Saturday, November 5, 2011

What the Hay?

This is one of those stories you hate to admit to, but don’t want to see die. I’ve been accused of being a city boy, and this will remove all doubt.

When I was 16 years old I would come in from school to dad’s shop every day, and watch things while he went for a break to enjoy a cup of coffee. One day I showed up after school but instead of dad heading to the coffee shop he sent me on an errand.

Dad had read somewhere that if you are planting tomatoes you want to put some alfalfa hay in the soil. I don’t know if it was to aerate or provide nutrients, or what he idea was. I am not a horticulturist, and so far have never played one on TV. The fact is that I’ve never played anything on TV, although I did play a gangster in a theatrical production once. But that has nothing to do with alfalfa hay.

A lady came in the shop that day and dad made arrangements with her for me to pick up some hay – 2 square bales. They had already negotiated the price and payment had been tendered. All that was left was delivery of the product. And for that he had a strong backed - albeit weak minded - helper (me).

Dad gave me written directions from his shop in downtown Edmond out to a farm just south of Guthrie, down a county road in the middle of nowhere – perhaps a bit to the left side of nowhere – I’m not sure. Nevertheless, I drove… and drove.

After awhile I arrived at the farm, knocked on the door and was met by a nice lady. She pointed to the barn and said, “Go get a couple of bales. It’s paid for.”

And so I drove my 1968 Dodge Charger with the 3 speed automatic transmission and black vinyl top down to the barn. In the process I added another option to my car – a layer of cow fuel on the tires. (Cow fuel – tactful, huh!)

I threw a couple of bales in the back of the Charger and made the trek the 20 or so miles back to downtown Edmond just in time for dad to close up the shop. He came out to see his newly purchased farm product.

“Son,” he said, “I hate to tell you this… but even a city boy should know the difference between hay and straw!”

There’s a difference? (Well, it’s a rhetorical question now. I learned that hay and straw are different when I was a mere lad of 16.)

The drive back to the farm wasn’t so bad. I’d rather be driving in the country than working at the shop. But I did not relish the embarrassment of explaining to the lady that I had to return the straw and pick up the hay dad had actually purchased. I thought about telling her I was just testing dad to see if he knew the difference; or that I was just talking the straw out for a test drive.

When I got back to the farm I made the decision to bypass the farm house and just drive straight to the barn. I figured if I did get caught – well, they say forgiveness is easier to get than permission. I’m not sure how embarrassment fits into that axiom. But it’s a moot point, as I was able to make the switch without having to explain anything to the farmer’s wife.

The moral of the story is, “Don’t send a city boy to do a country boy’s job”. And in the process I learned the coolest way to burn rubber in a hotrod. Well… it’s not really rubber.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Darnell Demon

Start Chase Collingsworth as fullback”, the mural on the wall growled.

“Chase Collingsworth?” questioned Coach Roberts, with more than a little angst in his voice, and keeping constant vigil lest someone catch him talking to a wall. “But Collingsworth’s got no drive. He’s a lazy do-nothing!”

“Start Chase Collingsworth as fullback!” the mural repeated sternly.

“As you say!” said Coach Roberts. And he scratched the change into his list of starters.

Coach Justin Roberts was the head coach of the Darnell High School football team, otherwise known as the Darnell Demons. The mural on the wall was the Darnell Demon.

Coach Roberts had been the head coach at Darnell High for seven years, and for seven years he experienced frustration trumped by consternation as he watched the Demons win just enough games to keep him employed, but always – ALWAYS losing the big one; the game that would clinch a spot in the State playoffs. Coach Roberts was born in Darnell, as was his father and his father’s father. In fact he was the fifth generation of Roberts to live in Darnell, the fourth to be born there, and the third to head-coach the town’s high school football team.

His grandfather, Langston Roberts truly laid the foundation for football in Darnell. He was, and still is the holder of the state record for most consecutive wins in the history of 2-A football. Langston Roberts coached his boys to 44 straight victories, and in the process took the 2-A state championship four years running, before his retirement for ‘medical’ reasons.

There are two items of particular interest about Langston Roberts; first that he won those four titles with basically the same players, whose performance had been consistently mediocre. Of course every year freshmen came out for the team and seniors graduated. But year after year the Darnell Demons always seemed to play football about the same, finishing the season somewhere in the middle of the brackets – a team by all accounts average. Average that is, except for those four unexplainable, undefinable, perfect seasons.

The other item of note regarding Justin’s grandfather was that after winning those four state championships he went stark, raving, insane, crazy mad. The medical term is paranoia; a malady not to be scoffed at. But the good people of Darnell are fickle fans, and frustrated by the end of the winning streak, scoff they did, tagging him Looney Langston.

With Langston’s retirement his son Langston Roberts, Jr. took over the head coaching job. Langston, Jr. went by the nickname Handy, partly because he was tired of being mistaken for his father and partly because he was indeed a handy guy to have around. That is, unless you wanted a winning season on the football field. Oh, Handy could fire up a broken down school bus or fix a busted pipe. He just couldn’t seem to fire up his offense or fix his broken down defense. Though he searched high and low, Handy never discovered the magic his father had.

Handy Roberts coached for five years - five very long and depressing years - before he was taken by a tragic car accident, although the rumor was it was no accident at all. And while the town feigned sadness, inside they rejoiced in the hope that the Darnell drought would end and they could get back to winning again. That job befell his son, Justin.

