Friday, June 30, 2006

Laying Up Treasures

Ask Southern Gospel music fans about spiritual groups and chances are the Primitive Quartet will soon come up in the conversation.

Reagan and Larry Riddle and Norman Wilson have been singing old-time mountain gospel for quite a few years now. And you might as well expect it – go hear The Primitives and you’ll also hear some shouting. Folks get excited.

The Primitives have come a long way since the Riddles and Wilson and his brother, Furman, starting singing together during a weekend fishing trip to Fontana Lake. But they’ve still got that signature sound.

It’s all over the place on the group’s latest project, “Laying Up Treasures” (Mountain Heritage Records). The minute the first notes are hit on the opening track, “They Shall Walk with me in White,” you start getting happy. By the time the Primitives belt out a unique vocal arrangement of “O, Happy Day,” you’re really getting with it.

Other standouts include Reagan’s “Laying Up Treasures” and the Bible story song “Thomas.” One reason I love Southern Gospel music, at least the good ol’ stuff, is that you usually get a story or two straight out of the Good Book.

And when the CD ends with Reagan’s “Our Sweet Lord Is Coming Back Soon,” you can almost see that Eastern sky split wide open.

OK, I’m getting carried away here, but that’s just the way it is with these boys from North Carolina. They’ll be at the old Claiborne County High School in Tazewell on Saturday, July 8, at 7 p.m., with the bluegrass gospel group New Road.

If you go, be ready for some shoutin’!

For more info on The Primitive Quartet, visit “Laying Up Treasures” is available at Evangel Book Store in Fountain City and wherever Southern Gospel music is sold.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Sittin' on the porch

Was mulling around in Mayberry earlier tonight (big shock, huh?). Noticed a scene I'd never seen before, which at this stage is a big deal. A priceless, beautiful, wonderful moment.

It's in the classic "Andy Griffith" episode "Man In A Hurry." Actually, it's in the epilogue -- the final "tag" of the episode that is usually cut out of most syndicated versions of the show. Mr. Tucker, the busy man from Charlotte, has finally given in, charmed by Mayberry's "Y'all come back" hospitality.

They are sitting on the porch. Aunt Bee is humming lines from "Church in the Wildwood." Andy says he thinks he'll go uptown and get a bottle of pop. Barney says, half asleep, that it sounds like a good idea.

They want Mr. Tucker to go. But he's sound asleep. They don't disturb him and go on without him. The camera pans in to reveal, clasped in Mr. Tucker's hand, the single peel from an apple.

Tucker had made fun of Andy peeling an apple in one piece earlier in the show. But now he's drawn in, too. He's forgotten about that important meeting in Charlotte. Instead, he's all relaxed on the porch, finally getting a glimpse of what life is all about.

It's a moment. One fan had to wipe back tears. You won't see anything like it on TV today.

I reckon it's a Southern thing to sit out on the porch together. I'm not so sure even many of us here in Dixie do that anymore, though. A lot of modern houses don't even have porches.

What a shame. You know, for all of its "Aw shucks" persona, the "Griffith Show" contains a lot of wisdom. This episode reminds us that, no matter how crazy the world gets, we should always take time to seek out those quiet times. To stop and smell the roses. To simply take a moment and live. To spend time together.

Put off that shopping trip to another day. The yard can get mowed tomorrow. That rug can get vacuumed in the morning.

Fix us a pitcher of iced tea (sweet, of course). I'll grab the guitar. Let's go sit out on the porch awhile together.

