Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Hi! I'm Ewart

             Ewart. That’s my new name . . . at least until the end of June.

A couple of months ago the Golden Valley Chorus (GVC) of the Barbershop Harmony Society (BHS) was contacted by the director from the Modesto Performing Arts (MPA) to see if we had four guys who would like to perform in a production of the musical classic, The Music Man.

Well, I jumped right on it! It was Meredith Willson’s production of this musical play where I first heard a barbershop quartet that captivated my interest in this uniquely American musical genre. Even as a kid I always wanted to sing in a barbershop quartet. Years later I discovered there’s an entire organization of barbershop singers (BHS – formerly, SPEBSQSA, Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America) across the United States, and in recent years it has expanded around the world. There are choruses as small as 10, and other choruses that top out at 125 or more. I am a member of the GVC here in Modesto, California which is a chorus made up of 20 men. I also have a membership with the Alexandria Harmonizers (Virginia) which boasts 120 or more. My nephew, Josh Roots, sings with these guys as well. I wrote about singing with the Harmonizers last June as part of the week-long activities in France celebrating the 70th Anniversary of D-Day. I’m still basking in the glow of that phenomenal trip.

The play first opened on Broadway in 1957 at the Majestic Theatre. The movie came out in 1962 and had a run of 1,375 straight performances. We were living in Norway at the time, but we certainly heard about it. We moved back to the States toward the end of 1963 when I was finally able to see the movie. My sister-in-law also performed in it with the Dallas (Texas) Repertory Theater. The quartet that sang in the movie was from one of those big barbershop choruses located in Dallas – the Vocal Majority. The performing quartet for both the play and the movie was the Buffalo Bills, who were the International Quartet Champions in 1950. They are icons within the hallowed halls of barbershop history and lore.

So who is Ewart Dunlop? He is the fellow in the quartet that sings the Lead part (usually the melody line). That’s my role. I had never paid attention to the stage names of the quartet until this year when the opportunity presented itself to be in this Modesto production. The setting for the musical is in a small town in Iowa in 1912. As a point of interest, Ewart is an old English/Scottish/Gaelic name which means “guardian of riches.” The literal meaning is “a ewe herder” (one who leads female sheep). It is a name rarely seen today, and it’s not even on the top 1,000 names for baby boys today. Nevertheless, my name in the musical is to be Ewart Dunlop. Very British, don’t you know!

The quartet I am in will be primarily singing, but also with some short speaking parts. The performances will be toward the end of June at the Gallo Center in Modesto. The dates are June 20, 21, and 26, 27, & 28. The songs in the musical are ones you are certainly familiar with because they have captured the spirit of the whole story of Marian the Librarian who falls in love with the con man and scoundrel, Professor Harold Hill. The songs our quartet will sing are: Ice Cream/Sincere; Goodnight, Ladies; It’s You; and Lida Rose.

During the next two months I will be engrossed in learning to sing these songs with the three other quartet members. So should you see me in passing, and you notice that I have a glazed look on my face and my lips are moving but there’s no sound, you will know that I am going over the songs and speaking parts for the musical until I’ve nailed it! Not to worry – I’m harmless.

 You can find information on the Music Man at www.GalloArts.org, or call 209-338-2100. Ticket prices run from $19.00 to $34.00.

This next part is for the guys . . . If you ever had the thought that you might like to try singing with a bunch of men, then come join us on a Tuesday evening from 7:00 to 9:30 at Mancini Hall, 718 Tuolumne Boulevard, Modesto. We’ve heard all the excuses for not coming out and singing. Our favorite is, “I can’t carry a tune in a bucket!” Trust me! Our director, Mr. Bruce Sellnow, and our assistant director, Howard Barber, will have you singing and ringing chords in no time. We have a lot of fun, and so will you!

But when you come on a Tuesday evening, don’t call me Ewart!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Song for the Soul

              I have wondered at times why I have such a love for the hymns of the Christian faith. You might be thinking at this moment that I’ve slipped a cog, seeing that I am a retired pastor from the Free Methodist Church. But hear me out.

Attending a church of any kind while growing up was a rarity. And the one church we did attend infrequently was not even Christian. It would be classified as a cult, meaning it had many of the trappings of being Christian but its doctrine clearly missed the message of Jesus and his love. And the hymns of the faith were not sung in this place of false worship.

Though I did not understand why, I found myself drawn to the old hymns even as a child. The opportunities to hear these blessed songs were few. But even in that day they were far more often heard on radio and television, and even sung in public school, than is the case for today. They were part of our secular culture because of the strong Christian influence that had built this nation of ours.

There was a wildly popular singer in that day who was, and still is, a favorite of mine. He could sing Gospel songs better than anyone else. I have a couple of his religious albums on 33 LPs and CDs. The singer is none other than Elvis Presley.

