Wednesday, May 15, 2019

May 12, 2019, column:
Book explores characters' uncertainty and disillusionment with God

By Mike Haynes
            When attending events of the international C.S. Lewis Foundation or the local Lewis Underground, Nan Rinella calls herself a hobbit among elves. Having been born in Hollywood and having worked as a flight attendant for 20 years, she has perceived herself as a simple, down-to-earth person like the diminutive hobbits in J.R.R. Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth as opposed to the more intellectual elves of Tolkien’s fantasy world.

            Rinella first read and fell in love with “The Lord of the Rings” in 1971 while her husband served in Vietnam. Years later, in 2004, having embarked on a second career as a journalist, she found herself at a conference called “The Fantastic Worlds of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien,” sponsored by the CSL Foundation. Five years later, she was directing an annual foundation retreat in Texas.
            She still didn’t feel in the league of the academics she rubbed elbows with while discussing the works and lives of Lewis and Tolkien, the renowned British scholars and authors.
            An entertaining and inspiring new book, however, has revealed that, pardon the pun, Rinella has been selling herself short.
“Dreams in the Distance” is her first work of fiction and the beginning of a series of novels called “The Choice.” Inspired by Lewis and Tolkien’s writings, it follows five main characters and the choices they face following World War II and beyond. In a sense, Rinella’s epic story begins where the last book of Lewis’ “Narnia” series leaves off.
            Lewis’ character, Susan, in “The Last Battle,” inspired Rinella to create her character, Lily. (If you
Nan Rinella
haven’t read “The Last Battle,” note the spoiler coming up.)
            “In preparation to attend my first C.S. Lewis Foundation conference in June 2004, I read all seven books of ‘The Chronicles of Narnia,’ said Rinella, who’s lived in Amarillo the past 28 years. “The question, ‘Whatever happened to Susan?’ haunted me. ‘What would happen to a young girl who lost her whole family in the actual London train crash of 1952, when Lewis was writing Book Seven?’
            “Over the years I went down several rabbit holes and in 2011, the series, lasting 50 years, evolved featuring the five main characters.”
            “Dreams in the Distance,” published this year, starts with three young people shocked by the first strikes of the German air blitz in 1940. The young Lily, daughter of a London minister; her best friend, Phila, daughter of a Royal Navy admiral; and Phila’s older brother, Hugh, later to become a Navy intelligence officer, find themselves coping with a blast on a London street – and a mysterious stranger who helps them into a subway shelter.
            That scene propels readers into several plot lines, from the two girls’ introduction into London high society to Hugh’s job in the British embassy in Washington, D.C., to family tension as Lily’s interest in fashion design clashes with her father’s strict Christian devotion.
            All the while, the characters hear “voices” in their minds seeking to direct them. What are these intrusive thoughts? Their consciences talking? Demons? A higher spirit?
                Then there are Ollie, a tall, red-headed Scotsman injured in the war who has his first hint of love in a military hospital; and Dan, a cocky P-51 pilot from California whose Christian faith has waned and who faces disappointment after his injury in a dogfight over Germany.
            The book explores all their reactions to tragedy, uncertainty and disillusionment with God as they navigate life in Britain and America. The emotions ring true, as do the settings, which are enriched from Rinella’s own travels, including visits to C.S. Lewis’ house in Oxford and a recent trip to Scotland.
            And readers will enjoy what you might call cameo appearances in the novel by Lewis and Tolkien themselves as they interact briefly with some of the main characters.
            The book “is a novel of love and war, faith and doubt, intellect and insight,” wrote Joy Jordan-Lake, an award-winning writer living near Nashville. “Throughout, author Nan Rinella displays her passion for history and literature and for the research that brings it together.”
            The Christian influence of Tolkien and Lewis as well as Rinella’s own spirituality also permeate her imaginative story.
            Rinella just wrapped up a book signing at ArtsFest at Amarillo’s Arts in the Sunset, but “Dreams in the Distance” is available at and    
            I suggest giving the work of this self-described “hobbit in Narnia” a look.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

April 14, 2019, column:
Faith-related handiwork to be featured at city's first Artsfest
By Mike Haynes

            As rich as the arts already are in Amarillo, they are about to resonate more with a three-day community event that will give area filmmakers, musicians, performers, visual artists and writers a chance to show off their talents.
            And because the first Amarillo ArtsFest is intended to reflect the entire community, it’s a given that some faith-related handiwork will be included.
            One highlight of the May 10-12 festival at the Arts in the Sunset complex at 3701 Plains Blvd. will be a showing of “The Gospel Music of Johnny Cash: A Story of Faith and Redemption,” produced and directed by Amarillo native Michael Merriman. The documentary will be part of the
Saturday activities, according to one of the organizers, Kirk Manton.
            “Michael was one of the premiere music video producers in Nashville in the 1980s,” Manton said. “He produced more than 200 videos. The Cash family invited him to produce a film that would focus on Johnny’s spiritual journey of redemption. It shows a whole other side of Johnny Cash.”
            The film, narrated by Dan Rather, stresses that despite Cash’s legend status in country and rockabilly music, his roots were in gospel music, and he never left those roots. The 1½-hour documentary was released in 2007 but should be of special interest in Amarillo because of Merriman, who has returned to his hometown. It includes several heartfelt Cash performances, including his early “I Was There When It Happened,” his popular version of “Peace in the Valley” and the soulful “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.”
            ArtsFest will feature Saturday screenings of many films and videos produced or directed by local filmmakers, Manton said, including “The Kurdish Factor,” a documentary written and directed by former Bushland resident Roger Lindley; “Less < Than,” a film about poverty in America produced and directed by Amarillo High graduate Patrick Kemp; “Edge of the World,” the drama about Boys Ranch whose writing credits include Amarillo native Charla Driver; and “Hurdle,” which was to premiere this week at the Dallas International Film Festival.
            “Hurdle,” directed and co-produced by former Amarillo resident Michael Rowley, chronicles the creative efforts of two young Palestinian men to cope with the restraints and frustrations of living in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.
            Sami, 24, coaches a sport called parkour in Jerusalem. Parkour, defined by Webster as “the sport of traversing environmental obstacles by running, climbing or leaping rapidly and efficiently,” is Sami’s way of teaching young people “to overcome fear and political danger” in the shadow of immense concrete walls that separate Palestinians and Israelis.

