Birthday Poems

 

               Birthday Poems

 

   The Fiftieth Rung on the Ladder of Life


Methinks it be not super nifty

When one turns the magic fifty!

  Forsooth, it seems both bod’ and mind

                            Hath nature ravaged, most unkind!

 

Unbeknownst, time took its toll,

And now, though willing in heart and soul,

I call to my feet, “I’m in a running mood!”

They answer back, “Forget it, Dude!

The only thing we want to feel

Is a cushioned footstool under the heel!”

 

Durst I not know?  I anguish and weep

That now I choose an afternoon’s sleep

Instead of football, baseball, or track.

And incentive to work?  I totally lack!

 

“To be or not to be!” The question rages.

The answer ballyhooed down through the ages.

But as for me, my response is thrifty,

“Don’t ask me, Bub, I just turned fifty!”

 

Bob Downing   May 5, 1993 

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                             Nothing Rhymes with "Sixty!"


             Nothing rhymes with "sixty" as one turns the annual page.

Nothing rhymes with sixty; it’s an awkward, frustrating age!

Too young to be old; too old to be young

                         Concerned your life’s song has already been sung.

 

The memories of the past grow longer…yet fade,

While the future once dreamed seems fainter in life’s shade.

Helpless and hapless, trapped in time’s ceaseless tide,

Then saved from the gloom by, “Hey, Papaw! Come outside!”

 

The message becomes clear.  It’s not the future or past,

But the present is where our legacy is cast.

Children and grandchildren, the caress of a wife,

The closeness of a family…therein lies life.

 

With His hand to guide us as we travel along

Everything rhymes with sixty…if you play the right song! 


Bob Downing   May 5, 2003

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                                         Seventy                              

Three score and ten” the Scriptures do say

Are the days of our years; we then “fly away.” *

An endless time…through the eyes of the young…

Becomes hauntingly brief when life’s song is near sung.

 

The horizons once faced are now memories long past.

The victories and triumphs so cherished did not last.

The failures, the heartaches, the losses, and schemes

Of a life poorly spent bring nights’ tortured dreams.

 

The curtains of our minds in the dark of the night

Draw open to reveal a troubling sight…

Unlimited youth with its promise and fun

Has vanished away like the dew in the sun.

 

The desires, the passions, the zest for the day

Are like snowflakes that fall and soon melt away.

The finish, once distant, looms alarmingly near

And the memories of life become ever so dear.

 

The goals, once assumed, are now elusively caught,

And the emotion of love becomes merely a thought. 

Deeds once accomplished with hardly a strain

Are now deeds but dreamed and seldom without pain.

 

But continue we must, and through effort and strength

The days of our lives may be increased in length.*

With happiness and love and good deeds to lend

Three score and ten” could be when we begin.

Bob Downing May 5, 2013

*Psalm 90:10 The days of our years are threescore years and ten; 

And if by reason of strength they be fourscore years,

Yet is their strength labour and sorrow; 
For it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

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       The Eightieth Year

 

In the circle of life, there’s a beginning and end

And the completion of such is a loss or a win.

A life once viewed with challenge and dare

Becomes but a vapor which fades in the air.

 

Memories become longer while the future grows slim

Strength becomes fleeting and vision becomes dim.

Failures and losses bring an occasional tear

While victories and triumphs remain crystal clear.

 

With the eightieth year comes quiet resignation

What goals have been reached bring mild satisfaction.

An acceptance of completion of a marathon race

And a dream of transition to a better place.

 

The promises of Scripture become vibrant and clear

When the prospects of receiving those prizes draw near.

A life well lived, with His guiding hand,

Brings eternal reward in that heavenly land.