The Darnell Demon is a gigantic picture of a demon painted on the wall of the school gymnasium; and a damned scary demon at that, with a red body, a red face and red horns. The only parts of the Darnell Demon that aren’t red are the pupils of his eyes. Legend has it that if you stare into the deep black eyes of the Darnell Demon for more than 7 seconds he will come visit you in the night - more than 12 seconds and he will control your thoughts - more than 45 seconds and you belong to him for life!

Of course, such legends are pure nonsense; fodder for campfire ghost stories used to scare little children into submission, lest they chatter all night in their tents. Just legends - at least that’s what Coach Roberts used to think, but that was before his eyes were opened to a realm of which few are aware; an unseen dominion of power and insight this mere football coach had never imagined.

Twelve years in an asylum must be a terrible existence, especially for someone once so vibrant, so vivacious - indeed so victorious. Langston Roberts had wasted away wearing blue pajamas and talking to walls that did not talk back. And then he found his eternal peace. God rest his soul. “It was a fitting end for him to die the week before the season’s first game,” Justin thought. “He can watch this one from Heaven.”

The whole town turned out for Langston Roberts’ funeral. Apparently the scoffing was forgotten. Looney Langston was no more. After all, Langston Roberts gave this dry, dusty little nothing of a town in the middle of nowhere a source of pride. In his funeral message Reverend Canfield of St. Ignatius Methodist Church even reminded them that it was Langston Roberts who put the town of Darnell on the map; a reference to the fact that the official maps of the State Highway Department always referred to the town as Darnel, with only one L. It was only after four consecutive state championships the map was corrected to the two-L spelling. And if a citizen of Darnell was heard saying this was just a coincidence, a Roberts was always close by to defend their claim to fame.

As soon as the graveside services ended the family filed somberly back to the homestead, a three story frame on the edge of town that was the childhood home of Grandpa Langston, and which Justin had inherited. After the food was served and eaten and the guests said their goodbyes, Justin’s Grandma Pearl leaned down and whispered in his ear, “Come back into the den with me. I have something for you.”

So stealthy was her invitation that Justin’s curiosity was piqued. What did Grandma Pearl have to share with him? Was it a deep dark secret from his grandfather? Or perhaps some valuable heirloom reserved for him? He quietly slipped out of the room and joined her in the den, where he soon learned it was both.

As he walked through the door she took him by the hand and slid a ring onto his finger. He recognized the ring as the signet ring his Grandpa Langston used to wear everywhere he went. In fact, Justin tried to remember a single time or place when Grandpa Langston didn’t have that ring on. He even bore that ring on his finger for the 12 long years he was in the institution.

The ring was formed of yellow gold with a figure of the Darnell Demon in pyrope garnet, a blood red, semi-precious stone; and with two incredibly rare black diopsides, giving off the signature star effect for which blue sapphires are better known. But a mere star sapphire could never match the mesmerizing effect of the black diopside. These stones made this ring a one of a kind – one of a kind indeed! Justin determined right there and then he would wear Grandpa Langston’s signet ring with pride, perhaps never take it off.

The ring was the valuable heirloom, but what was the deep dark secret?

The week that began with the funeral would end with the first game of the season, and so Coach Roberts was in a lather as he darted about tending to all the ducks that must be in a row before an opening game. But passing under the mural of the Darnell Demon he suddenly froze in his tracks, terror stricken, when he heard a voice growl out, “Toby Stevens to run the end around”.

“What? Who’s there? Who said that?” Coach Roberts choked out, on the verge of fainting.

“Toby Stevens to run the end-around!” the guttural voice repeated.

Then Coach Roberts realized that the eyes of the demon on his signet ring were glowing, and so were the eyes on the Darnell Demon; the mural on the wall. And that’s when Coach Justin Roberts learned the secret of Coach Langston Roberts; the secret that mercifully skipped a generation before growling back to life. And that Friday night Sophomore Toby Stephens won the game for Darnell with a brilliantly called end-around run.

Being about half the man his grandfather was, Justin Roberts coached 2 perfect seasons - a 22 win streak, before retiring for ‘medical’ reasons. He lived another 6 years in blue pajamas, and talked to walls that did not talk back.

And after the funeral Justin’s widow slipped a signet ring onto her son’s hand, for the good people of Darnell would demand another championship.

A Law Badly Named

Please be advised - this is a work of fiction.
Any similarity to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

I just killed two men. And now I sit locked in the back seat of this police cruiser, fighting the urge to vomit and wondering what comes next.

Actually that’s not entirely true. I didn’t really kill two men; I killed two boys! Anthony Brown, age 17 and Charles Washington, age 18 died just fifteen seconds after entering my home.

The chaos was overwhelming as these two invaders charged through the door from the garage, and into our front hall - a hall that leads straight to my bedroom. Spartan and Trojan, the killer Chihuahuas that sleep at the foot of our bed sensed the danger a few seconds before I was aware of anything unusual. And it was their reaction to the sound of the overhead garage door that alerted me, starting the whole sequence of events.

Eleven seconds - that’s how long it took me to spring to life, grab my handgun from the nightstand and lunge to the floor of my bedroom doorway. But I said fifteen. That leaves four seconds, and that’s exactly how long I pondered the “shoot-don’t shoot” question every gun owner prays he will never have to ask himself; a prayer that went unanswered on this darkest of nights.

It’s funny how things sometimes seem to happen in slow motion. A car changes lanes too close and you have to hit the shoulder to avoid a violent crash, and then you realize you had more than enough time to think it through and react. See, the human brain has the capacity to function at a much higher level than we realize. When the circumstances force it - when it becomes a life or death proposition - the brain is at the ready. And it’s a good thing too, because we would all be dead many times over if not for that mental reflex.

