You wouldn’t need to be a follower of the Christian music scene to have heard the hit song of the same name as this movie. This is the story behind the song that made its debut in 1999, but it took a lifetime to write it for Bart Millard, the lead singer who penned the song for his father, and then turned it into a hit with his band MercyMe.
The film version of “I Can Only Imagine” is brought to the big screen by the Erwin Brothers, Jon and Andrew, who’ve had some previous success with “Woodlawn” in 2015, “Mom’s Night Out (2014) and “October Baby” (2011). They seem to have a knack for finding backstories, as they did in “Woodlawn”, and also for putting actors with no film credits into their starring roles. Just as Caleb Castille—a football player-turned-actor—excelled in “Woodlawn”, J.Michael Finley gives an outstanding performance as Bart Millard, playing him from his teens through young adulthood. Finley’s background is musical theater, and that works for this character.
The story follows Millard’s life from about age 10 when he was growing up in Texas with a father who was frustrated and angry…and he took it out on Bart and his mother. She eventually leaves the home to get away from the abuse, but doesn’t take Bart along. Her last encounter in the film with him is quite touching, as she drops him off at a Christian camp, reminding him of her love for him. His experiences there end up being life-changing: not only does he find faith in Jesus, but he meets Shannon– the girl he’ll one day marry. The scene with young Bart and Shannon on the bridge is humorous and sweet and reminds us of simpler, more innocent days. Incidentally, the young actors who play Bart and Shannon as kids (Brody Rose and Taegan Burns) did great jobs in their respective roles.
It can’t be understated how well the performance of veteran actor Dennis Quaid (“A Dog’s Purpose”, “Soul Surfer”, “The Right Stuff”) comes off here. Quaid plays Bart’s father Arthur, who goes from being a “monster”, as even the real-life Bart described him, to being “the father I always wanted” (also Millard’s own words). From scenes of some of the aftermath of one of his bursts of anger at home, we know that he was once on his way to becoming a football star…until life, as it so often does, got in the way. As a result, he lashed out at home and tells Bart repeatedly why he must stop dreaming. Bart, a creative kid who excels in art and loves music, doesn’t know how to relate to his angry dad, and Arthur similarly doesn’t understand his son.
The two battle it out for years, but if you’re worried about there being a lot of violence and depictions of the abuse at home, I can say that this is surprisingly kept to a minimum, with maybe a couple of times where you are just caught off guard. So while it doesn’t show much of that, it’s certainly understood that Arthur has some serious anger issues.
The real beauty of this movie is in the redemptive message—a theme that is popular during the Easter season, as it should be. While Bart is off pursuing his dreams of a music career, Arthur is going through his own changes. After one really disappointing setback, Bart decides it’s time to return home to make things right with his dad once and for all. What he finds is a new Arthur, not the monster he grew up knowing. Again, both Finley and Quaid do an excellent job of conveying Arthur’s rebirth, and Bart’s need to forgive him for the past and embrace their newfound relationship. I don’t think it’s a spoiler alert to say that Bart wrote the song “I Can Only Imagine” after being inspired by something his grandmother said at his dad’s funeral. That song would not only change his life, but the lives of millions.
This review won’t be complete without mentioning the performances of a few supporting actors that stood out to me: Trace Adkins, the country music star who is really a very good actor too plays Brickell, the band manager/ mentor who is both kind and curmudgeonly; Cloris Leachman, as Bart’s quirky and faith-filled grandmother, who always says, “Mercy me!”, unknowingly giving Bart his band’s name; and Priscilla Shirer, Christian speaker and author who became known as an actor for her lead role in “War Room”—she plays Bart’s choir teacher Mrs. Fincher, who doesn’t allow Bart to keep his musical gift to himself.
“I Can Only Imagine” left me feeling uplifted and inspired because the message I took away from it was that there is no better way to honor our loved ones who are now gone than to pursue our God-given dreams.
If you’re looking for a great family outing this Easter weekend, this movie is it. If you’ve ever had a dream and were told to forget it…if you’ve ever had to forgive someone…or if you just like a good story, then it’s worth the price of admission.
It’s a long way from the dusty battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan to the crystalline waters of Lake Clark in the mountains of Alaska. But every summer since 2012, hundreds of current and former members of the military and their spouses make their way there through Operation Heal Our Patriots, a ministry of Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse.
