Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Science, History, and the Question of Proof

"You can't prove ANY of it!"

   I have heard that objection, in one form or another, from many of my atheist friends in my online sparring sessions over the objective truth of the Gospel claims about Jesus.  The gist of their complaint seems to be that, if you cannot prove something scientifically, it must not be true.  Therein lies the problem: science and history are two very different disciplines.

   The fact is that NO historical event can be 'scientifically' proven to have happened; at least, not in the pre-modern era.  Some would say motion picture and photographic recording of events would constitute scientific proof; although the fact that there are people alive today who deny that the Holocaust or the moon landings ever happened shows that even those standards of proof are not universally accepted.  But, for the sake of argument, let's agree that no historical event from more than 500 years ago can "scientifically" proven. After all, scientific proof lies in being able to measure and duplicate results in a controlled environment.  History does not work that way! 

    But I would make the argument that the historical event that Christianity rests upon - the resurrection of Jesus from the dead - is as historically provable as ANY other event from the ancient world.  The accounts of the Resurrection meet the standards of historical proof in multiple ways.  So first of all, I would like to lay out for you the generally accepted standards of historical proof, and then look at how the New Testament measures up to them.

  When looking at a historical event, there are several factors that need to be weighed:

1.  Are the accounts of this event close enough to the event to contain eyewitness testimony, without the accretion of legendary/mythical elements? 
2.  Have the accounts been handed down with accurately? 
3.  Is there an alternative account that may reflect a different version of what happened?
4.  Does the event described fit into the known sequence of other events from the time? 
5.  Is the event described possible?  Is it probable? 
6.  Are the accounts preserved so biased as to negate their credibility?

Now, let us measure the accounts of the Resurrection by these standards:

1.  Date - are the accounts close enough in time to the event to contain eyewitness testimony, without the accretion of legendary/mythical elements?
   There is some controversy about the dating of the NT books, but honestly, this controversy boils down to a window of three decades.  More conservative Biblical scholars date the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) to the decade of the 60's AD and John sometime in the 90's.  Liberal scholars would place the Synoptics between 70 and 80, maybe 90 AD, and John as late as 120 (although the dating of the Rylands Papyrus fragment makes that late a date for John utterly untenable).  Jesus was crucified around 33 AD, to the best of our knowledge, so that places the Synoptic Gospel accounts within a 25 year window, by the most conservative views, and within a 50 year window, by the most liberal. If most of Jesus' disciples were in their 20's, that means that by the decade of the 60's AD they would have been around 50-60 years old, on average - so the three Synoptic Gospels were certainly written while at least some of the men closest to Jesus were still alive. John's Gospel was later, but several ancient sources record that John lived to a remarkable old age, surviving into the reign of the Emperor Trajan, who ruled from 98-117 AD.  In addition, the letters of Paul - even if you reject his authorship of the "Pastoral letters" (whole 'nother topic there) and only accept the seven "classically Pauline" letters - constantly referred to the Resurrection of Jesus starting with Galatians, which was composed around 48 AD.  That was FIFTEEN years after the Crucifixion!  In I Corinthians 15, he provides a list of eyewitnesses to the Resurrected Christ which he describes by saying: "I passed on to you [the church at Corinth] as of first importance, that which I also received" - a rabbinical formula for a lesson that had been imparted from another, more learned source.  Since Paul was converted about two years after the Resurrection, and traveled to Jerusalem to learn from Peter and John and James the Lord's brother some three years after that, this means that the list of eyewitnesses was circulating IN Jerusalem, the city where Jesus was crucified, within a very short time of the crucifixion itself.  As I have pointed out elsewhere - I even included this point in a sermon that is part of my novel, THE TESTIMONIUM - even in the ancient world, folks knew that dead people stay dead.  If I showed up in Dallas five years after the crucifixion claiming that JFK had risen from his tomb three days after Oswald shot him, that claim would have earned me a quick trip to a rubber room!  Instead, in Jerusalem, thousands of Jews - many of them members of the same mob that chanted "Crucify him!" - converted to this new faith in a risen savior.  Because they KNEW the tomb was empty.  There simply wasn't enough time for a legend to form.

2.  Have the accounts been handed down accurately?  The number of manuscripts of the NT that are available is downright embarrassing when compared to the paltry manuscript evidence for many other classical works, and how close those copies are to the original autographs is measured in decades in some cases, whereas it is centuries or even millennia for other ancient narratives, like Caesar's COMMENTARIES ON THE GALLIC WARS or Homer's ODYSSEY.  There are some 6000 Greek manuscripts, plus additional manuscripts in Syriac and other languages.  There are enough quotes from the NT in the writings of the early church fathers (men who lived in the Second and Third centuries AD) to reconstruct over 95% of the New Testament text if all those Greek manuscripts were lost!  And, although these handwritten copies do contain some errors and textual variations, there are so many of them that textual analysis has concluded the NT has been passed down with a textual purity in excess of 98%!