            Mohammed, 26, lives in a refugee camps and uses photography to tell human stories of that experience as well as teaching children “to use photography as an escape from daily pressures.”
            “Michael really wants it to not be a political film,” Manton said. “He wants to show how these guys use their creativity to overcome their circumstance. It’s not a critique on the circumstance.”
            Friday night of ArtsFest will include a film community reception hosted by the Guild Fellowship, a network of Christian technical media arts people led by Manton, and the Amarillo Film Office, headed by Kashion Smith.
            Part of the Sunday afternoon offerings will be screening of nonprofit films and a segment for church-created videos.
            ArtsFest is a communitywide effort focusing not only on film but on all the arts. The three-day festival also will feature Texas women artists, a concert by Insufficient Funds, a live “Hey, Amarillo” podcast by Jason Boyett, arts and crafts vendors, a “Little Picasso” children’s area, a food truck alley and literary and poetry events. Sponsors include the Ann Crouch Foundation, Center City, Texas High Plains Writers, the Convention and Visitor Council and corporate sponsors. Two young visual artists, Landon Foster and Michaela Pelton, will be among many displaying their work.
            Manton said the organizers want to include all of Amarillo, Canyon and the Texas Panhandle.           
“Part of the mandate is that this reflects the community, and so much of the arts comes out of the church,” he said. “I’m sure more videos come out of the church than anywhere in Amarillo, and the church certainly is involved in much of the film, music and literary efforts.
“This event always will represent the community equally, but it’s a challenge to artists in the church to stand up and get involved and support it.”
Details about ArtsFest can be found at It sounds like the May 10-12 happenings will have something for everyone, including those for whom faith is important.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

March 17, 2019, column:
Stories of Old and New Testaments come to life on trip to Holy Land

By Mike Haynes
            My biggest surprise when I visited the Holy Land for the first time last month had less to do with faith than terrain.
            Israel is a lot more vertical than horizontal. Or at least Galilee and Jerusalem are.
Green hills rise above the Sea of Galilee as a tourist boat crosses
on Feb. 15. A group sponsored by Amarillo’s Washington
Avenue Christian Church also took to the water, locally
referred to as Lake Tiberias. (Photo by Mike Haynes)

