Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Les Miserables

My An Arkie's Faith column from the December 13, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


When my wife learned that the musical theatre production of Les Miserables was coming to Little Rock, we made plans to attend. We had attended a production of the show around twenty years ago and had enjoyed it very much. We asked my Mom if she would like to go with us and she was excited to be able to attend. She had studied Les Miserables in French class when she was a girl.

The December day that we traveled to Little Rock to see the production was a warm 75-degree day. After some Christmas shopping, a great meal at Cantina Laredo, and seeing an awesome sunset, we headed to The Robinson Center in downtown Little Rock. As we were driving, we watched the dramatic supermoon rise over downtown. The state capitol was striking with Christmas lights outlining the building.


The Robinson Center was a bustle of activity as we made our way to our seats. The set with its towering buildings on either side of the stage, made us feel like we were in France in the early 1800's. The audience of the sold-out show waited in eager anticipation for the performance to begin. When the first strains of music started, a hush fell over the theater. For over three hours the performers held the audience in rapt attention. Every line of the musical is sung through, so there is no spoken dialogue. Across the board, the vocals were amazing. The vocal power displayed by every member of the cast kept the audience enthralled.

The musical Les Miserables is based on a French historical novel by Victor Hugo that was first published in 1862. It is considered one of the greatest novels of the 19th century. The novel tells a story of broken dreams, sacrifice, and redemption. It is an examination of law and grace, and a timeless testament to the survival of the human spirit.

Victor Hugo wrote in the preface; “So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine with human fatality; so long as the three problems of the age—the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night—are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.”


The musical revolves around the story of two men; Jean Valjean, who was imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family, and Inspector Javert who is always looking for Valjean and seeking to arrest him after he breaks his parole.

To me, the most intriguing part the story of Les Miserables is the different way the main characters deal with law and mercy. The story starts when Jean Valjean is released after 19 years in jail. Valjean is rejected in every place he seeks refuge until he finds a priest who gives him food and a place to sleep.

Jean Valjean steals all the finest silver from the priest. He is caught and brought back and made to admit his sin in front of the priest. The police are ready to put Jean Valjean in jail when the priest stops them. He explains that he did give all of the silver to the man and, in fact, the man forgot to take the most precious silver. As the priest hands over his valuable candlesticks, it is clear that his grace is greater than Jean Valjean could have ever imagined. Having experienced such forgiveness, he spends the rest of his life trying to replicate the grace that was given to him.


Javert is the legalist, and he holds strictly to the letter of the law. There is only one way to treat others, and it is by strict justice. The story leads up to a climactic scene when Jean Valjean has the opportunity to kill Javert. But instead of retribution for the lifelong struggles and pain Javert has inflicted on his life, Jean Valjean shows him mercy, cuts his bound hands loose, and sends his enemy off as a free man.

The mercy shown to him by Valjean sends Javert, the legalist, into a tailspin from which he cannot recover. For him, mercy proves to be an unsolvable problem. He sings, “I am the law, and the law is not mocked! I’ll spit his pity right back in his face!” And then continues, “my thoughts fly apart. Can this man be believed? Shall his sins be forgiven? Shall his crimes be reprieved? Does he know that granting me my life today, this man has killed me even so.” After experiencing unmerited mercy, Javert the legalist jumps off a bridge and kills himself.

The power of Les Miserables is the way it contrasts the life of the merciful with the life of the merciless. The merciful have faced their guilt and been broken. The merciless have faced their guilt and hardened themselves like steel.


Gentle Reader, Les Miserables is a story of the contrast in how sinners respond to the offer of free mercy. At a profound level, this is the story of two responses to mercy: one man is broken and lives, and one man is hardened and dies. Titus 3:5 (NIRV) tells us that “He saved us. It wasn’t because of the good things we had done. It was because of his mercy. He saved us by washing away our sins. We were born again. The Holy Spirit gave us new life.” Don’t be an Inspector Javert and refuse the mercy that is shown to you, be a Jean Valjean and live a life showing mercy to others because of the mercy you have been given.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Xmas


I must admit that I have never liked Xmas as an abbreviation for Christmas.  It just seems a bit flippant and unnecessary. In today's culture where many Christians perceive a war against Christmas, they see the use of Xmas as an attempt to secularize the season by taking Christ out of Christmas.

I must admit that I agreed with those sentiments until I actually looked into the history of the use of Xmas.  Originally, Xmas was an abbreviation where the X represents the Greek letter chi, which is the first letter of Christ's name in Greek, ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ. However, because of the modern interpretations of the letter X, many people are unaware of this and assume that this abbreviation is meant to drop Christ from Christmas.


