Monthly Archives: March 2017

Jim Vines’ Interview

june 2011 100 copy.JPGResearching Colonel Mosby for Something Gray in VA

I was recently interviewed by author and screenwriter Jim Vines for his blog, so thought it may be of some interest.

Here’s a bit on Jim from his bio:

“I’ve been a working screenwriter and script consultant since the early 1990s.  My non-fiction book Q & A: The Working Screenwriter (interviews w/ 16 working scribes) became quite popular upon its publication in 2006.  In April 2015 I published my debut novel, Luigi’s Chinese Delicatessen, which is a rollicking tale about a young man coming to Los Angeles to become–yes, you guessed it–a screenwriter.  I currently have two blogs: one for screenwriters and one for indie novelists.”

He wanted to interview indie novelists, and the life of a writer, so we mostly discussed Xposure.

Xposure_paperback.jpgThe complete front and back covers for Xposure

So without further ado, here’s the link for those of you without cable or a significant other:

Although primarily about my novel, my screenplay (Something Gray) was also pertinent in regard to promotion, etc.  Still hoping the right set if eyes read it on Amazon and it gets optioned.  A long-shot, but one Mosby would have taken with great audacity.

jsm funeral.jpgThe turnout for Mosby’s funeral 1916

The funeral gathering (above) for Mosby incorrectly lists his slave, Aaron Burton, in the picture, but he had died in 1902.  Mosby remained close to Aaron and sent him money for most of his life as a sort of pension.  Their friendship was complicated by a war over slavery (Mosby’s own admission, Lost Causers be damned), but it never waned.

Screenshot 2017-03-27 16.49.41.png

Mosby’s slave in 1898

In a letter to Ranger Sam Chapman in 1907, Mosby wrote,

“I am not ashamed of having fought on the side of slavery—a soldier fights for his country—right or wrong—he is not responsible for the political merits of the course he fights in” and that “The South was my country.”

And in 1898, in another letter, he wrote with equal honesty,

I’ve always understood that we went to war on account of the thing we quarreled with the North about.  I’ve never heard of any other cause than slavery.”

That may seem strange to view your state as your “country,” but not in 1860 America.  Today it might be equivalent to a soldier fighting for his country, but disagreeing over a policy like abortion…but he would fight for his country first, despite moral outrage on an administration’s position.




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The Great Escape

Screenshot 2017-03-24 12.58.45.pngOne of my top ten movies of all-time

Born today, most folks don’t know he was born again because of his pilot, a guy named Sammy Mason, who shared the gospel with him while teaching him to fly.  The immortal tough guy had indeed become literally immortal when he was faced with cancer.
Just before he died, as he prepared for surgery, he met with Billy Graham.  He wanted to talk to him about his conversion and Graham arranged his schedule to come and meet McQueen.
They talked for several hours and Steve mentioned he’d misplaced his Bible.  Billy Graham gave him his Bible, inscribing it for McQueen.  He died after surgery four days later, with the evangelist’s Bible on his chest.
Screenshot 2017-03-24 12.49.28.png
Billy’s Bible, gifted to McQueen
Steve made the great escape on November 7, 1980.
As Jesus said in John chapter 11, when comforting Martha and Mary about Lazarus, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.  Do you believe this?”  She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”
You can read more about his life story here in his wife’s book.

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Bonaparte in Israel?

IMG_1928.jpgAlong the Med at Caesarea

Most people are surprised to learn that Napoleon not only visited Israel in 1799, but that he tried to conquer it too. Napoleon was only one of a long list of rulers that wanted Israel, including Seti of Egypt, Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar, Xerxes, Cyrus, Alexander the Great, and various Caesars, to name a few. What is even more surprising is that Bonaparte’s attack was meant to be a liberation of the Jews from the Ottoman Empire and allow them to be a free state, not a conquest as others had done before him. In this regard Napoleon was a unique invader because of the French Revolution’s ideals.

In 1789, France had issued toleration laws (the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen) that allowed anyone, including the Jews, to worship and be citizens in France in theory. There was still opposition to it in Catholic Europe, but Napoleon’s conquests spread this idea of tolerance and equality far and wide, even to Israel. When Napoleon’s army entered Ancona, Italy, in 1797 the Jewish community was relegated to living in a small ghetto. A confused Napoleon asked why some people were wearing yellow bonnets and yellow armbands with the “Star of David” on it, and he was told it identified the Jews who were required to go back to their ghetto every evening.

Napoleon was shocked, and immediately ordered all the ghettos closed, armbands and bonnets removed, that the Jews could live wherever they wanted, and were free to practice their religion. He also closed the Jewish ghettoes in Rome, Venice, Padua, and Verona. After conquering Italy, with many enthusiastic Italian Jews joining his army, Napoleon successfully attacked Egypt in 1789 with 35,000 men in an effort to end British control of trade routes with India, and replace it with his own.

Screenshot 2017-03-24 12.02.21.pngThe Little General’s hat

The following year he brought 13,000 troops from Egypt overland into the Ottoman Turks’ Syria-Palestine to take control of the four critical port cities of Gaza, Jaffa, Haifa, and Acre (Britain’s Horatio Nelson had destroyed most of his French fleet in Egypt). Acre was a critical choke point for trade with Damascus and he hoped to eventually go there after taking Jerusalem.