 

Bob Downing   May 5, 2023

 

The Concert


     We entered the large auditorium well before the time the special events were to begin, but the musicians were already preparing for the evening’s activities.  The dimly lit stage was prepared as one would expect…heavy dark curtains accented with blue backlighting.  Electronic gear was everywhere, dominated by the sound system featuring speakers with blue lighting accents and the capacity to split an eardrum at 200 yards.  In anticipation of the coming live music presentation, a soundtrack was playing featuring the popular music of the day, replete with canned enthusiastic roars from some appreciative audience from a concert gone past.  In a few minutes, the musicians themselves began firing up their basses, keyboards, and drums in anticipation of the night’s work, and the singers began to assemble and review the procedures for their performances.                                              
      By zero hour, most ticket holders had taken their seats, and the musicians had found their places, At the stroke of the appointed time, the master of ceremonies blasted the audience with a confusing blend of a welcome to the show and a call to arms…all at maximum decibels.  According to him, this was not an evening to sit back and enjoy the show but a time to jump, shout, yell, clap, and show unbridled enthusiasm for the message about to be delivered.                                                                                             For the next 40 minutes, our ears were assaulted with a cacophony of deafening thunder blended with various unintelligible voices, accompanied by the master of ceremonies constantly bantering the audience to get more actively involved.  These were the “warm-up” performers…those whose job is to get the audience into a festive mood before the headline performer comes on stage.  The music ranged from hard rock, to heavy metal, to blues, to soul, to ghetto rap, with the crowning achievement occurring when a young African-American, dressed stylishly casual and wearing either shades or highly reflective glasses, began rapping in both Spanish and English. By the time the young rapper had wrapped up, the crowd had been deemed properly primed for the main event.  And up to the microphone the main attraction strode…a minister.                                                                  
     What I have described up to this point is not what you may have imagined the event was.  I have not recently gone to any concerts featuring the great musical groups of the day.  The event which I described above was an officially sanctioned church conference sponsored by the United Pentecostal Church, International.  I purposely chose not to identify the location of the “conference” nor the main participants because it is not my intention to throw rocks at or embarrass (if that’s possible) any particular persons or churches.  What I have described above is probably representative of hundreds of assemblies, services, and conferences which are becoming highly prevalent in modern society and in our churches, and so what I am reacting to is a movement, a direction, which I see the UPCI heading.           Pentecostals for decades have followed the biblical mantra for the church of “be ye separate.”  I will be the first to admit that we have in the past sometimes taken that philosophy to the extreme, and alienated people unnecessarily with our separatist, “holier than thou” attitude.  However, I am willing to argue the point that the pendulum has now swung far to the opposite side, and we as a church have now adopted the strategy of “to save them, you’ve got to be like them.”  It does not mesh with the message that we thankfully still hear from our pulpits.  Our ministers hammer away with the message that when a person is saved, he/she becomes separate from the world and a “new creature in Christ.”  However, to entice the unsuspecting souls into our church, we show them that we can be just as cosmopolitan as they in our choices of music, just as disrespectfully casual as they in our choices of church clothing, and just as worldly as they in our level of conversation.                                  
    Today, when listening to allegedly Christian music via radio, television, CD, or, regretfully, churches, someone with the ability to filter out the words and listen only to the music would be unable to distinguish the sound…and the spirit… from any other rock, country, popular, alternative music source available, and yet, music itself projects an attitude and can be a stimulus for physical action.  Accomplished musicians know this and use this tool to excite an audience…and the spirit of God can be a million miles away from the action.  But the people are moving around, and that’s what the objective is…get them moving.  There is a growing group of churches and musicians who confuse this musical stimulus as “worship.”                                                                                        
    There was a time when a church…or as we pompously like to say occasionally, “the house of God” …was more than a simple building but was considered a place of respect and shown such through our entrance of its doors with a quiet, reverent attitude and in our manner of dress.  We spoke quietly and entered prayerfully, while dressing modestly in our most dignified and reverential clothing.  The building, after all, was “the house of God,” a place of spiritual refreshing and encouragement.  Today ministers and saints take great pride in casual, “down to earth” attire.  Ministers preach from the pulpit and musicians strut across the rostrum in jeans, tee shirts, and sneakers, all in an effort to “make the church more accessible to the masses.”  Yet, our manner of dress reflects our level of respect for ourselves and for others, including the church.                                                                      
    Want to know what the latest NFL or MLB scores are?  Want to know how the local Little League team is doing?  Most frighteningly…want to know what the latest Hollywood blockbuster movie (probably R-rated) is like?  Just hang around the vestibule of one of our churches just before church time and you’ll probably get your answers.  You will hear very little discussion of the upcoming church service.  Churches have learned the lingo of the lost…and through their embrace of conversations not relative to salvation, have given church visitors the message that a church membership does not require a change of spiritual heart…nor speech.                                    
   Sadly, this “be like them” strategy is promulgated by the very people who preach against it…the pastors, and it is done so with the most selfish of reasons…simply to build church numbers.  Pastoral competition is alive and well in the 21st century, and the top dog is the guy with the biggest church.  As it has been since the beginning, we equate success with numbers.  The next morning after the above-mentioned service, I happen to be at a table enjoying breakfast when I overheard two pastors talking at the next table from me.  These two men are probably considered “bright stars” in the UPCI realms, having started churches fairly recently and shown a tremendous level of success (numbers, again.)  What caught my ear was what one said to the other, “Everything we do in our outreach is geared for the ages 17-25.  It’s the group you can have the greatest success with.”  In two sentences, the pastor explained the entire strategy for church growth which appears to be nearly universally adopted by UPCI churches.  It explains the music, dress, and attitude of new converts. It also explains why mature, older, devoutly Pentecostal adults leave church services unfulfilled and frustrated, having received no spiritual food for the soul, and perhaps also why older members have a tendency to drift from church to church, seeking a level of worship which is on a somewhat higher plane than a Taylor Swift concert.