Many of these veterans arrive at Samaritan Lodge dealing with the aftermath of their service to our nation—wounded in their bodies, minds and spirits. The stress of learning to adjust to civilian life with their families and dealing with new physical limitations caused by injuries puts a strain on military couples. Many of them don’t make it. The ministry began as a way to reach out to these battle-weary soldiers and their spouses and help them refocus on building and maintaining strong marriages. Some couples, on the verge of divorce, find a new love for each other as they spend a week experiencing the natural beauty of Alaska and attending Bible-based marriage enrichment classes. Retired military chaplains are on staff to encourage and pray with attendees. Operation Heal Our Patriot marriage retreats often end with vow renewals for many of the couples, as well as baptisms for those who are either re-dedicating their lives to Jesus Christ or finding Him for the first time.
One couple who found respite during their time in Alaska is Army Staff Sergeant Juan Montealvo and his wife Tanya. A few days before Christmas in 2004, Montealvo was on a mission to deliver school supplies to Iraqi children in Mosul when a bomb planted by insurgents exploded near his vehicle. He survived that and several other explosions during his three combat tours to Iraq, and when he came home for good in 2010, Tanya noticed he wasn’t quite himself. Montealvo was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and went through physical and speech therapy. Tanya became his care-giver, and the strain of adapting to their new normal was something they never prepared themselves to handle.
When Tanya heard about Operation Heal Our Patriots, she believed it was an answer to their prayers and said, “Our souls, our spirits, our minds needed this to reset…I’m ready for a new beginning with my husband, walking along with Jesus.”
The ministry doesn’t end once these families leave Alaska, however. Ongoing outreach helps them to find a church or military chaplain in their local communities so they can develop a strong network of support. Reunions are also held at the Samaritan’s Purse headquarters in North Carolina so that participants can make new friendships and renew those they made in the Alaskan wilderness. All of this—including travel to Alaska—is free to the couples and is made possible by donations to Samaritan’s Purse/ Operation Heal Our Patriots.
This ministry is open to all current and former veterans who have served since September 11, 2001. Interested couples can go to the Samaritan’s Purse website to fill out an application. If you’d like to help send these brave American heroes to Lake Clark next summer, please consider making a donation on the website. What better way to say “thank you” to them this Veterans Day?
Thomas Paine once said, “If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.” Of course, he was speaking of the American Revolution–possibly the only revolution in history to ever end well for the people that initiated it. What came of the sacrifices of so many brings us to this day, 241 years later.
This is our opportunity to thank God for this place called the United States of America. To thank Him for all He did in raising up the right people at the right points in history that allowed this nation to become the most powerful one on the face of the earth in such a relatively short period of time. To thank Him for people willing to sacrifice all they had to build this nation, and for those who have died and are continuing to die to secure freedom for future generations.
Unfortunately, many, if not most people won’t think about those generations of patriots as they celebrate what’s now only known as “The Fourth”. In between their picnics, parades and fireworks displays (all great things to be sure), it would be wise if all of us would take the time to read the Declaration of Independence—especially those who have children. Do they— do we really understand what it meant when those 56 men put their signatures to that document? As British subjects, they were committing treason. They were setting themselves—and their loved ones—up for certain hardship and possibly death. It’s important that we not forget this and that the youngest among us hear the stories of these people that they are likely being denied in the public schools of today.
Stories like one of the lesser-known of the Declaration’s signers, Francis Lewis. Not long after putting his name on the iconic document, while he was still away, the British forces were sent to destroy his home in Whiteside, New York. His beloved wife Elizabeth was living there at the time and tried to remain calm as a warship fired on their home. All of their belongings were destroyed and pillaged, and Elizabeth was taken captive. The conditions of her life in captivity were extreme–little food, no change of clothing and no bed. When General George Washington managed to make an exchange of prisoners–it took some time to do so– Elizabeth’s health had deteriorated and she died in 1779 in Philadelphia.
The same fate awaited many of the other signers and their families. Tragically, if students in today’s public schools hear anything about these people, it’s likely to be negative: “rich, white, slave-owners”. It’s possible that if enough young people hear the words of the Founding Fathers—and I’d even go as far back as the pre-founding generation (the Pilgrims)***—they might realize and be humbled at what it took to build the nation.
