Wilderness Experiences

Today marks the 153rd anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Wilderness during the War Between the States, and that anniversary got me to thinking about many types of wilderness experiences not only in history but also in individual lives.

There are the natural geographic wildernesses, such as dry, barren deserts; tangled, steamy jungles; dense, desolate forests; and the icy Arctic or Antarctic wastelands.

There are the military wastelands in which combat has raged. The battlefield event that sparked my thoughts on this subject was a tangled mass of vegetation that claimed the lives of 29,800 Americans (18,400 Union, 11,400 Confederate). And then there was the thick wilderness of the Ardennes Forest, where Americans and Germans battled it out in two different world wars at the cost of 475,000-575,000 lives in the combined armies.

There are about as many reasons for wilderness experiences as there are kinds of wildernesses. In the case of the battlefield wildernesses, soldiers enter them because their superiors order them to do so. Duty calls; they must obey.

But sometimes people go into wildernesses to hunt or to camp. Others go to study, explore, or do research. That is their work. Still others go into a wilderness to escape something–or someone. Some go into a wilderness to find respite or relief from the problems and stresses of life. And others find themselves there by accident, as, for example, survivors of a plane crash.

Regardless of the kind of wilderness or the reason for being there, such places are nonetheless inhospitable, dangerous, depriving, and solitary, even downright lonely and spooky.

The Bible includes accounts of many people who had wilderness experiences caused by a variety of factors. Moses ran into the wilderness after he killed an Egyptian (Exo. 2:15; 13:1ff). That’s where he encountered God in the burning bush, and God called him to lead the Israelites from Egypt, through another wilderness, to the Promised Land.

Elijah had two such wilderness experiences, but each was different. In the first one, God had told him to go hide by the brook, and the ravens fed him there (1 Kings 17:1-6). He was there by obedience. But in the second experience, he was there by his own choice, running for his life rather than trusting God (1 Kings 19:1-13).

Christ was “led of the Spirit” into the wilderness to be tempted (Matt. 4:1). And the demoniac of Gadara was “driven of the devil” into the wilderness (Luke 8:29).

Similarly, we often in life have our own symbolic or figurative wilderness experiences for a variety of reasons. They might be to prepare us for some later, greater work, as in the case of Moses. They might be to refresh, inspire, empower, and encourage us, as is the purpose of a writer’s retreat. Or they might be the result of our own carelessness or waywardness.

Whenever we find ourselves in a wilderness, our job is to learn why we’re there, learn from it, and then follow the Lord through and out of it. And as we leave that wilderness, we should, as the title of my brother’s book states, “Leave a Well in the Valley” (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00579YDQ6/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1) so that others, too, can benefit from our experiences and the lessons we’ve learned.

What is your wilderness? What are you learning from it? What lessons are you sharing with others that can help them through their own wilderness experiences?

Let’s Hear It for Nurses!

The first several days of this new month, the first two weeks, in fact, focus attention on a vital profession: nursing. One never realizes just how vital that profession is until one needs a nurse’s care; then it becomes critical.

The second week of this month is designated Nurses Week. May 6 is National Nurses Day, and May 12 is International Nurses Day. During this time, special days focus attention on student nurses (May 8) and school nurses (May 10).

The first nurse I remember encountering was Lois, the nurse in Dr. Cruze’s general practice in Powell, Tennessee. She had a gentleness about her that put even the most fearful child at ease. Especially noteworthy was the way she gave shots, getting them over with before one even knew that she had administered them. I recall only once when she did not give me my childhood shots, and that was the time that Dr. Cruze himself gave it to me. That was in the days when doctors made house calls, and Dr. Cruze called upon me and prescribed a shot in the posterior. I jumped so hard when the point entered that I bent his needle and cut tender parts. Determined to give me the shot I needed, he readied another needle, bent me over his right knee, and put his left leg over my back. Daddy held my feet, and the needle was administered, that time without damages but no doubt accompanied by much squalling. I never trusted him thereafter, but I appreciated Lois’s skills even more.

Over the years, I’ve encountered innumerable other nurses, some good, others bad, and a few extremely good. For the most part, they have cared for me well. At least I got better from whatever ailed me at the time.

But the most memorable nurse and the one of whom I’ve been most proud, has been my daughter Elissa, who answered the call to become a nurse. She persevered through four grueling years of classes, labs, practicum, and clincials, only complaining that she was always tired. But she got her B.S.N. degree and has made us proud of how she has ministered to countless patients using the skills that she learned in the excellent nursing program at Bob Jones University.

Her first nursing assignment out of college was at Charlotte Regional Hospital in Port Charlotte, Florida. Just weeks after she began that job, Hurricane Charlie hit, and the hospital, located mere yards from the banks of Charlotte Harbor where the Peace River enters it, was the bull’s eye at which the storm aimed. Elissa was at home with her grandparents when the storm hit, but she reported to work on the next shift and helped care for the patients who had been evacuated to the second floor when the ground floor flooded. She also worked with the Florida National Guard as they set up a temporary emergency facility in the parking lot to care for area residents who had been injured during the storm. When she wasn’t working tirelessly at the battered hospital, she was helping her grandparents deal with property damages at home.