“SHOOT”, my brain told me. Actually the thought process went like this: “Oh my God - they’re in our house - aim the gun - stay down low - who are those guys - they don’t belong here - are they here to kill us - do I shoot them - would that be murder - no - protect self and family - SHOOT!”… And all that happened in just four seconds.

I would imagine Brown and Washington had similar high-level brain events as they charged through the door of what they had convinced themselves was an empty house only to find two little dogs charging toward them, yapping out in anger. Theirs probably went something like this, “Dogs – we didn’t think about that – how big are these dogs – can they hurt us – should we run – no – they don’t look so…”

Then loud noises and spinning projectiles from the other end of the hall brought it all to an abrupt end. And now two separate pools commingle into a sea of blood on my parquet floor.

Breaking into my house, although surely their last, was not the first crime Brown and Washington ever committed. In fact, it wasn’t even the first crime they committed today. Just a few hours ago, having been ejected from the basketball arena for trying to steal t-shirts from the gift shop, they picked out a car in the parking lot and bashed a rock through the window. Brown remembered a tip he’d picked up from a hoodlum friend about how people will set their GPS device with their home address, and how thieves will steal a car with a GPS and a garage door opener.

They knew they’d found the perfect crime. See, they knew the house would be easy to hit because the owners are at the game. And they knew the house would be easy to find by the GPS with its ‘home’ setting. And finally, they knew the house would be easy to get into with the garage door opener. They never considered that any one of these factors might not play out in their favor.

For all they did know, what Brown and Washington did not know was that I had loaned my garage door opener to my neighbor, Tommy Johnstone. See in two weeks Tommy’s daughter, Summer was graduating from law school; a monumental accomplishment for her, not being the brightest bulb on the block. And so, to fulfill a promise he made two years ago, Tommy went out and bought her the slickest 2009 Camaro you ever laid eyes on.

I agreed to let Tommy hide that Camaro in my garage for a few days. And that’s how my spare garage door opener came to be found clipped to the visor of Tommy’s car; the same car that was stolen by Brown and Washington. And that’s why, when the GPS directed them to Tommy’s house, whose driveway is only 10 feet from mine, it was my garage door that opened instead of Tommy’s.

You know, upon raising the door and finding the garage full of vehicles, smarter men would have reasoned that somebody must be home. But then smarter men would not be breaking into houses in the first place, would they! Funny thing is - all I know about Brown and Washington are their ages and that they aren’t very smart… oh yeah, and that their bullet riddled bodies now lie dead in my house. I can only guess whether they have prison records, or mothers somewhere praying for them, or gang brothers who will be out to avenge their deaths.

And now the time has come for me to get the answer to that question fueling my fears, “What happens next?” See, a while ago a sleek little black sports car drove up and out stepped Clayton Carter Hallstead, District Attorney for this fair city. The state legislature saw fit to afford great latitude to local DAs when it comes to the prosecution of a crime, and so it will be District Attorney Hallstead’s call whether I spend the rest of this night in a jail cell pending charges or down on my knees, cleaning our floor. Jail or home - either way I expect I will spend it on my knees!

Of course, the aforementioned reference to ‘prosecution of a crime’ implies that a crime has actually taken place. And while I know the laws well enough to know I was within my legal rights to shoot the intruders, my heart of hearts is telling me I was in the wrong. Surely I should have first tried reasoning with them. Is that really my heart, or is it just my doubts taking advantage of my weakened constitution? Having never killed two men before, I don’t feel qualified to say.

Hallstead talked with the police officers for what seemed like hours. First he was briefed by the detectives that had so forcefully taken control of the crime scene when they arrived. Then he asked some questions of the first officer who responded to the 911 call. Oh my God! The 911 call will be played over and over on the local news - maybe even go national. I wonder what I said… how I sounded?

With the window left down only a few inches, for ventilation I suppose, I was barely able to hear anything being said. But I did hear one thing. Definitely and distinctly I heard Hallstead declare, “Clear cut case of ‘Make My Day’- A clean shoot!” I was free to go.

The ‘Make My Day’ comment was a reference to a law on the books that gives a person the right to defend his home against intruders. The term comes from an old Clint Eastwood movie where Eastwood asks a criminal to try to attack him.

“Make my day!” he says, to express the pleasure he would get from shooting the guy right between the eyes.

The irony of it is that Dirty Harry Callahan, the cop Eastwood was playing, wasn’t defending his home when he made that iconic statement, but was actually in an inner city alley. How that term came to represent a guy defending his home is beyond my comprehension. But the bigger irony, as I just learned tonight, is that shooting a guy dead brings no pleasure at all, just gut wrenching pain; a pain I fear will never go away.

Hearing there won’t be any charges against me for the shooting brought a rush of relief, but with it a shift in my emotions - from fear to dread - as the events of the evening replayed in my mind. Finally an officer opened the car door and I emerged, but immediately fell to my knees. And doubled over in the grass of my own front yard, in front of cops and coroners, in front of neighbors and news crews, I lost my fight against the urge to vomit.

‘Make My Day’ - It’s not a bad law, just a law badly named. It should have been called ‘Change My Life’.

Photo Pistol by Jean Sander - used by permission

Private Barefoot

Kidneys, intestines, lungs, stomach, but oddly, not the heart... And nothing else, except what must be buckets of blood and a set of dog tags on a broken chain, wrapped around what appears to be the liver.

