Charles Darwin...Minister of the Gospel?

    I was listening to a minister (just for the record, NOT my pastor) preach a few months ago, and in the process of his sermon he happened to drift onto the subject of evolution. It hadn’t been the topic of his sermon, but in passing he made a couple of remarks concerning evolution that left me in a state of amazement. “The theory of evolution was a creation of the devil through the minds of godless men, and no true Christian would believe in such heresy,” he said, and then he continued, “When I was a kid a frog was a frog, and today a frog is still a frog. I’m going to teach a couple of lessons soon that will prove that evolution is false.”
     Before I get too deep into this subject, let me state that I am not an expert on the subject of evolution. Just as I have mentioned in the introduction to my blog, what I offer in my discourses are simply my observations and opinions based on my experiences. If I am wrong in your eyes you are welcome to offer evidence to show my error, and, if your evidence is conclusive, I will alter my perspective. But until then I will write what I think is accurate.
     Shortly after I heard the minister slam evolution, I was privileged to attend a state convention of science teachers. The convention offered the usual list of speakers offering their insights into the many strategies for teaching science to school children, but one speaker’s subject caught my attention immediately. “Teaching Evolution---Tips of the Trade” said the headline, and although it was far above my grade level as far as target audience was concerned, it was a “must visit” class for me. The speaker was a science professor from the University of Houston where by coincidence the convention was being held. He opened the session with a simple question, “Who of you feel that evolution is a theory, and who of you think evolution is a fact?” The results were pretty interesting; the room of approximately 30 listeners was just about evenly divided, and this was a group of people who had an above average amount of science knowledge. He also made a statement which I found very interesting, “There are those who feel that religion and evolution science are incompatible, but I am a Christian, and I have found nothing in my study of evolution that contradicts the existence of a God. I believe in the existence of God.” I had to wonder how that statement went down with his professorial colleagues.
     Just a brief, layman’s definition of evolution should be introduced here. Evolution is the term we give to the process by which organisms (living things), in their struggle for survival, react over time to changes in their environments. It does not refer to a single generation of organisms, but changes and adaptations which occur through the processes of both natural and man-made interference over many years, perhaps thousands or millions. In nature, changing conditions of life and environment create adaptations in organisms which give them a better chance of preservation. Consider the Islands of Hawaii…the birds and plants which were introduced to the islands only three hundred years ago by the Europeans have adapted both in color and size to their more temperate and colorful environment. Many Hawaiian birds and plants of today only vaguely resemble their ancestors of three centuries before. Many of the early organisms introduced to Hawaii suffered in the early years due to weakness in camouflage and adaptability, but those organisms which did survive begat stronger offspring more suitable to the new environment. Charles Darwin called this phenomenon the law of natural selection…the term we more readily recognize is “survival of the fittest.”
     I went to the Museum of Natural History in Houston about a few years ago to hear a lecture from famed anthropologist Donald Johanson. Johanson has been a superstar in the anthropological circles for over 35 years. In 1975 he discovered the remains of the first humanoid to allegedly walk erect on two legs. The three million year old fossilized bones, affectionately called “Lucy” by the educated gentry were on display at the museum. It was the first time they had ever been out of Ethiopia, and they were guarded more tightly than the incredible jewelry exhibit that the museum proudly displays. As I walked around the display, which was sort of a glass casket, the bones appeared to be that of a child no more than four feet tall. The skeleton was missing some bones, but there was enough for the curators to claim “a complete skeleton.” There was an artist’s rendition of what someone imagined “Lucy” may have looked like when she was alive. Later, at the lecture, Johanson made the statement that what has solidified conclusively the argument about the facts of evolution has been the discovery and development of DNA sampling. DNA sampling is so incontrovertible that it is now being used routinely in crime solving and court trials, and with DNA sampling anthropologists can readily trace the linage of various species backwards in history over a million years. However, interestingly enough, I was able to ask him a question that drew a small admission from him. I reviewed with him the fact that “Lucy’s” bones were now actually fossilized stone, and, being stone, they could not have a DNA presence. He replied that the way they date fossils is by determining the age of the materials found around the specimen, and not the fossil itself. Score one for the doubters. Johanson is one of those scientists whom I call “pure” evolutionists. His quote: “There’s no God, never was one, and never will be. There is a scientific answer for every question. “
     A phenomenon which is becoming more evident in the world today is "man-made" evolution. We see examples of man-induced evolution practically everywhere. The next time you’re in your favorite grocery store, go to the produce department and pick up just about any piece of fruit or vegetable you prefer. That big fat juicy strawberry the size of a tennis ball was not created by nature alone, and that ripe, lovely half-pound tomato is a creation of man’s ingenuity, also. Most major seed companies use the process of artificial selection to insure that the seeds that are in the seed packet you buy are reasonably guaranteed to be healthy and productive. They do this by growing acres of “parent” plants. These plants are observed as they grow, and, although, they may be all planted in the same soil and receive the same dosages of water and minerals, some of them will be healthier and stronger that others. It is from the healthy plants that the seeds are taken to go into your seed packet, and the smaller, weaker plants are destroyed. Thus with each new generation of seed, the plant becomes even stronger and more productive. It is Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” with man himself being the judge of which plants survive to reproduce.
