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Sunday, 1 June 2014

Three Little Boys

I'm sure that many of you, perhaps late in the evening, while there is nothing worth watching on television, you take a casual browse through the Internet, and click on to a website such as YouTube, and then browse through countless files up on offer. So one evening this week I came across one video titled Righteous Brothers - Unchained Melody - Ghost, and I felt my emotion rise as I watched the ghost of the hero kiss his tearful living partner goodbye as he slowly turns to walk into Heaven - all within a beautiful love song from the 1960s. The Righteous Brothers were a band which had prominence in the Charts of that decade, one of their songs becoming the basis for the final scene of the movie Ghost, released in 1990. The movie featured Patrick Swayze, who played the starring role as a banker, Sam Wheat, who discovered that a fraud was taking place in the New York City bank in which he worked. He shared his concerns with his colleague and closest friend Carl Bruner (Tony Goldwyn) who, being the fraudster himself, hired a hit man to have Sam murdered. As a ghost, he was given the task to set things right and have the fraudster brought to justice before he could be let into Heaven.

Patrick Swayze as the ghost of Sam Wheat.

I recall watching the movie at my brother's home together with my parents one Christmas afternoon in the mid nineties, and again at our home with my wife in the year 2000 or early 2001. Although the movie was no source for doctrine and should be taken at exactly the same intellectual level as Walt Disney, yet the emphasis on the afterlife should be a reminder to all that such a post-mortal state does exist, with the gates of both Heaven and Hell fully featured in the film.

I have heard second hand about the death of the actor, so after the video clip was finished, I decided to check up on this guy - the birth, life and death of Patrick Swayze on the Internet. I have discovered that the actor, songwriter and celebrity was born on the 18th August 1952, a full month before I was born. And that given what Mum once told me - that I should be two weeks older than I really am, due to a delayed birth with no option of a Caesarian op in those days. The date of Swayze birth brought to mind the date of Christopher Reeve's birth, which was on the 25th September 1952 - just nine days after I was born. Reeve's major role in acting was of the American comic character Superman. As a boy, I have often read Superman, so having already been familiar with the hero, I became a fan of Superman the Movie, released in 1978 along with its sequels. I can go as far to say that watching Superman the Movie on the big screen was the inspiration for the 1978 solo backpacking trip across the USA!

Christopher Reeve as Superman.

So in late Summer of 1952, except for location, three newborns could have been lying in their cots, arranged according to date of birth, side by side at a nursery. With just over five weeks between the oldest and the youngest, I would have been the one in the middle cot. Three very similar looking sucklings, at times all asleep, other times one, two or all three wailing to be fed or have their diapers changed. All three growing into toddlers, then boys who had the same interest in toy trucks, train sets, Meccano, and perhaps the thrills of playing outside in games such as chase with other friends, or to enjoy the experience with his mates of damming up a local stream and watching the water pond up behind the barrier. But although our childhoods might have been very similar with each other, my destiny was to be vastly different from those of the other two.

Swayze and Reeve became celebrities. Hollywood had recognised their good looks, strong bodies and acting talent which would eventually shoot them into fame, become household names, and with Patrick Swayze in particular, be described as "Utterly gorgeous" by women across the western world, while boys gravitated towards Christopher Reeve in admiration, and wishing for his extraordinary powers as Superman. And as for the infant in the second cot, he would never be a celebrity. Fame would be totally elusive. He would fail at school, and although he enjoyed school drama, nobody would have recognised his desire or talents, and without any outstandingly good looks, was to be passed over. In 1968, he began work as an apprentice wood finisher, but with pushing a broom every morning across two factory shop floors, by the end of five years he was still far from being a qualified wood finisher, although he did learn a smattering of French Polishing. So was to be my destiny. My destiny as a lifelong labourer.

For the first three or four years, I worked under the supervision of an elderly gent who served at the Royal Air Force during the War, in the Middle East during the British Mandate. The supervisor was very disappointed with life as a whole, for both fame and recognition had eluded him too, and he felt that he deserved better recognition after risking his life serving his country with loyalty. One afternoon, while I was busy, he approached me with an announcement that he would be on television that evening.

I looked up, with eyes open wide and gasped, Really?

He then said, Yes indeed. I'll be standing on the set while hanging up the curtains! As he watched my face drop, he turned and walked away laughing aloud like a madman, his cackles probably heard right across the factory. Such an incident revealed his crushing disappointment with life as a nobody, just another one of the masses who has to stand at the back of the queue like everyone else, and barred from any V.I.P. counter, gate, or entrance.

There must be something about achieving fame, recognition, admiration and publicity as a result of having talent. Also receiving public honour and recognition for bravery and servitude under life-threatening circumstances, which my supervisor felt he deserved. Surely, there are those who aspire for celebrity of one kind of another. Like one candidate who applied for a singing contest broadcast on TV by the BBC, with the ultimate prize of becoming a theatre star, perhaps leading to greater things. He lost at the first round of selection, and we watched him cry like a baby in the arms of the show presenter Graham Norton. And this candidate did not even look wimpish at all, but with shaven head, he would have passed as any working class mechanic, builder or gang leader.

Then again, there are those who would prefer to lead a peaceful life as a "nobody" without the TV or movie cameras focusing their lens at them, and to stay out of the media. Sometimes, checking on the lifespans of many celebrities, there seems to be something destructive about fame and celebrity.