“This is obviously the remains of a human being and not the gut pile of a muntjac deer left behind by a local hunter,” Warrant Officer Kenton thought to himself, as he picked up the dog tags and read aloud, confirming what he had been told, “Private First Class Gerome Maxwell Barefoot, Protestant”.

It was November 1967 in South Vietnam and Warrant Officer John Marshall Kenton was deployed to CID, the US Army’s criminal investigative unit responsible for enforcement of military law involving US personnel. Illegal drug activity among the troops was the business of the CID, and business was brisk!

Warrant Officer Kenton had seen stranger sights in these war torn jungles of Southeast Asia; various body parts, bodies with missing parts, soldiers tortured by the enemy, and even sometimes by their own brothers-in-arms. But in his 14 months with CID he had never seen or heard of a case where there was just a pile of human guts and nothing else.

Private First Class Barefoot was a known drug dealer; one of the area’s biggest suppliers of heroin to Uncle Sam's chosen sons. And as such he has been under Kenton’s scrutiny for several weeks. Barefoot had been completely off the radar for several days, and it was naturally assumed his disappearance was due to some criminal activity and not an act of war. So when this grizzly scene was found by a squad of soldiers on night patrol, Kenton was immediately called.

In what appeared to be mere coincidence, Kenton’s investigation of Private Barefoot’s activities had recently taken him to a small village not two klicks from this very spot. He had received reports that Barefoot was seen traveling to and from this small village on several occasions, and it was his job to learn why. And so, with his interpreter, Cao An Dung in tow, Kenton mounted his jeep and headed for the village.

Cao tried to warn Kenton of the dangers of charging in, unannounced and uninvited; especially in these smaller, jungle villages. Remote villager dwellers, in their seclusion already did things their own way, and with the burdens brought on by the war, there was really no way of knowing what to expect when you just drive right into their midst. Like as not you will be turned away post haste - maybe with your life and possessions intact, maybe not.

But Kenton had a way with the locals. He spoke just enough of their language to catch the gist of what was happening, and when he did find himself in the dark, either of what was being said or what custom was being practiced, he had a self abasing way that was usually accepted as endearing. And that, coupled with his downright brash self confidence gave him the gall to forge ahead, in spite of better judgment or Cao’s reservations.

After a three hour ride on what would not qualify as a road anywhere outside a hot war zone, Kenton and Cao were relieved to reach the village; but it was a relief tempered with apprehension, as their visit was not scheduled, invited or even expected. But fortune smiled on them that day, as the local chieftain actually acted pleased at their arrival. Kenton wasn’t sure how to take that. Perhaps the chieftain was expecting someone else, and in a case of mistaken identity they were welcomed with open arms. But if that was the case, what on Earth would that someone else’s business be? Kenton recognized that an extra degree of caution was in order.

Kenton clasped his hands together above the waist and bowed. The Chieftain, impressed with his humorous attempt to honor their custom, reached out his hand to pay honor in kind to this American with his custom, the handshake. And a bond of friendship was immediately formed. Chalk up another one for the Kenton charm.

The Chieftain then introduced Kenton and Cao to his family which consisted of a very obese and unattractive woman who appeared to be about the same age as he; 150 give or take, Kenton surmised; and a whole bevy of children. The eldest child was a girl Kenton guessed to be about 18 or 19, quite fetching, and obviously at least 3 or 4 months with child. Her name, Tuyen, was the only one he remembered, since he had known another Tuyen… briefly.

Kenton had questions for the chieftain and he was anxious for answers. “I want to ask you about a soldier named Barefoot,” he said. But the chieftain was having none of it. With Cao’s assistance the chieftain informed Kenton that mature men do not conduct business before dining, and the dinner hour was at hand. And so an invitation was offered.

“If it means swallowing hard and eating what’s put in front of me to get my answers...” Kenton thought to himself. And so he joined the chieftain and several others sitting on a straw mat around a crudely constructed table adorned with… well, Kenton was not sure what the fare-de-jour was.

But while the chieftain was not yet in a talking mood, Kenton already had his answers - at least some of them. Even a novice investigator could not have missed Tuyen’s reaction when she heard the name ‘Barefoot’ spoken. Her immediate gasp combined with the look on her face and her hands moving to embrace her tummy told Kenton that Barefoot’s business at this village was less about dope than the activities that led to the little baby Barefoot growing inside Tuyen.

“What am I eating here? What type meat is this?” he asked. Cao asked the chieftain, and then smiled and said, “The closest translation would be, ‘favor yourself - pretend it’s wild boar’”.

Kenton assumed it was one of those gigantic jungle rats the soldiers dread. “Wait 'till the folks back home hear I sat in the jungle and ate rat with half naked people”, he chuckled to Cao.

With dinner behind them, the two new friends sat and drank a concoction brewed by the chieftain, and talked of war and family. “Not bad hooch”, Kenton said and Cao translated. The chieftain grinned widely and promised a jug as a parting gift.

But when the conversation turned back to Gerome Barefoot the chieftain clammed up. Now frowning, he just mumbled the same phrase over and over, which Cao translated to mean, “…never heard of him.” But pregnant Tuyen’s earlier reaction told a different story.

That was Kenton doing his job two evenings ago. His job now is to make sense of this pile of guts either left by Private Gerome Barefoot or left of Private Gerome Barefoot. There was an obvious path leading from the slaughter, into the jungle. And so he followed the trail, and within 50 feet he found another gruesome site. There lying in the middle of the makeshift trail lay a severed head. It was swollen, discolored and mangled, but Kenton still recognized it as formerly belonging to Private Barefoot. He had seen that distinctively deformed left ear on more than one occasion.

