X Marks the Spot

It is the stuff that lends magic and mystique to pirate stories, treasure hunts and fairy tales. People are in search of the answer to a great mystery…whether it be buried treasure, a piece of a puzzle, or a long lost answer to a question. An X on a map denotes you have arrived. During Spring Break we encountered an X in the middle of the Elm Street in Dallas. And while it did not hide any treasures, it certainly marks the spot of an historic American tragedy: the assignation of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

We’ve heard the story and seen the images all our lives. Jackie, dressed in pink adorned with her iconic pillbox hat, with the president by her side proceeded by motorcade through Dallas en route to the convention center for Mr. Kennedy’s speech. The mysterious Lee Harvey Oswald observed from the corner 6th floor window of the Texas Book Depository on the right side of Dealey Plaza (heading out of town). As my friend Dane would say “the short of it is” the Warren Commission Report declared a single shooter (Oswald) acting alone carried out this assassination. Whoa there….not so fast! A visit to this place rapidly opens the possibilities for the numerable other scenarios people have contemplated for more than 5 decades.

Let me be the first person to admit that we don’t know what we don’t know. Conspiracy theories fill articles, books and millions of history lovers’ minds. Admittedly, I’ve never been more on board convinced something additional happened…more than Lee Harvey Oswald could have done alone. There is simply too much evidence about ample opportunity. My family became so intrigued that we returned to visit a second time in as many days to take in possibilities.

Interestingly, up until the time of JFK’s assassination it was NOT a federal crime to kill a President or Vice President. It seems so archaic doesn’t it? This created an interesting dynamic between local police and federal security detail…but that’s a story for another day. For disclosure purposes the information here is based on what curators and tour guides reveal at the Sixth Floor Museum and in Dealey Plaza.

Keep in mind the motorcade was only going 11 miles per hour. It turned right onto Houston Street heading directly toward the building corner where Oswald stationed himself. From the sixth floor window this perspective gave a would be assassin unobstructed firing access.

The Oswald Story: Today the corner room is recreated exactly as Mr. Oswald would have found it and left it on that Dallas Friday. While I am no marksman at all (in fact, if I have a rifle ya’ll better haul and hope that I don’t drop it or get startled and turn around) it seems quite strange looking out the window. At one point in the procession the limo faces squarely in line with the line of sight. However, it is not until the car turns left onto Elm Street and is heading out of Oswald’s sight that the ‘fatal shot’ is fired. For a gunman to aim toward Elm from the angle of the building’s window required more skill and the ability to focus more clearly.

(These are some of the cameras on site that captured images. The one below is the renowned video camera bystander Abraham Zapruder used; it captured the assassination in a segment of extremely grainy footage.)

We’ll not ever know how Oswald’s story would have unfolded. Recall Dallas nightclub owner of mafia lore, Jack Ruby, fatally shot Mr. Oswald only one day after JFD died.

The Grassy Knoll: It is surreal to stand on the famed grassy knoll. I’ve never really stood on a grassy knoll let alone see one except maybe on an old episode of Little House on the Prairie. But there we were facing the road. Behind us stood a wooden slat privacy fence. As evidenced by photos there has been a fence on this site since at least 1963. Witnesses from November 22, 1963 claim they saw a puff of smoke from behind the fence. Is it possible that an assassin could have aimed from this vantage point? The site line was and still is wide open, gave direct view of JFK and would have easily hidden someone in a crowd. (Note: a worker in a nearby train switching station tower could easily have spotted a shooter in this position).

The Drain Theory: My dad has long believed, and he may be on to something here, the fatal shot discharged from a storm drain on Elm. Evidence including direction of the bullet, the fact that JFK was thrown back (as opposed to being pushed forward had Oswald shot him from behind), clearer line of site, and complete concealment from view lends high credibility to this theory. The problem is it would be difficult for a shot to fire from this low angle to hit the top of person’s head (particularly when a firearm barrel would be restricted by the presence of a concrete drain’s top giving the gunman only inches to maneuver).

The Great Escape: Interestingly, the railroad worker from that nearby switching station tower witnessed a man climbing from a drain grate. What had he seen? Only a guy coming through a drain or did his vantage point let him see someone shooting from behind the fence on the grassy knoll.

We simply do not know what the train yard worker saw. The next day the railroad worker was found murdered. Coincidence? (This photo shows the vantage point of the supposed murdered witness).