     I read of another example of man-created natural selection, or “survival of the fittest” just a few months ago in a magazine concerning pest control. The story did not look at the events in the context of evolution, but it reinforced the adaptability of organisms to their environment. In the Midwest a few years ago there was an invasion of insects in a farming area which was intense enough that it was threatening the crops of the farmers. Normal insecticides seemed to be ineffective, and finally a new powerful chemical was created to use against the invaders. Sure enough, 95% of the insects were killed and the crops were saved. The farmers were happy, needless to say, and order was restored to the farming community...until three years later.
     As if on schedule, the insects returned, but this time the farmers did not worry because they had their proven weapon against their enemies. The powerful chemical was sprayed again, but to the farmers’ horror, the deterrent had no effect on the insects. Some of the insects were captured and analyzed, and the pesticide experts came to the shocking conclusion that these new insects were offspring of the 5% of insects which had survived the chemical three years earlier. Those earlier insects, with some sort of stronger resistance to the chemical, had passed this resistance on to their offspring, and now the whole population of insects was immune to the insecticide. Through a man-caused selection, the insects had evolved into a species better able to resist a destructive force.
     I could give many more examples of natural and man-induced natural selection in nature which has caused adaptive changes in organisms, but the examples given are adequate, and that is really not the point of this discussion anyway. The question that arises is how does someone who accepts the above examples reconcile them to what we know in the Bible. If we are in fact Bible-believing Christians seeking communion with an omnipresent God, what do we do when science can prove without a doubt that the earth is over four billions years old? It is not enough to yell, “That’s heresy!”
     Here’s what I feel. My take on how old the earth is and how scientific evidence relates to the Bible goes along with my feelings and opinions about what’s going to happen when the earth comes to its end. Learned theologians have argued for centuries about what’s going to happen “when time shall be no more,” and the rock bottom fact is no one really knows for sure. Our church recently had a series of Bible studies discussing the mysteries of Revelations in the Bible. We learned about the Tribulation, Daniel’s 70 Weeks, the Millenium, the Rapture, and all sorts of interesting stuff. But even as I read the scriptures as they were discussed, I asked myself, “How did we arrive at that conclusion by reading this scripture?” I think the clues given in the Bible concerning the endtime are purposely vague, just as the clues concerning the beginning of our earth are vague. We are not meant to worry about the future, and we are not meant to be concerned about the past. Our relationship with God is based on the communion we have with Him today.
     There is, however, another possibility which I believe has been overlooked and yet is compelling in its simplicity. If we Christians believe the Bible literally that the earth is only 6,000 years old, but science tells us that the earth is over 4 billion years old, and if we really believe that God created the heavens and the earth in six days, why could He not have created the earth as if it were four billion years old. If He could create an earth, He could create an earth with a history just as easily. In doing so, the geologist could announce discovery of a rock that is a billion years old, an anthropologist could announce the discovery of a three million year old humanoid, and the Christian could say the earth is six thousand years old and they would all be correct. Think about this scenario: assume for a moment that the Bible is correct and God created Adam and Eve. The moment they were created, how old were they? Imagine a scientist at that very moment of creation jumping out of the bushes and examining this new creation called man. What conclusion would the scientist have drawn concerning Adam’s age? If Adam and Eve were created as adults, the scientist would have probably speculated “about 25 years old,” where in fact these new creations were only minutes old. In the environment of the Garden of Eden, were all the animals, plants, trees, and organisms mere infants at the moment of creation?  No, many, perhaps most, were full-grown adults.  Could God have done the same thing with the Earth and universe?  I believe the answer is yes.