Gaza fell easily, but after a stubborn Jaffa held out for four days, and was brutally ravaged by the French for its obstinacy, Napoleon continued north and conquered Haifa. En route, another enemy hit him hard, one that ravaged the whole area equally–the bubonic plague. The Haifa Carmelite monastery became a hospital for them and his injured men. When Napoleon left here, the Turks took back the city and brutally killed the wounded and diseased French soldiers for the Jaffa atrocities.

IMG_2880.JPGJerusalem evaded Napoleon’s conquest

Napoleon led his remaining troops on to the main prize, Acre. Bonaparte surrounded the city with three concentric rows of trenches and laid siege to it for almost two months. Six times the French attacked the huge walls, but could not take the city. The Turks, supported by British warships and stiffened by the savagery at Jaffa, barely held on. Napoleon finally decided to abandon the siege when he got intelligence that the plague was killing over 60 people a day inside and that a joint force of British and Turks were heading to Alexandria. With barely 8,000 soldiers left, and many deathly ill from the plague, he headed back to Egypt in defeat, burying his cannons or sinking them at sea in Tantura to free up carriages for the wounded and sick. Those who could not be transported were killed by the Turks. Despite this crushing defeat, one of very few, Bonaparte was portrayed as a conquering hero in his return to Paris.

Underwater excavations in Acre’s harbor have found countless cannonballs that bounced off the thick Crusader walls and more than 20 ships. The most recent one was dated to Napoleon’s failed siege of the city in 1799 and found by a British map that depicts the British navy fighting with Napoleon’s ships. In the drawing, the symbol of a sunken ship led to the discovery of this ship with a cannon ball in the hull, apparently shot on purpose to block the harbor from the French fleet.

Screenshot 2017-03-24 12.05.50.pngThe death of the Emperor

Napoleon later wrote of his 1799 campaign in Israel, comparing himself with Alexander the Great’s many triumphs and the Persian Immortals who won at Thermopylae, “(If I had) been able to take Acre, I would have put on a turban, I would have made my soldiers wear big Turkish trousers, and I would have exposed them to battle only in case of extreme necessity. I would have made them into a Sacred Battalion–my Immortals.  I would have finished the war against the Turks with Arabic, Greek, and Armenian troops. Instead of a battle in Moravia, would have won a Battle of Issus, I would have made myself emperor of the East, and I would have returned to Paris by way of Constantinople.




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The Law of Return

IMG_1935.JPGMegiddo, where the end begins at Armageddon

“When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors. The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live (Deuteronomy 31:1-5).

 It will be an exciting 70th anniversary in Israel very soon. After 2,000 years of wandering, and even more being ruled by other nations, the Jews were back in their biblical homeland in 1948 as the independent state of Israel. This was a major turning point in history that cannot be underestimated and seemingly prophetic (Jeremiah 16:14-15).

Despite this statehood miracle, there were less than 725,000 Jews in Israel in 1948. Today, however, there are over 8 million Jews in Israel and that will double by 2059. In 2014, another landmark occurred; the number of Jews in Israel passed the number of Jews living in the rest of the world. That milestone grew larger in 2015 with roughly 30,000 Jews who made aliyah (immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return). So what is the Law of Return that fostered this dramatic population explosion that the Old Testament predicts (Isaiah 11:10-11)?

IMG_2896The bullet scarred Zion Gate from 1948’s war

On July 5, 1950, the governing body of Israel, the Knesset, passed the Law of Return, that began with the remarkable words that would define the country’s core value, “Every Jew has the right to immigrate to this country….”

This law not only populated Israel, but it provided a safe haven from the anti-Semitism that peaked in Hitler’s Europe. Despite overt opposition and even wars, it’s been a remarkable catalyst to grow Israel and make her desert bloom around thriving, modern cities. Can the Law of Return be solely responsible for this miracle?

To be sure some of it is the practical encouragement from the Israeli government that fosters population growth with free schooling for children, child allowances, and funding for in vitro fertility treatments (Jewish families average over 3 children per family). There are also incentives for immigration, which contributed to over 1 million Russian Jews coming to Israel. Despite these obvious stimuli, from a biblical point of view, one has to look at the Old Testament for deeper spiritual answers (Micah 2:12).

IMG_3123.JPGThe ruined streets from the Roman destruction of the Temple in 70 AD (giant blocks of stone hurled down from the Temple Mount above crushed the street)

Some think watching these immigrants arrive at Ben Gurion Airport is literally watching biblical prophecy unfold before their very eyes! Why is that? Looking at the prophecies of Jeremiah (23:3,7-8, 30:10, 31:9, 33:7), Isaiah (49:8-22, 43:5-6, 54:7), and Ezekiel (11:17, 20:34, 28:25, 34:13, 37:21) help us understand that this is from God, especially Ezekiel 37.

Ezekiel had a vision in chapter 37 where he saw a valley filled with the dry bones of thousands of skeletons in open graves that came together, grew flesh, and came to life. God revealed that the dry bones symbolized Israel and her agonies of dispersion for rejecting Him (Deuteronomy 28:15-68, 29:21-22). The graves were gentile nations where they were banished, but they were open graves and would not be permanent. The coming together of the resurrected bones is the prophetic restoration of the dispersed nation to its biblical homeland.