            Yes, the area around the Dead Sea, south toward Egypt and east toward Jordan turn into desert – some flat and some mountainous – which is how I had pictured the land where Jesus walked. And west toward the Mediterranean turns into coastal plains.
            But much of the region where Jesus spent his time is lushly green with steep hills and valleys. In fact, to walk from place to place in Jerusalem itself – or in Nazareth or Bethlehem – the disciples would have climbed hills and descended into valleys. There’s a reason the site of the second Jewish temple is called the Temple Mount and across the way is the Mount of Olives.
As our Amarillo tour leader said, Jesus and his followers would have been in good shape.
Members of an Amarillo tour group line up on Feb. 20 to enter
the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, one of the two main sites that
many believe could be the actual site of Jesus Christ’s
burial and resurrection. (Photo by Mike Haynes)
Such mundane, physical realizations are one reason the stories and events in the Old and New Testaments do come to life when you stand in that small Middle Eastern country. I had read and heard that Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, but when you stand at the top of a slope next to the Sea of Galilee which provides excellent acoustics, you can picture the Beatitudes actually being voiced there.
When you look at the remains of a stone house in Capernaum that archeologists are pretty sure is the house of the apostle Peter or his mother-in-law, you know that the man who also was God had to have been there, too.
My wife, Kathy, and I were blessed to be able to visit those sites and many more with 73 other people, mostly from Amarillo, on a trip sponsored by Washington Avenue Christian Church. For most, it was our first journey to Israel.
Getting there and getting home certainly was a challenging journey for about half of us who
Visitors from Amarillo view the remains of a stone house in Capernaum
Feb. 15 that many archeologists believe was the home of the apostle
Peter or his mother-in-law and if so, a certain site frequented
by Jesus of Nazareth. (Photo by Mike Haynes)
endured late flights, uncooperative airlines and unscheduled nights in Chicago hotels. But I may have seen Christ as a result of those troubles as much as I did on a Sea of Galilee boat ride. I don’t know how a bunch of unbelievers would have reacted to our travel frustrations, but I do know the source of calm and perseverance I saw among our people came from their belief that God was with us. And it was reassuring to see multiple texts from the rest of our group, whose flights went smoothly, pledging their prayers for us.
Once we reached the Tel Aviv airport and then our hotel in Tiberias, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, the spirit of that land fell upon us. An Amarillo Sunday school teacher later asked me if I could spend a month in one location
This view from the Mount of Olives shows the Old City of
Jerusalem with terraces and Islamic graves leading up
to the Temple Mount. (Photo by Kathy Haynes)
that we visited, where would it be? I answered the Sea of Galilee, actually a lake, where Jesus walked on water and around which much of his ministry centered. Modern buildings are clustered around some of its waters, but many of the green hills and rocky beaches have been left untouched. It’s easy to imagine Peter, John and the rest hanging out below the hazy sky that hung above us in our short time there.
I don’t see how a Christian could visit Israel without having some kind of spiritual experience. My thoughts about the vertical hills of the north and the horizontal desert of the south led me to metaphors for our relationships: vertical with God and horizontal with other people. A Jerusalem hotel Bible study led by a woman in our group was more meaningful. Her prayer and scripture reading had led her to impress upon us the need to consider how the trip would affect our lives when we returned to Texas.
We were tourists, and we bought T-shirts and olive wood souvenirs. We floated in the Dead Sea. We learned a little about the current state of Israel, its relationship with the Palestinians and the concrete walls that help keep the peace. But we also were pilgrims, people who travel to a sacred place as an act of religious devotion, as one dictionary puts it. Some of us were rebaptized in the Jordan River. We prayed before every bus trip and silently at the Western Wall.
A scene of hills and forests is shown from the Yad Veshem
Holocaust Memorial on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, a view
not expected by many Bible readers who imagine
Jerusalem as desert-like. (Photo by Kathy Haynes)
In the past 2,000 years, churches have been built at many of the sites that are believed to have been important in Jesus’ life – for example, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the church next to the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem. Who knows whether the actual tomb of Jesus, from which he was resurrected, is under the elaborate Church of the Holy Sepulchre or is 1,100 yards away, where the Garden Tomb looks just as we imagine the entrance cut out of a hill where a round stone was rolled away? No matter where it happened, we were close to it.
If you can, go see Israel for yourself. It’s inspiring to walk where Jesus walked.
But if you don’t make it there, don’t worry. More important is to walk with Jesus wherever you are.                                                         

Monday, February 25, 2019

Feb. 17, 2019, column:
Historic church provides glimpse into early years of Christianity in Norway

By Mike Haynes
            The tall, dark, wooden building rising out of the snow looked more like a chieftain’s meeting hall in the “Vikings” TV show than a church. My wife, Kathy, and I tilted our heads back to see the sixth roof at the top, a cupola stacked above other steep layers of wood, with each level a little smaller and a little higher up.
The Gol Stave Church in Oslo, Norway, built
around the year 1200, is located in the
outdoor Norsk Folkemuseum, or Norwegian
Folk Museum. (Photo by Kathy Haynes)
            It was the Gol Stave Church, part of the Norsk Folkemuseum, or Norwegian Folk Museum, in Oslo, Norway, one of about 30 such buildings left in the country. When we visited it on a cold afternoon last month, its multiple roofs were covered in snow contrasted with its dark, rough-hewn walls.
            There’s a reason for the Viking look. The region of Europe next to the North and Norwegian seas was home to the Norse gods. Odin, Thor, Freya and the rest held sway until Viking seamen began encountering Christians in Ireland, England other parts of Europe for 300 years starting in the 700s. Some Norsemen were converted, and when Olav Haraldsson became king of the united nation of Norway in 1016, he forcibly made the country Christian.
            Olav was killed in the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030, and legend has it that a year later, his body still had not decayed. He was named a saint.
            The Gol Stave Church was built around 1200, and like many such buildings, it includes hints of the pagan religion such as dragon heads protruding from the roofs and runic symbols on a wooden pillar that say, “Kiss me, because I am so sad.”
The small interior of the Gol Stave Church in Oslo,
Norway, includes a mural of the Last Supper.
The church was built around the year 1200.
(Photo by Kathy Haynes)

            But it’s a Christian church, with a painting of the Last Supper above the altar. When the Reformation spread in the 1500s, most of Scandinavia, including Norway, became Lutheran, so the stave church in Oslo is Lutheran, as is 71.5 percent of the Norwegian population, according to the CIA Factbook. Even the Sami people in the north, Norway’s indigenous, reindeer-raising group, are mostly Christian.
            Of course, like much of Europe, much of that 71.5 percent is in name only. Churches in Norway aren’t especially well-attended on a weekly basis, but they remain relevant, if nothing else for their architecture. In 1965, the “Arctic Cathedral” was completed in Tromso. It looks like an A-frame with a dip in the middle and reminds me of the beautiful Air Force Academy chapel in Colorado Springs.
And in 2013, the “Northern Lights Cathedral” opened in Alta, one of the northernmost cities. With an outer layer of titanium sheets intended to reflect the Aurora Borealis, the striking building spirals up to a bell tower. Those two photogenic churches seat only 600 and 350 people, respectively.
 Kathy and I tend to notice churches in the places we get to visit, and Norway has its share of more traditional brick and stone places of worship. Our tour group visited one small, white, hexagon-shaped church about 200 years old. On one sanctuary wall hung 16 colorful, paper angels, and red
The massive posts, or staves, that support
Norwegian stave churches give the buildings
their name. Shown here is the interior of
the Gol Stave Church in Oslo, Norway.
(Photo by Kathy Haynes)
Norsk hymnbooks rested on a shelf ready to be picked up, so it’s an active church. But those medieval wooden ones and the modern wonders tend to catch your attention.
As a boy, British writer and professor C.S. Lewis became enamored with “northernness” after he saw illustrator Arthur Rackham’s romantic paintings of Norse gods and goddesses and heard Wagner’s music, “Ride of the Valkyries,” also related to Norse myths. He was infatuated with the heroic tales of love and war in the cold North.
Lewis didn’t become a Christian until his early 30s, and 25 years later, in his book, “Surprised by Joy,” he said he had adored the elements of the Norse religion without actually believing them. He realized that the wonder and excitement of the pagan stories was similar to what the true God wants us to experience, but pointed in God’s direction. Lewis thought the Norse stories had prepared him for Christianity, which he labeled “the true myth.”
The Gol Stave Church in Oslo, Norway, built
around the year 1200, is one of about 30 such
churches surviving. (Photo by Kathy Haynes)
“Sometimes I can almost think that I was sent back to the false gods there to acquire some capacity for worship against the day when the true God should recall me to Himself,” he wrote.

