Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Case for Christ

Lee Strobel, once a legal reporter for the Chicago Tribune, plays the role of the skeptic he once was in this book that features interviews with 13 of the world's leading historical, archaeological, and Biblical scholars. He challenges them to provide convincing answers to many of the standard objections to the Christian faith, such as "Are the New Testament texts reliable?" and "Is the resurrection of Jesus a historical fact?"

He challenges each, in effect, to make their best case for Christ, to present the credible evidence (eyewitness, scientific, corroborating, circumstantial, forensic, etc.) that Jesus is who he said he is -- the one and only Son of God.

In effect, God is "in the dock" (as the English say), and we are the jurors. It's our responsibility (ultimately) to reach a verdict, to weigh the evidence and come up with the best possible solution based on the facts. It's a decision we all must face, with eternity hanging in the balance.

After facing the avalanche of evidence offered in this book, though, don't be surprised if you discover (as Lee Strobel did) one of the great ironies of life -- that it requires much more faith to maintain our skepticism than to believe in Jesus.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Starvy Creek 2017

I first went to this event July 4th weekend, 1996. Though I've been to the September festival since, this is first time I've been back to the July event. Wow -- 21 years! My how time flies!

I arrived on Friday afternoon to see the Roland White Band. Roland, one of the few bluegrass legends remaining, turns 80 next April. These days he sits on a stool while performing with his band that includes his wife, Diane; Richard Bailey, banjo; Brian Christianson, fiddle; and Jon Weisberger, bass.

Roland White Band

Jim joined me Friday evening for an extended performance (an hour and a half) by Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver. Another bluegrass legend, Lawson will turn 74 next April. And he's still going strong, with a great band accompanying him.

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver

A pleasant evening, musically and weather-wise, was followed by a fine morning. Jim and I and Buster went to Hidden Waters Nature Park in nearby Marshfield.

Jim and Buster at the park

Saturday afternoon was clear and bright at the festival, not too hot (unless you were in the sun). We saw two Missouri family bands -- the Punches Family and the Bluegrass Martins -- and Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper.

Punches Family

Lee Martin of the Bluegrass Martins

And, later in the afternoon, the Gibson Brothers (Eric and Leigh) from New York state took the stage with their fine band.

Gibson Brothers


Saturday, April 29, 2017

Sleepless in ... Osage Beach and Jane

Well, not necessarily sleepless ... less-than-adequate sleep, you might say.

Leaving Springfield on Thursday afternoon, my plan was to stay at the Golden Door Motel in Osage Beach, Missouri, near the Lake of the Ozarks. Thinking it would be easy to find, imagine my dismay when the sign on Highway 54 read, "Osage Beach next 6 exits."

Six exits! I thought Osage Beach was a small town! After driving around for a half-hour or so -- and seeing some stunning lake views along the way -- I never did find the Golden Door. But there are plenty of other places to stay, so I pulled in at an Econo Lodge and got a pet-friendly room for the night.

It was a warm and pleasant evening -- the last pleasant weather we would see for a while. I took Buster for two walks, then ordered a Hawaiian pizza from Imo's and settled in for the night. I wanted to get an early start for Bella Vista, so I went to bed early.

I woke up a few hours later, practically sweating. It was very warm in the room, and try as I would, I just couldn't seem to get it to cool down. I turned the fan on the heating/AC unit to the high position, but it didn't seem to make much difference. At least it made enough noise to drown out any outside noise which always is upsetting to Busterboy, my traveling companion.

Eventually, I did get a little more shuteye. I woke up to a rainy morning. Just a light rain, though, as I continued westward on 54 to Nevada, Missouri. That's where I picked up Interstate 49, heading south. I ran into a deluge around Joplin, and it never let up the rest of the way to Bella Vista.

I met up with Mark and Robyn, friends from Portland, at Jim's crib. I hadn't seen them since my last visit to Portland a few years ago, so we had some catching up to do. We drove down to Fayetteville in the rain and spent the rest of the afternoon driving around the University of Arkansas campus.

Plans were to take in a Naturals game (the local minor league team), but that was washed away in all the rain. Instead, we supped at an authentic Mexican restaurant (El Cunado) in Springdale before heading back to BV.