You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Broken Rose

The image came to my mind this afternoon of a solitary broken rose. And I thought about the lyrics to this song. My prayer is that all of you have a wonderful day today. This from the pen of Squire Parsons:

Words cannot describe its beauty
As upon the stem it grows
Matchless in its glory
A tender little rose
When its petals are broken
Its greatest beauty it shows
Far more sweeter the fragrance
Of a broken rose

The most beautiful rose was broken one day
Nailed to a tree on a hill far away
Forsaken by His friends; bruised by his foes
How sweet is the fragrance
Of Heaven's sweet rose

Then they laid that broken rose in a borrowed tomb
But on the third day
That rose again did bloom
Now, to the heights of Heaven
Down to the deepest hell
The fragrance of Heaven's rose
Continually dwells

The most beautiful rose was broken one day
Nailed to a tree on a hill far away
Forsaken by his friends; bruised by his foes
How sweet is the fragrance
Of Heaven's sweet rose

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Where I'm supposed to be

Jerry Askew at St. Mary's has a saying. Something about people being in the right place, doing the thing they're supposed to do.

The beautiful thing about this job is that every now and then I'm reminded of just how true that statement is.

I wrote a story, first on the blog, then later in the paper, about one of my heroes -- my former pastor, the late Shields Dalton. I was so moved by a couple of responses I received from the blog that I decided to expand the story and put it in the paper.

Today I've been shown just why I was supposed to do that.

Got a phone call from a woman in Halls. She said Shields married her and her husband. Thanked me for the article. Said it was going to mean a lot for an event going on in her home this evening. Said the story gave her chills when she read it.

Then I got an e-mail with the subject line, "Thanks for the memories," from someone who used to have long discussions with Shields about God and heaven. My grandparents received several calls about the article.

The response has been humbling and overwhelming.

I listened to one of Shields' sermons during a devotional time on Sunday night. It brought back a lot of memories, yes. His topic was the work Jesus left us, his followers, to do, while we are on this earth. It was convicting.

I don't know exactly what my purpose at this newspaper is. But all I know is from time to time, things both little and small remind me that I am right where I'm supposed to be.

I just can't help but believe that someone out there needed to hear that story about Shields this week. I know I needed to hear what he had to say that long ago Sunday in 1988.

Thanks for everything, Shields. You are in Heaven, but are still very much with us.

Monday, June 26, 2006


You know, it's funny the way the Lord works.

It took some wise counsel and an illness to get me here, counsel that, at first, I didn't quite understand. But, after the initial shock and confusion, I let go and took the advice.

And this time alone has given me a chance to spend some time walking with the Lord. He has revealed much to me. He has also shown me that I needed to be patient as well as take time for my body to heal.

There is much still to be done, but I look forward to it. I look forward to this time, to a coming conversation, and to the dawn. I look forward to seeing what tomorrow holds.

But tonight, as the sun sets, I find myself wonderfully, totally wrapped in the will and the arms of my loving God. And here's something I have learned from this time in the wilderness that I want to share with you, my friends.

I think for a long, long time, I have been scared of change. For many years, I looked for people and things that gave me the illusion of continuity --- baseball, for example. John Wayne movies -- rock solid, tough, always standing for what's right. And "Andy Griffith." Dear Andy, always the sheriff of that little town in North Carolina. Always able to give the perfect advice and solve any little problem in 30 minutes.

But guess what? Baseball, in fact, has changed. John Wayne died. Andy Griffith got old and changed his name to "Matlock."

OK, I'm kidding on that last one, but you get the point. The reality is, everything on this earth changes. It's a painful, often confusing, fact of life. Ironically enough, change is the only constant. On this earth.

But there is One who never changes. And in all things -- all things -- we must first look to Him. He is our compass. He is our guide. Jesus -- always and forever -- should pilot your ship. If you let Him guide you, the way may at times be rough and rocky, but He knows what lies ahead. He's also, you see, the lighthouse on the hillside.

God revealed this lesson for me tonight most potently through the words of a song. I'll leave you with them. God bless each and every one of you, my dear friends.

Yesterday things were different
Today they're different again
Jesus will never, ever change
Jesus is always the same

The sparrow will find a new dwelling
The eagle will change his nest
But I'm holding on to the Changeless One
And I'm leaning on his breast

A river will change its course
Mountains may crumble and fall
Time will leave its mark, they say
Upon us, one and all

Yesterday things were different
Today they're different again
Jesus will never, ever change

We Have All The Time In The World

Had we but world enough, and time... Andrew Marvell

This is a very special song, with very special lyrics. After spending many hours in bed sick this weekend, as well as spending time in prayer, I have come to the realization that, in one specific area of my life, what I think is needed more than anything else, is time.