I don’t think Lewis, who died in 1963, ever made it to Norway except in his imagination. Kathy and I were blessed to see the remnants of the old ways and evidence that the “new life” isn’t dead yet.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Jan. 20, 2019, column:
The tinge in your eyes can be God giving you joy
By Mike Haynes
            That day, it didn’t take much for me to feel the tinge in my eyes that isn’t quite tears – but almost.
            I never did cry, but several visuals and several thoughts had me on the verge of tears of joy.
            Yes, it was just a football game, but what that game represented and the response it produced reminded me of the meaning of community.
            I gladly live in Amarillo but grew up in McLean, Texas. Adding the “Texas” is important, because my hometown is what Texas is – or is perceived to be. Individualistic. Down to earth. Honest. Helpful. Friendly. God-fearing.  
McLean fans at Class 1A Division 1 Six-Man state championship game
at AT&T Stadium in Arlington on Dec. 19, 2018

            And one December day in the stadium of the Dallas Cowboys, my hometown McLean Tigers were playing in a six-man state championship football game. When I looked up at the famous, gigantic video screen and saw the black-and-gold logo and the name of our town, I felt that tinge in my eyes.
            Yes, December. When I was a McLean Tiger myself, our tough-as-nails coach gave us the goal of winning so we still would be playing in December. We had good teams, tough like our coach, but November is as far as we got. Fifty years later, grandsons of some of my classmates were playing in December.
            And our old coach was there.
            He was one of an estimated 2,000 people on our side of the cavernous stadium who came from around the state. They sure weren’t all current McLean residents, because the population has shrunk to less than 800.
            Players’ parents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts and grandparents were there, plus family and friends from all over Texas. One woman, a McLean graduate from the 1950s who lives in the Metroplex, was in a wheelchair pushed by her daughter. She asked me if any of the Tigers could be her distant relatives.
McLean fans at Class 1A Division 1 Six-Man state championship game
at AT&T Stadium in Arlington on Dec. 19, 2018
           Someone showed me a smartphone video of our team bus navigating the big hallway in the AT&T Stadium basement before pulling up next to the Tigers’ dressing room. I felt the tinge in my eyes again.
            I was on the sidelines taking pictures for most of the game, so I had a good view of the several stadium sections filled with people wearing mostly black and gold. I saw 15 or so of my own family, several of my long-ago teammates and the family of a key player whose brother had died in a prairie fire less than two years ago. I felt a different tinge in my eyes.
            I was told that my former classmate and college roommate who has been dealing with cancer had planned to come but was just too tired and ill to make it. Again, I felt a little bit different tinge in my eyes.
            In the fourth quarter, the scoreboard finally showed a margin that told me my hometown team would win state, the ultimate goal of every sports team in the Panhandle and across Texas. I felt the tinge in my eyes.
            You saw on the sports pages and on TV that my hometown overcame an outstanding team from downstate to win the state championship going away, the school’s first ever. Afterward, young boys who grew up in a town with more churches – five – than restaurants – two – and who learned hard work breaking horses and fixing fence were being asked questions at a big-city news conference. They were their usual polite selves, smiling but humble, making their mommas and poppas proud. I felt the tinge in my eyes.
             Some of the players’ families have been in the town a relatively short time. Others have had four generations of boys suiting up and girls cheering on the sideline for almost 100 years. This state champion team included several guys who started school together in kindergarten.
McLean fans at Class 1A Division 1 Six-Man state championship game
at AT&T Stadium in Arlington on Dec. 19, 2018

            After the game, my family circled the concourse, every few feet running into clusters of friends or kinfolk either waiting for the boys to appear from the locker room or just not wanting to leave this golden moment. Approaching every group, I felt the tinge in my eyes.
            The following Sunday, my wife and I attended church at McLean. My aunt had suggested that everybody wear their black-and-gold T-shirts to honor the team, and a bunch of us did, including my cousin the preacher. By then, my eyes felt normal. But then, at the end of the service, my cousin asked all who felt so moved to surround a local college girl who was about to leave on an international mission trip.
            Kathy and I joined maybe 20 people, some of whom laid their hands on this young woman who is devoted to Christ, the rest of us adding our hands to shoulders in a concentric circle as people prayed.
            I felt the tinge in my eyes, and this time the tears almost dripped down. God has more than one way of giving us joy.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Dec. 23, 2018, post:
We need to get past 'devotional' stereotype