Election 2024

 


     In the latter years of the Vietnam Conflict, the United States military unofficially adopted a controversial tactical strategy in a desperate attempt to halt the encroachments of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops into the villages of South Vietnam as they slowly but surely advanced toward the capital city of Saigon and capture of the entire country.  The United States in the late ‘60s had begun massive sweeps of the countryside outside Saigon using grandiose nomenclatures like “Operation Thunder” with the noble intent of clearing areas and villages of the dreaded Viet Cong and restoring order and peace to the allegedly loyal citizens of the target areas. By clearing areas of the enemy, the objective was to slowly recapture the countryside and save South Vietnam from a communist takeover.

    The United States soon learned that the task was comparable to holding back the tide with a mop.  Moving into a village, the US military would find a quaint, idyllic Vietnamese citizenry busy with all the duties of a township with nary a sign of the enemy…especially confusing when just a few hours earlier military intelligence had indicated that the place was a beehive of enemy activity.  Compounding the difficulty was trying to identify the enemy at all…many Viet Cong troops dressed in the standard clothing of the country villager and became part of the village populace simply by hiding any trace of weaponry.  The US military would search a village, and occasionally the enemy would make a mistake in unsuccessfully hiding their weapons.  Retribution quickly followed, but, more times than not, the US military was frustrated in its lack of engagement with the enemy.  This frustration led to a logical conclusion:  if military intelligence had positive proof that a village was a haven for the enemy, and there seemed to be no evidence that the local citizens were being cooperative in identifying the enemy, the village was put to the torch and burned to the ground.  This military policy was bluntly explained one evening on national news when a military official was asked about the burning of a village, and he replied, “In order to save the village, we had to destroy it.”

     Much has been written in recent years of the general frustration of the United States citizenry with its government.  Though we pride ourselves with our democratic process and look with disdain at other not-freely elected governments around the globe, we are still disappointed at the seeming inability of the U.S. government to face the issues confronting our country today and come up with solutions to our problems.  It is not a problem which has surfaced only since Joe Biden became president; it has extended backward through several previous administrations, and the prognosis for the future is not encouraging.  In the richest country in the world, we have one of the highest percentages in the world of children who nightly go to be hungry, of citizens who cannot afford proper health care, and of elderly who have no place to go for security.

