Sunday, November 22, 2009

Exiled on Patmos

When I was exiled on Patmos

As a lad growing up near the Ozark foothills in Arkansas, I remember my Sunday school teacher teaching about an island called Patmos where one of the Disciples of Christ was exiled. Never did I dream I would ever see the place where John, the beloved disciple was exiled.

As a boy I could only image and thought it would be a small island with nothing but rocks and barren land. Was I ever surprised as we sailed into the bay and saw one of the most beautiful islands in the northernmost part of the Dodecanese complex in the Aegean Sea?

My first view of the island was a harmonious succession of rocky hills, peaceful valleys and green meadows that run down to a scene of beautiful lacy beaches, bays, natural harbors and capes. The amazing blue water surrounding it is dotted by many small isles. The most striking feature of the landscape was its tranquility, which, combined with the remarkable historical sites, the famous Aegean sunlight and the pleasant Mediterranean climate overcome me. What a sight!

After leaving the ship we began an uphill road to the Monastery of St. John the Theologian, set like a crown on top of the settlement of Chora, which is the island's landmark. Its construction started in 1088, when the Byzantine emperor Alexios Comnenus the First granted the whole island to St. Christodoulos to organize a settlement for monastic purposes. He named the monastery and its fortress after the Evangelist John, who had written the book of Revelation on Patmos almost a thousand years before. About halfway on the hill between Skala and Chora lies the Apocalypse Cave, where St. John the Evangelist wrote the book when in exile by emperor Domitianus.

After arriving at the monastery, I noted it was constructed on five levels and is surrounded by impressive 15 meter walls and overlooks the whole island. The whole complex has, beside the monks' cells around the main church called catholicon, ten more chapels and an exquisite museum with century-old religious objects, paintings and manuscripts. My souvenir was a reprint of John’s original book of Revelation.

The islands architecture is unique, with century-old white mansions and houses in the traditional Aegean style, clustered in this picturesquely chaotic manner, narrow streets filled with the air of times past, and a number of traditional restaurants and stylish shops.

I must admit that having a knowledge of the book gave me a much better understanding of the surrounding that John had as he recorded what God allowed him to see as he in a vision was permitted to view of Heaven and reveal to us what the end times would be at the conclusion of our time in this world.

“After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter”. Revelation 4:1

Monday, November 2, 2009

Missouri Springs

Nearly as pretty as the River of Life

Living in southeast Missouri has many scenic benefits, with one being the beautiful Arcadia Valley and a bit farther southwest where some of the largest and most unusual deep springs exist. These are but some of the more than 2,900 springs that are located in Missouri.

On a recent drive we found ourselves near Eminence and found that one of the largest concentrations of springs in the world was located between there and West Plains. These springs give birth to some of the clear rippling streams forming the great Ozark National Scenic Riverways that preserves 134 miles of the Current and Jacks Fork Rivers. Over 300 caves have been identified within the boundaries of Ozark National Scenic Riverways.

The Ozarks is an area typified by what is called "Karst Topography." This means that the geologic structures underneath the earth are made of soluble limestone and dolomite. Water has been at work underground wearing away passages--water-filled ones we call springs and formerly water-filled ones we call caves.

Already much of our day was taken, but we were determined to see Alley Spring which pours 76 million gallons of water a day into the Jacks Fork River. Not only was the spring attractive, but the mill and campgrounds could offer a day of pleasure. However, our hope was to see as many springs as possible so we headed to Blue Spring, which is Missouri’s sixth largest spring with an average flow of 90 million gallons per day. Indians called it “The spring of the Summer Sky” because of its clear blue color. I could see why.

Also, located in the Eminence area is Round Spring that is one of the most beautiful in the Ozarks. Its aquamarine blue water flows from a cave with unusual rock formations. With the day closing in on us we started home, but on our way learned of Falling Spring near the Eleven Point River. You can cross the footbridge that connects the spring branch to the mill pond and step inside the mill to view the remains of the old machinery.