So when I walked into a Christian Servicemen’s Center on September 8, 1972 as a sergeant in the Marine Corps, the place where I surrendered my heart and life to Jesus, the hymns became a permanent fixture in my life. Over the next forty years I had the great privilege to sing in gospel groups, choirs, duets, musical productions for churches, and acappella singing.

The church my wife and I attend is the same one I pastored for sixteen years until my retirement last May. There are two services on Sunday morning. The service I prefer is the first one at 8:30. The reason is the singing. It is in that service that we sing the hymns of the faith that have stood the test of time. During the offering our pianist played arguably one of the greatest hymns ever written. It was written by Frederick M. Lehman in 1917. It is entitled, “The Love of God.” Though this minister wrote more than 100 hymns during his life, none ever touched the soul with divine inspiration the way this hymn has done and continues to do.

The song is written with three verses and a refrain. But it is the third verse that is so powerful, speaking of God’s infinite and eternal love for us. Hear these words in your own soul: “Could we with ink the ocean fill, And were the skies of parchment made, Were every stalk on earth a quill, And every man a scribe by trade, To write the love of God above, Would drain the ocean dry, Nor could the scroll contain the whole, Tho stretched from sky to sky.” Then the refrain: “O love of God, how rich and pure! How measureless and strong! It shall forevermore endure – the saints’ and angels’ song.”

The story is told of an anti-Jewish priest in Worms, Germany in the 11th Century who laid out some damning accusations against the Jews of that city. The king of that city challenged the Jewish leadership to publicly defend themselves against this vile accusation. If they were successful, they could continue to live at peace in Worms, otherwise the Jews would be killed. A poem was written by Rabbi Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai which was read aloud in defense of their religious faith, saving the day for the Jews. Part of that poem reads, “Were the sky of parchment made, A quill each reed, each twig and blade, Could we with ink the oceans fill, Were every man a scribe of skill, The marvelous story, Of God’s great glory, Would still remain untold; For He, most high, The earth and sky Created alone of old.” Clearly Fredrick Lehman had read this poem, incorporating some of the same wording into his now famous hymn.

We’ve all been touched by the sinful nature of man, and the evil intent that resides in the heart, and the horrific actions brought against others. Only God can eradicate this from our soul. That’s what Jesus came to do.

Let me conclude with the first verse of this hymn. “The love of God is greater far, Than tongue or pen can ever tell, It goes beyond the highest star, And reaches to the lowest hell; The guilty pair, Bowed down with care, God gave his Son to win: His erring child He reconciled, And pardoned from his sin.”

Yes, I love the old hymns, but I love the message even more. It is said that theologian Karl Barth was asked to summarize his twelve-volume set on church dogmatics which deals with the theoretical truths of faith concerning God and his works. His reply? “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

Have you been touched by the love of God?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Consider Miracles

             There are certain inexplicable events that occur in life that are not easily explained or resolved. What are frequently identified as miracles are typically dismissed as being coincidental.

If we look at this matter of miracles, or the miraculous, then we must first understand what defines a miracle. “Miracles are God’s intervention into the natural world – His special work for a specific purpose.” (5 Minute Apologist, Dr. Rick Cornish, NAVPRESS - 2005).

The Old and New Testaments are replete with miracles. The exploits of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Israel) quickly come to mind. But it’s hard to beat all the miraculous occurrences during the time of Moses. And, of course, you have a plethora of miracles recorded in the Gospel record of Jesus’ life and ministry – most notably – the event celebrated at this time of year by Christians – the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

There are basically three kinds of people in the world when it comes to the miraculous. You have those who believe in miracles; those who do not believe in miracles; and those who don’t know if the odd and strange happenings are actually miracles or just some of life’s imponderables.

So, only God, the maker of heaven and earth, can perform true miracles. Miracles are intended to bolster the faith of believers, and to challenge the skepticism of those who do not believe. What we actually witness in miracles is God throwing down the gauntlet, asking us to believe what cannot be naturally explained.

People who choose not to believe in the existence of God (atheists) must also dismiss any possibility of miracles. Why do I suggest this? Because the moment the miraculous is introduced into the equation, by necessity, the existence of One who is greater must be considered.

As is the case in all things in this world you have those who are on either end of the faith/belief spectrum. On the one end, atheists categorically rule out any possibility of miracles because they open up an element to life that, in their mind, cannot be explained by natural law. The Ten Plagues which God visited on the Egyptians were all very real, and supernatural, which could not be easily explained away, either then or now.

Radical religionists, on the other hand, are quick to attribute every little thing in life as being miraculous. For instance, I cringe when I hear a news reporter interviewing someone who is the sole survivor of a deadly tragedy. Invariably, the comment is made, “God was with me!” Now, I know the person is expressing exuberance in being alive. That’s perfectly understandable. However, such a statement troubles me because it makes it sound as though God is playing favorites. Wasn’t God with the six people who perished?  