     Democracy, by its very name is…well…democratic.  While it is a form of government founded upon the concept of rule by the majority, it is also founded upon the principle that any governmental decision will be made with the general welfare of the population in mind.  Democracy by its very modus operandi requires compromise, and every law and every decision is an amalgamation of the corporate minds which joined together to make the decision.  The problem with democracy is that it occasionally clashes with individual principles.  Consider the hypothetical situation of an elected official who has sworn to his constituents, “No new taxes!” (Remember George H. W. Bush?) and then must consider a proposed bill which would take care of a serious problem in the country…but the final version of the bill as drawn up by his associates contains a tax increase.  Although it will ease a problem in the country, does he vote to pass the law and in doing so override his principles, or does he stand firm, waving his flag of unbent principle, and let the country suffer the consequences?  George Bush chose to compromise in the interests of the country…and lost the next presidential election to Jimmy Carter. In today’s political climate, we have many politicians who have adopted the strategy of “destroying the village in order to save it.”  Rather than reach a political compromise on an issue which would help ease the concern of the populace, many lawmakers would rather see the country suffer than renege on an unwise commitment or pledge made in the heat of political campaigning…a commitment or pledge which should have never been made in the first place.

    Unfortunately for our country, both major political parties have adopted the “destroy to save” philosophy, and it depends upon who is in power as to what role each party plays.  With the current Democratic president, the Republicans have adopted the knee-jerk reflex of “No!” to anything President Biden remotely suggests.  Conversely, when a Republican occupies the White House, Democrats dig in their heels and throw out every possible stumbling block to any potential political success for the Republicans…and the country founders.  Please understand…I am an independent and not an admirer of either political party. Their agendas are tailored to the interests of their parties and not the United States. Fortunately for America, there are in each party the pragmatic administrators who occasionally put together legislation in the interest of the country.

    If you ask any politician in the country about democracy, the instant response is “Democracy is the greatest form of government on the face of the planet.”  However, if you ask what the definition of democracy is, the response will be divided into two camps.  These two camps represent two versions of the same delusion.

    The believers of the first version of democracy can quote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution from memory.  They are for government which is mostly kept at a distance, allowing the individual to soar like eagles to unlimited success with the least amount of restriction.  Everyone in this democracy contributes a fair share to the government for basic services such as national defense, but a person’s well-being is a personal responsibility.  In this democracy, every person is born healthy and disease free with a marketable talent which allows for the achievement of success.  Working hard and not abusing the rights of others, these believers live fruitful lives, leaving legacies of great influence.  The difficulty with this form of democracy is that it does not know how to handle those individuals who do not fit into the mold.  Forgive me for mentioning the Bible, but even Jesus said, “The poor you have with you always.”  In this form of democracy, if one is “poor” it is assumed to be because he/she has not exerted adequate effort to reach the inborn potential which is in every person.  To offer alms to the poor is to deter their work initiative.   

    Along with the poor are the physically challenged be it through injury, birth, or disease.  Knowledgeable people have proposed that, to cut our health costs in this nation, committees should determine how expensive extending the life of a disabled person would be, and if the cost is prohibitive, health care should be withheld.  I guess it would be the natural thing to do.  After all, in nature, there are many examples of infant creatures that are abandoned to die by their mothers for the good of the healthy ones.  A person’s health would be a personal responsibility and dependent upon the person’s ability to pay for services.  What I find fascinating about this group is that most believers are aggressively pro-life when it comes to the abortion issue, arguing about the sanctity of the unborn child, etc.  However, if that child is born with a defect, well, we hope mom has good insurance.  If the child is born to poor parents, it’s the parents’ fault…but the child suffers because the government will not offer any helping hand (hurts the budget, you know.)

    Lastly, those in this form of democracy have not learned the lessons of human greed.  One never has enough money, power, or prestige, and without restrictions or governmental regulations big businesses will stretch ethical boundaries far beyond the breaking point.  Competition, which is a concept hallowed in the annals of capitalism, is not restricted to obtaining the largest share of the market but also eliminating as many competitors as possible on the way to the top. Therefore the “pursuit of happiness” mentioned in the declaration may in fact require the deterrence of happiness in someone else.  But, hey, that’s competition.