By Mike Haynes
            It’s a little late for Christmas, but if you’d like to give someone a gift they can use all 365 days of 2019, I have a couple of suggestions.
            Every night of 2018 so far, after plugging in my phone and before turning off the light, I have read one of 365 devotionals in Mark Lanier’s book, “Psalms for Living: Daily Prayers, Wisdom, and Guidance” (Baylor University Press, 2016).
            I know, “devotional” is a somewhat churchy word conjuring up visions of ladies sitting in a circle, drinking tea and reading inspirational prose to each other. But we need to get past that stereotype.
            I don’t know of a branch of Christianity that doesn’t stress that believers need a daily link to God. One aspect of that connection is prayer, and another is paying attention to God’s direction for us in his Word, the Bible.
            The Old Testament makes it clear: “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” (Joshua 1:8, NIV)
            Nothing can beat reading God’s Word directly, but it also helps to hear other believers’ takes on it through sermons, discussions and, yes, devotionals. 
            Mark Lanier said he wrote “Psalms for Living” primarily as one way to pass on the wisdom he’s learned in his 50-plus years to his children, extended family and close friends. The former Lubbock resident, Texas Tech University graduate, nationally known trial lawyer and founder of Houston’s Lanier Library is not a theologian but has training in Hebrew and Greek, teaches a Sunday school class that attracts hundreds and is the author of “Christianity on Trial: A Lawyer Examines the Christian Faith” (InterVarsity Press, 2014)
            Each page of “Psalms for Living” starts with a short passage from the book of Psalms followed by Lanier’s interpretation and thoughts on those verses and ending with a short prayer. And even though I’ve read each page with a pillow behind my head, they certainly haven’t put me to sleep.
            For example, the Oct. 20 page, based on Psalm 116:12-14, starts this way:
            “I make no bones about it. If I had only one band I could listen to for the rest of my life, it would be U2.”
            Lanier then discusses the U2 song, “Where the Streets Have No Name,” which he believes refers to heaven. It’s well known that the Irish rock band’s lead singer, Bono, has professed his faith in Christ. Lanier says Bono often introduces this hit song by quoting Psalm 116:12-14, which begins, “What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me?” (ESV)
            On one live recording, the rock star relates the verse to himself: “What can I give back to God for the blessings he poured out on me?”
            Lanier doesn’t make every page about pop culture. Sometimes he uses his knowledge of the original language to point out nuances of Hebrew poetry in a passage. He recalls lessons he learned from his college minister. He writes about how being grounded in his faith has kept him stable in the often-stressful law profession.
            And if you’re older or younger than most fans of U2, don’t worry that this book is for just one generation of readers. It focuses primarily on how the Psalms point us toward the love of God and salvation in his Son. It also motivates us to put biblical principles into practice every day.

            My second suggestion is brand new this month. It’s Lanier’s “sequel,” “Torah for Living: Daily Prayers, Wisdom and Guidance” (Baylor University Press, 2018). As the title indicates, this book does the same thing with the first five books of the Bible that the author did with the Psalms. Like the Psalms book, it’s available from the usual online booksellers.
            Of course, scores of excellent devotional books are on the market by well-known people such as Max Lucado, Lysa Terkeurst, Tony Dungy and Tim Keller, but these two efforts by someone who grew up in West Texas might strike a chord with people in our area.
            I haven’t seen the Torah book yet, but if I get it into my online cart soon enough, I hope it will keep me thinking more deeply about God starting New Year’s Day.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Nov. 25, 2018, column:
Blessings spread beyond the table

