Category Archives: General Observations

Just things I see that make me think.

1917: My Thoughts On a Brilliant Movie

3 men & a movie

Yesterday (Friday) was the opening night (aside from select showings on Christmas day) for the movie 1917. I had wanted to go see it Christmas evening, but it wasn’t showing any place near me.

So, I sent out a text invite to a bunch of guys, and two ended up going with me last night: a deacon from my church and a fellow preacher and combat veteran. We left the wives behind and had a guys’ night out.

On a side note, when men go to a movie together, it is not good for them to sit side-by-side if it’s only 2 of them. If you have more in the group, there’s no requirement to leave an empty seat between you.

A Brilliant Movie

Related imageLet me just skip ahead to what you really want to know – it was a great movie. You should go see it, especially in a theater.

But what made the movie so good was not the acting, the action, the realistic combat scenes, or the plot; it was all of that mixed together with the most brilliant cinematography I’ve ever seen. From the very first scene, all the way to the last, it’s one continuous camera shot! I’d almost guarantee you’ve never seen anything like it.

The visuals, however, were as important as the story, in my opinion. In reality, the scenes from the silent, cratered fields over which the two main characters must bravely traverse in order to deliver a life-or-death message are a story in themselves. WW1 was a stupid, bloody, pointless massacre; yet, full credit should be given to the average soldier who heroically walked into the monster’s mouth whenever he heard the sound of a whistle.

Metaphor On the Flip Side

1917 was a work of art. It wasn’t meant to be realistic in every detail, especially the size of the set on which the film was made; it was meant to tell a story, and that it did.

This morning, as I was drinking a cup of coffee and thinking about last night’s movie, it struck me that 1917 could be a metaphor for life. And just as soon as I thought that, something else crossed my mind: Is life a metaphor for war?

On the one side, life imitates war. The first moment of the movie opens up with a reluctant hero resting against a tree. The last scene mirrors the last: a worn-out hero finally resting against a tree. Is that not how life is? One battle after the next, brief rests, and then more struggles in which we’ve got little say and no choice but to fight?

But on the flip side, war evidently imitates life.

Or is it that life is a war on many fronts, and war is a part of life? That is, until the battle is won and the war is over.

And what, then, is more valuable and worth the valor? A piece of tin attached to a ribbon, or a crown of life and the words “Well done, my good and faithful servant”?

Final Thoughts

I know I’m a little different. Aren’t we all? But one thing that got me about this film is something that I have started feeling more often the more action films I see: the death of individuals.

Let us never forget that every dead soldier, our side or theirs, was somebody’s child. When I saw the decaying bodies half-buried in muddy craters, an image of a mother never knowing where here son went came to mind. Each one was a soul that went out into eternity. Each one lost was a tragedy.

Because I’ve been a police chaplain, it’s hard for me to watch movies where bad guys plow through town shooting cop after cop. If it were real life, each one of those who died would have been a dad, a son, or a brother who was just trying to make an honest living while serving his community. And yet, Hollywood shows that stuff all the time without any feeling for the widows and orphans of real-life heroes in blue.

So, whether war is a metaphor for life, or the other way around, or both, the fact is that whether it be 1,600 soldiers about to walk into an ambush, or a single private blown to bits in an artillery barrage, life is precious, and each one matters.

World War 1 should never be forgotten. Unfortunately, too many know nothing about it.

Hopefully, 1917 will help change that.

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Filed under General Observations, Life/Death, Movie review

Pastors and Politics

I just want to take a quick moment to blog. By that I mean that I want to do what blogging used to be meant for: a web log of thoughts; a diary of sorts.

What thoughts do I want to record and share with the world? Politics. Specifically, pastors and the subject of politics.

The reason I want to simply “blog” is because I have not done any research, sourcing, or anything like that in order to craft a professional opinion piece. This is not meant to be an article worth publishing in a news paper or magazine. I have no links to news stories or pictures to share.

No, all this is meant to be is me sharing my thoughts off the cuff, unprepared, and dangerous.

You see, I have political opinions. I have my opinions about our President. I have strong opinions about the government and the direction we should be going as a country. Yet, as a pastor, my thoughts on these issues are considered taboo, off limits, no matter if they are spoken from the pulpit or elsewhere (and I’m speaking generically, not specifically about my current congregation).

It’s a strange situation to be in, actually. I mean, here we are, pillars in the community, men tasked with preaching truth without compromise, yet if we mention anything about conservative policies we think might better the community, we’re in danger of alienating people and running the risk of splitting a congregation!