According to R. C. Sproul in his book, Now That's a Good Question, the idea of X as an abbreviation for the name of Christ came into use in our culture with no intent to show any disrespect for Jesus. The church has used the symbol of the fish historically because it is an acronym. Fish in Greek (ichthus) involved the use of the first letters for the Greek phrase “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” So the early Christians would take the first letter of those words and put those letters together to spell the Greek word for fish. That’s how the symbol of the fish became the universal symbol of Christendom. There’s a long and sacred history of the use of X to symbolize the name of Christ, and from its origin, it has meant no disrespect.

The Greek letter Χ, or Chi, was a common abbreviation for "Christ" in past religious writings. Its usage can be traced as far back as the 4th century in Rome, and to 1021 AD in historic Anglo-Saxon manuscripts. Xmas began to be used in English starting in the 1500′s. Webster’s dictionary acknowledges that the abbreviation Xmas was in common use by the middle of the sixteenth century.


In an article on the subject of Xmas written by Dennis Bratcher, he states, "Xmas is not a modern invention to try to convert Christmas into a secular day, nor is it a device to promote the commercialism of the holiday season.  Its origin is thoroughly rooted in the heritage of the Church.  It is simply another way to say Christmas, drawing on a long history of symbolic abbreviations used in the church. In fact, as with other abbreviations used in common speech or writing (such as Mr. or etc.), the abbreviation "Xmas" should be pronounced "Christmas" just as if the word were written out in full, rather than saying "exmas."

Even though we know from history that it isn't offensive to use “Merry Xmas,” do be aware that some still find it so, so use good judgment when using the abbreviation “Xmas.”

Merry Xmas every one from An Arkie's Musings - pronounced properly of course.  :)

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Rumble Seat

My An Arkie's Faith column from the December 6, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


Last year, the Chamber of Commerce asked us to drive my Dad’s Shay Model A in the Christmas Parade with Santa Claus riding in the rumble seat. For those who are too young to know what a rumble seat is, it is an upholstered exterior seat which folded into the rear of a car. Rumble seat passengers are exposed to the elements and receive no protection from the regular passenger compartment top.

This year the Chamber of Commerce once again asked if we would drive Santa in the Christmas Parade. The Shay Model A had been driven very little since last year’s parade. I decided to get it out and drive it over the Thanksgiving holiday to make sure everything was in good working order before the parade. My granddaughters, ages twelve, ten, and seven, spent several days with us at Thanksgiving. They loved to ride in the rumble seat. Since only two could ride at a time in the rumble seat, there was always a discussion about who would ride there. The adults also enjoyed riding in the rumble seat. The two youngest granddaughters were riding in the front of the Model A when they looked through the tiny rear window and caught their parents kissing in the rumble seat. They thought that it was gross and very funny at the same time.


Whenever you drive an old car, you have instant friends. People will approach you and ask about the car. While I was driving with my granddaughters, we pulled into the gas station to put gas in the Model A. The station was busy, and we had to wait for a pump. My granddaughters were very animated, laughing and giggling in the rumble seat. The lady at the pump next to us came over to talk to us. She commented on the car, and how cute the girls were. She told me that the woman with her in the car was ninety-five years old and that she had been very excited to see the old car with the rumble seat. She remembered when she had ridden in rumble seats when she was young and told several stories about her rumble seat experiences.

When rumble seats were commonplace, most people wanted to ride in the front of the car, and the rumble seat was considered second best. Although rumble seats were fun and somewhat exciting to ride in, rumble seat riders were exposed to the wind, the noise, the bugs, the rain and the sun. People jokingly referred to the rumble seat as the mother-in-law seat. John Cougar Mellencamp included the song “Rumbleseat” on his 1985 album, Scarecrow. He sang, “I am a pitiful sight. I can't even get one thing right. I know just what it's like to be riding in the rumble seat.”


After seeing the Model A’s rumble seat, a customer at my shop told me a story about her own rumble seat experience: "I remember when I was teaching at a one-room school with all eight grades. My beau came courting one night, and after we had gone about a half-mile from home, I heard a slight noise which caused me to look through the rear window of the car. Grinning like a Cheshire Cat and peeking through from the other side sat my little brother, who had hidden in the rumble seat. Would you believe that my beau took him home instead of dumping him out and making him walk?" My cousin tells a similar story about his Dad. The difference in the stories is that his Dad was kicked out of the car and had to walk three miles back home.

