Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – An Alzheimer’s Story

A lot of people know Elton John’s 70’s hit “Goodbye Yellow. Brick Road.” And while I don’t necessarily associate this song with my mama, it definitely reminds me of her favorite movie: The Wizard of Oz.

Although this is one woman’s story, this blog is about facing life with a parent suffering Alzheimer’s disease. One of her caregivers very recently suggested that if we want to get any glimpse of our mother, then we’d better do it now. Pam, the sweet soul, who has brought so much comfort to our family, has worked with patients like mom for so long that she knows our time with mother—at least cognitively—is almost over.

She never really put her story into words. And while this may seem to have a melancholy undertone, it chronicles her story and the lesson she, unbeknownst to her, taught us. In your honor and for all the Alzheimer’s victims, mamma, hear your voice…

Mother would tell you to your face she felt like she never had a voice. My little sister, Robyn, and I could not begin to tell you how many times she referred to herself as a second class citizen. We always thought this was ridiculous, maybe she truly felt this way. Maybe it’s why the older she got, the angrier she became.

Born on New Year’s Day 1943 in the Rowan County, NC hospital, she was the 2nd and only surviving child born to my grandparents, Bryte Bess & Miles Alexander Carpenter. My grandparents were the first two in each of their respective families to leave country life and agricultural farm communities and earn advanced degrees. This singular fact, for better or for worse, set for mom’s life a different course. My grandmother was an R.N.; my granddaddy graduated State College (we now know it as NC State) in 1932. He made his career as an executive managing mills for Erwin Mills and Burlington Industries. This provided for mom, unbeknownst to her…and she never admitted it, a privileged childhood.

Sarah Bryte grew up in the tiny southern Davie County mill town of Cooleemee. Truly, it was and remains the proverbial “wide place in the road.” There were no stoplights. They had the first residential phone in town; their phone number was “9.”

Mama grew up Baptist and enjoyed abundant and full high school friendships that lasted most of her life. Presented with debutantes from the Lexington Charity League, she was stunning in her white Chantilly and crinoline gown. Upon graduation she headed to the hills to earn her degree at Appalachian State Teacher’s College. Mama’s college love was a Eddie. Things did not work out for them; I’m rather certain she never got over him. Eddie entered her life again in approximately 2010. I do not recall when she was ever as giddy and excited to rekindle a friendship. It turned out that newly widowed Eddie was looking for a housewife and caregiver for his old age. When this did not work out for them again…fifty years later is when the changes in mom began to surface.

(Mom & Eddie – May, 1964 in Boone)

(Appalachian State Teacher’s Collage Senior Class Photo)

Before graduation, she arrived in the “big city,” Charlotte, to pursue student teaching. This led to a job with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. It was during this time she met my dad on a blind date. There must be something about blind dates in my family; I met my bride the same way.

On June 25, 1967 mom and dad married in a highly traditional wedding in Erwin, NC. She immediately joined him at our family property (where my office remains today) continuing to build the mobile home sales, park development and property management business my paternal granddaddy began helping dad to build.

Mom’s days were characterized by collecting rent, cleaning rental homes and squeezing every penny so that they could get to the top. They had a free place to live and paid themselves $ 50 a week….a week. The first week of October, 1968 my parents brought me home to our single wide mobile home on Route 1 John Price Road. Their hard work paid off quickly. Robyn was born in May, 1971 and came home to our first house in Huntingtown Farms. Many, many people prospered over the last 5 1/2 decades because of the foundations my parents laid.

(Bringing me home from the hospital. My office is still on this same site today; different building).

(Robyn coming home from Charlotte Memorial Hospital)

Dad worked A LOT. The recession of the early 70’s ushered in problems for mom and dad. They had very different philosophies concerning financial strategy, family life and other issues. Mother realized her life, like most of us eventually realize, would not be the charmed life she’d envisioned as a young girl. Things were about the change.

When they separated Mom went back to work teaching as a Title 1 Reading teacher, then math, and after several years went back into the classrooms of elementary schools J.H. Gunn, Tuckaseegee, McAlpine, and Huntingtown Farms. Although she was the consummate professional and an excellent teacher, she truly disliked the bureaucracy involved in the education system. Our local school system recognized her as a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Teacher of the Year.

(On the steps of the James K. Polk house)

Mom dated Buzz for twelve years. He worked hard to help maintain her home in superior condition. They had a lot of fun with a group called the Charlotte Sociables. Other than one nice cruise and and one trip each to New York and Las Vegas, Buzz took her on the only major trip she ever took. In 1984 they went to Singapore and Malaysia for two weeks. I still have the jade cuff links she brought me. Although he asked, mom refused to marry Buzz. Eventually, he moved on to pursue his life. After approximately 1990 she did not see anyone seriously again.

Mickey first, then Sophie brought “puppy love” to her life. Thank goodness for canine comradery. Honestly, mother did not either particularly do much to seek friendships or nurture existing ones. She preferred to keep to herself, somewhat, and depended tremendously on my sister and my family for social connections and activities.

Alex and Pierce, her only grandchildren, were the light of her early retired life. Mama wanted grandchildren and she loved these boys! Thaedra and I were extremely blessed to have “Mimi” as a default babysitter. She would be offended when we would ask someone else to keep the boys. It was when the boys were quite young mom built her “dream house” just a mile and a half from my house off of Providence Road. The boys loved to stay there. On the vacant lot next door they took leftover construction materials and built multiple forts. They called it “the village.” Picturing those moments marked in time as we watched through mom’s kitchen window warms my heart. Their unbounded adventure and energy was contagious; she knew great joy in those years. But, little boys grow up and going to grandma’s house doesn’t alway hold it’s appeal. Seeing them turn into young teenagers seeking their interests, while making her happy, saddened her personally because it made her feel alone.

(One of thousands of pics of Mimi & her boys from over the years; “The Village” was torn down by this point, but it was just through the window behind them.)

Mom enjoyed several trips with the boys, Thaedra, Robyn and me: New York for the Macy’s parade; Hilton Head; Atlanta, the NC Outerbanks, and a zippity do da week in Florida at Disney were among her favorites.

Sometime around 2010, Eddie- the college boyfriend, contacted mom shortly after his wife passed away. The hope of attention and potential promise for rekindled love ignited an excitement in mama I rarely, if ever, witnessed. However, as I mentioned, it did not work out. She simply did not want to talk about it; I know her heart had been broken. As an adult son this is a tough, tough thing to watch when there is nothing you can do. It made me sad.

One additional issue she faced was severe back and neck pain. Over several years seeking several specialists, pain clinics and an unsuccessful trial procedure from a visiting Mayo Clinic surgeon did not fully address the problem. I mention this as a lesson to anyone with aging parents. Mom…. OPIODS…. Lots of them…the crisis is real! We believe as many as five STRONG pills a day and she was still getting behind the wheel of her car to drive…we did not know for quite some time. Addiction occurs among the most unlikely people.

Shortly thereafter, 2013 or so, our family began to notice a marked and drastic difference in mom. Her neighbor’s even reached out to me repeatedly noting bizarre and unusual behavior. It was during a visit to a neurologist mom was diagnosed with a form of early onset dementia. It later became full blown Alzheimer’s….the most cruel and life robbing disease (I saw it with my dad’s mother as well).

The details of these last few years are not pretty.

Mama made a few pivotal choices. One was to almost always see her glass as half empty when it just as easily could have been seen as half full. The second was not to seek help when the discomfort from her ailments led her to pain suppressants. We asked the neurologist why a woman who has had no history of dementia, no history of Alzheimer’s whatsoever in her family become afflicted with this so severely at age 72? He answered that it could be circumstances, attitude, medical choices along the way. I have absolutely no doubt this is the case.

The truth is that we’ll never know the answer.

I do know the most valuable lesson she taught Robyn and me is to look at our glasses as half full…to always seek the positive. Because mom rarely felt positive thoughts and we almost always saw where this outlook led her, her example taught us as an alternative to pursue joy, to love friends, to live fully and as they say: to look for the sunny side of life.

Like Dorothy in the Wizard, mom’s life took her a long way from home, yet she was never geographically very far from her Cooleemee beginnings. She always yearned for the comfort of her small town past. She always knew there is no place like home.

Mama, thank you for taking care of us. Thank you for loving us the way you knew how. I don’t know where Alzheimer’s takes a person. To see her today is a difficult encounter. Like a typical Alzheimer’s patient she will sit and stare blankly. I wonder if the mind plays old memories over and over for these people? I hope so and I hope happy memories bring them peace and comfort even though they cannot express it in an outwardly lucid manner.

Mama, my prayer for you, as it has been for years, is that you have found home and peace like your favorite movie gal, somewhere over the rainbow.

Take Action

This coming October 13th is the Charlotte Walk to End Alzheimer’s. My dear friend, Eileen, works diligently to make this walk one of the nation’s top 30. If you or anyone you know suffers or has suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, please click on the link below to go to Eileen’s “Everyday is a New Day” team page to help us raise research funds and to raise awareness.

Thank you for your consideration.

Mean People Suck….and So Does Cancer!

The Dedication

This blog is for all people who encounter cancer. It is written for my exceptional friend, Kevin, and especially for the radiant love of his life, Jennifer. Today she is undergoing highly invasive surgery. By the time she awakens she will have undergone a mastectomy and be well on her way to a long period of healing and treatment (according to her 4-27-18 FB post). This blog is long; as is, for some people, the prospect of fighting cancer.

The Soap Box Stand About Mean People (who really aren’t mean)

There’s this meme on social media that reads “The world is full of good people. If you can’t find one; be one.” There is another meme out there that’s funny. And if you’re a dyed in the wool southerner, as I am, rings true: “If you have friends who don’t think biscuits and gravy are a meal, get them out of your life. You don’t need that kind of negativity.” While that’s funny, there is a lesson to take to heart: get the negativity out of your life. It is short enough as it is.

We see it all the time. People putting in their two cents worth of advice and opinions where none is solicited…where, other than an outsider’s glimpse, there is no true understanding of other people’s interpersonal relationships and circumstances. At the expense of sounding like Forest Gump: “Mama used to say:” … you never know what goes on behind closed doors…especially when we see only a piece of the dynamic between and among other people.