I take pictures of everything. However, my teenaged son threatened me not to take photos of our family at this location. What he called disrespectful I call research….yep…that’s it….research. Nonetheless, I heeded his prompt…threat! He is correct, however, it would be really nerdy and over the line to “say cheese” at the sight of a murder.

Concerning what our government knows you may recall early in President Trump’s presidential tenure he had the privilege to release the previously classified information withheld from public knowledge. He chose not to make information public. Why? What do we not know; what do they not want us to know?

Nearby from atop the Geosphere Observatory on Reunion Street visitors enjoy views of every Dallas block . Each view is accompanied by a photo board, text and a story monitor. The one over Dealey Plaza features Mrs. Kennedy’s Secret Service Agent, Clint Hill. He is the last surviving passenger from the limo detail from that November, 1963 day. On video Mr. Hill clearly reads what sounds like a highly scripted line…the same one they’ve fed us since the Warren Commission released its report (and we’re all so trusting in government reports). He says in stoic, monotone script something to effect that “there was one shooter, the shot came from the 6th floor of the Texas Book Depository, the shot was fatal, it was fired by Lee Harvey Oswald. That is all.” It is as if Mr. Hill was told what to read and how to read it….quite matter of factish, with zero emotion, with no facial expression or vocal personality whatsoever.

Thaedra, Pierce and I walked away convinced we’d heard the words of an old man afraid he would lose his government benefits and retirement if he shared anything other than the same old same old. Alternatively, maybe the Warren Commission’s “company line” about what happened provides a unified coping mechanism for a Secret Service detail that failed to protect a president’s life. Interestingly, the motorcade’s security detail urged the president to make use of the limousine’s glass protective top. JFK refused it wanting to be closer to the people as he worked his way through the 5 city campaign tour.

There remain so many facts, theories and possibilities that people will likely not ever know the full story. I wrote this blog not to jump in with conspiracy theorists, but to reinforce observations and to keep alive the search for truth…especially to a younger generation not as in touch with American history.

The second time we visited was a spectacular day. I spent quite a bit of time walking and looking at what could have been the case. As I turned and walked away from Dealey Plaza it occurred to me that if the whisper of the winds rustling the trees leaves could talk, then maybe they could reveal the truth. But the truth is we may never know what actually happened in Dealey Plaza where X marks the spot.

Ten Pieces of My Heart – Sex for Sale

Chicago 1995: My wife and I took the first trip of our relationship to a wedding over Independence Day weekend. The venue was a massive revival style Greco Romanesque mansion originally constructed by J. Ogden Armour. You may remember “Armour hotdogs, the dogs kids love to bite.” The Armour company’s potted meat and other products were precursors to Spam….the canned pork…fat…sodium…gelatin…whatever it is….not computer spam. During the reception the groom’s band took the stage and played one of their original songs. While I don’t remember the title, I vividly recall repeating lyrics: “Ten Pieces of My Heart.” It was a fantastic, upbeat song about broken dreams and living a life you do not choose.

(Thaedra & me at the Armour Mansion outside of Chicago: July, 1995)

Fast forward to more recent years. Gayle Smith entered our lives.

Trafficking, Sex, & Slavery

She is the girl in line behind you at Wal-Greens. Maybe she is the customer service representative behind the teller line at the bank. Possibly she is a he…not a transgendered person, but rather the desperate, hopeless and roughed up looking teenage boy we see roadside holding up a sign “Will work for food.” We easily overlook victims (and survivors) of sex & human trafficking. They’re mostly passersby to people who disguise one of the darkest secrets of modern slavery and the world’s oldest profession.

Not by choice, but by forced circumstances they are too afraid to leave. Fearful of threats of their families being killed, themselves being killed, ending up homeless or hungry or sick with nowhere to go they remain. Blank faces, real life girls, they’re Tina Turner’s Private Dancer, OR Julia’s Robert’s “Pretty Woman” (good gosh I’m so old that I remember this stuff). They sell themselves, their bodies, their souls for a buck…and it’s a buck they don’t even get to keep.

It’s easier to believe life is lollipops and rainbows. It’s easier to tune in to specialty network television and focus on other seemingly unrealistic circumstances. Think about what I call the TLC effect. It’s that Jim Bob Duggar thing requiring his children to “side hug” until they are married. All that pent up….um…let’s call it energy. It’s why they have 67 Kids and Counting (TLC insider joke for those of you who watch). Have you ever seen one of their weddings? These young newlyweds literally run down the aisle immediately after nuptials, lock the door to the nearest room and get their freak on while the guests are still in the pews. Awkward on so many levels that you have to see to believe, but a great comparison about naivety in modern times.