Why is it that we get nostalgic when we see old cars. Why do those who remember rumble seats smile when they see one now? Nostalgia is a feeling of pleasure and sometimes slight sadness at the same time as you think about things that happened in the past. Nostalgia is selective memory. We remember the good things and don’t think about the bad. Nostalgia removes the rough edges from the good old days.


God wants us to leave the bad things that have happened to us in the past. He wants us to look to the future, but he does want us to remember. Psalms 105:4,5 (ICB) says, “depend on the Lord and his strength. Always go to him for help. Remember the wonderful things he has done. Remember his miracles and his decisions.” When we forget what God has done for us in the past, we aren’t likely to have a close relationship with him. In Psalms 78:11,12 (NRSV) the Psalmist wrote about the Ephraimites, “they did not keep God’s covenant but refused to walk according to his law. They forgot what he had done, and the miracles that he had shown them.”

The nineteenth-century American writer Ellen White wrote, “we have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us.” It is good to remind ourselves daily of our own experiences of God’s past protections and the ways He has rescued us. As we look forward to the future, it is helpful to remember how God has been there for us in the past. “Remember the old days. Think of the years already passed.” Deuteronomy 32:7 (NCV)


Gentle Reader, most of us tend to dwell on our current difficulties, whatever they may be, and to forget the many times that God has helped us in the past. In the Bible, we read that God regularly urged his people to remember the many ways that He had provided for them, or helped them, in the past and to believe that He would do so again. “Hold on to the Lord and do what He asks you to do. He has helped you before, and He will do it again” Joshua 23:8 (EECW) “I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6 (NLT)



Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Kalalau Trail

My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 29, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


Last month my wife and I hiked the Kalalau Trail on the Na Pali Coast of Kauai. The Na Pali Coast is a seventeen-mile road-less expanse along Kauai’s North Shore. It is an area filled with dramatic cliff faces, pristine beaches, and incredible beauty. Most people experience the Na Pali Coast by boat or helicopter, but the most adventurous experience it up close and personal by hiking the Kalalau Trail.

The Kalalau Trail is an 11-mile trail that provides the only land access to the rugged Na Pali Coast. The trail traverses five lush valleys and crosses above towering sea cliffs before ending at Kalalau Beach where it is blocked by sheer, fluted cliffs. Backpacker magazine has included the Kalalau Trail in its list of the ten most dangerous hikes in America. The magazine article states that the footing is treacherous after the island's abundant rainfall turns the track into a greasy slip and slide–not amusing when you're edging along a 300-foot cliff that spills straight into a rocky surf. But despite such dangers, tons of visitors continue to make the 11-mile (one way) pilgrimage to Kalalau, one of the world's most beautiful beaches. Kathy Valier, a Kauai resident who has written guidebooks on hiking the island, writes "the trail bed is narrow and crumbly, and I've talked with many people who have either fallen off the trail or seen it happen."


The day before we hiked the trail, we saw the Na Pali Coast by helicopter. The tour was incredible and gave us dramatic and up-close views of the emerald-hued cliffs with razor-sharp ridges that tower above the Pacific Ocean, revealing beautiful beaches and waterfalls that cascade to the lush valley floor. As amazing as the helicopter tour was, we were only able to spend a few minutes near the Na Pali Coast. I wanted to see more and made plans to hike the Kalalau Trail.

To be able to hike beyond the two-mile point on the trail, you have to purchase a permit from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources. The number of permits issued is very limited and must be purchased well ahead of time. Not that it mattered, because I was not prepared for a 22-mile backpacking trip. I didn’t have the time, equipment, or the physical stamina. But I dreamed of hiking the trail. I knew that was an impossible dream, so I set my sights a bit lower. I wanted to hike the trail to the first vantage point where I could get a good view of the Na Pali Coast.


We set out to accomplish our goal of walking a mile on the Kalalau Trail. That seemed like an easy goal. But the trail was steep, rocky, muddy and slick. The other hikers that we met on the trail were all much younger than us. We took our time and carefully made our way up the trail. There were places with steep drop-offs beside the trail. We hugged the rocky wall to the inside and continued to make our way upward. From trailhead to the first vantage point, the trail gains almost 800 feet in elevation. It is a strenuous hike. As we made our way upward, the hikers that we met coming back down encouraged us and told us how amazingly beautiful the view was.