We hear it all the time. Questions…really unwarranted opinions about other people’s lives, experiences and relationships: “Why doesn’t he stay with her? Why can’t he get over her? Wonder why we didn’t get invited? That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. God would want you to tell him.” Maybe it’s just me, but I have enough trouble managing my life let alone everyone else’s.

It’s easy to consider and see situations from our perspectives. Looking through our lenses at everyone else’s situation makes us:

  • Pass judgment…something we all do…when this right is Biblically and exclusively God’s
  • Tear people down…rather than investing in conversation and trying to build bridges…clearly and realistically this must work both ways. It takes a lot less energy to talk something out than to avoid, begrudge, and completely misunderstand.
  • Assume a singular person’s story is correct and the only side of a situation. It happens in divorce & separation situations every time they occur …whether individuals behave maturely or not (sometimes people simply are not fulfilled). This is the element that makes people take sides in a couple’s breakup….taking sides for the victimized and talking trash about the vilified.
  • Perpetuate misunderstanding and negative vibes among otherwise awesome people.

Relationships, friendships, marriages, and people: with all of them come drama…petty…hurtful stuff. People can be mean. I’m talking the kind of mean reserved for middle school girls bullying one another…or in contemporary terms…on social media. But, truthfully, it transpires as prevelantly among adults who know better. Otherwise nice, well-mannered people treat one another poorly. And then, on some random day of reckoning comes the time when you get a call or read a post that puts everything into perspective: death of a loved one, a best friend moves away, loss of a job, or possibly a dreaded diagnosis.

Cancer sucks!

It is the disease that touches all of our lives; it does not discriminate. It doesn’t follow sexual proclivities, blood transfusions; gender, wealth, educational accomplishment, certainly not always genetics; and truly not necessarily our habits. Cancer doesn’t care who you are, how good of a person you have been…or whether you’ve been a complete jerk. Cancer is simply the multiplication of cell mutations in our bodies. Each of us is a walking Petrie dish full of organic material just waiting to go arry (now that we’re feeling all positive about life, keep reading).

We all know people it has impacted.

My sister, Robyn, and I grew up friends with the children of local Charlotte TV personality, C.J. Underwood. It has been years now, but cancer viciously attacked and claimed the live of Mrs. Underwood first before C.J. Fell to it later.

My sons’ Scout Master, Stephen Pace, an amazing friend and mentor to me, was diagnosed and taken from us in less than twelve months.

I’m working with a resident at work, literally destitute, who is fighting for her very existence waiting for Social Security-Disability to bring her some much needed financial peace of mind.

Kelly Keesling, from church, the wife of friend, continues to fight. This lady never smoked, yet was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. She fights with the most vigor and best attitude…living her life fully in-spite of the crappy disease. Her story is a Divinely inspiring light to those who know her and many people who do not (I have her blog link at the end of this one).

Bertha Walker, one of the three people who introduced Thaedra and me making our blind date possible fought and survived a courageous battle against a brutal, physically life changing cancer struggle coupled with depression.

Another lady whom I deeply respect and adore, Pam Smith, from our church, fought and prevailed with exceptional faith. If there is an angel on Earth, Pam is the one…bringing comfort to those to whom she ministers.

A high school friend of mine, Dr. Chris Dula, now a professor at East Tennessee State, is fighting a brain tumor presently. Check out his prolific and inspiring story on YouTube.

Thaedra’s mama, Jean, was one of loveliest, kindest, sweetest of souls God ever made. She set the bar for serving & loving family and neighbor & church high, exceptionally high! Jean suffered a horrific year plus long fight with cancer that she lost the day after Thaedra turned 40.

About Jennifer & Kevin

That random day of reckoning came for one of my best buddies’ wife back in March. It was on a Friday when I received a call from a man l love dearly. He is one of my two very best buddies. It was during that call he revealed he would accompany his bride to the first of what turned out to be several needle biopsies. He probably doesn’t realize that I heard deep undertones of questioning uncertainty and “why her” that day.

Two days later on Sunday I sat with Kevin and Jen on their back porch and we all teared a little up as I listened to them talk about the unknown territory ahead. The only diversion was the focus Kevin, Tim and I had talking about a Fall trip we and our wives are planning to Europe.

Unlike me, Kevin is not a cryer. Just ask my kids. When the Hallmark Christmas movies come on I go all stupid. Do not even talk to me about “Holly Lodge.” I cannot even watch an episode of the Waltons without getting choked up. Seriously, if times are tough: John Boy is having writer’s block, Mary Ellen is getting picked on at school, Mr. Godsey’s store is facing inventory shrinkage, the cow is sick and Grandpa has had a heart attack…I can’t take it. I’d be the first one on the road to the Baldwin sisters’ house to raid their “recipe” to escape my sorrows. You gotta love two old spinsters who make moonshine during WWII. It would be bottoms up for me on Walton’s mountain…..CHEERS! (Sorry for the rabbit trail…back to Kevin & Jen).

Kevin is not a cryer. That particular Sunday afternoon I watched my buddy, for only the second time in our friendship, tear up. Out of utter love, compassion and wanting to take this thing away from his wife he sat there not knowing what to do. Men are problem solvers and fixers. We want to make things better. What I observed made me realize how deeply He loves his wife.

What I’ve always known about Kevin and Jennifer became more apparent that day. They have genuine, passionate, respectful and abiding love for each other….and he truly would do anything for his girl. Next year marks their 25th wedding anniversary. Their two children represent the very best of each of them. Their service to our church in youth ministry, missions, recreation, and trustees has been a place they have not only grown faith, but put it into action…even on days when people around them have made it tough.

I’m still rather certain most husbands, including Kevin (sorry, Kev), don’t know what to do in times like these. But I do know that their faith and love will be their guiding light.

The whole point of this blog is to ask for your prayers AND to remember two points:

First, We don’t know what we don’t know. We shouldn’t assume, we shouldn’t offer advice when we think we know what’s best for someone…and we probably do not. We are not God; and too often come across sounding that way. It’s that passing judgment thing…ouch!

Second, I love a meme from social media. I’ll simply include one at the end about kindness (a few lines down) that speaks an absolute truth: they are words to live by (yep…ended a sentence with a preposition for you grammar Nazis).

But, before these final words please let me covet your prayers for a couple of cancer fighters and their husbands: Kelly & Tim Keesling and Kevin & … today especially, Jennifer.

Jen, you ended your April 27th post with my favorite Bible verse. It’s probably the best life advice and mantra for anyone: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart…” (Prov. 3:4). As they say, whomever “they” are: “You got this.” As we discussed on your porch earlier this Spring, we can’t wait to hit the friendly skies this Fall and show you and Kevin the City of Lights. We’ve got to get Kev to drink some Bordeaux. That should be good for a smile! Here’s to the future, family, friends, and finding a cure! Cheers my dear friends

“May the Lord bless you and keep you…”

Kelly Keesling’s blog link below: it is inspiring and very nicely written. Worth the read especially if you know someone someone living with cancer who needs encouragement. Kelly is a spot on testimony of positivity.

War of the Worlds … Make that War of the Words … politics and a president we cannot control

The day before Halloween 1938 revealed a much more innocent time in American culture. Somewhere between WWI and the Great Depression life in the country looked quite different than it does presently. On that particular October 30th if we’d been there huddled around the radio, then we would have heard a regularly scheduled episode of Mercury Theater on Air Tonight. The episode featured a 23 year old actor, Orsen Welles, recounting his version of the Victorian era work: War of the Worlds. It was a “Halloween” broadcast. It became what is now somewhat the topic of historic urban legend. History and old timers alike would recall the fright the broadcast instilled in people as Mr. Welles performed a hoax; it was a dramatized newscast about the Martian alien invasion.

I imagine people have the same fear presently when we turn on the tube and listen to newscasts about our American political landscape. Have the aliens invaded the White House? I’ll leave Melania out of it, but our orange haired, spray tanned looking, bawdy, needs to shut up and put down Twitter, proof that money CANNOT buy class president is unlike anything we have ever seen….or is he?

Most mornings I watch the first 15 minutes of the NBC Today Show headlines before talking with my buddy Tim about news stories and current events of the day. During my commute I listen to Fox News radio to get an alternative perspective. As of the moment I published this blog, Trump has been in office 468 days

I have never liked him. I voted for him. I find him morally reprehensible. A listen to American broadcasts would have you believe the entire world revolves around Donald Trump and his administration. Clearly, Trump receives the most media of any president ever. And, I think he has the “fake news media,” his words, not mine, exactly, precisely where he wants them to be. They are mailable, highly influenced, running at the drop of any hint of a story surrounding him and … well…him…he wants it all about him…and that’s exactly where Donald Trump has American media and the characteristically liberal entertainment industry members…captive. Yes, unadmittedly they are eating out of the palms of Trump’s hands.

What must it be like to be so consumed with hatred that one does nothing but publicly vent and spew hate venomous words against the president constantly? It truly is all she does. Turn on “The View” just about any day and you’ll observe this regrettable behavior of comedienne Joy Behar. You might recall her as the woman who condemned and berated the Vice President for being a prayerful Christian man. If Mike Pence were to make a similar remark against her faith, then he would have been labeled anti Semitic. Regardless, you’ll find Joy yelling and ranting with face contorted pouring her heart and soul into pure hatred against an individual man and his agenda. Like many tv people she has allowed the president to become a cancer to her being to the point that her very name is a misnomer. She is not a funny, entertaining comedienne; she is a consumed soul.

Likewise with Michelle Wolf from the recent White House correspondants’ dinner. For my entire life (almost 50 years) all I’ve heard is women’s rights, rising in the workplace, and women sticking together. Even Hilary Clinton said women had to stick together —“the village” women as well I guess —before she blamed them, too, for her election loss. When Wolf berated Sarah Huckabee Saunders it became clear what a pathetic existence the featured speaker truly lives. Educated, well spoken, maternal, professional, well dressed, maintaining decorum, and God-fearing, Mrs. Huckabee-Saunders quite obviously threatens lesser accomplished women and deservedly unknown people like Michelle Wolf.