It’s pretty sad, isn’t it? Shouldn’t the gospel apply to every area of life? Shouldn’t the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Apostles find application in the voting booth? It would seem so. However, I could preach about anything, even against same-sex marriage, and aside from the vitriolic response I might get from friends of the rainbow, the average church member would support me in my pastoral, prophetic role. Yet, talk about anything political that might hint of my personal persuasions and I’d likely be censured.

Do you ever wonder why this is? Do you ever wonder why it is that a pastor cannot talk about politics that same way he can about adultery, lying, anger, murder, hate, hypocrisy, abuse, weighted scales, and bigotry?

Think about it… there are people in Christian media and print, along with nationally-known religious personalities, who are taking full advantage of their platforms to say anything negative about our President, even to the point of calling for his impeachment. Yet, if the average pastor stood behind the pulpit and said, “I think we ought to pray for Donald Trump, that he should succeed and become a great President, for our country and the world’s sake,” he’d likely be labeled a fascist, racist, evil Nazi sympathizer.

Oh, I forgot. It’s OK to admit you pray for the President, but only if you’re Nancy Pelosi and your ultimate goal is his imprisonment.

Here’s the thing, though. In every congregation of believers in Christ there are going to be people who are members of different political factions, and that goes for everywhere. Yet, when it comes to issues of right and wrong, good and evil, and how we should live out our faith in the public arena, which includes the voting booth, if God’s sufficient Word cannot find application that should guide the Christian, if there are areas in life that cannot be addressed by Scripture for fear that it might offend the Christian or bruise his personal sacred cow, then is the revealed Word of God really all it claims to be?

Prudence soaked in love; wisdom granted by the Spirit; and a keen contextual awareness are key when considering when, where, and how we should address these topics. However, fear should never be the motivating factor that intimidates us into silence when God has a Word to say.

Those are my thoughts on this Friday afternoon.

God bless.

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Filed under America, blogging, Christian Unity, community, General Observations, politics, Preaching

Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Adventures In History, or “Break’n the Law”

Learning the History

One of the activities that occupies my time is learning the history of the area where I pastor. Believe me, there’s more than enough to keep one learning for a long, long time.

But learning local history is vitally important for getting to know the people one’s called to shepherd. And being that I’m not a local, not even close, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to go on some adventures in order to get a “lay of the land.”

That is why, after learning of the existence of an abandoned mental hospital, I had to learn more, and if possible, in person.

The Unofficial History

The place that I’m talking about is Central State Hospital, founded in 1842 as the  Georgia State Lunatic, Idiot, and Epileptic Asylum. At one time this was the largest mental hospital/asylum in the world, “serving” up to 13,000 people.

Central State has a long and sorted history with a mixed reputation for healing and horror. From what I have been told by locals (you know, the kind that sit around in the barber shop even when it’s not time for a trim), strange and unexplained things have happened since the “residents” of that place were “let loose.” And when you read the stories that hit the news in the years leading up to the hospital’s closing, you’ll understand.

This hospital was HUGE. We’re talking a self-supporting town! There were a couple of hundred buildings, including a power plant and a cemetery with 25,000 graves! And really, what more needs to be said?

Sadly, even though the hospital was founded as a place to help people, the help they offered for generations was nothing short of horrific. At one point there were 100 patients to every 1 doctor – and NO psychiatrists or psychologists! Common treatments of the confined, those who suffered from anything from depression to schizophrenia, were things like electro-shock, surgeries, and straight jackets.

What’s worse, parent’s in Georgia used to use this place as a threat to make their children behave. They would threaten their unruly children with, “I’ll send you to Milledgeville!” Horrifically, it was a threat with weight, for it’s been said that Central State Hospital was a place “where you sent people away to be forgotten.”

The Unofficial Tour

If you look up Central State Hospital on YouTube, you will inevitably find videos of people exploring the abandoned ruins of this facility. And what’s more, many of those are focused on the creepy and “haunted” aspects of the property. As a matter of fact, Central State is considered one of the most haunted places in America.

However, if you go to MY YouTube channel, what you will find is the video I’ve attached to this post. It is a video of what an unnamed friend and I saw when he offered to give me an unofficial tour.

The only thing is that what started off as a drive around the place ended up with me deciding to get out of the car for a closer look. And once we did that, and once I saw that there were no locks and no signs saying “KEEP OUT!”, I went in.

WARNING: Don’t do this!