IMG_2923.JPGThe gate to the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem

Is this too far-fetched? What would Ezekiel think if he read the Declaration of the State of Israel that says, THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles?Or Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech at the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in Poland when he closed with Ezekiel’s vision and quoted chapter 37:11-13 as fulfilled,

“Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!’ Therefore prophesy and say to them, thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves.”

It’s clear that the physical restoration of Israel is taking place today with the Law of Return, but Ezekiel’s next verse promises a spiritual restoration too.

IMG_2855.JPGThe remains of the Temple, the Western (Wailing) Wall

The Law of Return is part of a major turning point in history, but verse 14 will be the consummation of it (Ezekiel 36:26-28).  “I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.”




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Xposure – Chapter Two


The wrought iron marquee, with the bleached words “Buy-Sell and Trade,” stuck out of the worn bricks above Stan Stanislaw. He felt as if he stuck out too. During after-dinner strolls through the revamped Cuban district, he could spot the sign a long way off. Like a beacon it guided him, reminding him of his true identity––one that his parents had forged a half century ago, without his permission, into a destiny that had just this moment become a reality. His reality.

In mid-stride, Stan froze as soon as he saw it. He leaned closer to the pane of glass, fixated on the blue steel behind it, and without thinking, closed his mouth. The street noise, like the yellow tag that hung from the trigger guard, faded. Since his transfer to Ybor City he had looked at the price each day, but it was the last thing he expected to see today.

Ybor City, named for the man who had established the Havana tobacco industry in Tampa over a century ago, was his latest assignment and now home. Had it been up to Stan, he would have chosen some place closer to the base, but the historic setting had something more compelling than his proximity to MacDill––it had Geppetto’s, and Geppetto’s had the gun.

Propped in the storefront window, the sleek weapon dared him to come inside. Stan knew that the sooner he did, the sooner it would all end. Things had gotten way too complicated. Now the moment of simplicity had arrived. He only needed to walk through that doorway.

The shotgun’s ridiculous price tag of $12,144 dangled in front of him, announcing Stan’s duplicity. He drew a short, unconscious breath and exhaled out of the side of his mouth. Many times he’d imagined this day; thought about how it would go. Now the shock of actually seeing those numbers had stopped him cold. He studied the symmetry of the shotgun’s lines, stepped up to the glass, and blocked out the passing Sunday crowd that weaved around him.

The gun itself, however, meant little to him. It leaned against a wooden ammo crate in the traditional, open position that he usually saw on the cover of his favorite outdoor magazines; the ones adorned with dead ducks and a wet Lab grinning at his owner’s camera. The Browning Citori was nothing special; a Gold Classic 20 gauge with dogs and fowl etched into the action plate. Although ordinary to anyone who might notice its ornate Belgian checkering, instantly Stan knew that it meant much more. Not the weapon; it was the tag and the new price that wasn’t on it yesterday, or the day before, or the day before that. He continued to stare at the familiar digits––12144.

But this was the first time he’d stopped––the first time those numbers were ever displayed in the right order. The only time the price had matched that special sequence that he knew so well, as only he could, as the day of his birth.

The new series of numbers shook Stan from a slumber that began before he was born––back when Stalin’s troops burned Berlin and his parents smuggled explosives inside loaves of bread in Poland. Now, far from the mania of swastikas and sickles, the digits slapped him like a jilted lover. This day had stalked him most of his life, and although anticipated, had taken him completely off guard. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, but somehow it was just that. A hollow feeling, like the morning of a funeral, began to form deep inside his belly. It was a familiar gut ache. The last time it happened he had been bobbing in icy North Korean waters at daybreak, blurred eyes straining for a periscope on the horizon. Now he stared with the same intensity at a fork in the road, disguised as a pawnshop, and stepped away from the glass. He knew he wasn’t prepared, but had little choice now.

Stan felt his body move toward the doorway and down the uneven steps. The rusty knob wobbled in his hand and a bell jingled somewhere above him. Hot musty air, like an old sea chest, filled his nostrils. His eyes adjusted quickly to the murky light. He was inside. It had finally begun.

Stan removed his empty hand from the jacket pocket, wiped the sweat from his palm, and slipped it back inside. He slid the tiny lever on the .45 pistol upward and his instincts took over. A quick survey of the narrow room, checking doors and windows, noting his options and liabilities, was pure reflex. The crowded shelves along both sidewalls told him there could only be a rear entrance and he focused his full attention in that direction.

The evening air, warm for February, made him feel even hotter with the jacket. The shop should have been much cooler, but only an ancient electric fan clacked away, stuttering rhythmically in half circles. It failed to cool off the abandoned junk and jewelry that desperate lives had left behind for cash. He hit the bell on the counter and waited for the old Cuban shopkeeper, whom he’d seen almost every day, limp out to greet him. Stan’s mouth felt like the stale air around him. He licked the sweat from his lips and tasted the salt. Without thinking, he spoke the words he’d rehearsed for years.