Once Was & Maybe Not Always Will Be

A world away, in a land never known to or forgotten to most lies the ancient excavated city: Bet She’an, Israel. It’s the place where King Saul and his sons were stripped, staked to the City wall and burned. (Honestly, until my trips there I’d never heard of the place…and I grew up Baptist…I must have missed that day). During the City’s hay-day Roman Bathhouse culture abounded. Beside one of the excavated public bath houses guides tell you they found the remains of hundreds of young male bodies. Young boys who, for whatever reason, were raised to work in the bath houses as prostitutes…disposable lives…for the fleeting sexual pleasure of society. The practice widely infiltrated ancient Roman culture.

(I shot the following at Bet She’an about a year ago).

To stand there gazing over the excavated ruins, one cannot help but wonder what horrors these boys must have faced. The sobering fact is that the boys’ reality makes modern day banter and locker room talk about massage parlor happy ending jokes become offensive and disrespectful to the generations of males who sacrificed body, heart, & spirit in this place.

Fortunately modern culture does not afford this oppressive abuse and behavior to manifest. Or, does it?

Not in my Backyard

It exists…prolifically! My hometown, Charlotte, is at the cross roads of two major interstate highways. Except for Atlanta, it is the largest Southern city between Miami and New York. We’re accessible by Greyhound, AmTrack; we’re home to the sixth busiest airport in the United States. We have NFL Football, NBA Basketball, and a massive NASCAR presence. Simple demand creating a market for “sex” trade workers is met by a supply of people, whom against their will, complete the economic model.

Indentured to a life of sexual slavery, these women live lives a lot like the boys of the Roman culture bathhouses.

Key Statistics from Polarisproject.org

Since 2007, the National Human Trafficking Hotline, operated by Polaris, has received reports of 34,700 sex trafficking cases inside the United States.

In 2017, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children estimated that 1 in 7 endangered runaways reported to them were likely sex trafficking victims (hopefully, survivors).

Globally, the International Labor Organization estimates that there are 4.8 million people trapped in forced sexual exploitation globally.

From CHARLOTTE, NC (FOX 46 WJZY), 11/7/18:

Charlotte is the number one spot in North Carolina for human trafficking, and on any given day, the state of North Carolina ranks in the top ten in the nation for human trafficking. “80 percent of all trafficking victims in our country of all ages were born in this country so this is the girl next door,” said Bo Quickel, the founder of Vigilante Truth. An international airport, conventions, sporting events, concerts and highways make Charlotte the perfect breeding ground for the dark industry.

“It’s easier to sell women than it is to sell drugs,” Quickel said, “than it is to commit internet fraud,” he continued. “Selling a woman is pretty easy business, sadly enough, but it is true.”

In fact, Quickel says it’s over a $10 billion industry.

“I’ve met murderers, I’ve met thieves, I’ve met people who destroy peoples’ lives with drugs,” Quickel listed. “Sex trafficking is a place where all three of those people are the same person, and doing all three of those things to one person. They destroy these girls lives.”

(Image from Google)

Desperate beyond any desperation we can imagine, these people need a champion. There is a grove of Dahlias and a place of escape for them.

Beacon of Hope

I believe everyday unsung heroes are the brightest spot of any generation. You don’t find these heroes in a sport arena, hear them on an iPod and see them on movie screens. Colin Capernick didn’t give up anything with the possible exception of good taste (not that he ever had it…and pleeez, don’t let him become a Carolina Panther). Want to know a real hero? I’ve discovered one in Gayle Smith . This charming, well educated, Christian hearted lady has her heart and mind set on charting a course….making a difference for women who are trapped in the jaws of trafficking. Set on a journey to establish a mission, she sold her home, quit her job and has worked TIRELESSLY for this cause

Gayle sees people as ALL of us should see people. She sees struggle, heartache, desperation to move beyond the entrapped servitude of a pimp or a sugar daddy.

At the expense of sounding like the old Jeff Foxworthy & Larry the Cable guy comedy “I believe” skit:

I believe Gayle lives into her dreams, mission and purpose. Following the example of Christ, she has “picked up her cross to follow (Jesus).” Talk about commitment? Gayle sold her home and has begun investing her asset base in her vision.