“Break’n the Law”

After about an hour of walking around in an abandoned prison essentially meant to house handicapped and elderly prisoners until they died … and after several times of mimicking TV ghost hunters by calling to the unseen down black, unlit hallways, “Is anybody there?” … we retraced our steps and found our way out into the sunlight.

Before we made it to the car, a female security officer in a van came down a weedy, overgrown single-lane drive and rolled up beside us. “You are not allowed to be here…you need to leave now,” she said with all the seriousness of somebody being paid to guard Area 51. “Oh, OK. We were just looking around and about to leave,” we replied.

“Just so you know, we’re not giving warnings anymore – we’re just calling the police and they’re taking people like you to jail,” the security officer then informed us. But then she let us go with a warning.

Back in the car, my friend, also a preacher, asked, “Would your church had fired you if you’d gotten arrested?”

“Probably not,” I said. At least I hoped.

“We literally could have gone to jail,” my friend said. “Yeah, I guess you’re right,” I replied. “But it feels a little adventurous knowing we broke the law and got away with it.” I couldn’t help but remember MTV’s Beavis and Butthead from back in my younger, stupid years: they’d do something moronic, then act like would-be renegades while singing, “Break’n the law! Break’n the law!

This, however, was pastoral research.

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Filed under General Observations, ministry, places

Year-End Wisdom from the School Bus

Looking back over older (vintage; gently-read) posts, I found this gem from December 2012. You know, from back in my bus-driving days (and before I wrote my book). 

Enjoy!


Life Lessons

If you are new to my blog, besides trying to pastor a church, parent children, and perturb a wife, I drive a school bus. It’s what I do to help pay the bills and increase my presence in the community.

photo (41)A while back I wrote a series of posts called “Life Lessons from the School Bus.” I haven’t done any in a while, however. So, since school is now out for Christmas vacation, I thought it would be a good time to catch up.

Below are three, short examples of truth gleaned from inside the “yellow box” on wheels. If you like these, you should go read some of my older posts. You won’t be disappointed.

“Happy is the man who finds wisdom, And the man who gains understanding; For her proceeds are better than the profits of silver, And her gain than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies, And all the things you may desire cannot compare with her.” – Proverbs 3:13-15 NKJV

The Roundabout

Europe came to Chattanooga a few years ago in the form of roundabouts. They are only in a few places, but people are getting used to them, especially the NASCAR fans – they love driving in circles.

Anyway, last week I came to a roundabout in my bus. About a quarter of the way through, a girl in a little car came from the street to my right and pulled directly in front of me, causing me to slam on my brakes. “Oops!” was the look that came across her face. “Idiot!” must have been the look on mine.

Life Lesson? Are school buses invisible? No, and neither are many of the tragedies that run over people every day. People get so distracted with life that they never see the things approaching which could take life from them.

Losing Marbles

There’s this one little girl on my bus that cries over the least little things, like when she doesn’t get her way. One time she was crying about how everybody hated her. Then, just as she was stepping off the bus, another little boy looked back at her and said, “Nobody hates you, [name]; we just don’t like you.”

Well, that afternoon, when the elementary kids were getting on the bus to go home, this little girl got on first and sat on the front row. “Would you like a marble, Mr. Baker?” she asked. “No,” I said, “I have plenty.” “What kind do you have?” she asked. “The round kind,” I replied.

Then, as every child getting on the bus walked past her she would say, “Would you like a marble? You can have it for keeps. Everyone! Get your free marble, if you want one!

I asked, “What are you doing? Why are you giving away your marbles?” She said, “Because I am going to make them like me.

Life Lesson? Believe it or not, many adults do the same thing. They treat others poorly, then try to buy their friendship with shiny trinkets. Sadly, when all is said and done, the marbles just end up on the floor when the “friends” leave.

Puke Breeds Puke

It’s the last thing a bus driver wants to deal with, but puke happens.

Recently a driver in our area suffered a puking “perfect storm.” One child on his bus got sick and orally relieved himself, which started a chain reaction. I’ll never forget the driver’s words over the two-way radio, “It’s everywhere…all over…the bus is covered.”

You see, there is an irrefutable law on school buses: puke runs downhill (or down aisles). So, when one kid started throwing up, six or seven others followed his example, leaving the bus to be washed out with a water hose.

Life lesson? Watch your mouth – and what you spew out of it. The way you talk will influence others. Bad attitudes breed more bad attitudes, and what you end up with is a nasty mess.

 Want to be a school bus driver? Doesn’t pay a lot, but the lessons learned are worth a fortune!