Maybe these words from Louis Armstrong can say it better than I can:

We have all the time in the world
Time enough for life
To unfold
All the precious things
Love has in store

We have all the time in the world
If that's all we have
You will find
We need nothing more

Every step of the way
Will find us
With the cares of the world
Far behind us

We have all the time in the world
Just for love
Nothing more
Nothing less
Only love

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Footprints in the sand

One night a man had a dream. He dreamed
he was walking along the beach with the LORD.

Across the sky flashed scenes from his life.
For each scene he noticed two sets of
footprints in the sand: one belonging
to him, and the other to the LORD.

When the last scene of his life flashed before him,
he looked back at the footprints in the sand.

He noticed that many times along the path of
his life there was only one set of footprints.

He also noticed that it happened at the very
lowest and saddest times in his life.

This really bothered him and he
questioned the LORD about it:

"LORD, you said that once I decided to follow
you, you'd walk with me all the way.
But I have noticed that during the most
troublesome times in my life,
there is only one set of footprints.
I don't understand why when
I needed you most you would leave me."

The LORD replied:

"My son, my precious child,
I love you and I would never leave you.
During your times of trial and suffering,
when you see only one set of footprints,
it was then that I carried you."

The Unseen Hand

You know, sometimes things just don't make any sense. Sometimes things hit you -- blindside you, in fact -- right at the moments you are most vulnerable. Right when you are in the most pain.

I thought about those things this afternoon for a good, long time. And this song came to mind. So I thought I would share it with you, my friends. I hope you all are having a wonderful day.

There is an Unseen Hand to me
That leads the way I cannot see
While going through this world with care
This Unseen Hand will lead us there

I'm trusting to the Unseen Hand
That guides me through this weary land
And some sweet day I'll reach the Strand
Still guided by the Unseen Hand

I long to see my Savior's face
And sing the story saved by grace
And while upon that Golden Strand
I'll thank Him for His guiding Hand

I'm trusting to the Unseen Hand
That guides me through this weary land
And some sweet day I'll reach the Strand
Still guided by the Unseen Hand

Saturday, June 24, 2006

They asked me how I knew...

There is a song I like very much.

It's an old tune. Was popular long before I was born.

But I love it. I love the yearning in it. I love the feel of it. I love the images that dance in your head when you hear it. I love everything about it.

They asked me how I knew my true love was true? I of course replied something here inside cannot be denied.

"Smoke Gets In Your Eyes." The Platters. 1959. From an era when pop singers could actually sing.

Here's what bothers me, though. One part of the song is pure rubbish.

"They said someday you'll find all who love are blind."

Nonsense. I know where this sentiment comes from. And yet I reject it.

That line was born out of the ash heap of heartache. And that, folks, does indeed cloud our judgment. Gets smoke in our eyes, so to speak.

We throw the word "love" around a lot, tossing it to and fro like an old baseball that gets left outside in the yard.

We usually mean it when we say it. But sometimes we don't. Often, we're afraid to say it. Sometimes we're afraid to experience it. Other times we confuse it for infatuation, or, worse, lust.

But here's the deal. All who love aren't blind. For, in order to really love, you first have to see.

I'm not an expert. There is much I don't understand. But here's something I do know:

Loving someone is much more than feelings. It's a whole lot more than a song heard on the radio or a scene from an old movie you remember from late night TV.

Love is more than holding hands in the park. It is more than losing one's breath at the sight of your beloved. It's more than all those Karen Carpenter ballads put together. It's more than the butterflies that come when you look into those eyes.

The Good Book says love is patient and love is kind. And it is. It also, in its purest form, is free of confusion, awkwardness and doubt.

You know that kind of relationship, I'm sure. You work at it, put all you have into it, push the accelerator closer to the floor and still can't get out of first gear.