     Charles Darwin for many of his early years was a minister in a small church in England, but his love for science and his inquisitive nature compelled him to attempt to find some of the answers to life.  In all his travels he carried two books: his beloved notebook for writing his observations and his Bible. In closing, I would like to quote from Charles Darwin’s amazing book, The Origin of Species. Published in 1854, the book presents in incredible detail the argument for evolution. To some Christian ministers, it is the devil’s bible; to evolutionists it is the definition of life itself. But many ministers and evolutionists have not bothered to read the entire content of the book. To an open minded reader it is a beautifully written, incredibly detailed document, and it acknowledges the existence of God. In Darwin's own words:
     “Authors of the highest eminence seem to be fully satisfied with the view that each species has been independently created. To my mind, it accords (agrees) better with what we know of the laws impressed on matter by the Creator. It is interesting to contemplate a tangled creek bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing in the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, are Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance, which is almost implied by Reproduction; Variability from the direct and indirect action of the conditions of life and from use and disuse; A Ratio of Life so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, involving Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is a grandeur in this view of life with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one, and that, while this planet has gone cycling according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”
    Happy Charles Darwin Day!

Chernobyl, Wormwood, and Prophecy

      Within Christianity, and especially amongst Pentecostals, there has always been an intense interest in any present or future event which could be identified as a marker or clue that we are approaching the climax of the human age as we know it. Naturally the primary source for prophetic utterances for the church community is the Bible. Within the Bible are several Old Testament books which deal heavily in prophecy, much of it geared toward Israel and its centuries-old struggle for survival. Many of these prophecies we have lived to see fulfilled even in this modern age. What piques the interest of many church goers these days are prophecies concerning what we euphemistically call “the end of the world,” although it is far from that. Most of the clues concerning this time frame are found in the last book of the Bible, Revelation.
     Interestingly, when we think of Revelation, we think its primary purpose is to reveal the events of the end time, but John the Revelator, the author of the book, entitled his tome “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” in the first verse, indicating that the experiences he would described, although they would offer a chronology of events leading toward the end, were designed primarily to reveal to the world the true power and majesty of Jesus Christ. Replete with imageries, metaphors, analogies, similes, visions, and colorful descriptions of cataclysmic events, the book of Revelation has been a source of intense discussion, controversy, and argument for centuries. Nowhere else in the Scriptures has interpretation of verses been so varied, and conclusions so jumbled as has been in the hosts of analyses of Revelation.
     I must confess to you…usually when the subject turns to prophecy and future events, I tend to get a little bored. It’s not that I have no concern, it’s just that I have found that people who are really into the study of prophecy tend to be like Republicans and Democrats, conservative and liberals, or Keynesian and Smith economists. They are dead set in their opinions, and to them, every scripture of prophecy is crystal clear in its meaning and there is neither negotiation nor compromise. My personal contention (and of course I won’t compromise, either) is that there is very little that is crystal clear in politics or economics…and especially prophecy. An additional reason I tend to breeze through prophecy is that I feel if a person maintains an active relationship with God, He has promised He will see us though every problem. So whatever may come in the future, He has already said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the earth.”
     Rev. Ervin Baxter was a renown student of prophecy. Rev. Baxter delved into Revelation for the better part of forty years and developed a tremendous following because of his astute analyses of the events of biblical prophecy. He was analytical, thorough, articulate, and made his presentations in a manner that grabbed your attention and yet drove home the primary point that our first priority as living souls is to insure that we have a relationship with God. Not just a knowledge or awareness, but a true personal communion with the Almighty.
     His subject at a service past was “The Seven Trumpets” as described in Revelations 8-11. Another confession on my part: I had not read too much about the seven trumpets, so being a good servant I decided to do a little homework in preparation for the lesson. I was surprised when, after looking at several reference discussions of Revelation, the general consensus was the seven trumpets, each signifying a catastrophic event, were expected to occur sometime after the tribulation period, but no commentator was willing to hazard what each one meant. The plot thickened, so I decided this service with Brother Baxter might be interesting, after all.