Here is the perspective of people who voted for Donald Trump who did not want another Washington politician. Dyed in the wool politicians do things like:

  • Serve self by working for the highest paying lobbies and constituent groups.
  • Drive off bridges in Chappaquidick.
  • Resign from office over break ins at the Watergate Hotel.
  • Have interns perform *%$*# in the Oval Office (note his wife is still “some little Tammy Wynette standing by her man”).
  • Leave funding in bills to which their constituents would absolutely object (i.e., speaker Ryan and massive Planned Parenthood Funding left in Trump spending bill).
  • Ignore pleas for relief from ambassadors and diplomats who eventually die serving our country.
  • Sell uranium to Iran covertly.
  • ***opps…maybe I just don’t like the Clintons since I alluded to them 3 times…really I don’t like Hillary…Bill is a pretty cool guy…saxophone and all.

Men history recalls as pioneers are typically considered to be crazy by their contemporaries. People thought Thomas Jefferson was out of his mind to want to acquire as much land through the Louisiana Purchase as he did (I have the nicest Cajun buddy Dane. For those of you who know Dane, it’s hard to imagine he could be any more he could be more alien to us than he already is….kidding, Dane…love you, my friend!)

People thought Da Vinci was a lunatic (literally suffering from clinical lunacy). Consider his human anatomical drawings…his flying machine designs and the fact they were centuries ahead of their time.

And lest we forget explorers like Christopher Columbus heading out the sail around the world….the flat world?

How many people recall Jules Verne? No, not the restaurant atop the Eiffel Tour, but the creator of Capt. Nemo & 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Did you know that Verne also predicted man would walk on the moon?

Jesus Christ, the very son of God, was run from his hometown in Nazareth. He settled miles away in the Galilee region. It’s in that geographic area where he met His rag tag army of men who became the disciples.

What kind of scrutiny and public smear campaigns would these guys have faced had they faced social media, the news and tele journalists?

The truth is neither the political establishment nor media know what to do with the current administration. As is the case with each of us, frustrations flare easily when someone or something does not fit into our paradigm.

I recently read a short, but profound list of accomplishments all Americans experience presently:

  • Lower taxes (if you’re going to gripe about your lower rate, keep paying the higher one).
  • North Korean Denuclearization (closest we have ever gotten to this point—I strongly question what is happening).
  • Higher Gross Domestic Product (The current climate is pro business … it is offensive to people who do not understand business and who have never had to make a payroll).
  • Highest Stock Market ever (if anyone wants to complain about corporate greed, please divest yourself first, you won’t need that growing 401k for retirement…it’ll be just fine).
  • Lowest Unemployment since the late 60’s (under prior administrations something called the “participation rate” had to be adjusted so that earlier sitting presidents wouldn’t look as bad for failing economic policies. Metric adjustments may still need to be made).

I’m not sure it matters how you feel about the current administration, but I am sure about this: if we’d collectively channel negative media attention and the hatred toward a single man into something positive, then imagine the positive difference we could make.

A quick glance at the focuses of several First Ladies provides a great place channel effort and resources:

  • Mental Health Issues (might help with shooting problems); thank Roslyn Carter.
  • Just Say No (who knew the drug crisis would continue to spiral, especially opioids); thank Nancy Reagan.
  • Literacy (reading); Laura Bush & Barbara Bush.
  • Childhood Obesity (health issues in general); great cause, Michelle Obama.
  • Stop Bullying (cyber and in person threats); important work, Melania Trump.

And I’ll add one for the dreamers who are not yet in this country: working with people who want to become U.S. citizens to do it the correct and legal way. This may be the biggest emerging social issue we face. It’s so much bigger than a wall.

As I conclude these thoughts I hear the morning news coming on in the background: Jeff Sessions, Russian collusion, John Kelly, Robert Mueller, North Korea, oh, and now Rudy Giuliani says Trump did pay back the $130,000 for the Stormy Daniels cover up. I’m so glad to know this; I can breath easier today. This revelation completely changes to way I’ll conduct my business, rear my family, interact with friends, donate to charity, and pray to God today. The preceding sentence is all sarcasm—about as stupid as this news story. Anything related to an affair about Miss Daniels is so much more important to the future of our country and humanity than just about anything like… I don’t know… denuclearizing renegade regimes like Iran and North Korea.

If you’re my age, then you probably remember hearing CBS newsman Walter Kronkite sign off every evening’s broadcast with five words. They ring as true today as they did when I was a kid. It is simply ashamed that the war of words, some in truth and some unfounded, against any president stands in the way of American unity and progress. But as Mr. Kronkite said: “That’s the way it is.”

I think I’ll go count my blessings…let the president do his job…and turn my television off!

Just for fun:

Check out It offers interesting, fact checking data on the Perez (that’s what spellcheck changed “prez” into…don’t you know he’d hate that?)

Uncivil Rest: MLK’s Sweet Dream or Nightmare

If it’s one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready and four to go and you’ve already laced up your blue suede shoes, then you might just be in Memphis. Beale Street, Blues City, Barbecue & B.B. King’s….It is a southerner’s delight all on the banks of the mighty Mississippi river. These people even have ducks swimming in a fountain at the Peabody Hotel lobby. It almost sounds like perfect backdrop for a modern day millennial version of something like Tom Sawyer meets the city.

In 1991 I was listening to the radio when this song came on: Walking in Memphis. I’d never been there and honestly had no reason to ever go. Fast forward to May 2016 and a big crew of us went to the International Music Festival: Memphis in May. Among many, many bands were the Violent Femmes. I was immediately transported back to my high school years…going wild like a blister in the sun (Remember Jennifer Enten—I’m not sure who was the most excited…?).

Today we’re at 450 Mulberry Street…the famed Lorraine Motel…now the site of National Civil Rights Museum. On that fateful day, April 4, 1968—50 years ago this week James Earl Ray shot Martin Luther King, Jr. on this site. Honestly, we had no idea our spring break trip coincided with this milestone anniversary, but this site is a must see for Americans seeking to understand where we’ve been…and more importantly where we’re going. Contemplating the events of that day on these hallowed grounds takes me back…way, way back…. to the first recollection of why there are differences among people and why civil rights remain a hot button issue.

(The National Civil Rights Museum is built around the Motel. Visitors walk through where the exhibits end with a view into MLK’s room, # 306. He was standing on the balcony where this wreath is placed when he was struck by bullet).

Attending Charlotte NC public elementary schools in the early 1970’s meant being exposed to a world of desegregated schools with busing in their early days. Our school days began saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Yes, back then at Huntingtown Farms Elementary we were still “One nation under God indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” We grew up thinking it was normal for teachers to take a head count for the “free lunch” & “reduced price” program. We thought it was normal for our teachers to count the number of caucasians, black students, and “other” races. In retrospect it’s now clear they were collecting data for tracking purposes and for federal subsidy metric purposes.

(Part of an interactive exhibit regarding fall out from the Brown v. Board of Education fall out. My hometown saw its share of unrest.)

For the most part all of my elementary school classmates were, in spirit, the same. There were, of course, some cultural differences. However, kids will be kids. Loving to play kickball at recess, grossing out at cardboard pizza in the lunch room, getting excited about filmstrips (remember those…lol) and griping about homework. School was pretty much school.

It’s when we hit Junior High School (that’s old school speak for Middle School, grades 7-9 back in the day) when differences really began to creep in and open a chasm. Friends, however, remained friends and people with perspective saw beyond immaterial matters of race, demographics and cultural differences to solidify relationships.

Babies are born completely impartial and unbiased as to the cultures unlike theirs or to races different from theirs. Children tend to follow the example of their parents. If the parents are racist, then they are exposed to this behavior and have a propensity to mirror this (although not always: think Archie Bunker and his daughter, Gloria…extreme example, I know). If we are taught at an early age to be open minded, then we are likely to be more inclusive of people who look and act differently than we do. Who remembers wondering why Maria on Sesame Street spoke Spanish or why at some point Bob was an African American man?

If we are all created in the image of God, then what must God look like? Rosa Parks, Joe Biden, your pastor, Mother Teresa, the homeless guy we pass on the square in uptown, Mike Pence, Nelson Mandela, Angela Merkel, your kid’s preschool teacher, Trey Gowdy, the check out clerk at Walgreens…. The point: God is reflected in every human being (albeit some people actively squelch the divine and succumb to evil). We have a duty to love one another. It remains, as far as I am concerned, the highest calling of humankind.

I have come to deeply appreciate Dr. King’s vision and work. It is a brutally honest statement to say that for years people have have thought MLK’s work was an attempt to diminish more predominant races. Alternatively, all he sought was for all people…black, Hispanic, white, Jewish, Muslim, you name the race to have an equal opportunity to have access to the same educational opportunities, the same employment opportunities, the same healthcare standards, the same civic treatment, and the same adjudication by the legal system as white Americans had enjoyed for decades. While it would seem reasonable to think this should already have been the standard, we all know it was not. It scared people watching the civil rights movement unfold; it continues to scare people.

(The room above is the view into room 306. The view from behind the wreath shows the boarding house across Mulberry Street from where the fatal shot was fired. It is also part of the museum and exhibits.)

It’s not a liberal or conservative or a libertarian or a socialist thing…it is not even a political thing. If we dumb it down I think we are here: Several hundred million Americans living on U.S. soil…this “melting pot” of cultures. We have to get along, peacefully coexist and move forward as a nation. To accomplish this requires working with one another. Sometimes the behaviors and prejudices we learn in our early years stand in our way; often external forces perpetuate tears in our social fabric.

What role does the media play in all of this? If you’ve ever read one of my blogs, then you know I blame A LOT of America’s societal decay on media (yes, here I go again). I sincerely believe people generally get along. However, to watch the media sensationalize each story, to watch reporters dramatize, to observe the day in – day out exploitation of human struggle among dissimilar and misunderstood people IS simply another way they characterize themselves as the lowest level of bottom feeding “entertainment” outlets.

There remains no question racial strife exists. However, media fuels the fire with continual, relentless, probing 24 hour a day coverage. Take an otherwise peaceful protest and put a news camera on it and the probability of incidents transpiring rises. Publicize a “march” online before it happens and a city can become inundated with people from out of town causing mayhem (i.e., the Keith Scott police shooting protests in Charlotte, NC in September, 2016—many of the protestors were from out of town. CNN, MSNBC & FOX News couldn’t get enough—and this was not a racially motivated shooting by the way; Google the story if you’re interested).

It used to truly offend me that “they” honored Martin Luther King’ with an official federal holiday. I struggled for years with this. We close for for the birth of Jesus Christ; we close for a combined recognition for Honest Abe & the Father of our Country, George Washington, for President’s Day. But, to close and have a day off for a civil rights leader? What’s next? Billy Graham Day or Oprah day? In recent years my perspective has changed: here is why. MLK accomplished his work as a man of God, in peace. Had he lived he would have continued to promote bettering oneself through work ethic, education, faith, mentoring and family values.