I believe Gayle is God’s shining, angelic beacon of hope among a population of women who would, otherwise, remain captive to a life relegated to either sex or human trafficking.

I believe Gayle’s focus to provide a safe house complete with vocational training and redirection getting these girls out of tragedy’s trajectory is a God inspired and a tangible way she makes a difference. We can help, too!

I believe trafficked & pimped people walk away from a “session” or an “encounter” feeling like that song I heard in 1995 – not living a life they choose – with their hearts shattered into pieces and souls compromised from an oppressive reality they cannot singularly escape.

For the last few years my crew and I have attended the annual Dahlia Grove fundraising event. It rocks! Great company, the best of friends, fun auctions, food, drinks and the promise to help someone.

Save a Single Starfish

You might ask: What difference does it make if we help a few girls? The answer is simple. Have you ever cast a stone into a placid pond and seen the ripple effect? Have you ever heard the story of the star fish (poem by Loren Eiseley)?

(Starfish Point in Grand Cayman, 2017)

A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.

She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”

The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference to that one!”

The old man looked at the girl inquisitively and thought about what she had done and said. Inspired, he joined the little girl in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved.

Our help can make a difference for just “that one.” Join the cause, be part of the ripple of positive change. Soon others will join; and we’ll see how many starfish…how many pieces of a heart we can save.

Please check out http://www.dahliagrove.com. The fundraiser is Friday, 4/5, and is a blast. Your support will make a difference to someone.

What’s Boeing On? See Ya 2018-

This was going to begin like “Seinfeld”: a blog about nothing, Turns out, there’s a story from our “Sleepy in Seattle” trip.

The Year that Flew By & the Jetliners that Made it Happen

Robert Plant recorded a song with Alison Krauss a few years ago by the title “Gone, Gone, Gone.” That’s exactly how I feel about 2018. Do you recall as a child or younger person hoping for Christmas, Halloween, Summers & birthdays to get here? I can still hear my grandmothers, both of them, saying “Don’t wish your life away.” The statement’s irony manifests at some point along the journey. We go from wishing we were older to wishing we could be a little younger. While I have no desire to be any younger, it would be awesome for time to slow down….just a little bit.

With all the hustle and bustle of the Christmas and New Year’s season, it’s been like being in a time warp. I have felt like Marty McFly speeding through time. On December 26th reality hit at 6:45 am when my youngest son and I boarded the 5 hour & 55 minute flight to Seattle-Tacoma and realized there were not seat back screens. Yes, the reality that it’s just another crappy American Airlines flight stung. These people should never have used the term “Something special in the air.” I’m remained prayerful they would keep us in the air and not drop us plummeting toward the earth.

As if it were not horror enough that they eliminated SkyMall, now passengers are left with the AA magazine filled with things like: Top 10 Steakhouses, Nation’s 10 Best Plastic Surgeons, dating service ads for busy professionals, and $ 3.5 million and up condo high rise ads on Miami Beach. As long as they keep the Biscoff cookies I think I can cope….right Daniela Spearman?

My jet setting friends Michael, Noel & Eileen will empathize with me. Angela may laugh remembering the June ‘18 article I posted to her social media about AA shrinking bathroom size on new planes to accommodate 12 additional seats on certain models. Before long you will have to be a Taebo, Beach Body, or PX90 aficionado to be able to pee on a plane….in a plane I should say? To quote Angela’s social media response: “Why do they hate us???”

While I realize these are first world problems, having a teenager as a travel partner with neither earbuds nor visual entertainment…..let’s just say the pain is real!

Here’ What Been Boing On

(Full scale mock up of an International Space Station capsule. They used this one to train astronauts and to get used to zero gravity. I, of course, took my son’s challenge to pose like a dork).

As part of my youngest son’s 18th birthday, we’ve been hanging out in Seattle & Vancouver. While it may not sound like a bucket list thing, he and I did one of mine this trip and headed to Everett, Wa. to the Boeing plant. Despite what American Airlines does to frustrate passengers, Boeing’s premier approach to aviation technology sets standards among its industry competitors.

