Sheepishly, Fanny began to explain,  “Yes, sir.  Earlier today I was so spent.  Not realizing my toes were dragging, my sole separated a bit from my left boot, causing me to trip and…well, here I am.”

While scoping out the young man’s injuries, Christopher mentioned the obvious,  “Ya fell on your face, I see.”

“In a manner of speaking, I sure did.” admitted Fanny.

The old man knelt down to get a closer look at Fanny’s damaged boot.

“Hmmm, yep, I’m no cobbler, but I see what happened,”  speaking slower and in a softer tone, “Ya know, where the ‘soul’ separates is a lonely place to be.  What have ya learned, kiddo?”

One side of Fanny’s bruised lip raised as he said, “Seeking shelter is a wise thing.”

“Is it now?” stated Christopher.

“No doubt, ” admitted the young trekker.  “I have come to realize that I’m not ‘all that’.”

“Now, give yourself some credit in this journey of yours,” the old one said.

“What?” asked Fanny.

Christopher explained, “Ya didn’t think about how ya said it.  In all your boldness and anger, ya once shouted, ‘BY GOD, I WILL DO THIS!‘”

Beside himself, Fanny raised his voice in astonishment, “Hey!  How did you know about…I mean…that was a few days ago now…and on top of that, I was in…”

“In the desert, all by yourself.  I know,” interrupted Christopher.  “You might as well have had on a wireless microphone.  That was actually the beginning of your learnin’ while on this path.  With all the wreckage in your life, you were searchin’ for solitude.  Most people do.  Ya see, there’s a big difference between solitude, and isolation.  It’s ironic, isn’t it?  In your isolation, ya never really were alone.”

The young man being perplexed raised his voice, “Excuse me, but I still don’t understand how you…”

Christopher interrupted again, “Not many do understand, kiddo.  Even the ones who are most scholarly, with all those initials after their names, can’t get their arms around it all.  Some, the honest and most humble, will even admit it.  I’d say you’re in good company.”

Fanny still reclined there, looked down at his skinned hands and torn pants in a sense of surrender.

Breaking the uneasy moment, the old one spoke up, “Now son, here’s the deal for this time, for this place of desolation; will ya accept my offer?  You’re in the middle of this trip, but near the end of your journey.  I won’t return to these parts for some time, and here, in the waitin’, is the opportunity for decisions.  Trust me on this.  Take my hand and I’ll give ya a lift to where ya wanna be.  As a brash up-and-comer, a lad once told me, ‘It doesn’t look promisin’ from where I stand.'”

The young man accepted without delay, “Yes, sir.  I’m ready to move out of this God forsaken place.”

“Uh, not really… ‘forsaken’,” Christopher said with a familiar snicker.  “You have much to learn, young Fanny Gates.  Come on, I’ll help carry ya to the truck.  Ya ain’t heavy.”

With Fanny’s left arm around Christopher’s neck, and the anvil hanging from his sore right shoulder, the duo methodically made their way to the old truck.

After a couple of steps, Fanny asked Christopher a simple question, “I take it you know where Nazareth is, right?”

The old man opened the passenger side door, helped the younger into the truck and informed him, “Well, of course I know where Nazareth is.  As far as the eye can see from this spot, it’s nothin’ but desert.  Still, Nazareth is not too far from here.”

Just before Christopher closed the passenger door, he asked,  “Uh, son, aren’t ya forgettin’ somethin’?”

Fanny looked bewildered until he saw Christopher gazing at the anvil sitting in his lap.

He responded, “Christopher, do I really need to give it up?  It’s been with me for as long as I can remember.  Over my lifetime I’ve adjusted to its weight.”

“This is the very crux of my offer, Fanny,” Christopher uttered with a straight tone.  “Somewhere down the line, you were lied to.  You only ASSUMED ya needed this weight.  Ya must unload what has weighed ya down in order to come with me.  Now, tell me straight up.  Are ya willin’ to allow me to toss it behind us, to put it to bed?”

