Magnificent!

Magnificent cover3

I have many friends who are screenwriters. Often, they want me to read their work. I’m sorry to say that I don’t do that anymore.  There are a number of reasons which I won’t go into here. But to all students of screenwriting, I will tell you that the most important way to understand how to write screenplays is to read screenplays, not just watch films.  After you read a screenplay, analyze it, which means creating a “beat sheet”.  There should be a single beat for every three or four pages of script. In this way, you will see the structure that the writer used, including logical act breaks. Screenwriting is a highly structural activity. You don’t just sit down and start writing a script.  You create your story with a beat sheet, then you do a treatment in prose form.  In this way, you work out as many problems as possible before you type Fade In:  Novices and bad writers do not do this.

Five years ago, my son Cole and I decided to write a script that would encapsulate all that we have learned about screenwriting over the decades.  Also, it would communicate what we believe on important subjects.  This is a script with a message and an edge. So if you want to understand how we write screenplays we offer this to you.

Magnificent!MMSW

AMERICAN VIRUS

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Look at the image above.  Isn’t it beautiful?  It could be a work of art. But it isn’t.  It is a magnification of a single Zika virus cell that can damage and destroy human life in the womb.

America is dying from an invisible virus that cannot be seen in any microscope but has taken complete control of our land. This virus has spread through the entire Western World. So often it appears to be beautiful, even desirable, but it is deadly and there is no stopping it.

A number of years ago, I read an essay by the writer J. R. Nyquist. He begins with these words: “There is an intriguing Chapter in Wilhelm Roepke’s 1948 book, The Moral Foundations of Civil Society, in which he writes about those nineteenth century thinkers who anticipated the crisis of the twentieth century. According to Roepke, ‘It appears that in all great crises of world history most people utterly deceive themselves as to where they stand, just as if Providence had drawn a veil over the impending disaster.’ Though a society inwardly crumbles, an ‘optimistic self-deception’ prevails — attended by ‘that astounding superficiality of diagnosis with which so many of us have judged the state of the world’ in the past. How slowly we grasp the meaning of facts. How tenaciously we struggle against a ‘disagreeable awakening.’ How unready we are to admit that we have built our society upon an avalanche.”

There is another name for this. It’s called the Normalcy Bias.

It is a powerful belief that causes people to underestimate both the likelihood of a disaster and its possible effects.  In spite of all evidence, they cling tenaciously to the false idea that things will always function the way they normally have. Consequently, when disaster strikes, the impact is far worse because there has been no preparation.

In my opinion, there is strong evidence that American civilization as previous generations have known it has come to an end.  The values and myths that we shared in that era no longer bind us. That isn’t to say that there aren’t groups and individuals who still hold such values, but collectively the glue has disintegrated. What joins us now are comfort, entertainment, anger and fear.

We are in a great and ultimate transition. In this transition the individual no longer matters.  Families, clans, communities as they were known in the past have been ground to powder. The word that some scholars use is atomization. We see it in the false sense of community, which is really isolation, that has been created by social media. But in this atomization a disturbing collectivization is taking place.  What is being created is a kind of “hive” mentality where everyone is isolated but, at the same time, thinking the same thoughts and under the same influences. You can see it in any public place, people seated alone or with others, but with everyone staring in silence at their cell phones. In America, two great, swarming hives have been created with smaller hives clustered in them.  These vile hives oppose each other in ever-growing rage. With greater and greater frequency, bloody violence erupts out of one hive or another.

How have we gotten to this terrible place and where is it all going?

In order to answer the first part of that question you need to meet a man.  His name was Edward Bernays.  Probably most have never heard that name, but Edward Bernays has had the deepest possible influence on all of our lives. In profound ways, he established the foundations of the dark world in which we live.

Born in Europe in 1891, he was the nephew of Sigmund Freud, who was the father of psychoanalysis.  Edward Bernays’ family came to America when he was a child. As a young man during WWI, he was a press agent who worked for the government of Woodrow Wilson.  At the end of the war, Bernays traveled with Wilson to Paris for the signing of the infamous Treaty of Versailles.

In Paris he saw the power of war-time propaganda to sway the minds of whole populations. He saw how irrational slogans tapped into irrational desires.  “The war to end all wars.” “Woodrow Wilson, the great peacemaker.”  Bernays asked himself whether this power might not be channeled to control populations in peacetime to promote other agendas.

Sigmund Freud’s work was just beginning to be known in the U.S.  It was Freud’s idea that in every one of us there is a subconscious mind filled with a mass of primitive urges, desires and irrational emotions.  This meshed with Bernays’ wartime experience. He wondered whether it might not be possible to harness and direct all of those urges and desires to make money for business. Bernays set up a little office in Manhattan, but he faced a dilemma.  How should he describe what he did?  The word “propaganda” was viewed negatively, so he coined a new term, “public relations”.

One of his first clients was the American Tobacco Company.

In the early 1920’s cigarette manufacturers had a problem.  It was considered taboo for women to smoke.  The president of the company came to Bernays and said, “We’re losing half our market.  Can you help us change that?” The company gave Bernays a lot of money to come up with a plan to make it acceptable for women to smoke. He went to a leading psychoanalyst in New York named A. A. Brill. (Freud was in France and not easily reachable.)  Bernays asked Brill, “How can Freudian psychology help us here?”  It was the day of the suffragette movement.  Women’s liberation was picking up speed.

Brill said, “Well, here is the problem of all women. They lack penises and because of this they envy men.  If you can convince women that smoking cigarettes will be like giving them a penis you can’t lose.” So here is what Bernays did.  Every year there was a big Easter parade in Manhattan.  Bernays gathered a group of young, fashionable debutantes. He asked them to hide cigarettes and matches in their clothing.  As they marched in the parade, at a certain moment he would give them a signal.  They were to stop, take out the cigarettes and smoke them.  Of course, he had a group of photographers and reporters waiting. His plan worked exactly as he had intended.  The debutantes lighted up and the story flashed across the country.  Bernays called cigarettes “torches of freedom.”  By smoking them, women were standing for freedom just like the new Statue of Liberty. From that moment across the U.S., cigarettes became acceptable for women.  This is the core of Bernays’ philosophy, sell enslavement as freedom.

A number of years ago, there was a commercial on the Super Bowl with the faces of men and a voice that listed all the humiliating things that men do to please women?  What was the suggestion?  “After all your slavery, you deserve to do something for yourself.  Express your freedom and masculinity. ” How should they do it?  Buy a new, fast muscle car. The legacy of Edward Bernays.

That legacy has been monumental with the deepest possible impact on American culture at every level.  It was Edward Bernays who created and promoted the idea that products weren’t just objects to be used.  They were symbols of how you want others to see you. A car wasn’t just to get you across town.  It was an expression of the Self.  Clothes weren’t just to keep you warm and cover the body.  They tell people who you really are inside. Bernays sent celebrities around the country to instruct the public in how to think about clothes.  He told us that our lives were empty, then convinced us that we would feel better about ourselves if we bought a particular product or service.

American business flocked to this perverse genius.  The president of Lehman Brothers is quoted as saying that the masses needed to be taught to make decisions not on the basis of need, but desire. They had to be made to want the new even before the old was consumed.  The desires of Self, carefully programmed in, must overshadow all else.

You will not be surprised to learn that Bernays was deeply involved with Hollywood.  He was the first to put stars under P.R. contracts and have them sell products created by companies also under contract to him.  He was the first to do product placement in film. For premiers he would drape stars with clothes from his manufacturers. He was the first to hire psychologists to do studies that said products were good for us.   Then he would claim that the studies were independent.  He was the first to use focus groups and on and on.

Not to be left behind, politicians of every stripe rushed to use Bernays’ techniques.  Dr. Joseph Goebbels, propaganda minister for the Third Reich, studied Bernays’ work and spoke of his great respect for what he had done. The Third Reich was built on one principle, tell a big enough lie and everyone will believe it.   Bernays worked for U.S. Presidents and political parties applying his principles to the selling of candidates. And the lies just kept growing.

The strategies of Edward Bernays were successful beyond his wildest dreams.

He became a wealthy and powerful man.  Though he is almost unknown today, he transformed America and America has transformed the world.  No longer are people valued in this country because we are citizens.  We are valued because we are consumers. Having money and spending it in carefully guided ways is all that matters. The current President, who is the ultimate product of Bernays’ style of lying psychological machinery, has trumpeted that since “consumers have lots of money, everything is fine.”  If you want to learn more about all of this I recommend watching the excellent BBC documentary, Century of the Self. It is available on line.

What was Edward Bernays’ darkest and most evil accomplishment?  He collectivized and promoted the Worship of Self.  Because of mass media and the Internet, that worship has been institutionalized in a way never before seen in recorded history.  Bernays’ propaganda has been so effective that we think Self Worship is normal.  We are like addicts who don’t understand the difference between what we really need and what we have been taught to need. Our inability to satisfy all the needs and lusts that have been programmed into us is the source of all addiction.  Bernays is the father of the puerile “influencers” who guide the choices of millions today.  We are a nation of sheep slavishly following the most evil wolf shepherds to our own destruction.

The Worship of Self is the disease that is destroying America.

Did Edward Bernays create the Worship of Self?  Of course not.  That started in the Garden of Eden when two people believed the lie that if they disobeyed God they could be gods themselves.  What do gods receive?  Anything they want.  And what do they desire most?  Worship.  In our day, that is defined as “celebrity”.  It was at that moment in the Garden of Eden that we humans became divided within ourselves. In my opinion, it was at that moment when the so-called subconscious appeared with all of it surging emptiness and hunger, a lost and powerful force within us that is so susceptible to outside control.

Bernays simply tapped into all of this. He taught us that if something makes us feel good or fulfilled for a MOMENT then it must be right.  But ONLY for a moment, because we must constantly desire something new and something more. We have been programmed to endlessly live by the Law of Diminishing Returns. To get the same satisfaction, we must have more.  Bernays taught American business and politics how to use the idol of Self to control us. He taught greedy, evil people how to dangle glittering promises in front of us that cannot be fulfilled, but that we accept as true in our hungry desperation. When they prove to be lies, we grope for more lies to replace them.

This Worship of Self, this deification of our desires, has transformed every aspect of life in America.

It condemns us to a devastating, lifelong childishness. It keeps us from wanting to commit to marriage because we’re afraid we won’t be fulfilled by just one person.  Then, it destroys marriages after the vows are spoken because Hollywood has told us to worship the feeling of “Being in Love.”  It gives us an insatiable desire to be entertained.  It makes us feel that others should supply all of our needs.  When we don’t get what we want we become destructive. It enslaves us in financial debt because we must constantly pour products into the God-sized holes in our souls.  Because that is what we are trying to fill, the infinite hole that is left when a loving God has been rejected.

As tragic as all of this is, for me there is an even deeper level of tragedy. The Worship of Self has invaded and destroyed the witness of the Christian church in America that should be speaking truth to power and culture.  Edward Bernays is the spiritual father of the “Prosperity Gospel”, of our love of spiritual wolves who tell us what we want to hear, not what we need to hear.  In our churches, we are convinced that the spiritualized Worship of Self is actually the worship of God.

We rush from church to church seeking something new to fill the holes in our souls.  We think that the pleasant shot of endorphins oozing through our brains from an emotional experience given to us by wolves and worship “machinery” is worshiping God.  We think our lives must be right otherwise we wouldn’t have such warm, even ecstatic feelings.  We want more and more of them. When we have drained the emotional machinery in one church our Worship of Self drives us to another. And wolves dressed like sheep await.

The Worship of Self corrupts our pastors and spiritual leaders, turning them into wolves who live to be stroked and rewarded and think that because thousands of self-worshipping people crowd around them that God must be blessing and must condone anything they choose to do or say.  The last thing they choose to do is tell us the truth about our desperate spiritual condition.  You don’t get rich with a mega-church and million selling books doing that.

The sadly laughable reality is that these churches and pastors don’t understand that they are the spawn of Hollywood and Edward Bernays.  Because Hollywood understood “feel good” to sell products long before our pounding endorphin-fueled “worship” machinery appeared with all of its smoke and mirrors.

The Worship of Self keeps us from following Jesus as true disciples, while making us think that we are spiritual and mature.  It blinds us to powerful forces of evil that have moved into leadership on every level of the church and nation.

Ultimately, the Worship of Self generates fear and anger which false “pastors”, business executives and politicians use to build their power.  The Worship of Self has taught us to fear losing our comforts and security. We have been taught to believe that this kind fear is an expression of Patriotism. We have fallen so low that we are willing to passionately support the most evil people if they promise to give us what we have been taught to believe we must have.

All of this had its foundation in the hellish machinery of control brought into the world by Edward Bernays.

So, what about the future?  Where is all of this heading?

Before he came to power, Adolph Hitler wrote these words:  “Anyone who interprets National Socialism merely as a political movement knows almost nothing about it.  It is more than religion; it is the determination to create a new man.”  For Hitler that new man was a totally unified “Aryan” race that would rule the world under his leadership.

For years I studied Germany and the rise of the Third Reich because I view it as both paradigmatic and predictive of what is to come. Hitler worked hard to collectivize his people, which meant giving them one mind and heart under the “fatherhood” of his leadership. All they had to do was place their faith in him and their problems would be solved.  Like a father he would take care of his children.  Many German Christians accepted Hitler as their Father.  Of course, he failed as all Wolf Kings do and took them into hell, but the Satanic process continues, constantly morphing into new, virulent forms.

The Worship of Self under the leadership of great Wolf Kings who head governments and parties, is at the heart of every political movement today. Every. Single. One.  As disparate as they appear and in such opposition to each other, ultimately they are working together to create a new world consciousness. As a Christian I believe that consciousness is being shaped and controlled by an invisible hierarchy of great evil in preparation for the last great confrontation with God led by the ultimate Wolf King.  Shockingly, God is going to help that process along.

Read these mysterious words written by St. Paul, found in the New Testament 2nd Letter to the Thessalonians 2:1-12:

“Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?

“And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion that they should believe the lie that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”

St. Paul is saying that an overwhelming Delusion is coming. It will be associated with the rise of a Wolf King such as we have never seen – a man who will have all power to create amazing signs and lying wonders that will appear to prove that everything he says is irrefutably true.  This will cause a great falling away of many people who claim to be Christians from famous pastors down to the lowliest parishioners. The first rumblings of that falling away have begun, with former “Christian” leaders renouncing their faith and many following them.  But all of this is minimal compared to what is coming.

Adolph Hitler and Nazism did not appear out of nowhere.

The spiritual seedbed for their stupendous growth was created by storytellers.  The major storytellers that gave dark life to the soul of National Socialism were the alchemist Goethe, the composer Wagner who dramatized dark myths and ancient writers of Norse mythology.  Of course, there were many other influences including Madame Blavatsky and her eastern mystical Theosophy, Nietzsche and his Will to Power, the so-called higher criticism of German theologians who destroyed the authority of the Bible and even the caste system of India.    In this moral vacuum of national fear, pride and selfishness the stories that the Nazis told grew and prevailed. The echo of what happened then is ringing around us.