Consider some of the fun stuff we learned:

  • Bill Boeing founded his company in 1916…just thirteen years after the Wright brothers flew at Kitty Hawk.
  • The Everett, Wa. Campus features the world’s largest building. At 98.3 acres under a single roof you could encompass all of Disneyland and still have 12 acres left over for parking. The expanse of this place is simply indescribable.
  • Boeing is the United States’ largest producer of exported goods. On the day we toured we viewed $ 8.0 billion of aircraft under construction.
  • Boeing began only 63 years prior to man walking on the moon. From any perspective it’s safe to call that a quantum technological leap. Today’s generation is born into knowing the ease of getting onto an airliner and being on the other side of the globe within 24 hours. Boeing engineers believe that we’ll be able to travel the same distance in two (2)….yes that is TWO hours in the foreseeable future. Please note: security will still take seven hours.
  • A cool $403 mil gets you a new 747. Boeing produces only 6 per year…that fact truly surprised me. This price….also the sticker price…is not what anyone or any company pays.
  • A coat of paint adds 1000 lbs to finished weight.

(These next four images are from Google. Boeing will not let people take phones into the production & tour area. It’s not because of security. It’s because if a device gets dropped on the aircraft, then it can compromise the safety of the finished product. A tourist dropped an iPhone a couple of years back and it was $307,000 mistake).

From Airplanes to Space (Needles)

It’s a cool thing to have visited the top of the Seattle Space Needle originally built for the 1962 World’s Fair. The first time I did this was in 2003 with my bride when we were visiting friends, Pam & Ron, when he was there (the Fred Hutchinson Center) for a bone marrow transplant. As we were waiting to board the monorail to get to the needle, our friend Bertha called to tell us that our friends, Katie & Brandon Dirks had welcomed their son, Baxter, into the world the night before. This also happened be the day the U.S. invaded Iraq.

I didn’t think about it when we saw the space needle, but in 1962 humans had not even been to the moon. For all you conspiracy theorists…it happened…it was not a Stanley Kubrick cinematic stunt. For skeptical North Carolinians; get a clue: Steph Curry is an NBA player, not an astrophysicist. Let’s keep perspective (reference to Curry’s recent media proclamation that the lunar landing never actually occurred).

Being at the Space Needles reminds one of Epcot or The Jetsons. My son said it looked like something from Star Wars inside (noting the very recently upgraded and installed glass floor making 30 minute revolutions at the top 520′ in the air).

Honestly, I could blah…blah…blog on. Therefore, let me conclude this abruptly and leave you with a thought:

Here’s to the New Year. 2019 with its promises, its lessons, its blessings and its challenges are upon us. Here’s to the blessing of family, of friends, of memories to be made. And finally…happy birthday to you, Pierce Gregory “Baboon” Withrow. As your granddaddy would say: “I love you and I’m on your side.”

Angels Hark About the Place Year After Year…..Bothersome Bethlehem.

On a cold winter’s evening, on a bus bound for nowhere, I met up with a bishop, we were both too tired to eat. So we took turns a starin’ out the window at the darkness… That’s what happened when I drank an eggnog, felt the Christmas spirit, and decided to pen a country song. Apologies to Kenny Rogers, but my satirical lyrics really do describe how last February’s adventure to dinner began. Thaedra and I found ourselves with the United Methodist Kentucky bishop, his son and two exchange students in the private home of a Bethlehem family.

This particular bus happened to be heading south from our hotel near Old City Jerusalem toward the West Bank town of Bethlehem in Palestinian controlled territory. The areas are under completely separate governments: Jerusalem by the State of Israel; Bethlehem by the military force of Palestine. They are also separated by a $14 billion dollar wall. Liken it to the one between North & South Korea or the former Berlin Wall.

Our hostess, Therese, a veritable, Martha Stewart minus “Snoop,” grows lemons, dates and olives in the family garden on their property just outside the home’s lower level entry. I’m rather certain none of us had ever enjoyed truly homemade homegrown lemonade; genuine virgin olive oil (I’m talking first press of the olives) and eaten dates plucked from just out the window. My wife threatened to slap me under the table when I started to ask where they got the chicken (for the record, we didn’t see any running around outside). The lady even sent home with us an emptied wine bottle she’d filled with her freshly pressed olive oil…some of it still sits on our counter. This amazing family extended gracious hospitality to us. It was warm, sincere and they wanted to share their culture and Christian experience as a Greek Orthodox family living in a Muslim world.

Before dinner we stood on their terrace overlooking the landscape of the town; it was beautiful. In fact, almost like you’d expect the modern evolution of Christ’s birthplace to look: seemingly tranquil and peaceful.