Seeing the sincerity in the old one’s ice-blue eyes, understanding it meant everything to him, Fanny agreed to let go.

(CLANG!)

With the anvil among the others discarded in the bed of the old truck, the aged one cranked-up the engine, took control of the steering wheel, and began to make a u-turn.

“Hey, Christopher, you’re going in the wrong direction!”, the traveler said with alert.

“You were hopin’ to go to Nazareth,” stated Christopher.  “Number one, ya wouldn’t have been able to get there by your own power.  Number two, I’m your only Uber out this way.  Number three, you were headed west on a one-way road.  Nazareth is east of here.  Always east.”

“Oh, yeah?  Well, I’ll just have to trust you on that.” said Fanny.

With that, the old man replied, “Yep, yep ya must.”

“Christopher, there’s just one thing of concern here,” Fanny said.  “I don’t have any cash on me for your fuel.”

After a satisfying smile on his old weathered face, along with a slight shaking of the head, Christopher replied, “That’s another thing, kiddo.  Ya never could’ve purchased your way to Nazareth.  It’s all been paid for ahead of your arrival.  Burden-free, son.  Burden-free.”

When loaded down, crushed with the stuff of life’s curses, unload with fuel for the race.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.’   For He will deliver you                                                from the snare of the fowlera and from the deadly pestilence.

He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.”  – Psalm 91:1-6 (ESV)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fear Itself

Cover Photo:  South Bend Tribune

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shelves - Star News Online

Photo:  Star News Online

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

Knot Pinterest

Photo:  Pinterest

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delivering a Great Plumbline

Cover Photo:  Painting by Bob Niles, my father-in-law.

[ Just a quick note to you, my reader.  Please take honest, strict care of yourself and those you love.  Coronavirus continues to spread throughout the globe.  Medical experts are reporting it will get worse before it gets better.  Guard your health and don’t stop. Trust in the One in control even during what seems to be chaotic times from this side of the darkened glass.   – God’s grip, Alan ]

“…And I feel like a bullet in the gun of Robert Ford.
I’m low as a paid assassin is.
You know I’m cold as a hired sword…”    (1976 release)  “I Feel Like A Bullet (In The Gun Of Robert Ford)”   Recorded By:  Elton John   Composers:  Elton John & Bernie Taupin

The infamous outlaw, Jesse James, and his brother, Frank James, were raised in the home of a Baptist minister, Rev. Robert S. James.  The Baptist preacher also was one of the founders of William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri in 1849.

Rev. Robert S. James findagrave.com

Photo:  Rev. Robert S. James  – findagrave.com

Rev. James was a member of the Missouri Baptist Convention.  Although Rev. James passed away during the rearing years, one can only assume Jesse & Frank grew up hearing multiple sermons in and outside the home by a very strict, hell, fire, and brimstone father.  No doubt the preacher’s wife must have been a Bible-mother as well.  Of course, their private home-life behind closed doors is unknown.  Although he had earned his Bachelor of Arts, Rev. James commuted from Clay County, Missouri to Kentucky to gain his Master of Arts from Georgetown College.  It would appear the preacher was away from the home much of the time due to his academic pursuits.  One thing is clear, in the case of the preacher’s kids, it seems being frightened out of hell didn’t take.

If you’ve ever read the bio of the James brothers, or have seen a movie about their lives, then you already know how dipped they were in a serious life of crime after the Civil War.  In fact, some consider Jesse James to be one of the most notorious gangsters in American history, if not at the top of the list.  From Texas to Minnesota, the James boys, and gang, left bloodshed and ruin in their wake.

After years of shocking crime sprees, there were dead gang members left in the dust, or swinging from prison gallows.  Replacements were being vetted by Jesse all too often.

Jesse James and Bob Ford

Photo:  History.com  (Rare photo of Jess James with his killer, Bob Ford.)