Younger Millenials and those after them–Generation Z, or Centennials– could be the ones to turn things around again. Maybe, like King Josiah in the Bible, after hearing the words of God’s long-lost Law for the first time, they’ll be moved to tears when they read these words from our Declaration of Independence: “…with a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
They’ve had their heritage stripped from them, and many aren’t even aware of it. If or when they ever do look up from their ipads, iphones and video games to realize it, they may be pretty upset at the generations before them for keeping them in the dark. For keeping them entertained but un-enlightened.
They need to know that the United States of America is still the last best hope for freedom for people from all over the world, even in our current circumstances, which admittedly aren’t good. It would do us all good to keep in mind the words of people like Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian evangelical minister and author who spent 14 years in a Romanian prison for his faith. In 1967, he called America the hope of every enslaved man, and reminded Americans of a truth that may be even truer now: that freedom-loving people all over the world are counting on us not to let the flame of liberty burn out. Wurmbrand said: “I have seen fellow prisoners in communist prisons beaten, tortured, with 50 pounds of chains on their legs—praying for America…that the dike will not crumble; that it will remain free.”
With that said enjoy the festivities—but take time to remember. Happy Independence Day!
Every year since 1997, people in North Korea have celebrated April 15th as “The Day of the Sun”. It’s apparently the most important holiday the nation has where they celebrate the anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s birthday. He was the founder of North Korea and its former president, who—were he still alive and kicking—would be 105 years old.
The citizens of North Korea go all out for The Day of the Sun with a big parade where children get candy. But don’t look for floats made of paper flowers or clowns from the Shriner’s Club trying to get some laughs out of spectators by driving around in tiny cars. This parade is highlighted by showing off its weapons of war. Lots of them. Current president Kim Jong Un was there and he’s all about the fire power.
As all this took place yesterday, Christians here and around the world prepared to celebrate a different kind of power—the resurrection power of Jesus Christ—on this day, Easter Sunday. After remembering his suffering and violent death on Good Friday, we wait through the silence of Saturday to get to the joy of Sunday morning.
What a striking contrast of two celebrations. One that remembers a man who started a communist nation and celebrates by flaunting its military might that could wipe out millions of lives in mere moments. The other, held in gratitude and remembrance for a man who was God in the flesh—Jesus, the Son of God. Believers all over the world celebrate not so much the death of Jesus, but His life. What makes it so different is the empty tomb.
The man celebrated by North Koreans this weekend died and he stayed dead. His bones are still lying in his grave. But, with the power of God His Father, Jesus the Son rose again on the third day, and the Good News is—He’s alive and His Spirit lives in anyone who puts their faith in Him to forgive their sins. Jesus, the One Who Saves, beat death once and for all…and because of Him, so can we.
Now that’s real power—and that’s something to celebrate.
It’s almost Christmas and nothing’s more fun than being with family, baking, eating and watching all those old Christmas movies. In the spirit of the season, here’s some Christmas trivia, mostly from films, to impress/ entertain/ bore your friends and family over the holidays.
It doesn’t get much better than It’s a Wonderful Life (1946): Proving that even a director with incredible talent can overlook some things, Frank Capra missed this one: when Clarence is showing George Bailey what life would have been like without him, he takes him to his younger brother’s grave, telling him that Harry fell through the ice and died at the age of nine. However, on the tombstone, Harry Bailey’s years of life are shown as 1911-1919, which means he could have been no older than eight when he died.
A Christmas Story (1983): One of the most famous scenes from this classic film is when one of Ralphie’s school pals, Flick, is “triple-dog-dared” into putting his tongue against a frosty flag pole to prove that it will stick. In order to make Flick’s tongue stick to the pole, a hidden suction tube was used to safely create the illusion that his tongue had frozen to the metal. Another bit of trivia: director Bob Clark makes an appearance as one of the neighbors who comes out to gawk at The Old Man’s “major award” in the hilarious unveiling of The Leg Lamp. He’s the guy who says, “Damn, hell- you say you won it?”
…which brings us to Elf (2003) where Peter Billingsley, who played young Ralphie in A Christmas Story makes an uncredited appearance as Ming Ming, the Head Elf. Also, if you ever thought, while you watched this movie, that certain things looked very familiar, you were onto something. The design for Santa’s workshop, all of the elf costumes and most of the animals in the North Pole were mirror images of those from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the much-loved Christmas special that has aired every year since its debut in 1964.