     At the other end of the spectrum (other side of the aisle, as it were) is the second group of democratic proponents.  Interestingly enough, they, too, are familiar with “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” but at that point the similarities end.  Because the citizenry is united under the government’s guidance, a newborn child becomes in effect a ward of the state.  Every citizen has the right to the pursuit of happiness, but if another citizen cannot…or chooses not…to make that pursuit, it is the responsibility of all others to “carry those who cannot walk.”  An incredible fact of this group, however, is that the government’s concern for you only begins at birth.  Should a child be undesired prior to birth, an abortion is acceptable with no consequence; however, if that fetus can somehow survive to birth, the child is offered cradle to grave security.

    This group has a great distain for the natural competitiveness of man.  It is convinced of the innate greed of corporate America and therefore attempts to control business activities and restrict success, or at least force it to be spread around to more recipients.  The result is excessive restrictions causing hesitancy among businesses to invest and take risks.  Additionally, should some citizens exceed the “normal” levels of success, they should be taxed more heavily because they have more to spend.

     It is in the concept of “liberty” where the two groups most contrast.  The second group interprets liberty to mean unbridled freedom.  When the constitution mentions freedom of speech, it means you can say anything you wish, no matter how offensive and no matter the consequences.  There is no decorum or standard of behavior because there is total freedom.  Freedom to choose is interpreted to mean the rights of one may infringe upon the rights of others.  Although a majority of the group may have an opinion on a particular matter, one objection can stop the discussion.  As an example, polls concerning prayer in schools have always shown a tremendous majority in favor, but due to the efforts of a scattered few, there now is no prayer.  It is due to the efforts of this group that we can now enjoy pornography in our homes and obnoxious behavior in our stores and schools.  There is another word for unbridled, unlimited freedom…anarchy. 

     As we enter the election process of 2024, we see the usual polarization of the two major parties into the two camps described above.  Most of the candidates offered to the electorate subscribe to one or the other of the two positions, and that is the tragedy of any election because both positions are disastrous for our country.  Forgive me for being biblical again, but many times in the scriptures, the word “moderation” pops up when discussing actions or behaviors.  It is not just a biblical philosophy but one that has been expounded by many, and it is a philosophy which works in government and politics, also.  The essential element to democracy which has become anathema to many in the political spectrum these days is moderation…a “give and take” in the halls of government which allows for solutions to national issues to be reached.  In truth, the government must be friendly to business to encourage investment while at the same time monitoring corporate policies and operations.  A businessman will borrow money to expand his business, knowing that he will be able to repay the loan with increased sales and profits.  At times, a government may also borrow money to invest in people or infrastructure, but it should only be done when there is a good chance of a return on the investment and a repayment of the loan. It must offer help and assistance to those less fortunate while making it clear that an effort must be made to stand on one’s own feet.  It must value life from conception to burial, and make it clear there are standards of speech and behavior which respect the privacy of others.  The interesting note here is that these positions are reflected by a majority of the citizens of the United States.  Is there a candidate who subscribes to these basic principles?  If so, he/she will probably be vilified for lacking “principles.” Unfortunately, it seems that both those in power and those who are aspiring to power embrace only the two extreme positions.  The prognosis for the future does not bode well. The United States needs a healer, not a divider.

    

A Tribute to My Mother...Ethel Mai (new) Downing


R.L., Ethel, and Bobby Downing, 1943
     March 7, 2023, marks the 106th anniversary of the birth of my mother, Ethel Mai (New) Downing.  Although it has been nineteen years since she left us, I still think of her often, especially when I observe the condition of the office of motherhood as practiced by the general populace. From what I see, a conclusion can be drawn as to the cause of the many social ills being suffered by this generation. The major contributing factor to the degeneration of the family unit is the woeful lack of mothers of the stature of my mother.  In most cases today, the office and responsibilities of motherhood have been relegated to the back burner by the contemporary feminist, and though having produced through biological process a child, the duties required to nurture that child to adulthood are neglected.  Careers, personal satisfaction, and feminist peer pressure command greater attention and emphasis than mundane motherhood.