Two young recruits looked promising to Jesse, in fact they were good friends.  Bob and Charley Ford were brothers very familiar with a life of crime.  The James family, and the Ford family, spent time together as if in the same clan.  Jesse even invited the outlaw brothers to move into his house.  What Jesse seemingly didn’t know, the Ford brothers had dollar signs in their eyes as the Missouri Governor, Thomas T. Crittenden, had offered up to $10,000.00 to anyone who could “capture” the James brothers.  In the Ford case, Gov. Crittenden went as far as to offered amnesty for past crimes as well.

On April 3, 1882, after breakfast at the James family dinner table, Jesse, Bob, and Charley went to the living room to talk business.  It seems there was a robbery being planned for that week.  Some say Jesse was suspicious of the Ford’s intentions and loyalty.  That remains a mystery.  What happened next has been debated since the event.  Some write that Jesse observed dust on the frame of a painting on the wall and wanted to wipe it down.  Others claimed the frame was crooked on the wall and Jesse intended to straighten it.  (The latter is the story I grew up with.)  One thing is certain, Jesse James left his pistols on the sofa, walked across the room, placed a chair just under the framed painting, stepped up to reach it when Bob Ford pulled his gun shooting Jesse James in the back of the head.  Zerelda Mimms-James, Jesse’s wife, was just in the next room of the small house.  Jesse was 34 years old.

Two years later, in May of 1884, a suicidal Charley Ford shot himself.  He was 26 years old.  On June 8th of 1892, a man named, Ed O’Kelley, walked into a tent saloon, owned by Bob Ford, and shot him in the throat with a shotgun.  Bob was 30 years old.  In January of 1904, you guessed it, Ed O’Kelley was shot dead by a police officer he was trying to kill.  Ed made it to 46 years old.  Amazing domino effect, isn’t it?  Let’s hope the policeman lived to see his 90’s.

In the end, Jesse James was an outlaw, but he was also a teacher.  Let me show you what I mean using the simplicity of an item in many a tool box.

Plumbline Alamy

Photo:  Alamy

The plumbline is an ancient builder’s tool.  It is also used by surveyors.  You can find this instrument mentioned with tremendous intention in the Old Testament book of Amos (Amos 7:8).  Today it is usually a stainless steel or solid lead pointed weight attached to a string.  It is used to align anything which stands vertically, a wall, a beam, a door, etc.

plumb_line

Photo: theworldflu.wordpress.com

When building a brick wall, if aligned geometrically with a plumbline measuring an upright line, as the center of gravity shows it to be without faulty readings, that wall will stand perfectly straight.  If the walls stand perfectly straight then the entire frame of the building will have integrity.  On the other hand, if the wall is built via an eyeball’s view, it will lean at some point in the process leading to the failure of the entire structure.

The crooked picture frame, which Jesse James was obsessed with on that fateful morning, reveals an outstanding irony.  Jesse and Frank were raised hearing all about the straight and the narrow.  A student of the Bible, their father, and mother, obviously taught them of a great plumbline for living, yet they grew up to be crooks.  A crooked life has its toll.  If the leaders of a home are crooked, or altogether absent, more than likely the home will not stand with endurance.  No matter how much stolen cash is accumulated, the crooked life has a higher price.  Jesse James has taught us this truth by example.  A choice was made and the James brothers ran from the measurements of society, which were based on law, making the allurement of crime something to be at risk for.  You might say the wall Jesse built leaned heavily, doomed for gravitational collapse.  Fame and fortune destroyed his life, the life of his killer, and the life of his killer’s killer.  “…and be sure your sin will find you out.” – Moses – (Numbers 32:23b) 

Teaching our children well is our responsibility.  Afterwards, the choices are their’s.  It’s good to be measured for structure-sake.

Unlike sand, when building on a solid rock, there are different results.  It can all be found, measured and delivered in fuel for the race.

 “I will go before you and make the crooked places straight; I will break in pieces the gates of bronze and cut the bars of iron…..so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who calls you by name.…”  Isaiah 45:2-3b  (NKJV)
I

Asteroid – April 29, 2020

Cover Photo:  NASA

“You don’t have to be a star, baby, to be in my show…”  (1976)  “You Don’t Have To Be A Star”.  Recorded by:  Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr.  Composers:  James Dean & John Glover.