Somewhere in the midst of the buildings rose the belfry of the Church of the Nativity…the venerated site of Christ’s birth. It’s grotto beneath the main church protects the place heralded to be the very spot God entered the world as a baby boy on a night, in a cave, among the stench of animal dung, to an unmarried mama who’s fiancé was planning to high-tail it out of there after the drama unfolded. But God had another plan. He usually does…and fortunately, for us, we usually don’t see it.

Who am I to question Christ’s birthplace and what it has become? Honestly, if He knew then His home country would be in an area suffering contentious fighting, then why didn’t He chose somewhere else? Many other “little towns” evolved into awesome places: like somewhere in Manhattan on 5th Avenue ….just down the street from Bergdorf-Goodman’s or something with a nice water view like Sausalito? Seriously, talk about a place just a few miles from Sonoma where Jesus could turn something into wine (wrong millennium…and how selfishly American of me).

The Bethlehem skyline is accentuated with these worshipful, architectural spires all over the place. Extremely bright green LED strength lights illuminate the tops. They’re impossible to miss. As a matter of fact, if you happened to be Captain Sully piloting a 737 over the area, you’d think: “Hey, I better hike this bad bird up a little or I’m going to hit something.” Then it hits you…literally shocks you when this shrill, piercing sound fills the air calling the Muslim citizenship to pray toward Mecca. It’s at this point we realized these green spires weren’t there for pretty, rather the spires reach toward heaven honoring Allah. We were, although in Bethlehem, in predominately Muslim Palestine.

Near the cradle of civilization, in the land of Ramadan, faiths intermix. Ram’s horns beckon Jews to worship not far from where Ramses the Great ruled. Bethlehem is not the fabled place we believe it to be. It hasn’t been still, peaceful and has not afforded much dreamless sleep since that Roman census saw a pregnant virgin girl arrive on donkey with her humiliated fiancé. Yet, back to his ancestral home, the place we sing of and the angels harked about in nearby Shepherd’s Field, they navigated.

To be a modern citizen in the Little Town of Bethlehem here means many things. To our host family it means:

  • Applying for government passes to go through the wall to Jerusalem just a few miles away once per year to shop: for furniture, for clothing, for “the better shops.” I equated what they shared with being able to go to Costco once a year.
  • Living with the CONSTANT threat of having the water supply cut off. It happens with extreme regularity. Jerusalem controls the water Bethlehem gets. Citizens make practice of collecting water; rain and municipal water, in cisterns so that when the supply is cut, people can continue to function until it is restored.
  • Working on the Israeli side of the separation wall means going to stand in line early… so early that they can literally “immigrate” legally to their places of employment daily. Returning home, I got the impression, is not as arduous a process.
  • Waiting until government authorities say you can go see the doctors on the Israeli side of the wall. The Jewish medical system is highly advanced and offers some of the best care available anywhere.

Thaedra asked Therese what it’s like to live blocks from where Jesus was born. She responded that it is an honor—almost unbelievable for a faithful Christian. I have to think Muslim passersby see Church of the Nativity as inconsequential, possibly unnoticed. The story from Bethlehem, 3A.D. is a lot like the story of Bethlehem 2018 A.D. (all you politically correct people can keep your c.e.). People not looking for a savior weren’t going to find Him; they still do not.

The gift and the question of Christmas is: “somewhere not far from here” in this holiest of lands Jesus asked his disciples “Who do you say I am?” As His followers we still have the ability to answer this question everyday. To imitate someone is to pay the highest compliment especially if imitating Christ is the focus.

This Christmas I propose an answer by action: Not to live as Victorian age prudes, not to be pious scripture spewing ne’er do wells and hypocrites, but to live reflecting a genuine light of love. Modern Christians are called to produce peaceful-quantifiable action motivated by concern for people and to exist as charitable servants among our fellow brothers using our gifts & resources within our respective spheres of influence to bless the people around us.

He selected this birthplace because over the millennia not much has really changed here. From Roman persecution of Biblical history to the modern tensions this region faces, God’s message resonates through the ages: Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men. Here in the heart of Bethlehem we are reminded “(E)ven the Son of man came not the be served, but to serve, to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).”

Christmas….it all started here.

(Therese has a master’s degree in nursing and works full time in a neonatal intensive care unit at the local hospital, her husband is a local tradesman and is learning English. Their twin high school age children were quite like American age teenagers. We were blessed to spend an evening in their home).

Change for a Time — the half century club!

If you are a Gen X’er, then you are a product of the “Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room” era rubbing shoulders with the Vaping in the Transgendered Restroom generation (Rick Taylor, comedian).” It’s funny and it’s incredibly true.