Edward Bernays learned how to tell stories in a new way and his form of storytelling now rules the world.  Who are the storytellers controlling the world today? The stories of Hollywood and its daughter industries breathe ever greater darkness into the world soul. World leaders and politicians are telling you stories based on fear and anger.  The ones who tell the most powerful stories that appeal to national selfishness are prevailing.

In response to this, what kind of stories is the Christian church speaking into our world?  For generations, we have been talking to ourselves, telling weak, pitiful stories that make us feel good.  What stories are we telling the world at this moment? Those that have been fed to us by the great political and media wolves that we have chosen as leaders. What a tragedy because we possess the Greatest Story Ever Told about God’s Love.

The message of Jesus Christ stands in direct opposition to the message of Edward Bernays and all those who have come after him.

Bernays and his ilk call for the Worship of Self.  But what did Jesus call for? These are His words, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23)

What does it mean to “deny” yourself?  First, it means humbling yourself before God, repenting of your sins and giving up your right to be your own little god. You give up control of your life to Him, wanting His will more than you want your own, asking Him to guide your choices in life. Second, you consciously choose to be His servant rather than serving yourself.  He leads and empowers us to serve others in His Name and that can take many forms.  It means that you measure all the desires that have been programmed into you by our evil culture, all the “tastes” that have been fed into you, against God’s Word in the Bible. Then you take up your cross.  Every person who follows Jesus has one. It may be the rejection of friends and the people you love.  It may be physical difficulty or something else.  Whatever it is, Jesus gives the strength to carry it and leads us on.  Clearly, this is the exact opposite of the Worship of Self and it is the only way to be free from the tyranny of that worship.

What is the great tragedy of America?

The Worship of Self always leads to tyranny and enslavement.  That is true both individually and collectively as a nation. That is the future of this land that I truly love and has given me so much. The nature of that tyranny has yet to unfold.  But one thing is certain, it will be welcomed by millions in their blindness because they will passionately believe it is the answer to all their problems. They will think they are choosing safety and protection, but they will be choosing the opposite. The worship of self ultimately leads to the end justifying any means necessary to satisfy our desires.

Those Christians who see what is happening are called to live and speak the Truth no matter what it costs.  We are called to prepare the way for the King.  The message must be clear.  Repent from your sins for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. The King is coming. He is the righteous judge of every person who has ever lived. We are to speak that message to a world, including to a church, that is locked in Self Worship, arrogance, self-pity, anger, bitterness, addictions, broken hearts, broken relationships and broken lives. We cannot do that when we are just as enslaved as everyone else.

Central to this, if we are followers of Jesus we must focus on a different citizenship in a different Kingdom because the one we are living in today is fading away. Above all else, we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.  If our first love is centered in this world, if we think God must save America in order to fulfill His purposes, our faith is going to be deeply shaken. Prepare for dark days to come.  I don’t mean becoming a “prepper”, storing food, etc.  I mean daily prayer and serious personal Bible study.  Know God’s Word. Stop listening and believing the enslaving voices and stories of our culture.

If you have made it this far and you are not a believer in Jesus, thank you for your patience.  I strongly urge you to end your enslavement to the Worship of Self. You do this by confessing your sins and asking to be set free, by believing in Jesus and the sacrifice He made on the Cross to save your life forever. Place your life in His hands.  It is the only way of peace and safety in the days that are to come.

If I can be of help to you please contact me by email.  colemanluck@gmail.com

Flight Out of Darkness: Is There a Hell? Part II

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In my last post, we looked at a terrifying subject – the reality of hell, the center of Satan’s kingdom. It is a place beyond human description where people who have rejected all truth about themselves and their lives await final judgment. Witnesses have been given to us, people who have experienced brief moments in hell and come back to tell about it.  But those voices are almost overwhelmed by the many, many near death experiences that seem to prove that hell is not an issue that anyone should worry about.

Beginning with Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and Dr. Raymond Moody, dozens and dozens of books have been written that tell stories of people who appear to have crossed over into the afterlife and no matter what their backgrounds or beliefs, they are met by a loving being of light who affirms them.  Many experience a life review and when it’s over they are sent back, with vague messages of universal love that urge unity and an end to violence.  They tell us that we’re destroying the planet and we’ve got to take care of it.

Most of all these messages tell us that everyone is heading in the same spiritual direction, growing through various stages of spiritual development.  They tell us that there’s nothing to fear about death.  Ultimately, everyone is going to Heaven. In all of this literature extremely rare are experiences of hell.

So what’s going on here?

If hell is real and if the warnings of Jesus are true as I quoted in my last article, as heartbreaking as it is to say, the vast majority of the human race will not be going to Heaven at all.  Didn’t Jesus say in Matthew 7:14 that narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life and there are few who find it? According to Jesus, tragically, the vast majority of the human race are going toward eternal death. Which of these diametrically opposed messages is true? Of course, if you are an atheist you think none of it is true.  But that is a statement of blind faith without the slightest evidence and it goes against the eye-witness accounts of former atheists. I’d call that a high risk.

I believe that Satan (who is a very real and powerful being) is deeply concerned that God’s eye-witnesses who have experienced hell be overwhelmed by false visions created by his Angels of Darkness.  Jesus called Satan a Liar and the Father of Lies, but his lies are very subtle. To the best of his ability he will copy anything that he sees God doing.  And as much as possible he will salt truth and beauty into his lies. That’s why temptation is so tempting.  We see something that he presents and we want it. We know it’s wrong, but it’s painted so beautifully with all sorts of twisted logic giving us selfish reasons why it would be good for us.

Falling for Satan’s lies is addictive.

Doing so over and over makes us spiritually blind and stupid.  We start doing the one thing he wants for us more than anything else.  We start worshiping ourselves and our own desires.  We become our own little gods. As this happens, we give up the ability to understand any deeper truth, especially truth about who we really are. This the heart of every sort of addiction.  Facing truth about ourselves makes us very uncomfortable. It can cause deep pain, so we run and hide in a thousand ways. If we honestly confront who we are we would have to repent and our pride refuses to let that happen.

As I have studied the literature of near-death experiences, I have come to the conclusion that Satan uses two strategies that couple with our natural inclination to run from reality. These blind us about the truth regarding hell.

In January of 2010, an interesting man passed away.

His name was Maurice Rawlings.  He was a medical doctor, a cardiologist. In the early 1970’s Rawlings was definitely not a Christian.  That changed in 1977 because of a disturbing experience.  He was working with a team of nurses who were doing a stress test on a man who was having chest pain.  Rawlings instructed them to work the man harder until the pain returned.  While he was on the machine the patient had a heart attack.  His heart stopped beating.  As Rawlings worked to resuscitate him, a strange thing began to happen.  Several times the man revived, but then his heart would stop again.  And each time he regained consciousness he started screaming in absolute terror, pleading for the doctor to save him because every time his heart stopped he was in hell.

Being a good scientific materialist, Rawlings assumed it was just hallucinations. But his patient’s shrieks kept on and they were aggravating.  When he was conscious, the man pleaded with Rawlings to pray for him.  The doctor felt insulted.  He wasn’t a priest or a psychiatrist.  Finally, just to shut him up he made up a make-believe prayer.  He told the man to say, “Jesus Christ is the Son of God.  Keep me out of hell and if I live I’m on the hook.  I’m yours.”

Of course, the words were all a fantasy.  Rawlings didn’t believe any of it.  But the man did as he was told and, suddenly, the strangest thing happened.  No longer was he a screaming, wild-eyed lunatic.  He became relaxed and calm.  The terror vanished.  Seeing such a transformation frightened Dr. Rawlings.  Ultimately, it led to him ask Jesus to forgive his sins and be his Lord and Savior.

Over the following decades Rawlings entered into deep research about near-death experiences.  As a cardiologist he had many opportunities to witness people die.  From those experiences he wrote several books including Beyond Death’s Door and To Hell and Back. During his years of observation Rawlings noticed some very strange phenomena. First, he observed people who had clear and terrifying experiences of hell and communicated those awful visions during the crisis of resuscitation.  But very quickly as they recuperated, something odd occurred.  The memory of hell that they had witnessed so clearly entirely vanished.

What had happened? Where had the terrifying memories gone?

Rawlings concluded that there was a logical answer. What happens when we go through other experiences that are deeply shocking and traumatic such as brutal car accidents?  To protect us, our conscious minds simply refuse to recall the trauma.  The whole event submerges into our subconscious where it remains inaccessible, but it still affects us. Rawlings came to believe that this natural tendency toward psychological protection is the first reason why near-death experiences of hell do not appear with great frequency in the literature.  The vision is so horrible that the majority of “experiencers” automatically wipe it from their conscious memories.

But Rawlings discovered another reason why we don’t read more about near-death visions of hell.  As the years passed and he accumulated more and more records of these events, he contacted Dr. Kubler-Ross and other leading writers in the field, offering to share his files with them.  They didn’t want to see them.  They didn’t want to write about such negative visions.  This led Rawlings to believe that near-death experiences of hell are being consciously suppressed by many in the medical community. And it’s understandable. Medical personnel are frightened of them and prefer not to think about them.  And for those who are writers, you sell a lot more books by telling people what they want to hear and making them feel good.

But there is a third reason why near-death experiences of hell are not common.  One day Rawlings was doing a questionnaire with a patient who had been shot in the chest.  One of the bullets had nicked his heart and before he was resuscitated he had a near-death experience.  In it he was taken up into a loving white light where he was welcomed and affirmed.  No serious life examination took place at all.  The white light did not mention that three years previously he had murdered two people during a robbery.  All he felt was peace and love.

Why had he been shot in the chest?

He had been in a bar and had started dancing with what he thought was a beautiful, young woman. But very quickly, he discovered that his partner was a cross-dresser.  He hated homosexuals so he had beaten him up.  The man had gone behind the bar, pulled out a gun and shot him.

So what did this man say to Rawlings about his near-death experience? These are his words:  “Well, it felt good to be in this beautiful place, but I kept wondering why the light never asked me about beating the heck out of the cross-dresser.  And the light never mentioned the two killings from the past.  I was glad he didn’t ask me about those things, but if he was from God, why didn’t he?  I thought about bringing it up, but I said to myself, why knock a good thing and kept my mouth shut.  I knew I should be in hell instead of this nice place.  Doc, does God ever make mistakes?”  What had happened?  Did God make a mistake or just overlook this man’s awful deeds?

Why are there not more experiences of hell? 

Because many people are given lying visions.

If you want to read some darkly hilarious literature I suggest reading books that come from “advanced spirit beings” that “channel” their wisdom through a human “medium”.  One of the classics of channeled literature is a book called Seth Speaks.  According to the jacket, (and I quote) “Seth is a personality no longer focused in physical reality.”  (I have known a network executive or two who fit that description.)

In 1963, a woman named Jane Roberts and her husband started playing with a Ouija board.  Suddenly, messages began coming from it. This led Jane to become a trance medium in order to channel the wisdom of an entity who called himself Seth.  Was Jane really channeling “Seth” or was it all just regurgitated from her imagination?  I think there is good reason to believe she was actually in touch with something beyond herself.  The voice and the style of speech were entirely different from her own. What it said was completely out of character for her. What she experienced was spirit possession. If you don’t believe in that I have a shelf of books that you should read.  I’d be happy to share titles.

When you read so-called channeled literature you are wading in a swamp of mental goop right up to your eyeballs.  But in the middle of all the asinine blather you may come upon a fragment of fascinating information. Seth had a very big mouth and he loved to boast.  He wanted everyone to believe that in him resides the wisdom of the ages.  In his book he spends a number of chapters telling people what will happen to them after death.  Needless to say, nothing that he shares agrees with Jesus and the Bible.  But buried in the blather a scintillating factoid is dropped that I think represents truth.

Seth is a very busy entity and he has many associates.

According to him, all advanced beings are deeply interested in helping poor benighted humans like us.   Seth informs us that one of their most important activities is to assist people at the moment of “transition out of the body.”  It is one of their regular assignments.  Seth and his associates have a great concern.  It is their desire to meet the spiritual expectations of every human when we “die”.

Seth wants us to know that all human belief systems are just hallucinations. Once we are dead, he and his friends become guides to help us transition through and beyond our infantile religious beliefs.  According to Seth, in order to facilitate this important work he and his entity cohorts become whatever “god” you expect to see.  Let’s read his own words as “channeled” through Jane.

“The situation is rather tricky from a guide’s viewpoint, for psychologically, the utmost discretion must be used. One man’s Moses, as I discovered, may not be another man’s Moses. I have served as a rather creditable Moses on several occasions – and once – though this is hard to believe – to an Arab.

“The Arab was a very interesting character.  Let me tell you about him. He hated Jews, but somehow was obsessed with the idea that Moses was more powerful than Allah and for years this was the secret sin upon his conscience.  He was killed by the Crusaders in the most horrible way.  They forced his mouth open and stuffed it with burning coals as a starter.  As he died, he cried to Allah, then in greater desperation to Moses.  And as his consciousness left his body, Moses was there. He believed in Moses more than he did Allah and I did not know until the last moment which form I was to assume.”

With consummate pride, Seth tells us that he and his associates staged a grand pageant for this Arab’s benefit with Allah and Moses fighting each other for his soul because, for some unknown reason, that was what the man expected. Beneath all this asinine hilarity, a chilling statement is being made.  When St. Paul writes in II Corinthians 11:14 that Satan can masquerade as an angel of light, we should take that very seriously.  Before his fall, Satan was in God’s Presence.  As one of the most powerful angels, he is able to mimic the Light and Love of God.  Now I’m sure what he creates is a very poor copy, but for people who have never experienced the original it is an alluring counterfeit.   He can make it feel as though you are in God’s presence, then tell you anything he wants.

What is the purpose of this counterfeit?

In many near-death experiences, people meet whatever god they believe in and are sent back with messages of false hope.  Most of all, the focus of those messages is this:  Jesus is not who the Bible says He is.  He is just one of many great teachers and avatars who have appeared throughout history.  He is not the only savior of the world.  Certainly, He is not the only way to Heaven. Most of all, Satan does not want you to know and believe that Jesus really did come and give His life to save the human race from hell.

Satan knows very well what happened in the heart of his kingdom almost two thousand years ago.  I fear that an understanding of what happened in the kingdom of hell has been lost in the church of today.  It’s time we reclaimed it.  Here’s how it began.

Luke 22:63-23:47 Now the men who held Jesus mocked Him and beat Him. And having blindfolded Him, they struck Him on the face and asked Him, saying, “Prophesy! Who is the one who struck You?” And many other things they blasphemously spoke against Him. As soon as it was day, the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, came together and led Him into their council, saying, “If You are the Christ, tell us.” But He said to them, “If I tell you, you will by no means believe.  And if I also ask you, you will by no means answer Me or let Me go.   Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God.” 