It’s called, 52768 (1998 IR2).  It’s not named after an astronomer, or a mythical Greek god from ancient history, but rather a cold, non-personality number.  Its title may reflect the unimpressive appearance as it tends to resemble a giant potato spud.  Through a powerful telescope it may have a bit of light reflecting solar rays off its surface, but nothing as brilliant as a star.  It lacks the synchronized rotations of the planets and moons.  There are some which become mini-moons, caught in a planet’s orbit, but for the most part, they travel seemingly aimlessly in space.  You might say, if it were a person with feelings, it would be an introverted loner, a Sad Sally.  Let’s face it, she ain’t nothin’ to write home about…or is she?

First tracked by scientists in 1998, our friend, 52768 (1998 IR2), has been studied ever since, and for good reason.  She’s a gigantic space rock almost the size of Mount Everest.  She measures up to 2.5 miles wide and travelling at 19,461 miles per hour.  A very impressive stone to say the least.  What’s more impressive, is her current trajectory.  Not unlike a nail-biting science fiction movie, this gargantuan potato-like stone is headed close to our own planet.  NASA estimates it will pass within 3,908,791 miles of the earth.  It’s way out there.  Right?  After all, the distance between the earth and the moon is a mere 238,900 miles.  That may sound like a Herculean hurdle from here, but in astrophysicist’s standards, NASA considers 3.9 million miles a near miss.  No doubt, everyone with a telescope will be out looking for it come next month, on April 29th to be exact.

Asteroid NASA

Photo:  NASA

I am unsure the size of the asteroid which hit us in the Yucatan, back in the day, but those seemingly in the know tell us it changed our entire planet.  In fact, many believe it somehow killed off the entire dinosaur species.  (I always thought it funny that the Yucatan Asteroid killed off Dino and friends, but not the balance of living species on the planet.  Crickets to whales and elephants should’ve all be sunk in the impact as well, along with the nuclear winter which naturally followed.  Oh, well.  Of course, we are never to question scientific theory, right?  If you do, the science police will come in the attempt to shut you down, until you agree to nod yes to everything they print.)

Nevertheless, NASA has sent out an asteroid alert.  Even though this killer, almost the size of Mount Everest, will only visit our neighborhood.  Still it is good to be alerted.  A traffic alert is needed for an alternative route.  A tornado alert is a must to warn people on the ground.  Just ask the poor folks hurting in the Nashville, Tennessee area right now.

At the risk of appearing to be overly dramatic here, there is an alert of this nature written on papyrus some 2,000 years ago.  See if this lines up with NASA’s description.

“…and something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea; and a third of the sea became blood, and a third of the creatures which were in the sea [f]and had life, died; and a third of the ships were destroyed….”   – Apostle John – Revelation 8:8-9  (Now there’s some climate change for the record books.)  It’s interesting that in the following verse (Rev 8:10) is a description of an enormous falling “blazing star” which poisons the planet.  I will say, it’s not for the faint of heart if this planet is considered the highest treasure.

EarthSome may not realize the significance of the writings of John in the scroll of Revelation.  In fact, many try to ignore it altogether.  A study of it requires one of understanding, so says its writer.  The text defines it is an unfolding of times and events concerning the earth.  John, the writer, was given strict instructions.  “Write, therefore, whatever you have seen and those things that are, and that are going to come to pass after these things.” – Revelation 1:19 (Aramaic Translation Bible)  In other words, the ending of the age is detailed.  If you plan on a read, expect much imagery and foreshadowing within its pages.  It’s not a good bedtime read for the kids.  Alerts are a good thing.  It means, it’s not happened yet.  That’s a good thing.  Most agree, knowledge is power.