In a generation where the divisive problems Dr. King brought to the forefront have grown, Americans need to be reminded of our responsibility as citizens to be neighbors, to be kind and to help one another. I won’t steal MLK’s line and ask if you have a dream. But I will ask what is your hope for how we can each work to leave a more positive mark on our community and the people with whom we coexist?

We cannot expect government to legislate Dr. King’s sweet dream; our lawmakers cannot agree on anything it seems. They turn every issue — highlighted by media pressure and attention (there I go again) which in turn puts the squeeze on them to act in such a way to get them re-elected and play party politics rather than do what’s right for the country — into a nightmare. Let me shorten that sentence: the government legislates Dr. King’s vision into a regulatory nightmare. All Americans eventually pay a steep price for this.

People at a basic human level simply want to be heard, simply want to be loved and simply want to be understood. It is an oversimplification to explain the complexities of the psyche with 3 things people “simply want” statement However, these three go a long way toward breaking down communication barriers when we take time, one-on-one, to communicate and reach out a hand in friendship.

Anne Frank suffered and died at the hands of the Nazi’s. Although this young and hopeful girl didn’t survive hiding out trying to get away from the ultimate hatred and racism she left us a gift. It is her attitude. In the shadows of a scared soul not knowing how her life would unfold or how little time she ultimately had left to live she recorded a POWERFUL message we should all adopt. It is a mantra we can all live by and remember when we encounter people…especially people who are different than we are. In her diaries Anne Frank wrote

“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”

And It Came to Paas: Peeps After Pilate

It’s hard to blame a cute little bunny rabbit, but he truly might be the lowest common denominator of dumbing down an observance: Peter Cotton tail hoping down a bunny trail. And honestly, as long as he’s bringing one of those decadent Cadbury caramel filled eggs or a bag of Brachs all black licorice jelly beans I’d be good with it. If you know me, then you know I’m all about capitalism, but I fail to see the connection with these things to Easter. At the very least the Christmas tree was Martin Luther’s attempt to memorialize the spirit of Christian belief in everlasting life. Santa Claus is somewhat loosely…and I use the term loosely very loosely based on the Turkish Saint Nicholas who folklore records as having spread Christian charity to the extremely poor during the 4th century. But that hippity hoppity rabbit is more reminiscent of a magic show or a “silly rabbit, Trix are for kids’” cereal commercial.

Today is Maundy Thursday. I dare to say even for people who care, most of us, myself included, have no clue what Maundy means. How many times in vernacular conversation do you use this word? Yeah, that’s what I thought. During this holiest of weeks on the Christian calendar it bears revisiting the sites of the last 3 days of Jesus’ earthly life. Having walked those steps and photographed the places from many angles I thought at least a few people would be interested to see, as a point of reference, where the events of Friday through Sunday during that particular Passover in Jerusalem transpired…at least as you can see them today (all the images are mine from 2016 & 2018 except the first).

I describe a day in Jerusalem akin to making the Gospel stories of these events as vivid as a child’s pop up book. The visual points of reference add an element of reality and dimension a simple reading cannot provide. Visit these places and rewalk the steps of Christ’s Via Dolorosa with me to recount the final earthly days of the peasant carpenter turned Rabbi on donkey back to the Messiah risen. It is the story of the ages; it is the story of God’s loving redemption of His people; it is – as they say – the greatest story ever told.

This is the Golden Gate, c. 15th century (Google image). The gate Jesus rode through on the donkey during Passover dates back to Nehemiah. It is underground–just under what we see now. This gate, as I understand, was used for a lot of ceremony, pomp & circumstance and dignitaries. For Christ to enter the City on a donkey was another symbolic slam to the powers of the day.

View of the Mt. Of Olive from Jerusalem. The Garden of Gethsemane is at the bottom of the mount. This is where Jewish people have believed for millennia their messiah would return. This is why there are thousands of graves here: souls waiting for redemption in the spot messiah (Jewish one) will return.

View of the Old City from where it is written “Jesus wept over Jerusalem”. The cross in the window lines up perfectly with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the venerated and traditional site of Christ’s execution and burial (see below).

Entrance to the site referred to as The Upper Room atop Mt. Zion. This is representative site with no known evidence it was actually here.

Inside the Upper Room chamber. There is much doubt the place where Christ served His disciples their last Passover supper would have looked like this. This window below spills a spectrum of rich colored light on visitors.

One of the gates to the Garden of Gethsemane at the base of the Mt. Of Olives. This is known to be with definite accuracy the location of this garden for millennia. The Olive trees here date back as much as 1000’s of years (possible-?) with sprouts of new trees being rooted from older trees by generations of gardeners. Somewhere on this small plot the 12 slept as He prayed. Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus for 30 silver coins. From here Christ was arrested.

This is the magnificent Church of All Nations at the Garden of Gethsemane. It’s altar is built directly over a large piece of exposed white rock. Tradition records this as the place Christ prayed for God’s will to be done as the disciples slept just steps away. All the Holy sites have churches built atop them to protect them from desecration.

Back to Jerusalem the centurion guard led Him. Back and forth between Pilate, the Roman Governor, and Ciaiphas, the Jewish High Preist. The building below, St. Peter Gallinticu, is built directly over partial remains of the High Preist’s palatial home. Outside the courtyard to the ancient building Peter was recognized as being one of the men with Jesus. Peter told the girl she was wrong; she insisted; again he lied; she persisted; finally, Peter completely denied knowing Christ at all. At that moment the cock crowed.

Part of the foundation is the actual original stone and bedrock foundation of Ciaiphas’ home. The lowest level (pictures below) contains the excavated prison cell(s) where Christ spent his last night alive. It looks clean, Museum like and touristy now, but imagine: no light other than fire, no air, animal dung from upper level stables, and continuous beatings and humiliation.

On the day of execution He was led with the cross beam on His back toward Golgotha, the Place of the Skull. There are two places that may be the actual site: one is traditional and venerated; one is more recently discovered (in the 1800’s). The long, painful, humiliating road to the cross, The Via Dolorosa, is marked by 14 events along the way (9 are biblically recorded; 5 are “traditional” and not based on biblical events).

The place where Christ received His sentence is now actually occupied by a Greek School (who knew-?). Just a very few steps away is this chapel, The Chapel of Condemnation. The brick looking pavers below in the chapel are preserved from the time of Jesus. These are at station 1.

The next three images depict the Chapel of Flagellation at Station 2 where he was brutally beaten. He takes His cross at this point.

This marks the spot where Christ fell for the first time. I chose not to post it, but just behind this police barricade stand on guard daily two highly armed officers (automatic assault style rifle killing machine). Ironic, the deterrent on this corner used to be a cross; 2000 years later its guns and loads of ammo. I’m not certain that much has really changed.

This Chapel entry at Station 4 marks the spot where Jesus’ eye meet His mother’s eyes. I don’t really thing about Mary as being present

This stop, # 5, is where Simon of Cyrene, steps in to relieve Jesus and offer his help to carry the cross.

Although it is not recorded, at least prolifically, anywhere I’ve ever heard, station 6 is where Veronica wipes Jesus face. This is a traditional story. There is nothing to see here except this simple brick in a stone wall….that’s it.

Station 7 is marked by an old Franciscan church pillar just inside the chapel door here. It is significant because this is where Christ fell for the second time.

The site below, Station 8, marks another traditional, completely non-Biblical site (I think that’s fair to say) honoring the women of Jerusalem. It really has nothing to do with the Via Dolorosa … but it’s nice to think Christ may have remembered the discipleship of Mary Magdelene, Martha, Mary, his mother, and the woman at the well.

As you approach the back side of Christianity’s holiest site coming up a narrowing side alley, there is this tattered completely understated sign over a cruddy old arch noting what’s next. I love this.

This is the back of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Stations of the Cross 10 to 14 are inside this incredibly massive building. Take a look at the lower right hand corner of the photo. Note the round brown iron looking disc. It is stop number 9 marking where Christ fell for the 3rd time. He would have been outside of the Jerusalem City wall at this point and would have been in view of His execution site (now enshrined in the Church – see below).

Courtyard and main entry of the Church. It is controlled by six (I think) faith bodies. They can’t really agree on anything…so much so that the same Muslim family in Jerusalem has been the key holder to the place for six centuries.

Inside this door immediately to the right is a narrow, extremely steep and quite unassuming marble staircase. It leads you into a dark abysmal place. As you enter under the arch you can make out some Latin or Greek. The word all of us can read, however, is Golgotha. It takes your breath … because you realize you are there.

Stations 10 & 11 are inside the church and is the first place up the marble staircase. It is an area managed by the Greek Orthodox Church. Therefore, you can imagine the ornate, rich beauty: tapestry, mosaic, gold, silver, candles, arches. There is no way to describe or even to capture it in photographs. The room is on top of the property where Jesus was stripped of his clothingnailed to the cross. The image of the outside window shows the room’s exterior view from the courtyard; it is often seen in TV news stories.

Station 12 is on the Golgotha stone. The site of the cruxifiction of who knows how many people at the hands of the Roman authorities…but on this day because of the Jewish High Priests and His people who turned on Him became the place where Christ drew His last breath.

The image above shows the spot where pilgrims can kneel briefly reach down and touch the portion of the Golgotha stone known to be the site of public executions and believed to be the site of Jesus’ death. The image below shows a large portion of the stone (the whole Church is built on stone) where it is split from seismic activity….coincides with Biblical accounts. Spilts in the stone are visible at other places in the Church as well.

Just for argument’s sake here is a photo of the other “potential” execution site. It is at the Garden Tomb. Fantastic place to visit

The lanterns pictured above hang over the stone where bodies have been prepared for burial. There is little double Christ’s body could have been prepared on this stone. Interestingly, this area and the mosaic below are the first things one sees directly ahead upon entering Holy Sepulcher. This is station 13.

Prayer niche-chapel backing up to Christ’s tomb; cupola, extremely high, in the rotunda over the tomb.

The next few images are the outside of the tomb. It underwent a complete restoration for the first time in 250 years and was complete in 2017. From my first visit in February 2016 until February 2018 there is a noticeable improvement. Priests permit four people inside at a time where you can kneel and pray on the marble slab directly on top of the burial place….I’m talking a matter of inches.