It took us about an hour to carefully climb our way up to that first glimpse of the Na Pali Coast. We were not disappointed. There is no way to describe the view. Even though I had read descriptions of the scenery and seen photographs that were taken from that very spot, seeing it with my own eyes surpassed everything I had imagined. We stayed there for about fifteen minutes, taking photos and visiting with other hikers. That moment was a highlight of my vacation.


Since we have returned home, I have been obsessed with the Kalalau Trail. I have been reading anything I can find about it, and have watched scores of YouTube videos that people have made of their hike. The views from the hike are some of the most beautiful in the world, and there is no way to see them other than making the 22-mile hike. It is still a dream of mine to hike the Kalalau Trail, but I realize that it is all but impossible for me.

As a believer in Jesus Christ, I have something to look forward to that is even more exciting than the Kalalau Trail. God has made many promises in the Bible, and each one has been or will be fulfilled. But the return of Jesus is one of the greatest promises of all. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 (NKJV) gives us this promise, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”


Gentle Reader, I realize that my obsession with the idea of hiking the Kalalau Trail should pale in comparison to my eagerness for the return of Jesus. I wonder how I can spend so much time looking forward to earthly joys such as the beauty of the Na Pali Coast and spend so little time thinking about and anticipating the second coming of Jesus. “But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior.” Philippians 3:20 (NLT) Are you eagerly awaiting the return of Jesus?

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Giving Thanks



We had a lovely Thanksgiving and are continuing our Thanksgiving celebration through Sunday when the kids will be returning home. I appreciate the reminder to give thanks for our blessings, but realize that we should be giving thanks 365 days of the year. 

In the U.S. there has been an annual Thanksgiving observed since 1863.  In that year, with the county involved in a horrific Civil War, President Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring a day of Thanksgiving. 

One of the traditions of Thanksgiving is talking about the things we are thankful for.  There are many things, but I am truly thankful for my family, my country, my community, nature, and especially for Jesus Christ and the grace that he shows me.

The Greek word translated in the Bible as thanksgiving is eucharistia. The English spelling is Eucharist.  My dictionary gives the following definitions. 1. The sacrament of Holy Communion; the sacrifice of the Mass; the Lord's Supper. 2. The giving of thanks; thanksgiving.


The word that most people use to describe the Lord’s Supper means thanksgiving.  What a great thought.  The Lord’s Supper is a ceremony in which we give thanks for what Jesus has done for us.  The root word in Eucharist is charis.  Charis is normally translated as grace.  That makes sense.  Think with me for a moment.  What happens at the beginning of your Thanksgiving meal?  Someone says “grace”.  Why do we say that they say grace?  Saying grace is giving thanks. 

At a British conference on religions, experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith. They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death. The debate went on for some time until C.S. Lewis wandered into the room.  “What’s the rumpus about?” he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions. Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”


After some discussion, the conferees had to agree. The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, is singularly Christian.  Of all the world’s religions, only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.

In 2 Timothy 1:9, the Bible says, “He has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began”.

Before you were born there was grace for you.  Thank God for grace!  As wonderful as it is, grace is not well understood and often not really believed. We use the word a lot but rarely think about what it means. It's probably true that most of us think infrequently about God's grace. 

Part of our problem is in the nature of grace itself. Grace is scandalous. It’s hard to accept. It’s hard to believe. It’s hard to receive. We are skeptical when a telemarketer tells us, "I'm not trying to sell you anything. I just want to offer you a free trip to Hawaii." Automatically we wonder, "What's the catch?" because we have all been taught that "there's no free lunch."


Grace shocks us in what it offers. It frightens us with what it does for sinners. Grace teaches us that God does for others what we would never do for them. We would save the not-so-bad. God starts with prostitutes and then works downward from there. Grace is a gift that costs everything to the giver and nothing to the receiver. It is given to those who don't deserve it, barely recognize it, and hardly appreciate it.

Grace means that no one is too bad to be saved. The Bible is full of examples; Liars, cheaters, murderers, adulterers, prostitutes.  God specializes in saving really bad people.

Grace also means that some people may be too good to be saved. That is, they may have such a high opinion of themselves that they think they don't need God's grace. They may admit they are sinners but they don't admit they are spiritually dead.

This view of grace is hard for good people to accept because it means we must give up our "goodness" in order to be saved. We must admit that nothing we have done matters in the least when it comes to being forgiven by God. God has designed our salvation so that he alone gets the glory!

Ephesians 2:8,9 tells us,  “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast”.