“The Citori in the window. That price . . ..” Stan caught himself, stopped, and struck the bell again.

From the back of the store, a faint shuffling sound came closer. The voice, however, had no trace of the Spanish dialect that he had expected to hear.

“May I help you, sir?”

The words were Polish; words he’d heard every day as a kid in Pennsylvania and growing up in Hamtramck. The husky voice, slow and condescending, came from behind the cartons on the counter. Its owner emerged slowly from the shadows, but he wasn’t the Cuban.

A slender man, with dark thin hair that stuck up from a bad haircut, stepped into the dim light and smirked. His face, tight and bony, had a false smile stretched across the bottom, but it was his pale skin that stood out. It had that sickly Siberian look, like an overpaid hockey player who never saw the sun. Shiny dark eyeballs, divided by a long nose that seemed crooked or maybe slightly off center and stuck out just enough to be wrong, greeted Stan with the same emotion as a trophy wall mount. Both pupils were deep-set and seemed one size too big for such a small face.

Stan swallowed and with perfect accent, responded in the Polish he knew so well. “The Citori in the window.” He motioned with his hand, like a hitchhiker, but kept his eyes on the stranger. “That price firm?”

“A fine weapon indeed.” He stepped a little closer to Stan. Only the glass counter separated the two men. “Are you a collector or a sportsman?” The half smile disappeared. His eyes flared with the question. The way they searched his face made Stan feel uneasy.

“Both,” he lied, and wiped his palm on his pant leg, then slipped it back inside his crowded pocket again.

“Yes. Of course,” the thin man said smoothly. “As a collector, I’m partial to Merkels and Krieghoffs, or if I can find one that’s affordable, a Perazzi. But if you’re going to kill something, then that Citori is the ideal choice.”

“It seems kind of high. Is it negotiable?”

“No, I’m afraid not.” The shopkeeper broke the stare, looked down, and shook his head. “The seller is firm.” He swiped the counter with a rag. “Quite firm, really. The previous owner was well known when the Sicilians ran the Bolita games here. Supposedly some connections with Chicago. It holds great, uh––.” He cleared his throat, and looked up. The smile slithered back over his face and Stan followed his cue.

“Sentimental value,” Stan offered, completing the sentence for him. He knew he only had one more line to deliver. He decided to hurry through it. “I’d like to meet him, to discuss the price anyway.” Stan exhaled, took what seemed like his first breath since he had walked into the shop, and braced himself. It was done. He had executed his part perfectly. Both men could now speak freely.

“And so you shall, Stanley,” he said with a wink. “So you shall.”

Stan showed no reaction to his name. He figured they knew everything about Stan Stanislaw by now, everything except what he had just decided before he had walked inside.

The stranger broke into perfect English now. “Good. We’ve not much time. I believe I am being watched by the CIA. This is no longer a safe place. I had some difficulty. The owner was somewhat uncooperative.” A brief smile crawled out again. “Read this, but do not repeat.” He handed Stan a business card and nodded.

On the back were scrawled just four words, “Tampa Tribune. Parking Garage.” Stan shoved it in his other jacket pocket, the empty one, and sensed the meeting was over.

“Saturday night 11:30. Until then, Stanley––”

Suddenly, Stan blurted it out, reverting back to English. “I can’t.” He paused to let it sink in. He knew he needed to sound more definite. “I mean I won’t be there.”

The thin face tensed. His bulging eyes narrowed.   “What did you say?” he asked, the frost coating each word.

“You heard me.”

“But you made no sense.”

“Yeah, I know.” Stan shrugged. “I’ve been told that all my life. A lot I do doesn’t make much sense, but this does. I won’t be coming.”

“There is a conflict?”

“You could say that.”

“You will be there,” he said deliberately, ignoring his refusal. “There is no longer any choice. You must be there. Sharp. Now go.”

Stan didn’t move. He knew he was committed now. He really had no idea how this would go. Inside his pocket, the gun no longer felt cold. It was warm and sweaty, just like him.

The man’s voice, deeper now, boomed with authority. “Go, I said! And be certain you are not followed.” He glared at Stan, and then turned away.

“You’ll be a little lonely, pal,” Stan said, “cuz’ I ain’t gonna’ be there. I’ve changed my mind. I’m through.”

“This is not a game. If you do not leave now, Stanley . . . ”

“Your Polish is good, but you don’t understand English too well. I want out.” Stan could feel the ridges on the cocked hammer under his thumbnail. “I’ve changed my mind. Savvy, tavarish? Comrade? I’m done.”

The stranger turned, leaned over the counter, and stared at Stan’s lumpy pocket. “Do you know what you are saying? What you will risk? What you are asking from me?”

“Yeah, I know.”

“You are asking to be killed.”

“Then kill me.”

“I can do this, Mister Stanislaw, if I choose. I have some experience.”

“Yeah, well, life’s full of choices, isn’t it? I think it’s about time I start making some of my own.”

“Bravely spoken, especially when it may be such a short life,” he said wryly. “Tell me, Mister Stanislaw. In the night, alone in your apartment, are you this courageous? Eh, Mister Navy SEAL? You think of me, in the shadows of your home, while you sleep tonight.” He stepped closer and shook an unlit cigarette like a pointer.