So here we are at the end of the walk. Back on our side of the pond it’s the eve of Good Friday. Wal-Marts and Targets are filled with little kids eyes wide open and hopeful mom or dad will buy that deluxe Paas Egg Dye kit (some of them don’t even refer to Easter any longer—the egg dye kits and the people). Let there be sugar crusted marshmallow peeps, let there be Honey Baked Hams, but ask a teen who Pilate was and how Peter denied his Lord and….ouch! It would be like Jay Leno’s old segment “Jay Walking.” A lot of people wouldn’t have a clue.

To repeat Christ’s words from that old rugged cross on that hill far away wherever Golgotha was “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.” Thought: how much better place would the world be if we all thought more like Christ and quoted Him more frequently? To recall His last words: “It is finished.” His work is done. Easter Sunday is just few days away. It is the story of the ages; it is the story of God’s loving redemption of His people; it is – as they say – the greatest story ever told.

May the promises of His resurrection be yours this Easter and every day.

QUICK & DIRTY NOTE ON HOLY SITE IDENTIFICATION: Here’s the Cliff’s Notes super simplified version about Holy Site location identification. After Rome began to recognize Christianity as it’s official religion The Council of Nicaea, organized. Under the Roman Emperor Constantine, the Council was responsible for assembling what we now substantively know as The Bible. The Emperor’s mama, Empress Helena, took tremendous interest in the Holy Land region. She traveled there researching “Christian” history. She recognized and observed where people gathered traditionally in home churches as places of worship for the proceeding few hundred years, the time between Christ’s death and her arrival. These home churches were established at the places the events where milestones in Christ’s life occurred. The worship and meetings at these sites had begun dating all the way back to Christ’s day. Among locals there was little, if any debate, concerning the authenticity of the religious sites (i.e., where Christ was born in Bethlehem, where Mary’s family lived; where the tomb existed; etc.). Therefore, the Empress declared them to be the Holy sites. These sites are said to be venerated. Alternatively, other sites, for example, where events could have occurred or where there is much higher speculation are called “traditional” sites. One such example is the precise location of the Sermon on the Mount on Mount of the Beatitudes.

She is directly responsible for the original construction of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Ascension in Jerusalem. I think about it this way: it is not hard for us to imagine declaring Independence Hall in Philadelphia the site of the Declaration of Independence or Monticello to be the home of Thomas Jefferson. With a few hundred years having passed and people preserving the history of these spots it is not much of a stretch for a Roman Queen to officially recognize places as Holy. During her journey legend also records her as having found the “true cross” upon which Christ was crucified. That’s a debate for another day.

Regardless of how you look at it, Old City Jerusalem is not a particularly large place to check out on foot. As our dinner mate and bus friend, Bishop Farley, from Kentucky stated so succinctly…no matter what…it was “somewhere not far from here.”

Equal Opportunity Offender: The Gun Control Economy

As my oldest son Alex would say as a toddler: “For you to know” this blog isn’t ultimately intended to express my political opinion and change minds. Alternatively, it hopefully expresses realities concerning market forces behind what happens with regulation. Honestly, I don’t have a dog in the fight. But watching the media is like watching an “adventure in missing the point.” Like you, I want our children to go to school and arrive home safely. Believe me…if I were to attempt to fire a double barrel shotgun, you’d better move the pick up and Google the number for the nearest SafeLite Autoglass installer because that windshield is going down!

Did you grow up in a neighborhood where kids played cowboys and Indians pretending to battle with bows, arrows and guns? Better yet, did you play Cops and Robbers in a more innocent time when police could effectively do their jobs without fear of nearly unlimited repercussion? “Bang, bang you are dead, brush your teeth and go to bed.” Not only is it now politically incorrect for kids to play this way, but it’s going to offend somebody that a Native American Indian is being injured and mocked.

It reads like a rewrite for lyrics from Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” Sandy Hook, Vegas, Charleston, Parkland, Umpqua Community College, San Bernardino, Columbine, Pulse Night Club, Bataclan. They’re just a sampling of the the site of the worst of the the worst massacres by gunmen

Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t use CNN as a resource; however, its online article dated 2/19/18 gives an excellent summary of (US) shootings that are, sadly, beginning to define our era and this generation. The URL to the article is included at the end.

A couple of disclaimers: (1) Second amendment rights remain vital to American’s ability to (protect) life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and (2) to quote a youth group friend of mine from years ago: “the proliferation of guns is an accelerant; (Trent: I agree)

Politicizing Gun Control— what happened to “family values?”

I sound like a broken record: something needs to be done. Gun control should not be a political issue; it is a humanity issue. But, like everything else Washington and the media politicize it for their selfish ratings-profits gains and get re-elected benefit. Rather than solutions we continue to get rhetoric.

Every single time one of these events occur the cycle repeats: Democrats call for gun control; Republicans defend second amendment rights. The media blow up with coverage. Finger pointing goes on: “(W)here’d he or they get the weapons? Guns don’t shoot people, people shoot people; How did the background check not catch this?; an 18 year old shouldn’t be able to purchase that kind of weapon at Wal-Mart; how’d that nutcase remain under the radar this long; why wasn’t the FBI notified?”

The truth is the answer to any one of OR all of those questions remain irrelevant after a life has been taken. What goes wrong in a human life so incredibly tragically wrong and horrible that makes him or her desire to take the lives of other people in highly notable and prolific ways?

Rather than rehash ad nauseam every detail of each potential cause, we know the ones people point to most frequently:

Substitute Parenting (video games / electronic devices): At the expense of sounding like Ward Clever, it’s true to note most families don’t sit down at a dinner table to connect with their children regularly. Youth are left to fend for themselves, grow up on their own, and figure things out…influencers, quite wrongly, by extraneous factors, where quality parenting and loving guidance once molded preceding generations ahead of them.

Virtual relationships (anything that replaces human touch, interaction and deepening one-on-one relationships; i.e., texting-social media): We Skype, FaceTime, Text, Snapchat, we everything else. What we do not nurture is interpersonal relationships any longer. Lack of connecting eye to eye, heart to heart, soul to soul has led to empty spirits and souls longing to be wanted and accepted. When they are not the consequences prove disastrous.

Bullying—piling on the bandwagon quickly. In A Christmas Story when the kids in the school yard fought it out, and that was it….move on. In Grease when Danny Zucko and “Pizza Face” raced for pinks in Greased Lightening it was actually healthy competition. The current generation has the ability to magnify “the fight” against enemies by employing social media, by screen shoting messages & photos, and creating quasi smear campaigns against kids.

We have nowhere for kids to safely express pent up aggression.

Instant Gratification— we live in an entitlement generation. I know two families both of whom experienced the death by suicide of their young teenage sons. During grief counseling last Fall for one group the lady proposed that the boy who suffered death at his hand was the person MOST surprised not to be among us. A similar concept must be true of the people who commit these atrocious killing sprees. There are some things that once they’re done cannot be undone.

The Government

The political right…or some of it…has suggested arming teachers. Is it just me or is that really rather stupid? Maybe some teachers, but all? I visualize my first grade teacher, Miss Boone, with a gun in her top drawer….whoa!

The political left calls for government intervention.

Where has government intervention substantively worked?

Almost every time it attempts to control markets, the potential for a black market arises. It may be crass, but simple economic principles will ALWAYS prevail. Where there is supply and where there is demand these dirty little X & Y axes are going to intersect. Consider, for example:

Marijuana: It is illegal to purchase it in my home state. Of course I live in the holy rolling Bible Belt state of North Carolina. Nonetheless, I could leave my home at this moment at drive you to any of 20 places within 20 minutes and purchase for you whatever amount of whacky weed (or if you live near the Arboretum heroin or meth) you want.

Prohibition: Charlotte and many cities in the southern U.S. are full of NASCAR fans. What a lot of people don’t know is how the highly profitable sport got it’s start. During the 30’s when the feds banned the production and sale of alcohol, bootleggers needed a way to distribute their good. Cars were souped up and engines turbo charged to be able to outrun law enforcement. This fascinating concept eventually evolved into NASCAR.

As interesting as that history may (or may not) be to you, the fact is that when alcohol was made illegal, people still found a way to produce it; drinkers found a way to obtain it. Had I been around I guarantee I would have had a spot in a local speakeasy…that culture had to be something to behold.

Prostitution: this one may make you uncomfortable, but it is, after all, the world’s oldest profession. I’ve known more than a few myself…umm…let me be clear….finding out after the fact they are in the business, my customers renting property from our property management business. Here’s the point: where there is demand for a service (or good in the case with firearms); then there will be supply. It’s crude and crass I know, but true, nonetheless. You cannot legislate morality. It does not work.

Pharmaceuticals: Who needs a doctor and Wal-Greens? Do you want prescription diet pills, Propecia, Viagara, you name it? A very simply Google search, a credit card and little trust that your shipment will get through Customs and you can be thin, hairy, and….well…you get the picture.

Abortion: Let’s just open up this little can of worms. Almost everyone has an opinion. Pro-life or Pro-Choice. Politicians typically promote their platforms and do not hesitate to share stances regarding this. You either support Planned Parenthood and want to see government funding or you don’t. You either support Roe v. Wade or you don’t. There is generally not a lot of common ground, rape, incest, life of the mother excepted. Throughout the history of human procreation regardless of what the law says women have been able to seek ways to “take care” of unwanted pregnancies.

Murder: now this one is going to be a shocker. All the way before Moses got the Ten Commandments from God on Mount Sinai…it’s numero 6, I believe, it’s been morally wrong and civilly illegal to murder. All the way through now we have laws on the books that say murder is illegal. Big regulation from the Supreme Law maker: Thou Shall Not Kill!

Gun Laws: Codified gun laws exist. Take the training class, endure the waiting period, pass the background check, etc. Guess what? Just like the weed mentioned or the booze decades ago if you want it, then you can go out your door and buy it…completely usurping the domestic law.

Usurping the law. Now there’s an interesting concept. What makes anyone think a person resolute on killing is going to be law abiding. Forget mental instability, forget demographic profiling, forget any box into which we try to force a person when we all, after the fact, attempt to explain and rationalize the most tragic “mass shooting.”

It boils down to this: If a person wants to hurt people, then he or she is going to hurt people. The weapon is not the killer; the weapon is the tool. Disagree?