That evening I checked in at the Booneslick (or Boones Lick) Lodge in nearby Jane, Missouri. Quite rustic, as the name implies. Adequate accommodations, though, if not a little noisy. That, and another warm room, interrupted my sleep for a second night in a row.

Saturday was cool and overcast, with intermittent spits of rain -- very Oregon-like, making Mark and Robyn feel at home. We did some shopping in Bentonville after a stop at the library, then lunched at Zaxby's, one of Jim's favorite places. Later, back at the crib, Jim and I did some jamming until it was time to eat again -- pizza at Gusano's.

We closed the cool, damp evening with hot chocolate at Jim's, then it was back to the Booneslick for another sleep-interrupted night. But it wasn't the temperature in the room this time, but the inhabitants in the room above. It sounded like they were moving furniture all night long. Crash, bang, boom! This lasted until 3:30 or so.

Sunshine and a cloudless blue sky greeted us on Sunday. What a welcome sight! We attended service at Calvary Chapel of the Ozarks in Rogers, then lunched at a nearby Freddy's. In the afternoon, Jim and some of his guitar students gave a performance at the Crystal Bridges art museum in Bentonville.

Buster and I then hit the road. I was determined not to spend another night in a hotel, so I drove straight through, with only two stops, arriving home around 11 p.m.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Chesterton Strikes Again!

"We open our mind for the same reason we open our
mouth: to find something solid to close it on."

--G.K. Chesterton

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Saturday at Shorty's

Kent and I drove up to East Peoria yesterday for the 12th annual Shorty's Strickly [sic] Bluegrass Festival at the Stoney Creek Inn. The rustic inn is located along the Illinois River, and right next door is a seafood restaurant named Jonah's, where we ate lunch.

Sounds of bluegrass slammed us the moment we entered the inn. The lobby, with a quaint stone fireplace, was filled with jammers. There was also a jamming room up on the second floor. We walked back to the conference room where the stage shows were happening and bought our tickets.

Shortly thereafter, Highway 15 took the stage. From St. Louis, this band currently features Kenny Kuhn on bass and dobro, Mathew Mitchell on banjo and guitar, Danny Isom on mandolin and fiddle, and Terry Lewis on guitar.

After lunch, we returned to catch most of the Bluegrass Martins. Ozark siblings now based in Jefferson City, the Martins were decked out in matching purple and black and entertained with a variety of traditional bluegrass and country tunes ... and even some clogging by bassist Anne. Janice, banjoist and emcee, introduced the Porter Wagoner-Dolly Parton duet, "The Last Thing on My Mind," like this:

"I'll be Dolly Parton ... use your imagination."

Then, after forgetting some of the lyrics, she said at song's end, "To get all the words, you'll have to listen to Dolly and Porter's version."

Brothers Dale, guitar, and Lee, mandolin, really get after it on their respective instruments and Larita plays a solid dobro. This is a really talented bunch, and their parents are justifiably proud. Dad, Elvin, even got up on stage and sang a number with them.

The River Ramblers

The River Ramblers followed. We've seen this band for two decades now, and it's just as strong as ever with the additions of Don Randle on dobro and Steve "Doc" Hatfield on banjo. The latter burned it up on "Shuckin' the Corn" and the Ricky Skaggs' instrumental "Amanda Jewell." The Ramblers also did nice renditions of the Eagles' "Seven Bridges Road" and "Amazing Grace." Self-effacing band leader Duane Patterson, ever-present long gray beard hanging down, was up to his old tricks when he introduced the band members and concluded, "And I'm Porter Wagoner."

The Punches Family from Fredericktown, Missouri, brought the afternoon session to a close. Mom, Bobette (bass), and Dad, Bruce (mandolin), have four kids: two boys and two girls. The boys, Graham and Owen, were formerly in the group but are now busy with school and work. That leaves twins Emily and Brooke to take up the slack. And they do a fine job. Particularly outstanding are Brooke's vocals and her licks on the dobro. As proud papa Bruce exclaimed after she burned it up on "Fireball Mail":

"She plays the fire out of that dobro."

The Punches did nice covers of "Delta Dawn," Little Green Apples," and "Tumblin' Tumbleweeds." But they're real strength is bluegrass gospel. They even did a contemporary Christian song that Bruce said "grasses up" real well. One fan in the front row was singing along happily, and Bruce described him as "smiling like a mule eating cactus."