But Rudolph’s story had been around since 1939 when it was created for an advertising campaign for Montgomery Ward. The song about Rudolph was first recorded by Gene Autry and hit #1 on Billboard’s pop chart during the week of Christmas in 1949.
Gene Autry recorded another Christmas classic, “Here Comes Santa Clause” that gets featured toward the end of Christmas Vacation (1989) when the Clark Griswold home is ransacked by the S.W.A.T. Team. Earlier on, when Clark gets locked in a cold attic while everyone’s out shopping, he passes the time watching old films from family Christmases past. Look closely and you can see the front of the house from the 1960’s series Bewitched in Clark’s home movie.
Chevy Chase was just one of many actors considered for the part of Kevin McCallister’s (Macauley Culkin) dad in Home Alone (1990). That part eventually went to John Heard. In the scene where Kevin grabs his brother’s pet tarantula in order to scare bungling crook Marv (played by Daniel Stern), they were originally using a mechanical spider. It was decided the fake bug looked too fake, so Stern agreed to do just one take with the real thing, which Kevin drops onto his face, causing him to scream like a girl. Stern made the wise decision to mimic the scream so as not to spook the spider, and his scream was added in during post-production.
Perhaps no other story of Christmas has been told more often or in more ways than Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. His tale of redemption just celebrated its 170th anniversary (it was published on December 19, 1843). An interesting piece of trivia is that Dickens himself had some things in common with Mr. Scrooge. Like the famous miser, Dickens lost his favorite sister Fanny, who died, not in childbirth as Scrooge’s sister did, but of tuberculosis. Her son, Henry was crippled and was Dickens’ inspiration for the character of Tiny Tim.
What better way to close out this stocking full of Christmas trivia than with some tidbits from what many people, myself included, consider to be the most-loved Christmas special ever. When its director saw a rough cut of A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), he was sure he had a flop on his hands. There was no laugh track, as was typical of animated specials of the day, and director Bill Melendez had tried to get Peanuts creator Charles M Schultz to take out the Biblical references—particularly Linus’ speech from Luke 2. Reportedly, Schultz won him over by asking, “If we don’t do it, who will?” CBS executives were also nervous at the prospect of an animated Christmas special with such a blatant message. In spite of all this, the message remained, and that scene with Linus has become highly acclaimed, with multiple generations still enjoying this classic year after year. Only Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer can top it in longevity as far as television Christmas specials go.
“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11
…and as Linus said, “That’s what Christmas is all about.”
Merry Christmas, everyone!
On September 11, 2001 Sujo John sat at his desk on the 81st floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower. He could hardly believe what the past several months had brought. Having wed Mary in January of 2000, he was still a newlywed and she was four months pregnant with their first child. Just six months before, the two had left their native Calcutta, India with only $50, a couple of suitcases and dreams of a better, more prosperous life in the United States. In that short time in America, the two had landed good jobs. Mary worked nearby—on the 71st floor of the WTC’s South Tower.
As he sat typing an email to a friend from church, Sujo confided that he believed God wanted more for him. Having read the Prayer of Jabez, by Bruce Wilkinson, Sujo wrote, “I’ve been chasing stuff in America. I want to be used of God.” He finished his email and hit “send”. It was 8:05 on a beautiful Tuesday morning, and it was time to start working. About 40 minutes later, Sujo was sending a fax and heard a huge explosion that we now know was American Airlines Flight 11 striking the North Tower between the 94th and 98th floors.
Down on his floor, Sujo watched as the world seemed to crumble around him- a huge hole allowed him to see ten floors up. The building shook violently, walls started to fall apart and jet fuel from the planes caused fires to break out everywhere, making every minute more treacherous for those in the building. Sujo made his way to the stairs along with his co-workers and thousands of other workers in the building. He remembers the people’s faces saying the “fear of death was written on the face of everyone.”