  • Ask the people of Nice, France;
  • Ask the people of the Middle East who live in fear of car bombs;
  • Ask the people who survived the nut case who drove into the crowds in Times Square;
  • Ask the victims’ families from last week’s FedEx attack.
  • Ask the victims of the Boston Marathon bomb from several years ago;
  • Ask the survivors of the Twin Towers at 911;
  • Ask the family of the homosexual soldier who was murdered by being beaten to death on the streets of Wilmington NC outside of a nightclub (c. 1990);
  • Ask the people who witnessed cars attempting to run them down on Tower Bridge in London; ask commuters on The Tube;
  • Ask…



there are so many I couldn’t begin to name them all.

In none of these cases were guns involved. In all of these cases existed evil and the intent to kill.

The world we occupy is frightening.

Back at you Kevin

Maybe the answer is we as Americans and human beings stop the decay of our societal foundation. The second week in February I posted a response to one of my best buddy, Kevin’s post on FaceBook (I’ve got his link at the end as well—worth the read). I still believe today the long term answer lies somewhere in this:

Rights need to be preserved, entitlement needs be harnessed and curtailed, and people (parents) have got to resume responsible parenting. Media is the Anti-Christ regardless of who is in office. Why the *&%$ do people listen to anything these people say (and I could have said the same thing during the Carter-Clinton-Obama administrations). Guns don’t shoot themselves, news stories don’t broadcast themselves, and presidents don’t elect themselves. WE have empowered everything to be in the status quo we endure presently. A killer will kill if that’s the intended desire (Nice, France; Tower Bridge in London; 911; Times Square New York—-and I just happen to be responding to you from the car bomb center of the universe: the Middle East. I went through 4 security checks & borders patrol crossings <machine gun militia> just TODAY so that we could tour holy sites and say prayers (note: Thaedra and I had ridden in and out of the separation wall between Israel and Palestine twice that particular day getting to and from Bethlehem / Jerusalem).

Gun control doesn’t stop a black market (look at the drug problem). What will make a difference, as you suggest, is when people care about something bigger than themselves: the future, our children; and families as God intended them to be. I’m proud you took the time to author this. You’re hopefully showing a lot of people how to be part of the solution. Thanks, Kevin!”


Consider this incredibly poignant fact: there are more firearms in the United States than there are citizens. (I would cite sources, but there is much discrepancy regarding the numbers. I considered many that counted only the guns manufactured and sold since records have been kept; this completely discounts the tens of millions prior to that time).

Write every law imaginable, but how do written words remove more than

320,000,000; that’s three hundred twenty million guns from our streets?

Florida has taken steps to increase the age from 18 to 21 to purchase a weapon, it makes sense to vet persons through background checks, increase waiting periods and data bases if you want to, conceal-carry permits are great: those measures regulate only law abiding citizens.

We All Help Support Part of the Problem Sometimes

Dismantle the Hollywood elite and music industry that influences our culture with extremely violent film making they call “art” by their profession, and then use personal fame platforms to call for gun control (it is potentially the most two faced thing in modern history….I have absolutely zero respect for most entertainment elite).

November 2012: I picked up my wife and several friends up from the Madonna concert in Charlotte. Only months before (July 2012) a nutcase shot ruthlessly into the crowd in Aurora, Colorado. The United States and the world experienced “shock and awe” that this could happen. As Thaedra and the other ladies climbed into my car they were laughing and commenting and talking about the show, but the one thing I’ll never forget is how they commented about Madonna’s use of stage props in her show…just about the entire show…she theatrically shot faux machine guns toward the audience throughout the show. One of the most politically liberal, anti-gun, vocal entertainers of our age “shot” a mixed message that evening…she typically does (remember—-she’s the one who’s thought so much about blowing up the White House). Yes, we bought that concert ticket…and supported Madonna’s behaviors <for the very last time may I add>)

I close with this Madonna story to say… in the United States we live and die by the market economic forces we drive by consumer decisions (even those that transpire in the black market).

What decisions can we make to positively impact the next generation?



Pink Floyd, Peter Paul and Mary, I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane

Pink Floyd, Peter Paul & Mary, I’m Leaving on A Jet Plane

Okay, I admit it publicly…at almost 50 years old. It was the mid-1980’s when I was in high school, a Myers Park Mustang. My dad and step-mom travelled quite often. My two buddies, Scott and Mike, and I would raid my dad’s bar mainly for his Crown Royal. Dad was a Crown & Coke man in those days … ugh … as they said in the 80’s “gag me with a spoon!” What were we thinking? We’d hunker down with that bottle and Scott’s VHS tape movie of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” I had a copy, but my sister, Robyn, stole it. She’s reading this and should still feel guilty, right sis? This scene repeated over and over I cannot tell you how many times. It was fun times; just a “another brick in the wall” of our High School experience.

We’ve seen a lot of walls over here and heard a lot about walls in the news lately.

Here’s the Western Wall. For my sons’ pediatrician and scouting comrade, Jon Kocmond, we placed this note of prayer he brought to us in memory of their teenage son, Nathan. Pilgrims and people offering prayer alike pray at The Wailing Wall leave notes, slips of paper and more in the cracks and crevices. Each year at Yom Kippur workers clear these prayer tokens and bury them on Mount Zion. According to Jewish tradition Zion is where our Jewish brothers believe a messiah will return. Jon, Sarah and family: Thaedra and I wish rest for Nathan and continued prayers for your family as you move forward always remembering the incredibly rich dimension Nathan added to everyone who knew him. I’m bringing you this olive cross. It has been with me to every Holy site we’ve visited since our Monday arrival in Jerusalem.

There is a massively extensive separation wall between Palestine and Israel and the wall separating the West Bank from Israel. These walls serve an important purpose. It is absolute fact that since these walls have been constructed terrorist car bombings in Jerusalem have decreased by 99%. That’s HUGE! As a tourist, it is also comforting. As an American Christian here to see sites, it is tremendously comforting. Truly, these people would kill one another. As importantly would be the destruction of the Holy sites we have seen this week.

Of course, there are the Old City walls. Built to protect and see this city through the ages, the wall has always been a symbol of division. And even though tourists get excited about seeing it and traversing the City gates, it remains an outer surrounding for a place characterized by conflict and division.

There has been so much talk about walls lately especially the border wall our current administration wants to build. I don’t know if a wall is America’s answer; will it effect the change we desire? That’s neither a rhetorical nor open ended question by the way. There remain, among others, the issues of drug inflow, MS-13, unlicensed immigrant drivers who don’t understand our culture who endanger us everyday-everywhere, and ineffective immigration. Believe me I’ve seen it personally in my career many times.

We’re heading home. If you talk with anyone who has been here, then I think they’ll agree they leave a part of themselves here. It is truth to admit that you bring home part of this place, too. I don’t mean chunks of Dead Sea salt, a piece of Rock from Masada, or an piece of something \from Gethsemane (don’t tell anybody I did that-both times).

The part you bring home is the relationships you build. This trip our group was blessed to spend an evening in Palestine (Bethlehem) with a family in their private home for dinner. They welcomed Bishop Farley and several of us for native meal shared a glimpse of their lives and opened their home and hearts to us (I wrote about them in an earlier blog: Get a Piece of the Rock). Bishop said grace before dinner. Incidentally, I don’t think I’ve ever been blessed by a bishop (at least he didn’t bless me out).

To get to know Victor better and glean from his extensive knowledge has been the best. When Brandon, Susi, Mark, Juna and I visited 2 years ago we departed knowing we had a friend who is at the top of his game. To any of my 2016 Red Bus comrades, you cannot imagine how much more awesome he is now. Still melodic in speech, his gentle, genuine desire to share his homeland’s deeply rich cultural and Christian history with us.

As I write these words we are flying directly over the Aegean Sea. Like Peter Paul and Mary sang, I’m leaving on a jet plane, don’t know when I’ll be back again. Honestly, I probably never will be. Now that I’ve shared this experience with my beautiful bride and soulmate, I’m good.

I want to share a few sites I haven’t taken the opportunity to share up to this point and to give a few final reflections.

Garden Tomb: Discovered in 1867, it is a place outside of Old City Jerusalem some people claim may have been the actual cruxifiction site, Golgatha, and the site of His burial in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. I think people are easily convinced this might be the real place simply because it looks like what people expect to see (I personally gravitate toward Holy Sepulcher being the place). Here are a few shots from the Garden Tomb.

Holy Sepulcher: This is the most venerated place on earth. By the time Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, Christ’s followers and the early Christians had already been meeting here for worship for a few hundred years. The Emperor’s mother, Queen Helena, declared this to be a true site (based on quite a bit of fact: a cruxifiction site called Golgatha located outside the City gates was here. The stone is cracked from seismic activity and descriptions correspond well with historic and scriptural records. People get confused when they see the protective Holy Sepulcher Church presently. It’s difficult to imagine this highly ornate place steeped in tradition having been a killing and burial site.

(This is the Golgatha Stone. You can see a huge crack in it proven to be cause by earthquake. The stone runs stories deep into the earth. The cracks can be seen by visitors stories below this surface shot. The image below is the top area of the stone covered as worship space and is said to be the spot where Jesus died.)

(Place believed to be where the Cross of Christ was erected.)

(The images above and below show the outside of the highly decorated and preserved tomb. Through the wall you can seen the bedrock into which the tomb was originally carved.)

Dead Sea: It is a truly amazing place. Unfortunately, severe drought has caused the level of the Sea to fall approximately 18 feet since the late 1990’s. Israel has a serious water issue.

Masada: One of 7 of King Herod the Great’s desert fortresses. It offers spectacular views. Interestingly, this is where the Zealots occupied after the Roman Rebellion around 70A.D. Scripture and history records that the 900 Zealots had been held under siege here. Once they realized the Romans would capture them…killing the men, raping the women, and selling the children into slavery, the men decided to die was better than living under the conditions that would face them. The evening before the Roman legions stormed Masada every man killed his family. By casting lots the men killed one another until 10 remained. One of the 10 killed the remaining 9 men and then “fell upon his sword.”

Anunciation in Nazareth: This Basilica is constructed over the remains of the Virgin Mary’s childhood home. Historians and archeologists agree with a great deal of certainty that this is the place where she would have been when Gabriel announced to her she would bear a child by virgin birth.