Two hours later Kenton found himself hiding behind a bush looking out over a small jungle village.

“This village looks eerily familiar”, Kenton whispered to himself. “Is this… yes, it is.” It was the same village he was in two nights ago. And so his suspicions were confirmed – it was not a coincidence that the Barefoot investigation lead him to a crime scene so close to the chieftain’s village.

From his vantage point he can see a large fire in the middle of the village square, with a black pot on the fire, and cuts of meat hanging from hooks nearby. He hadn’t seen that two nights ago, but two nights ago he had approached by way of the road; not the jungle.

But wait – what kind of meat is that hanging there, waiting to be cooked and eaten? And then Kenton realized it. He was standing there looking at a human leg on a hook. And as if a light was turned on, Kenton saw the irony that attached to that leg is an American soldier's foot missing its sock and boot - Private Barefoot's bare foot!

“OH MY GOD”, he grimaced, clutching his stomach in a way not unlike the chieftain’s daughter Tuyen had 48 hours before. “I ate there just two nights ago.” And he realized that, in a way, he and Tuyen shared the same malady. They both had a little Barefoot inside them.

And sitting there in the jungle facing the putrid reality of it, all Warrant Officer John Marshall Kenton could think was, "I wonder what rat really tastes like!”

Photo Hut by Piotr Wojtkowski

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Drought of Twenty-Eleven

For the sixth week in a row the sun beat down upon us. We were tired and parched believers in a dry and thirsty land. Just as a flower will wither and die without the rains, so do Christians need the praise and worship – the fellowship of the brethren – the hearing of an anointed word from a Man of God, lest said Christians suffer that same fate. And now another Sunday morning had rolled around.

For reasons of no consequence to this story Stephanie and I found ourselves without a home church to attend. By now it had been six weeks since we had attended Sunday Service, but for us the drought had started many weeks before, and so we did thirst.

...what I do know is that it rained today!

When you love God and realize he has a plan for your life, sleeping in and sitting around on Sunday morning is not an option for very long. And it had been too long. So we made the decision to visit a church that was recently started in an elementary school in our neighborhood. And we’re so glad we did.

The church is called Faith Church and it meets on Sunday mornings at 10 o’clock in the Auditorium of James L Dennis Elementary School. My expectations of church size were confounded when I rounded the corner to a parking lot full of cars. I was expecting about half as many.

The awkwardness of walking for the first time into a group of strangers was quickly allayed by smiling greeters at the door, and again (and again) by friendly people pointing the way to the coffee, the restrooms and the sanctuary (as it were). I even ran into someone I knew a few years back.

Most everyone was standing around visiting with friends so Stephanie and I chose seats and settled in. Almost immediately a guy walked up and said, “Hi, I’m Josh!” From what little research I had done on Facebook and on the church’s website I recognized Josh as the Pastor. And I was impressed at the genuineness and humility with which he introduced himself.

And then church started. And brother – it was CHURCH; the praise and worship, the anointed word from a Man of God, the fellowship after service (with ice cream, no less)!

Stephanie and I were both blessed beyond measure. The picture conjured in my mind was that of a cowboy riding his pony over the brittle, rainless ground, praying for the promise of a cloud and constantly scanning the horizon for a stream or a river. And then one glorious day, there it is – that oasis of water. And then the cowboy stands, arms outstretched to God in thanks, and falls straight backward into the life giving pool. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh, the refreshing!

I don’t know if Stephanie and I will pitch our tent at this watering hole, followed by the building of a cabin and dreams of a larger spread, or if this is just a stopover on the trail to our final destination. We’ll look to the leading of the Holy Spirit on that. But what I do know is that it rained today!

Thanks Pastors Josh & Tiffany and Faith Church for the rain!

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Power of the Pyramid

Things I Hate #127 - Amway!

It's not the products – don’t use ‘em, have no idea how good they are. I may be wrong, but I’ve always assumed the name Amway is a hybrid of the words "American" and "Way". But I’m an American, and I get most of my stuff at Wal-Mart. I had an Amway salesman once tell me I could save the gas of driving to Wal-Mart. “That’s ok,” I told him. “I’m headed there anyway for a new set of tires, some shotgun shells and one of those roasted chickens they have in a case up by the register.”

Oh, it's not because they don't have ammo or roasted chicken. And it’s really not the company itself either. I don’t know that much about it. What I hate about Amway is their way of doing business. Rightly or wrongly, Amway has the reputation of being one of the first and the biggest to apply that business model commonly known as the “pyramid”.

The concept is – you sign up to sell the products. Then you start signing other people up to sell the products. And guess what – you get some money for signing them up, AND you get some money when they sell the products. I gather the Amway salesfolk use the products, but does anybody ever really sell the products? Or do they just make their money signing up other people?

But that pyramid thing is still not what I REALLY hate. What I REALLY hate is how, when somebody gets involved in a sales-oriented situation like that, their family and friends become their prospects! Some of them even teach you in their training manual that you have a ready-made base of prospects - your family and friends.

Here’s how it happens. First you start noticing slight changes in the routine that is your friendship - subtle hints that something’s different. You aren’t spending as much time doing the friend things you used to do. Your conversations aren’t as light-hearted as before.

And then you get that all-telling invitation, “We’d like you guys to come over for dinner. We have something we want to share with you!” Oh, you've had dinner there lots of times, but never have you received a formal invitation. That pain you are experiencing in the pit of your stomach right now is what it feels like to realize you’ve just morphed from friend into prospect!