“Miracles become possible if God exists because the One who could create a universe would be able to intervene into His work any way He wanted.” And not just that, but the Bible declares that God simply spoke everything into existence. The classic challenge to theists (believers in God and his existence) is formulated in this question which is designed by unbelievers to trip up the believers: “Well, if God made everything, then who made God?”

The answer to this question is simple enough. No one made God because he has always been. He is All Powerful. Again, the Bible often states this rhetorical question: “Is anything too difficult for God?” Or put another way, “Nothing is impossible with God.”

The language used in the Bible regarding God and His power is precise. The wording is definitive. For instance, throughout the Book of Job, God challenges Job to consider God’s many attributes in confirming that Job had not been abandoned by God during Job’s time of testing. Later we see such descriptive terminology attributed to Jesus, where we read in the Book of Revelation, “I am the Beginning and the End. I am the First and the Last. I am the Alpha and the Omega. I am the One who was, who is, and who is to come.” All of these expressions are given to us to help us to understand that God is, always has been, and always will be.

In accepting this premise about the existence of God, then miracles become a natural phenomenon in the faith journey for the believer. And as such, miracles not only occur, but are to be expected. You see, miracles are not miraculous to God. It is the way He chooses to operate in our world. And it’s no big deal to Him.

Let me leave you with this thought: Consider Miracles!

 

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Ghoulishness

             Recently I ran across a story on the Internet which piqued my interest. However, the topic initially repulsed me in such a way that I found myself debating with myself whether or not I really wanted to delve into this macabre historical practice.

I suppose at this point I’ve either totally lost you and you are questioning whether you want to continue reading my article for this week, or you are intrigued enough to stay with me to find out what in the world I’m talking about. So, hang on, and you’ll see where I’m going with this.

The subject has no specified name or title. It does, however, go by numerous descriptive terms. The one I believe is most aptly stated is, Post-Mortem Photography. Memorial Portraiture, Mourning Portrait, Death Portraits and Death Photography are also common terms for this practice.

The painting of dead people has a long history, particularly among the elite class. Yet even those paintings were performed to have the person appear fully alive. So when photography began replacing paintings in the mid-1800s, the shift from painting dead loved ones to photographing the same is not too much of a leap. It was during the Victorian Era that post-mortem photography came into its own, not only in England, but all across Europe and America. In many instances, due to a much higher infant mortality rate, it was not at all unusual for an infant or small child to have never been photographed at all. A photo image thus became the memento mori for the family, a photographic keepsake, if you will. In this way it reminds those still living that death ultimately comes to us all.

Such a practice as post-mortem photography to us today seems exceptionally creepy. “During the first few years of its existence, the daguerreotype--a small, highly detailed picture on polished silver--was an expensive luxury. As the number of photographers increased throughout the 1840s, the cost of daguerreotypes diminished. Other, less costly procedures were introduced in the 1850s, along with novel forms of portraiture like the ambrotype (on glass), the tintype (on thin, cheap metal), and the carte-de-visite (on paper). By the 1860s, photographic portraiture was affordable to virtually all members of society.”  (Memento Mori: Death and Photography in 19th Century America, by Dan Meinwald,).

There are today many of these photos from the 1800s which clearly show the dead person in a casket, or seated in a favorite chair, or even posing with living family members. One picture I found particularly interesting was an elderly man seated in what appears to be a favorite stuffed chair. He is propped up in an attempt to make him look natural, dare I say, alive. His two favorite dogs, very much alive, are curled up on either side of him. Another shot I had difficulty with was a gaggle of children (six, as I recall), standing in a row from the oldest to the youngest. The first five children are alive. The sixth and youngest child has died, yet there she is, propped up in a standing position, posing with her brothers and sisters.

A family that desired to have a portrait in death made of a loved one was facing possible economic hardship due to the over-the-top costs being charged by photographers. One factor that made these pictures expensive was geography. Typically a person to be photographed in the mid-1800s would go to the studio where the photographer had everything set up. However, with a dead person, the photographer would have to pack up his gear and go to wherever the deceased was being kept, usually in the loved-one’s home.

At the same time that I was reading about post-mortem photography, I was also engrossed in one of my favorite genres of books – the Western. Coincidentally, the western I was reading at that very same time had a character portrayed as a photographer of the dead. He was creepy and ghoulish and was himself killed in the story. But in the little town out west where he chose to set up shop, he desperately wanted to be the first to take a photo of a dead gunfighter who was a shade too slow on the draw. And if there were any other gruesome deaths he could photograph, all the better.