Imagine what heaven would be like if you had to earn your way there. "I was a preacher." "I built churches across the world." "I gave a million dollars to world missions." "I had hundreds of baptisms at my meetings." "I volunteered at the hospital." “I baked cookies for the school kids.” As good as those things are they will not help forgive even one sin. They will not save you or help save you. 


Can you just imagine someone putting his arm around Jesus and saying, "You and me, Jesus, we did it: You died on the cross and I baked the cookies”? I am so thankful that it's not like that. When Jesus died on the cross, he paid the full price for your salvation. Jesus paid the price all by himself.

Grace is never cheap.  Grace costs the ultimate.  It is just that you and I aren’t the ones paying.  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life”.  John 3:16


Thank God for grace!   Look for grace in unexpected places. I know that you will find it. Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 1:14, "the grace of our Lord is exceedingly abundant".

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Kilauea Sunrise

My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 22, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


On my first morning in Kauai, I woke up early and slipped out of the condo before anyone else was awake. I headed out in the rental van looking for a place where I could watch the sunrise. As I headed east out of Princeville, I looked at the map on my phone, and it seemed that the nearest place that I would be able to see the sunrise would be Kilauea Point.

When I reached the small town of Kilauea, there was a gas station open, so I stopped to get a drink. It was still pitch-black outside. The cashier was a friendly older woman who struck up a conversation. Everything about me said that I was a tourist, down to the camera that was hanging around my neck. “You are sure up early this morning,” she said. “What do you have planned for today.” “I am going to find a place to watch the sunrise,” I told her. “I’ve never watched a sunrise,” the cashier answered. The idea that she had never seen the sunrise puzzled me, but I didn’t say anything.

There was no one else at the gas station, and I visited with the cashier for a few minutes. Her family had lived in the area for over one hundred years. She could remember when there were no tourists and almost no roads. Life hadn’t been easy for her and her family even though the area looked like paradise to me. As I walked out of the station and got back into the van, I was a little bit sad for this woman who had never watched a sunrise.


The drive out to Kilauea Point was less than two miles. There is a small parking area there, so I parked the van and got out, anticipating my first sunrise in Kauai. It was no longer pitch-black; there was just enough light so that I could see the surroundings. From my vantage point, I could see the dim outline of the Kilauea Lighthouse out on the point to my left. As I waited for the sun to come up, I was able to see many birds. Kilauea Point is a national wildlife refuge, and home to thousands of birds. I saw albatross, red-footed boobies, brown boobies, red-tailed and white-tailed tropicbirds, great frigatebirds, and shearwaters. The cliffs around the point were a bustle of activity. I also saw several nene, the native goose that is the state bird of Hawaii. The nene are endangered with fewer than one thousand left in the wild.


As the sky began to lighten, the clouds off to the northwest started to glow with color. I began taking pictures. The beauty of the area along with the sunrise filled my heart with joy as I soaked it all in. During the hour or more that I stayed there, only two other people stopped by. As I got back into the van and headed back to the condo, I once again thought about the woman that I had visited with earlier. She had lived her whole life within a few miles of here and yet had never experienced the sunrise. I hadn’t been on the island for twenty-four hours and yet I had just had one of the most enjoyable mornings of my life. Once again I felt sad for her.

I remembered the lyrics to a song by the folk singer Melanie. “Why sleep when the day has been called out by the sun. From the night 'cause the light's gonna shine on everyone. Why sleep when the sleep only closes up our eyes. Why sleep when we can watch the sunrise. Take you an apple and take you a song and watch a baby day be born.” When I see the sunrise, I think of new beginnings. Sunrise brings with it a new day, with new possibilities and new potential. Yesterday has been put to rest and a new day is born.


Recently I have gone through some very painful experiences in my life, but at the same time, I have been encouraged by people who had no idea what I was going through. The experience has helped me focus on the positive and try to leave the negative in the past. The prophet Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 43:18,19 (NCV), “The Lord says, ‘Forget what happened before, and do not think about the past. Look at the new thing I am going to do. It is already happening. Don’t you see it? I will make a road in the desert and rivers in the dry land.’”

God does not want us to focus on what had happened in the past; going through life looking in the rear-view mirror. But we so often can't help ourselves. We remember how people have hurt us and the mistakes we made. We need to look ahead and focus on the future. God wants to do new things in our lives.