 

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Filed under America, Christian Maturity, General Observations, Uncategorized, wisdom

A Christmas Wish

Lists

Christmas wish lists can be really amusing. Recently a mother of a needy family gave me a list of requested items for her children. I was told that the children would be happy with anything. Really? Would her children be happy with chalk, a box of Crayons, a wooden train, and a slinky? What about a stick?

Today’s children are more spoiled today than ever before. Not only do they want the newest toys and gadgets, but the toys and gadgets they want are more advanced than anything Captain Kirk used.

Wishes

And then there are the wishes that people make around Christmas time. Some people wish for world peace. Others wish for Michael Jackson to return from the dead to do a benefit concert for world hunger.

Right now the most popular wishes involve one side or the other of Trump’s impeachment. Some wish Nancy Pelosi would have a broom accident when she flies home from Washington. Others wish Trump would finally be convicted for conspiring with the Russians to move the US capital to Trump Tower.

My Wish

So what’s my wish? My wish is that things would just go back to the way they were when this picture was taken.

Other than for the goofy safety glasses, I looked pretty cool!

Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s I worked for a company that serviced nuclear facilities. My job involved flying on commercial aircraft all over the country. And whenever I flew on a new or different airliner, I asked to take a picture of the cockpit.

Here, the pilot actually told me to sit in his seat and wear his hat while he took the picture. What’s even more incredible is that while I was sitting there the engines were still running. He told me to put my hand on the throttles while the engines were still running!

Can you even imagine this happening today? Not hardly. That’s why I wish we could go back to an earlier, more trusting day and age; long before 9/11 and the jerks that ruined everything.

My Hope

Well, even though things may never be the same again, there will come a day when peace will fill the land. There will come a day when men’s swords are beaten into plows. But that day will only come when the Prince of Peace assumes the throne.

When He came before, He came as a humble baby.

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” – Isaiah 9:6

 The next time He comes, things will be a little different.

He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:” – Luke 1:32

For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.” – Matthew 16:26-27

 What a Christmas that would be!

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Filed under America, Christmas, General Observations

How Thankful Are You, Really?

Walking down the streets of Chinhoyi, Zimbabwe, I came across a few middle school-aged boys playing with toy cars and trucks. What made it so unusual were the toys they were playing with.

But I’ll get to that in a moment… just keep reading.

The last I heard, Zimbabwe has between 8o% to 90% unemployment. Did you get that? Between 8 and 9 out of every 10 people are without a job!

Do you have a job? ANY kind of job? Well, then, you should be thankful, even if you can’t stand what you do.

But here’s another question: Do you play with toys you didn’t have to make yourself? Even you adults… Do you?

Right now there are probably some things you wish you had, but all you have is last year’s model. You are jealous of your neighbor and their new car, truck, or house. Your friend got a new smartphone. You feel like God has treated you unfairly because you can’t have what you REALLY want. Am I close?

Why not enjoy and be thankful for what you have? Frankly, most of the “problems” we have are what we call “first world problems.” In other words, our problems are the problems of the rich and the spoiled.

Yes, we are spoiled brats when we complain about not having the newest iPhone, the newest car, the newest video game, the next generation Glock, etc.

You see, here’s the thing… If you don’t have to make your own “toys,” you’re blessed way more than you deserve. And “blessed” might not be the best choice of words.

Below are some pictures of boys playing with the cars and trucks THEY made out of wire and bottle caps. They were having fun.

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Still have something to complain about? Why not share in the comment section. Maybe we could all cry together.

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Filed under America, General Observations, Life Lessons, Thanksgiving

Kids Spitting and Truth Telling

To be “clear,” sometimes the truth is “nasty.” The following is adapted from the last chapter of my book, Life Lessons from the School Bus. 

“Unexpected Truth”

Every once in a while a bus driver, or anyone for that matter, may find himself saying, “I didn’t see that one coming!” In other words, every once in a while something happens; somebody says something that you would have never imagined. Let me tell you about one of those “once in a while’s.”

Spitting Accusations

Kids are always doing stuff to each other to be aggravating. You have probably witnessed children throwing spit wads, taking items out of another’s book bag, or hiding a child’s shoe right before her stop. No? Well what about spitting on each other?

Oh, yes, children are well-accustomed to spitting on each other, especially boys. Now, they never admit to doing it; they usually blame it on the one kid with no salivary glands. But there was this one time when a boy on my bus accused a girl of spitting on him when she actually didn’t. How do I know that she didn’t? She showed me proof!