A short time later, he heard another loud crash when United Flight 175 slammed into the South Tower around the 81st floor, just ten floors up from where Mary worked. Wondering whether he would get out alive, he was now more worried about what was happening with her. Sujo tried to use his cell phone and those of people escaping down the stairs with him, but he couldn’t get through to her. By the time he made it to the ground level of the tower, an area called The Plaza, the horrors of that day really hit Sujo. Normally, The Plaza was a bustling, lively place, but what Sujo saw was beyond human comprehension. He said, “This place of life, this place of just exuberance where life would be celebrated has now been turned into a place of death, a place of destruction, as I see hundreds of bodies of people that jumped out of those buildings, people who were in those planes.”
As time ticked away and he made his way through the chaos, away from the North Tower towards the South Tower, he felt the ground beneath his feet begin to rumble. Sujo described feeling as if he were being “sucked into a vacuum” as he heard the roar as the upper floors of the South Tower began to crumble. He stopped momentarily and huddled with a group of 15 or 20 people and suddenly became very concerned of what would become of them if they all died without hearing about Jesus.
Until this point in his life, Sujo described himself as a “closet Christian”, keeping his faith to himself and never sharing what he believed about Jesus Christ. Now facing death, Sujo found a boldness he never had and began praying out loud, crying out the name of Jesus. He then realized those people he was with were also joining him in unison as he prayed. He went on from there, stumbling through the dust and debris, covered in soot and wondering what became of Mary.
After the dust settled somewhat, Sujo decided to try to crawl back to the group of people he had prayed with a short time earlier, only to find they had not made it, and had been crushed by the hurricane-force wind and debris cloud caused by the South Tower’s collapse. Downhearted and questioning God as to why He would allow him to survive and not them, Sujo said he felt God’s presence and believed those people were at peace now. After the North Tower followed its twin and imploded, Sujo was shocked and couldn’t believe he was still alive. He found himself out in the street, certain his beloved Mary was gone.
After wandering into a shop, he met a young woman who helped pull bits of glass out of his hair and offered to call someone for him. Just as he handed his phone to her, it began to ring for the first time in many hours. It was about noon by this time, and the clerk handed the phone back to Sujo. The caller ID said it was from Mary’s number, but he was certain it was going to be the worst news…that someone was calling from her phone to let him know she didn’t survive.
He was wrong. When he answered, he heard Mary’s voice. She told him she had wanted to get to work early that day, but ended up running late. When they reunited that night, they made a vow to each other and to God that they would make every day of their lives count. Sujo prayed for God to “rewrite the history of my life”. He knew that he and Mary had not come to America just to make money, pursue success or have financial security. He believed that what was important to God was people…all people.
Fifteen years later, Sujo and Mary live near Dallas with their three children and have started an organization called You Can Free Us. This organization works to abolish the modern-day slavery of human trafficking by rescuing women and children forced into prostitution in the U.S. and around the world. As 21st century abolitionists, Sujo and Mary have made good on their promise to God and have taken their message of survival and hope to people of all ages all over the world.
In the 15 years since the terrorist attacks in New York City, northern Virginia and Shanksville, PA, many stories—real and unreal—have been told. Over the years, we’ve been intrigued and inspired by stories of heroic actions, strange “coincidences” that kept people from going to work that day, conspiracy theories and miraculous tales of survival.
Perhaps one of the most amazing stories is the one behind the iconic photo of three firefighters raising the American flag among the ruins of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. What most people don’t know about that flag was that it disappeared just hours after it was put in place, only to be found more than a decade later and nearly three thousand miles from where that famed photo was taken.
On September 11, 2001, the three firefighters from Brooklyn—George Johnson, Dan McWilliams and Billy Eisengrein—could never have known what their spontaneous display of patriotism would mean to the nation. What was their private tribute to honor all of those whose final resting place was a multi-story pile of steel and cement would become an indelible scene that is now etched onto the collective memory of Americans of a tragic day long ago. So moving was the photo, it was immediately compared to another momentous flag-raising in American history—the one at Iwo Jima during World War II. The photograph earned a Pulitzer Prize and inspired many artists and was captured on a US postage stamp.
The firefighters didn’t know that as they paid their respects and showed their love of country, photographer Thomas E. Franklin was standing nearby and took the photo late that afternoon for the New Jersey newspaper that he worked for at the time. It appeared in papers all over the world the next day.