Then they all said, “Are You then the Son of God?” So He said to them, “You rightly say that I am.”  And they said, “What further testimony do we need? For we have heard it ourselves from His own mouth.” Then the whole multitude of them arose and led Him to Pilate. And they began to accuse Him, saying, “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.”

Then Pilate asked Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” He answered him and said, “It is as you say.”   So Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no fault in this Man.” But they were the more fierce, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee to this place.”

When Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked if the Man were a Galilean.  And as soon as he knew that He belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent Him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.  Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad; for he had desired for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things about Him, and he hoped to see some miracle done by Him. Then he questioned Him with many words, but He answered him nothing.  And the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused Him. Then Herod, with his men of war, treated Him with contempt and mocked Him, arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him back to Pilate. That very day Pilate and Herod became friends with each other, for previously they had been at enmity with each other.

Then Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people, said to them, “You have brought this Man to me, as one who misleads the people. And indeed, having examined Him in your presence, I have found no fault in this Man concerning those things of which you accuse Him; no, neither did Herod, for I sent you back to him; and indeed nothing deserving of death has been done by Him.  I will therefore chastise Him and release Him” (for it was necessary for him to release one to them at the feast).  

And they all cried out at once, saying, “Away with this Man, and release to us Barabbas” — who had been thrown into prison for a certain rebellion made in the city, and for murder. Pilate, therefore, wishing to release Jesus, again called out to them. But they shouted, saying, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”

Then he said to them the third time, “Why, what evil has He done? I have found no reason for death in Him. I will therefore chastise Him and let Him go.” But they were insistent, demanding with loud voices that He be crucified. And the voices of these men and of the chief priests prevailed.   So Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they requested. And he released to them the one they requested, who for rebellion and murder had been thrown into prison; but he delivered Jesus to their will.

Now as they led Him away, they laid hold of a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, who was coming from the country, and on him they laid the cross that he might bear it after Jesus. And a great multitude of the people followed Him, and women who also mourned and lamented Him. But Jesus, turning to them, said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.  For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts which never nursed!’  Then they will begin ‘to say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”‘  For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?” 

There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death. And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

And they divided His garments and cast lots. And the people stood looking on. But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God. “The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine, and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.” And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

 Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.'” Having said this, He breathed His last. So when the centurion saw what had happened, he glorified God, saying, “Certainly this was a righteous Man!”

I’ve read the story of Jesus Christ’s death so many times.  I’ve seen films about it, and probably you have too, the Son of God taking the sins of the world upon Himself. It’s clear from the Biblical record that behind the human conspiracy that led to Jesus’ crucifixion, Satan and his Angels of Darkness were working feverishly.  If you remember, during the Last Supper, it says that at a certain moment Satan himself entered into Judas Iscariot, the betrayer.  Satan desperately wanted Jesus to die.

But there is an element to this story that bothered me for a long time.

Now, I am not a theologian. Neither am I a professional Bible scholar.  I’m only a Hollywood storyteller.  But every good storyteller asks logical questions.  As writers, we have to understand our characters, their motives, their hopes and their dreams.  Especially this is true when we create antagonists.  As evil as an antagonist may be, if your story is going to make sense, the villain has to make decisions out of a logical framework based on his view of reality.  Even if he is insane, he has some kind of consistent viewpoint. He wants something and he has reasons for wanting it. Though the world may view him as horribly evil, in his own eyes he is the hero of the story, a victim of cruel injustice who is terribly misunderstood and maligned.  In his self-pity, he sees everything he does as fully justified.  In every great antagonist there is a logic of self-preservation. Certainly that would be true for the most formidable antagonist of all, Satan.

So here is the question that bothered me.  Why would Satan want to kill Jesus Christ?  He’s the Son of God.  Satan knows that.  He’s taking on the sins of the world.  Satan knows that.  He’s tried to tempt Him to a different course, to personally sin, to be disobedient to God’s laws and purpose and it hasn’t worked.  Based on that alone, then this has got to be the logical reality from Satan’s viewpoint.  “If I kill Him, he’s going to Heaven and His death will redeem the human race.”  It’s in the Old Testament.  Satan is an expert on the Bible.  He knows Isaiah 53 and all the other passages about the suffering Messiah.  And he knows the passages about Him being a conquering King.

Let’s apply some story logic.

Given this understanding, if you were Satan wouldn’t you want to keep Jesus alive in this world forever? Wouldn’t you protect him so He would die a natural death in old age, not giving his life for anyone? Why would you want to facilitate your own destruction?  So what are we missing here? What is going on that we have overlooked?  Let me present an idea. What if Satan had an entirely different understanding about what would happen to Jesus when He died? I believe that Jesus Himself gave us some hints about Satan’s motives.

Let’s look at a fascinating parable. Matthew 21:33-46:

“Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country.  Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit.  And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another.  Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. 

Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’  But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’  So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.  “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?” 

They said to Him,” He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?  

 “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.  And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.”  Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet.

Who is Jesus talking about in this parable?

Clearly, first of all He is talking about the hypocritical religious leaders who are in His audience.  These men wanted to kill Him.  In a number of places He calls such men children of their father, the devil.  Strong words.  It means that to Jesus they were the human representatives of Satan and the kingdom of hell.

But let me ask a question.  As much as they hated Him, did those religious leaders view Jesus as the Son and Heir of their Kingdom?  Absolutely not.  In His trial they wanted to crucify Him for claiming just such a thing.  So on a deeper level, who was Jesus talking about?  Who did know that He was the Son and Heir and who did want to kill Him because of that?  Satan and all of his fallen hosts.  What does the parable say about the motives of the murderers?  They believed that if they could kill the son the vineyard would be theirs.

So what might Satan have believed?  First, he believed the eternal truth stated in Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death.  St. Paul wrote those words. What is he saying?  What does death mean in this context? Just physical death? If that’s true as soon as our hearts stop beating the price for sin is paid and we all ought to go to Heaven.  But it doesn’t mean just physical death.  In Luke 12:4-5 Jesus warned that we shouldn’t fear the one who can kill the body. We should fear God, the One who can cast the soul into hell.

The Bible teaches that because of sin, the curse of death is a two-part experience.  First, comes physical death.  That is the minor part.  After that there is the death of the spirit in eternal suffering apart from God. The Bible calls this the Second Death. So what might Satan have believed about the moment when Jesus’ Spirit left His body?  The perfect Son of God who has never sinned has come into this world to do what? 2 Corinthians 5:21 says it clearly: For He (God) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin (to be) sin for us. Those two little words “to be” do not exist in the Greek.  They’ve been added to make it more readable in English.  What it says is that God made Jesus sin for us.  He didn’t make Him commit sin for us.  He turned Him into sin for us. It was the ultimate sacrifice mirrored in the entire Old Testament system of sacrifices. The animal hadn’t done the sinning, it was the people.  A substitute for the sinner took on the sin and paid the penalty.

What sin?  Whose sin?  John 3:16 says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son…” What sin?  The sin of the whole world. By God’s decree, Jesus became guilty of all the sins that have ever been committed from Adam and Eve down to the last child who will ever be born. No wonder in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus cried out, “Father if it is possible let this awful cup pass from me.”

So what did Satan understand?

The Law of God is clear and immutable.  The soul that sins must die.  Not just physical death, spiritual death in hell.  So what must happen to Jesus?  In becoming the sin of the entire human race, He is transformed into the most the most vile, wretched and filthy man who has ever lived, guilty of everything from the murders of the Holocaust to child rape and on and on.  God will not be able stand the sight of Him.  If we had seen it all, we couldn’t have stood the sight of Him. Satan would understand that into hell Jesus must go to suffer the second death and remain under his evil control. With the Son in hell, what will happen to the world?  It will belong to the Prince of the Power of the Air forever. The “vineyard” will be his.  Suddenly, it is brutally clear why Satan may have wanted Jesus to die.

And at His death, into hell Jesus went.  One of the oldest statements of faith in the history of the Church is the Apostle’s Creed.  It says, “He descended into hell.”  It doesn’t say He was dragged there.  He went there. What is this statement based on?  What does the Bible say happened when Jesus entered hell?  Let’s look at some mysterious passages.

Ephesians 4:7-10 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.”   (Now this, “He ascended” — what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)  Those are the words of St. Paul.

Among the Jewish people of Paul’s day the concept of the lower parts of the earth never meant simply a grave in the dirt.  It meant going down into hades – into hell.

Colossians 2:11-15 tells us this: In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.

Disarming principalities and powers, making a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them, these are words of absolute violence.  The people of the Roman world would have understood what Paul meant.  They had seen such things.  They had seen Roman generals going into enemy territory and fighting terrible wars.  When the enemy was defeated a Roman general would chain up all the soldiers left alive and lead them in a humiliating parade to show how he had triumphed over them. That’s what Paul is saying Jesus did.  What other time for this to have happened than when He descended into hell, when Satan thought he had power over Him?

Sometime before His Resurrection, the war of the ages took place in the heart of Satan’s kingdom.

Remember that “time” does not mean the same thing in every dimension.  An hour in this world could be ten thousand years in a different reality. So Jesus could say to the thief on the cross, “This day you will be with me in Paradise” and be true to His word, while remaining in Satan’s Kingdom for what felt like an eternity.  I believe that in that war…in the heart of hell…the Great Victory was won.  All Satan’s evil hosts were defeated by Jesus alone through the Power of God’s Holy Spirit. He didn’t destroy them.  That comes later.  But He bound them, limiting their power.

But before His great victory what happened to Jesus in hell?  For some unknown period did He suffer there the Second Death for the sinners of the world?  The Bible does not tell us.  But I believe that’s what Satan expected to happen.

1 Peter 3:18-20 says: For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison.  

God would not leave Jesus, His Only Begotten Son, in hell.  The Spirit made Him alive. And after His victory over Satan, He preached the greatest sermon in the history of the world to a vast audience locked in darkness.  Based on that victory, how does Jesus describe Himself now? You can read it in Revelation 1:18I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.”  He won those keys by the giving His Life for you and me.

 How can we communicate what Jesus has done for us?

Where are the words?  There is no greater responsibility for a Christian storyteller than to try to communicate what Jesus’ death, His descent into hell and His resurrection really mean for humanity?  How can we communicate the sin and evil that He became for us, the sin and evil that we do and that we are as a race?  How can a storyteller communicate our “utter lostness”?

I tried to do this in a chapter of a novel that I wrote entitled, Dagon’s Illusion.  I have turned that novel into a dramatic podcast of the same name.  Below you will find a link to Episode 35 that I called The Dark Parade.  While it comes in the middle of the novel, I think you will find that it stands alone.  Every evil described in it has actually been committed by we humans at some point in our history. I invite you to listen.

https://anchor.fm/coleman-luck/episodes/Dagons-Illusion—Episode-35—The-Dark-Parade-e3oh82

The writer of the New Testament Book of Hebrews asks the ultimate question:

“…How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?”

That is a question that you need to ask yourself right now.  My friend, our lives are so short. Before you know it, yours will come to an end.  As you have read already, the message of the Bible is clear.  God loves you more than you could ever know.  No matter what you have done, no matter what sins you have committed, Jesus gave His life for you to give you His Eternal Life forever. You are invited right now to lay your life at His feet, to give your life to Him.  Be honest with Him about the things you know that you have done that are wrong. Ask Him to forgive you and become your Savior and Lord. He will do it.  His Life can be yours. There is no other path to Heaven.

If I can be of help to you, email me:  Colemanluck@gmail.com

 

 

Flight Out of Darkness: Is Hell Real? Part I

bird out of fire4

Back in the late 80’s I was the co-Executive producer and Showrunner of the television series, The Equalizer.  It ran for four years on CBS and starred the wonderful actor, my friend, the late Edward Woodward. Since then, the series has aired around the world.  While we were in production, as Showrunner I decided to commission an episode about a street gang in New York that was terrorizing a high school.

In the story, Robert McCall, The Equalizer, takes on the task of turning these young men from their dangerous and destructive lives. It would be a kind of “scared straight” episode.  A freelance writer was assigned.  When the script came in it just didn’t work.  So, I took on the task of re-writing it myself. That’s what is called a “page one rewrite.” Basically, you start all over.  In the episode, McCall does the traditional “scared straight” things.  He takes the gang to see the autopsy of a former gang member.   But as I wrote, none of this was enough.  In our day, street gangs see death all the time.  I struggled with the script and I prayed.  Then I remembered a story that I had read years before.

I wrote a scene such as had never appeared on television.  It broke every rule of TV writing.  The scene was pages long and it was just one man talking – no cut aways, no nothing.  It was a scene about a hit man who had been hit himself – shot in the head.  It was about his journey into hell and back.

I turned in the script on a Friday afternoon and thought, “Well, this is it.  I’ve done a lot of stuff on this series, but I’m never going to get away with this.”  It was a long weekend of waiting as I knew that everyone was reading that script.  I went in on Monday morning prepared for the war I thought might come. I was utterly shocked to discover that everyone loved the script.  Talk about amazed relief.  Suddenly, our only problem was finding an actor strong enough to carry such a heavy cameo.

Actor after actor was read in New York.  And we couldn’t find anybody.  It came to the day before it was supposed to shoot.  I made the decision that if it couldn’t be done right I would cut the scene. At the last minute we found our actor.  And what a great actor he is.  His name is David Strathairn.  No one could have done that scene better than he did it.  A few years ago you saw him in the feature film, Good Night and Good Luck.  In it he played the legendary newsman Edward R. Murrow.  He did our cameo and the name of The Equalizer episode became Sea of Fire. The true story upon which I based that scene I want to share with you right now. It has haunted me for many years.

Oregon’s Amazing Miracle

The experience happened to a man named Thomas Welch on July 1, 1924.  Thomas lost both his parents when he was 11 years old and was raised by an aunt and uncle who were kind to him.  But no one could replace his parents.  At an early age, he stopped believing in God.  As a young adult, he had Christian friends who took him to church.  He heard the message of Jesus many times and it never moved him.  His heart was hard.

Thomas got a job at a saw mill in Oregon as an engineer’s helper.  What happened took place on his first day of work.  The mill was sawing giant squares that were flumed down a trough of water to the Colombia River. There was a dam at the mill and a log pond.  The trestle over the dam was 55 feet above the water. Thomas went out on the trestle to straighten out some timber that had become jammed causing the conveyor to stop moving.

Suddenly, he fell off the trestle between the timbers.  An engineer saw him fall. He landed on his head on the first beam 30 feet down, then tumbled from one beam to another until he landed in the water and disappeared.  The pond was ten feet deep. The mill shut down.  There were 70 men working that day and all of them joined in a search for his body. It took almost an hour to find him.  He was submerged for that entire time. While that search was going on, this is what Thomas Welch was experiencing in his own words:

“I was dead as far as this world is concerned. But I was alive in another world. There was no lost time. I learned more in that hour out of my body than I could ever learn while in this body. All I remember is falling over the edge of the trestle.  The next thing I knew I was standing near a shoreline of a great ocean of fire. It appeared to be what the Bible says it is in Revelation 21:8 “The lake which burns with fire and brimstone.” It was the most awesome sight one could ever see this side of the final judgment.