By Mike Haynes
            My sister pretty much has Mom’s chocolate pie down. She makes pecan pie like Mom did, too, but the chocolate was the hardest to replicate.
            Our mother was known for several things, including playing the organ at church, but her cooking prowess may have been her biggest claim to fame. For sure at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
            I’ve had chocolate pie made by others that tasted great, but – and I know I’m biased – Mom’s is up there one a higher plane. I haven’t tasted a piece anywhere else that had quite the same slight creaminess while still being firm and flavorful.
This chocolate pie was made in 2009 by the columnist's mother,
Joyce Haynes. (Photo by Mike Haynes)
            Sister Sheri has taken over a lot of what Mom provided for her family and friends, even to the point of her chocolate pie bringing $200 at a charity auction and delivering pies to shut-in friends. And other family members contribute to filling in for their mother who died five years ago. In this case, maybe it doesn’t take a village, but it takes a family.
            Thanksgiving is one of those times when it’s obvious.  Mom used to be firmly in charge of the turkey, the macaroni and cheese with crushed crackers on top, the green bean casserole and so many more side dishes. Oh, and the dressing. Everybody likes the dressing they grew up with, and Sheri kind of has that down, too.
            But it isn’t just Sheri. It takes two or three sisters-in-law to make up for Mom not being there – plus my brother Sam, who was the only one of us boys who grew up helping in the kitchen. He still does, proving that a former all-district athlete and coach also can make cream cheese dip and wash dishes.
            We manage to keep holidays going almost like when Mom was here.
            It’s the same in the community. My sister doesn’t play the organ at church (although she could), but she follows in her mother’s footsteps by leading young kids in singing and joining half a dozen or more church women in preparing and serving meals for funerals and other events.
            That’s where we see that it isn’t just us. In the Texas Panhandle, we still have some families who have been in their towns for generations. At our hometown, just one of several examples is Rose, who’s about my sister’s age. She might be at the church more than the preacher, just like her mother, Mary, was, helping with those funerals, making announcements on Sunday mornings and getting her kids involved. And before Mary, her mother was doing the same thing, and at least one more generation before that helped keep that congregation going.
            Today, so many children grow up and leave for larger cities and better opportunities, which is understandable. I ended up only 70 miles away from home, but because I’m not a good cowboy and my skills have been better suited elsewhere, I have to drive an hour or so to see family and hometown friends.
            I feel blessed to be that close. When I do make that drive for a football game or a wedding or funeral – or Thanksgiving or Christmas – I love seeing family and community traditions continuing.
            It’s not unlike the Christian faith being passed down for 2,000 years – and the Jewish faith on which it’s built for longer than that. From Jesus to Peter and Paul to the early church fathers to medieval monks to Martin Luther to John Wesley to Fanny Crosby to Mother Teresa, just to mention a few, God’s message continues to be passed on – by those big names but also by mothers and fathers quietly handing the baton to the next generation.
            This Thanksgiving, we had about 25 of our family at the 68-year-old house where Mom cooked and practiced the organ and raised five kids and where Dad still hosts us. We sat on benches at the same big kitchen table with the overflow in the dining room, and it wasn’t much different from when I was a kid.
            Not everyone has that kind of continuity, but wherever a person finds love and acceptance and maybe some turkey, they can experience some of the blessed Thanksgiving tradition.
               Even if they don’t have the best chocolate pie in the world.
                                                                    * * *
            Mike Haynes taught journalism at Amarillo College from 1991 to 2016. He can be reached at Go to for other recent columns.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Oct. 28, 2018, column:
Unexpected delights
Visit to small Maryland church overshadows Museum of the Bible, Library of Congress
By Mike Haynes
            For a believer who loves the history of God’s Word being transmitted through the centuries, a day at the Museum of the Bible and a half-day at the Library of Congress ought to be the highlights of a trip to Washington, D.C.
            And those visits this month were fascinating. On the first day, curator Norm Conrad gave our
Linganore United Methodist Church in Union Bridge, Maryland,
is on the site of one of Francis Asbury’s 16,500 sermons,
preached during his 1792 visit. (Photo by Mike Haynes)
group of 20 a special tour through MOTB, and on the second day, four Library of Congress experts arranged for us a private showing of 19 documents, including a page from the 1455 Gutenberg Bible and the small Bible used first at Abraham Lincoln’s 1861 inauguration and later by Presidents Obama and Trump.
            Strangely, it was the third day’s activity, a drive to a little Methodist Church north of Washington, that stuck with me more.
            The International Society of Bible Collectors is a small, pretty specialized group of people who know much more than I do about Bible history – from 2,000-year-old Greek papyri to 21st century native American translations. So yes, the Dead Sea Scroll fragments, a copy of Martin Luther’s 1530 New Testament and the rest of the glitzy, $500 million MOTB were enough to draw us to D.C.
            The wood-paneled room in the Library of Congress where I restrained myself from touching that Gutenberg leaf, a 1640 Bay Psalm book from Massachusetts and an 1830 first edition of the Book of Mormon was in itself worth the trip.
            So in comparison, I didn’t expect much on Day 3, when we drove to Linganore United Methodist Church in Union Bridge, Maryland. The Rev. Stephen Ricketts, one of the ISBC members, is the pastor there, and the schedule called for us to hear two speakers and see his Bible collection.
            If you’re paying attention, though, you might experience unexpected delights.
Local church members served lunch to visiting Bible collectors
Oct. 6 in a traditional fellowship hall setting at Linganore
United Methodist Church. (Photo by Mike Haynes)
            Ricketts said his church’s location in the rolling, wooded hills northwest of Baltimore had hosted worship since the early 1700s and that the current brick building had been on the site since the late 1800s. He didn’t say Washington had slept there, but maybe more interesting to me, he told us that Francis Asbury had preached on this spot.
          Asbury (1745-1816) is one of the most well-known names among Methodists. The Englishman is said to have traveled 300,000 miles in America while preaching 16,500 sermons. Church founder John Wesley had ordained Thomas Coke and sent him to the new United States. In 1784, Coke ordained Asbury, who became a superintendent of the American Methodist Episcopal Church. Asbury later called himself “bishop,” although Wesley didn’t like the title.
            In the sanctuary of this small (attendance the previous Sunday had been 54) but historic Maryland church, our group heard author Laurence Vance discuss the “History of the King James Bible” and retired Wesley Theological Seminary Dean Bruce Birch explain “How Did We Get Our Bible?”
            Between the talks, I felt like I was in a rural church in the Texas Panhandle.
This tombstone in Union Bridge, Maryland,
indicates that Sarah Dorsey took care of famed
preacher Francis Asbury when he fell ill in 1792.
(Photo by Mike Haynes)  
            Three “ladies of the church” and one of their husbands met our every need during lunch in the fellowship hall. The long tables with folding chairs, the kitchen in the corner, the tidy window curtains, the decorated bulletin board – all reminded me of the church basement where I grew up.
            I loved the connection. This Maryland church has families going back more generations than
any in our part of the country, but the hospitality was the same that’s been offered for four generations by my friends and relatives in Texas.
            After marveling in late afternoon at the pastor’s collection of books and Bibles, I couldn’t resist taking pictures in the adjacent cemetery, which had graves almost 300 years old.
            Looking for a couple of the oldest tombstones, I noticed one partially covered in moss that had the upper right corner broken off. I snapped a photo, then read the inscription:
            “SARAH – Wife of – ELI DORSEY – Died 1798. –
            “June 1792 nursed Bishop – Asbury through a serious – illness at her house.”
            Francis Asbury’s visit obviously had made an impression on the congregation.