Gentle Reader, a sunrise holds so much promise: a new day, a new opportunity, a fresh start. If the night has been difficult, get up and watch the sun come up. Witnessing a sunrise is a soul-healing process. As the intense colors emerge from the horizon and break across the sky, think about what Jesus said in Matthew 6:34 (TPT), “refuse to worry about tomorrow, but deal with each challenge that comes your way, one day at a time. Tomorrow will take care of itself.” Don’t be like the woman who lived her whole life on the beautiful island of Kauai and yet never witnessed a sunrise.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Remembering Leroy


When I was a young boy, I used to eagerly read the “My Most Unforgettable Character” story each month in the Reader’s Digest. I read the Reader’s Digest from cover to cover, but I always looked forward to reading “My Most Unforgettable Character.” In real life, my most unforgettable character is Leroy Borton.

Leroy spent many years in Mena, Arkansas and was a big part of our lives. He spent most of his time while he was in Mena at our shop. He loved to be involved with cars. In the days before the internet, Leroy was the internet for many of us in the car business. He had a little black book of contact information for most of the salvage yards in the Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas area. He would find, order and pick up parts for me, my Dad, my Uncle Delbert, and many other friends from the Mena area. He knew just about anyone who was in the car business in Mena and offered his services to anyone. Many days I saw him sit in my shop and spend the entire day on the phone with salvage yards hunting parts.

For the past few weeks, whenever someone who knew Leroy would come to the shop, we would remember Leroy fondly, and everyone had a few stories to tell about him. Dale Moll was one of the good friends the Leroy made in Mena. While Dale and I were reminiscing, he told me the story of the first time he met Leroy. Dale had a body shop in Mena and rebuilt a lot of wrecks. He had just purchased a car in Dallas and asked my Dad if he knew anyone who would be willing to haul the car to Mena. My Dad said that he had a cousin who would probably be able to get the car. Dale talked to Leroy on the phone and made the arrangements for him to pick up the car. When Leroy pulled up in front of Dale’s shop with the car, before Dale noticed that someone was there, Leroy was out of his car and unloading Dale’s car off the trailer. Dale had no idea that Leroy was in a wheelchair when he had hired him to pick up the car. It was a big surprise to see a man in a wheelchair unloading the trailer. Dale went outside and asked Leroy if he needed help getting the car off the trailer. Leroy answered matter of factly, “no, I’ve got it.”


Dale had lots of stories to tell. He and Leroy became good friends, and Leroy spent a lot of time in Dale’s home. One of Dale’s favorite stories was about the time that Leroy was driving a Mazda RX-7 cross-country to deliver it to California. As he was driving across Arizona, the road was straight, and you could see for miles. The was no traffic, and Leroy liked to drive fast. He had the cruise control set at 110 mph. Leroy never saw the cop, but the cop saw him and pulled him over for speeding. When Leroy handed the cop his driver’s license, the cop noticed that the license was for hand controls only. He asked Leroy about it, and Leroy showed him the sawed-off shovel handle that he used to press the pedals. The cop just shook his head and told him to slow it down a bit and let him go on his way.

Not all patrolmen were as understanding. For several years whenever Leroy was driving between Hot Springs and Little Rock he avoided Highway 70 and drove 20 miles out of his way to avoid that section of highway. He had a couple of encounters with a hard line patrolman who had no mercy for the fact that Leroy drove without hand controls. The last time he stopped Leroy, the cop wasn’t going to let Leroy leave because he didn’t have hand controls. As Leroy politely conversed about the situation with the cop, (I wasn’t there, but I’m sure Leroy was very polite) the cop said, “I should just take you to jail.” Leroy answered, “why don’t you just do that. I’ve got nothing I have to do, and I could use a place to stay and three meals a day.” When the cop couldn’t get ahold of anyone to impound Leroy’s car, he let him go but said, “if I ever catch you again I will send you to jail.” Leroy must have believed him because for several years he would not drive on that stretch of road.


Another mutual friend, Bob Baker, remembered the time that his daughter was born. Bob and his wife Judy brought their new baby daughter to our house for a visit. Leroy was there visiting at the time. We all made over the baby and commented how cute she was. Leroy wanted his picture taken with Judy and the baby. He had Judy sit on his lap in the wheelchair holding the baby. When the picture was taken, Leroy said with a wry smile, “I want a copy of that picture to send to my ex-wife.”

I was thankful that my kids knew Leroy and got to grow up with him around. To them, the wheelchair was quite normal, and they loved it when he would take them for a wheelchair ride. Because of Leroy, when they saw someone else in a wheelchair they were neither afraid nor were they intimidated or overly curious. At a local Mom and Pop restaurant that we went to, the owner's son, Sid, was severely disabled and in a wheelchair. Many patrons would stare, and some people would not go to the restaurant because Sid’s presence made them uncomfortable. My son Gavin would always talk to Sid just as he would talk to anyone else. The owners mentioned to us several times how much they appreciated Gavin.


As I sit at my computer writing, I can see a Governor Winthrop Desk in the corner of the living room. That desk will always be a reminder to me of Leroy’s thoughtfulness and generosity. When Leroy was in Mena, he spent a lot of time in our home. He loved to come over for a meal and visit with us. During one of the visits, my wife Gina was talking with him about the desk she was saving up to buy. She wanted a special kind of desk called a Governor Winthrop Desk. The next time that he came over Leroy asked Gina, “have you found the desk that you want?” Gina said that a furniture store in town had one that she liked. “I would like to buy it for you, “Leroy said. When Gina protested, Leroy said, “You have fed me many times, and I made good money on the car that Richie just built for me. I want to do it.” That desk will always be a reminder to me of the kind of person that Leroy was.

Whenever things are a bit tough and aren’t going the way I would like them to, I always think about Leroy and how he handled the challenges that life gave him. His optimism and cheerfulness in the face of very difficult situations impressed me. His determination to do things for himself and not be a burden to others was evident to anyone who knew him. I’m sure that I am not the only person who counts Leroy as their most unforgettable character.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Warning Labels

My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 15, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


In my occupation as an auto bodyman and painter, I have painted many unusual things. One of the most unusual was a Bandit Wood Chipper that I painted for my cousin. Wood chippers have powerful feed systems with large chipper openings that allow you to break down limbs and branches. One of the things that I had to do before I could paint the wood chipper was to remove all the decals and stickers. So that I would know where to put the new decals when I finished painting, I took pictures of all the decals and locations for reference.

Wood chippers are very dangerous machines. I have never used one, but after reading all the warning decals, I have a new found respect for the dangers involved.


One warning label reads “DANGER! STOP TO THINK!! Reaching or kicking into the infeed spout can cause serious injury or death! DO NOT reach with your hand or kick with your foot inside the feed spout. The feedrolls are very powerful. Once your hand or foot is grabbed by the feedrolls, you can be pulled into the chipper. Do not think you will be able to pull yourself out of the feedrolls. They will not let go!” Another one reads “DANGER! SEVERE INJURY OR DEATH CAN OCCUR! UNLESS THESE INSTRUCTIONS ARE FOLLOWED.”


Do you think that Bandit Industries Inc. is serious about their warnings? Are they plain enough for you to understand? The wood chipper was covered with these warnings. I took 30 pictures of warning labels. The manufacturer wants to make sure that you understand the dangers of working with this machine.


The wording on this label made me smile; the company is very serious about their warnings. “BRUSH CHIPPERS ARE VERY DANGEROUS MACHINES TO OPERATE! READ AND BELIEVE THIS WARNING DECAL!” They want you to read and believe. One line on this warning decal reads "There have been MANY ACCIDENTS involving the feed rolls, resulting in the amputation of hands, arms, feet, legs, and DEATH. DO NOT let this happen to you!”

These warnings made me think of the Bible and all the directions and warnings that God has placed in it. In Jeremiah 6:10 (NET) the prophet says, “Who would listen if I spoke to them and warned them? Their ears are so closed that they cannot hear! Indeed, what the Lord says is offensive to them. They do not like it at all.” Why is it that we don't want to listen to the word of the Lord? When I read the warnings on a piece of machinery, I take them seriously, but if I read it in the Bible, I don't want to listen.

It seems that all products come with warning labels. Some of them seem very silly. A can of air freshener has the warning, “do not spray on face or eyes.” That seems reasonable, but I couldn’t quite understand why it contained the warning, “keep out of reach of children and teenagers." Nytol sleep aid tablets have the warning, “may cause drowsiness.”  Vidal Sasson hair dryers want to make sure that you “do not use while sleeping.” A Superman costume comes with this warning; “This costume does not enable flight or super strength.”


Some warnings are very obvious such as, "May irritate eyes,” found on a can of self-defense pepper spray. Or, "do not use orally," on a toilet bowl cleaning brush. A hammer manufacturer thought it was necessary to include the warning, "may be harmful if swallowed." A bag of peanuts has the warning, “may contain peanuts.” But other warnings make you scratch your head and wonder why. Like the bottle of shampoo that contains the following warning; “Caution: The contents of this bottle should not be fed to fish.” Or the clothing washing instructions that say, "do not wear for sumo wrestling."

Because of these often silly warnings, Most of us don’t pay any attention to the warnings placed on the products that we use. But some of them are very important, such as the ones found on the wood chipper that I painted.

The Bible contains a clear warning in Romans 6:23 (KJV).  As clear as the warning decals on a wood chipper. It says "The wages of sin is death." That is clear. Thankfully the verse doesn't end there. It also says "But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."


The warnings on the wood chipper were not placed there because Bandit Industries Inc. doesn't want you to have any fun. They were not placed there just to restrict the user. They were placed there for the benefit and safety of the user. God's commandments are like the warnings on the wood chipper. They are not to restrict us; they are for our benefit. They are to keep us safe.

Gentle Reader, many times we look at God's law as a jail. We feel that it creates uncomfortable restrictions. We need to ask God to give us a love for his commandments, to instill in us a desire for the peace and safety of His law. 1 John 5:3 (NKJV) tells us "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” God’s warnings aren’t there to keep us from having fun. It is just the opposite. “Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the Lord. Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts.” Psalms 119:1,2 (NLT)

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Veterans Day



Veterans Day is a day to honor the men and women who served in the United States Armed Forces.  In 1954, President Eisenhower published a proclamation in the Federal Register, instructing citizens to recognize Veterans Day on Nov. 11. He wrote: “On that day, let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.” This year the Department of Veterans Affairs is broadening that tradition of observance and appreciation to include both Veterans and Military Families for the entire month of November.



According to the Department of Veterans Affairs Suicide Data Report, the veteran suicide rate averages 22 per day. Many more come home with significant problems as they try to return to non-military society. On this Veterans Day, please don't forget our veterans and the sacrifices they have made.

One of my ancestors who served his country is my great great great great grandfather, James Vowels.


According to a document that I found, James Vowels was a soldier in the Army of the Revolution.  James was born in Virginia in 1738. He enlisted in 1776 under Captain George Slaughter of the 8th Virginia Regiment.  He fought in the Battles of Brandywine on September 11, 1777, Germantown on October 4, 1777 and several others.  He wintered with his regiment at Valley Forge and served out the time of his enlistment faithfully.

When his enlistment was up, he came home to Virginia and married Anne Fields in April 1781.  After the wedding he again joined the Army and was at the siege of Yorktown.  After the surrender of Cornwallis on October 19 1781, he returned home to Culpepper County Virginia where he lived until his death on April 17, 1815.


My great great great great grandfather was a part of some of the most important events in American history.  He experienced the hardships of Valley Forge.  He was part of the Army that forced the English General Cornwallis to surrender and end the war.  He helped America gain its independence.  He was a true patriot.  I’m proud to be a descendant of James Vowels.

James Vowels served valiantly and did more than he was asked to do.  After the hardships he had gone through, I find it amazing that he left his new bride and re-enlisted in the army.  He was a man who definitely believed in what he was fighting for.

A local hero that we remember in Mena is Herbert A. Littleton.


Littleton was a United States Marine who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for falling on a grenade during the Korean War.

He was born on July 1, 1930, in Mena, Arkansas. He enlisting in the Marine Corps Reserve on July 29, 1948, for a one-year term. After the outbreak of the Korean War, Littleton reenlisted in the Marine Corps. He went to Korea with the 3rd Replacement Draft, fighting in South and Central Korean operations from December 17, 1950 until his death.

Littleton earned the nation's highest award for valor on April 22, 1951, at Chungehon. At the time he was serving as a Radio Operator with the First Marine Division. Littleton was standing watch when a large well-concealed enemy force launched a night attack from nearby positions against his company. PFC Littleton quickly alerted the forward observation team and immediately moved into position to assist in calling down artillery fire on the enemy force. When an enemy hand grenade was thrown into his vantage point shortly after the arrival of the remainder of the team, he threw himself on the grenade, absorbing its full impact with his own body. By his prompt action he saved the other members of his team from serious injury or death and enabled them to repulse the enemy attack. For his valor in the face of certain death Herbert A. Littleton was awarded the Medal of Honor.


At the Polk County Courthouse here in Mena, Arkansas there is a Polk County War Memorial that honors the fallen.The names of the Polk County citizens who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country are engraved on it.


Here are the names as they are engraved on the Memorial.





On this Veterans Day I will remember the men and women, such as Herbert A. Littleton and all the rest of those whose names are engraved on the Polk County War Memorial, who died while serving their country and I will also remember my great great great great grandfather, James Vowels, and the multitude of other men and women who have sacrificed so much serving their county.  Thank You to our men and women who served, are serving, and especially those who sacrificed their lives.