“I remember more clearly than any other thing that has ever happened to me in my lifetime every detail of every moment, what I saw and what happened during that hour I was gone from this world. I was standing some distance from this burning, turbulent, rolling mass of blue fire. As far as my eyes could see it was just the same. A lake of fire and brimstone. There was nobody in it. I was not in it.

“I saw other people whom I had known that had died when I was thirteen years old. One was an uncle of mine who died of consumption. Another was a boy I had gone to school with who had died from cancer of the jaw. He was two years older than I. We recognized each other, even though we did not speak. They too, were looking and seemed to be perplexed and in deep thought, as though they could not believe what they saw. Their expressions were those of bewilderment and confusion. The scene was so awesome that words simply fail. There is no way to describe it except to say we were eyewitnesses now to the final judgment. There is no way to escape, no way out. You don’t even try to look for one. This is the prison out of which no one can escape except by Divine intervention.

“I said to myself in an audible voice, ‘If I had known about this I would have done anything that was required to escape coming to a place like this.’ But I had not known. As these thoughts were racing through my mind, I saw another Man coming by in front of us. I knew immediately who He was. He had a strong, kind, compassionate face, composed and unafraid, Master of all He saw. It was Jesus Himself.

“A great hope took hold of me and I knew the answer to my problem was this great and wonderful Person who was moving by me there in this prison of lost confused judgment-bound souls. I did not do anything to attract His attention. I said to myself, ‘If He would only look my way and see me, He could rescue me from this place because He would know I never understood it was like this. He would know what to do.’ He passed on by and it seemed as though He would not look my way, but just before He passed out of sight He turned His head and looked directly at me. That is all it took. His look was enough.

“In seconds I was back and entering into my body again. It was like coming in through the door of a house. I could hear my Christian friends praying minutes before I could open my eyes or say anything. I could hear and I understood what was going on. Then, suddenly, life came into my body and I opened my eyes and spoke to them. It’s easy to talk about and describe something you have seen. I know there is a Lake of Fire because I have seen it. I know Jesus Christ is alive in eternity. I have seen Him.”  (End of statement)

There were many witnesses to the miracle that Thomas Welch experienced.  It was written up with sworn statements by several of those witnesses including a statement by a physician who attended him.

After his terrible ordeal, Welch was taken to a hospital and his scalp was sewn back on.  His broken body was sore all over and he was in bed for several days.  All that time he was talking to Jesus.  The Lord told him that he had been spared to tell his story to the world. Thomas decided that he couldn’t do that in a hospital bed, so he got up and left on his own.  Wrapped in bandages, he went to a friend’s house and pulled out all the stitches on his head with tweezers.  There was no bleeding. His body had been healed. You can find Thomas’s story on the Internet if you search for Oregon’s Amazing Miracle.

The Most Difficult Subject

This is one of the most difficult things I have ever felt compelled to write.  Hell has become a joke, a meaningless swear word.  But if you do any serious study of it at all you come away horrified with a broken heart.  You wouldn’t want your worst enemy to spend a minute there.

Most people, including many who consider themselves Christians, don’t believe in a literal hell.  They think that when the Bible talks about hell it’s just being metaphorical, a kind of scare tactic to make people live right.  Surveys have shown that the overwhelming majority in the United States who believe in an afterlife are sure they are going to Heaven when they die. Almost no one thinks they are going to hell.  Those who do, joke about it as though it were a giant sports bar where all the most fun people hang out forever in an endless party.

Beneath all of this is a deadly serious question, “Why would God, who is supposed to be a God of love, send anyone to hell?”  Before we deal with that, we should ask another question.  Is hell real at all?  Now, either it is or it isn’t and if it is real what we believe about it doesn’t affect its actual existence in the least. When I lived in Illinois I could have said that I don’t believe in earthquakes. If I had thought that, when I moved to California there would have come a rude awakening.  The same is true about hell.

What Did Jesus Believe?

People who never read the Bible have the common misconception that Jesus was just a humble teacher of love. They need to do a lot more study.  Did He believe in a literal hell? Let’s read some of the things …and He said a lot on this subject:

Matthew 5:21-22: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ (which means worthless one) shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.”

Matt 5:27-30: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.”

Matt 10:27-28 “Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops.  And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Matt 18:6-9: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!  “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire.” 

Matt 7:13-14: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.  Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” 

Luke 13:22-30: And He went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. Then one said to Him, “Lord, are there few who are saved?” And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able.  When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’ then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’  But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from? Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’  There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out.  They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God.  And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last.”

Finally, one of Jesus’ most unusual parables:  Luke 16:19-31 “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.  But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.  So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried.  And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.  “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’  But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.  And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’ “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’  And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.'” 

This is one of the strangest of Jesus’ parables.  It is the only parable in which He names a person in the story.  The implication is that it may not be simply a story at all.  Jesus could be describing something that actually happened.  And with that story comes the most solemn warning.

To Write about Hell as Being Real is Dangerous

Many people will consider you a primitive, judgmental fanatic living in a dark, fantasy world.   But if you really care about people, that’s a risk that must be taken. I believe that if we could see the reality of hell right now and the great mass of humanity that is suffering there, we could never say the word “hell” again without our eyes filling with tears.  Most of all we would be desperately concerned that not one more soul go there. I don’t want you to go there. That’s why I am writing this.

A Frightening Vision

Over the years I have read dozens of eye witness accounts of people who were shown the reality of hell and came back to give a warning. A number of years ago, I spoke to a group about the reality of Heaven and hell.  When it was over, a woman told a story.

She was a Jewish believer in Yeshua (Jesus) as her Messiah.  Life had not been easy for her.  Her mother was an atheist who did not believe in an afterlife at all. For years, she had mocked and derided her daughter for her faith.  Finally, the mother’s life approached its end.  But a few days before she died, something happened.  She had been in a coma. Suddenly, she awoke. What she told her daughter was stunning.

Though unconscious in this world, she had been completely alive in another one. In fact, more alive and aware than she had ever been.  First, she had found herself outside a gigantic city larger and more lovely than anything on earth. It had huge entrances with beautiful gates. From inside the city came sounds of incredible joy, as though the greatest party in the universe was taking place. But she couldn’t go in.  The gates were closed.

Then, the scene changed.  The city vanished.  She found herself standing outside an ominous door darker and more forbidding than anything she could have imagined in a nightmare.  From behind that door came wails of agonizing sorrow and raging cries that utterly terrified her. More than anything, she didn’t want to go in there. One thing was certain to her, whatever this was, it wasn’t a dream.

Her daughter explained to her what she had seen from the Bible. The city was the New Jerusalem, the Messiah’s home.  She told her that Yeshua, Yahweh’s Only Begotten Son, had paid the price for her sins with His death on the cross. If she believed in Him, the gates to that beautiful city would open for her and she could live there forever. The dying woman placed her faith in Yeshua and a few days later passed from this world.

There are those who would tell us that all such “visions” are just excretions from a dying brain.  What they don’t explain is why the brain would create such specific images. In the brain of an atheist, where would they come from and what would be the purpose for them? In my library are many books that deal with “Near-Death Experiences”. Almost all of them focus on the beautiful and positive visions that many report.  Very few deal with the kind of reality that I am sharing with you.  And a significant percentage of people have such terrifying experiences. What is going on?  We’ll deal with that in my next article, Flight Out of Darkness Part II.

Right now, I want you to understand that according to the Bible, hell is not the Lake of Fire that is described in the Book of Revelation and that Thomas Welch saw.  God created the Lake of Fire as a terrible and eternal punishment for Satan and his Angels of Darkness. It wasn’t created for people, but there will be many, many people who are cast into it.  For all those lost ones, Satan’s Kingdom of Hell, the center of his power, is a waiting place, an awful prison that holds them in his power until the Final Judgment.  He wants as many people as possible to go with him into the Lake of Fire which is his future. Why?  Because every lost person breaks the heart of God. And that brings him pleasure.  Remember the words of John 3:16.  “God so loved the world…” That means every one of us.  Satan hates whatever God loves.

From many reports it is clear that the Kingdom of Hell is a huge dimension with a vast number of areas where levels of suffering and punishment vary. This is why people have different experiences in this horrifying place.  Here is another one:

A Descent Into Death

Howard Storm was a professor of art at Northern Kentucky University.  When he was 38 years old he and his wife were leading a group of students on a tour of the art museums in Paris.  He had been having some gastric pain, but over-the-counter medications had been taking care of it.  Then one morning he was talking to a member of his group, when suddenly, it felt as though he had been shot in the stomach.  But no one had shot him.  He didn’t know it, but the wall of his stomach had been perforated and acid was flowing into his abdomen.

In agony, he was taken to a hospital.  But it was a weekend and the ineptitude of the French medical system kept him from seeing a doctor for hours.  Finally, he was in such pain that all he wanted to do was die.  He knew that was the only way to get relief.  Storm was an atheist.  He didn’t believe in God.  He didn’t believe in an afterlife.  He viewed such things as foolish fantasies. So in the hospital bed he drifted into darkness, a sleep that he thought would lead to annihilation.   He recounts what happened in his book, My Descent Into Death.  I’m going to relate some excerpts from it.  Here is what happened to Howard Storm.

The darkness vanished. He found himself standing up in the hospital room next to his bed.  Clearly, this was all wrong.  All he wanted was oblivion, anything to be free from the horrible pain he was experiencing. He told himself that this must be a dream. But it didn’t feel like a dream at all.  He was totally aware of everything around him in a way that he had never been in his whole life. All of his senses were extremely vivid.  He felt the cold floor under his bare feet. Strangest of all, his entire environment seemed alive.

He looked down at the hospital bed. A body was lying under the sheet.  He bent over to look at the face. To his horror, it bore a frightening resemblance to him. But how could that be? How was it possible? He was standing over it, looking down at it. And the face was utterly lifeless. Everything that was “him”, his consciousness and physical being, was standing next to the bed.

Then, he heard voices calling from the distance.  They were coming from outside the hospital room in the hall. “Howard, Howard…”  He heard friendly male and female voices calling in clear English, which was very weird because none of the hospital staff spoke clear English. He was confused. What was going on here?  His wife, Beverly, who was sitting in a chair next to the bed, didn’t appear to hear them at all. Storm called out to them, asking who they were and what they wanted. All they said was, “Come out here. Let’s go.  Hurry up.  We’ve been waiting for you for a long time.”

He told them that he couldn’t leave, he was sick.  They responded that they could get him fixed, but he had to come now. Then they asked, “Don’t you want to get better?  Don’t you want help?”

Storm was afraid of them. He moved closer to the door.  The hall outside the room looked very odd.  The terrible thought came to him that if he walked out there he might not be able to get back in again. He tried to speak to his wife, but she didn’t seem to hear him or even be aware of his presence. The voices called out telling him that they couldn’t help him if he didn’t come out to where they were. He knew he needed surgery, so he began to think they were there to take him to an operation.

He left the room.

Once in the hall, he felt very anxious.  The light was strange and hazy.  The people were off in the distance.  It was hard to see them, but he was sure they were adults, both male and female, tall and short, old and young. But they didn’t look right. What they were wearing was gray and their skin was pale. He started walking toward them, but the closer he got the more they withdrew into the fog. He felt like he had to follow, but he never got closer than ten feet.

As he walked, he asked them a lot of question, but he never got any answers. They just kept urging him to hurry up, move faster. Again and again, they repeated that if he followed them his troubles would be over. They walked for a long time. Gradually, the fog got very thick and turned dark. He demanded to know when they would get to where they were leading him. Over and over, he told them that he was sick and couldn’t keep doing this.

The voices changed.  They grew angry and sarcastic. In Storm’s words, “The more questioning and suspicious I became the more antagonistic and authoritarian they became.  A terrible sense of dread was growing within me.  Everything I had experienced before this was a dream compared to the way that I was now experiencing reality.  I was frightened, exhausted, cold and lost.”

As he kept walking, he realized that people were moving around him in the dark fog.  And there were a lot more of them. How far had they travelled?  He was sure it had been miles. In spite of that, when he looked back he could still see the doorway to the hospital room. He could still see the body on the bed and his wife sitting in her chair as though frozen.

Then, without warning, the light vanished. To his horror, he was in total darkness. And with the darkness came a crushing hopelessness such as he had never known in his entire life. He was overwhelmed with it.  Calling out, he told the people to leave him alone. He said they were liars and he wouldn’t follow them anymore.  They started raging at him, shrieking insults.  Then they began pushing and shoving him.

He fought back, which started an insane battle of screaming, mocking and hitting.  He fought like a wild man, swinging and kicking at them. They bit and tore at him. Most hideous of all, it was clear they were having fun doing it. Though it was totally dark, he knew there must be hundreds all around him. The more he fought the greater was their glee.  They were in no hurry. Each new attack brought shrieking laughter. They started tearing off pieces of his flesh. In his words, “To my horror I realized that I was being taken apart and eaten alive slowly for their entertainment.” There was no one in control of them.  It was a mob of raging beings whose only pleasure was endless cruelty.

Though he couldn’t see, he could hear and feel everything with the most awful intensity.  The noise alone was a horrifying assault.  Hundreds of people were yelling, laughing and jeering in their excited lust over his torment. The harder he fought, the more they loved it. Finally, he was lying on the ground with his attackers swarming over him like huge, ravenous rats.

It was at that moment that he heard a voice.

It sounded like his own voice coming from inside himself, but what it said wasn’t a thought of his. He knew he hadn’t spoken it.   The voice said, “Pray to God.”  Storm’s first thought was what a stupid idea. Being a good atheist, he knew that wouldn’t work.  It would be nothing but a cop-out. Even lying in pitch-black horror, he didn’t believe in God. And what did it matter anyway? He was far beyond hope or help whether he believed in God or not.  He just didn’t believe in praying, period.

The voice came again, “Pray to God.”  It was his voice, but he hadn’t said a word. Desperately, he thought, “Okay, what should I pray, how should I pray?”  In his whole adult life, he had never prayed. A third time the voice said, “Pray to God.” He was stumped.  When he was a child he had heard adults pray, but it was always something fancy. He tried to remember prayers from his childhood in Sunday School, but it was just so long ago.

Storm says he “murmured a few lines – a jumble from the 23rd Psalm, the Star Spangled Banner, the Lord’s Prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance and God Bless America.”  What happened next amazed him. The cruel beings that were shredding him to pieces grew absolutely enraged by his pitiful prayer. “It was as if they were throwing boiling oil on me.”  They screamed, “There is no God.  Who do you think you’re talking to? Nobody can hear you. Now we are really going to hurt you.”  They shrieked obscene language worse than any kind of blasphemy he had ever heard on earth. But, while they shrieked, they began pulling away.

As he lay there the voices grew more and more distant. He realized that saying things about God was driving them away. He became much more forceful. Slowly, they receded into the darkness where he could no longer hear them. But he knew they could return.

Storm says that lying there torn apart, inside and out, he knew that he was lost.  He would never see the world again.  He was left alone to become a creature of Eternal Night. Then, a song from childhood started playing through his mind.  It was his voice, but him as a little boy singing the same words over and over. As he describes it, “The child that I had once been was singing full of innocence, trust and hope, Jesus loves me.   There was only that bit of the tune and those few words that I could remember.”

Then an incredible thought came to him. “Somewhere out there in that vast darkness there could be something good.  There is someone who might love me.  I didn’t have any theological interest about what it meant.  It was simply a spontaneous recollection from my Sunday School days.  Jesus loves me, Jesus loves me, Jesus loves me. I desperately needed someone to love me, someone to know I was alive. A ray of hope began to dawn in me, a belief that there was really something greater out there.  For the first time in my adult life I wanted it to be true that Jesus loved me. I didn’t know how to express what I wanted and needed, but with every bit of my last ounce of strength, I yelled out into the darkness, “JESUS, SAVE ME.”  I had never meant anything more strongly in my life.”

As Howard Storm stared into the darkness, far away he saw a little pinpoint of light like the faintest star in the sky. Why hadn’t he seen it before?  As he watched, every moment, it grew brighter and brighter.  At first he thought it was a thing, not a person and it was streaking toward him at frightening speed. Finally, it was huge and brilliant and he couldn’t stop looking at it. He was afraid it might burn him up. Storm relates that, “The light was more intense and more beautiful than anything I had ever seen.  It was brighter than the sun, brighter than a flash of lightning.”

And then it was on him.

With all of its unspeakable brilliance, it wasn’t just light. It was a “luminous being approximately eight feet tall and surrounded by an oval of radiance.”  As the intensity of the light swept through his body, ecstasy swept the agony away.  Storm says that, “Tangible hands and arms gently embraced me and lifted me up.  I slowly rose up into the presence of the Light and torn pieces of my body miraculously healed before my eyes. All my wounds vanished and I became whole and well…  More important, the despair and pain were replaced by love.  I had been lost and now was found.  I had been dead…and now was alive.”

Once more he entered his physical body and healing came. But Howard Storm was never the same.  He had met Jesus Christ, his Savior and King, who loved him so much He had given his Life for him. For much more, read Howard Storm’s book, My Descent Into Death.

Lies Are Everywhere.

Especially about hell. I have read many reports of near-death experiences.  Satan has many lies that he wants you to believe about death.  The first one is that there isn’t a hell.  And if there is one, only Hitler and few other people have gone there. He wants you to think that everybody’s going to Heaven.  It doesn’t matter what you believe.  He wants you to think that all religions are just different paths up the same mountain heading toward the same destination.  God wouldn’t condemn a person to hell.

And within the literature of near-death experiences, there seems to be evidence to support all of these lies.  In that literature, so very few people report experiences of hell.  So many report a positive, wonderful experience traveling up a tunnel into a loving presence of light, where they are validated no matter how they have lived or what they believe.  I’m going to deal with those lying manifestations in my next article.  But what you have read right now is the most serious warning. Hell is real. And it is real whether you think it is real or not.  If you go there it will be the most real thing that you will ever experience.

God with a Broken Heart

Why would a loving God send people to hell?  In the Bible we are told clearly that He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance for their sin. (II Peter 3:9) That means confess what you have done, turn away from it and ask for God’s forgiveness.  If you read the Bible, one fact becomes startlingly clear.  God, the Creator of the Universe, has a broken heart.  In our lives, too often broken hearts come because someone we love has betrayed us.

Over the years, I have known of many husbands and wives whose spouses have cheated on them. Some have written to me.  The agony they felt was like a burning fire. And it didn’t stop. In so many cases, it led to endless anger, bitterness and hate. The damage was so deep they could never forgive. But imagine someone who had been cheated on over and over, who had a broken heart, but continued to love, who continued to pursue the cheater offering forgiveness if only they would turn back.  That is the God of the Bible, who loved us so much that He came in the Person of His Beloved Son to offer healing and life and a new relationship of eternal love to all of us selfish, adulterous cheaters.

In his book, The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis writes that “The gates of hell are locked from the inside.”  Those in hell are locked in eternal self-justification, self-righteousness, self-pity and rage.  Whatever they chose to enslave them in this world is in total control. Not even in their agony would they repent. Their pride and hate will not allow it.

People go to hell by their own choice.

That choice starts here and now in this world. Don’t let that be your story.  It doesn’t have to be. The God with the broken heart loves us so much that He came to suffer with us in the Person of His Son, Jesus, the Messiah, who gave His life to pay the price for all our sin and evil. Hell is the place where people insist on carrying their own sin, instead of letting Jesus carry it for them.

If Jesus Christ is not your Lord and Savior death is a door into eternal darkness, utter hopelessness and endless suffering. That future does not have to be yours.  Jesus came and suffered the penalty for your sin so that you wouldn’t have to.

These are the most important words you could ever read: John 3:16-20 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.   He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.  And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

In John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

If you do not know Jesus, if He is not your Savior and your Lord, but you want Him to be, read this beautiful prayer written by a pastor named Dr. Louis Evans, Sr.  As you read it, make the words yours:

Jesus, I believe you died and rose from the grave to purchase a place in Heaven for me. Lord Jesus, I hear you standing at the door of my heart and knocking. I now open the door and ask you to come into my life. Take control of my life.  Forgive my sins and save me. I repent of my sins and now place my trust in you for my salvation.  Lord Jesus, I accept your free gift of eternal life and I ask you to give me a new beginning today. And the new life which you give to me I will give back to you to use in whatever way you see fit.  Come into my life, Lord Jesus.  Amen.

Come fly out of Darkness into God’s Eternal Light and Love.

A Supernatural Podcast

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Six months after I got home from Vietnam in November of 1968, I started working as an announcer and producer at WMBI and the Moody Radio Network in Chicago. A short time after I joined the staff, I was given the opportunity to be Supervisor of Production and Talent. And what an opportunity it was. It was one of the last radio stations in the country that was still producing radio drama. That was so much fun to do. This was before I was doing any writing myself. I was working with wonderful writers who were creating radio drama scripts. From there I was able to move through the entire process from casting to producing the drama, then editing it for air.

It was great preparation for eventually working in Hollywood as a writer and executive producer/showrunner in network television. I learned the importance of sound in storytelling. Well, here I am after all the years, back writing and producing “radio” drama, this time as an Internet podcast. I have only one actor. Me. But essentially the process is the same as it was so long ago. 26 episodes have been posted and are available on Itunes or any other podcast provider such as Stitcher and YouTube.  More are coming.  Here’s episode 1 – The Sacrifice. Take a listen.

In Memory of Edward Woodward, The Equalizer

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On this day, nine years ago, the wonderful actor, Edward Woodward, passed away.  The week after he left us, I wrote the following tribute:

This morning came the word that my old friend and great colleague Edward Woodward had passed away. He was 79 years old. Over recent years, our contact was pretty much limited to the exchange of Christmas cards. The one he sent last year carried the note that he was still working at 79 and wasn’t that a wonder?

I didn’t create the classic, American television series, of which Edward was the star. It was created by Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim. Michael was a busy writer/producer and Dick was a top-level executive at Universal Television. After the pilot was written and produced, because of their commitments, neither could join the on-going staff of the show. It was turned over to others.

I came on board the team as the junior writer/producer in the fall of 1985. It was show eleven. I had worked on only one other series and that one had lasted for just eight episodes. When it ended, I was offered an exclusive deal at Universal TV. I was thrilled to be there, but for months there wasn’t much for me to do. Then came a call. Would I like to join the staff of a new series that was in production called The Equalizer? The concept sounded interesting, so I said yes.

Almost immediately I ran into a false conception that plagued the show from beginning to end. When I told a woman writer friend that I was joining The Equalizer she looked disgusted. Why would I want to write for a show about a vigilante? To this day, that’s how many people perceive The Equalizer. But for those of us who worked on the series, it wasn’t about that at all.

When I joined the staff, I discovered that things were in chaos. Most new series go through a painful first year, but this was particularly bad. The writing staff and the “showrunner” were in LA, while the whole production team was in Manhattan. And there was war between the coasts. The New York team hated the scripts they were getting, while the LA team felt they were writing cutting-edge material that took the concept to a whole new level. I decided to be of help wherever I could and try not to make enemies on either coast. That was a challenge.

The writing staff was trying to deal with a number of scripts that had been done by freelancers. All of them needed major revisions to make them ready for production and deadlines were not being met. With my usual suicidal tendency, I went into the showrunner’s office and asked for the most difficult script he had. He gave it to me. It was a story about a street gang and it needed what we call a “page one” revision, basically a whole, new script. And there wasn’t much time to do it.

In the story, the Equalizer had to stop a street gang that was terrorizing a neighborhood. For some reason I got it into my head to make that script an homage to the classic movie, “The Warriors.” (When I see that episode today, I just want to cringe.) But something strange happened as I wrote it. Here’s the way it went down.

As always before taking any action, Robert McCall did his homework about the situation that he faced. In the episode, his research took him to Spanish Harlem. One day on a street, he passed a poor little barbershop. Glancing in the window, he froze. His eyes locked with those of the barber. Amazed, he walked inside. The barber and McCall stared at each other. They were old enemies from the days when McCall was a top CIA operative. The man motioned for him to come into the back room where they could talk.

McCall couldn’t believe that his old enemy was here in New York cutting hair. When last they had met, he was one of the leading Generals in Fidel Castro’s Cuba and head of Castro’s secret police. How in the world had he gone from that to this? The “barber” told him.

In a time of paranoia, Castro had ordered yet another sweep to cleanse the population of his enemies. Among the thousands pulled in was a little farmer, just a common man. But very quickly it became apparent that the best interrogators couldn’t deal with him. He broke them. In frustration, the General took on the case himself. He tortured the man mercilessly, finally killing him. But that little farmer destroyed his life. And how had he done it? “…Because through all the torture no matter what I did to him, he forgave me. What I experienced was the worst thing that could ever happen to a good Communist. I began to believe in the Love of God.” This and other factors in the story led Robert McCall to do something that he had never done before. To win against the gang, he had to lay down his gun and face them defenseless and alone.

After I wrote all that, I had absolutely no idea how it would be received. Definitely, it wasn’t your garden variety vigilante story. I was certain of only one thing. In the history of American television never had such a scene been written for a hard-edged, prime-time action series. I was in LA with no direct knowledge of what was going on in New York. I didn’t know it, but later I was told that Edward was ready to walk off the show because he was so unhappy with his character as it was being portrayed. But when he read the script that I had written he said, “This is it.”

Thus began a wonderful odyssey for me. The story of all we went through producing The Equalizer could fill a book. Beginning with the second year, the writing team came together. A number of wonderful writers passed through the show adding their unique perspectives. Many of us are still close friends. For two of the four years, the showrunner was a great friend who gave me amazing freedom to write whatever I felt. His name was Ed Waters and he passed away several years ago. Then there was Jim McAdams, the Executive Producer, who became a dear friend of decades. Jim died a little over two years ago. Supporting us were the executives at Universal TV led by Dick Lindheim. Without their encouragement, nothing that I wrote would have been produced. I am grateful to them all.

As time passed it seemed that I had a kind of symbiotic understanding of the unique character created by Michael and Dick and portrayed so brilliantly by Edward. Consequently, most of the episodes that dealt with McCall’s deeper background and relationships fell to me. By virtue of the fact that I stayed on the show longer than any other writer, I wrote more episodes than anyone else. And what a wonderful opportunity it was. Never again on any series, even those I created, was I allowed such freedom.

What makes a television series successful? Of course, you need good scripts and good production. But most of all the audience has to love the main characters. They have to want them to come back into their homes week after week. That’s why casting is such an art. Casting Edward Woodward as The Equalizer was brilliant and unpredictable. Think of it, a British actor virtually unknown in the US, to play a former, top-level, CIA agent on a major network series. The world can thank Michael and Dick for such a choice.

I’ve thought often about what Edward brought to the part. In my opinion it was great strength, resolution and energy, coupled with an underlying sorrow. There was tremendous honesty in his performance. The character he played was a brilliant and brave man who had done terrible things for which he carried a heavy burden of guilt. The series was about the costliness of redemption. Robert McCall brought redemption to others, but to do so always cost him. And while he brought that redemption, he could never quite find it for himself.

I don’t think you will ever see another series like The Equalizer. There are specific reasons for that. First, Robert McCall was the ultimate father figure. He would kick your butt when you needed it, but when the chips were down and life was fading away, he would be there to save you. When he came, you knew that if it were necessary, he would give his life for yours. Hollywood is not a fan of those kind of fathers. Lovable, stumbling buffoons are much more popular. But there’s another reason you’ll never see a series like this again.

Over the years there have been a number of attempts to copy The Equalizer. They have failed, because Hollywood misunderstands the meaning of redemption. Hollywood’s definition of redemption is found in the wonderful movie, “The Shawshank Redemption.” As excellent as it is, it isn’t about redemption at all. It’s about revenge. Redeem yourself by making somebody else pay. And therein lies the fatal flaw. With true redemption someone is willing to pay the price to save your life, even if you don’t deserve it. If The Equalizer had carried Hollywood’s definition of redemption, it would have been just a vigilante show.

Why did I have an understanding of the mysterious character of Robert McCall? Was it my experiences in war? Maybe in part. But there is a deeper reason. I too am a man who has done terrible things in my life. But unlike Robert McCall, I found redemption because Someone else paid the price for me. Because of Jesus Christ, I know what redemption is and the burden of guilt is gone.

People always want to know how much of the character that an actor portrays comes from inside. They want to believe that the real person is a lot like the character they love on the screen. Edward both was and wasn’t the Equalizer. First, he was a whole lot funnier than Robert McCall. And he could sing. He had a wonderful voice and made a string of records. A number of years ago, Carel and I visited Edward and Michele in their home near Portsmouth, England. It was a delightful time. We had great meals and went antiquing. Our gracious hosts showed us the area, with its fascinating history. And Edward kept us in stitches. Not only was he a consummate actor, he was one of the greatest raconteurs of his generation.

Edward was much like Robert McCall in at least one way. He cared about people. The star of a series controls the tone of a show on the set. Too many series are chained with stars who are narcissistic, spoiled brats. And some are truly evil. They bring agony on all those around them. That was not Edward Woodward. Our production team, that had to work with him day and night, all loved him. He was a true gentleman. Though we never talked about it, I’m sure at a deep level Edward understood Robert McCall in the same way I did. If he hadn’t, never would he have accepted the scripts that I wrote for him and given me such enthusiastic support.

I was a grown man when my father died. Even so a strange sense of vulnerability came at his passing. Someone I trusted deeply wasn’t there anymore and the world was a lonelier place. I think Edward portrayed a father very well. Our prayers are with Michele and all the children.

Rest in peace, my friend.

After I wrote this, I sent a copy to Edward’s wife, Michele Dotrice, herself a wonderful actor from a famous family of British theater, film and television.  A short time later, I received a gracious note of thanks from her. In it she said, “Edward believed as you do.”

Indeed, after nine years, continue to rest in peace and joy, my friend.  We will meet again.

 

Help for an Agnostic who is dealing with a Problem Christian

Some time ago, I received an email from an agnostic friend who asked for my help in dealing with an irritating Christian. I told him what I could.

Dear Allen (the name has been changed),

Sorry it has taken me longer than expected to answer your email. Reading it again, I’m not quite sure what to tell you. Do I understand your situation correctly? You used the word “proselytize.” Your brother-in-law is trying to “proselytize” you. I take this to mean that he is concerned for your rapidly aging soul. At your age of 66, that is no unimportant issue. You could be dead tomorrow (if not sooner). In answer to his concern, you raise your objections about what Christian missionaries do destroying cultures in other countries. Do I have that down right? So how in the world should you deal with this damnably irritating individual (whom you assure me  you love and respect) regarding his futile attempts to save you? Is that the question?

In my experience, with all such people delicacy and sophistication simply do not work. No matter what his concerns may be that you are on your way to hell, you have every right to your opinions and privacy. In particular, within the confines of a family, no one should browbeat another. Sadly, I think there’s no other alternative than a fairly brutal response. I suggest that you tell him with the utmost clarity that his attempts to save you will never work. You have made your decision regarding Christianity. While somewhat clinically fascinating as an example of spirituality, it will never be of any deeper personal interest to you.

As a sophisticated man you are quite prepared for what you consider to be the minimal risks involved with this decision. The minor risk being that Jesus Christ is exactly who the Bible says he is and that your rejection of eternal salvation offered through him means that you will go to hell. While you don’t believe this fantasy for a New York minute, you accept the logical potential that there is a very tiny percentage of possibility that it could be true. After all, in the insanity of our quantum universe almost anything could be true, if not in this dimension, then in some other. Accepting this tiny percentage of possibility and standing against it will prove one of two things – either you are a man of great moral courage who has risen above primitive ignorance or you are an arrogant, smug, eternally self-destructive fool. One way or the other, I would inform your brother-in-law that you are ready, willing and able to take the risk of being such a fool.

Perhaps he is not fully aware of the important values held by every good agnostic. As gently as possible, I would inform him that you carry in your proverbial wallet an important piece of self-identification. It is your Professional Searchers Card and it qualifies you to dabble endlessly (well, not endlessly) at the smorgasbord of world spirituality – a dab of this, a titillating morsel of that. He needs to understand that Professional Searchers are members of a very exclusive club. Their self-esteem (some would call it arrogance or overweening pride, but why quibble?) is found at all costs in maintaining their life-long objectivity. The most important clause in the contract of club membership is that a Professional Searcher is not allowed ever to actually find anything of eternal and life-changing importance other than belief in the power of his own intellect and the rather entertaining illusion that he is master of his fate and captain of his soul. To invest in anything beyond this would mean an instantaneous and very humiliating loss of membership and the status accruing to it among his many sophisticated friends. Which, you might mention, brings up the most egregious claim of historic Christianity.

To be a Christian demands abject, self-mortifying humility. (Which is irrefutable proof that there are very few actual  Christians in America today. In particular, there are almost none on Facebook, but I digress.) Not only must one believe in the anachronistic concept of sin, one must accept that he is a sinner deserving of hell before a Holy God. That is bad enough, but it gets infinitely worse. One must actually humble himself, ask forgiveness for his sins and then turn away from them, depending only on Jesus Christ, and his death on the Cross to pay the eternal penalty for all the evil crap that he has done. You might mention to your brother-in-law that, not only is this unnecessary in your case, it is personally insulting and goes against every modern concept of psychological well-being, all of which, in one way or another, depend on stoically coping with human evil and murderous destructiveness, while desperately struggling to maintain a positive, life-affirming attitude – indeed, a truly heroic endeavor in the face of the dark horrors happening every day, to say nothing of your own ever-approaching death.

But why worry about that?  An essential part of your life affirmation is clinging in blind faith to one of several assertions. Choose the one or ones that you prefer: 1) When your eyes close for the last time you enter eternal slumber without dreams.  You have no evidence that this is the case, but you are a man of faith. 2) At some point in the future, the universe will regurgitate you into another physical body, reaping whatever you have sown in a previous life without any memory of it.  Perhaps you will reappear as an Afghani goatherd or worse, as one of his goats.  3) To hell with all serious considerations about anything.  Just struggle and bumble on, considering yourself an intellectual hero who needs no ignorant crutches, bolstering your heroism with stiff shots of Jack Daniels or whatever your favorite escape libation.

So there we have it. As far as your brother-in-law is concerned, the time for charm and patience is at an end. Man of blind faith that you are, give it to him with both barrels.

All the best,

Coleman Luck

A New, Really New, the Very Best Kind of New Colossus

(A new statue of “liberty” poem more fitting for a Great America )

Like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty orange-headed man with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and his name
HAMMER OF EXILES. From his golf-hardened hand
Glows world-wide warning; his raging eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, Third World sewers, your pathetic loser weaklings!” cries he
With endless tweets. “Give me only the rich, the powerful,
The sleek, huddled bankers ever-yearning for a little more,
The wretched refuse keep on your own teeming shore.
If you send your homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I’ll smash those losers with my really big lamp (the biggest)
beside the golden door!”

For a point of obsolete, anachronistic humor, here is the old poem:

New Colossus

By Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

 

 

The Terror that Comes in the Night

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I’m going to give over this edition of my blog to my wife, Carel Gage Luck. I hope you find her article of interest and, perhaps, of help.

Carel Gage Luck:

I wrote this column a number of years ago, but feel it might be of help to people today.

There is a book by David J. Hufford entitled, The Terror that Comes in the Night. The sub-title of the book describes the contents as: An Experience-Centered Study of Supernatural Assault Traditions. According to Hufford’s research about a sixth of the population experience the phenomenon described in his book yet almost no one talks about it. The experience Hufford describes is similar to what has become known in our culture as the “alien abduction” experience, yet differing in some aspects. According to the Roper Poll done in 1992 at least two percent of the adult population have experienced being abducted. It is difficult to get an exact number since it is believed that many people completely repress the experience and many other just don’t talk about it.

The Roper Poll used a sample of 5,947 respondents corresponding to the equivalent number among the 185,000,000 ostensibly represented by Roper’s demographically balanced sample. The margin of error is + or – 1.4 per cent. The poll excluded everyone under 18 years of age and all residence of Hawaii and Alaska, as well as all residing in dormitories, hospitals, etc. When respondents were asked if they had ever awakened paralyzed with a sense of a strange presence in the room 18 per cent said yes. This percentage with a + or – 1.4 margin of error represents 33,300,000 people.

In 1973 Coleman and I and our two baby boys lived in Virginia. Coleman was working for Christianity Today magazine as the advertising manager and I was a stay-at-home mom doing some freelance artwork. One night I woke up instantaneously. My eyes flew open like the close-up in a horror movie when the dead person comes back to life. I was totally awake with the sense that something was very wrong. That sense moved very quickly to terror. I was paralyzed, unable to move anything except my eyes. To my left, over my husband’s sleeping body, I could see three figures gliding into the room. Their feet, which I couldn’t see because a monk-like robe covered them, never touched the ground. They were coming out of the walk-in closet and my first thought was, “How did they get into the closet?” It was communicated to me in some fashion – I don’t know how – that they had come in the large second story window in the nursery, glided down the hall, gone through the wall into the master bath, and from the bathroom had glided into the closet. I knew they were very, very angry with me for some reason, but I didn’t know why. They communicated to me, without speaking, that they were going to levitate my stiff body, slam me through the window above our bed and drop me on my head killing me. They wanted me to know that my husband would be blamed for my death.

I had no doubt that they were capable of doing this and my terror escalated. I tried to scream at Coleman to wake up but I couldn’t. My vocal cords were paralyzed. Then I began to pray. I tried to call out, “JESUS.” Again nothing would come out of my mouth other than grunts. Once more I tried to say “JESUS.” More grunts. Finally a garbled “Jesus” came out of my mouth. At the name of Jesus the beings dissipated into the air into little triangles just like a visual effect.

I immediately woke Coleman and told him what had happened. After comforting me the inevitable question came. He said, “Are you sure it wasn’t just a bad dream?” Irritated, I replied, “Yes, I’m sure. Because if it was a bad dream I’m still dreaming. I awoke before it began and I have not awakened since. Besides I just KNOW it was real.” At the time, neither one of us knew what to do with this experience, so I just filed it away and didn’t talk about it again for about 20 years.

Then about twenty years later Coleman was writing a pilot for a television series that was supposed to be about all sorts of strange phenomena. He gave me a book on alien abduction and asked me to read it and see if there might be any story ideas in it that he could use. As I read the book it struck me how similar these people’s experiences were to mine. Then I came across a drawing of one person’s alien abductor. It was eerie. He had drawn the same beings that had come into my room.

At the same time I was reading a book about several different missionaries that had gone to a variety of Third World countries. The book was entitled, Demon Experiences in Many Lands published by Moody Bible Institute in Chicago in 1960. In the preface we find this statement by the publishers: “It has been many years since any serious study of demon experiences has been published, and possibly never before a compilation from competent observers in many part of the world. The reason for this omission is not clear, but the results has been a feeling on the part of many Christians that these strange (to us moderns) phenomena were only valid in Bible times.”

Several of the missionaries had this attitude themselves when their story begins. Most were totally unprepared for the assaults that they and their new converts would confront. Several of these experiences were very similar to the ones described in Hufford’s book and countless alien abduction books. A conclusion from Hufford’s book is that people unfamiliar with any notion of what he calls an “Old Hag tradition” describe their symptoms precisely in accordance with those aware of one. All of these missionaries came to the same conclusion. They believed they were dealing with demons. Each looked to the Bible to learn how to deal with them.

As I began to form my own opinion about my night terror experience I went to the Internet to see if anyone besides myself had a similar experience. Was I the only person who has used the name of “Jesus” to end a night terror or alien abduction experience? I found an article from Florida Today magazine for August 17, 1997, written by Rita Elkins concerning alien abduction and it’s similarity to demonic oppression. She quotes Joe Jordan, a director for the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) a clearinghouse for UFO related research. When he is not checking out UFO claims for MUFON he works in product development and engineering for Sea Ray Boats. He and his partner Wes Clark, also a member of MUFON, who is a quality control engineer at the Kennedy Space Center, have, through their work at MUFON, come across several people who have been able to stop their abduction experience by calling on the name of Jesus. He shared a taped interview with Elkins for her article in Florida Today:

Jordan punches buttons on a tape recorder. A nameless, 30-something man with an intelligent-sounding voice, slightly Southern, tells his story. Calmly at first.

“There were strange lights in a nearby woods at bedtime, barking dogs.” He is up and down a few times; yelling at the dogs while his wife sleeps soundly. Then lying down again…”I couldn’t move…grey fog. I couldn’t see anything, but it was like someone was here.” He felt himself lifted off the bed. “I was terrified, so helpless… screaming inside, but I couldn’t get it out.”

The voice is less calm now, but still certain, not hesitant.

“I thought I was having a satanic experience, that the devil had gotten hold of me and had shoved a pole up my rectum and was holding me up in the air…so helpless. I couldn’t do anything.”

A non-religious person, he’d been to church with his wife a few times.

“I said, ‘Jesus, Jesus, help me,’ or ‘Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!’ And when I did, there was a feeling or a sound or something. That either my words that I had thought or words that I had tried to say or whatever, hurt whatever was holding me up in the air on this pole. And I felt it was withdrawn, and I fell. I hit the bed, because it was like I was thrown back in the bed. I really can’t tell what it was. But when I did, my wife woke up and asked why I was jumping on the bed”

Elkins goes on to say, “Relentless anonymity is given in abduction research. Nobody in their right mind wants family, friends and co-workers to know they’ve had their personal space violated against their will by strange-looking creatures whose existence isn’t even proven.”

Jordan told Elkins that three other researchers had had similar cases. They had not revealed this because they felt it would hurt their credibility, especially among the folks that invite them to speak at UFO Conventions. I certainly can understand this. A number of years ago, Coleman and I went to a UFO Convention in San Francisco. Most of the people there were defiantly New Agers and didn’t seem to be open to traditional religion at all. In spite of the fact that abduction experiences are described as horrible, brutal and denigrating many believe they are done by good aliens and somehow beneficial to human kind. So my question is, “Do you really think our alien space brothers are assaulting us or could there be a demonic connection to these experiences?”

You may be wondering why I have decided to share my night terror story with the world on the Internet. I am sure that there are many who will just think I am a total whacko. Some of you who know me may think I am further gone than you realized. But if there are people experiencing these assaults who want them to stop, I can offer hope.

My younger son was taking a college class at a secular university. The teacher of this class, which was a language class and had nothing to do with what I am writing about today, began asking the same questions that were asked in the Roper Poll. After a few questions, one girl raised her hand and began to tell the class about her abduction experience. When she had finished, my son said to her, “There is a way to stop these experiences if you want to.” The teacher interrupted, “No there is no way to stop them!” “Yes!” my son replied, “They can be stopped.” “No they can not. We have to get back to our subject.”

I want people to know that my son’s teacher is wrong. There is a way to stop these experiences. Please don’t think that I am saying that the name “Jesus” is magic. It is not magic, but it does have power. The power is based in belief. The Creator of the Universe knows his children. The Good Shepard knows his sheep. Surely if he was willing to die for our sins, He is able to protect us from the Evil Ones. Put your faith in Him.

If you have experienced a night terror I would like to hear from you. Tell me your story.  carel@sti.net

Carel Luck © January 2006

 

Gateway to Hell–VIETNAM 1968: The Thoughts and Experiences of an Infantry Soldier

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What you are about to read is disjointed. Maybe a better word is ragged. This is because the memories are ragged. They refuse to be condensed and organized into neat, traditional forms. Partly this is because I am writing about two things at once, a very influential documentary about Vietnam by Ken Burns and about my own blighted experiences in that war. It was watching his documentary in December of 2017 that pushed me to think about such writing. I’m a professional writer with many years of experience in Hollywood, but in all those years I never wrote directly about my time in the war. There are reasons for that. Memories of war do not like to be awakened. They prefer a long sleep.

I arrived in Vietnam as an infantry First Lieutenant in early November of 1967. A few weeks after I arrived I celebrated my 22nd birthday. The year ahead for me, for my loved ones, and for the entire country was momentous and horrible. When it was over, nothing was ever the same again. But at the start, I need to say something that you may consider very strange. As terrible as that year was, I view it as one of God’s great gifts to me. How that could be true I’ll explain at the end.

So thank you for joining me on this brief journey. When it is finished, I hope you will have gained some new understanding of things that happened a long time ago.

The Inaccuracy of War Films

No film about Vietnam can ever be made that will tell the full story of that tragedy, because there are as many stories as there are American soldiers who served in that war. No film about Vietnam will ever be truly objective. Even after all these years, so much raw emotion remains on every side. Certainly, Mr. Burns has his biases. He spends a lot more time focused on the rightness of the anti-war movement and the supposed brutality of American soldiers than he does on the murderous brutality of the communist government in North Vietnam, the NVA and the Viet Cong. He touches on it, but not deeply enough and that is a major shortcoming.

Almost all of his in-depth interviews with former combat soldiers are with men who became vocal protestors against the war. That was a tiny percentage of those of us who fought. Most of us simply came home and tried to take up our lives where we left off. Mr. Burns spends far too little time on what so many Vietnam veterans faced when they came home. That is a tragedy worthy of its own documentation. But all of this said, it is one of the best documentaries I have seen on this agonizing subject.

No matter how well done and extensive it might be, no film can ever communicate what being a combat soldier is really like. Combat is not just an assault on the body. It is an assault on the soul. Some die from it, but all are wounded and the reality of those wounds cannot be experienced secondhand. Though they may not use these words to express it and they may cover it well, every combat soldier comes home with a broken heart.

When you make a documentary, you focus on the most dramatic and compelling stories and visuals available. Burns chose to cover some of the most hideous and bloody battles of the Vietnam War. I would have done the same. But that is very far from the whole story. Also, in making a film you contract time. While this is necessary, it gives a false sense of reality. In speeding up time, you speed up the misery. Before you know it, the film is over. But the real misery is slow and grinding. It is the loneliness and utter despair of seemingly endless days and nights. And it is fear, but not simply the fear when bullets strike. It is the constant fear of not knowing what tomorrow will bring. And when you are living through it, as much you want to contract time, you can’t. In Vietnam, time was measured on calendars where you crossed off the days until you could go home.

Most of all, watching a documentary you cannot experience the endless sweat and stink of your own body and the ever-increasing vileness of your soul. After you finish watching a documentary, you can forget what you have seen and keep on believing the sweet fantasy that humans are basically good.

Let me be specific. There is something dark that Mr. Burns’ documentary doesn’t touch on at all, because I’m sure neither he nor any of his team could fathom it. With all of the agony of that terrible war, how could anyone fathom it? But it must said.

With all of its horror, men love war. The myth of the warrior runs deep within the human race. It is at the heart of every super hero film. But no film can ever communicate the sense of pride that a man feels when he has done his best and fought bravely in the face of great danger. He has stood where many others were too afraid to stand. Whether we like it or not, whether it is good or not, for thousands of years, the myth of the warrior has defined manhood. It continues to do so.

Over the decades, many times, when men have learned about my experience in war, I have seen a kind of wistfulness come over them. Though it isn’t true at all, somehow they seem to feel that they missed an important step in achieving manhood. This is beyond rationality, but to think it doesn’t exist or is unimportant is blindness. Sadly, it is part of our fallen and lost human condition. And it echoes down through history from ancient mothers who told their sons, “Come back victorious or come back on your shield,” to the ticker tape parades for armies that won. As a nation, it isn’t really war we hate. What we hate is losing.

It is an interesting question to ask, how would we feel if we had won in Vietnam with maximum enemy casualties, but a minimal number of our own? But we didn’t. And there is no acceptable alternative to victory.

Is the way we feel after Vietnam, the way untold thousands of families in the American South felt after they lost their war? Far more of their husbands, sons, fathers and brothers never came home. To their enemies, even their mourning was considered a traitorous act. And all of it for what? Why do men love war? Because there is violence inside of us. When the thin veneer of socialization is stripped away, it appears in all its lurid glory. Our love of violent films is an echo of this. Mr. Burns does not touch on that awful reality, but I think it is at the heart of so much that happened in Vietnam. Not only do we love war, also, we utterly despise it.

Opening the Letter Box

While watching the documentary, I did something else. For fifty years a large box has been sitting in our various garages. It is filled with all the letters that I wrote to my wife, Carel, while I was in Vietnam. I took out that box and read them for the first time since I wrote them. Sadly, I could not keep the hundreds of letters that Carel wrote to me. Our front-line infantry battalion was constantly moving from place to place, while our personal gear was stored in a huge base camp. I had a duffel bag stolen, also a footlocker broken into. The perpetrators (never caught) were rear-echelon American soldiers. (You think veterans are all wonderful? There are plenty of them who are despicable rats.)

What is it like when you are 72, to meet yourself when you are 22, and living through one of the most awful experiences of your life? As I read the letters, the first thing that struck me was how very much is completely gone from my conscious memory. In the letters I read about many intense experiences that I do not remember at all. Even more disturbing, in one or two cases, what I thought I remembered was not accurate.

The second thing that stood out in the letters that I wrote to the wonderful girl I had married, was how very hard it was for a young couple to live through all that we did and stay together.

When I went to Vietnam, Carel and I had been married for a little over two years. Of that time, we had actually lived together only about five months. And all of those few months were high stress periods during which I was either undergoing intense military training or training others for combat.

In the letters you meet two young people who are deeply in love, but in a constant state of low-level agony. Carel lived with many difficulties here at home, while every day fearing that when she came home from work she would see a green car waiting for her with news of my death. She wrote to me constantly, sending packages, trying to encourage me, while living in a country filled with chaos and consumed by hate, the streets of the cities burning with riots, the evening news spewing horrifying images of war with ever-increasing stories about the evils of American soldiers. And always, she was waiting, waiting, counting the days that seemed to never end, waiting for my return.

And across the world, me in Vietnam, desperately lonely, filled with despair, surrounded by men who felt exactly the same. Today you would say that we were all clinically depressed. But there was no therapy. You simply went out and did your job, while thirsting for mail from home and counting the days. As you ticked them off, you grew ever harder, tougher and angrier.

During the year in my infantry battalion, I had three assignments. The first was Assistant S4. In this capacity, I was responsible for the resupply of our rifle companies out in the field. This entailed collecting food and ammunition and delivering it by helicopter. Also, when the entire battalion moved, which we did often, the S4 department was responsible for logistics.

The captain, who was the official S4 and my superior, was a dithering, loud-mouthed incompetent. Everyone in the battalion knew this and came to me instead of to him. He would give stupid, impossible instructions. I would say, “Yes sir”, then do it my way. If I hadn’t, we would have hit disaster. Later, when that same captain took command of a rifle company, because of his incompetence, he was relieved of his command under fire. Other than death, there’s nothing worse for a career infantry officer. With the number of fools I encountered in positions of authority, I was amazed that we got anything done at all. Constantly dealing with idiots doesn’t encourage you in your depression.

My second assignment was leader of the battalion’s heavy mortar platoon. In Burns’ documentary you see some footage of mortars being fired. They are tubes. You drop an explosive round into them and it blasts into the air. The ones in the documentary are small. Mine were very large, 4.2 inches in diameter, and fired huge rounds.

For a couple of months, my platoon was given an interesting assignment. Outside of Saigon, there was a Shell Oil tank farm lined with giant tanks filled with highly combustible liquid. Almost every night, the enemy would fire mortars and rockets, trying to hit them. My platoon was right next to them. Our job was simple. When rounds were fired at the tanks, we had to track where they were coming from and fire back to stop them. This assumed that the first incoming rounds didn’t hit the tanks, which would have been very uncomfortable for us.

Thankfully, the enemy was not accurate, while my guys were very fast and accurate. It felt good the next morning to get word from ground units that blown-up bodies and equipment had been found where we had targeted. Long after we were gone, the enemy did hit that tank farm, which wasn’t pretty. But it didn’t happen on my watch.

My third assignment as rifle platoon leader, first platoon, Bravo company, was by far the most intense of the entire year. In looking back at all of it, the amount of responsibility I carried as a 22-year-old, was frightening and amazing. Of course, at the time, it seemed quite normal. One of the problems I had in adjusting to civilian life at 23 was going from all of that to being a student again and working at a regular job.

As a young officer, some of the things I had to deal with were slightly mind-bending. Let me tell you about one “management” challenge.

A Visit to the Whorehouse

Near one of our small, fire support bases there was a whore house. Each week the battalion surgeon would visit the house, check out the women, give shots and make sure they were healthy. As a reward for his efforts, he would get himself a freebie. The word came down the chain of command that it was permissible for the men to visit the house, but it was up to each platoon leader to either give permission or refuse it.

Now the entire battalion was going to the whore house, including the “Christian” chaplain. (Every chaplain I met over there disgusted me.) Well, I was (and am) a Christian. I was married and committed to being faithful to my wife. As a Christian, I refuse to abuse women. Going to a prostitute is participating in her abuse. Many of the poor women who worked as prostitutes in Vietnam didn’t want to be doing that kind of hellish work. They were trying desperately to feed their families and didn’t know any other way to do it. And what of the men? I firmly believe that going to a prostitute is not only abusing her, it is abusing you. There is no free moral lunch. You join yourself to a prostitute, it will cost you much more than the money you put on her bed. Needless to say, the men wanted to visit the whore house. But was it all just raging lust? There was plenty of that. But lust wasn’t the whole story.

How can I explain to you what it is like to live in a world that is iron-hard and filled with despair, where every day is endless exhaustion and desperate hopelessness? How can I explain what it is like to live in a world where you long for a single gentle word and touch, where you dream of a moment when soft fingers will run through your hair? To be an American combat soldier in Vietnam was to live in a world harsh beyond description, where every day and night you were haunted with the memories of loved ones that you had left behind.

And the ones left behind? What agony they could cause. There were horrible wounds that didn’t come from the enemy. Do you think that the protestors who spit on returning soldiers were despicable? They were, but that kind of rejection was nothing. Things happened over there that were infinitely worse. Just remembering them after all the years, is gut-wrenching.

Do you want to hear about true loneliness? How lonely could you get, how filled with absolute despair? Several young married officer friends of mine received letters telling them that their wives were leaving them. While their combat soldier husbands were in Vietnam, they had found someone else. One friend, who deeply loved his wife, got divorce papers in the mail. Not only had she found another man, she was pregnant with that man’s child.

In the darkness of our world in that far country, what does that do to you inside? How do you remain human? Just listening to my friend tell about it was a nightmare. He was so filled with anguish. What kind of woman would do that? I hated her though I had never met her. When friends have such experiences, suddenly, ugly questions roar in your head. Can you trust your own wife? Does she love you enough? Will she be faithful? Or are all women just whores? It is impossible to describe the darkness and rage that can descend upon you.

Heartbroken loneliness, the longing for a single, gentle touch even if you had to pay for it, can you imagine all of that? No, you can’t, unless you were there. So what about the whore house? I won’t tell you what I did. What would you have done?

I knew of only one other officer in my battalion who wasn’t sleeping with prostitutes. He was an old man, probably all of 39 or 40, and an infantry captain. He was a good man who was married with children and he was faithful to his wife. We sort of stood together. Then he was assigned to lead a rifle company and I didn’t see him again. But after a while, I heard a story.

One night he came in from a long, grueling operation. He was exhausted with the kind of exhaustion that grinds down into your soul. I know what that feels like. Well, his men had a present waiting for him. She was in his bed. Knowing him, I’m certain that the sad memory of that night is one that never left him. I’m sure that night brought a new sorrow. And I felt sorrow for him. We never had contact again.

The Dark Transformation

Over the course of many letters, a transition in me is apparent. At one point, I tell Carel that I feel myself aging inside. What is physical aging? It is slow, creeping death. The dark, spiritual aging of despair and horror is the same. One of the marks of it in war is that nothing shocks you anymore. In very matter-of-fact terms, I write about a man in our battalion who tried to commit suicide. He pulled a pin on a grenade and dropped it into one of the deep pockets in his jungle fatigues. The fool couldn’t even handle that. It didn’t work. It just blew his legs off. But it killed a man and a child who were nearby. My reaction? This place is full of weirdos.

In another letter, I mention that a friend of mine, a young lieutenant, was just killed in combat. Nothing to be said except that he “bought the farm”. And that was that.

When you are in darkness that never ends, what happens inside? Either you disintegrate or you become very, very hard. Part of the transition in me was the growth of a rock-hard resolve. Whatever might come, I could handle anything and face anything. I was a seasoned leader and nothing was going to shake me. It was a resolve built out of low-level rage. I was smart and I was tough. But also, I was heartbroken. It wasn’t like the heartbreak of romantic stories or even of bereavement. It was something deep within the soul where words could not find it. Dimly, you knew that a part of you had died and would never return. That’s why you felt yourself growing old.

Now I know that it was the young part of me that had died, the part that trusted, that could believe in hope, that viewed each day as filled with promise and possibilities. That person could not live in the world where I lived. So he died, but he didn’t die alone.

Hollywood speaks such abominable lies. One of the most evil of them is that killing is easy. You shoot, bodies fall. And you walk away. Those scripts are written and those films are made by stupid, little dilettantes who wouldn’t have the guts to kill a chicken for dinner. That includes every, single one of your pathetic “action heroes”. All they do is mouth words that were written for them and let visual effects artists make them look brave.

The truth? Even when killing is “justified”, the horror of taking a human life never leaves you. We weren’t killing machines over there. It would have been so much easier if we had been. Only a psychopath is a killing machine. We were young men who would carry the scars of killing as long as we lived.

Life is very strange. Because of my experience, I was the perfect person to write the character of The Equalizer, for television. The Equalizer, a Universal production, ran on CBS for four years in the late 80’s and continues running even to this day. I became the senior writer and Showrunner for the series. It is about a man named Robert McCall who has spent his life doing terrible things as a top-level operative in the CIA. He leaves that dark work and begins a search for redemption. In New York City, he runs a small newspaper ad looking for people facing dark forces with all odds against them. For them, he will be The Equalizer. Robert McCall was played by a wonderful, British actor, my late friend and former colleague, Edward Woodward.

Fools in Hollywood thought that The Equalizer was just a vigilante. I knew what he was. He was an angry, brokenhearted man searching for redemption, brokenhearted because he loved deeply. Our star, Edward Woodward, saw it in the first script I wrote for him and said, “This is what the series is about.”

Edward understood, because he was a brokenhearted man too. All the wonderful writers on our show agreed with this character definition and we worked hard to keep killing from being nothing but an orgasmic thrill. Real killing is messy and bloody and there is something strange and awful about a human body when the spirit has left it … especially when it’s gone because of what you did. The emptiness reaches inside of you.

During my year in Vietnam, with good reason, I did not trust a single person with authority above me. We had four battalion commanders. Several of them were fools. One was particularly aggravating. While we were slogging in the heat and filth of the swamps and rice paddies, he would circle above us in his helicopter, yelling over the radio for us to move faster.

One day one of my men shot at his aircraft. The colonel was not pleased about that. I tried to find out who did it, I certainly did, but I never could. I had to inform my platoon that shooting at the battalion commander’s helicopter was not a good plan. (I didn’t mention that I sympathized with the effort.) From that point, he didn’t fly quite as close to us. Part of my rock-hard resolve came from the clear understanding that no one in command above me cared whether we lived or died. It was up to me to try to get these young soldiers home alive. But that wasn’t always possible.