Oddly enough, the flag didn’t belong to any of the fire departments working at Ground Zero. McWilliams had taken it off of a yacht that was docked nearby on the Hudson River—a vessel called Star of America that was owned by a woman named Shirley Dreifus. He had sawed off the yardarm holding the flag and the three found a pole to display it about 20 feet off the ground. It disappeared late that night, and no one knew who took it. It was assumed that the city took possession of it, and a flag owned by the city and believed to be the flag from the photo was signed by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Governor George Pataki.
That flag made its rounds all over the world. It was flown at New York City Hall, Yankee Stadium and aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt. After its many adventures, the original owner of the Ground Zero flag—Ms. Dreifus—decided to officially turn it over to the city. That’s when she noticed that the flag she thought came from her yacht was actually a different size than the one she had. She even started a website in an effort to recover her lost flag. CNN also aired a documentary in 2013 about the mystery of the lost Ground Zero flag. It was during this filming where video evidence was found that confirmed the flag’s disappearance took place the night of 9/11/01 around 11 p.m.
Flash forward to the fall of 2014 when author, history buff and host of the History Channel’s “Brad Meltzer’s Lost History” enters the picture. He did a story about the missing flag on the show’s first episode, offering a $10,000 reward to the person who had it to turn it in. A few days later, a man who said he was a Marine named Brian turned it in to a fire station in Everett, Washington–more than 2800 miles from Ground Zero. That news just came out this week because Brian’s flag had to undergo rigorous testing to verify that it had in fact been the one from Ground Zero. After almost two years of experts conducting their research, it passed every test.
According to a report in the Everett Herald, Brian did not give the firefighters his last name when he turned the flag in and didn’t want the reward money. He reportedly had gotten the flag from an unnamed worker with the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration, who had gotten it from one of the 9/11 widows.
Police in Everett have released a composite sketch of the big-hearted Marine named Brian and hope he comes forward to tell the rest of the story of the Ground Zero Flag. The flag was found as mysteriously as it disappeared 15 years ago and now takes its rightful place at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York just in time for Sunday’s anniversary remembrance.
The History Channel will be airing another special on Sunday night (“America’s 9/11 Flag: Rise From the Ashes”) hosted by Meltzer and will give all the details on the Ground Zero flag’s strange journey that took it across the country and how the experts were able to verify its authenticity as the flag raised by those three resolute firefighters 15 years ago.
It’s been a long, hot summer full of tragedies and triumphs. Just when you feel like you can’t take another day of the latest presidential election news, scandals and lies told by politicians and their political cronies—along came the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio like a cool breeze off the water on a stifling hot day.
Even if you don’t particularly follow the games, it would be hard not to be amazed by the results of years of hard work these athletes from all over the world exhibit in their competitions. Sure, the Olympics in Rio have had their share of low points like the earlier reports of bio-hazardous pools and rivers and the fake hold-up story from last weekend involving American swim team members.
Aside from those, Team USA has certainly shown up and out: as of now, US athletes have won the most medals of any nation—111 in all, including 40 gold. One of the most successful athletes from this Olympics is first-time Olympian Simone Biles, a 19-year-old gymnast. Her strength and amazing ability to do multiple twists, turns and flips seem to defy the laws of gravity. Biles will go home to Texas with five medals—four gold and one bronze—and most likely will be getting some lucrative endorsement opportunities as well.
That’s not too bad for a young lady who had a pretty rough start in life. Born to a drug- and- alcohol-addicted mother, Biles was raised and later adopted—along with her younger sister—by her maternal grandparents. Faith and family supported her on her path to gold, and during tomorrow’s closing ceremonies in Rio, Biles will have the honor of carrying the American flag.
Another medalist that made headlines was beach volleyball team member Kerri Walsh Jennings. A veteran of the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympics where she won gold medals, Walsh Jennings will leave Rio with a bronze medal. She raised the collective ire of liberal feminists everywhere—not an amazing fete—because she had the audacity to share with NBC during an interview that she was “born to have babies and play volleyball.”
Not only that, but Walsh Jennings gave credit to her children for inspiring her and giving her a new perspective saying, “It took my game and my desire and my passion for life to the next level. I am hugely indebted to my children.” Ouch…in the mind of some, you just don’t flaunt motherhood above your exceptional athletic abilities. Feminists lit up the Twitter universe complaining that NBC would run such an interview. Lefty online magazine Salon had one exasperated writer gripe “…I could do without upbeat stories on what great moms some Olympians are…” as she bemoans how female athletes are covered in the sports media.