            I greatly appreciated all the remarkable activities provided for our group. It might be the subtle surprises, though, that I remember the longest.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Sept. 30, 2018, column:
Home from war: McLean native 'eloquent in prayer' lost his life in France during WWI

By Mike Haynes
            On Thursday, Oct. 6, 1921, a young man’s body arrived in McLean, east of Amarillo, from New York. The casket was taken out to the home of Lucius and Mattie Floyd west of town, where the body of their son lay in state until Sunday afternoon.
            At 2 p.m., Baptist Pastor A.F. Agee conducted a funeral at the McLean Tabernacle, assisted by Chaplain C.H. Barnes of Hennessy, Oklahoma, and J.A. Hill, president of West Texas State Normal College in Canyon and attended by 150 people in the small, two-decade-old town.
            Members of the American Legion from McLean, Shamrock, Pampa, Canyon and Amarillo carried the flag-covered casket to Hillcrest Cemetery.
            Andrew H. Floyd had been killed in action three years earlier, on Oct. 8, 1918, a month and
Andrew Floyd of McLean died 100 years ago
in France during World War I.
(Provided photo from McLean-Alanreed Area Musuem)

That the young Floyd was held in high esteem is shown by the participation in his funeral of the WT president and the fact that the Sunday after the Floyds were notified of his death in November 1918, residents organized a memorial service at the Baptist Church. The program featured community leaders speaking about “His High School Life,” “His Christian Life,” “His Patriotic Life” and “His Social Life.”
            Pastor J.F. Reagan wrote about Andrew Floyd in the local newspaper on Nov. 22, 1918:
            “He was a member of the McLean Baptist church and lived a devoted life. He was eloquent in prayer and always had an encouraging word for those who were struggling in the Christian life.
            “Andrew Floyd was a patriotic man. … He didn’t want to go to war, he didn’t believe in it, but he loved his country and his home. He felt it his duty to die if need be for the sake of Democracy.”
            The handsome Floyd had been valedictorian of his 1911 high school class and won awards for debate and public speaking at West Texas State Normal College before graduating in 1914. Reagan wrote that while at WT, “he gained the love of the faculties and student body.”
            Floyd taught school in his hometown before enlisting in the U.S. Army just after the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917. He was stationed in Amarillo for six weeks before being sent to Camp Bowie at Fort Worth, where he was part of the 36th Division that was trained for trench warfare in Europe.
The 1918 headstone of Andrew Floyd in McLean reads
“He Sleeps in France.” A stone was added on top that
says, “Returned to the U.S. and Reinterred on
Oct. 9, 1921.” (Photo by Mike Haynes)
He was shipped out to France in July 1918. In August, Andrew wrote his mother:
            “It’s been quite awhile since I started “Over There;” but after a long ride, I am “Over Here.” Seems very strange to be writing you from France. … After all, you don’t seem any farther away than you ever did. I am home on a visit tonight, notwithstanding an intervening stretch of 3,000 miles of salt water. …
            “We had barely planted foot on soil and assured ourselves that it was firm when we were called on to distinguish ourselves a bit. Company G and Company H (H is from Clarendon) were selected as Honor Guards for General Pershing…
            “The battle cry over here is ‘Heaven or Hell or Home for Christmas.’ You can just go to throwing the feed to those young turkeys now.”
            In October, however, U.S. and French troops were closing in on a church at St. Etienne in southeastern France, attempting to take the city from the Germans. Many Americans charged across an open area in the attack. A historical marker on the Camp Bowie site in Fort Worth says the Americans captured St. Etienne on Oct. 8, contributing to the war’s armistice on Nov. 11, 1918. Floyd was one of several hundred Allied troops who didn’t make it.
Andrew Floyd was the first person
from McLean to die in any war as
he was killed in action in France
during World War I on Oct. 8, 1918.
(Provided photo from
McLean-Alanreed Area Museum)
            Fellow soldier John Sullivan wrote Floyd’s sister, Fay, from France that he had talked to Andrew shortly before his death. “I am proud of that fact that he did not flinch from his duty in the face of peril, but died as he had lived, a true American, worthy of a noble mother who gave him birth and the noble father who guided his steps to stalwart manhood.”