I just hate it when a friend tells me he's signed up for the latest greatest new home-marketing product. See, I don't have that many friends to spare.

If this is the American Way I think I’ll sign up for EgypWay. EgypWay may not have roasted chicken either, but at least their pyramids are real!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Hop

The Joke
The sole survivor of a shipwreck was rescued from a deserted island after several years alone. His rescuers marveled at the expansive hut he had built as his home. Then they noticed two more huts near one another on the other side of the small island. When asked about the other two huts he pointed to one of them.

“That’s where I go to church!” he exclaimed with pride.

“Interesting”, replied one of the rescuers. “And what is that other hut?”

“Oh”, he chagrined, “that’s where I used to go to church.” (Insert rim-shot here)

Church Hopping
Church hopping - the very term seems to carry an air of negativity - as if a person should find a church, roll up his sleeves and get busy. And never ever again in the unfolding saga of his life should he find the need, desire or opportunity to change from the church where he attends and serves.

But then we are reminded of concepts such as, when one door closes another one opens, or “…for such a time as this…” And we realize that people move from one state to another – and where you begin your spiritual walk may not even be within a thousand miles of where you are finally laid to rest. And a lot of transformations happen in the meantime. Some geographical… some spiritual… some just down right practical!

The Apostle Paul was a church hopper. Oh sure, you could say that he was an Apostle and thus needed to hop to Corinth, and hop to Ephesus, and hop to Thessalonica and Rome and… well, you get the idea. But that’s where his ministry took him. I hate to think of what would not have happened in Paul’s ministry had he not been a church hopper.

When a church gets new leadership changes begin to take place. This is to be expected - even anticipated. And so when things start happening differently in the Sunday morning service you understand that changes are par for the course. And when staff members start leaving you accept that a new administration brings with it a new team, sometimes by transition, sometimes in mass. So you swallow hard and accept that it is for the best.

Routines are shuffled up. Old programs are phased out and new ones instituted. The very individuals who taught your Sunday School classes and served you communion wafers and changed the light bulbs in the sanctuary change. And in the midst of it all you pray for God’s guidance and look to this new leadership. You look first to see if your needs will be met. And then you look to see where your place may be in helping to meet the needs of others. And you realize that, just as changes are taking place around you, you yourself must be willing to change.

But you also realize that this new pastor is not Previous Pastor, Part 2. He is a different man with a different plan. It’s a plan you may or may not agree with, and you may or may not have a place in that plan. If you do, you re-roll your sleeves and get busy serving. If not, you realize there are others for whom this plan is a perfect fit.

The Hop
But if that plan is designed on pretenses of which you do not approve and cannot support, it becomes obvious to you that there remains no role for you to fill. After all, can two walk together unless they are agreed? Perhaps you have even seen many you’ve come to know and love packing their bibles and leaving, and you start to sense an atmosphere of “hop or get hopped!” And so, after much prayer, you hop.

Your only hopping hope is that by sharing your thoughts others will realize the observations they have observed and the suspicions they have suspected are not merely imagined. And hopping is not a sin. But then, neither is refusing to hop.

Godspeed, my friend.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

My Word

The nine month course offered by Rhema Bible Training Center passed quickly and, diploma in hand, I was licensed as a minister through an organization recommended by Rhema. And out into the world I charged!

After a year or two of working in the ministry I applied for ordination and ministerial credentials with a church called Faith Christian Fellowship, located in Tulsa and pastored by Kenneth Hagin’s son-in-law, Buddy Harrison. I received a letter to attend the ordination service where I would be presented with those credentials.

It was at that ordination service that one of the most momentous events of my life unfolded. See, I had read in the bible that certain men, when they were “separated” unto the calling that God had on their lives, had words prophesied over them confirming their call to ministry. And so I asked God for a word of prophesy to be spoken over me at my ordination.

...The Holy Ghost said, "Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them." Acts 13:2

Oh, I had learned from listening to these teachers of the Word that seeking out prophesies for guidance and direction is not God’s plan. Going to his Word and spending time in prayer is God’s way of guiding his children. But this was my ordination service, and I felt I had Biblical precedent for my request.

And so the time came. All the men and women (and their spouses) who were there for ordination were called up front, standing across the front of the church in a line. Pastor Buddy Harrison, his associate Larry Huggins, and their entourage were moving from one end toward the other, laying hands upon and praying for those being ordained. I was antsy with anticipation at the word to be spoken over me.

And then Pastor Harrison moved to stand before my wife and me. And then he laid hands upon us and prayed for God to anoint us and guide us in our ministry. And then he moved on toward the next couple.

“That’s it?” I questioned - silently of course. “Where is my word from the Lord?” And while I didn’t feel cheated, I was nevertheless disappointed. I had not been one to seek out words from other people to guide my life. I had gone to God’s word and spent my time in prayer. And yet, this was my ordination, and I had asked God for a prophecy; just as I had seen in the Bible.

And then, just as Pastor Harrison was raising his hands toward the next couple in line… he stopped. And then he looked back at me. And then he turned around and stepped back to me. And then he laid his hands back upon me. And then he opened his mouth and prophesied over me. And he spoke these words:

“Father, in the Name of Jesus, we lay our hands upon these –
...separate them whereunto they are called.

We declare and we decree that which you desire
to impart as their portion today.

We thank you Father that you give them
new and fresh words to say.

Blessings, blessings, they shall abound;
teaching, teaching, it shall be sound.

The utterance is going to come.
It’s going to be strong, clear, deep and sweet.

You’ll speak as the oracles of God;
so go ahead and yield to it.