How many times have you seen a personal asteroid headed your way, and you felt like all you could do is gaze at its approach?  Maybe it was a mountain you were up against.  You knew it was coming, you were alerted, your radar and telescope captured it, but all you could do is wait for the impact.  Maybe it was a loved one, or a dear friend, who came to you with an alert about a person you were letting into your orbit.  Maybe you disregarded their warning only to find yourself broken and damaged afterwards.  It could be your body has been sending you alerts.  You’ve not felt normal while wrestling with the idea of going to a doctor for a test or two.  Many are in quarantine with the mountainous asteroid of Coronavirus.  It could be that one day you hear a knocking under the hood of your car.  A warning alert flashes on the instrument panel.  After the mechanic does a diagnostic, you are alerted of a serious issue which needs to be repaired.  In the end, we are left with the choice of heeding alerts, or ignoring them, sometimes at our peril.

For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.  Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.” – Jesus –  Mark 11:23-24 (NKJV)

There are many moments in life where faith kicks in.  Times of your back touching the corner behind you.  Someone wise once said, “Prayer is a mystery”.  Yet, sometimes, a wise person finds leaning on the mysterious unseen, is the answer.

Here’s to waving along Sad Sally.

Wandering stars, as scripture describes, are never sturdy and safe.  But there is stability standing still on The Solid Rock within fuel for the race.

 “…I Seek in myself the things I meant to say,

And lo! the wells are dry.

Then, seeing me empty, you forsake

The Listener’s role, and through

My dead lips breathe and into utterance wake

The thoughts I never knew…”

An excerpt from,  “A Poem Prayer” –  CS Lewis (1964)

 

 

COVID-19

Photo:  Corona Virus – NPR

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

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

pexels-photo-460617

Photo:  Pexels

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

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

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

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

Check out this inspiring picture…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What Took Kobe Bryant’s Life?

Photo:  The Sun/UK

“…The rain may never fall till after sundown.
By eight, the morning fog must disappear.
In short, there’s simply not
a more congenial spot
for happily-ever-aftering than here
in Camelot.”  –  (1959/1960)  Camelot (Musical score theme song.)  Composers:  Lyrics, Alan Jay Lerner  Music, Frederick Loewe

I’ve never been a big basketball fan, unless the Dallas Mavericks are in the playoffs (Still waiting).  However, I am a fan of humanity.

Tragic, so very tragic, the recent taking of 9 lives aboard Kobe Bryant’s leased helicopter.  NBA star, Kobe Bryant and his 13 year old daughter, Gianna were among the diseased.  It’s not just NBA fans who are mourning the sudden loss, but literally multitudes around the globe are feeling the sting of this horrific event.

You might have been spending time in a cave somewhere if you’ve not heard the news of this helicopter crash from Sunday morning, January 26th.  In the Los Angeles area, after an early morning church service, Kobe and his daughter boarded the helicopter with 7 other friends, including their well-experienced pilot.  They were planning to attend a youth basketball tournament scheduled for later in the day in Thousand Oaks, California.  Unfortunately, a few minutes after takeoff, the pilot made a maneuver to rise above the morning fog for clearer vision.  He had asked permission from the control tower to fly under “special visual flight rules”, literally flying by vision only.  After getting approval, air traffic officials say that the craft reached 2,300 feet then took a fast dive at 2,000 feet per minute, crashing head-first into the side of a steep mountainside.  Officials report they were 20-30 feet from clearing the mountain.  Truly heartbreaking.

As I write this, the investigation is ongoing.  There’s lots to be learned.  Two facts are certain, there was a thick morning fog which couldn’t be negotiated for lower altitude flights, and no terrain awareness warning system on board to notify the pilot of the mountain in his flight-path.  Experts say the helicopter basically disintegrated on impact.  Death for all on board was instant.

The loss is simply tremendous.  Mourning now are scores of family members from each of the 9 victims from all over the map.  Then there are the friends of each of the 9 deceased passengers from every corner of the globe.  Of course, there are acquaintances of each of the lost ones.  Naturally, there are those who mourn from the ranks of basketball fans, teammates, coaches, millions of fans who never met Kobe, or the others on board.  Each life always touches a multitude of other lives.  A falling rock in a still pond makes wide ripples which travel to its various shorelines.  I guess you could call it, the George Bailey Effect.