Since that time, she has worked at Wake Forest University Baptist Hospital and private medical practices in several different types of nursing duties, including surgical recovery, oncological care, joint rehabilitation, and urology . Once while visiting us when her grandparents were also here, her grandfather suffered difficulty breathing, chest pains, and other symptoms of a heart attack. Suddenly, the daughter and granddaughter transformed into nursing professional, and off to the hospital he went, all objections brushed aside by one who knew what had to be done.

Now that Elissa has two active children of her own, she’s getting plenty of opportunities to practice her pediatric nursing skills, treating everything from cut lips from falls down the steps to bee stings and bug bites to burns, and who knows what else will inevitably occur during my grandchildren’s normal growing-up process. A loving mother is without question the best nurse.

I sometimes wonder how my mother survived my own childhood emergencies. There were sudden, late-night trips to the ER occasioned by head injuries from falling on the edge of a concrete porch (18 stitches), facial injuries from a bike wreck (3 stitches), a lacerated scalp from playing Frisbee with a sharp metal sign (10 stitches), broken bones, and innumerable other injuries incurred in the life of a normal, active, growing boy. Mother was my EMT and recovery nurse for all of them.

Then there are the school nurses, who have the unenviable job of trying to discern what is real illness and what is merely students’ clever attempts to get out of class or to be sent home. They must deal with the annual outbreak of lice that seems to infect every elementary school and the almost daily cuts and scrapes and bruises incurred on the playground. Students get pencils jammed into their hands or eyes. And then there are the real illnesses that often hit students of all ages. School nurses perform a necessary and too often unnoticed service for all students and their parents.

So let’s hear it for nurses this month, not only the student nurses and the professionals but also the longsuffering mothers who nurse their youngsters and guide them safely through the myriad dangers and illnesses of childhood. If you must go to the doctor or a hospital, thank the nurses you see, especially those who serve you well. They do a lot more than we see, and they deserve our thanks and gratitude. And thank the mother who saw you through childhood!


Playin’ Indians

Throughout much of my childhood, our family had no television. Although we apparently had been one of the first homes in the community to get a TV, a little disagreement between my brother and me over which of the two local channels we would watch resulted in one of us angrily turning the set off and on repeatedly until the tube blew. Daddy put the set into the attic and refused to get it fixed because of the animosity it had created between us boys. When I was nearly ready for college, he gave the set to my grandfather.

But during the short time we did have a TV, we watched a lot of “cowboys-and-Indians” programs. And, as kids are wont to do, after watching some of them, we ran outside and reenacted much of what we had seen, using our vivid imaginations in our play. Because our Uncle Dillon had given us cowboy outfits, complete with holsters and guns, that part of our costume department was pretty well stocked, but we were a bit lacking in the necessities for the Indian portion of our play. But that didn’t stop my brother from using available materials to create the proper attire and atmosphere to make our play realistic. As the younger, impressionable–and gullible–brother, I followed his lead.

One day, while playing Indians, my brother got a brilliant idea. He ran inside and soon returned with four of Daddy’s large work hankies.

“Take off your pants,” he ordered. I stood with my mouth open, but he was already stripping to his underwear. “And take off your shirt and underwear.”

In my innocence and trusting my all-wise older brother, I did as instructed.

“Now get your belt from your pants.” I did just as he was doing.

“Put your belt on.” He put his belt around his naked waist and cinched it tight. I imitated his every move. There we both stood, buck naked except for a thin belt around our waist.

“Now tuck these hankies into your belt–one in the front and the other in the back.” He demonstrated. I followed his example. And we were dressed like real Indians, complete with loin cloths. Near-naked savages.

“Something’s missing, though,” my brother lamented. He couldn’t stand for anything to be incomplete. For him, play was not real play unless you had everything just right. He didn’t want to leave anything to the imagination. That’s generally how it is when you’re buck naked–nothing left to the imagination.

“Indians wear war paint,” he mused aloud. “What can we use for paint?”

I didn’t like the sound of that, but I stood by dumbly, waiting for him to come up with an answer. He always did. I could pretend that we were covered with war paint and have a grand time playing, but not him. He had to have the real thing. He thought for a long time about our dilemma. He looked through the garage. (Looking back now, I’m surprised that he didn’t use Daddy’s house paint.) He looked through the chicken house. (I’m really glad he didn’t try to make war paint out of chicken manure!)

He went back outside and stood thinking. I waited patiently for the answer that he soon would arrive at and dug my bare toes into the sand where we played with our trucks and road graders and where we called doodlebugs from their under-sand burrows.

Suddenly, my brother’s eyes lit up. “I’ve got it!” he cried. “Come on!”

Like an innocent lamb, I meekly followed him to the nearby fence row. He reached up and pulled a handful of plump, dark polk berries from the stalk that rose through the barbed-wire strands. He took one berry between his thumb and index finger and squeezed it. Out came a deep, reddish-purple liquid.