    Born on March 7, 1917, into a large family (five sisters and three brothers) of modest means, she lived most of her early life in Shawnee, Oklahoma. Although the family struggled during the Great Depression following the market crash of 1929, her father managed to work during the entire financial crisis as an engineer for the local railroad.  However, the pressures of providing for his large family caused him to begin drinking, and he eventually became an alcoholic who took his frustrations out on his family. Mother told me that when her dad would come home in one of his moods, she would hide her brothers and sisters in her bedroom until he fell asleep on the couch.  One of her brothers (my uncle) told me that Mother was the only one of the children who would stand up to their father and would not allow him to roar at her siblings.  He told me that eventually a grudging respect between father and stubborn child grew to the point that he would not press my mom to "bring out those kids so I can see them."   To complicate matters her mother contracted breast cancer, and in those years before proper treatment and surgeries, she became bed-ridden for the last two years of her life.
     In 1938, Mother married a poor farm boy from Mangum, Oklahoma. Robert L. Downing came from an even larger family than Mother's and at the age of 13 had to quit school in order to help earn money to support his parents and fourteen siblings. They were both 21 years old when they married. Within a year or so, the new couple moved to Baytown, Texas, where it was said jobs were in abundance. In the next fifty years together, they managed to carve out a living, create a home, and see four children born into their family. When her first child was born (her first and favorite one...namely, me), she quit her job and became a full-time professional mother and home manager. Throughout this period, Mother remained loyal to her husband, cared for her children, and established a home where there were standards of behavior and conduct. Meals were home prepared, and dining in a restaurant was usually reserved for Sunday after church.  We children never worried about food, clothing, shelter, accidents, or love because mom was always there.  Dad was there, too, and played an equally important role.  Although he brought home the bacon, Mom cooked it.  Honesty and integrity were just two of many high expectations in our relationships with one another and our acquaintances.
     Mother was a bit of a disciplinarian and expected...demanded...that her children behave properly both at home and away.  She did not flinch from the observed need to give one of her kids a swat (after a warning) to remind the child (probably one of my sisters) that she was being pushed to the limit.  She was sort of the first line of defense when it came to discipline, however.  If the situation really went south, that was when she called for backup (Dad) to establish order.  I knew I was in deep trouble when I saw Dad removing his belt or, if he was outside, reaching into his pocket for his pocketknife and cutting off a low-lying branch of a tree and stripping it of its leaves.  Bleeding heart liberals today would yell "child brutality!" at such actions, but the discipline worked...I behaved...and I never doubted my dad and mom loved me. Usually with just a few minutes of the perceived torture, we were all happily engaged in whatever activity going at the time.
     I do remember, however, one time when I was a little older...around twelve or so, I did something to deserve a swat from Mom.  Sure enough, she popped me with whatever...and I laughed and said, "That didn't hurt!"  To which she replied, "Let's wait till Dad gets home."  I knew I had just committed a cardinal sin and was about to reap my judgement which I did a few hours later when Dad got home.  After that, I grimaced whenever Mom disciplined me whether it hurt or not.
      In 1950, Mother and Dad were introduced to Pentecost and in a matter of weeks were baptized, received the Holy Ghost, and began their long, faithful walk toward their eventual spiritual home. Mother, along with Dad, created a home built on spiritual values and passed those values to their children, not just in word but in deed. Mother's legacy lives within her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
Easter Sunday, 1950
There's an old song that laments,

"If I could only hear my mother pray again.
If I could only hear her tender voice as then.
How glad that I would be!
It would mean so much to me!
If I could hear my mother pray again."


      In 1990, Dad passed away, and Mother's loyalty to his memory never wavered, and after 52 years of marriage, she never really recovered from his loss. She would live with his ever-present memory for another 14 years.On Christmas Eve, December 24, 2004, the family laid Mom to rest in a simple, elegant ceremony at a small farming community cemetery in her home state of Oklahoma. She had survived the Great Depression, World War II, and 87 years of life. I was reminded of the admonition of Paul to the Philippians in his epistle to the Church:

"Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord."

     Though she has been sorely missed, she lived a full life, faithful to her husband, her children, and her God. And today I can rejoice in the Lord…because Ethel Mai (New) Downing was my mother.