     Rev. Baxter had visited our church before, so his was a somewhat familiar face as he approached the pulpit. Especially since I subscribed to his weekly on-line newsletter where he gave analyses of current news which were a lot more astute that some I heard on CNN and FOX. Quickly getting into the subject at hand, the Seven Trumpets, he began to offer evidence that perhaps the seven trumpets as described in Revelations would not occur in rapid succession at the endtime, but perhaps had already begun, starting with the first trumpet prophesying the events of the First World War, and the second trumpet describing the Second World War. I thought these were pretty novel ideals, but he was able to offer some backup evidence, such as the second trumpet describing a conflict where one-third of the ships were sunk. Coincidentally, in WWII, out of over 100,000 ships from all the nations involved in the conflict, almost exactly one-third were sunk in combat. Interesting, I thought. But it was the third trumpet which caught my attention in earnest.
     Revelation 8: 10…”And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from Heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon a third part of the rivers and upon the fountain of waters. And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the waters because they were made bitter.” Brother Baxter then made the statement, “In the Russian language ‘chernobyl’ means ‘wormwood.’” This scripture, he said, was describing the nuclear disaster which occurred in Chernobyl, Ukraine, in 1986. At that time the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Russia) was a dominant power, our Cold War enemy, and the controlling force in the area which is now independent Ukraine.
     On that day in 1986, a titanic explosion ripped through the Number Four reactor of the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant, blowing a 100 ton roof completely off and sending radioactive debris over a mile into the air and instantly contaminating everything within a thirty mile radius, including the city of Chernobyl. The Soviet Union, with its security paranoia, did not announce the disaster to the world until the contamination began to drift over Europe. Hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated from the Chernobyl area, but death and sickness from radiation prevailed. The Soviets dubbed the area the “Zone of Alienation,” sealing the area off from anyone except those who were required to attempt the cleanup, thus sealing their own fates to radiation sickness.
     On my phone I have a language application which can translate several different languages to any of several other languages. Since I have an interest and some past experience in the Russian language, I quickly began to try to verify that “chernobyl” did in fact mean “wormwood.” No luck. I tried English-Russian, Russian-English, English-Ukrainian, etc. with no success. I also have an application on my phone that has 26 versions of the Bible convertible into 25 different languages, including three Russian-produced versions of the Bible. I went to the Russian versions and found that полынь, or “polin” with an accent on the last syllable was the word for “wormwood.” Brother Baxter continued with his viewpoints on the other trumpets, but to be honest, I was researching everywhere I could find on my phone trying to find a chernobyl-wormwood connection.
     That afternoon I spent time on my computer trying to find the connection.  I discovered “chernobyl” is the Russian word for artemisia vulgaris, which refers to a plant which grows to a height of 3-4 feet in the area of Chernobyl. In English the plant is known as mugwort or “common wormwood.” Prior to 1986 both Russian and Ukrainian dictionaries included "wormwood" as a secondary definition for chernobyl, but since that year, coincidentally the year of the disaster, the secondary definition of wormwood for chernobyl has been expunged from Russian and Ukrainian dictionaries. Additionally, the book of Revelation refers to a star falling from the sky. The Greek word for star also refers to “strewn over the sky” as in radiating. Could what John described as a star actually been a radiating explosion?
     In 1992, a Russian research center, the Kurchatov Institute, issued a “manifest” (statement) describing the official version of events surrounding the explosion of 1986 and the subsequent relocation of citizens. In it the statement is made that “polin” is a Russian word and means “chernobyl.” Since “polin” translates to “wormwood” in English, the connection can be loosely made that “chernobyl” means “wormwood.”
     Connecting Chernobyl to "wormwood" is noteworthy, but something else I discovered is much more amazing. In 1986 after the explosion, the Soviets embarked on a massive cleanup operation of the Chernobyl area. The city of Chernobyl became a ghost town and thousands of inhabitants had to be relocated to safe areas. For years after the disaster the “Zone of Alienation” was restricted with no access allowed.