Our generation moved from Sesame Street to Hill Street Blues; from Bruce Jenner-decathalete on a Wheaties box to Kaitlyn Jenner in an evening gown; from the end of the Sexual Revolution to Sex in the City (I still wouldn’t know about Jimmy Choo and Manolo Blahnik save for Sara Jessica Parker and Oprah’s Favorite Things list). We went from Terry Bradshaw to Carrie Bradshaw; from drinking OJ for breakfast to knowing O.J. as a convicted murderer….make that a felon. For that matter we’ve gone from drinking straws to vilifying them.

We’ve grown up and away from Count Cocula each Fall to looking forward to everything Starbucks pumpkin latte. And although Boo Berry and Frankenberry also made their annual appearances I, for one, stand with the Count …that dude endures the generations!

And finally, we 50 somethings remember when Bam Bam was simply the Flintstone’s cartoon neighbor and not a reference to cocaine a la Talladega Nights…”help me Tom Cruise….help me Oprah Winfrey!”

In a little over two weeks, God willing, Thaedra and I will be flying home from Dublin with my two best buddies, Tim and Kevin and their wives. We will have celebrated my 50th birthday together both on the continent, around the U.K. and in Ireland along with some of my other favorite and cherished friends, Noel, Eileen, Nancy & Gayle (I’m still hoping) joining us along the way. It’s really an amazing thing to consider that until in 1927 when Charles Lindbergh completed the first successful transatlantic flight this type of travel was not feasible. Lindbergh flew only 41 years before we 50 year olds were born! Jumping on and off airliners is now typical travel protocol.

(My heart & soul…Alex, Pierce, and the unmistakable, lovely lady who loves me despite myself, Thaedra. You three are the biggest blessings of my life.)

(Tim and Kevin…these two guys are the older….much, much older brothers I never had. I cannot verbalize the blessing, dimension and richness of these two men and these friendships bring to life…simply priceless!)

It remains true and becomes increasing reality that humanity’s progress moves faster now than at any other time in history. The best description of this truth I read recently in the first few chapters of Dan Brown’s book, Origin. He includes two intriguing paragraphs.

“It took early humans over a million years to progress from discovering fire to inventing the wheel. Then it took only a few thousand to get to the printing press. Then it took only a couple hundred years to build a telescope. In the centuries that followed, in ever-shortening spans, we bounded from the steam engine, to gas-powered automobiles, to the Space Shuttle! And then, it took only two decades for us to start modifying our own DNA.”

“We measure scientific progress in months…advancing at a mind boggling pace. It will not be long before today’s supercomputer looks like an abacus; today’s most advanced surgical methods will seem barbaric; and today’s energy sources will seem as quaint to us as using a candle to light a room. The Greeks had to look back centuries to study ancient culture, but we need to look back only a single generation to find those who lived without the technologies we take for granted today. The time line for human development is compressing; the space separating ancient and modern is shrinking to nothing at all”

This book made me consider the some of the advances in the last fifty years. Think about what stands out to you as marked advances during our place in time.

The “What had happened was…”

In the very early 70’s I vividly recall my maternal great grandmother’s farmhouse on Hwy. 216 in Cherryville, NC. She had wood burning stoves not only to heat her house, but also as a source for cooking. At the same time microwave technology was being introduced to the consumer marketplace. The Sears Kenmore microwave daddy brought home was as big as a TV set. My wife says she remembers a door to door microwave salesman coming to her home….I have to laugh at the visual this conjures up…some poor guy toting a microwave through the neighborhood. As kids we could see technology and times changing before our eyes and didn’t even know.

(This is the house when I drove by it 2 weeks ago. It’s remodeled and looking good even though great granddaddy built it well over 100 years ago. My maternal grandparents married in the front parlor here on December 22, 1934.)

Speaking of time, how many of my Charlotte friends remember dialing: 375-6711? If you’re from around here, then you remember Joe King’s “Home Federal Saving & Loan time is: ____o’clock; the temperature is ___ degrees.” By chance did you dial this number on a rotary phone?

Remember when food was simply food? I was always jealous of the kids who’s moms brought cupcakes to school for their birthdays. What, pre tel, did you have to do to make this happen? Does this still happen? Between the gluten free and the vegan considerations I’m not sure it’s any longer permitted, let alone politically correct, to serve cupcakes to school kids. We even have gluten free communion (there’s a Jesus, disciples and an upper room joke in there somewhere, but I’ll leave it to your imagination).