While we didn’t visit Mammoth Spring on this outing, we did 48 years ago when my wife and I were dating since she was raised near Eleven Point and Current Rivers just outside of Pocahontas, Arkansas. These rivers both have their origins in Missouri and likewise Mammoth Spring is fed by Missouri waters and is only about 500 feet from the Missouri line in Arkansas. This spring is recognized as the largest spring in Arkansas and the 10th largest in the world with 9.78 million gallons of water an hour flowing into a 9.5 acre lake.

Each time of think of these springs I think of one that exceeds them all.

Deut. 8:7
For the Lord thy God brings thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills

The State of Beautiful Parks: UTAH

After a couple of days at Zion National Park, where a drive through the park can be absolutely breathtaking with the rock walls towering 2,000 to 3,000 feet above a car, we made our way to the unusual Bryce Canyon National Park.

From our first view I knew it was one of the most scenically diverse places I had ever seen. Bryce is famous for its unique red rock spires that are often called “Hoodoos.” They are different, often grotesque, and with an imagination eerie. Surprising to me was the horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters here on the eastern edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau in southern Utah.

I made two trips to the canyon just to see the ancient trees and scenic views from the rim. There were Ponderosa pines and high elevation meadows with fir-spruce forests around the rim of the plateau that abound with wildlife. This part of Utah also boasts some of the world's best air quality, offering panoramic views of three states and approaching 200 miles of visibility.

Bryce Canyon is a small national park in southwestern Utah but rich in beauty and history. It was named after the Mormon Pioneer Ebenezer Bryce and the Canyon became a national park in 1924. In fact it was on March 13, 1919 that the Utah Joint Memorial passed legislation urging the Congress of the United States set aside for the use and enjoyment of the people a suitable area embracing "Bryce's Canyon" as a national monument under the name: "Temple of the Gods National Monument."

After eating in the National Park lodge we headed to the log cabin and made ready for bed. My wife opened a bag of some candy fudge eating a piece or two leaving it open on the table.

The prayer of thanks for the day was barely said when we both were in slumber land.
Our restful sleep was interrupted by the rattling of paper in our room. I rolled out of bed, turned on the light, but didn’t see anything.

Being in the middle of nowhere it was so quiet and at that time of night only a few lights were on as I viewed the grounds through the windows. So I turned off the lights again and was back in bed, but this time with a flashlight we had.

In less than an hour I heard the rattle of paper again and this time I slowly clicked on the button of the flashlight and saw a squirrel with a good size piece of my wife’s fudge which he dropped as he headed in desperation to and up the fireplace.

The next day we headed on up to Salt Lake City, but there are many spectacular Utah destinations around Zion and Bryce. Namely; Capitol Reef National Park, Lake Powell, Kodachrome Basin State Park, Anasazi Indian Village State Park, Petrified Forest State Park. A little farther are the Arches and Canyonland National Parks.

The face of Utah's population is changing. Within a generation, the state's 60-and-older crowd will be larger than the school-age population, part of a nationwide demographic shift, according to a University of Utah study.

This shows that retirees are finding the scenic of the western states inviting.
My wife and I have always enjoyed Utah, but if you travel on Sunday you will find very few places open if they are locally owned. It would probably do all of our states good to go back to the days when the Lord’s Day was a day of rest and worship.

“Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil.”-- Isaiah 56:2

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Civil War Caused Many to Go Wrong

To preface my article I need to say I am not taking either side, because the war is over and my ancestors fought on both sides beyond my control.

Today, I would like to address that during the rebellion between the states many good men were forced to change in an effort to protect their own. In the case of some they became enemies of right and what was good.

Since I wrote about some of the Missouri battles last week, I wanted to add that some of the most infamous men fought at Wilson’s Creek. Namely Quantrell, called by most but his real name was Quantrill whose beginning was a normal one. Research showed me
William Clarke Quantrill was born July 3, 1837 in Dover, Ohio. The oldest of 8 children. William’s father was a tin smith and was involved in several scandals that included theft and fraud. His father often beat him but his mother doted on him. After William’s father died, he tried to supplement the income of his family by becoming a schoolteacher. He taught in Dover, Illinois and Indiana. He was never satisfied with the amount of money he made teaching. He returned home to Dover where his mother made arrangements for two neighboring men to buy a claim for him in Kansas and hold it until he reached the age of 21. He was to work off his debt by working on their farms. After a year, William became restless and wanted to sell his claim. A dispute arose over the claim and had to be settled in court. He was paid only ½ of what the court awarded him.