Stan leaned farther away from him. His breath smelled like an ashtray. “I doubt my roommates would appreciate you stumbling around while we’re trying to sleep.”

“That makes even less sense. You live alone. You have only a brother, in Pittsburgh, I believe? Yes, a Bible boy. Let me see.” He touched his cheek and his eyes lit up. “Ah, Nicholas, is it not?”

“Nick isn’t the point. He doesn’t matter. We’re talking about me.”

“Ah, but he does, he does. He matters quite a lot.”

“Nah, you’re wrong. Only my roomies matter right now, pal.” He nudged his pocket. “Meet Smith and Wesson––they’re sort of particular about uninvited guests.”

“You do not frighten me—”

“Oh, I’m not trying to frighten you. Just making it clear. I’m finished. Simple as that. I’m out.”

“Out? How stupid you sound.” He leaned forward. “It is not up to you. You have never had choices. Be there. Saturday. Eleven-thirty. Now go, before I make choices you will regret.” He stepped back between the cartons and disappeared down the aisle toward the back of the store. “And give Nicky my regards,” he called over his shoulder.

Stan thought about another salvo, but decided against it. He’d made his point. He watched the wiry man disappear into the darkness. A heavy metal door creaked from the back of the store and then slammed shut.

He knew that his life had taken a turn. But not the way he’d envisioned it. Stan backed up, still watching the counter area, and moved toward the front door. He took his thumb off the hammer and ran his hand through his hair. It was done.

The bell jingled again and the glass pane shook as the door shuddered over the uneven cement. Cool, noisy street air rushed into Stan’s face. He headed for his truck two blocks away. Ybor City had been known for a lot of things over the years, but parking was never one of them. The brick streets were too narrow. In the fading light, he stole a glance at each face on the busy street, but avoided any eye contact. He replayed the conversation again in his head. At least it was done, but despite his bravado, Nicholas did bother him. He bothered him plenty. Nick was the loose end.

His adopted brother, enrolled in a Bible College outside Pittsburgh for almost a year, had been left out of the family secret for over twenty years. If things got ugly, Nicholas could be in for the shock of his life. He was a risk and Stan hadn’t been able to get his mind around how to solve it yet. The price tag had forced his hand before he had all the answers. For better or worse, he’d made his move.

He just wouldn’t be there Saturday.

He approached his new Grand Cherokee, circled it once, and ran his hand along the seam between the hood and the driver’s door. The meter had expired, but there was no ticket. He looked up and down the street. Nothing out of the ordinary. He unlocked it, tossed his jacket onto the passenger seat, leaving his .45 in the pocket, and got inside. Stan closed one eye, and carefully turned the key. The engine turned right over, as usual. He hadn’t realized he was holding his breath until he released the sigh. He turned the AC fan to high and lowered the windows.

The card fell out of his pocket onto the seat. He picked it up.

“The Trib, huh?” The business side of the card read: Jack Charles––Photographer. It had an 800 number below the name, but nothing else. He thought about the streets that led to the paper and tried to recall how to get there. Was it Parker and JFK, or on this side of the river? He wasn’t sure, but he didn’t really care. He had no intention of trying to find it tonight, or maybe ever. He needed some time before work in the morning to sort it out. Nick still troubled him.

He turned on the lights, checked his mirrors, and pulled away from the curb. As was his custom, he noticed every car. It all seemed normal. With no place particular in mind, he got onto the Tampa Expressway, put up the windows, and merged north onto 275.

For the first time in his life, Stan felt a new sensation. He felt clean, and he liked it. He liked it a lot.Phil-Church-Colour.jpg


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Have You Prayed for Ozzy Today?

“Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).”

IMG_3557.JPGWaiting for Black Sabbath to take the stage for the last time in Michigan


I’ve often wondered if anyone is praying for me.  Have you thought about that for yourself?  On the whole planet, has anyone thought about you enough to take a few minutes to ask God to help you today?

It’s a little humbling to say the least.  Does anyone care enough about you to make some intercession for you?  After my parents died, I was an orphan (admittedly a grown man at the time, but nevertheless a child without parents).

IMG_3556.JPGMy guitar-playing son at the same concert, his Christmas present


When your parents are dead (thankfully, both of mine accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, so we’ll meet again), it’s a funny feeling.  The two people on the planet, who will die for you, give you money, help you out in any way that they can, are no longer there.  That safety net is gone, and you need prayer more than ever.

Not having a prayer warrior in your corner is kinda’ like that.  Is anyone out there thinking about me and asking God to help me?  Maybe not every day, but once in a while?  I regularly pray for my kids and my wife, my extended family, some close friends, and neighbors, but who is standing in the gap for me?  For you?

And that brings me to John Michael Osbourne (Ozzy).  My son and I went to see Black Sabbath last year, and while we waited for them to take the stage I wondered if anyone is praying for them.  So I did.  During that concert, and when I think of them now, I prayed for their salvation.  It was kinda’ fun to know you can ask God to affect people, despite distance or availability, and they can’t stop you.

As believers, we have access to His throne at any time to ask for anything (Hebrews 4:14-16).  Why not saving Black Sabbath?  Tony Iommi, Bill Ward, and Geezer Butler need Jesus too.