That writer would absolutely hate the story of one female track star who likely would have graced a medal podium but for the fact that she and her husband had an unplanned pregnancy that caused her to get a little behind in her training for the Olympics. As a result, she didn’t qualify for the Olympic trials in July. Had Sarah Brown been of the same mindset as the writer from Salon, she would have “taken care of business” and gone on with her training. She chose motherhood above the Olympics and ended up with a baby girl instead of a gold medal. Not a bad choice in my humble opinion, but it must be quite a blow to femi-nazis who get tired of upbeat mom stories.
Finally, 19-year-old Virginia Thrasher won the first gold medal for Team USA during the 2016 Olympics. The chances are pretty good that Hillary Clinton and other liberal feminists won’t be tweeting about her accomplishments anytime soon since she won in the women’s ten meter air rifle competition. Thrasher had originally wanted to be a figure skater, but realized as a young teen that she just didn’t excel in that. She switched to shooting after going hunting with her grandfather, and the rest, as they say, is history.
As we celebrate the 240th birthday of the U.S.A., we’re standing on the brink of another presidential election, terrorist threats now loom regularly here and abroad, and many feel like there’s no reason to trust that God’s got this anymore. Have the American people—as a whole—declared their independence from what our Founding Fathers often referred to as “Divine Providence”?
Recently, Nashville singer and songwriter Stephanie Layne took a few minutes to answer some questions about a song she co-wrote titled “One Nation Over God” that talks about this very idea of our nation being much different than what the Founders had in mind in 1776.
Liberty Bell Blog: How did “One Nation Over God” come about?
Stephanie Layne: Heading into a presidential election year, we were discussing the political and moral climate in which we found ourselves. When we got around to throwing out potential song ideas, I said, “What do you think about One Nation Over God”? It was one of those rare moments when there was no hesitation for any of us. That’s the song we wanted to write! There are a lot of people in this country who have a growing sense of loss, sadness, and even outrage that the fundamental ideals upon which this country was founded and became a great nation have slowly eroded– and now are even being brazenly cast aside. We wanted to take a stand with Americans who believe we are headed down the wrong path. This song is our way of letting our voice be heard, but is also offered in the hope of stirring the voices of so many in this country who want to speak up and stand up for the ideals and values that have characterized America for almost two and a half centuries.
LBB: Who was involved with you in writing this song?
SL: Debbie Hall, Jason Wyatt, and Monte King, all Nashville songwriters. I’ve been writing with these great friends and songwriters for years.
LBB: What kind of reception has the song gotten so far?
SL: “One Nation Over God” resonated so much with the message of North Carolina Congressional candidate Chris Hardin’s movement that he adopted the song as an official campaign to rally supporters. Sadly, he recently lost in the primary.
LBB: There’s one part where it says “under-educated, making choices we can’t take back” that really stuck with me…I’d be interested to hear what inspired that part?
SL: We were concerned about some of the bad choices our government has made that could jeopardize the safety and security of American citizens. Also the school systems are not up to the standards of other countries. Many Americans are uninformed, being taught political correctness and socialistic ideas rather than hitting on math and history, and especially ignorant of the U.S. Constitution.
LBB: What do you hope will happen with this song?
SL: This song is my ministry. Our goal is to make people think and understand that morally, spiritually, and ethically we’re headed down the wrong path…that we need to get back to being a country that is One Nation Under God. We would love a commercial country or Christian cut. To hear it on the radio as a number one single would be an amazing dream come true. The song has been pitched to Franklin Graham, Ted Cruz, Sean Hannity, Garth Brooks, Martina McBride, Chris Tomlin, Darryl Worley, and Andy Griggs.
LBB: Any plans for a video?
SL: U.S. Congressional candidate Chris Hardin made a campaign YouTube video in his hometown that has received almost 9K views. Jason Wyatt’s church in Texas made a lyric video that has received almost 8K views. We have plans to produce our Official “One Nation Over God” music video in the near future.
LBB: Will you be performing it this summer anywhere?
SL: I will be performing it at the National Day of the Cowboy in Humboldt, Kansas this month (July 22-23). RFD-TV show “Best of America by Horseback” will be on location and filming the event. Horse enthusiasts from all over the country will ride the trails and enjoy western music from Del Shields—co-host of the show—and as I said I’ll be there too.