It is clear now, looking back, that the young man who left for Vietnam in November of 1967 never came home again. The vile, black gash of a wall in Washington lists over 58,000 names, but many more died over there and afterward from unseen wounds.

The man who got off the plane in November of 1968 at O’Hare Airport in Chicago was very different. He looked mostly the same, but he was tough and cynical beyond his years. He had left home filled with traditional patriotism. He came home respecting authority, but never trusting America again, not her government nor her people. The truth was that when I came home, I was very angry, but it was easy to cover it up for a while because I was so filled with the joy of being home from that hell. But very soon, my mother saw the change in me and didn’t like it. I didn’t care.

My wife saw it too. But she had changed as well. She wasn’t the starry-eyed bride anymore. Through that awful year, she had been forced to grow tougher. What is clear in the letters is how deeply we loved each other. But at least on my part it was an insecure kind of love.

With what some of my friends were going through, when I went for a week or more without any letters from her I would get very angry. I would express it to her in a letter. Then I would get eight or ten letters from her in a bundle. The military mail was miserable. Of course, I would feel very guilty for what I had written. And on it went, so many letters and every letter filled with love, loneliness and despair.

When I got home, it’s a miracle of God that we stayed together. So many Vietnam veteran marriages didn’t make it. The transition period was rough. There were no classes or counseling sessions to help us. One day you were in the field in war and the next you were eating pizza as though the entire year hadn’t happened. But it had. And there was no way for us to talk about it. With what I had experienced there was no common ground of understanding, no language. So we just did our best to push on through. Thank God, I married a strong, dedicated woman. Ten months after I got home, our first child was born. Well, praise God, we made it. Last September we celebrated 51 years of marriage.

Loss

I didn’t write much to Carel about my combat experiences. I didn’t want her to worry. Some things are just unspeakable.

One day in late September of 1968 at our fire support base, a helicopter landed. In it was a Major General named Julian J. Ewell. He was the commander of the Ninth Infantry Division of which we were a part. A small group of us were gathered in formation and as we stood at attention, we were a ratty looking bunch.

Instead of boots, we were wearing flip-flops and our pants were rolled up above our knees. This was because our legs were covered with infected, running sores from spending weeks up to our waists in swamps and filthy rice paddies. The battalion doctor was treating me for a fascinating range of skin infections including ringworm. Medics would scrape the pus from our sores with scalpels. Let me tell you, that is an agony worthy of the name.

That morning, General Ewell walked up to me and pinned a Bronze Star on my uniform. There was a little “V” on it that stood for valor. I was surprised. I hadn’t done anything heroic, unless heroic means feeling miserable and angry all the time. If that’s what it means, I should have gotten the Congressional Medal of Honor. I decided that it was like the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz. Being terrified every, single day in his war with witches, he needed a few medals from the Wizard to keep him going. I accepted the award as I have so many good things in my life, as a gift of grace, unmerited favor. It was nice of General Ewell to visit us. We all appreciated it.

Ken Burns talks about General Ewell in his documentary. Burns says that Ewell put out the word in our division that he wanted high enemy body counts and this caused many killings of innocent civilians as our units tried to give him what he wanted. All I can say is that on my level as a rifle platoon leader I never heard or was given such an order. Neither did I know anyone in our battalion who was pressured in that direction. While the entire concept of body counts came under great scrutiny and justified criticism throughout the Vietnam War, never was I prompted to bring in high body counts or inflate numbers. Were innocent civilians killed, sadly there were. But every unit I knew of made a deep effort to keep that from happening.

Also, Burns speaks about black soldiers being treated differently than white soldiers. Once again, all I can say is that I never saw it. There were both black and white officers in my battalion. In my rifle platoon, two thirds of the soldiers were white and about one third were black. I had black and white NCO’s. All were excellent soldiers.

I had only two young soldiers who gave me discipline problems. For what it’s worth, both were white. They were southern boys, 18 years old and both married. I had a simple way of dealing with discipline problems. One night when the platoon was out alone in a dangerous area, I woke up to find these two young men asleep when they were supposed to be on guard. This endangered all of us. Their punishment? The next day they walked point.

As it happened, my platoon was the lead element for our battalion on a search and destroy operation. As we entered a village and moved between the buildings, we walked into an ambush that could not be seen. Instantly, both of those young men died. I hadn’t intended that their punishment be a death sentence. But it was.

There are some memories that are so painted in fire and blood they never fade away. That morning is one of them. Six of our men died, two from my platoon and four from others. It took hours to destroy the enemy and get our soldiers’ bodies back. I can still hear the insanity, the yelling, the shooting. I can still hear the cobra gunship hovering 30 feet above my head, firing rockets at an enemy bunker 15 yards in front of me.

When it was over I remember feeling tremendous relief. I was still alive and I had been only a few feet from where our men had fallen in the initial attack. But with the relief there was a terrible emptiness as we loaded our dead onto helicopters. They were going home. I thought of their families, busy with their normal lives, unaware that this morning their husbands and sons and brothers had died. But soon a green car would arrive and they would know. Then would begin the crying time. I’ve wondered about those broken families over the years and prayed for them.

At the end of Burns’ documentary, a vet reads a poem about the weight of memory. It is true, there are some memories that are too heavy to bear. It is those memories that must be given to the One who said, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest…”

I’m sorry, I have to say this. One of the most infuriating moments in the documentary was seeing John Kerry give his testimony before Congress. That pathetic man who had experienced so little combat himself, helped to create the entire evil myth of American soldiers as baby killers.

During all of 1968 I never knew of any unit around me that perpetrated the kinds of crimes that he described. And he hadn’t seen any such crimes himself. Yes, My Lai happened. And all of those criminals who perpetrated it should have been tried and executed. That was the opinion of many soldiers I knew during that time. Did other horrors happen? I’m sure they did, but they were uncommon. After hearing John Kerry talk, Americans thought such aberrations were the rule.

Because Mr. Kerry told people what they wanted to hear about American soldiers, he was rewarded with a high position in progressive political leadership. But he built that success on the backs of untold thousands of Vietnam veterans whose reputations he smeared.

There were Vietnam veterans who supported the anti-war movement and that was their right. If they were baby killers, they should have admitted it and volunteered to be tried by a military court. I don’t remember hearing one man stand up and make such an admission. It was their right to throw away the medals they had received. Of course, the orders and citations for those medals continued to exist in their military records. They couldn’t throw those away.

What effect did their protests have? Burns seems to think it was significant. Well, it was in one way. As they appeared to agree with John Kerry’s slander that American soldiers were baby killers, their protests made everything much more difficult for all of us when we came home.

Let me be clear, I had no problem with people protesting. I had no problem with those who went to Canada. Also, I had no problem with those who tried to serve honorably and did not protest. We all live with our choices. But what America did to my generation of veterans will live in infamy as long as this country exists. As long as Vietnam veterans are alive, no other veterans will be spit on, rejected and made to feel ashamed for honorable service. For my generation of veterans, there were no parades. All we could do was try to vanish in silence back into “normal” life. To a very large extent, the so-called “Greatest Generation” that had fought in World War II, did not defend their sons when they came home. And that is to their shame. Now Vietnam veterans are old men, wearing baseball caps with bumper stickers on their cars proclaiming where they gave their youth away.

So what are we to say about Vietnam? It was the greatest tragedy since the American Civil War. In reality it started another civil war that continues to this day and is tearing us apart. Why did men who knew such a war would fail take us into it anyway? Why did 58,000 American soldiers need to die for nothing? What answer would you like to hear?

Well, that depends on your political bent, doesn’t it? It depends on what you have been taught to believe. Would you like to hear that we did it so big corporations could become rich? There’s always a lot of money to be made in war. Would you like to hear we did it because communism is brutal and evil and had to be stopped? It is one of the most brutal evils in the history of the human race and an utter failure as an economic system.

Would it satisfy you to believe that one president after another felt trapped into making horrible decisions that each knew would fail? Does that explain their lying? Maybe they were utterly corrupt. Or maybe we should blame it all on the evil generals of the Pentagon. Isn’t it true, that all they ever want is war? Perhaps Americans and their leaders are just stupid and arrogantly idealistic, insisting on making the same mistakes over and over, demanding that democracy be implanted around the world, when we are in the process of proving that it doesn’t even work in America.

Or maybe all of our leaders were just broken men trying in their own faulty ways to do what was right and making awful decisions in the process. Which answers would satisfy you? If you don’t like any of these, I could come up with more.

In the last hour of Burns’ documentary I was glad to see my old friend, Frank Snepp interviewed. You couldn’t do a documentary about the fall of Saigon without talking to Frank. He was a high level CIA officer who worked with the Phoenix Program. I didn’t know him over there. We met years later in Hollywood.

No one knows more about the ultimate fall of Vietnam, than Frank. He was on one of the last helicopters out from the Embassy. What he didn’t talk about in the documentary was the personal price he paid and it was unspeakably tragic. When he told me of it years ago, it just took my breath away.

Frank is a brave man dedicated to truth. When it was all over, he wrote a long, carefully documented book entitled Decent Interval. In it he detailed the despicable way we abandoned our Vietnamese allies, people who had believed our lies and helped us for years. In that action, we proved that we are a nation of selfish, heartless traitors.

Frank didn’t use one classified source in writing his book. Everything he documented in it was taken from the public record. But because he told the truth and because he didn’t have CIA approval to do so, he was heavily punished. His case went all the way to the Supreme Court. Rarely has our government in any form wanted to hear the truth about anything. We are still a nation of fools led by liars.

Burns tells the truth about the aftermath of the fall. After the communists took control, many thousands of innocent Vietnamese people risked their lives to escape the oppression. Many thousands died in the attempt. I know two women in Fresno, California who escaped with their families when they were little girls. What their parents and so many others suffered we would prefer not to hear. For us, the war was over and that’s all that mattered. Our leaders proclaimed that it was time to heal. But it hasn’t healed. It has grown.

The God of the Broken Heart

At the start, I said that, in spite of everything, I view my experience in Vietnam as a gift from God to me. What did I mean by that? How could that be true? There are things that we can only understand as we look back from the vantage point of many years.

What was my Christian faith like in Vietnam? It was real. Often, I had the strong sense that God was protecting me. I knew that He had a plan for my life. But there were many things I didn’t understand. Or perhaps a better way to put it is that I didn’t want to understand. So in the darkness and chaos of Vietnam, you might say that I placed my faith in a kind of glass box where it could be viewed and appreciated without causing trouble. What was constantly operational was my own intelligence, toughness and will.

In Vietnam, I began the process of becoming a man, but not the right kind of man yet. I knew how to take responsibility. I knew how to lead. I knew how to set goals and achieve them. I knew how to stand, even when I stood alone. I knew what it meant to be very afraid, but to do it anyway. I was committed to defending those in need and helping everyone I could. But all of it I did out of my own pride, anger and resolve.

In the letters to my wife, that kind of raw self-confidence is very clear. I brought it home with me. Also, as I said, I came home with a broken heart. Of course, I wouldn’t have described it that way. I would never have admitted such a thing. I would have said that I was just being realistic about life, sucking it up, disdaining suffering, focusing on the future, moving forward no matter what. That’s what Christian hard-asses do. I was a Christian, but I was serving myself and my own goals, while “spiritualizing” all of it to make it sound good, especially to me.

Being a man wasn’t enough, even a creative, driven, goal-oriented man. Down deep I knew that all of it was empty and unsatisfying. I had to start becoming a man of God. And I have to say that is not something I really wanted because I was afraid it would disrupt my plans. Thank God, it did.

I didn’t want my empty, unsatisfying plans to be disrupted. Does that sound stupid? It was supremely so. It is amazing how we cling to our rags. I had to get to the place where all of that self-motivated house of cards came crashing down. God is an expert at engineering such crashes. It took almost ten years after the army to get to the crossroads where I confronted the stark reality that I was a total failure at running my own life. Then came an awful year when I faced something that was far bigger than I could ever handle on my own. It drove me to my knees. But that is another story.

What came out of that year was the clear understanding that I had to surrender my life to the absolute Kingship of Jesus Christ. I could not be in the business of serving myself and my own goals. Whatever I did, it had to be to serve Him and to serve others in His Name. At the end of that year, I entered Hollywood with my first script sale to United Artists.

Suddenly, all of the things I had learned as a young military leader in war came into focus. They were necessary for what I had to do, but the power and purpose motivating all of it no longer came simply from me. Consequently, my entire definition of what it meant to be successful went through a dramatic redefinition. It could not be measured by money in the bank, fame or awards. I came to the place where I realized that success and failure would be determined only by Jesus, the King, when I stand before Him.

In entering Hollywood, I entered what I have come to call the “Story Wars” of my life. And, yes, that is another story. All I will say is that a price had to be paid. And it was paid. Now at the end of that war, there is sadness. I don’t believe you can come out of a war without it. But, also, there is peace. I have a family that loves me, many wonderful friends and a purpose that was far beyond anything I could have fabricated for myself. So I can say in the words of the New Testament, all things, including Vietnam and all that came afterward, work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His Purpose.

Let me conclude with this. Every person goes through a war. And sooner or later, every person living in this world will have a broken heart. I have come to believe that a broken heart can be a very great gift as long as it isn’t diseased and dying from hate, rage and self-pity. Broken hearts don’t go away, but they can be made strong and beautiful through the forgiving Love of God and that’s what Jesus is all about. Getting forgiveness from Him for all the things you’ve done to break your own heart and the hearts of others is the first step. Then comes forgiving others who broke your heart and asking forgiveness from the people whose hearts you have broken.

The beauty of a broken heart that has been forgiven is that, in spite of sorrow, it is filled with gratitude. You find yourself grateful to God even for the things that broke your heart because through it all you experienced His Love. To make all of that possible is why Jesus came and gave His life to forgive your sins. Don’t try to carry a broken heart without Him.

Well, Vietnam is long ago. The letters are back in their box. I won’t read them again. But, perhaps, someday a great-grandchild will be curious about that old box. He or she will pull it out and start to read about two young lovers struggling through great darkness. That child should understand that God, in His Love, carried us through. All truly happy endings come from Him. For Carel and me, the happiest is yet to come.

Coleman Luck

In the Sierra Nevada mountains near Yosemite National Park

January 7 in the Year of Our Lord, 2018.

Carel & Coleman laughing[149]

Coleman 1968 (2)

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I have put what you have just read into short book form. I have added some photographs taken during a riverine operation and a second article that I wrote about coming home. It is available on Amazon for 99 cents. I would have charged nothing, but Amazon doesn’t allow that. However, you can loan it to others at no extra cost. Also, you can read it free in the Kindle Unlimited program. A print version is available on Amazon. If you do pick up a copy of either version, I would appreciate a review.  Thanks much.

 

 

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