IMG_3555.JPGTheir Farewell Tour this summer


I don’t share this to impress or brag or flaunt any self-righteousness, but only as a challenge to you to think about yourself (and to pray for them too, if you like).  Are you praying for the lost?  Is anyone praying for you?

Their final tour means they are approaching the end, and as far as I can tell (from a distance), no one in Black Sabbath is saved, and I wonder if anyone prays for them.  They will be dead soon and despite their God and Satan gimmick as a band, they need prayer…like all of us.

Screenshot 2017-03-20 14.59.10.pngThe band in 1970 (Ozzy on our far right)


So I’m going to pray for them, and a lot of other people I don’t have a relationship with because of distance or their status, as well as those in my inner circle, and I’d challenge you to do the same.  And if you don’t know if anyone prays for you, maybe start asking people to put you on their prayer list.  It’s humbling to do, but why not?

It’d be a shame to have access to the most powerful Person in the history of the world, and He wants to help you, and you don’t rush into his throne room, hop up on His lap like His only child, and ask for help.

Kind of like JFK and his kids in the Oval Office.

Screenshot 2017-03-19 15.16.28.png

JFK and his son


Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.  Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. 

Oh, and would you pray for me?  Specifically, that my unsaved family members would understand the gospel.  Thanks, in advance.


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Jerusalem’s Gates

IMG_3228.JPGJerusalem’s Temple Mount

Ancient cities were often constructed more like fortresses than cities, and that’s what impresses you when you see Jerusalem for the first time with her massive walls and gates. In antiquity, the perimeter of a city consisted of a stone wall with wooden gates to permit or prevent the entry of people and animals.

In war, enemy forces often concentrated their attacks on these gate openings, typically the weakest part of the city wall; so the gates were strategic and usually built in such a way that they were flanked by, or actually part of, one or more adjoining defensive chambers or towers.  If the gate was breached, reinforcements could be dropped into the gateway from these rooms, and bottle up the invaders.

Jerusalem’s Old City has had numerous gates over the many thousands of years of Bible history. In times of peace, the gates were used for judgments and business transactions. Leaders sat in the gates.  It was an important spot, as evidenced by more than 300 references in the Bible.

Today you can walk through some of them, while others have been sealed at one time or another, and although still impressive, these Old City walls are not from the time of Jesus. The Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent built the walls and most of the gates in the 16th century, but one prophetic gate remains sealed of – the Eastern Gate.

IMG_2696.jpgThe Beautiful Gate (where the Messiah will enter)

The Eastern Gate, also known as the Beautiful Gate (sometimes the Golden Gate because of Jerome’s New Testament translation error from Greek to Latin), was sealed up by the Muslims for hundreds of years to prevent the Messiah from returning (Ezekiel 44:1-3). It is reserved for the Messiah’s entrance in the future and thousands of graves on the slopes face it with the hope that they will be the first resurrected upon the Messiah’s arrival. To prevent His arrival, the Muslims in 1541 established a cemetery to stop His path to the gate and sealed it to be certain. This is the gate that Jesus entered on Palm Sunday from the east (Mark 11) and where Peter later healed a beggar (Acts 3).

Most people don’t realize that below the present Eastern Gate is an ancient gate that was most likely built by Solomon and discovered by James Fleming in 1969 when he fell through the rain-soaked ground into a mass burial pit!

IMG_2896The bullet-scarred Zion Gate

The Zion Gate is located on the southwest side of the old city and one of the gates that leads to the Jewish section, David’s Tomb, and the Upper Room. It is also unique in that it is pitted with bullet holes from the 1948 and 1967 wars.

The Dung Gate leads to the Western Wall and the Temple area today, but it was once the primary trash removal gate where residents dumped their rubbish into the valley to burn, most likely due to the direction of the wind that carried smells away (Nehemiah 2:13).

The Lion’s Gate is so named for the two sets of twin lions carved on the northeast entrance and is the usual exit to the Garden Tomb and Gethsemane areas, and the traditional spot of Stephen’s stoning in Acts 7 (in the Kidron Valley below).  During the Six-Day War Israeli soldiers entered through this gate to capture the Temple Mount.

IMG_2673.JPGThe Lions Gate

Herod’s Gate (Flowers Gate) leads right into the Muslim quarter. According to tradition Jesus was led to Herod’s palace through this gate and a wall did not enclose it during Herod the Great’s reign.

The Damascus Gate is probably the most beautiful entrance into the Old City’s market.  It marked the beginning of the Damascus Road and now serves as the primary entrance into the Arab sector. The pillars under this gate date to the time of Christ, and most feel Jesus went through this gate to his death.

IMG_3258.JPGInside The Jaffa Gate (David’s Tower)

The Jaffa Gate is on the west side of the city and the most used gate into Jerusalem. Fortified by David’s Tower, it was the starting point for the road to Jaffa, a three days walk. Today it is a hub for tourists.

The New Gate is situated on the northwestern side of the old city and first opened in 1887 to allow easier access for Christian pilgrims from their monasteries to the Christian quarter and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

IMG_2886.JPGThe Southern Steps and a partial gate archway in the corner

The Huldah Gate is also sealed and situated on the southern wall area. Named for the prophetess in 2 Kings 22:14, her entrance is actually two sets of gates, one a double gate and the other a triple gate.

IMG_2883.jpgThe Huldah Gates (sealed up)

Understanding the current gates and their locations allows you a point of reference to grasp the overall layout of Jerusalem, which can be confusing with all of the multiple wars and reconstruction activities, as with Nehemiah. Take some time to acquaint yourself with them and you’ll be able to find your way through Jerusalem easily.

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Elijah’s Stand

IMG_1939.JPGMount Carmel in Israel and the statue of Elijah

“Baal must be a god.  Maybe he’s daydreaming or using the toilet or traveling somewhere.  Or maybe he’s asleep, and you have to wake him up.”

Elijah’s sarcastic challenge to the frantic Baal worshippers in 1 Kings 18 still adds some humor to an otherwise dire situation in Israel’s history to choose whom they would worship, the fertility god of the Canaanites or Yahweh who brought them out of Egypt.  Their decision on Mount Carmel to identify with the true God of Abraham made the mountain legendary.

The god of the farming Canaanites was in direct opposition to Israel’s God where as wanderers in the desert their profession was primarily as shepherds.  Coming to a fertile land with Baal worship forced an identity crisis for them–who was the true God of life that deserved their worship?

As recorded in 1 Kings 18, Elijah’s seemingly impossible victory set the stage for the dramatic choice that begins and ends on Mount Carmel.  A symbol of fertility throughout the Old Testament, Mount Carmel means “God’s vineyard” or “God’s garden,” and its lush slopes mark the site for one of the most entertaining stories in the Bible.

The prophet Elijah, whose name gives away the ironic answer to their dilemma means “Jehovah is God,” set himself up against one of Israel’s worst kings when he declared to Ahab that there would be no rain without his say-so (17:1).  In a country where it does not rain for nine months out of the year, this would be especially devastating for an agrarian society!

IMG_1934.JPGEnjoying the Baal view from Mount Carmel

Why did the Jews worship Baal and forget the God of Israel?  The answer is still debated today, but lies in who Baal was to them.  Baal means Lord, Master, or Husband and his mate was the fertility goddess/sister/wife Asherath.  Baal is the God of storms, rain, and lightning…the perfect god for a farmer to worship, but it was a strange religion.

Baal worship involved offering animal sacrifices where priests would officiate, and some even made their sons pass through fire as sacrifices to Baal.  Male and female prostitutes were available to worshipers to inspire the fertility of both the land and the people.  Baal was usually associated with a bull and with a threatening lightning bolt in hand.  His whole presence shouted, “I am the one who gives life (fertility) through rain!”

The Jews went after this Storm god, Baal; a god they thought would bring them rain, but instead brought God’s punishment on their crops, a drought, and a famine.  So Ahab’s god and Elijah’s God meet in a classic showdown here on Mount Carmel with 850 false priests and prophets of Baal (450), Asherah (400), and Elijah (1).  Long odds indeed.

In a final irony, when the prophets of Baal were defeated in dramatic fashion, the people recited Elijah’s name, “Jehovah is God,” after God consumed Elijah’s sacrifice with fire from heaven (1 Kings 18:39).

IMG_1936.JPGThe view from Mount Carmel

Today the beautiful Mount Carmel (kerem) is peaceful and located on the far tip of the Jezreel Valley near the coast, a limestone mountain range that stretches for 24 miles from the Mediterranean near Haifa into the heart of Israel’s hinterland.  It is dotted with springs that provide all sorts of growth (carob trees, oaks, pines, cedars, myrtles, laurels, and tamarinds), and covered in tiny volcanic cave entrances that open up into spacious hideaways, suitable for prophets or criminals on the run (Amos 9:3).

In the 12th century a Catholic Order was created here called the Carmelites (based on a cave that they believed to be the grotto where Elijah stayed), and although there is no evidence for it, a monastery was later founded at the location called The Star of the Sea (Stella Maris).

Unfortunately, there are no archaeological ruins to see to match Elijah’s story on Mount Carmel, but the view from the top of the Stella Maris Monastery is a spectacular photo opportunity!  You can see the Jezreel Valley, Mount Gilboa, and the hills of Galilee.  Be sure not to miss the statue of Elijah flashing his knife at the vanquished Baal prophets who learned the identity of the true God of Israel.

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Perspiration or Inspiration?

IMG_4040.JPGBig Al searching for inspiration in the Thames 1948

Writing is a quirky thing.

I have no idea where the inspiration comes from, but when it does arrive it is definitely “work” in a very strange sense.  I’m pretty sure it originates with the Creator though and not from lying down in a river in Great Britain.

For me, it has always been a natural ability.  I honestly cannot take credit for a gift.

Not comparing myself with Hemingway or Dickens, but just that it’s always been there (math, however, has eluded me since Mrs Golden in 8th grade starting using letters and parentheses in Algebra).  And grammar was way too complicated (I leaned over Donna Keller’s shoulder a lot in 7th grade to get my prepositions undangled).

Twelve Years Old.jpgAt 12 when everyone told me, “You should be a writer.”