“Here.” He handed me some of the berries he’d picked. “Now, squeeze them and put the juice on your chest. See? It’s just like war paint!”

We both applied copious amounts of the liquid all over our bodies. We painted designs on each other. On our chests, on our arms, on our backs, on our faces.

“Now we look like Indians!” my brother declared.

Or like something.

We played Indians for what seemed like hours and had a wonderful time. There we were in all of our natural glory, running and jumping and whooping like savages–for all the neighbors and passing strangers to see. Just the two of us, our nakedness covered–or not–by those loin hankies and polk berry war paint.

My memory is blank about what Mother did when she finally saw us. She was probably mortified. I’m sure, though, that whatever she did wasn’t pretty, and it surely must have hurt us more than it did her.

The Bible warns us against following a multitude in doing evil. I would have been better off learning not to be led astray by one bad example! I shudder to think what would have happened if he had encouraged me to eat those poisonous polkberries! Wait, maybe he did do something similar with grapes that our dad had just sprayed with insecticide, but that’s another story.

Tell Your Story

Back when I was a kid, my siblings and I used to beg our father (left), after supper while he read the newspaper and before we went to bed, “Tell us a farm story, Daddy!” Those were stories of events that had occurred during his childhood as he grew up on his father’s East Tennessee dairy farm during the 1930s and 1940s. As tired as he was, he usually obliged us, and we loved it, even when he told the same stories over and over. To us, they truly were “stories that never grow old.”

I also used to enjoy swinging on my maternal grandparents’ front porch while listening to the “old folks” talk. Their conversations often included various stories, most of them true, or at least based on real-life events. Paw Summers was an especially adroit storyteller, and I’ve written of him and his storytelling methods and prowess (The Appalachian Log, December 1993).

Later, when I had my own children, they used to ask me questions that often ended up with my telling them a story about my own life and events when I was growing up and about their age. I often told the stories in third person and then, having finished each story, asked them, “Do you know who that little boy was?” And they usually blurted, “It was you, Daddy!” And then they immediately begged, “Tell us another farm story, Daddy!”

Everyone, regardless of age, likes a good, well-told story. (For evidence of this truth, just watch the reaction of people who are nodding off during a sermon as soon as the preacher begins to illustrate his point by telling a story.) And everyone, regardless of how bland and boring they might seem on the outside, has an interesting, perhaps even instructive, story to tell. That’s the premise of the TV series The Story Trek (not to be confused with Star Trek!). It’s also at least part of the motivation behind the work of many writers, including myself.

One day, I was stumped in my writing. No matter how I approached my work or how hard I thought about and worked on it, nothing would come. As I sat staring at the stark whiteness of my office wall, trying to conjure my topic, my eyes suddenly became aware of a framed picture that hangs there. It’s a black-and-white photo that one of my daughters gave me. It is of an old, dilapidated typewriter, and beneath the photo is written, “Write your own life story.”

But on that day, the words only seemed to mock my predicament. Prodded by the statement, I mused of my life and concluded, “No one would want to read about my life; it’s been neither interesting nor exciting–at least to other people. Who would want to read stories about my drab life?” My life more resembles the old typewriter than an exciting, fancy, modern computer. The platen is hard. The keys stick. The ribbon is dry and thread-bare. The words beneath the photo seemed to mock me in the harshest way.

But as I meditated longer on the words, I recalled a story that teacher-writer Jesse Stuart told. As Stuart struggled through the master’s degree program at Vanderbilt University, Donald Davidson, one of his professors, advised him, “Go back to your people. Go back and write of them. Don’t change and follow the moods of these times. Be your honest self. Go back and write of your country. Your country has your material.” Essentially, Davidson was telling him, “Write your own life story. Don’t try to be someone else.”

Stuart followed Davidson’s advice. He returned to the hills of Eastern Kentucky and taught school and plowed corn fields–and wrote. As he followed the mule along the furrow, he thought of words and phrases and stories. As he rested the mule at the end of the row, he wrote those words and ideas on a leaf, and then he transferred them to paper in the evening. And they found their way to publishers as manuscripts of poems, short stories, and autobiographical accounts. Eventually, they were published in books and magazines. He wrote for children. He wrote for adults. But most of all, he wrote for himself. I was especially a beneficiary through Stuart’s books The Thread that Runs So True, which Dr. Walter Fremont recommended to me, and its sequel To Teach, To Love. (You can find a child’s video review of The Thread that Runs So True at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wi4XkA3MqAA and an excellent TV interview of Stuart at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpsXlxf2egs. Stuart discusses Davidson’s advice to him at about the 27-minute point.)

By the way, after I had stared for a long time at that photo of the old typewriter, and after I had read and reread and meditated on the words “Write your own life story,” I did write something. I submitted it, and it was published (after the editor gently guided me through some paring and tweaking) as “The Beloved Country” (The Writer, May 2016). I had a story. I told it. And an editor thought that her readers might benefit from it. Perhaps someone did. At least one person did, and she wrote to tell me. She was an elderly lady who had herself been inspired to write by Jesse Stuart’s works and had even met him. I enjoyed reading her story, and wish that I could have met Stuart, too.

If I could do it, you can too. You have a story of your own. Tell it to someone. Write it down and share it. Perhaps even dare to submit it for possible publication. After all, tomorrow is National Tell-a-Story Day. Go write your own story.

How Many Words Are Left?

The other morning, while I was toiling through my regular routine on the treadmill and struggling with arthritis-pained knees, toes, and wrists, I found myself looking at the bookcase on the opposite wall. There, on the top shelf, were several anthologies and other books that include some of my own writings.

That set me to thinking of how many articles I’ve written. Those thoughts made me realize that I’ve written thousands upon thousands of words over the years since the first article I ever submitted was published back in 1981. One thought led to another.

Behind me, I remembered the huge notebook filled with tear sheets of my published articles. (I say remembered because I didn’t turn to look at it. I once learned a painful lesson about trying to turn around and run backwards on a moving treadmill, and I’m not fool enough to repeat that session!)

As I continued my morning run, warm (very warm!) and dry on a cool, rainy day, I wondered how many words I still have in me. Because we are each given a set amount of time in this life, and, knowing that we, like David, should pray that God would “teach us to number our days” (Psa. 90:12), it seems only natural that we should also ask Him to teach us to calculate our production in whatever our field of service might be. In my own case, it was first in teaching and now in writing and editing. So I wonder how many more words I have left in me to write.

Do I have another book left in me? Perhaps a couple? None? How many more articles are in me?

The question is not how many more writing ideas I have left in me. Those are a dime a dozen; they’re in every direction I look and in everything I read, see, and do. (And even if my idea well did happen to run dry, myriad people are more than happy to volunteer their ideas that they think I should write about!) The issue is how many of my  ideas I will actually be able to express in words fit for public consumption. Correction: it’s actually how many of those words will editors find acceptable to share with their readers. Without editors willing to buy and publish my words, no number of written words will amount to anything. To make a difference, there must be willing editors and willing readers. And that is the rub.

My mind was racing faster than my feet. The pace of the treadmill decreased, but the incline increased dramatically. As I huffed, puffed, and perspired, I asked myself the next logical questions: What will my last written words be? And will anything I’ve written have made any difference?

I know how I read. Whenever I pick up a magazine or newspaper, I skim and scan. Seeing an interesting title or headline, I might read the lead paragraph. If my attention is not immediately arrested, however, I move on to something else. I don’t have time to waste. As the librarian’s t-shirt read, “So many books, so little time.”

I probably read more than the average person, but I rarely read a complete article unless it really grabs me. If it does, I might even print or photocopy it for possible later use.

But most readers skim and scan even more loosely than I do. And we all forget so quickly. Someone once said that yesterday’s newspaper is good only for wrapping fish or lining a birdcage. Today, we don’t even wrap fish in newspaper, so its value is even less.

Can you name even one article that has made a lasting difference in your life? On the spur of the moment, I can think of only one, an article titled “The Tyranny of the Urgent” (about how we allow urgent demands to crowd out the truly important things of life), but I can’t remember its author’s name or which publication it was in.

Today, we suffer information overload, and we forget so much more quickly and easily. Can any words really take root in our lives to the point of making a lasting difference? Will any of the words that I write make any difference to anyone else?

Only one author’s words have the infallible promise that they will live eternally and make a lasting impression and difference in their readers’ lives, and those are God’s. He said, “My word . . . shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isa. 55:11).

If written, my words might not get published. If published, they might not be read. If read, they might not be remembered or make any difference in anyone’s life. But it’s nonetheless my responsibility to write them, whether many or few. What happens to them after that is beyond my control. As Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson said, “Duty is mine; consequences are God’s.”

Jesse Stuart, another writer-teacher, encouraged fellow writers to persevere:

And if men thwart you, take no heed.

If men hate you, have no care.

Sing your song.

Dream your Dream.

Hope your hope.

Pray your prayer.

So I write. I don’t know how many words I have left in me, just as I don’t know how much longer my life will last. But I simply do what God has called me to do and leave the results with Him.

Echoes through History: Hoofbeats and Gunshots

Every historic event is recounted from numerous perspectives, each offering a slightly (or perhaps drastically) different story. Generally, the perspective that is told most often is the one that is remembered by subsequent generations. That’s how it was with events of April 18-19, 1775, and the view that is most and best remembered today has been helped along with the aid of two legendary nineteenth-century poets. The account begins, “Listen my children and you shall hear. . .” and ends “By the rude bridge that arched the flood.”

The event was the clash between colonial militiamen and British soldiers as the British sought to arrest Patriot leaders Samuel Adams (far left) and John Hancock (immediate left), the original “community organizers.” They were also to confiscate the colonists’ arms and ammunition in Concord, Massachusetts. The climax would come when violence erupted at Lexington Common and Concord’s North Bridge.