So, “Jack” hollered from the back of the bus, “Mr. Baker! ‘Jill’ spit on me!” Before I could rationally respond, another voice came from the back, the voice of the accused, crying, “No I didn’t – he’s lying!” Since I was in the process of driving and there was no place to pull over and deal with the situation, all I could do at the moment was respond with a simple request: “STOP SPITTING!”

A moment passed, then Jill came up to the seat behind me (which is dangerous and against the rules, by the way). “Mr. Baker,” she said in a tone laced with disgust, “I did not spit on Jack; he spit on himself after he spit on the seat.”

What?” I asked. “He’s spitting on the seat?! That’s gross!”  Incidentally, this is one of those times when I find it appropriate to ask: why do people of any age find enjoyment in recreational spitting? Why waist perfectly good saliva when there’s nothing necessarily nasty to expel from one’s mouth?

Anyway, a moment or two later, Jack came up to share his side of the story. “Mr. Baker, Jill did spit on me! See my shirt? See, this is her spit…she spit on me! See?”

I couldn’t argue with what I saw. There, as plain as the marks on a Dalmatian, were wet spots where something liquidy had collided with his shirt. Somebody had spit on him.

“Jill!” I yelled, “Why did you spit on Jack?” From the back of the bus came an insistent reply, “But I didn’t! He spit on himself just to get me in trouble!”

The Truth Comes Out

Where’s Solomon when you need him? Why can’t school buses be equipped with portable DNA equipment? How was I supposed to determine who spit on whom? How could I prove who needed to be punished with a stern warning and a verbal reprimand? The answer came in a way I never would have dreamed, but I will never forget.

“Mr. Baker…” Jill had made her way back up to the seat behind me, again while I was driving. “Jill, you need to sit down!” I told her.

“But Mr. Baker…” Let me just pause here to try to describe Jill’s way of saying my name. Jill spoke with a slightly non-emotional, matter-of-fact, drawn-out southern drawl. It sounded more like “Miiis-turr Buh-ayyy-kurr…”

“Mr. Baker, I didn’t spit on Jack; he spit on the seats and then on himself to make it look like I did it,” she said. “But I didn’t, and I can prove it.”

“Really,” I asked.

“Yessir,” Jill replied. “You see, Jack was eating green candy, and the spit on his shirt was green – mine is not…SEE!

At that point, just around my right shoulder, came the arm of a little girl. Attached to that arm was a palm, and in that palm was half an ounce of spit – yes, spit! It looked like a blob of clear silicone!

“It wasn’t me that spit, ‘cause my spit is clear, seeeee Mr. Baker?”

I couldn’t argue with her. She proved her point. There was the proof puddled in the palm of her hand, clear as day. I nearly threw up.

Life Lesson

We may not like it, but sometimes the truth is hard to stomach – and nothing like what we expected.

The simple fact is that truth isn’t always pleasant; more often it is nasty. No woman wants to hear the truth when she asks, “Does this dress make me look fat?”  No man wants to hear the truth when he asks, “How did I do with the laundry?” But sometimes the truth has to be told to make a difference. Unfortunately, to play off the words of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, many can’t handle the truth.

For example, there is a saying that goes, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Do you know where that saying came from? It comes from Jesus. He said, “If you continue in my word, then you are my disciples indeed; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:31-32). The part that is hard for many to stomach is the part where He says, “If you continue in my word…” In other words, in order to know the truth that will set one free, one must be a follower of Jesus Christ.

Some say that truth is relative, that it changes with the circumstances of life. Others have said that there is no truth, only perception (Gustave Flaubert). However, without truth there can be no lie, no wrong, and no remedy for the spit on some kid’s shirt, not to mention the darkness in our hearts. But when we follow Jesus, we can rest assured there is Truth to know, for He said in John 14:6, “I am the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE…”

Route Suggestions

  • When faced with a tough situation, one that demands you make a wise decision, ask God for help. James 1:5 says, “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God…”
  • Don’t ask someone to tell you the truth about how you look, how well you’re doing your job, etc., unless you’re willing to hear the truth.
  • Don’t “kill the messenger.” If someone does try to tell the truth, don’t get angry when they say the dress makes you look fat. Just get angry because they weren’t sensitive enough to change the subject.
  • Read the book of John in the Bible. Make a list of the claims that Jesus made. Was He telling the truth? For the atheist or agnostic, that may be a truth too hard to handle, but it can set you free.

Oh, one more thing… When preparing to write this, I asked the girl in the story what she thought the moral should be. She said, “Sometimes the truth is nasty.”

Truth.

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Filed under book review, Faith, General Observations, Humor, Life Lessons, salvation