            Writer Jack Woodville London says Germans and Americans killed at St. Etienne were buried in the cemetery of the church the Allies were trying to capture. In 1920, the American remains were moved to the Meuse Argonne American Cemetery, and Andrew Floyd arrived back home in 1921.
            Also in 1921, the American Legion established the Andrew H. Floyd Post 315 in McLean. Thirty years later, it was renamed the Floyd-Corbin-Florey Post to include recognition of Andy Corbin, the first McLean resident to die in World War II, and Wibb Florey, the first and only McLean death in the Korean conflict.
             Floyd’s 1918 headstone reads “He Sleeps in France.” A stone was added on top that says, “Returned to the U.S. and Reinterred on Oct. 9, 1921.”
            Yes, it’s a coincidence, but St. Etienne is the French equivalent of St. Stephen, known as the first Christian martyr; Andrew Floyd was one Texas town’s first casualty of war.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Sept. 2, 2018, column:
Blessed are the peacemakers, Reagan and Gorbachev

By Mike Haynes
            I couldn’t resist climbing the eight steps in front of the boxy white house in Iceland. While my wife and the rest of the tour group stayed in the bus on a dreary December 2015 day in Reykjavik, I wanted to plant my insulated boots where pictures show Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev stood in 1986.
            Out front of the city-owned Hofdi House, which sits a snowball’s throw from the North Atlantic Ocean, are some stone plaques written in Russian, English and Icelandic. One reads:
“In this historic house 11-12 October 1986 the Reykjavik summit meeting of the superpowers took place between Ronald Reagan, president of the United States of America, and Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, secretary general of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Hofdi House in Iceland was the site of the 1986 summit meeting
between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev at  which the
United States and Soviet Union made progress on denuclearization.
In the foreground is a section of the Berlin Wall, covered in
graffiti, installed after it fell in 1989. (Photo by Mike Haynes)
“This summit meeting is regarded as heralding the beginning of the end of the Cold War.”
Not every historian agrees that President Reagan ended the decades-long Cold War between the United States and the USSR, but many do, especially if you also give Mikhail Gorbachev part of the credit.
Reading about that short Iceland encounter and the other three meetings between the two leaders described as summits – in Vienna, Austria; Washington, D.C.; and Moscow – reminds me what can be accomplished when people meet face to face.
As eyewitness Ken Adelman recounts in his 2014 book, “Reagan at Reykjavik,” and journalist Bret Baier describes in this year’s “Three Days in Moscow,” those two world leaders not only became friends over three years but reduced their nations’ nuclear arsenals substantially. And the firm stance that Reagan consistently projected plus his encouraging words of freedom to the people of the Soviet Union and its satellite countries were major factors in the 1989 fall of the Berlin wall and the breakup of the USSR in 1991.
Reagan started his presidency with tough talk, calling the USSR an “evil empire” in a 1983 speech to the National Association of Evangelicals. The same month, he announced plans to develop the Strategic Defense Initiative, envisioned as a way to shoot down nuclear missiles before they could hit the United States. SDI, which many ridiculed as “Star Wars,” turned out to be unrealistic, but it was taken seriously by the Soviets and contributed to their willingness to negotiate.
It is clear from those present at the four summits that both Reagan and Gorbachev sincerely wanted to rid the globe of the danger of nuclear destruction. This chief Communist operated in a more human way than the stiff Soviet leaders of the past, and his motivation apparently was an honest desire to make the world a better place.
Reagan’s inspiration was a strong patriotism and belief system born in his small-town Illinois upbringing. Ron and Nancy Reagan didn’t attend church much during their White House years, which author Baier attributes to the disruption it would have caused. But the president often quoted Abraham Lincoln about praying on his knees, and in a letter thanking a reporter for a story, Reagan wrote:
“…there are a lot of people in the media who are very ‘broad-minded’ except when it comes
This display in Reykjavik, Iceland, describes the 1986 summit meeting there
between Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union and Ronald Reagan
of the United States. The words are in the Icelandic language. (Photo by Mike Haynes)
to tolerating people with religious convictions. … (Teddy Roosevelt) called the Presidency a ‘bully pulpit,’ but nowadays if one uses words like God and Prayer from the ‘pulpit’ the alarm bells go off.”
Reagan’s “evil empire” speech included a quote from C.S. Lewis’ “Screwtape Letters”: “The greatest evil is not done now in those sordid ‘dens of crime’ that Dickens loved to paint. It is not even done in concentration camps and labor camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered … in clear, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.”
But as he warned about evil creeping in, Reagan was adaptable, as was Gorbachev. By the time of their third summit in Washington, they knew each other well, and I think they realized they both genuinely wanted peace. When in 1988 during a walk in Moscow’s Red Square, reporter Sam Donaldson asked Reagan, “Do you still think you’re in an evil empire?” the president replied, “No, that was another time, another era.”
The climax of Baier’s book is a speech Reagan gave during that Moscow summit to students at Moscow State University. By then, the purpose of the man who had been so hard on Communism and the USSR was to encourage and inspire the students and, by extension, the Soviet people.
He talked about the shared yearning for freedom of all humans, including Americans and Russians. He quoted Russian writer Boris Pasternak about “the irresistible power of unarmed truth.” Standing under a huge bust of Vladimir Lenin, Reagan finished with the hope for “a new world of reconciliation, friendship and peace.”
Since Gorbachev and Reagan passed the reins to others, the U.S.-Russian relationship has regressed. We don’t see the same desire for peace or the same goodwill. The current leaders don’t, like those two did, bring to mind Jesus’ words:
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”     
            (This column was in the Amarillo Globe-News Oct. 2, 2018 - with the last line, the Bible quote, left out!.
           (It’s plenty long already, but I had intended to include something about the Czech woman who led a tour in the Czech Republic on another trip Kathy and I took. She remembered when the Communists left her country around 1990 and said she and everybody she knows love Ronald Reagan for that. –Mike H.)