3.  Is there an alternative account that might reflect another version of what happened?
    NO.  All the New Testament writings, the patristic writings, as well as the controversial account preserved by Flavius Josephus (see my earlier blog post on the Testimonium Flavinium) reflect a belief that Jesus was raised from the dead, and there is NO alternative narrative proposed by any other ancient source.  Even skeptics like Bart Ehrman agree that Christianity began in the fourth decade of the First Century AD, and that belief in the Resurrection of Jesus was a cornerstone doctrine of the church from the very beginning.  Where did that belief come from?  Jesus was publicly executed - one thing all scholars (other than the 'Jesus Mythicists,' whom even Ehrman calls "pseudo-scholars") agree on is that Jesus of Nazareth was a real person who was put to death by crucifixion.  His disciples were there; all of them saw him arrested and several of them personally saw him die. Yet just a few weeks later they were all boldly proclaiming his Resurrection in the Temple - literally in the faces of the men who condemned Jesus to death!  Don't you think, if Jesus was really dead, the Jewish leadership and the Roman governor would have provided an explanation?  No, instead, there is, as one historian said, "a gaping hole in history that is the size and shape of a Resurrection."

4.  Does the event described fit into the known sequence of events from that time and place?
   Overwhelmingly, yes.  The Gospels - especially Luke - have a high degree of historical accuracy when it comes to naming the various officials, both Jewish, Roman, and pagan, that held office during the time of Jesus' life and the spread of the early church.  They accurately describe people, places and events that are verifiable from other historical sources. The crucifixion of Jesus fits in perfectly with Roman practice towards accused political rebels in the provinces, and the scheming of the priestly faction to get rid of Jesus comports well with the atmosphere of intrigue and cut-throat politics described by Josephus and Philo as being prevalent during that time.  In short, the Crucifixion fits the historical context of its time perfectly!

5.  Is the event described possible?  Is it probable?
    This is the point at which atheists say: "Aha!  A resurrection is impossible, so there can't have been one!"  The problem is, that argument is completely contingent on rejecting the reality of God.  If, in fact, God exists and is all-powerful (and if He wasn't, He wouldn't be God, now would he?), then a Resurrection is indeed possible.  And since the non-existence of God cannot ever be proven, then neither can the impossibility of the Resurrection. So, if God exists, is a Resurrection probable?  Given the Old Testament prophecies that predicted the suffering of God's Servant,  Jesus' well-attested miraculous powers, and His own specific predictions that He would be betrayed, crucified, and resurrected on the third day, then a Resurrection becomes not only possible but indeed probable!  In addition, the explosive growth of the early church in the very city where Jesus was crucified is highly improbable, if not impossible, without a Resurrection!

6.  Are the accounts of the event so biased as to negate their credibility?
    Again, the atheist points and says: "Aha!  These men believed that Jesus was divine and resurrected, so their accounts cannot be trusted!"  Of course, that is like saying that a biologist cannot be trusted when he writes about evolution, because he believes it to be true and therefore cannot form an unbiased judgment, or that a historian writing about the outcome of a battle cannot be trusted because he believes that "his" side won.  The argument that slices through this objection is so simple, and yet so effective: WHY did the disciples believe that Jesus had risen?  Because they SAW Him after He rose!  Even Jesus' brother James, who was embarrassed by Jesus' teaching and tried to silence him on occasion, suddenly emerges as a leader of the Jerusalem church after the Resurrection.  Why?  Paul says it: "He appeared unto James."  I always ask my students: What would it take for you to suddenly believe that your own older brother was God in human flesh?  These men didn't preach a Resurrection because they believed it, they preached a Resurrection because they SAW it.

    So can I 'scientifically' prove that Jesus rose from the dead?  No.  But, using the standards that historians all over the world use to judge the accounts of events in the ancient world, I can say that the Resurrection of Jesus meets all those standards and can be regarded as a historical fact.  It is frankly the only explanation for the origins of Christianity that covers all the evidence!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Where Does The Summer Go?

   When I was a boy, I was very fond of the comic strip PEANUTS.  I had several books of the compiled daily strips, and one of my favorites was entitled SUMMERS FLY, WINTERS WALK, CHARLIE BROWN!  At the time I didn't really appreciate just how true that could be.  After all, when you are a kid, three months of summer vacation are FOREVER.  The days stretch out, packed with adventure and activity, and the milestones - family vacation time, fishing, riding your bicycle everywhere under the sun, Vacation Bible School if you are a church kid like I was, afternoons at the movies - by the time summer ends, you're almost ready for school to start so you can get some rest!

   Now, before anyone interjects, I fully recognize that most adults work all summer long, with only a brief week or two where they can pack in a vacation.  I am blessed beyond measure that, as a teacher, I can actually be off work from the last week of May through mid-August.  (Technically, though, I'm not really OFF work - just working harder at my other occupations!)  So I'm not at all ungrateful for having this time off every year, but at the same time - MAN! that time flies!  So as I sit down here to update my blog for the first time in a couple of weeks, I thought I would take stock of what I did with the time I had.

   Of course, as an author, book signings are the most effective way to get your name and your titles out there, so I tried to book as many of those events as I could into the summer months.  There simply is no substitute for personal appearances, where you can put a face with your name and personally invite people to buy your books.  And I did a LOT of that!  Looking back over my calendar ap, I did nine bookstore events, plus three artifact shows where I sold books from my table, and spoke at three different churches and sold books there as well.  That translated to 115 books that I personally sold this summer, not counting my online sales from Amazon and my website (I won't know about those until I get my summer royalty check this fall).  I'm still not where I wish I was - let's be honest, I'd LOVE to have sales like Stephen King or John Grisham - but hey, I'll take it!  (And, of course, if you are reading this, feel free to help me bump up those numbers by ordering my books at the link I'll provide at the end of this column!) Also, I have four more signing events coming up in August, so check the "Meet Lewis" page on my website to see if I'll be coming to your neck of the woods!