That isn't love.

But when it all falls into place, when the comfort level is such that you know beyond a shadow of a doubt, oh, now that is something else entirely, my friends.

My prayer is that you have known or will know this kind of love -- when you feel like you've known each other forever. When the feelings are pure. When the connections are deep and real.

When you know beyond a shadow of a doubt you can't live without it. When giving your all doesn't even seem like enough. When the needs of another outweigh your own.

When all you want is to fulfill those needs. When she matters most and you don't care too much about yourself anymore.

When you wake up at 3 a.m. hoping she's getting a good night's sleep. When the realization hits, if you'll forgive a moment of sentimentality, that the world will never again be the same since she spoke your name.

That certainly isn't all the definitions of what love is. No, not even close.

Mere words can't describe it. At least mine can't. It would take the talent of Shakespeare. Or maybe David Gates:

"If a picture paints a thousand words, then why can't I paint you? The words would never show the you I've come to know."

Love can be found in many places -- in a child's smile, wrapped inside a warm hug, hanging one long ago Friday on Galgotha's hill, or zig-zagging back and forth in the enthusiastic wagging of a dog's tail.

It's things you can't explain and things that take a lifetime to know. It's all this and heaven, too.

But what it most certainly isn't is blind.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Time, the, person and other Oxford tidbits

Interesting item from the Associated Press today:

According to the concise Oxford English Dictionary, "time" is the most often used noun in the English language.

Figures, doesn't it? We seemingly have so little of it, yet we obsess over it all the, er, time.

Think back to that episode of "Andy Griffith." (Yeah, I know, everything goes back to Mayberry.)

Remember the one where the visiting pastor from New York delivered the sermon on "What's Your Hurry?" Gomer and Barney keep trying to fall asleep during the service.

Then the gang gets all excited about putting on a band concert. They rush, rush, rush everywhere they go. Gomer's worried about spiders. Andy's trying to get the band in harmony. Aunt Bee and Clara are sewing up old uniforms.

Suddenly everybody begins yelling at each other. Life becomes hectic and unpleasant.

Isn't that the way it goes?

"The" is the most commonly used word overall, by the way. I'm just glad it isn't "I," which did make the list.

"Person" is ranked No. 2 in nouns, with "man" at No. 7 and "woman" at No. 14. Some things, sadly, never change.

I don't know why. Women rule this world. And, trust me, that's a good thing. (Well, unless it's Hillary Clinton ruling the world, but that's another story.)

"Government" showed up at No. 20. Sigh. That's still too high.

Course if you read many newspaper columnists, you'd swear that "I" would be No. 1, as much as we seem to use it.

Which is a joke. The story should always be about somebody else. Not about you. The reader doesn't care about you. Or shouldn't. (Think Dan Rather.)

The best at this was Charles Kuralt. His "On the Road" pieces were brilliant. And never about him.

Oh, well. Gotta get back to work. I'm running out of, yep, you guessed it, time.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Thanks for loving me

A prayer for today...hope you enjoy.

Dear Lord, I've asked you for
So many things before
For strength to climb each mountain in my way
I've asked for strength and health
I've even asked for wealth
But from now on, this is the way I'll pray

Thanks for loving me
Thanks for Calvary
Thanks for the riven side, the nail-pierced hand
The crown of thorns You wore
Thanks for Mom and Dad
And the good times we had
But most of all, thanks for loving me

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

It's a wonderful life

Hi gang.

Sorry it's been a week or so since my last post. Things have been, well, interesting, to say the least.

We'll start with work. You already know I love my job. I didn't think this was possible, but it's gotten even better.

Last Thursday, as we rushed against the ticking clock to meet deadline, I felt a little bit like Perry White, the editor from the old "Superman" TV show. He's the guy who would get mad all the time, yell at Clark Kent, and holler "Great Caesar's Ghost!" when he became frustrated. (Remember the episode when Caesar's ghost showed up? Classic, just classic.)