That described yours truly as well.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Viola Liuzzo

When I mentioned this name to two friends, both times I got the response, "Who's that?" You, the reader, might be wondering the same thing.

Born in the South, Viola Liuzzo traveled from Detroit by herself to participate in the 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama. Her story, and the story of the march, is told by Mary Stanton in From Selma to Sorrow: the  Life and Death of Viola Liuzzo (University of Georgia Press, 1998).

Her name has not lived on because she -- unlike other civil rights "martyrs" such as Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney -- was something of an enigma. She was neither young nor black but a middle-aged (39 at the time of her death) wife and mother of five. She did not fit in with the idealistic young civil rights activists (both white and black) nor the Southern blacks they were trying to help. Rather, she was expected to stay at home, as most traditional wives and mothers did in that day.

But Viola was no traditionalist. She was a concerned citizen with a history of activism who responded to Martin Luther King Jr.'s call to participate. She didn't just hop on the civil rights bandwagon because it was the hip thing to do at the time. She was a human rights activist who would take up anyone's cause, regardless of skin color, if she thought the cause was right.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Another Ozark New Year

Buster and I traveled to northwest Arkansas last Friday to spend the New Year with Jim. This is becoming an annual tradition, as we did the same last year. Then, we stayed in a hotel in Rogers. This time, we stayed in Jim's pad in scenic Bella Vista.

We arrived late in the afternoon. After resting a bit, Jim and I drove to the Arkansas Ballroom Company in Tontitown. about 20-25 miles south of Bella Vista. There, we met Jim and Genise, Jim's good friends, for a potluck and dancing. The former was disappointing, just a veggie tray, chips and dip, fruit, and cheesecake. The latter, however, was not. Jerry, a dance instructor, gathered us in a circle -- about 5 or 6 couples and Jim and I. Then he proceeded to teach us the box step and the rumba. Every few minutes, the ladies rotated counter-clockwise, so us guys got a chance to dance with each of them.

After a half hour or so, I felt pretty competent with these two steps. Then the lesson was over, and the floor was open for dancing to recorded music. I sat and watched as the couples "tripped the light fantastic," munching on some veggies and chips and chatting with the dancers when they rested between dances. When I told Craig, quite a character if not much of a terpsichorean, where I'm from he seemed surprised.

"For a Yankee, you're not so bad," he quipped.

"I like the Reds, not the Yankees," I replied.

The next morning, we had an appointment to see a condo in Bella Vista. When we arrived, Jim introduced me to Jennifer (his realtor) and we proceeded to the front door. That's as far as we got, though. The woman who answered the door informed us the place had sold two days before.

Oh, well. Easy come, easy go.

For lunch, I had a hankering for Mexican food, so we headed to Springdale. It has a sizable Hispanic community and plenty of Mexican restaurants and markets. I sensed a calling for La Super Quesadilla, where we met Cindy, our waitress. She's from El Salvador. She's been in the States for five years and speaks English very well. And she was impressed with our knowledge of Spanish. She served us a fine midday repast -- authentic Mexican all the way.

Then it was on to Bentonville to meet with Jim (alias Twinkletoes). When he's not tearing it up on the dance floor, he is a financial advisor -- and a good one. Experience has taught him well. The lessons he learned as a financial risk-taker himself, he passes on to his clients. It was a very informative meeting, leaving me with the realization that I've got some thinking to do.

But, save that for later, because it's New Year's Eve. Jim and I feasted on Hawaiian pizza at Gusano's in Bella Vista. Then, back at the pad, we played Scrabble as fireworks lit up the dark and silent night, issuing in another new year,

Jim at Freddy's
After church at Calvary Chapel of the Ozarks on this New Year's Sunday morning, we decided to have lunch in Kansas. I had never set foot in the Jayhawk State. We drove north and a little west to Pittsburg (pop. 20,200), home to Pittsburg State University (aka the Gorillas). We lunched at Freddy's, a hamburger and frozen custard chain that originated in Kansas a decade or so ago. Then we took Buster for a stroll on the mostly deserted campus (the students being on Christmas break).

Me and Buster on the PSU campus
Back in Bella Vista for our last night, we supped at Jim's crib, jammed a little, talked and laughed a lot, and called it a night. The first day of 2017 was history, and it had been a good one.

I pray the rest of the year will be the same.