Remember the three little boys - Patrick Swayze, myself and Christopher Reeve. Three newborn infants asleep in each cot placed side-by-side according to age. Swayze on one side of me, Reeve on the other, my cot in the middle. Well, Patrick Swayze died of Pancreatic cancer on September 14th 2009, aged 57 years. Christopher Reeve fell off a horse during a showjumping competition on May 27th 1995, which left him paralysed from the neck down, and died of heart failure on October 10th 2004, aged 52. Of the three children, I remain alive and well, still able to carry ladders around a housing estate at age 61.

Of other celebrities worth a mention here include John Winston Lennon, one of the Fab Four, or the Beatles, was shot dead in New York City by David Mark Chapman on December 8th 1980, aged 40 years. And if one gets the impression that only male celebs were affected, actress and singer Marilyn Monroe died aged just 36 on August 5th 1962, of a barbiturate overdose. More recently, Karen Carpenter, one of a singing duet with brother Richard, died on February 4th 1983, of heart failure, possibly brought on by an overdose of ipecac, to induce vomiting, but this was not confirmed by her brother Richard. She was just 32 years old. Then there was British singer Amy Whitehouse who died of Alcohol intoxication on 23rd July 2011 aged just 27.

John Lennon

Then last in this tragic and melancholic list is Elvis Presley. This American celeb who was referred to as the King of Rock, was born on January 8th 1935, in Tupelo, Mississippi, and after serving a few years in the U.S. army, rose above the ranks as a popular singer. One of his songs which had become one of my favourites was Suspicious Minds, released in 1969. It was when I set foot in the USA for the first time in my life, in the Summer of 1977, when I alighted the Greyhound bus at Chicago bus terminal, that I spotted a large crowd in the street, along with TV cameras and interviewers with microphones. When I approached one in the crowd and asked what the issue was, I was told that singer Elvis Presley died in the bathroom of his home at Memphis, of drug abuse - on August 16th 1977, the very day I arrived at Chicago. He was 42 years of age.

Karen Carpenter

When I consider the above statistics, I am thankful to God that I have arrived at my seventh decade of life. It seemed contrary to common sense that the two newborns on either side of me are now in their graves, despite having life destinies which most would only dream to aspire. With me, I'm just a mere window cleaner, but I'm still alive. Furthermore, I am aware that spending a lifetime engaged in a humble occupation is not the end in itself, but a means to an end. And that end is to spend eternity with my Maker, revelling in the love of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, among countless of other saints who were before me, along with those who are still to come.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified is the only hope I have. It is the surety which enables me to smile in a celebrity-worshipping world. And that includes authors whose book sales have given them recognition, even if not quite celeb status. Being a mere window cleaner, my theological opinion would not be taken as seriously as those written by an Oxford or Cambridge trained theologian. Such one author whose works I'm familiar with, Methodist pastor, stage speaker and author David Pawson, well known in many British churches, and known by other churches in Australia and possibly America as well. Browsing through his works, I came to the conclusion that this author taught the Roman Catholic doctrine that on conversion, only the past sins were forgiven, and the new believer must constantly keep his slate clean by constant confession of sins committed. He teaches that letting sins pile up unconfessed would lead to loss of salvation, although neither he or anyone else knows exactly when this point of no return is crossed, a stigma which was always been a problem with Rome.

This is dangerous heresy, failing to understand what exactly is sin. The truth is, that unless total acquittal is granted by God to the believer, just one sin will slay him spiritually. In other words, a believer with just his past sins forgiven will still go to Hell for allowing something as simple as an unclean thought to dwell for a moment in his mind. As the Scripture says, if one keeps the Law perfectly, but stumbles at just one point, he has broken the whole Law. If learned men such as Pawson is right, then every believer would go to Hell after death, and not just many, as this author insists. This is why Divine Acquittal, or Once Saved Always Saved, is something I'm so devoted to.

But like celebrity worship, there are believers, even in my own church fellowship, who would dismiss me in favour of a better educated professor. This is a terrible tragedy of our culture. Sure, I agree that a diagnosis of an illness made by a Medical Doctor is far more reliable than following an old wives tale, but this is not the same as swallowing heresy just because the perpetrator had studied at Cambridge. Rather, I prefer the divine acquittal, or justification by faith as taught by Paul in his letter to the Romans, and realise that without the work of God in my life, I have absolutely no hope.

It is not up to me to say where Patrick Swayze and Christopher Reeve are now. My hope and desire are that they have found God in their hearts sometime before their deaths. I guess that was why one suffered with pancreatic cancer for the last few months of his life, and the other was paralysed for up to nine years. These were good opportunities to call upon the name of the Lord, and be saved.

Who knows, maybe all three of us may link arms in the heavenly realm, with me in the middle - where else?

1 comment:

  1. Dear Frank,
    Fascinating post, and such an illuminating perspective on how the world judges people and measures their value by external accomplishments. But what matters to God is the heart, and only He can judge our hearts. Degrees, good looks, fame, and fortune impress the world but in no way affect our eternal destiny, which rests only on whether we accept or reject Christ as our Lord and Savior.

    I loved "Ghost" but I especially admired Swayze for his dancing. "One Last Dance" featured him and his lovely wife and partner as retired dance stars who made a comeback performance.

    And I loved "Superman," and Christopher Reeve, after his injury, was a champion for spinal cord research. The foundation he set up gave many grants to institutes including the Burke Rehabilitation Center, where I had been clinical director of the Spinal Cord Trauma unit for several years.

    But because only God knows the hearts, only He knows whether or not we will meet them one day in glory. If so, maybe Patrick and his wife and my husband and I will all dance together before the Lord, and maybe Christopher and I will study the intricacies of how the spinal cord really works! Just imagine having all eternity to share not only with Jesus and our loved ones, but with all the saints of all time!

    God bless,