   Summer is also "me" time.  And for me, that always means arrowhead hunting!  My hunting pace has slowed to a crawl compared to previous years - partly because my local hunting conditions are so very sparse, and partly because I am spending so much time promoting my books.  I went on my first hunt of the summer on Memorial Day, up to the river, and found one of the most memorable artifacts I have ever picked up (I chronicled that hunt here back in May, if you are interested in reading about it).  I made a return trip to the river, a couple of weeks later, but we got rained out before we could find much of anything.  I also made two trips down to Limestone County, TX, my favorite hunting ground, and found nine points the first time and four the second, but then my trust old tub, the Water Turkey, began having engine trouble and has languished in the shop ever since.  As soon as they get the parts in, though, we'll be hitting the water again in quest of Indian relics.  I still have a couple of weeks left!

   Artifact shows are another enjoyable part of my summer routine.  For years my friend Ray and I have hosted a show of our own, however, this summer we just weren't able to put it together - I was too busy and he was too sick.  We will try to do it next year, I guess.  However, I did pack up four tables' worth of relics and head down to Temple, TX for the biggest arrowhead show in Texas, during the first weekend of June.  I took my wife along and we had a lovely time - I did some buying and selling of relics and also sold a big old pile of my books, and just thoroughly enjoyed walking around and staring at some of the finest Indian artifacts ever collected in North America. After the show we drove down to Austin the next morning and I did a book signing there, and then enjoyed a nice leisurely drive back.   There were also two shows this summer and spring in Midlothian, TX - an excellent little show hosted by my friend Harold Hughes.  In a way, I enjoy it more than Temple because I can actually get around and see ALL the tables, since there are only 35 of them, instead of spinning my wheels trying to take in 250 tables of relics at the huge Temple show.

   You can't talk about summer in Texas without mentioning the weather.  The past few summers around here have been relatively mild - most days in the 90's, with nights in the 70's - in other words, certainly warm and downright hot in the afternoons, but not miserable.  Well, this year we jumped back into the patterns of the previous decade.  So far we have had 21 hundred degree days, and one particularly brutal Sunday a week or two back it jumped up to 109.  Folks, that I is just plain HOT, no matter what part of the country you are from!  Needless to say, that thoroughly curtails any outdoor activity that does not involve getting in the water.

   Since we are full time caretakers for my mother-in-law, who is now 90, it's very hard for us to get away for more than a few days at a time.  But this past weekend we did combine a book signing in Houston with a chance to sneak down to Galveston for a couple of days, and had a wonderful time!  We got to visit with my sister, I sold a few books Saturday, and then Sunday was a glorious day of rest and leisure - walking on the beach, enjoying fresh Gulf seafood, touring a museum, and just relaxing without worrying about whose night it was to stay up with Dorothy, or having to listen to the incessant yapping of her beast Allie, the world's most annoying dog!  Few things are more therapeutic than the sound of the waves rolling in and the cry of seagulls over the water.

    What else did I do with summer?  I finished the musical I was working on, about Theodore Roosevelt - I have no idea if I will ever do anything with it, but I had fun writing it and felt a real sense of accomplishment when it was finished.  I began writing, with my friend Holly Rice, a screenplay based on my novel THE TESTIMONIUM - we're hoping to turn it into a feature film at some point!  I also resumed work on my long-delayed novel THE EMPEROR AND THE APOSTLE, and I will have it finished very soon - I plan to start working on the final chapter this afternoon.  Then there was the YouTube channel that we just launched, with Holly doing the filming.  What else?  We celebrated the Fourth of July with fireworks and a grass fire (which, I will note, was NOT started by our fireworks!), we had my wife's brother over for a visit and spent time with his family, we did a few minor projects around the house, and all the usual chores that go with adulthood.

   All in all, it's been a remarkably busy summer as well as a fun one.  In fact, looking back over this column, I am reminded of another comic strip I love, CALVIN AND HOBBES.  One of their jumbo anthologies was also about summer vacation, and its title pretty well could stand as a memorial to this marvelous, crazy hot, busy but relaxing season: THE DAYS ARE JUST PACKED!

   Now the crazy month of August lies ahead, with a couple of weeks to try and pack in as much activity as I can before resuming my classroom duties on the 22nd.  More book signings, hopefully a day or two on the lake with the Water Turkey, helping my wife unpack and set up her  new classroom - summer's not over yet, but the end is in sight!  Now, if you want to spice up what's left of your summer with a good book and help support your favorite blogger in the process, you can order my books directly off my website, or on Amazon if you prefer to get them there:

www.lewisbensmith.com

https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=dp_byline_sr_book_1?ie=UTF8&text=Lewis+Ben+Smith&search-alias=books&field-author=Lewis+Ben+Smith&sort=relevancerank


And please don't forget, if you have read my books, to swing by online and leave me a review on Amazon!  Good reviews mean a lot.  Thanks, as always, for reading this, and enjoy whatever it is you do with your upcoming month of August!