     Due to the magnitude of the buildup and the knowledge that the process would take years, the Soviets gave the cleanup an all-encompassing name…Проект Полынь…Project Polin, or Project Wormwood. I find that fact to be astounding. The Soviets and their military in those days were our adversaries, and yet like all military machines, there were many remarkable similarities in operations. Even today, the U.S. military gives each of its activities a special name, such as “Operation Overlord” and “Operation Freedom.” However, during the years of the Cold War, if the operation was somewhat secretive and not to be publicized, the operative name was usually a dictionary word which was not used in normal conversation to avoid compromising the activity. “Wormwood” was not a commonly used word and sufficed to identify an operation which the Soviets did not wish to publicize.
     We know that there have been Pentecostals in Russia since the early 20th century. With the Communist Party firmly in charge after the October Revolution of 1917, most Christians went underground, but managed to survive even during the Stalinist Purges. Somewhere in the heart of the Russian military or scientific command after the explosion at Chernobyl, there was a committee which made the decisions concerning the cleanup of Chernobyl. That committee made a decision to name their work “Project Wormwood.” Think about this…only one of the 21 apocalyptic events described in Revelation was given a proper noun as a name by John the Revelator, and it was an unusual, obscure name at that…Wormwood. What are the odds that the name associated with the single worst disaster ever created by man just coincidentally carries that same name as its dictionary definition and is the same name as mentioned in Revelation 8:11? Could there have been on that Soviet science committee in charge of cleaning up the disaster a “closet” Christian who understood Revelation and recognized the enormity of the Chernobyl disaster? Or was the committee an unknowing pawn in the progression of God’s will and was merely fulfilling the prophecy written two thousand years before?
      This prophecy thing may be more interesting than I thought!

      P.S. Fascinating facts about Chernobyl: Today, 35 years after the explosion, the area around Chernobyl has become the largest wildlife sanctuary in Europe. It is a flourishing and sometimes unearthly wilderness teeming with large animals and birds, many of them members of rare and endangered species. Many people, elderly and sick from radiation and homesickness, have moved back into their abandoned homes and are continuing to live. The forests, fields, water, people, and animals are all radioactive. Cesium-137 is packed in their muscles and strontium-90 is packed in their bones, and yet all are not just surviving, but are thriving. Tourists and scientists visit the area on a regular basis, securely covered in radiation-proof clothing and carrying radiation meters. Chernobyl has become a testament to Earth’s ability to withstand the most devastating calamity.  Could it also be a testament to the prophetic accuracy of the book of Revelation?

Men of a Certain Age

      A few years ago, there was a television program (quickly cancelled due to low viewership) which at its inception appealed to me due to its title, “Men of a Certain Age.” It was hyped as a heartwarming account of a group of friends (men, of course) who, having reached that mid-life crisis stage of their lives, experienced all sorts of emotional conflicts which can make a middle-aged person rethink priorities as they adjust from a fast-paced youth-oriented lifestyle to a more…um…sedate, mature outlook on events. At the time, I was a “man of a certain age” myself.  I watched a couple of the early episodes looking for portrayals of familiar experiences where I could sigh, “Oh, yes, I felt that way when it happened to me, too,” but, alas, I had forgotten that this was television emanating from that “cesspool of iniquity, Hollywood” (to quote more than one preacher,) and the only events I saw made me feel like a voyeur peeking through a window. Heavy handed, crude, rude, vulgar, shallow, misrepresentative…all these descriptions would apply to most prime-time sitcoms and dramas anyway, but especially to “Men of a Certain Age.” And it was cancelled. Good riddance.
      However, “Men of a Certain Age” did acknowledge one fact, and that is that people with their individual personalities, priorities, preferences, and peculiarities do in fact change, or evolve, as the years begin to pile up. Your top priority for today may not even be on the radar scope ten years from now, and concerns that did not exist when you were a youth become life and death struggles in later years.
     This evolution of thought and development accounts for why our taste in people also changes in time. I have heard it said more than once that a person who lives this life with five good friends is a blessed person indeed. Not just good acquaintances, but real friends. Someone gave a good definition of a friend a few years ago, and I think it still applies. To wit: “A friend is someone you can think out loud in front of without fear of condemnation.” So, a friend is someone with whom you can be totally honest in your opinions and observations. It doesn’t mean your friend will always agree or approve, but he/she will stick with you regardless.
     I have discovered as my time has continued on this earth an addendum to the five good friends rule, however. As one proceeds through life and hopefully has an inner circle of five good friends, the membership in that blessed group of five on whom you depend will change. Many times, it is not due to a falling out or misunderstanding, but to the events of life itself.