And when that boldness comes on you,
don’t back up and get timid, but be strong,

in Jesus’ Name.”

I had my word!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Silkwood’s Noconas

Perhaps you’ve heard of Karen Silkwood, the premier counter-culture icon of the labor unions, environmentalists, and anti-nukers of the world. Karen was working at a facility owned by a major oil company who had ventured into the nuclear arena. Her job involved making plutonium pellets for nuclear reactors.

Of course, she’s dead now. If you saw the movie Silkwood, starring Meryl Streep, you know this. But what you don’t know is what this has to do with me.

Well, as the story goes, Karen found some incredible negligence in the way the nuclear products were being handled (numerous violations of health regulations, including exposure of workers to contamination, faulty respiratory equipment and improper storage of samples). That plutonium is some pretty dangerous stuff, you know.

In spite of the damage to her car’s rear fender and the skid marks in the road, nobody was ever charged in her murder...

When Karen’s breath expelled contaminated air from her lungs an investigation was launched. She, as well as her home, was found to be badly contaminated. The major oil company claimed Karen caused the contamination to make them look bad, or to sell the story, or for whatever reason. Of course, Karen claimed it was from the aforementioned negligence. Others speculated that the major oil company actually planted the contamination to sully her name.

Karen decided to go public with the evidence. She claimed to have a binder full of documentation, and indeed folks in her home town of Crescent, Oklahoma later testified of the existence of such a binder. She called the New York Times and a meeting was set.

And so, on the evening of November 13, 1974, Karen Silkwood left Crescent, Oklahoma to drive to Oklahoma City 30 miles away to hand the evidence over to the journalist. But she never arrived. The next day her car was found in a culvert on the road to Oklahoma City – her body inside the car… the binder nowhere to be found.

Of course, everyone with half-a-brain assumed the major oil company “took care of her”… “had her bumped off”… But in spite of the damage to her car’s rear fender and the skid marks in the road, nobody was ever charged in her murder. In fact, it wasn’t even officially ruled a murder – but an accident! And in fact, in the longest running civil suit in the history of the state, the major oil company paid Karen’s family $1.38 million, and got out of the nuclear energy business altogether.

BUT… what has this got to do with me?

Well, remember that investigation that found contamination at Karen’s home? In the course of the search the authorities did a lot of damage. Later Cher Bono brought Karen’s boots into my father’s shoe repair shop to be fixed. (OK… it wasn’t Cher Bono. It was Karen’s roommate - Cher Bono just played her in the movie).

“Price is no object”, she said. “Hell, they’re paying for it!”

And so I got to tear off the soles and heels from the late Karen Silkwood’s Nocona boots, so that my dad could make them like new again.

So why am I telling you this? Two reasons – One: I don’t know if anybody but me knows this story, and I wouldn’t want it to be forgotten. And Two: it might explain why my fingers glow in the dark!

photo used by permission of: Idea go /

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

White House Windows

A little over a year ago I posted a piece called A Tale of Two Chiefs. In that story I talked about my desire to take a trip to Washington, tour the White House, and possibly have my picture taken with the President. Recently Stephanie and I were able to take my dream vacation to D.C., and I got to see and do all the things of which I have desired for years.

Of course, I didn’t get the chance to pose with the Pres. In fact, I didn’t even get the chance to tour the White House. Such tours have to be arranged by your U. S. Representative. And while I did apply for the tour, I don’t know if it is because my Rep is a rookie, or if the White House looked up my party affiliation, or (more likely) if my request was just submitted too late.

...then we turned to go back to the bus. And that’s when I saw him!

The truth is I did almost have the chance to shake hands with the President. See, we were there early in April, the week the government was threatening to shut down for lack of a budget. Of course, the government did not shut down, but continues to this day to show us the stellar quality of their work. And the day after the budget agreement was ironed out the President made a surprise visit to the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall, where he shook hands with the surprised tourists. Unfortunately I had visited the Lincoln Memorial just a few hours earlier.

But even though I didn’t get tickets to the White House, it was at the White House that I experienced what may have been my most memorable moment of the trip. Not inside of course – I didn’t make it inside; but just outside the fence to the North, in Lafayette Park. Having spent the entire day on a tour bus seeing monuments, memorials, museums and statutes – universities, embassies, cathedrals and more, we topped the night off with yet another tour bus trip that had as its final destination a quick stop over at the White House.

We walked through Lafayette Park in awe at the site of that icon of freedom, that heart and soul of our nation that is the White House. We pointed at the lighted windows wondering who was in there and what they were doing, and thanked God Bill Clinton isn’t in there anymore. And we offered our opinions on the guy that is. We snapped pictures of the others and posed for our own. And then we turned to go back to the bus. And that’s when I saw him!

There is in Lafayette Park, directly in front of and in plain sight of the White House, a shabby tent flanked by large, amateurish looking yellow signs. The signs have words and pictures – words to explain the cause, and to explain that this vigil had been continuously maintained since 1981; and pictures depicting the horrors of nuclear war. Such a sight did not really surprise me. In fact my trip wouldn’t have been complete without seeing a White House protester (and possibly being one).

Standing there on the sidewalk I observed a tired looking old man, unshaven and unkempt – sitting on the ground - arms folded, body hunched over, eyes shut – resembling a drug addict or at least a street dweller. And like everyone else I adjusted my gait and my path to avoid him. But then an unusual thing happened. Something inside me compelled me to draw closer, to read his signs and afford myself the opportunity to at least attempt to understand what compels this man to stand vigil.