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Opening Doors: How I Went From the Pulpit to YouTube!

    "You're going to have to decide - does God want you to be an author, or a pastor?"

     My wife had a point.  At this time a year ago, I had written several books, but was struggling to get them noticed outside of our local community and social circle.  They had all earned great reviews from readers, but just weren't selling much.  The problem was, I was wearing too many hats, doing too many things, and trying to do all of them well.  I was (and am) a full time teacher at a small Christian school, instructing in seven different subjects in the fall and six in the spring, plus a night class one night a week at the local community college.  Patty and I were also, with the help of our two daughters, providing 24 hour care for her aging mother, and trying to run a small goat ranch.  There was also my writing, doing book signings on Saturdays, and my occasional attempts to get out of the house and go down to the river and look for arrowheads, just to clear my head and have some relaxation.

    Then there was the church.  I had said eight years ago that I didn't think I could do justice to a church as pastor and teach school at the same time, but I continued to do some pulpit supply and interim work.  Then a small church called me to preach one Sunday.  Then they asked me if I could come and preach one Sunday a month.  Then they asked if they could refer to me as their pastor "for official records and such."  And, sure enough, within a year, I was preaching there every single Sunday.  It was a good little country church with nice people, and we grew.  We moved into a new location.  We baptized new members.  We saw most of our youth grow up and graduate, and new children come in to the church with their parents. I started my writing career during this time, and published one book after another for three years straight.  We were busy, but not frantic.  It was pretty good for a while.

   But then Patty's Mom began to need more and more care.  Matt, one of our most active church members, who directed much of our visitation and outreach, died. We had some drama and folks left. My Dad's health began to slide. The church needed more of my time at a point when I was ill equipped to give it - but at the same time, I didn't want to walk away when there were so many needs to be met.  But was I really helping the church by staying on when I could not give them the time and attention that they needed?  Was I really serving God more effectively by preaching to the same 20 people every Sunday, or by writing faith-based books that had the potential to reach thousands if not millions with a message of hope and redemption?  After a lot of prayer and soul-searching, over Christmas I made up my mind. I would announce my departure in the spring, cutting my ties with my church and pouring as much effort as I could into my writing.

    When I told my wife, she said: "About time!  I've been afraid you were going to kill yourself by trying to do so much.  You really needed to let something go."

    I agreed, but I still worried if I was doing the right thing. So I prayed to God to show me if I was going the way He wanted.  And that is when the doors began to open!

     In January I was doing a book signing at Half Price Books in McKinney when an older gentleman named Dan stopped by my table.  In between my sales pitches, he began to talk to me.  He was a professional publicist and marketing expert, and we talked off and on for a half an hour.  He never did buy a book, but he complimented my novels, my cover art, and my willingness to engage people and plug my works.  As he left the store, he gave me a card and said:  "I would like to help you out, so drop me an email sometime."

    To be honest, I really figured that Dan was trying to sign me on as a client, and was a bit wary - but at the same time, one email couldn't hurt, right?  So I emailed him a couple days later, and got a friendly response.  At the end, he said: "Let me get February done, I'm stacked up right now, but then we can meet sometime for lunch. I like you, I like what you are trying to do, and I want to help you promote your books."

   So in March, we met for brunch at a sidewalk cafĂ© in McKinney.  I brought my wife, and Dan brought his sister.  Our conversation began something like this:
Dan:  "I want to get one thing out front.  I simply cannot take you on as a client right now; I have too many projects going at once."
Me:  "Good, because I wanted to get one thing out front, too:  I have absolutely no money to pay you!"

   We laughed, and then talked for an hour and a half.  Besides some incredibly solid marketing advice (some I had heard before, some I had not), Dan also made me an astonishing offer at the end of our time together: "When you get the cover art for your next book ready, send it to me - along with the covers for the other ones.  I am going to design you some nice, professional brochures and print you up a thousand of them. Actually, I think I'll print five thousand!"

    That blew my mind. FIVE THOUSAND professionally designed, colored brochures for free?  But, when we finished designing the cover of THE GNOSTIC LIBRARY, I sent it to him, along with the cover art and synopses for my other stories - and sure enough, a few weeks later I received a PDF file of these beautiful brochures!  Not only that, Dan also designed a website for me, set the whole thing up, and taught me how to add new appearances to the "Coming Events" page.  All of this, and the only thing I was ever asked to pay for was the website's annual hosting fee.

   Dan also asked me for a bio to go on the website, and I wrote one. It was kind of stiff and awkward, and he kindly said: "You really ought to get somebody else to write this for you; someone who knows you well."  My wife, of course, knows me better than anyone - the problem is, she knows me TOO well!  So I asked my close friend and beta reader Ellie to take a stab at it, and she wrote a wonderful bio which I sent to Dan.  He took one look and said: "This is spot on!"  So he used it on the brochures, and on the website.

   So by April, right after I announced my resignation to the church, I had a professionally designed website AND five thousand brochures to promote my books.  But God wasn't done yet!  Shortly after I left the church, I ran into a friend of mine, a local filmmaker named Holly Rice.  She told me: "I just finished reading THE TESTIMONIUM, and I think it would make a fantastic movie. Would you be willing to collaborate with me on a screenplay?"

   So at the beginning of summer, we began to bounce scenes and scripts back and forth with each other.  Then one day we came up with the idea of creating a YouTube channel!  Next thing I know, I have Holly and a former student of mine, Austin Thomas, who is becoming something of a  YouTube rock star himself, following me up to the Sulphur River to film the first couple of episodes.  Today the YouTube channel is launched - and, might I add, our first video is pretty amazing, more due to Holly's skill with a camera than to any ability on my part.  In our first three days online, we have 51 subscribers and nearly 500 views!  Lots more episodes to come over the next few months, too, as we continue to work on our screenplay and film new episodes whenever we get the chance.

    In short, ever since I made my decision in December, one door after another has opened before me.  I don't really know where we are going to wind up, but God is good.  He is leading, and I continue to follow.  I am close to completing my sixth novel, I have book signing events every weekend through the end of August, and as I visit different churches, I find myself being invited to come and give my testimony and talk about my books and their message.  Feature film?  YouTube star?  Inspirational writer?  Maybe all these things, maybe none.  But wherever my journey takes me, I am grateful for all the people God has put in my path, who are helping me along the way - especially to Dan and Holly for their amazing talents, to my lovely wife, Patty, who has been such a tireless encourager, and to all those who buy and read my books.  Thank you, from the bottom of my heart!

  Now - check out my awesome website!

www.lewisbensmith.com

Thursday, July 5, 2018

From TR: The Musical - SECOND TERM BLUR

One thing that was so fun about creating this libretto is the subject himself!

               Theodore Roosevelt was never supposed to be President.  A crusading reformer as governor of New York, he had been nominated for the Vice Presidency in a move to politically neuter him!  But President McKinley's assassination elevated him to the White House, and he was so effective (and so popular!) that the GOP had no choice but to nominate him for a term of his own in 1904.  The Party's Old Guard didn't like him, but the Progressive wing of the party found in him a tireless champion.  Having voluntarily limited himself to two terms (the 22nd Amendment would not pass for another fifty years), Roosevelt knew he had to hit the ground running in his second term - and that is exactly what he did!


                       SECOND TERM BLUR

 

TR:  (Standing on a balcony, hand on the Bible, facing the Chief Justice)

I will faithfully execute the office of the Presidency of the United States, so help me God!

Are we done?  Thanks! For now I must needs walk where giants before me trod!

(turns to face audience)

My fellow Americans, it is a thrill to stand before you all today!

A second term, a term of my own – you gave me this thing for which I prayed.

Four years is an eternity if you spend it waiting for something that you dream of –

But it passes in an instant when the dream is real and you are doing what you love!

So forgive me on this fine March day if I cut my inaugural speech short –

So much to do, so little time!  You can read the papers for a full report!

 

(He turns and enters the White House, striding down the hall to the Oval Office)

 

Gentlemen of my cabinet, the clear cutting of our woodlands makes me nervous,

So I propose to Congress that we create a Federal Forestry service.

Let’s set aside a few million acres of our proud and ancient trees,

In National Forests, to be enjoyed by our grandchildren in future centuries.

Next, it’s been brought to my attention that Standard Oil is up to its old tricks;

Undercutting competition, bribing legislators, and making customers feel the prick!

So let’s shake the dust off of the good old Sherman Anti-Trust Act,

Slap them with an indictment, and watch J.D. Rockefeller react!

Nothing warms my heart more than to see the fat cats squirming

With their hands caught in the cookie jar, and public anger burning!
Remember, folks, that I have nothing against good, honest business –

But when companies turn all predatory, I’ll act with vengeful swiftness!

Railroads, bankers, oil men, all these industries serve their purpose –

They keep the country going and provide the public valuable service.

But why can’t these men just be content to earn a decent profit?

How can they gouge the hardworking poor and not see the evil of it?

So government must be the watchdog, protector, and defender of the public –

And the President must always speak justice from this magnificent bully pulpit!

 

Alice:  Speaking justice was what my father did, even when too few would listen –

Later generations who never knew him had no idea what they were missin’!

That second term was full of problems, and one tragic loss to boot –

Secretary John Hay finally died, and Dad replaced him with Elihu Root.

Things were also getting much tenser on the international scene –

The Far East had erupted in the bloodiest war that region had ever seen!

The Russian fleet got caught by surprise in a Japanese sneak attack –

And the Tsar sent his Baltic ships around the world on a voyage to strike back.

The Japanese were waiting for them at the Battle of Tsushima Straits –

And the Russian fleet went down in total defeat on that infamous date!

Then the war ground down to a bloody stalemate, neither side could win –

That was the point at which they asked “President Teddy” to step in!

 

TR: (seated at a conference table with the Japanese and Russian emissaries)

Gentlemen, thank you for agreeing to meet me here in Portsmouth, Maine –

I think that we can agree that this awful war has caused you both sufficient pain!

So since you have both asked me in good faith if I would arbitrate,

I ask you now to sit together, and put aside your mutual hate.

What does Japan seek to gain? On the sea you have the upper hand,

But Russia’s armies are hard to beat, and you’ve reached a stalemate on the land.

 

Sec. Root: The two adversaries wrangled and argued for a several days more;

Each hoping to gain enough to claim they’d got what they were fighting for!

But when all was said and done and the negotiations were completed,

The Treaty of Portsmouth was signed, and the Russians were defeated!

The Tsar was forced to reform his monarchy and give the people more power –

But President Roosevelt now became the hero of the hour!

When the peace conference ended, the whole world was surprised

That the Nobel Committee gave Roosevelt its coveted Peace Prize!

 

TR: That was certainly a great honor, but I dared not stop to relax –

Time was ticking , ticking, ticking and I still had more proposed acts!

My friend Upton Sinclair had gone undercover at great risk to expose

Just how dreadful our food industry had become, and now the public knows

The nastiness of slaughterhouses and unsanitary meat packing –

What better time to give our food supply the cleanliness it’s lacking!

Not to mention patent medicines, bottled up by snake oil salesmen

Although snake oil would be healthier for those who were seriously ailing!

All manner of trash and poison, sugar water and addictive drugs

Were packed up and sold without control, like they were Persian rugs!

So off to Congress I’ll now send my latest presentation –

To create a brand new Federal Food and Drug Administration!

And I’ll sign a law to protect our country’s sacred antiquities

From looters and commercial dealers who are stealing with great ease.

More national parks and monuments!  More beautiful places set aside

For future generations to behold with great wonder and pride!
I cannot rest upon my laurels, nor waste too much time on debate –

Next week will be time to admit Oklahoma as America’s forty-sixth state!

I need to regulate railroads better, and create Employer’s Liability laws

Four years will be gone in a flash!  I simply can’t afford to pause!

Once the mid-term elections have come and gone, I know what will happen –

Congress will sit on its arse and wait, unless I give them a good slapping!
They know my time is limited, they think all action can be deferred –

To counter that what I have to do is make my second term a blur!

 

Sec. Root:  Mister President, ‘tis nine o’clock! Your cabinet is drooping!

Don’t you think we should adjourn, and spend tomorrow regrouping?

You can’t do everything in a single day, no matter how hard you try –

And the finished product will surely be better if it’s not all done on the fly!

 

TR:  What say you, you old layabout?  You’re already getting tired?

Fine then, but be here at six AM or the lot of you are fired!

As for me I think I’ll change and practice some Japanese judo –

Anyone want to wrestle me now, and earn Presidential kudos?

What? No?  Fine then, I’ll practice all alone, and try not to make noise;

But wait! Perhaps my sons will wrestle me!  Let me call them!  BOYS!!!!

 

(Ted Jr, Quentin, Archie, and Kermit emerge from the residence and tackle their father, who rolls around on the floor with them, shouting “Bully!!”)

 

 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

HURT

(A humorous look at the results of yesterday's arrowhead excursion, with apologies to Trent Reznor and Johnny Cash)

I hurt myself yesterday,
To see if I could feel
In ancient piles of flint
An arrowhead to steal.

The flintshards tore a hole
In my finger tips.
My arms are burned bright red
And achy are my hips.

What on earth have I done,
My dearest friend?
Every joint I have
Screams at me when I bend.

And you can't have them, no!
These treasures from the dirt,
I worked too hard for them

And they made me hurt.

I cut my hands on thorns
And got a spider in my hair
To find a broke-off stem
Its maker did not repair.

Beneath the mud and slime
The arrowheads lie hid
Some of them I found
The rest someone else did.

What on earth have I done
My dearest friend?
Every joint I have
Screams at me when I bend! 
And you can't have them, no!
These treasures from the dirt,
I worked too hard for them

And they made me hurt.

If I could go again
To find points in the dirt;
You know I'd grub some more
Even though it made me hurt.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

TR: THE MUSICAL - "The Election of 1904"

  It started as a joke, early this year - one of my friends sent me a few couplets of an imaginary, HAMILTON-style musical about Theodore Roosevelt.  That's when it hit me:
  Why SHOULDN'T the most fascinating, audacious, brave, and innovative President in American history have his own musical?  Of course, I can't write music - but I can rhyme with the best of them!  So I started stringing together one song after another, and eventually I came up with a full, two act musical.  This is a song from early in the second act, when the "accidental President" Theodore Roosevelt decides to run for a full term in his own right - and makes an unfortunate pledge in the process!  I hope you enjoy it, and don't forget to check out my new author page: 
www.lewisbensmith.com


                    THE ELECTION OF 1904

 

Alice Roosevelt:  My Daddy’s accidental Presidency sparked a strong reaction;

By the end of his first term the Republicans divided into factions –

You still had all the Old Guard, the pawns of banks and railroads,

What a bunch of fat cats! Dad called them “obsequious toads!”

Then you had the Progressives, the men my father inspired greatly –

Ready to change things for the better, reforming everything immediately!

The Democrats, especially the ones down South, thought my Dad an awful sinner –

They blew their tops when he dared invite a black man to a White House dinner!

But their party was divided too, between Bryan and his populist progressives

And the Wall Street, gold standard crew of bosses, crooks, and social regressives!

The only competition my Daddy had was old Senator Mark Hanna –

Who had spent four years promoting McKinley and playing second banana.

But wouldn’t you know it, in February Senator Hanna started feeling badly,

Then he died and left the GOP with no choice but to renominate my Daddy!

On the other side, the Democrats over Bryan and Cleveland had to climb –

For twenty years those two men had been nominated every single time!

But the bosses won this round, while the Progressives were divided –

Judge Alton Parker got the nod, and the Old Guard was delighted!

So now let’s join my Presidential father as he hits the campaign trail –

Life is always fun when the Democrats are guaranteed to fail!

 

TR:  Well, gentlemen, I’ve spoken my piece at length and fully –

In one word, our country’s condition may be summed up as “Bully!”

Reforms are underway, corruption is punished; our economy is thriving, 

It’s always a smooth ride when the Republicans do the driving!

America is now respected and looked up to, our flag flies high around the world –

Why should we change course and flee the field with our banners tightly furled?

If you like what you have seen me do, since the year that I stepped up,

Then vote me a term I can call my own, and I’ll be even harder to stop!

There’s still a lot that I can do, to make this country a better place to live in –

Step up and vote!  Persuade your friends, and we’ll see the Democrats give in!

I am your President Theodore!  I’m still young and tough, so hear me roar!

I’ve got all kinds of progressive plans, now that my foot’s through the door.

Slam it all you want and I will grin and ask for more –

Now the whole world surely knows the name of Theodore!

 

Reporter:  Mister Roosevelt – you were the youngest President ever at forty-two

And even if you are re-elected, you’ll be just fifty when you bid us all adieu!

Have you given any thought to breaking with George Washington’s tradition –

And run for President again in ’08, and keep yourself in your current position?

It’s not against the law, you know, to run for a third term in office,

So why not see if the voters then, prefer you to some political novice?

 

TR: (looking thoughtful)

   That’s a most excellent question, sire, and I am glad that you inquired.

For you see, my political opponents have often said that I’m inspired

By a lust for power that’s no different from some brutal medieval despot!

So now let me set their fears to rest, and give their minds a respite.

I succeeded President McKinley when his term was only six months old;

I tried to be true to his legacy, and still provide leadership strong and bold.

Now I ask for a term of my own, something no accidental President has ever had.

If the voters grant my wish, then I promise not to run again, for it would be bad

To break the precedent so wisely set, by George Washington himself.

So once four years have passed us by, I’ll return to the political shelf,

And leave the White House open to whoever the voters decide to elect –

I’ll return to civilian life, travel, write books, hunt, explore, and reflect

On this remarkable nation that will have given me its highest honor,

And hope my humble efforts will enrich and reflect glory on her.

 

Reporter:  (rushes to the telephone)

Hold the presses, boss, I’ve got a story that will dominate the front page –

Roosevelt just totally ruled out a third term, despite his youthful age!

Progressives will rue the day he made this pledge, make no mistake –

And the bosses now will realize that they have finally caught a decent break!

No president has ever served at such an early age as this one,

Now he’s gone and pledged that this second term will end his mission!

 

(Scene shifts to White House)

 

John Hay:  It’s official, Mister President!  You have my congratulations!

You’ve been re-elected by a landslide, by a majority of our nation.

It’s the biggest win since James Monroe, who ran without any opposition –

You won every state except the South, and crushed the Democrats’ ambitions.

It’s been an honor serving you, but now I think I shall retire,

Enjoy my grandchildren, and wish you well, whoever you may hire!

 

TR:  Thank you, Mister Secretary; it’s been an honor to be served by you –

Your expertise has helped me often, as I pondered what else I should do.

I am elated that I have won; the nation’s people have been most kind –

And yet I confess that I am troubled by one thought in the back of my mind.

I feel guilty to even mention it, on this blissful election day –

But confound it all, thanks to my pledge – I only have four more years to play!
 
 
 

 

Saturday, June 9, 2018

SUMMER IS HERE! Time to Sell Some Books . . .

   Ah, summer vacation in Texas!  Time to enjoy the 98 degree heat every day (except on the REALLY hot days), those lovely thundershowers that drop the temperature to tolerable levels for an hour or two, then transform the whole outdoors into a giant sauna for the next three days, and mosquitos roughly the size of an F-22 Osprey lurking in the sky to inflict giant, stinging welts and occasionally carry off small children!  And, of course, the fun things about summer: grilling outside, mowing the lawn (or paying someone else to do it while you sit inside and sip iced tea in air conditioned comfort), and experiencing the sweet joy of NOT having to get up at 5:30 every morning to go pound the ignorance out of young skulls full of mush on a day to day basis (this last applies only to schoolteachers, I guess).

  But, when you are a schoolteacher AND a writer, like me, summer means it is time to knuckle down and hustle your rear end off to sell as many books as you can as fast as you can! You're no longer limited to just Saturdays, you have more time to call bookstores, civic groups, church groups, or anyone else who might be willing to have you come and give a talk - and set up a book table! To give you an idea of what this entails, here is an account of how the first nine days of June have gone for me:

    June 1 - I loaded up my books, my wife, and two and a half tables' worth of Indian artifacts and fossils and headed down to Temple, TX for the annual Genuine Indian Relic Society's Artifact Show.  Now, obviously, when I go to an arrowhead show, I am going to show and look at artifacts. But since most relic collectors are fascinated by history and archeology, I have found that my books do really well at these shows.  (The presence of many bored spouses of these enthusiastic artifact hunters is another plus for selling books!)  It's a 3 hour drive down to Temple, and we arrived about noon and set up my three tables.  The first day is set up time,  and preliminary wheeling and dealing between the exhibitors: I sold four copies of my books, walked around and looked at artifacts until my eyes were glazed over, and then we covered up our wares and went to our hotel.  We checked in, ate supper on the cheap, and went for a swim before crashing for the night.