     In the early years after Shirley and I were married, I had several good friends in our church in Baytown, but two were especially close. David and Vernon were cousins of mine as well, and to top it off we all worked for my dad’s company, so we spent a lot of time together. In addition, our church had a softball team which played other churches in the area. David, Vernon, and I were key members (modestly speaking) of the team…especially since I kept the balls, bats, bases, and other hardware for the games at my house. Shirley and I lived on Aron Street in Baytown, and next to us was a vacant lot. Many an evening went by with David, Vernon, and I practicing our pitching and catching in that vacant yard. Vernon was our first line pitcher, David the backup, and I was the team’s catcher. This was a fast pitch league (slow pitch, or as we called it, wimp ball hadn’t been invented yet,) and we spent hours working on curve balls, sinker balls, fast balls. Vernon was an outstanding pitcher with a four-pitch repertoire, where David knew only one pitch…as hard as he could throw it. Vernon was steady on the mound, but occasionally we would let David start a game. He would do fine until he got in trouble. When he started to sweat and his eyes got as big as saucers you knew no one was safe from his wild pitches. The first adjustment to my friends group occurred in 1967 when David was killed in an industrial accident at Rohm and Haas in Deer Park. He was all of 25 years old. It wasn’t too long after David’s death that Vernon began to show the first signs of muscular sclerosis, the disease which would eventually take his life several years later. Those early years were good years…we were strong, young, athletic, and we were constantly busy and constantly moving. I describe all this because recently after a church service I listened as a couple of young men discussed their exercise routine at the YMCA and various sports, and I realized that none of it appealed to me at all. One might say I prefer a more benign form of health care. The last time the young men of the church assembled and played softball, I did not play because it was too hot. Forty years ago, I would have been in the middle of them.
     Throughout the years I have been blessed with many different members of my group of five, and for fear of offending someone, I can’t mention everyone one whom I have considered a dear friend. I will, however, mention long-time friends Buddy, George, and Juan. Buddy tried to kill us while we were hunting in Wyoming when he told me to drive through a creek that wasn’t deep (but it was), George almost killed my wife when he tried to back his motorhome off a cliff, only to be saved by a lone tree, and Juan laughed at me while we were on a hunting trip when I threw a flaming stove out of a tent and also when I shot a hole in our tent with my Remington ADL 7mm magnum rifle (it WAS funny!). But through it all, they were in my group of five. Buddy, Georgie, and Juan have passed on, and I still miss their comradeship.
      Shirley and I have been blessed over the years to have attended several wonderful churches, and one of the greatest assets of a great church is its membership. The church we recently attended for nearly ten years was such a church. The people were tremendously friendly and caring, and from the first day we walked into the building, we felt at home. Of course, it was the senior bracket into which Shirley and I fell. A few months after we began attending, one of the old…elder…more experienced men made the suggestion that some of us old guys should meet at a restaurant somewhere for breakfast and fellowship. Sure enough, we did so, and it was the beginning of a grand tradition.  For eleven years now, we have met every Friday at a local restaurant and sat at the same table. Just like other groups, the membership has changed over the eleven years; some have gone to their eternal rewards, and other have taken their places. We have been known to sit there for two hours solving all the problems of the world. Unfortunately, no one listens to us, but we have the answers anyway. These guys have become very important to me. Each one has been through the fire, experienced loss and tragedy, and survived to tell the tale. When we speak on a subject, we speak usually from experience, not just opinion. We are an eclectic blend of personalities, and I would be more specific about each one, but I know some of their wives will read this, and I don’t want to get anyone in trouble. But Leonard and Nathan, both of whom have passed on, and Jerry, Mike, John, Mel, Steve, and Chuck were or are a joy to be with…knowledgeable, experienced, funny, quick-witted, and yet with a deep spirituality and appreciation of the blessings of God. Being with them has been good for me.
     I have been blessed with a wonderful family. My wife, children, grandchildren (I have a daughter-in-law, but I consider her another daughter), and even all my in-laws form a base of support that has kept me through the years. But I have been doubly blessed in that I have had friends throughout the years who have served as sports buddies, counseling buddies, comforting buddies, and spiritual buddies. They have defined the true meaning of “friend.”