Capernaum: Called the Town of Jesus, it is where he resided in the upper Galilee region for a large part of his ministry. It just so happens that He lived in the home of the Apostle Peter (Stretcher Bearer guys: I cannot wait to share a full and. detailed version of the time we spent here when we meet in May.

I do know this: after two trips to the Holy Land I wholeheartedly and enthusiastically recommend this place as a must. Not necessarily for religious education, but simply to see some of the most incredible sites from the ancient world, to experience a culture unlike ours, and to understand how life works and our place in it a little bit better.

The difference between Jerusalem and other major world cities, for example, is that many are extremely touristy. Israel requires a sense of adventure, stamina, bravery to be where people live on edge and bit of resolve to delve into a region characterized by Islamic & Jewish conflict to discover the roots of our own Anglo-Saxon traditions and cultures. If you are looking for something common, keep looking. And as much as I love a tropical island vacation I’ve yet to find a frozen pina colada with a little paper umbrella here…and I looked!

Here relaxing means learning and living with the fact that world does not revolve around us and how completely insignificant our individual problems are. It is truly a freeing place to be. In one of my first blogs in the 2016 series I said I’d hoped the trip wouldn’t change my life. It did not. This one has not either. Both of them, however, have changed my perspective.

Do you ever just want to go back and feel the security you felt when you where a little kid? I hope you have these memories. You know, when your mom or dad took care of all your problems: stumped toes, lost toys, drove you around with the windows up while smoking Winstons & Virginia Slims….wait….that helped nobody! When you visited your grandparents…they would snuggle up and read a bedtime story to you. Or do you, like I, remember drifting off to sleep as a little kid exhausted after a long, adventurous day without a worry in the world listening to the adults in the other room? I can get back those peaceful moments in my mind’s eye in just a second.

I think this peace is the same peace I have gotten from both of my trips to the Holy Land. Moments of worry free tranquility. And although I’ve uploaded 1000’s of pictures to the cloud and walked tens of thousands of footsteps I am bringing a piece of this place home with me. In the same child like fashion I am grateful for the chance to have left my little part of the world and visited this part. Grateful for family, friends and grateful to know that despite every problem, every messed up thing in this world, it’s like that kid’s song we used to sing reminds us: “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”

If you’ve watched the news in the last few days, then you know the Middle East, especially Syria, is in turmoil. Keep the people in your prayers. From the Holy City of Jerusalem, big-blog-theory signing off for a while.


Final thought:

Thanks to all of you for the amazing support of this blog, for helping honor to people to whom I’ve dedicated articles, and for walking through this geographical and Biblical time capsule highly dedicated to preserving the past so that we can be well rooted for the future. and (2016) have received more than 1400 hits in recent weeks and the numbers are growing.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem-

Get a Piece of the Rock!

Get a Piece of the Rock

This is no sales pitch and I promise there is no ulterior motive to channel you toward a Prudential agent. I’m not even sure I know one…and that’s not an invite to call. Therefore, it’s okay to relax and keep reading.

Bags must be smaller than a typical backpack and placed on the conveyor. You must go through the metal detector. Military guards armored with automatic assault riffles- intensely serious looking- might watch you closely. I even saw explosive sniffing dogs closeby. These people do everything they can reasonably do to make you feel as safe as they can to ensure your safety on your flight. Except…wait! At this check point you cannot wear Christian jewelry or even carry Christian literature let alone a Bible. They say it is propaganda. This is not the airport. This is the non-Muslim entrance at the entrance to Temple Mount: the site of the Dome of the Rock.

The sign over the entrance reads:

This blog hopefully clarifies why some of the problems exist in Israel between the Jewish nation, Israel, and its Muslim inhabitants and neighbor nations. You, too, can be like Marty McFly jumping into Doc Brown’s time machine (that’s a Back to the Future reference / DeLorean vehicle for those of you who are too young to……..never mind). Fasten your time machine seatbelts, this stuff is both fascinating and tragic.

We hear about it on the news; we select politicians based on their views on it, but we truly are far removed from the issue(s). On Tuesday evening, Thaedra and I were privileged to join Bishop Farley from the Kentucky Conference of the United Methodist Church (yep- that’s your boss, Brandon D.) and his son, a Providence Sr. High grad, to have dinner in a private home in Palestine. After talking with this family and listening to the struggles they face, the division among factions here seems all the more real. The photo below is of Therese, Roed, their twins, Mais & Majd, Bishop, his son, Brandon; Claire and Lauren two U.S. exchange students. I’ll follow up on this in “final thoughts” at the end.

I have taken my notes from touring in both 2016 and again today and compiled them. Written simply, I hope this post gets to the down low of the most the highly recognizable of Middle Eastern sites. I’d dare say here is where much contention began, Isaac & Ishmael excepted—-and I know that’s a HUGE exception folks!

Back in the day King David bought the property where Temple Mount exists. We now recognize this property by it’s prolific gold dome. It is the Dome of the Rock. You remember David, the one who watched Bathsheba taking a bath from his Palace’s terrace (then sent her husband Uriah to the front lines of battle knowing he’d be killed so that David could have Bathsheba for himself—-another story altogether).

(King David’s Tomb on Mount Zion.)

King David’ son, King Solomon, built the first temple on this site. The Arc of Covenant was placed here in the section call the Holy of Holies. In 586 B.C. Babylonians conquered the region and exiled the Jews. The Arc of Covenant was lost. For you movie fans, Indiana Jones & company spent a lot of time racing against Nazis looking for the Arc (spelled Ark; Hollywood style). For reference, it is believed the Arc contained the remaining pieces of Moses’ stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments.

70 years later King Herod rebuilds a new temple. He used no slave labor. Rather, he employed 10,000 men to rebuild and expand the temple mount. This temple is the one where Jesus, Joseph and Mary would have visited. It’s where He overturned moneychangers’ table, sat among the teachers, and taught on the steps (this picture is my 2016 group on the “teaching steps” originally one of the main Temple entrances in use during Christ’s life. Mary, Joseph & Jesus would have walked on these steps (pictured below). Clearly, some are restored; some are not. The original walls behind us have been sealed over the centuries.

Eventually, General Titus conquered and destroyed Herod’s new Temple.

Islam was begun by Muhammad (born in 570) . The Koran says God took Muhammad (accompanied by the Angel Gabriel—-yep, same one) on a journey to the furthest mosque. Interestingly, nowhere in the Koran does it specify this event happened in Jerusalem. However, based on the surroundings described, the Muslims built there mosque on the spot where they arrive. The stone under the dome of the rock is the stone where Muhammad landed on the winged horse. The story goes that he stood on the rock before ascending into heaven and meeting prophets (including Jesus—-who is acknowledge by Islam as a prophet) from this very place. During this meeting Muhammad received instructions to pray five times daily (in case you ever wondered where this tradition of Islam originated).

This place is the 3rd holiest place in Islam. It is both ironic AND interesting to me that Allah decided that he needed this holy site to be built on a place so pivotally important to Jews (and subsequently to Christians).

The Byzantines (Christians) who controlled the area up to this point were a weak sect. They were overtaken by a Muslim conquest. In 691 the dome of the Rock was built. 90% of what one sees today is original. Other mosques and surrounding buildings were constructed around 705. It is spectacularly beautiful; but as a Christian I feel eerily blasphemous (not sure this is the correct word) for being here.

A Muslim dynasty become well established by approximately 710.

For the Jews the Temple Mount is the #1 holy place because the Holy of Holies (Arc of the Covenant) stood where the rock is. They have no access inside the domed mosque. Jewish people (any non-Muslim for that matter) cannot access the area inside as non-Muslim prayers are banned from the Temple Mount.

The closest Jews can get to the site of the Temple Mount is the Western Wall. They call it the Wailing Wall because they pray and wail there at this closest place they are allowed to the original Temple site until the 3rd temple is built. It is a beautiful hope and expectation revered by approximately 10 million Jewish people worldwide.

Muslims protest when Jews ignore Torah Law and come to walk the grounds. Jewish presence causes violence and protests from both sides. Thus, the reason there are guards, security precautions, riot shields and everything else you see.

To go into the problems about the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Syria, Jordan and the real estate surrounding Israel (Jewish, democratic/Theocratic) far exceeds the scope of this post. Suffice it to say that Israel wants to claim / reclaim more land while other nations (Muslim, essentially non-democratic/dictatorships and monarchies) want to claim / reclaim more land in a part of the world where land is tight and natural resources make people rich. Just as importantly rooted in this is religious pride and national sovereignty.

Just for fun I’ll point out an interesting fact when we see an image of the dome we see it’s gleaming gold roof. It has not always been as bright as it is today. In the late 1980’s King Hussein of Jordan, a Muslim, ordered and funded the installation of the 5000 glittering solid gold plates we see today adorning the dome. Incidentally, there is an American tie. King Hussein’s 4th wife, Queen Noor, was born Lisa Najeeb Halaby in California. She was an American citizen and worked as Washington, D.C. urban planner until their marriage.

I do not know the answer to the problems among the factions (and I’ve only mentioned two). The emotionally charged history runs deep. The one thing I know for certain is in the era when the U.S. has committed to move it’s embassy from Tel Aviv, Israel’s diplomatic capitol, back to Jerusalem, the historic capital, the Jerusalem story, the Temple Mount story will continue to unfold. Everyone, it seems, wants to get a piece of the Dome of the Rock!

Final thoughts: On the surface the division here does not seem to impact family life on one side of a wall or the other. The revealing truth is that all people here are severely impacted. A few things we learned at dinner with our new Palestinian friends:

-Israel controls the flow of water (I’m talking in pipes that service individual properties). Water is only turned on by the governments sporadically and it is typically unannounced. Thus, water conservation is a HUGE issue. Private homes have storage tanks on their roofs so that residents can fill up and stockpile water in hopes they don’t run out between open flow periods.

-Palestinians and other “non-Israel” residents must obtain a pass to be able to cross through security check points at the international borders. This is much stricter than a Passport issue. For example, the family we met currently has a pass, but can only get one per year to cross into Israel. This is a big deal if you want to buy furniture, see a particulate doctor, attend school, and just about anything else.

-Even in predominantly Christian communities…everywhere here for that matter the mosques play Muslim prayers aloud…VERY LOUD so that they can be heard all over the place.