Between 9 and 10 p.m. on April 18, William Dawes and Paul Revere learned that British troops were ready to head for Lexington and Concord to captured Adams and Hancock and seize the weapons rumored to be stockpiled there. The two men rode to alert the colonists in those towns. After the riders arrived in Lexington with the news, other riders were sent to surrounding towns to gather the militia in case trouble escalated. British soldiers captured Revere; Dawes’s horse threw him. So Samuel Prescott had to get the word to Concord.

The colonists had developed the “alarm and muster” system several months earlier, and it worked well. When the British advance reached Lexington about sunrise on April 19, about 80 militiamen, led by Captain John Parker, and about that many spectators were there to greet them. The militiamen were in plain view and standing in parade formation, not hiding in ambush like guerrillas. Parker order his men, “Stand your ground; don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”

British Major John Pitcairn ordered the colonists to lay down their weapons and disperse. In turn, Parker ordered his men to go home, and many of them started to leave, but none abandoned his weapon.

This is the point at which the “fog of war” produced several different versions of what happened. Some said a colonist fired first. Others said it was a British soldier. But many militiamen, British soldiers, and even spectators said that a shot was fired from among the spectators. Wherever the shot came from, the British fired several volleys without orders and then charged with fixed bayonets. The colonists returned fire.

Meanwhile, the Concord militia, joined by militiamen from surrounding towns, led by Colonel James Barrett, withdrew from that town and toward North Bridge. That’s where they were when the British troops arrived and began searching the town after first securing the South and North Bridges and their route back to Boston.

The soldiers found three large cannons and disabled them. They found and burned several gun carriages. They also found more than 500 pounds of musket balls, which they dumped, along with about 100 barrels of flour, into the mill pond. The fire, however, got out of hand, setting the meetinghouse afire.

Seeing the smoke, the militiamen thought that the soldiers had set fire to the town, and they advanced toward North Bridge. A shot was fired, probably by a British solider, sparking a full volley. The colonists returned fire, and the British began to retreat toward Boston.

All along the road back to Boston, colonists harassed the British. On Brooks Hill, the British charged their harassers, hoping to chase them off, but the colonists held their ground, and the British resumed their retreat. The colonists again attacked them at Brooks Tavern. And again and again all along their route. Exhausted and almost out of ammunition, the British were considering the wisdom of surrendering to prevent the loss of more soldiers’ lives, when they were met by a force of about 1,000 regulars coming to their rescue. The harassment ceased, but the colonists had made a clear statement: they would fight, and even die if necessary, for their liberties.

In 1837, Ralph Waldo Emerson (far left) penned the words of the “Concord Hymn,” dramatically recounting in memorable rhyme the firing of “the shot heard round the world.” Nearly thirty years later (1863), Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (immediate left) ensured the prominence of one of the horsemen who first alerted the colonists of the British threat in “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.”

In an age when we sorely need but lack real heroes willing to defend freedom, we can still be inspired by the brave exploits of Revere, Dawes, Prescott, and the militiamen and appreciate the firmness of conviction and the love of freedom of Adams and Hancock. And, to a great extent, we should be grateful to Emerson and Longfellow for preserving our heritage, even if their versions were not perfectly accurate in every detail.

Now, as then, freedom and liberty are fragile. It’s our generation’s responsibility to preserve it for our own posterity. When, years from now, poets and archivists recount modern events, what will they say of our efforts to preserve our liberties? Will they be able to say proudly that we kept it to pass on to our posterity, or will they have to admit that we failed in our solemn duty?

One Man’s Death

Many people will write about a great man’s death today. They will tout the man’s greatness, what he allegedly accomplished, and further perpetuate the legend that has more or less been declare irrefutable. Some will emphasize the future plans that the man anticipated implementing and lament the undoing of those noble ends by his less principled, more radical supporters.

I’m referring, of course, to Abraham Lincoln and his assassination by John Wilkes Booth on this date in 1865. That act of murder was lamentable because Lincoln was human, because he was president of the United States, because Booth’s cowardly act was a morally and politically reprehensible act that did nothing to help the cause or recovery of the South, and because it actually was the spark that kindled into flame the smoldering wrath of Radical Republicanism against the South. That oppression remained until Federal troops were finally removed in 1876. (Many people do not realize that Union troops occupied much of the South for eleven years after the War Between the States was over.)

But this date in history is also noted for a death so significant that it makes Lincoln’s assassination pale in comparison. Today is called “Good Friday,” the date on which the Christian world notes the death of Jesus Christ.

As a child, I often wondered why it was called “Good Friday.” What was good about a man’s execution, especially that of a good man? As I have aged and matured in my thinking about and understanding of my faith, however, it has become more clear to me.

Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, lived approximately 30 years, working with Joseph, His human father, in his carpenter shop in Nazareth. He was baptized by John, His cousin (aka, the Baptist), whereupon He immediately began a period of ministry lasting approximately three and a half years. During that brief ministry, He preached and taught first the Twelve, His closest disciples, and then the multitudes. Of the Twelve, only one, Judas, failed to get His message.

Many people today rightly emphasize Christ’s teachings on love, compassion, selflessness, and forgiveness. But they choose to ignore the other things He taught, such as holy living and walking the talk and condemnation of wickedness in all its multitudinous forms.

They like to talk about His healing of the sick, His blessing of little children, and His patience with those who struggled with problems or lacked depth of understanding. But they dislike and therefore downplay or ignore His chasing of the moneychangers from the temple, His condemnation of hypocrisy, and His setting of an even higher moral standard. They love to discuss His interactions with people of beliefs different from His Own and God’s Word. But they reject His clear declaration of exclusivity, that He is the only way to eternal salvation: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).

Unlike the teachings of other mere humans, from whose statements we may pick and choose what we want to believe, we must accept or reject the teaching of Jesus Christ lock, stock, and barrel; it’s either all or none.

Why? Because Jesus Christ was not merely a good man or a great teacher. Rather, He is God. As Jesus, He is God come in the flesh. As Christ, He is Messiah, the Savior. We can’t accept just the earthly, physical manifestation; we must accept the totality of Who He is–God the Son. And we must respond to the fact that He, the sinless Son of God, died for mankind, the just for the unjust. We must either accept or reject that fact.

Good Friday is good because it marked the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the beginning of His heavenly ministry for all who believe on Him, accepting Him as their Savior from sin. Good Friday is good because He did not remain in the tomb, as the leaders of all other human religions have done. Rather, three days later, He arose, alive, from the dead. And shortly after that, He ascended into heaven. There, He ever lives to “prepare a place for [us]” (John 14:2) and to intercede with God the Father on our behalf (Heb. 7:25). And although He, as Jesus, is not on earth today, He sent a Comforter (John 14:16), an Intercessor (Rom. 8:26), and an Advocate (1 John 2:1), the Holy Spirit, to help those who believe in Him.

Without Good Friday, none of the rest of those events would have transpired. But Jesus Christ did die, for you and for me. And He offers us His gift of eternal life if only we’ll believe and accept it.

Jim Bishop wrote several good books, including The Day Lincoln Was Shot and The Day Kennedy Was Shot. He also wrote The Day Christ Died. Those three books are often portrayed side by side as though each of the deaths were of equal importance. They decidedly are not. No death was more important than that of Jesus Christ. His death holds eternal consequences for every individual who ever lived.

Yes, Good Friday is a good day of commemoration. But it is also a day of decision. It forces each of us to answer the question that Pilate asked just before the Crucifixion: “What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?” The Jews yelled, “Crucify Him!” What is your response?

A.B. Simpson stated well the choice and its consequences in the refrain of a hymn that he wrote and published in 1905:

What will you do with Jesus?

Neutral you cannot be;

Someday your heart will be asking,

“What will He do with me?”

A Flood of Memories from a Photo Archive

I got sidetracked last Friday and, consequently, didn’t get a single thing marked off my to-do list. I’m normally more self-disciplined than that, and one part of me felt deep guilt for my getting off track and being so unproductive. Another part of me sought to justify my distractedness.

Time and opportunity to do what was on the to-do list are irretrievably gone. Yet, what I did instead proved enjoyable and might even find future productive applications. I’ll let you, my readers, be the judges.

One FaceBook group I follow is called “If You Grew Up in Halls. . . .” It’s dedicated to reminding those of us who grew up in the little community of Halls Crossroads just north of the Knoxville, Tennessee, city limits, of what life was like there “way back when.” Because of the city’s proximity and economic importance to Halls, a lot of Knoxville history is also included in the posts. One member regularly posts photos from “the good old days,” and each invariably prompts numerous comments and shared memories from people.

I recently asked the photo poster where on earth he found all of those old photos. He directed me to the web site of the Calvin M. McClung Digital Collection (http://cmdc.knoxlib.org), which hosts at least ten different collections of historic photos. Just out of curiosity and not intending to spend much time there, I clicked on the first collection in the list, the Thompson Photo Collection, the works of James E. Thompson, one of Knoxville’s early professional photographers. I found more than 8,000 photos from pre-World War II Knoxville, and that’s where I spent most of the rest of my day.

Do you know how long it takes to go through that many photos, even on the fly? And I looked at every single one of them. Some of them I merely glanced at; others I studied closely. A few I looked at a second or third time. And I learned so much about Knoxville that I never knew. I reminisced a lot. I even found myself longing to return to those days of yore.

I found a few photos from the late 1800s. The oldest, I think, dated from 1876, the end of Reconstruction. No photo went beyond 1939. Most were from the 1920s and 1930s.

I counted photos of at least fourteen hotels in the heart of the city during the Twenties and Thirties, including the Andrew Johnson and the Farragut, which were there when I was a kid and still are, but also the Atkin, the Ramsey, the Watauga, the St. James, and many others. They were elegant hotels with guest rooms the size of three or four of our typical modern motel rooms or larger, complete with their own spacious sitting areas. These hotels had grand ballrooms that looked like replicas of something from the Palace of Versailles. Huge marble-columned and -floored lobbies with spacious, well-furnished sitting areas and long, ornate registration desks. Interestingly, many of those hotel lobbies featured strategically placed spittoons for the convenience of guests who indulged in the filthy habit that made such vessels necessary.

Among the photos were several of what was at the time called the “Million-Dollar Fire,” which destroyed several blocks of the downtown. Other photos of that part of town revealed crowded streets and sidewalks, such as I recall from my own youth before the downtown declined. (Like many other dying downtowns, Knoxville has been trying to revive its heart and restore those “glory days.”)

I discovered many photos of streetcars. My grandfather had for a while been a conductor on such a streetcar, so I found myself zooming in on those photos to see if I could identify him in any of them. Alas, I couldn’t.

But the photos that most captured my attention and brought back the most precious memories were those of the S&W Cafeteria. Although it was started in Knoxville in the late Twenties, it  was still thriving when I was a kid. And it was far different from the cafeterias of today. The S&W had class! From the revolving door at the entrance to the fixtures to the wait staff, it was a classy place. It had the ambiance of elegance all about it.

Once through the revolving glass door, one stood in a marble-columned, high-ceilinged, shiny brass-furnished lobby. A large scale stood directly ahead of the entering customer. (I suppose the idea was to weigh oneself before and after dining?) To the right of the scale was where the waiting line began, but it ran the length of the right-hand wall, the dining tables being on the left, all the way to the rear. The serving line was along the back wall, just in front of the kitchen.

A wall running down the center of the restaurant, from behind the scale nearly to the serving line, divided the ground floor into two dining areas. The walls were floor-to-ceiling mirrors, probably 12 feet tall or higher. The mirrored walls gave the place a bright, spacious appearance. Every table, some for two and others for four, were covered with clean, pressed, white table cloths and white cloth napkins. The tile floor was waxed to a high gloss.

Where the waiting line began, a set of stairs led to a lower level, where the dining atmosphere was slightly less glamorous. It was for office workers who wanted merely a good, quick lunch so they could rush back to work; they would not be lingering over conversations or soaking up atmosphere. The ceiling downstairs was a bit lower, but the food was the same as that served upstairs. One just had to carry his own tray.

Upstairs at the end of the serving line, where customers paid for their meals, uniformed waiters grabbed customers’ trays heavy-laden with china, glasses, silverware, and food and drinks and balanced them precariously on their forearms and palms. The waiters raced to the diners’ desired locations on the main floor at tables or upstairs on the mezzanine at either tables or booths. They quickly removed the dishes of food from the trays to the appropriate place settings, never dropping anything or making a mistake as to which customer had which meal because they were watching closely as the customers arrived at the cashier’s station. They took the ladies’ cloaks and held the chairs out for them to be seated. Finally, they stood quietly at attention, to the side and out of the way, arms at their sides and with one hand held inconspicuously palm up, awaiting their tips. Looking back now, I think that the courtesy of S&W waiters makes even the friendliness of Chik-fil-A employees seem almost like downright rudeness by comparison.

Our family often made the trip “uptown” on Saturdays, arriving by 10:00 a.m. and making a day of it, stopping at the eye doctor’s office and shopping at Rich’s (later becoming Miller’s) Department Store before hitting the stores along Gay Street in the main business district. (It had that name, by the way, long before the word and its meaning were hijacked.) By noon, the sidewalks were teeming with people. I still can smell the fumes of the diesel exhausts from the KTL buses as they passed the milling shoppers while plying the city streets, and I can hear their low growl as they accelerated through the heavy traffic.

And at lunchtime we ate at S&W. We always ate in a booth upstairs on the mezzanine . Mother preferred the cozy privacy of a booth over the “out-in-the-public” tables. (We kids also were less likely to embarrass her there.)

The cafeteria featured a live pianist (later organist) who played during service hours. He or she even took requests. I recall on one of my birthdays the organist’s playing “How Much Is that Doggie in the Window” just for me, even creating a bark-like sound on the organ at the appropriate spots in the song.

Those 8,000 or so photos brought back memories that could potentially produce writing material for numerous pieces for years to come. And I haven’t even mentioned the photos of trains and historic railway stations or vehicles or gas stations. Or the photos of local law enforcement smashing illegal stills. And each photo has its own unique story–or more.

So was the time that I spent (or misspent) last Friday really wasted?

And to think that I still have only nine more collections of such photos to peruse! When will I ever find time to work?

A Baker’s Dozen of Quotations

In lieu of my writing about a single topic for today’s blog, I decided to share a baker’s dozen (i.e., thirteen, for some people who might not be aware of the meaning of that adage) assorted quotations that have made me think over the past several months. I hope you enjoy at least one or two of them. If you do, please let me know. Maybe share one of your favorite quotations with me, and I’ll, in turn, share it with your fellow blog readers.

Books and Reading

“Reading is the great prerequisite for everything else, not only in school but also in life itself. The teacher who gets her pupils to read has done the biggest job a teacher can ever do.” (Max Rafferty)

“Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill.” (Barbara Tuchman, left)

“Read, not to contradict or confute, nor to believe and take for granted, nor to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tested, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” (Sir Francis Bacon)

“[T]oo often what we read and profess becomes a part of our libraries and our vocabularies, instead of becoming a part of our lives.” (E.E. Bauermeister)

Perseverance and Work

“The man who wins is the man who hangs on just five minutes longer after everyone else has quit.” (Douglas Southall Freeman, left)

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” (Thomas Edison)

“However boring work may be, the lack of it is worse.” (Roland Bainton)



Exemplars and Heroes

“Many a man looking death, or simply compromise, in the face has been spared the label coward because his faith was bolstered by the memory of heroes who walked before him.” (Doug Phillips)

“[A] good copy cannot be made from a bad model.” (Johan Amos Comenius, left)

“The hero acts alone, without encouragement, relying solely on conviction and his own inner resources. Shame does not discourage him; neither does obloquy. Indifferent to approval, reputation, wealth, or love, he cherishes only his personal sense of honor, which he permits no one else to judge.” (William Manchester)

“I found my heroes in books. I observed how it was that they were able to overcome adversity, stand fast in trials, and persist in their convictions heedless of the cost. Thus over time, I came to comprehend the vast difference between being a politician and being a statesman.” (Calvin Coolidge)


“[Chivalry is] a romantic idealism closely related to Christianity, which makes honor the guiding principle of conduct.” (Richard M. Weaver, left)

“[T]he first quest of the hero is triumph over himself.” (Andrew Nelson Lytle)

Lessons to Be Learned from Shiloh

Shiloh_ChurchOn April 5, 1862, the Army of the Tennessee, led by Major General U.S. Grant, was resting near Pittsburg Landing following victories over Forts Henry and Donaldson. Two miles away, camped around Shiloh Meeting House, was the division under Major General William T. Sherman. They were awaiting reinforcement by the Army of the Ohio, led by Major General Don Carlos Buell, which was coming from Nashville.


Confederate forces led by General Albert Sidney Johnston had gathered 22 miles south at Corinth, Mississippi. Already outnumbered and with Grant’s forces being reinforced by Buell, Johnston knew that he had to act fast, hitting Grant before those reinforcements could join the Army of the Tennessee and give Grant overwhelming numbers.

Johnston’s army attacked the unfortified Union camp about 5:00 on Sunday morning, April 6, catching the Yankees by surprise and routing them. Much of the fighting occurred around Shiloh Meeting House, a one-room, log church. But then Johnston inexplicably halted the attack and sent troops to cover a presumed threat to his right flank. The two-hour delay gave the Union forces time to regroup and fortify a line of battle. in a sunken road that would become known as the “Hornet’s Nest.” The Confederates repeatedly but in piecemeal fashion assaulted the position, pounded it with 62 artillery pieces, and eventually surrounded it. By 5:00 p.m., the Union army had nearly been defeated.

800px-Pgt_beauregardIn the fighting, Johnston fell, hit in the back of his knee by a nearly spent minie ball that severed an artery. He died within about 20 minutes. Command passed to General P.G.T. Beauregard, who ordered a halt to the attack. The victory seemed to belong to the Confederacy.

Had Beauregard continued to press the attack at the point when he took command, he might have held the field, ensuring a Confederate victory. He planned to resume the attack the next morning, but by that time, Buell’s troops had arrived and, fortified and reinvigorated, the Union troops launched successive counterattacks and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

On April 8, Grant hit the retreating Southerners at Fallen Timbers. Only the determined resistance by Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest’s rear guard cavalrymen prevented Grant from gaining a total victory over the retreating Confederates. Instead, Grant decided to return to Pittsburg Landing, where he would regroup and plan for his assault on the Mississippi and, from there, the division of the heartland of the Confederacy.

Historian Wiley Sword characterized the Battle of Shiloh as “the Pearl Harbor of the Civil War.” It was only the second major battle of the war after First Manassas, and it was startlingly bloody. Waged by 65,085 Union troops and 44,968 Confederates, it resulted in 3,482 killed (1,745 Union, 1,728 Confederate), 16,420 wounded (8,408 Union, 8,012 Confederate), and 3,844 missing or captured (2,885 Union, 959 Confederate). It was an ill omen of what would follow for both sides in what promised to be a long, bloody war. It was, for the South, the beginning of the end for the Confederate armies in the West.

This bloodiest battle to that point in the war offered many lessons to be learned. Unfortunately, they escaped the notice of the generals, meaning that the lessons would have to be repeated in future engagements.

  1. Never let down your guard; always be prepared. The enemy is likely to attack when you least expect it.
  2. Press your advantage while you have it; never give the enemy a chance to regroup, reinforce, or fortify against your attack. Once he is routed, keep him on the run. Allow no respite.
  3. Never declare victory before you’ve won decisively. This is a way of saying, “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.” The battle is not over until the enemy says it’s over!
  4. Be sure that the second in command knows the details of both the battle plan and the current situation so that if he must assume command he can follow through with the leader’s successful original plans and finish the victory that has been begun and is imminent.