Understand that it was not his cause that tugged at my heart so hard as to pull me to his very threshold. It was the man himself. I can’t really say how affected I was by what I read, but I was profoundly affected by what I saw – this man’s commitment to his cause. After standing there reverently and reading all his signs, I spoke up. “God bless you, sir.” I said.

At the sound of my voice he immediately came to life. His head raised, his eyes opened wide and a smile broke across his face. And it was at that moment I experienced what may be the most lasting memory of my dream trip to D.C. It’s been said, “The eyes are the window to the soul.” That man had the kindest, the deepest, the most committed and caring eyes I have ever had the honor of staring into. He responded, “Thank you very much, my friend!” And then he bowed his head again.

I didn’t offer this man money – he wasn’t asking for money. I didn’t offer him food or drink. What I did offer him was the only thing I had to give that would be of any consequence to him. I offered him God’s Blessings – probably the only chance his cause really has.

I returned to the bus and the excitement and exhaustion that is a week in the Capitol City. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that if we could elect a President to these United States that has the eyes of the protester in the park, we would surely stand a chance of curing the ails of modern man.

Picture "George" from a mural at Mount Vernon- Copyright 2010 by Reece Kepler

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Act of Friendship - Badge of Honor

“CLEAN IT UP!” dad yelled, about as annoyed as I’d ever seen him – not really angry… just annoyed. “I knew if you kept messin’ with people you were gonna get messed with”, he declared.

It was the summer of 1973, and just like every other fun-loving teenager in America that lived in the city, I spent my evenings – every evening - driving up and down the drag, honking at the same cars I honked at on the last round just a few minutes ago, which were in fact the same cars I honked at last night and the night before, and every night that summer; all the while watching the bank clock to see if I had time for one more drag before curfew saw me pulling up in front of the house.

OK, so dad was right – I had been victimized; something I never thought would happen...

But this night was different. On this night, after having made one last round on the drag I headed for the house. And then I turned on our street. And that’s when I saw it. Even from a block away I could see it. Somebody had strewn toilet paper all over our yard – all over our trees, all over our bushes, all over mom’s car – everywhere! We had been TP’d!

I walked in the house and found dad still up, watching TV. “You didn’t hear anything?” I asked. “Hear what? What are you talking about?” And that’s when I showed him the front yard, and that’s when I got his lecture… and his refusal to help me clean it up.

For the unlearned, the phenomenon known as TPing a house, or as my cousins in Dallas called it, rolling a house, is when a gang of kids (usually) unroll several rolls of toilet paper on a friend’s front yard. They throw the roll up into the tree and watch it fall on the other side, leaving a streamer of Charmin hanging from the highest branch. They lace it through the bushes. They roll it under a car and then throw it over, hoping it won’t come apart at a perf in the process, so that the car can be neatly “wrapped up”.

But Dad didn’t understand the fun of it. Maybe that’s because they probably didn’t have toilet paper in “his day”. They probably just dumped bushel baskets of corn cobs on each other’s yards and then jumped into the buggy, hoping the victim wouldn’t hear the horse’s hoofs as they made their get-away.

OK, so dad was right – I had been victimized; something I never thought would happen. While I must have gone through a hundred dollars worth of toilet paper myself that summer, I took pride in having never been TP’d myself. Oh, they tried, but I always caught them. I once chased a girl halfway down the street to make her come back and clean up the mess she’d tried to make on my yard.

But somebody had finally succeeded in nailing me! And I was flabbergasted by it. See, you only TP people you like. It’s an act of friendship – a badge of honor to be TP’d. But I knew who my friends were, and I made it my job to know where every one of them was every night… so that I could “get” them but they couldn’t “get” me.

And I was the KING of TP. I was so adept at the game that I could look at a “job” and tell you with some degree of accuracy how many rolls were used, and probably who the artist was that created the masterpiece. I even TP’d a girl’s car parked on Broadway in the middle of the afternoon without getting caught.

But whose work was this? I didn’t recognize it. In fact, it was done so poorly that I couldn’t image it being something any of my friends had done. We were pros after all. I remember telling dad that the person who did the tree had no clue how to TP, but whoever did the bushes did an OK job.

So the investigation began. I started asking all my friends what they were doing on Friday night. You have to be subtle when conducting an inquiry. You have to ask leading questions, and look for telling expressions. But it just wasn’t happening. No matter who I grilled, I got nowhere. I recruited my closest friends to assist in the case. I wracked my brain for anyone I may have overlooked. But all my friends were accounted for on that Friday evening – except two. But who were those two?

Two weeks passed, and each day I was more perplexed than the day before. Then, one afternoon I walked into the shop where I worked with dad, and he said something that cracked the case wide open. “I know who TP’d you!” he declared, with that crooked grin on his face that those who knew him still remember to this day, more than 10 years after his passing.

“WHO?” I asked, only half way believing him. “It was your best friend,” was all he would tell me. He strung me along for about 2 days before confessing that it was in fact HE, HIMSELF that had TP’d our yard, with the help of my older brother. He barely contained his laughter as he regaled how he had done the tree (pathetic) while my brother did the bushes (adequate).

Dad was right. It was my best friend that had TP’d me that Friday night in the summer of ’73. Oh, I didn’t realize it at the time, but my best friend gave me what would be most of my fondest memories of childhood. And it was my best friend that kept me out of trouble and got me out of trouble, and taught me what being a man really means. And it was my best friend that introduced me to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ at a very early age. And I look forward to seeing them both face to face at the Lord’s returning.

Even so, come quickly!