Where Were You?

This weekend marks the twentieth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on our country. In keeping with that solemn occasion, I want to do something a little different for my column this week.

This song Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning) was written by country music superstar Alan Jackson. I think he did a masterful job of expressing the wide range of emotions and reactions that many of us experienced on that day – anger, grief, shock and horror; from pride at the bravery of the first responders, to amazement at the courage of those gutsy passengers who fought back against the terrorists on Flight 93. The song received multiple honors, including being named “Song of the Year” and “Single of the Year” by both the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music; it also won a Grammy award for “Country Music Song of the Year.”

The song is on the program for Friday’s anniversary ceremony at the Haskell County Courthouse.

God bless America.

Where were you when the world stopped turning on that September day?
Were you in the yard with your wife and children
Or working on some stage in L.A.?

Did you stand there in shock
At the sight of that black smoke
Risin’ against that blue sky?
Did you shout out in anger
In fear for your neighbor
Or did you just sit down and cry?

Did you weep for the children who lost their dear loved ones
Pray for the ones who don’t know?
Did you rejoice for the people who walked from the rubble
And sob for the ones left below?

Did you burst out with pride
For the red, white and blue
And the heroes who died
Just doin’ what they do?

Did you look up to heaven for some kind of answer
And look at yourself and what really matters?

I’m just a singer of simple songs
I’m not a real political man
I watch CNN
But I’m not sure I can tell you
The difference in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith, hope and love are some good things He gave us
And the greatest is love

Where were you when the world stopped turning on that September day?
Teaching a class full of innocent children
Or driving down some cold interstate?

Did you feel guilty
’Cause you’re a survivor
In a crowded room did you feel alone?
Did you call up your mother
And tell her you loved her?
Did you dust off that Bible at home?

Did you open your eyes, hope it never happened
Close your eyes and not go to sleep?
Did you notice the sunset the first time in ages
Or speak to some stranger on the street?

Did you lay down at night and think of tomorrow
Go out and buy you a gun?
Did you turn off that violent old movie you’re watchin’
And turn on “I Love Lucy” reruns?

Did you go to a church and hold hands with some strangers
Stand in line and give your own blood?
Did you just stay home and cling tight to your family
Thank God you had somebody to love?

I’m just a singer of simple songs
I’m not a real political man
I watch CNN
But I’m not sure I can tell you
The difference in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith, hope and love are some good things He gave us
And the greatest is love

I’m just a singer of simple songs
I’m not a real political man
I watch CNN
But I’m not sure I can tell you
The difference in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith, hope and love are some good things He gave us
And the greatest is love

And the greatest is love
And the greatest is love

Where were you when the world stopped turning on that September day?

A Good and Gentle Man

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 preacher 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.”

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 could sometimes be, shall we say, directionally challenged.  He generally knew – approximately – 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 knew where he was all along, and that he was just taking us to our destination via a “scenic tour.”

One of his favorite soap boxes was a personal mission to stamp out euphemisms – saying “heck” or “darn” instead of their unrated counterparts.  We used to sometimes make fun of him (behind his back) about it, but I know that He took seriously the command of Jesus to let your yes, be yes, and your no, be no.  And he had the courage of his convictions.

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.”  To this day, I’ve never heard a better definition, and I’ve used his definition, without exception, every time I have ever taught on the Kingdom.  It’s not a place, it’s not 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 – he had us read “The Cost of Discipleship” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  “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 last week, and is being remembered Monday and Tuesday in services on the DCC campus.

But I can’t get over  to Dallas to share with others who knew and loved him, so this is my tribute to him, and sharing my thoughts about him.  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.  But I wonder: when Jesus showed your mansion in glory, if he took you around the block once or twice, just for a “scenic tour.”  If He did, well, don’t be bitter – reconsider!