    The next day we got up early, had breakfast, and then drove to the Mayborn Civic Center for the big event.  Two hundred and fifty tables of Indian artifacts, fossils, jewelry - one enterprising collector even had arrowhead- shaped lollipops called "Artisnacks" for sale!  It was  a fascinating day, lots of killer relics on display and old friends stopping by to visit - and oh how I sold the books!  My two day total at the show was nineteen books sold, plus a brisk trade in my fossils and several arrowhead sales. (I don't sell personal finds, but I do keep a small stock of points on hand that I have bought and traded for over the years to sell at these shows.)  The unique bone artifact I described in my last blog post drew a lot of attention and curious commentary; many collectors seem to think it may be Paleo-Indian in age (that would mean it is over 10,000 years old - WOW!!).

   All in all, it was a fun and satisfying day.  When it was over, we packed up my tables and went back to our hotel - the road trip wasn't done yet!  We celebrated the day's sales with a big dinner at Texas Roadhouse, home of some downright legendary rib eyes, all the free peanuts you can eat, and wonderful, friendly servers.  Full of steak and the sweet taste of success, my wife and I retired back to our hotel room.  Too tired to swim, she crashed early, while I stayed up till midnight to watch the Rangers beat the Angels in a 3-2 pitching duel.   The next morning, we packed up and headed down to Austin, TX!

   Bookpeople is the name of one of Texas' oldest and largest independent bookstores. I have been trying to schedule an event there for three years, and now it finally came to pass!  The store had already purchased multiple copies of my newest novel, THE GNOSTIC LIBRARY, plus a few copies of the first two books in the series, THE TESTIMONIUM and MATTHEW'S AUTOGRAPH.  This place does over 300 author events a year, so my being there was not a novelty to the store's patrons.  But still, I got to give a talk and read a sample chapter to my small audience, after which I sold a few copies, and left about 20 signed copies of my newest book for them to sell.  Having books on the shelf in a store - especially THAT store - was a huge moral victory for me!  Plus seeing my name on the marquis where writers like John Grisham, Stephen King, Anne Rice, and Dan Rather have been billed made me feel like I had really arrived as a writer!

   Austin is a fun town.  While we were there, I took my wife to lunch at Chuy's - the original location on Barton Springs Road is some of the best Tex-Mex food you will ever eat, plus a wonderfully fun atmosphere!  We also went for a stroll along the Colorado River and watched all the young, skinny, beautiful people kayaking and swimming in the river.  Other than being a sad reminder that we are no longer young or that skinny (although my wife is still very beautiful), it was a great way to kill a little time while waiting for my signing event to start.

   But, we couldn't stay away from home too long.  That evening we made the four hour drive back to Greenville, and I had a few days to rest and recuperate and do laundry before my next event, on Thursday, June 7.  Tyler, TX is about an hour and a half away from my home, and the Half Price Books store there is a wonderful, author-friendly place.  I got there a little after noon, set my table up, put my poster in the window, and started selling!  It was a bit slow at first, then more and more people began coming in and I began to move a few books. One very nice older gentleman bought a copy of THE GNOSTIC LIBRARY, and took one of my new brochures with him.  Each brochure has a synopsis of all five of my novels, plus a nice bio written for me by a close friend.  Well, an hour later, the gentleman returned with his wife, and they bought the other four books based on what they had read in the brochure!  That made for a very nice day, with twelve sales totaled.  After a quick supper at Golden Corral on the way home, I drove back in one of those previously mentioned summer thundershowers.

   After one day to rest and recuperate from that trip, today (June 9) I drove over to Denton, TX - about the same distance as Tyler in the opposite direction.  Highway 380 is a straight shot from Greenville to Denton, but this once rural stretch has built up so much the last few years that I drove through 50 traffic lights in 70 miles (yes, I counted them, I was bored!).  But I did get there safely, and then got to set up in my favorite bookstore in Texas: Recycled Books!  Three stories of books, old and new, rare and common, plus movies, music, memorabilia, friendly staff, and the store is housed inside a hundred year old opera house, across the street from one of the most beautiful courthouses in Texas!  It was a lovely warm day, and people were coming and going through the square and in and out of the store in a steady flow of human traffic.  I sold a total of fourteen copies in a little over five hours; not a bad day at all, especially considering I hit an incredible lull with no sales at all from about 3 pm till 4:30.  But that is how you do it, folks, if you want to be a writer - one copy at a time, one sale at a time, one reader at a time, one store at a time - until the world is your burrito!

   Next week I have a conference call with a publicist who has been helping me out with my new website, and a dinner meeting with a screenwriter who wants to adapt THE TESTIMONIUM into a feature film.  It's a very preliminary step in a very long process, but I have high hopes!  After that - more signings, more speaking gigs, more bookstores and churches and civic clubs - until August 23 rolls around, and the young skulls full of mush will once more absorb a majority of my attention!

   In the meantime, feel free to check out my new website, and if you have never read any of my books - or if you have read one and want to get the others! - click on the links and buy, buy, buy!  Thanks again for reading my little corner of the internet, and have a great summer!!


https://lewisbensmith.com/