During Quantrill’s early years in Kansas, he had northern views and often talked against slavery. His viewpoint began to change once he was hired as a teamster in Fort Leavenworth where he enlisted under the name of Charley Hart. It was there that he met up and befriended some southern sympathizers.

When the Civil War broke out in April, 1861, William Clarke Quantrill joined the Confederate side with enthusiasm. He fought with Confederate forces at the battle of Wilson's Creek in Oakhills, Missouri, in August 1861.

By late in the year, Quantrill became unhappy with the Confederates’ reluctance to aggressively prosecute the Union troops. When the defeated Southern forces left the state, he stayed behind and formed his own band of guerrillas. Starting with a small force of no more than a dozen men, the pro-slavery guerrilla band began to make independent attacks upon Union camps, patrols and settlements.

Without any ties to the South or to slavery, he chose the Confederacy apparently because in Missouri this allowed him to attack all symbols of authority. He attracted to his gang some of the most psychopathic killers in American history.

His band of marauders quickly grew to more than one hundred in 1862, with both regular pro-slavery citizens and Confederate soldiers, until he became the most powerful leader of the many bands of Border Ruffians that pillaged the area. Several famous would-be outlaws joined his ruffian group including Frank and Jesse James and the Younger Brothers.

The James brothers were son of Reverend Robert and Zerelda James. Rev. James had been one of the co-founders of William Jewell Baptist College, which still is very active today and has the book collection of noted English preacher Charles Spurgeon, who at his time in history had nearly every book that had been printed in English. (Having visited the church of the famous Baptist preacher in London, I have plans to visit there soon.)

Rev. James heeded a called for California to preach to gold miners, but contracted cholera there and died. This left the mother with two small boys when a role model was needed. When Jesse was eight she married another man who had a number of children.

Record reveals Jesse as a youth went to church, sang in the choir, wanted to become a Baptist preacher like his father. Later, Zerelda married a third time to a country doctor whose farm connected with hers. Zerelda recorded a conversation with Jesse shortly after her last husband was tortured, etc, "After the Home Guards had gone, Jesse said to me, 'Ma, look how those soldiers have beaten me.' "I took off his shirt and his back was striped from the rawhides the soldiers had used on him because he could and would not tell where Frank was. But Jesse did not whimper. He saw me crying, and said:’ Never mind, Ma, I'm going to join Quantrell.' Jesse joined Quantrell in the spring of 1863 to avenge the treatment of his stepfather and himself. My son, Frank had already joined the guerrillas.”

Zerelda, Jesse, Frank and their step siblings are buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery at Kearney, Missouri.

Henry Younger, who reportedly was pro-Union, and wealty farmer with 3500 acres in cultivation, was killed by a detachment of Union militiamen whose Captain Walley was said to have been soundly beaten by Cole for a remark he had made to Cole's sister. Walley was a married man at the time and the Younger daughter refused his advances. The killing of his father is believed to have been what drove Cole Younger to become a pro-Confederate soldier.

While in Stillwater prison, Cole Younger was interviewed by a writer doing a book on the Younger brothers recorded Cole’s answer when he was asked what he did in prison: “I occupy much of my time in theological studies for which I have a natural inclination. It was the earliest desire of my parents to prepare me for the ministry, but the horrors of war, the murder of my father, and the outrages perpetrated upon my poor old mother, my sisters and brothers, destroyed our hopes so effectually that none of us could be prepared for any duty in life except revenge. The tear which stole into Cole's eye told how much he suffered in the remembrance of those sorrow-laden days when war, drove happiness eternally from the Younger household. Out of deference to that honorable feeling, I could not question him further upon such an extremely unpleasant subject.”

The three Younger brothers are also buried at Lee’s Summit Historical Cemetery, Lee’s Summit, Missouri.