There’s always one question finding its way first when tragic news hits in such a disastrous, unexpected exit.  What killed Kobe Bryant and his daughter?  Some will say, the pilot.  Some will point out the helicopter with no warning system.  Others might say the control tower staff.  Those in the valley below, watching the smoke rise from the crash site, might announce the mountain destroyed their lives.  I’m afraid the debate will be long lasting.

God bless the loved ones left behind.  May they find true peace and comfort from the Name Above All Names.

A couple of days before the crash, here in the Dallas area, we experienced soupy conditions as well.  This is what downtown Dallas looked like from a commercial flight coming in for a landing.

Foggy Dallas by Ross Hardin & Dallas Morning News

Photo:  Ross Hardin, via Dallas Morning News

Have you ever driven in such a fog?  Have you ever taken a walk, or a jog on a trail in dense fog?  Imagine being in the air with 50 feet of visibility.  It’s highly disorienting.  You might find yourself without your barings of left/right, up/down.  This may have very well been the enemy of the pilot, the killer of the flight.

art fingers foggy hand
Photo by Pedro Figueras on Pexels.com

Allow me to say bluntly, there have been times when my foggy conditions had nothing to do with humidity, or the weather in general.

Too many times in my life of twists and turns, I invited fog to encroach on my path.  My walk with God became hazy, disorienting, and unable to see His flight-path for my life.  Have you ever been there?  A shinny object over there brought in the haze of a spiritual backslide down a steep slope I never thought I would ever experience.  Rounding the corner on my designated path… look…a beautiful rabbit to chase.  So, in my distraction, I put on my Alice In Wonderland shoes and off I went into a misty cloud of darkness where my vision, my focus was lost.  Over the hill, you spy a gorge below, filled with a blur of a whipped cream-like fog-bank.  Immediately I ponder what it would be like to climb down into such a chasm to get up close and personal inside the misty haze.  Once there, you realize it’s not the chosen path where safety lies waiting.  The climb back up to the clear view is so far away.  Instead, you can’t see above, around, or through the muck.  You can flash your lights on bright, but it only bounces back by the wall of fog.  No need to use your shadow as a compass, for the fog offers no shadows.

Fog is not our friend.  Fog lacks grace.  Fog lacks love.  Fog serves up misdirection.  It cares not who you are, or how many halls of fame you have been inducted.  One thing fog does possess…a weakness.

Ask any ship captain.  The foghorn is imperative when on the sea.  The tiny partials of H2O, making up the low-hanging, ground-loving cloud, is perfect for carrying audio.  Sound waves board these tiny morsels of water within mist as if they were minuscule microphones which transmit quickly to the nearest ear.  The foghorn is set at a very low frequency where the vibration skims off the surface of the water like a thin stone gliding on the exterior of the deep.  The low frequency pierces the dark, murky mist.  It bellows out, “I’M HERE!  ALTHOUGH YOU CAN’T SEE ME, I’M AFLOAT HERE IN THIS CLOUD!”  Soon, a lighthouse ashore, beams its blinding lamp toward the sound of the foghorn, guiding the ship to port.

Lighthouse Final Take

Photo:  My wife’s, Michelle Niles-Brown very first painting.

My flight-path in life has met with mountainsides a few times.  When I segue into the fog of this world, I will be, and have been, disoriented, adrift from my control tower, unable to hear its wise words.  Count on it happening when you seek only “special visuals” from your own judgement.

No matter how thick the cloud bank, no matter how wide the fog may be, no matter if the visibility is only 5 feet, when I hear the cutting foghorn of my Creator, I not only sense my built-in warning system, my flight-path is rediscovered.  The choice is mine to make the correction on faith, and not by sight.

Learning from life’s tragedies can first be navigated by fuel for the race.

“My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow Me.  And I am giving them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them from my hand.”  – Jesus –  John 10:27-28  (Aramaic Bible Into Plain English)