Today as a society we no longer continue this practice of creating photographs of our dearly departed. Many have speculated as to why this is so. To me it doesn’t matter. Why? Because this physical body merely transports my soul for a brief time on earth before it is forced to relinquish my soul and spirit into the bosom of Jesus, my Lord and Savior.

The Apostle Paul fairly shouts in 1st Corinthians 15:55, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” In Jesus, death no longer holds us in fear.

Easter celebrates Jesus’s sacrificial death on the cross for you and me. He overcame the penalty of sin and death by rising again from the dead.

So enough with the creepy, morbid, ghoulish visions of death. Because Jesus is alive, so am I – forever!

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Killing Jesus?

             Easter is this Sunday, April 5.

For Christians, this specific date each spring is a time to remember the sacrifice of God’s son, Jesus, who loved us enough to become the sacrifice necessary to pay the price for our sin. It is a time for reflection. If God is real, then I must have some connection to him. Therefore, what are his expectations of me? What are the things I should expect from God? Easter is also a time of celebration. If Jesus actually is raised from the dead, then his promise to raise those who followed him by faith is true. We are eternal beings, meaning we’re going to spend eternity somewhere. The choices the Bible offers are heaven or hell. And you get to make the choice as to where. It’s all based upon your relationship with Jesus.  

On the other hand, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then there is no God, and we are all doomed to a soulless grave. The atheist will have been proven right that there is no God, and the evolutionists will no doubt have been correct in espousing that we are simply a cosmic biological accident. Obviously, as a man who made a very conscious decision to trust Christ as his Savior during my time in the Marine Corps, 1972, I categorically reject the atheist/evolutionist arguments against the existence of God.

So, tonight my wife and I watched the movie, “Killing Jesus,” taken from the book written by FOX newscaster/political commentator, Bill O’Reilly. O’Reilly has done a series of books on the theme, “Killing (fill in the blank).” He is a former high school history and English teacher who has become a news celebrity with FOX.

O’Reilly is an avowed Catholic, and makes no bones about this on air. Perhaps this is why I was disappointed with the movie, “Killing Jesus.” Now, I understand that he was writing this book from an historical perspective, and not based upon the truths of the Christian faith. I got that.

But drawing on historical references means you often accept the testimony of people who may be the only written source for a given event. For instance, in our high school history class we learned that Julius Caesar, emperor of Rome 50BC, launched a series of military campaigns against various Gallic armies in what is today France and Belgium. These armies were soundly defeated which greatly expanded the Roman territory. However, we only have one source for this war – Caesar. No one else wrote about the events of this war. So historians accept one man’s account. That one man was the victor – Julius Caesar.

I mention this historical anomaly because major events, in particular the resurrection of Jesus, are nowhere presented in the movie. Yet hundreds are reported to have witnessed the resurrection. This is even affirmed by the historian Josephus not even 100 years following the resurrection.

Further, none of the miracles are shown, with the exception of a huge catch of fish. Even this was presented as an answer to prayer which was initiated by Jesus, who looked a bit surprised when the nets filled to bursting. Later, Jesus has an encounter with a woman and her son, both horribly infected by leprosy. Jesus has the woman sit in front of him while he unwraps her face, then he gently wipes her face filled with open sores. Again, no indication that he has healed the woman or her son.

But it comes back to the resurrection. We see him miserably treated by the Jewish officials and of course the Romans under Pontius Pilate. He is lead away to crucifixion. On the cross Jesus utters his final words, “It is finished.” It was about noon, and the Bible says, when the sky darkened as if it were night. In the movie? Nothing. Then a Roman soldier pierces Jesus’ side to determine death right after Jesus had spoken his last. Again the Bible says Jesus had been dead on the cross for some time before the Roman soldiers were sent to put all three of the crucified men to death because the Jewish Sabbath was to start in a few hours and it would be bad form to have these criminals hanging out there for all the world to see when religious ceremonies were to take place. That’s when the soldier realized Jesus had died. To confirm this, he shoved his spear into Jesus’ side up into the heart. If he wasn’t dead at that point he would have certainly reacted to the sword thrust.

Most telling in this is that after the heart stops beating, it takes time for the blood to separate into what we call fluid (water) and plasma. The fluid looks like murky water, and the plasma is the thick, sticky red blood substance. Think of vinegar and oil. It has to be constantly shaken to be mixed, otherwise it separates. The Bible says the fluid that ran out of Jesus’ wound was blood and water.

And lastly, there is no resurrection of Jesus portrayed in the movie.

In closing, listen to what the Apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 15: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised again on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas (Peter), and then to the Twelve (Disciples). After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep (died). Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

The movie certainly portrayed the killing of Jesus. They succeeded in that part of the story. But the real good news is that the story doesn’t end there.

Jesus has risen from the dead. And he’s coming back! Are you ready? You can be. Confess that you are a sinner and you will have eternal life with Jesus.

Psalm for the Day