I think all creativity, especially writing, comes from the Creator.  Without Him, and His generous dipping of us into His pool of creativity, there would be nothing.

So when folks like my work and ask for writing advice, I just tell them to pray and ask the Creator to help them.  It’s His gift to give, which is pure grace (like the thief on the cross who’s saved by doing nothing, getting what we don’t deserve without any merit to warrant it).

Once inspiration does arrive, then the work begins and that is just getting “clay” on the page…anything to start molding it into something better than the lump it starts out as initially.  Just start typing some clay and see where it goes.  I’m always surprised, especially if it’s a story, when the character takes over and does things I didn’t want to happen (I wonder if God feels that way when we start going our own way in His story).

Well, if you want to be a good writer, it helps to have the natural giftedness (everyone thinks erroneously that they can write, sing, and paint).  If not, you can read, take classes, find a mentor, and practice until you get good, but by all means ask the Creator to help with your creativity.

Like everything else in life, writing well starts with Jesus.


A Christmas gift this year (1936) that works perfectly (by grace)

Consider what Jeremiah wrote about clay:

The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord saying, “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will announce My words to you.”  Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel.  But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make.  Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord.  “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.

Or the Apostle Paul in Romans regarding the Gentiles joining the Jews in His salvation plan,

On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God?  The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it?  Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for  honorable use and another for  common use?

And Isaiah echoes our helplessness too,

“Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker  — An earthenware vessel among  the vessels of earth!  Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’  Or the thing you are making say, ‘He has no hands’?

IMG_2837.JPGThe bedrock where the cross stood in Jerusalem

The point is this.  It takes some real humility to admit we need His help, both in writing and in salvation.  We all need to surrender for the latter because their is no perspiration (work) in His salvation gift.  Like His inspiration with writing, salvation is pure grace too.

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Time Passes Slowly When You’re Caught In A Dream

Dad & His Father at the Mule Barn.jpgMy dad and his dad at the Mule Barn (Wilkes Barre, PA) 1920’s

Bob Dylan sang these words about time, passing slowly, but for as insightful as he can be (and next to Shakespeare perhaps the best writer) I don’t think he got it right this time.

Time seems to pass quickly from my side of the dim glass.  Wasn’t it just last week I was a boy catching frogs and snakes?  Playing with army men and riding ponies?  My bike my constant companion?

Fred & Phil.jpgMy brother Fred and I in Detroit (I’m the rootin’ tootin cowpoke) 1960’s

It would seem things are speeding up when I look back at my life.  Deaths and weddings are a flurry of benchmarks to measure the march of time.  We all seem to be racing into eternity with hair ablaze.

IMG_3989.JPGOur son’s wedding in 2016

Where does time go when it’s gone?  Does the bottom of the hourglass empty into itself?  Or it sifts back into Eternity somehow?  Time seems to be at a constant speed that we are unaware of until it actually stops for us…in death.

And then what?  Eternity itself, at the bottom of the hourglass where millions of people have already gone, waiting for us to get there too?  Maybe that’s why death is so significant.

King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes that “It is better to go to funerals than parties because death is the end of every man and the living take it to heart.”

8-6-88 12.jpgOur wedding in the 1980’s (time’s influence obvious from the other wedding pic)

What did Solomon mean, take it to heart?  The same deliberation is echoed in Psalm 39,

Lord, let me know my end,
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is!

I think it’s to be sure we understand our destination, like with any trip to know that we have reservations when we arrive, and that life is just a wisp of a breath on a cold day.

The Bible is very clear that Jesus is our “hotel” because we all are moving down the same road.  Ironic that we hope we have a room when we get there, when the Bible says we can know for sure (1 John 5:11-13).  It is not a mystery to a genuine believer in Christ.

The Godfather of Time, Einstein said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning.  Curiosity has its own reason for existing.  One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.”

It’s interesting to note that on April 18, 1955 even the great Einstein slipped through the narrow part of the hourglass too.  Did he find the answer to his curiosity and have a reservation for eternity?

Screenshot 2017-03-10 11.24.10.pngEinstein’s desk on the day he died.

Screenshot 2017-03-10 11.24.53.pngEinstein’s last car ride.

Augustine said, “What, then, is time?  I know well enough what it is, provided that nobody asks me, but if I am asked what it is and try to explain, I am baffled.”

Back to Bob.  Dylan also wrote, “Forever Young” which, seems to me, is tied to eternity and God.  This is where the dream we are “caught” in becomes a wonderful dawn with Jesus Christ nudging us awake.

May you grow up to be righteous 
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth 
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous 
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young 
May you stay forever young.

If this is all too jumbled up to grasp, just understand that time will stop for you.  Eternity is the wake up call, and you are not guaranteed a reservation apart from Jesus Christ literally residing inside of your body.  It’s not an intellectual ascent.  It’s a divine possession (Colossians 1:27).  And it certainly has nothing to do with religion.

The hope of waking up forever young is explained by the Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18,

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.  For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.  Therefore comfort one another with these words.

To add one line to Zimmy’s “Forever Young,”

May those who gaze upon you,

in your coffin still and cold.

See not only just your death,

but a smile set on hold. 

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