Life is good at the ol' Shopper. What a team we have. You love what you do and you give 100 percent. Or else you don't last long. We may not win any Pulitzers, but we put our heart and soul into those pages. Surely that counts for something.

I spent tonight with the people I love the most. We ate dinner, talked awhile, ate Allison's peanut butter pie (I swear that stuff came di-rectly from heaven, as Chill Wills used to say) and settled in to watch Andy Griffith.

Remember the one where Andy, Barney and Gomer take Opie and his pals into the woods to camp out? That show was priceless. If we were all as caring a friend as Andy Taylor, this old world wouldn't have too many problems.

Elyse rolls her eyes sometimes when I carry on about the Griffith Show. But I can always see that smile, too. She's such a dear. I thank God for her every day.

And what a family she's got. Boy, they've taken me in and shown me a lot of love. I'm blessed beyond words. I only hope they know how much I love them, too.

Later tonight, I got home in time to sit with the grandparents a few minutes before bedtime. They've all but raised me. I owe them more than I can ever repay, but I hope us getting to spend these last eight years together has been as good for them as it has been for me.

You know, I don't know why we ever complain about anything. I can't speak for you, but I can sum up so much of why God is good just in this one otherwise normal Monday.

I woke up in a warm bed to sunshine. Walked downstairs to see Asa the dog wagging her tail. I fed her a piece of bread, she licked my hand and I was off to work.

Not only do I have a good job, but I enjoy every minute of it. I love my co-workers, I love my community, I love everything about what we do. I'm living a dream.

A reader called this afternoon to say thanks for a story I did on my old pastor. It mentioned his grandfather, the late Bobby Dalton. It meant a lot -- to him and to me.

Got a good report from the doctor. Sail on, he says.

I ate dinner with my best friends and the woman I adore. We watched my favorite TV show and talked about all the important things in life.

I came home to a loving family and am a few minutes away from going to sleep in that nice, warm bed. Before doing so, I listened to a little quartet music and was reminded of something important. ("And some sweet day/I'll reach the Strand/Still guided by/The unseen hand.")

This all may not sound like much to you. But to me, it's a miracle. I'm humbled, I'm thankful, and I'm happy.

OK, so the Braves are 14 1/2 games back. It ain't perfect. (Smile.)

But, man, what a wonderful life.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Riding out the storm

Last night I woke to the sound of thunder.

Yeah, if that sounds like a line from an old song, it is. But it's also an apt description of me this morning.

I listened to the approaching storm and thought about life. Funny, isn't it, how storms come and go in our lives? Any navigator will tell you that, at some point, the waves will get rocky. It just happens.

I think for a long time I let the figurative approaching sound of thunder strike fear in my heart. I like it when things are going well. I don't like it so much when things are crazy.

But, you see, the test comes in how we deal with life's storms. We can duck for cover, ignoring the problem by putting our head in the sand with the ostrich. We can run foolishly on. Or we can hunker down, prepare for it, and ride it out -- always looking ahead, always ready for the next challenge, always prepared to take action if needed.

I'm a big believer in communication. Obviously, I make my living through words, but it's more than that. I think the success of any relationship depends upon communication. There isn't any problem that can't be worked out as long as you talk about it.

The key to surviving the storm is so simple. Just open your mouth.

And it doesn't hurt to remember that when waves roll over your head, they're under His feet.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Thinking 'bout Shields

I couldn't help but think about Shields Dalton last night.

When the McKameys and Inspirations opened the Hometown Singing at Central Baptist Church in Oak Ridge with "How Beautiful Heaven Must Be," I was taken back to Clear Springs Baptist Church, circa 1980-something. The choir would have been singing that song. And Shields was our pastor. What a pastor he was.

He was a big man, with big hands and a big voice. You could hear it reverberate all through the church. I can still see him standing there at the top of the steps in the old church building, the one that isn't there anymore. He'd be waiting with a smile, a handshake and a word for all who passed. He was the first one there and the last to leave.

Shields was my moral compass for many years. He didn't cut any corners. Right was right and wrong was wrong. And if you had any doubts, the Bible was the final authority. Sometimes I'll pull out a cassette tape and listen to one of his sermons. It's usually accompanied with a lot of tears.

He's in heaven now. He's been there for 16 years. I think about him nearly every Sunday and unfairly hope I'll find his like again, standing tall behind a pulpit somewhere, telling me that Jesus loved me so much, he shed his blood for my sins.

But that won't happen. Not down here anyway. For, you see, Shields Dalton knows how beautiful heaven must be. He wouldn't come back if he could.

I'm just looking forward to the day when I'll see him again.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Sunsets in spring

I love this time of year.

Late spring -- especially days like yesterday, when the temperature is mild and the sky is so blue you think for a passing moment it is the ocean, complete with the peaceful tide.

I watched the sun set last night and marveled at the beauty. If there's a better moment in time than sunset on a Tennessee spring evening, I've yet to find it.

Bugs the rabbit hopped by last night. That's what I call him. He lives around here somewhere. Sometimes when I come home late, he hops out, looks around, then hops back to wherever his nest is. He's my pet whether he knows it or not.

My mom's dog, Macy, is doing much better. She was sick for a few days. We thought we were going to lose her. But she's OK now. Oh, that we could learn to love each other the way a dog loves.

I sat in Fountain City Park with a special someone on Sunday night and enjoyed another beautiful sunset. She and I agreed it's a special time.

I thought back to "Field of Dreams" (what a shock, huh, something reminding me of baseball...), when Ray Kinsella first hears the voice. It's at sunset, in his Iowa corn field.

The epitaph on Richard Nixon's grave is an old Quaker proverb. It says: "One must wait until the evening to see how splendid the day has been."

I agree, if only for the sunset.

Monday, June 05, 2006

For You

Once again, poetry from the late John Denver. A beautiful song and an even more beautiful lyric. This says it all.

Just to look in your eyes again
Just to lay in your arms
Just to be the first one always there for you
Just to live in your laughter
Just to sing in your heart
Just to be every one of your dreams come true

Just to sit by your window
Just a touch in the night
Just to offer a prayer each day for you
Just to long for your kisses
Just to dream of your sighs
Just to know that I'd give my life for you

For you for the rest of my life
For you all the best of my life
For you love, only for you

Just to wake up each morning
Just to feel you by my side
Just to know that you're never really far away
Just a reason for living
Just to say I adore
Just to know that you're here in my heart to stay

For you for the rest of my life
For you all the best of my life
For you love, only for you

Just the words of a love song
Just the beat of my heart
Just the pledge of my life, my love, for you

Friday, June 02, 2006

Moments of Macon

Macon, Ga. -- You halfway expect to see Faulkner. This is that much of a Southern city.

Yeah, I know he was from Mississippi. But it is easy to picture William Faulkner loving this town, with its antebellum houses and very suuuuth-aaaaan ambiance. Dewayne Lawson, who lives here, says this is the city Reconstruction forgot.

Driving through town, on the way to lunch, we drive by a house in which Cher used to live, when she was married to whichever Allman brother didn't die.

We pull up at a parking place downtown and there's that other sign of city life -- the beggar. She asks for money. It's probably not for food.

We walk in to Nu-Way Weiners, one of those hot dog diners that has survived the years. It's been here in Macon since 1916. I get a hot dog, burger, fries and a Coke for six bucks. Dewayne gets two hot dogs, fries and a Diet Coke.

The bric-a-brac on the walls are old newspapers -- articles about the diner, a long-ago flood, little moments of Macon. The waitress chides us about looking at her funny. It feels real, like something out of Harper Lee, if only Jem and Scout were here to eat with us. It smells like a diner should.

We leave with our bellies full. Of course you knew it would be that way.

This is the South, darlin'. We don't ever go away hungry. We clean our plates. We say "ma'am" and "sir." We remember our history.

How would Faulkner have put it?

"The past is not dead. In fact, it is not even past."