Justifying their actions for perceived wrongs done to them by Kansas Jayhawkers and the Federal Authorities, the band robbed Union mail, ambushed federal patrols, and attacked boats on the Missouri River throughout the year.

On August 11, 1862, Colonel J.T. Hughes’s Confederate force, including William Quantrill, attacked Independence, Missouri at dawn. They drove through the town to the Union Army camp, capturing, killing and scattering the soldiers. During the melee, Colonel Hughes was killed, but the Confederates took Independence which led to a Confederate dominance in the Kansas City area for a short time. Quantrill's role in the capture of Independence led to his being commissioned a captain in the Confederate Army. The Confederate Army suffered their biggest defeat in Missouri during this battle and Quantrill and his men disbanded and fled for safety. Later, they promoted him to the rank of colonel in November, 1862.

In May, of 1863, Quantrill and his band moved closer to the Missouri-Kansas border. Brigadier General Thomas Ewing, Jr. (Who had sought to protect Fort Davidson, near Pilot Knob, Mo.) now commanded the district border, was not happy with Quantrill’s presence. Soon, he issued a General Order, which stated that any person - man, woman or child, who was directly involved with aiding a band of guerrillas would be jailed.

Months later, early in 1865, with a group of thirty-three men, Quantrill entered Kentucky. In May, a Unionist irregular force surprised his group near Taylorsville, Kentucky, and in the ensuing battle Quantrill was shot through the spine. He died at the military prison at Louisville, Kentucky, on June 6, 1865 at age 27. Part of his body is buried at the Missouri Confederate Soldier’s Memorial in Higginsville, Missouri, but another portion of his remains is buried in the Quantrill plot at the Fourth Street Cemetery, Dover, Ohio.

War is tragic and sometimes makes good men make bad decisions sometimes becoming more evil then the enemy.

The same can be said of life. Good men can live and die knowing they are doing wrong and not realizing we have a God who will forgive our sins and give us a new life and a better ending.

”Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

Wizard of Branson

My wife and I just returned from one of Branson’s most entertaining shows; New’s Country at the Little Opry Theater in the IMAX Theater Complex. Branson’s Guitar Wizard, Leroy New, is a self-taught, naturally talented musician, singer, and song writer.

My interest in guitar playing goes back to my youth when a classmate enjoyed and became very good with an electric guitar. He even played on the Louisiana Hayride. My interest in this type music has followed me throughout my life. I liked Billy Byrd, Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, and even Montoya of Spanish guitar fame.

Having traveled to many places during my lifetime and being a member of a travel club that has nearly a hundred resorts everywhere, I still like Branson because of the many shows.

This last time however I chose to not go to a glitzy show, but saw an ad at the IMAX complex that said, ‘Guitar Wizard.’

Well, that got my attention but knew it would not have the fanfare some of the larger stars have in the bigger theaters. The 210-seat Little Opry Theatre sort of turned me off at first, but in moments this guitar player did not disappoint me. Backdrops, luster, changed right before my eyes during this two-hour show that is filled with classic country, bluegrass, and gospel music.

Leroy New played the guitar in so many genres that it is impossible for me to name them all. What amazed me was how he went for one style to another without any difficulty. It did not take me long to see how he had been called the greatest guitarist in Branson.

Aside from the great music, the show is filled with his description of experiences growing up in Kentucky. He presents story after story in a light-hearted way that each member of the audience can identify with. He continues his stories right up to his current days performing in Branson and having grandchildren of his own. And as you reminisce, it will have you yearning to return to see it him play again.

This man is fantastic! He looks right into his audience and delivers some fine country music both picking and singing. Likewise, he is unashamed to acknowledge his belief in God and mentioned he was also a minister.

He plays flat top guitar, electric guitar, and 4-string banjo, with such a smoothness one could not listen without being mesmerized by his ability.

After the show I talked briefly with him and his wife of 42 years and he gave my one of his CD’s which I have nearly worn out.

The next time you are in Branson tell New I sent you.

”Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good; celebrate his lovely name with music.” -- Psalm 135:3