LBB: Is there anything else you would want readers to know?
SL: “One Nation Over God” is available on all worldwide digital distribution companies–iTunes, Amazon Music, Google Play, etc. Also, there are two versions of the song. The male version was sung by my co-writer Jason Wyatt, with my harmonies. I recorded the song on my newly-released album, Eclectic.
NOTE: Stephanie Layne’s music is available at www.stephanielayne.com, all worldwide digital distribution companies, and—if you’re in the Nashville area—the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum Store. Visit the “One Nation Over God” Official Website at www.OneNationOverGodSong.com.
Thanks to Stephanie and the other writers of this moving song for your hard work and inspiration. I encourage everyone to check it out, download it and share it. Have a Happy & Safe Independence Day!
Fathers sometimes get the short end of the stick. After more than a couple of decades where popular culture has often made them look like know-nothing chuckleheads, or an accessory—instead of a necessary part of a child’s life—the image of fathers has taken a beating. That could be partly because of the culture, and partly because of the fact that some people don’t have a positive experience with fathers. Maybe they had one who was absent, either physically or emotionally. After all, most men can father a child but not all men can be a Dad.
Those are the fathers that are celebrated this weekend: the fathers and father figures in our lives, who raised us, guided us and protected us as we grew up.
Marine Captain Jeff Kuss was a father of two young children. He grew up wanting to fly fighter jets and saw his dream come true. He was a member of the Blue Angels, an elite team of Navy and Marine aviators who perform in airshows A couple of weeks ago, while practicing for a Blue Angels performance for an airshow in Tennessee, his jet crashed and Capt. Kuss lost his life. It’s believed that he did not eject himself from the aircraft on purpose in order to save the lives of innocent people on the ground. The area of Smyrna, Tennessee where Capt. Kuss was flying was a heavily-populated area filled with apartments, offices and people who were just there to watch the Blue Angels practice. In staying with his plane, as fighter pilots are trained to do when the possibility of hitting civilians exists, Capt. Kuss died a hero. A dad and a patriot doing what comes naturally to dads—sacrificing and protecting. But most would never call themselves heroes. They’re just doing what good dads do.
Your dad may never have flown a fighter jet. Most likely, he earned his living doing things the world sees as less spectacular and less heroic than a Blue Angel. If your dad was an accountant, a plumber or a farmer, it doesn’t matter. Great dads and heroes can be found in humble places.
My dad wasn’t a pilot, though he did serve his country honorably in the Air Force during the Korean War. But to me and my six brothers and sisters, he was a hero. He worked very hard—at times working multiple jobs—to provide for us. Later in life, once he got his first computer and taught himself to use it, he became a writer. He never would have called himself a writer (I don’t think), but he wrote short opinion pieces to his local newspaper from a conservative viewpoint.
I always told my dad he should start a blog, but he wasn’t interested. So after he passed away in 2012, I wanted to share some of his wisdom from those articles on the Liberty Bell Blog, and a couple of those have been posted here and here over the years. I encourage you to read them because it’s amazing how much he could see of where the country was headed. I have a notebook of my dad’s that he kept near his computer where he wrote down websites and notes on things he was researching. But most of the pages in the notebook are filled with quotes from famous people, mostly of our nation’s Founding Fathers. Here’s one from Samuel Adams that he must have found important at the time, and I think speaks volumes about where we are now: “The general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy.”
Dad’s notebook isn’t much to look at—it’s really only a part of a notebook that doesn’t even have the front cover on it, and slips of paper with other random notes falling out of it. It could have easily been thrown away as a list of websites that may or may not still exist. To me it’s priceless. What makes it valuable is what’s inside, because it has things written in Dad’s own hand that were important to him: his notes for his articles, websites he used for his research and ones he just liked to visit regularly…and the quotes. Wisdom from the Founding Fathers that my father found noteworthy. That reminds me of a t-shirt that he used to wear that had one of his favorite quotes on it from the Bible, from Ecclesiastes 10:2: “A wise man’s heart directs him toward the right, but the foolish man’s heart directs him toward the left.” Sounds like a conservative blogger to me.
I keep that t-shirt and the unassuming, partial notebook written by my hero who’s now in heaven… but I would have kept it even if it had only been a list of websites that may or may not still exist.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad!