Aviation Movies x5: To the Wild Blue Yonder

Kathy and I saw the new Top Gun: Maverick movie recently at The Grand in Stamford. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it got me to thinking about other classic movies dealing with aviation, planes and pilots. All of these movies listed here were made before there was any such thing as computer-generated effects, so when it looks like the pilots are performing amazing feats of aerial daring-do, they really are.

As always, I’m not saying these are the best films ever made, and it’s certainly not an exhaustive list of aviation movies. And remember this is for “Classics,” which for our purposes applies to movies that are at least 30 years old. Otherwise, I might have to include 2004’s The Aviator with Leonardo Di Caprio and Cate Blanchett, or 2012’s Red Tails with Cuba Gooding, Jr, Terrance Howard, and Michael B. Smith.

But I digress.

5. Top Gun, 1986 – Tom Cruise stars as “Sierra Hotel” naval aviator Pete Mitchell, call sign “Maverick.” He gets sent to the Navy’s elite school for air-to-air combat, learns what it means to be part of a team, struggles with great personal loss, and finds love along the way. Tragically, veteran stunt pilot Art Scholl was killed while filming a flat-spin maneuver for this movie. Also with Anthony Edwards, Kelly McGillis, Meg Ryan, Val Kilmer, and Tom Skerritt, and directed by Tony Scott.

4. The Right Stuff, 1983 – Who’s the best pilot you ever saw? Okay, yes, the book by Tom Wolfe is better, but this is still pretty good. The movie opens with Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepherd) breaking the sound barrier and goes on to cover the development of the American space program, the origins of NASA, and choosing the first seven Mercury astronauts. Also with Scott Glenn, Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, and Barbara Hershey.

Robert Redford stars in 1975’s The Great Waldo Pepper, one of my favorite movies about planes and pilots.

3. The Great Waldo Pepper, 1975 – Robert Redford stars as a barnstorming pilot in the 1920s, a veteran flyer of World War I, who struggles to find the same honor and chivalry on the ground that he knew in aerial combat. Directed by George Roy Hill, and co-starring Susan Sarandon, Edward Herrmann, Bo Svenson, and Geoffrey Lewis. Most of this movie was filmed in (and above) the Texas Hill Country, and the aerial shots were not filmed in a studio – that really IS Robert Redford out there, climbing out of the cockpit, without a parachute.

2. The Blue Max, 1966 – Young George Peppard plays handsome but obnoxious pilot Lt. Bruno Stachel. Disliked as lower-class and overly ambitious, he tries to gain acceptance among his fellow pilots in the German Air Force of 1918 by earning the “Blue Max,” the highest German medal awarded for aerial combat, given for shooting down 20 enemy planes. Also starring Ursula Andress, Jeremy Kemp, and James Mason. This movie has a number of absolutely amazing aerial sequences.

1. The High and the Mighty, 1954 – Written by aviation writer Ernest K. Gann from his novel, and directed by William Wellman. What does it really mean to be a “pilot,” to push the envelope and test the limits? John Wayne stars as the First Officer on a commercial flight from Honolulu to San Francisco, under airline Captain Robert Stack. Also with Claire Trevor, Paul Fix, and Phil Harris. This movie would become the template for every big disaster picture made in the 60s and 70s, and Robert Stack would parody his character in the 1980 spoof, Airplane! But this is truly a classic.

Five more favorite films about flying –

Wings, 1927 – Winner of the first Academy Award for Best Picture, and the only silent movie ever to win it. Clara Bow, Buddy Rogers, and Gary Cooper star in a great flick about pilots who fall for the same nurse.

Only Angels Have Wings, 1939 – Cary Grant as a pilot trying to run an aerial cargo service in South America and deal with Jean Arthur and Rita Hayworth. Also starring Thomas Mitchell (1939 was a busy year for him!) and directed by Howard Hawks.

The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress, 1944 – A documentary about an actual B-17 bomber successfully completing 25 combat missions over Europe; directed by noted filmmaker William Wyler.

Twelve O’Clock High, 1949 – Gregory Peck as the tough-as-nails commander of a “hard-luck” squadron of B-17s in World War II. This is an awesome story of real leadership. Dean Jagger won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and Hugh Marlowe co-stars.

The Spirit of St. Louis, 1957 – Jimmy Stewart stars in a docudrama about Charles Lindbergh’s first successful trans-Atlantic flight. Directed by Billy Wilder.

Well, that’s about it, so now please return your seat backs and tray tables to their full upright and locked positions and prepare for landing. And save me some popcorn.

The Regency Bridge

A Sight Worth Seeing – A Site Worth Visiting

Kathy and I were in the mood for a little daytrip recently. We didn’t really have the time (or money!) to go on a long trip, but we just wanted to get away for a few hours and see some different sights. After talking about it, we decided to head south towards Goldthwaite and San Saba, and see the Regency Bridge. It turned out to be a drive worth taking.

You may not be familiar with the Regency Bridge by name, but you have probably seen pictures of it, crossing high above the Colorado River between Mills and San Saba Counties. It’s the one-lane suspension bridge featured on the opening of the TV program Texas Country Reporter, and it was visited by then-Governor George W. Bush when it was dedicated and reopened following repairs in 1997. It has survived long enough to become the last suspension bridge in the state still open to vehicular traffic.

The Regency Bridge is a one-lane, wooden-decked suspension bridge high above the Colorado River between Mills and San Saba Counties. The bridge is 16’ wide, and the main span is 343’ long; the total length with approaches is 403’. It soars about 75’ to 100’ above the river that it crosses.

It is at the intersection of Mills County Road 433 and San Saba County Road 137 (both gravel roads), near the tiny community of Regency (population 25). It’s a little hard to find – there aren’t very many signs pointing the way – but in my opinion, well worth the effort if you enjoy Hill Country-type scenery and interesting Texas history.

Speaking of history – the current bridge is the third to span the Colorado at that location. The first was a traditional truss bridge, built in 1903. It only lasted 21 years – in 1924, a local rancher and his two sons were taking a herd of cattle across the bridge, which collapsed under the combined weight. The father and one son managed to survive, but the man’s nine-year-old son and several head of livestock were killed in the tragedy. There were no state funds available, but it was the only bridge for miles around, so Mills and San Saba Counties went in together and had the bridge rebuilt in 1931. Unfortunately, THAT bridge was lost in a flood in 1936.

Then in 1939, the counties hired the Austin Bridge Company out of Dallas to raise and improve the bridge at a cost of $30,000. They put up two tall welded-steel towers and strung – by hand – hundreds of feet of cabling to make the suspension bridge. The cables are 3.25” in diameter, each consisting of 475 strands of No. 9 galvanized wire, extending 16 feet beyond the bridge abutment towers and secured with tons of concrete. The wooden deck roadway is supported by timber stringers and steel floor beams with steel suspension rods.

To get to the bridge from Goldthwaite, take FM 574 West about 12 miles. Watch the County Road signs and turn off to the left – that’s south – on CR 432. You’ll go about seven or eight miles when you come to a dead end and a T-intersection. TURN LEFT – this is CR 433 – and go maybe a quarter of a mile, and you’ll see the approach to the bridge. Be advised this is a one-lane bridge with traffic coming and going from both sides. If you are approaching the bridge and see a vehicle coming towards you, be sure to stop short enough to allow them to get past you before you drive across. Also, please understand that cellular service is spotty at best, so don’t count on using the Maps app on your phone for navigation help.

When you cross the bridge in your car (and you’ll want to drive slowly to enjoy the magnificent views of the Colorado River), you can hear the rattle and rumble of the timbers as you drive across. And you can actually feel the bridge sway in the wind. Locally, it’s known as “The Swinging Bridge,” and this is why. But to really enjoy the bridge and the scenery, besides driving across, I’d suggest parking under the shade of some nearby live oaks and walking across. Anyone with a fear of heights, and families with young children should probably skip that part.

The Regency Bridge provides gorgeous views overlooking
the Colorado River between Mills and San Saba Counties.

Suspension bridges have several lessons to teach us. For one thing, as my dear friend, former Haskell pastor David Page used to teach: there are many spiritual truths which must be held in suspension against each other, just like the two ends of a suspension bridge – what he used to call “Biblical Tension.” Another lesson is to consider that the individual strands of cable that are used to hold up the bridge are tiny, almost flimsy. Bundle enough of them together, though, and look at the weight they can hold.

It’s an object lesson about teamwork and about the good we can accomplish when we work together.

An Anchor for the Soul

It’s always been interesting to me how we can read and be familiar with a given scripture verse, but then, an event will come along in our lives that gives us a whole new appreciation for that passage. For me, Hebrews 6:19 is just such a text.

The anchor, rather than the cross, was the most commonly-used symbol for Christianity up through about the fourth century. That symbolism is based on Hebrews 6:19.

Let me tell you a story.

Almost exactly five years ago – August 2017 – I was living with my elderly dad in Southeast Texas, as his caregiver and chief cook, driver, prescription sorter, and pretty much anything else he needed. Now, you have to realize that dad couldn’t walk – neuropathy had left him confined to a wheelchair, without the use of his legs and only limited use of his hands. Also, you need to understand that our little corner of the upper Texas Gulf Coast is prone to hurricanes, and sure enough, late that August, Hurricane Harvey hit, and it started raining. Over a four-day period beginning August 25, we received about 30 inches of rain. And then it got bad, averaging over an inch of rain per hour. For over two days. Dad had a rain gauge that could hold ten inches, and I was having to empty it twice a day. For real. We woke up at 3:30 am on August 31 with water in the house, ankle-deep and rising. It would get much higher.

It was a two-day process getting evacuated out of the area, first to a neighbor’s house, then a dry patch along a canal levee, then to a temporary shelter in a school cafetorium. The Nevada Air National Guard finally flew us out (God bless the High Rollers!), and we spent the next 13 months getting dad’s house cleaned out and rebuilt while he lived in a nursing home. The story ends well, but there’s one moment in particular that I remember and that’s where this scripture comes into focus.

There was one point where dad, his German Shepherd, and I were all in an airboat operated by a wonderful guy from Louisiana, part of the (unofficial) Cajun Navy. He carried us a couple of miles away to a farm to market road, where we were met by a giant big wheel pickup truck. The highway was flooded, too, but that truck was tall enough to go through anyway.

So I’m standing there, in water over my waist, carrying the dog and putting her in the back of the truck, then several of us lifted dad in his wheelchair, and loaded him in the truck. Just for comparison, a nearby four-strand barbed wire fence had only the tops of the fenceposts still showing. I climbed in, and we took off (slowly) to the shelter.

Anyway, during that whole operation, at times standing in water up to my chest or deeper, with so much of my life under the floodwaters of Hurricane Harvey, in my mind I was thinking about several scripture verses that seemed to apply. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you,” God says in Isaiah 43:2. And Psalm 29:3 – “The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD thunders over the mighty waters.” In Matthew 7, Jesus said that everyone who hears His teaching and puts it into practice is like a builder who constructed his house on a solid foundation, so that when “the rains came, and the floods rose, and the winds blew and beat against the house, the house stood firm.” But it was Hebrews 6:19 that really spoke to me: We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure…

Right then, I needed to be reminded of our hope. I had a garbage bag with a change of socks, some prescription meds, my wallet and cell phone – that and the clothes on my back was about all I had that I could count on. And to tell you the truth, right about then I was running pretty low on hope.

But you see, in Christ, we do indeed have this hope that cannot be shaken. Hope in the One who doesn’t change with the times. Hope in the One who is greater than ourselves. Hope in His unshakeable power and limitless grace. Hope that never fails. Hope in His constant presence and abiding love. Hope, because we know that God truly is above the thunderstorm, and hope because we know that we have built our lives on Christ, so that when the winds rage and the floodwaters rise, we are on the Solid Rock, and we can stand because of Him.

The writer of Hebrews was right: this hope is indeed an anchor for our souls, firm and secure. And the anchor holds.

Diamonds & Dirt & Heading for Home

In honor of this week’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game, and with your kind permission, I’d like to repeat a column I wrote some time ago about why I enjoy the game. Because, as many others have said before, there is wisdom we can learn from baseball that translates directly into a well-lived life.

For one thing, I love the more-realistic expectations of baseball, especially compared to other sports. The best hitter who ever lived (Ted Williams), in the best season he ever had (1941), had a batting average of .406. That means that six times out of ten when he came up to bat, he FAILED to hit the ball. Can you imagine a successful wide receiver who dropped six passes out of every ten thrown to him, or a basketball player who missed six out of every ten shots he took? Not likely. The truth is, many of us fail more often than we succeed. Success in life is measured, though, not by how many times we fail, but by how many times we get back up and keep trying. Or, as my youngest daughter has been known to say, fall down six times, get up seven.

Another thing about baseball – you have to focus on the situation at hand. You can only play one game at a time. Learn to stay in the moment, and don’t worry too much about the past or the future. When you make an error, shake it off, and be ready for the next ball hit to you.

I love the teamwork of a well-disciplined ball club. I mean, certainly I understand that teamwork is a part of football, basketball, etc. They are, after all, called TEAM sports. And of course I realize that no running back is going to do very well without a good line blocking for him. But to me, there is unmatched beauty and elegance in watching an infield execute a beautiful – even graceful – 5-4-3 double play (the ball is hit to the third baseman, who throws it to second for one out, who then relays it to first for another out). These guys have practiced so long and so effectively together, they make it look easy and effortless. And I assure you, it is not.

Even something seemingly simple like a fielder hitting the cutoff man, who fires to the catcher, to cut down a runner trying to score – such things take mind-numbing hours of work and skill to accomplish.

You have to trust your teammates. A pitcher has to trust the fielders behind him, to provide good defense. Fielders have to trust that pitchers will make quality pitches. So also in life. Surround yourself with Godly companions and support each other.

Baseball is the only sport where the DEFENSE has the ball. It’s up to the offense – the team that is batting – to make something good happen.

Some other principles from baseball that apply to life:

  • Realize that sometimes, the ball just takes a bad hop on you.
  • There’s a time for preparation, and a time for performance.
  • Speaking of time – Baseball has no clock. You play until you’re done. Sometimes, you play extra innings.
  • Even the best players will sometimes have an off day. And even the most average player will sometimes have the game of his life.
  • In a regular season, every team is going to win 54 games; every team is going to lose 54 games. It’s what you do with the other 54 games that counts.
  • Blown calls and bad trades are part of baseball. Deal with it.
  • Sometimes you have to take one for the team.
  • Play with passion. Don’t be afraid to dive for the ball. It’s okay to get dirt on your uniform.
  • There’s a time to bunt, and a time to swing for the fences. Each is valuable in its place.
  • Make the most of the opportunities that you have. Don’t waste good chances; you don’t know how many you’ll get.
  • The bigger the situation, the more you need to relax. Too much tension is never good.
  • You can’t steal first.
  • You win some; you lose some; some get rained out.
  • Above all else – the main thing is always to get safely home.

Now – Play Ball!

Exploring Galveston

One thing about living in Texas – there’s no shortage of nice spots to visit, and fun things to see and do. I love going to Fredericksburg, and I enjoy the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex, and San Antonio is always great. But of all the terrific places to go in Texas (and no disrespect to another other locations), Galveston remains my favorite. I grew up just a couple of hours away from there, and I still love it.

There are just so many fascinating places to visit, and so many things to do. Or, for that matter, get a comfortable chair and just sit on the beach and do nothing. (Be sure to leave your phone in your motel room.) Here are some of my favorite things to do on the Island City.

Visit the Strand.

Beginning in the 1880s, Galveston’s Financial District was a prominent center of banking and commerce, the “Wall Street of the South.” Today, the restored buildings are home to all kinds of shops and stores, from upscale boutiques to architectural salvage, and from unusual antiques to old-school soda fountains and ice cream shoppes. You can spend hours walking up and down these old sidewalks. It’s also home of the city’s giant Mardi Gras celebration, and the annual Christmas extravaganza, “Dickens on the Strand.”

This brightly-painted mural is near “The Strand” in old Galveston.

Tour the museums.

Galveston is home to numerous museums – one of the largest is their Train Museum, located at the intersection of Strand Street and 25th. The high-rise Santa Fe depot has been restored and features several fascinating exhibits, with life-size mannequins posed as travelers from the past. Out back, they have one of the largest private collections of rail equipment in the country, including diesel and steam locomotives, passenger cars, freight equipment, and more. If trains aren’t your thing, there are plenty of other museums in the city, including Seawolf State Park, with the World War II submarine U.S.S. Cavalla on permanent exhibit. Want to learn a little science? Visit the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig and Museum, or tour one several art museums in the city. There really is something for every taste.

Ride the ferry.

There are two ways on and off the island in your car – one is the causeway and bridge coming down I-45 from the mainland, and the other is by the free ferry boat operated by TxDOT, between Galveston’s eastern side to the Bolivar peninsula. Visiting Bolivar is worth the trip – there’s a beautiful historic old lighthouse there – but even if you don’t need to drive up there, I would recommend driving to the ferry, walking up and riding it across and back. Watch for dolphins as you head across the ship channel.

Hit the beach.

As an island, of course, Galveston has miles of good beaches. If you enjoy fishing, there are several jetties and piers for you to indulge yourself – just be sure to have a valid fishing license and know the regs, because the game wardens will check you and your catch. And there are great places to walk in the surf, or just sit and enjoy the sights and sounds of the gulf. If you’re driving on Seawall Boulevard, there are plenty of good places to park. You’ll have to pay, but it’s cheap, easy and secure to just use your phone and bill a credit or debit card.

Our family enjoys visiting the park at the west end of island. It’s less crowded, and if you go at low tide, you can find some gorgeous seashells, and maybe even a sand dollar or two.

Sunrise over the Gulf, as seen from our hotel.

Learn a little history.

Galveston was a major port during the Civil War. After that war, it was where Union troops landed, and it was there that General Order #3 was announced, proclaiming an end to slavery. That day was June 19, 1865, known since as “Juneteenth.” There’s lots of history all around you on the island. You can take a driving tour of numerous historic homes – many predating the “Big Hurricane” of September 1900. Which, by the way, is still the most catastrophic loss of life due to natural causes in the nation’s history – something like 8,000 people perished.

Climb aboard the tall ship Elissa, and “learn the ropes” of antique sailing vessels. Tour the beautiful Victorian-era Moody Mansion. And so much more.

Enjoy some good food.

There is absolutely no shortage of great places to eat around here, regardless of your price range. If you’re on the Strand, visit the Hubcap Grill for one of their awesome burgers. Or check out the Star Drug Store and see their authentic soda fountain.

Of course, where you find the sea, you’ll find the seafood, and Galveston has plenty. Gaido’s on the Seawall has been open since 1911, and features a nautical theme. It’s a bit pricey, but the food is amazing. If you’re near Pleasure Pier, check out the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, based on – you guessed it – the well-known Tom Hanks movie. (“Momma always said life was like a box of chocolates.”) Or try a really awesome shrimp po-boy sandwich at Benno’s Cajun Seafood. And of course, there are plenty of chain restaurants and fast-food places, if the kids insist on eating chicken nuggets.

However you enjoy your “down-time,” you’ll find something to like about Galveston. I’m ready to go back. As far as I’m concerned, it’s always “Island Time.”

“Do You Trust Me?”

(Thanks to Max Lucado and His book God Came Near for helpful insight on this passage.)

All of us are faced every day with many questions – what to wear, what to eat, etc. But there are questions, and then there are questions. And in John 11, Jesus asks Martha a question that is definitely in that second category.

The chapter opens with Jesus learning that Lazarus, His friend, was sick – but mysteriously, Jesus does NOT immediately head for Bethany where Lazarus lives. Instead, Jesus delays for a couple of days before leaving. The disciples are just as puzzled as we are by His behavior.

Jesus arrives to find Lazarus has been dead for four days. Lazarus’ sister, Martha, goes out to meet Jesus on the road, and she immediately begins with the accusations. “If only you had been here, my brother would not have died!”

We have to understand some of the cultural forces at work here. With their brother dead, Martha and her sister Mary didn’t have a lot of economic options. It wasn’t like they were getting a big life insurance check when Lazarus died. And you certainly don’t get the impression that they were financially wealthy – after all, they lived in Bethany, which means, “House of the Poor.” You wouldn’t expect to find a lot of money in a place called “Poor-town.”

So Martha, ever the practical one, was probably looking past her grief, already wondering how she and Mary were going to get by. There weren’t very many jobs available for women.

“If only You’d been here, my brother would not have died.” It’s a sentiment that many of us have wanted to shout at God at one time or another. Where is God when a loved one is suffering from cancer, or our business goes under, or a child is killed in a car wreck? Where is God when it hurts?

So when Martha confronts Jesus for apparently being AWOL when He was needed most, Jesus doesn’t flinch. He says, somewhat cryptically, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha thinks Jesus is talking about something off in the future and says, “Yes, I know he will rise again in the resurrection in the last day.” (As if to say, “That’s not going to be of much help now.”)

But Jesus stuns her (and us) when He says, “I AM the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies. And whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” But then He asked her this question: “Do you trust me?”

Now, your Bible for that verse probably says something like, “Do you believe this?,” but I don’t think that does justice to what Jesus is really saying. You see, for many people, believing is a matter of intellectual agreement, something that takes place only in the mind. Yes, I believe I should watch my diet and exercise more. Yes, I believe that wearing seat belts is good. Yes, I believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

We say we believe those things, but we may or may not actually DO anything about them. That’s because in our language, BELIEVING something doesn’t necessarily mean ACTING on it.

But Jesus is not asking Martha if she understands His words intellectually. He’s asking, “Do you trust me?” And it’s the same question He asks us today. He wants to know, even when we don’t understand what is happening or why – do we still trust Him?

  • Do we trust Him in the hospital waiting room?
  • Do we trust Him in the police station and the courthouse?
  • Do we trust Him when our most cherished dreams come crashing down?
  • Do we trust Him at the cemetery?

The fact is, it’s easy to trust him when life is going well and everyone is healthy and there’s plenty of money in the bank. But what about when “things fall apart, and the center does not hold?” Do we still trust Him then?

Now of course, we know the end of this story. We know that Jesus went to the cemetery and called out Lazarus and there is a great happy ending. But Martha didn’t know that any of those things were about to happen. All she knew was that the brother that she loved was dead and her world was upside down. She had no idea what was coming in the future, but here stands Jesus in front of her, asking her to trust Him.

Martha gives the answer for eternity. “Yes, Lord. I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

Good words, but more than that. It’s the response of a broken but trusting heart.

It’s still the response He’s looking for today.

“Jefferson Survives”

As we approach the Fourth of July, I want to tell you a true story of American history – one that is so remarkable, if some Hollywood scriptwriter came up with it, he or she would be laughed out of the room, for inventing such nonsense. Except that in this case, it’s really true. It’s a story that revolves around two of our nation’s Founding Fathers.

Over their lifetimes, Thomas Jefferson (left) and John Adams were co-signers of the Declaration of Independence, the best of friends, and the worst of enemies. They would eventually rebuild their relationship through a series of personal letters, before dying on the same day – July 4, 1826.

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were about as different as two people could be in the 1700s. Jefferson was tall and lanky; Adams was short and stocky. Jefferson was a slave-holding Virginian and a farmer; Adams was a Massachusetts abolitionist and successful lawyer and author. Jefferson believed in the supremacy of state’s rights and feared a strong central government; Adams thought that a strong central national government was essential, especially regarding the economy, trade, and foreign relations.

Yet despite these differences, the two men became fast friends and each of them held a deep and mutual respect for the other. They were co-signers of the Declaration of Independence, on July 4, 1776. In fact, some historians believe it was Adams who insisted that Jefferson be the primary author of the final draft of the Declaration. Adams served as George Washington’s Vice President, while Jefferson became the young nation’s first Secretary of State. That was when the relationship began to fracture.

Divided over opposing views of the French Revolution and the future of American government, the two became bitter political enemies. Their feud was so bitter, so angry, that when Jefferson defeated Adams in 1800 – involving what some said was a corrupt vote in the House of Representatives. Adams left town and would not attend Jefferson’s inauguration. They would not speak for twelve years.

Finally, another of the nation’s founders, Benjamin Rush (also a signer of the Declaration), came up with a scheme to reunite the old friends. He wrote to each of them, claiming that he had been in touch with the other, and saying that the other man was wanting to rekindle the friendship. On January 1, 1812, Adams wrote a short note to Jefferson at Monticello. Over the next 14 years, the two would exchange 158 letters.

Adams tended to write longer letters and used a LOT more words (perhaps true to his background as an attorney and a writer). Those who have studied the correspondence note that Adams was more confrontational and aggressive, while Jefferson maintained the cool composure for which he was so well known.

They talked about their views on religion and philosophy, and they discussed the long-term effects of the French Revolution, which had been one of the main causes of their initial dispute. Jefferson acknowledged the unfairness of the name-calling done against Adams by some of Jefferson’s followers. Eventually, each had regained the trust of the other. In July 1813, Adams wrote, “You and I ought not to die before we have explained ourselves to each other.”

Their later letters continued to cover a wide range of topics and subjects – even anticipating the growing sectional differences that would eventually lead to the American Civil War. But what really comes through their notes to one other is the tender affection and abiding respect each had for the other. Even as the two elderly statesmen grew older and more infirm, they continued to correspond. In 1823, Jefferson wrote, “Crippled wrists and fingers make writing slow and laborious. But while writing to you, I lose the sense of these things, in the recollection of ancient times, when youth and health made happiness out of every thing.”

Jefferson, 83, was suffering from an intestinal disorder on July 3, 1826. He lapsed into a coma that afternoon and lingered in a semi-conscious state before dying just after noon the next day. Five hundred miles away, John Adams, now 90, was dying from typhoid – the same disease that had claimed his beloved wife Abigail, in 1818. Historians note that his final words were, “Jefferson survives”– not knowing that his beloved friend, foe, correspondent, and fellow patriot, had in fact, died only hours earlier.

It was July 4, 1826 – exactly fifty years to the day since the Declaration of Independence.

AND MORE of the Movies, Times 5

If you have free time during the summer, how do you like to spend it? Everyone is different, of course, and we all have our personal favorite activities, passions, likes, and dislikes, but for me, I really enjoy watching a good movie. I don’t think I’m the only one – there’s a reason why movie theaters were one of the first categories of businesses to feature air conditioning for the comfort of their customers.

Here are a couple of movie categories we haven’t talked about before, and some of my favorites of each. Just a reminder – I’m not saying these are necessarily the BEST of these, but that these are some that I have enjoyed and can recommend for you.

Favorite Musicals – Hollywood doesn’t make very many musicals anymore, and I agree that having characters burst out in song at various moments is at least a little strange. But, oh man, sometimes the songs are so amazingly wonderful, and here are some favorites.

5. White Christmas (1954). The story and title song are reruns from Holiday Inn, but our family really loves this movie. My favorite is “Count Your Blessings” with Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney. Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen also star, and don’t miss Dean Jagger and Mary Wickes in strong supporting roles.

4. Stormy Weather (1947). This movie features an all-black cast and was marketed back in the days of segregation, but I think it’s as entertaining as it can be. Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Cab Calloway, Dooley Wilson, and Lena Horne head an all-star cast. And don’t miss the Nicholas Brothers doing their unbelievable dance number up and down the stairs.

3. The Wizard of Oz (1939). My mom once told me that when she went to the theater as a young girl in the early 1940s to see this picture, there were audible gasps from the audience when Dorothy opens the door to discover that she is in “Munchkin-land.” And remember, there’s no place like home.

2. The Sound of Music (1965). Loosely based on a true story. When I was in the fifth grade, we took a field trip to the theater to see this movie. It has so many really memorable songs it’s hard to pick a favorite, but I always enjoyed the puppet-show song, “The Lonely Goatherd.” And of course, “Edelweiss.” Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer star.

1. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944). Another movie with a really strong cast. Leon Ames, Mary Astor, and Harry Davenport are all great, but Judy Garland just shines under the direction of her future husband Vincente Minnelli. And of course, there are several great songs, but when Judy sings, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to her on-screen little sister Margaret O’Brien, it’s a moment of heartwarming charm and grace.

Tom Hanks in an image from Apollo 13, directed by Ron Howard.

Favorite Tom Hanks Movies – Okay, I have to break one of my own rules. When I consider movies for inclusion here, they generally need to be pre-1990, but for this guy, I’ll make some allowances. Tom Hanks has been called the “Jimmy Stewart” of his generation because of his ability to play any part, make it believable and win over the audience. I don’t disagree.

5. The Green Mile (1999). Tom Hanks as the guard captain of a penitentiary’s Death Row – then he meets a very large and very strange inmate (Michael Clark Duncan, RIP) with an unusual gift. With David Morse, Bonnie Hunt, James Cromwell, and Patricia Clarkson. Caution for language and thematic material.

4. Forrest Gump (1994). A wonderful story about a mentally challenged man whose decency and simple kindness enable him to overcome numerous challenges. Sally Field, Gary Sinise, Robin Wright, and Haley Joel Osment co-star. Some cautions for thematic content.

3. A League of Their Own (1992). Co-starring Geena Davis, Rosie O’Donnell, Madonna, and Garry Marshall, and directed by Penny Marshall. Tom plays a washed-up, alcoholic ex-baseball player who is forced into managing a team of women ballplayers while the men are away at World War II. There’s no crying in baseball.

2. Saving Private Ryan (1998). Also with Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore, Barry Pepper, Vin Diesel, and many more, and directed by Steven Spielberg. Tom plays Captain Miller, a schoolteacher forced into a leadership role in World War II, as his unit makes the Normandy landing on D-Day and is then assigned to rescue a paratrooper far behind enemy lines. STRONG caution for graphic battle sequences and language.

1. Apollo 13 (1995). Directed by Ron Howard, and co-starring Gary Sinise, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Ed Harris, and Kathleen Quinlan. “Houston, we have a problem.” This is the true story of the April 1970 moon mission that suffered a catastrophic failure in space, and the efforts to get the crew safely home. This movie manages to be gut-wrenching and suspenseful even if you know how the mission ended, and the character and resourcefulness shown here are truly inspiring. Just remember, “Failure is not an option.”

Here’s hoping to see you at the movies!

Reflections on the Fruit of the Spirit

One of my favorite things about summer is the amazing variety of sweet and delicious fruit that becomes readily available during these long hot days. Cantaloupes and watermelons, peaches, plums – even cherries and fresh summer apples – they’re so refreshing and delectable, and such a wonderful treat. A very special memory from when I was a child was stopping at a roadside fruit stand on a family vacation and eating a peach as big as a softball, with the wonderful, sweet, sticky juice running down my arm. What a delight!

With that in mind, it’s probably not surprising to learn that one of my favorite Bible passages is Galatians 5:22-23, where the Apostle Paul lists the nine qualities that he describes as the “Fruit of the Spirit.” Now, there is no shortage of devotional material on this text, but in my opinion, much of it misses the main point.

Throughout Galatians, Paul has been listing the large number of contrasts believers must face: works vs. faith; law vs. grace; children of Hagar vs. children of Sarah; human divisiveness vs. the oneness of God; slavery vs. freedom. The contrast he makes most frequently – and most eloquently – is flesh vs. Spirit. By the time he gets to chapter five, he is talking about the acts of the flesh – uncleanness of all sorts – versus the Fruit of the Spirit.

Specifically, he says, “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal. 5:19-21) Please read that list again. “Hatred – discord – jealousy – fits of rage – selfish ambition.” Sounds like it was taken from today’s national news.

But then please notice the organic nature of growing fruit contrasted against the ceaseless striving of works; the produce of God’s Spirit, vs. the products of our own efforts; the life-giving and life-affirming qualities that bless others, compared to the selfish and destructive practices of a me-centered existence.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Gal. 5:22-23) The apostle makes it clear that if we are Jesus-followers, if God’s Holy Spirit is living and working within us, then these nine qualities will be evident in our lives. These must be the things that others see in us.

Note that it’s the WORKS – plural – of the flesh versus the FRUIT – singular – of the Spirit. There is only one fruit. We should not speak of the “fruits” of the Spirit. There is one fruit, and it manifests itself in various ways, depending on the specific needs and situation. Sometimes the Holy Spirit reveals Himself through patience, sometimes though kindness, always through love.

Another thing: This is not a buffet! We mustn’t think we can say, “Well, I’ll have some love and joy, but I don’t want any gentleness or self-control.” If the Spirit is present in our lives – if God is moving within us – then HE will be growing ALL these things within us at the same time. Certainly, our spirits can and should cooperate with His Spirit, and we must be intentional about looking for ways to demonstrate these characteristics, but we don’t become more loving, or more patient, or whatever, simply by trying to counterfeit that quality.

One last thing to notice is that every aspect of this fruit is seen in terms of our relationships with God and one another. It’s how we treat other people – our relationships with one another – that reveal the true nature of our relationship with God. Our faith is not lived out in a vacuum.

May the Spirit produce in us that which is pleasing in His sight.

Remembering Brother Ronnie

In my days at Dallas Christian College, back in the 1970s, I was blessed to have a number of excellent professors. Some were great thinkers. Some were excellent students of the word. But I never knew a better man of God than Ronnie Hanna.

Brother Ronnie, as we called him, served 18 years at DCC, sometimes as a professor, sometimes also as an administrator. But his real talent was as a man who loved people. He had one of the most amazing memories I have ever seen for remembering names and faces. On more than one occasion, I saw him – without any notes – go around a room of a hundred people or more, from all across Texas, and introduce every one of them, telling something interesting about each person. He genuinely loved people, and more than that, he genuinely loved the Lord’s church. In his time at DCC, he toured extensively throughout Texas and the Southwest on behalf of the college, and I think once he met someone, he never forgot.

And he told the corniest, goofiest dad jokes you have ever heard.

During my four years there, I was blessed to get to travel with him a lot, visiting different churches, so I heard all those jokes many, MANY times. Driving down the road, he would point to a field of fresh-cut grass and say, “Hay!” If there was a period of silence in the van, he would say, “Look! What’s that up there in the road — a head?” He would pull up to a railroad crossing and announce, “I believe a train was just by here.” When some gullible freshman would ask, “How can you tell?”, he would say, “It left behind its tracks.”

Ronnie & Janet Hanna

Sometimes he would say, “Don’t be bitter – reconsider!” I never knew exactly what that meant, but he said it a lot.

By his own admission, Ronnie was sometimes, shall we say, directionally challenged. He generally knew – approximately – in what part of town a given church building was located, and he would get in the right area, but then he’d have to drive around a while to find the exact location. Once we got there, he would just chuckle in his good-natured way, and say that he had known where he was all along, and that he was taking us to our destination via a “scenic tour.”

Brother Ronnie taught “Life of Christ,” which was a freshman-level class. One of the first things he covered was to define for us, exactly what Jesus was talking about when he described the Kingdom of Heaven / Kingdom of God – “The reign and rule of God in the hearts and lives of men and women.” To this day, I’ve never heard a better explanation, and I’ve used it, without exception, every time I have ever taught on the Kingdom. It’s not a place, it’s not just something in the future – God’s Kingdom is here and now, and it’s made up of all those who humble themselves before the living God to let Him rule in their hearts.

The other thing I remember about his Life of Christ class was that he had us read “The Cost of Discipleship” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, with its famous quotation, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Great stuff, life-changing stuff.

I had Ronnie for other classes, and he taught me other things, but if for only those two things, I will always be grateful to have been his student.

After he left Dallas, Ronnie and his beloved wife Janet moved to Colorado, where he ministered for many years. They moved back to the Dallas-area after his retirement. He passed away about ten years ago. But I remember him with genuine fondness and respect. He was a decent, good and gentle man, who loved his God and loved his family. And he loved the Lord’s church and spent his life ministering before the Lord and training others who would do the same.

Thanks for everything, Brother Ronnie. It was an honor to know you. And I bet you didn’t take a “scenic tour” on your way to heaven!