-West Bank, Gaza Strip, Bethlehem residents, cannot fly out of Israel even though it is the closest airport. They have to drive through the mountains to get to Jordan to fly anywhere.

-Israeli 18 year olds are required to service in the military before seeking higher education and other personal goals.

The Hooker, The Bakker, The Promised Land Taker

The Hooker, the Bakker, the Promised Land Taker

You’ve heard the saying that well behaved women rarely make history. Today I was reminded of this as we visited Jericho … the oldest city in the world, well, what’s left of it.

She emerged from the heavy cast bronze doors amidst a sea of reporters. In the forefront local Charlotte news investigative reporter Chris Clackum, who’d been avidly following the story for years, stated that her husband had been sentenced to federal prison . The painted lady broke into song at the top of her lungs right there on the steps of the federal courthouse: “On Christ the solid rock I stand all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.” If you were in Charlotte, NC in October, 1988, then you’ll know I’m referring to the unmistakable Tammy Faye Bakker. The same Tammy Faye who’d been the butt of jokes around the Carolinas, if not the nation, for overdressing, and definitely over primping—make up galore! I’ll never forget the “I ran into Tammy Faye” t-shirts.

Who knows why Tammy Faye followed Jim Bakker all the way through the rise and fall of the PTL empire? Many of my FB friends grew up with me in Huntingtown Farms immediately adjacent to the first PTL property. Buddy, Dawn, Reid, Cameron, David, Doug, Gary, Frank, Lisa, Kim: we all remember PTL’s stately, imposing Georgian mansion. Accordingly to neighborhood kid folklore it was haunted. It still stands just off of Park Road on the property Forest Hill Church now calls home.

The Old Testament chronicles Joshua’s quest to continue Moses’ journey to get the Hebrews to the promised land. It was when they hit Jericho, the mighty walled city, that they needed, once again, to rely on God. But it was here at the world’s oldest City that God’s servant happened to be a woman practicing the world’s oldest profession. Enter: Rahab.

These piles of rubble are what remain of Jericho. Here Rahab’s home was built into the walls. Scripture records that she served God by hiding Joshua’s spies from the King. In return, she and her family were spared when Joshua’s armies marched around the City blowing their trumpets causing the walls to fall to offer the Hebrews safe passage.

Archeological evidence shows little evidence to support what the book of Joshua records. However, this is not the point. I’ll leave that for scientists and Theologians to debate. Daddy always says “who am I to let the facts stand in the way of a good story?” I can tell you this; the American Ambassador’s Fund is paying for the excavations here (political neutrality on my part practiced here). The research work began in Jericho in 1952, just a few short years after the formal establishment of the State of Israel. The tallest peak in this first image is the venerated place of Christ’s temptation in the Judean Wilderness known here as the Mount of Temptation. There is a monastery at the tip top.

(It is commonly agreed based on the finds, studies, and discovery of agricultural techniques that Jericho is the oldest developed city on earth. What you see here is simply ruins in a National Park managed by the Israelis Antiquities Authority, but the modern town is a resort area where people from places in Israel escaped to during colder times of the year).

As someone I know and deeply respect frequently says: You don’t know what you don’t know. It applies to the two women I’ve mentioned here: Tammy Faye & Rahab.

Who knows what Mrs. Bakker’s purpose was to serve and how, in the end, her life’s will fit into the ever unfolding puzzle of God’s story. I simply cannot imagine.

A lesson we learn from Rahab is that God often uses the most unlikely people. Sometimes He uses the least, the lost & the last – the weakest, the most down trodden, the most unlikely to serve His purposes. If not for Rahab and her willingness to serve, Joshua may not have conquered Jericho to move forward into the Promised Land. I believe God uses whom He wants when He wants and where He wants us. It also makes me realize, alternatively, that there is truth to the philosophy “To whom much is given, much is expected.” (This predates Peter Parker by generations for all you Spider-Man fans). This blog is dedicated to a man, a leader, and a friend to many.

On January 2nd our Charlotte, NC Boy Scout Troop 118 lost it’s founding Scout master and leader for nearly 45 years, Stephen Pace (pictured above in our T118 traditional Pace purple). One could write volumes about this man’s approach to leadership, family life, Christian living, citizenship, parenting and business ethics. Suffice it to say, unlike most people, Mr. Pace spent his life investing in people. The foundations he built will live on through the 192 Eagle Scouts born of Troop 118, the the neighborhoods developed through his business, through deep and true friendships, and the amazing and accomplished family he nurtured during his life. I thought of Mr. Pace today observing Jericho and remembered he built his house’s foundation on rock. The scripture that says:

Matthew 7:24-27 (ESV)

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

As I gazed upon this pile of rocks…10,000 years old I am reminded that like Tammy Faye sang out loud (who am I to question her)…. a little dramatically I must admit…that God is the Rock, He is the foundation, and on Him we can stand. My friend, Stephen believed this. Every word spoken at his memorial reflected that His life shone this light.

It’s quite strange, but true: two painted women, an Old Testament warrior, Joshua, who led the Hebrews to the promised land and the remains of this oldest of cities made me think today about my sons’ scout master and how deeply I respect his life’s work and how solid a foundation he built in people’s lives. That we may all be so inspired.

Final thoughts: We saw some of the most unbelievable desert in the Judean Wilderness; our camel’s name is Shu-Shu. We floated in the Dead Sea, and spent quite a bit of time at The Old City (walled city). Here are some views of the remainder of the day.

(This is Victor. He’s been my guide both trips here. He is an exceptional guy. Prayer group guys: I’ve got 2 videos, 1 of him explaining some things from Capernaum, for our May group).

(Some of the other tour members in our group.)

This is the Western Wall / Wailing Wall…most people recognize it. I’ll have a special final post about this place on our final day).

Dungeons, No Dragons, 2 Kings….and a Castle

Dungeons…No Dragons…2 Kings…and a Few Castles

As the bus took us to the top of the hill, JoAnna, Thaedra, Tim, Mark, Jackie, Jennifer(s), Chet and the crew heard the sultry voice sing the words from his enduring 1961 hit from Blue Hawaii “But I can’t help falling in love with you.” (You’re welcome…now that song will be in your head all day).  The doors opened and we had arrived at Graceland  Even for non-Elvis fans, it is a place to behold.  Time seems to stand still inside its doors.

A throwback into Americana, this Memphis landmark makes you realize how this man shaped our culture—more people watched him in the first live televised concert than watched Neil Armstrong take the first step on the moon & he was the first singer to earn a cool $1 million for a film. I have travelled quite a bit and highly, strongly recommend this nostalgic, quirky, fun place as much as any place I’ve seen.

It is probably a fair statement to say most people believe Elvis died very rich and extremely famous.  By today’s standards is that true?  One thing you absolutely learn about this talented American entertainer and philanthropist is that he denied himself nothing.  He was the King of Rock & Roll and Graceland Mansion was his castle. 


Today we visited the church of St. Peter Gallincatu.  Built on a steep hillside of Mount Zion, this is known to be the accurate historical location of Jewish high priest Caiaphas’ palatial home.  You remember this guy.  He’s the one who sent Jesus back and forth between himself and the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, during Passover. Neither Caiaphas nor Pilate wanted to “stir the pot” and compromise his comfortable, powerful position.

I love this picture (below).  Standing here gives tremendous perspective, both present day and historical.  In the foreground is the Church- a melting pot of Judeo-Christian history; in the distance is the separation wall dividing Israel & Palestine.  Just beyond the wall is the town where Mary, Martha and Lazarus where lived.  In Bethany Christ raised Lazarus to life and explained to the sisters the importance of each one’s work.


Being here makes faith real.  A lot happened here.  Gospel meets humanity here.  Jesus told Peter he would deny Christ 3 times before the roster crowed at dawn.    All four gospels report that this happened (in the courtyard of Caiaphas’ home).  I If you can get past all don’t the surrounding the authenticity of most Holy Land sites to consider Peter’s denial occurred here, it becomes a very sobering thought. By the way, there is no historical archeological doubt the the Jewish High Priest resided on this piece of property.

How many times in a day do my actions or do my thoughts deny my faith or deny Christ?


Note to self:  need to work on this!


Peter’s denial shows us what people do, but what about what God does?  To seek the answer is to step deep into the basement dungeons of this building.  Having been excavated from centuries old buildings (Byzantine churches once stood here to commemorate the site of the House of Caiaphas), historians and archaeologists alike determined there to be a network of dungeon prisoner cells underneath this building.  Hewn out of bedrock in the mountain side you descend into guardrooms, cells with stone pillars and bowls carved into floors, and hardware used to hold prisoners tightly to the walls.

Although debate remains, many believe Christ, the King of the Jews, spent His last night in this dungeon cell before finally being arrested before crucifixion.  Unlike the time a pilgrim spends trodding the Via Dolorosa and walking through Holy Sepulcher, this dungeon prison is neither a visual nor sensual feast.  Rather, it focuses one’s attention on one thing: death.  Standing in the prisoner’s cell and considering you could be standing on stone floor where Christ stood the final hours of His life; well…., there are no words…none.

In 2016 my friend, Brandon Dirks, was with us in this space and read us the scripture from the Gospels about Christ’s last night on earth. The words he read were narrative about the events that took place in this very space.  I do not know how he was able to get through it.  




You may have read those lists of celebrities who are worth more dead than alive.  They include people likes Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Michael Jackson, and absolutely, the King…that hunka hunka burning love, Elvis Pressley.  But more important than Elvis’ money (which they say has grown from the mere $10 million at the time of his death to several hundred million now…depending on what you read…thanks to Priscilla’s hard work) is his legacy and enduring, classic work.  It probably helps that the guy has his own channel on Sirius XM channel radio, too!  The point is, Elvis’ fame and fortune are much greater now than when he was living.  And although Elvis Pressley was simply an entertainment pop culture icon, his case study makes an easily understandable segway for the historical growth of Christ’s story.  It was after Christ’s earthly life that His story was spread by his disciples and followers…that His bride, the Church, was born and grew.  


The lesson from St. Peter today is twofold.  First, like Peter how am I denying God in my life?  And second, after Jesus was no longer physically with us on earth His story spreads, His legacy endures, His dominion reigns.

What will we do for God today, to affirm Him and not deny Him? Dawn is coming.

Final thought: to anyone who has ever participated in Walk to Emmaus, in this place the term DeColores never becomes more poignant and real.