We are from the generation when health insurance was sold for the family and not for the dog. For that matter, remember when the dog’s dental care was not on par with yours? Maybe they had all of that when I was a kid and my parents were just cheap.

On the back seats of bus 337 riding to Bruns Avenue Elementary School (4th grade for the sake of full disclosure) we listened to homemade compilation cassettes. Our music included Car Wash by Rose Royce, Le Freak by Chic, Big Shot by Billy Joel…and on and on. Daddy’s black plastic battery operated (6 D-cell batteries) cassette machine made those monotone recordings from radio jams sound awesome, just phenomenal! Hey, it’s what we had.

Techy people say an iPhone X will hold more than 30,000 songs. I’ll get back to you on that one. It is ironic to think about music media evolution. My wife’s late God parents left Thaedra and her brother, Greg, an operating Victrola in their home. We listened to it…skreetchy, scratchy swing band and gospel melodies. I bet you $10 I could plunder through my dad’s junk and find an old Buck Owens or Porter Wagner & Dolly Parton 8-Track tape. For anyone who doesn’t know what an 8-track is; Google it, they definitely played an important role in media evolution. For anyone who doesn’t know who Buck Owens and Porter Wagner are take my word for it, move on.

Remember when Peanuts were either a great cartoon or a healthy snack and not some lethal keep it off the plane killer? Those pathetic little pretzel packs American Airlines tries to pass off don’t measure up. If you’re lucky and get a good flight, then you might get a pack of those Biscoff cookie crackers. I’ll knock you down for those…consider yourself warned.

Like many kids I grew up on the tail end of my daddy’s belt. It’s Biblical…loosely based on Proverbs 13:24. Spare the rod and spoil the child. Dancing around that swinging belt I would have sworn it was child abuse. It was, in fact, the kind of parenting that yielded disciplined and accountable children. Somebody should have told my grandmother, however, making a kid pick his Hickory stick off the shrub before a good butt “whoppin’” was not Biblical. Incidentally, Apple Pages did not recognize whoopin’ as a word. Clearly, the programmers are not Southern.

I’m rather certain my boys have never cracked this thing called an encyclopedia. We’ve gone from World Book to Wikipedia, from Britannica to Bing. If we couldn’t find it in the latest printed edition of the encyclopedia, then we could go to the library and look up subject matter in this archaic card catalog. Thanks to Mr. Dewey and his decimal system it worked rather well.

My youngest son is preparing for his Eagle Scout board of review. It’s an awesome skill: scouting teaches youth to orient a map. I, however, rely on Google maps. If it’s a really adventurous day, then it’s Waze with the Elvis voice prompts…”thank you very much!”

Actually, a lot of what is now bygone reality helped the fifty something generation turn out well. I’m talking about things like beginning elementary school days with the Pledge of Allegiance; getting a filthy dirty when we played outside: mud, scabbed up knees, sweat, and gum ball fights. Robyn Withrow, I’ll never forgive you for making the whole street gang up on me. Lest we forget that our generation may be one of the last to learn grammar…we are from the day when teachers actually taught English. Want to stump a teenager? Ask him or her to conjugate: “to drink” or to differentiate and conjugate “to lay and to lie.” This list could go for days.

People complain about getting older. Some of the most awesome people I know are in their 50s. And like they, I plan to have the time of my life. Sometimes you hear 50 is new 30. I hope not! 30 year olds can keep diaper changes and career climbing; newly arrived 50 year olds keep the AARP cards. If Alex Tribec tries to sell me $15k of guaranteed life insurance for only $39.00 a month, then I swear I’m going to boycott Jeopardy!

The point: a lot changes our life’s time-space and comfort perception. Except for human nature and omnipotent God, things never stay the same. Life is short and getting shorter every day. My theory: take the trip, eat the cupcake (gluten allergies beware, I know), laugh loud, love passionately, forgive, and don’t expect other people to invest in you as you might in them (you get your feelings hurt…really badly!). People who say they have no regrets have neither learned anything nor ventured very far from a comfort zone. Old age will happen as soon as you invite it, either by inaction or attitude, to sit beside you. Work hard, play harder, pray harder . Evidently, living this way scares the crap out of people. I’d rather live full throttle and soak up the adventures ahead than to sit safely inside the confines of a stereotyped convention. We do, after all, only live once.

May our choices reflect our hopes and not our fears. Nelson Mandela