Sunday, February 03, 2019

They Shall Not Grow Old
Directed by Peter Jackson
Produced by Clare Olssen and Peter Jackson
Running time 99 minutes

In 2015 Peter Jackson was asked by Great Britain’s Imperial War Museums and 14-18 NOW (the UK’s arts program for the First World War centenary), in association with the BBC, to create a documentary commemorating Great Britain’s role in WW1. It was to be based on 100 hours of original film footage of British Expeditionary Force soldiers serving in France and Belgium and 600 hours of the recorded interviews of some 200 veterans of the war made by the BBC in the 1960s and 70s. They Shall Not Grow Old is the result. The film was released in Great Britain in October. There was a limited release in the U.S. in December with a much wider release on February 1. On February 2 Joyce and I saw the 3D version of the film at the AMC cinema in Chesterfield, Missouri.

Beyond my general interest in history, I had a special reason for seeing this ground-breaking documentary. For some time I have been writing a novel set in the trenches of Flanders in 1914. My research for the novel made me painfully aware of my own ignorance about World War 1, an ignorance that is all too widespread in America. Just go into any Barnes and Noble and you will find rows and rows of books about the Civil War and WW2, but only a handful of volumes on The Great War. I believe there are several reasons for this.

In part it no doubt reflects the sheer size, scope, and drama of the Second World War. Unlike its predecessor, World War 2 truly did directly involve every quadrant of the globe, the first truly “world” war, overwhelming the military history of the 20th Century. But I think the primary reason is that unlike the Civil War and World War 2, America was both quite late entering World War 1 and relegated to an important but supporting role when we final did get in. The war had dragged on for well over three years before any American “dough boys” saw combat. When the first American combat death was recorded on November 2, 1917, 76% of WW 1 had already been fought and millions had already died. By war’s end, America’s armed forces suffered 53,402 combat deaths—just a few more than our K.I.A. total in Vietnam. (Higher totals that you may encounter include those who died from disease and accidents.) Yet the combat death toll for all the armies and navies involved in the Great War was a staggering 8.5 million. Only a little over half a percent of that total were Americans. By way of comparison, Great Britain once lost 20,000 men in just one day: July 1, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme! Among just the Allies, America’s dead represented barely 1%. And this says nothing of the massive civilian casualties suffered by the nations of Europe. France alone had over 40,000 civilians directly killed in combat.

Perhaps equally telling, when it comes to those killed and wounded as a percentage of the total population, far fewer American families were personally touched by World War 1 than was true of World War 2, or even more so, the Civil War. So the stories of WW1 were not woven into the fabric of American family folklore in the same way as the stories of those other great conflicts. Over 155 years after the Battle of Gettysburg, American households still have after dinner debates about whether General Meade’s failure to aggressively pursue Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia prolonged the war. The relative strengths and weaknesses of generals like Patton and MacArthur will still spark lively arguments.

Yet ask those same people about the leading military figures in WW1 and most will not get beyond “Blackjack” Pershing, Sergeant York, and the “Bloody Red Baron” of Germany. As to what these men actually did, they will not have a clue about Pershing beyond the fact that he was a general, their knowledge of Sgt. York will come from the Gary Cooper movie of that name, and they will remember the Red Baron as the guy who shot down Snoopy. And when it comes to the major battles of the war, most Americans don’t even know how to pronounce “Somme” or “Ypres,” never mind describe what happened in those awful places.

American ignorance about the Great War was never shared by the British. Even though WW2 was far more devastating to the UK than it was for America, their national suffering in the Second World War never overwhelmed their memory of the First. It remains both painful and personal in their national consciousness. In fact, it was family history that led Peter Jackson to tackle this monumental project. His grandfather served in the British army throughout the war. He was wounded more than once, eventually succumbing to the lingering effect of those wounds in 1940 at the age of 50.

I have long considered Ken Burns as the gold standard when it comes to documentaries. The Civil War, Baseball, The War, The National Parks, The Dust Bowl, The Roosevelts… the list of his masterpieces goes on and on. So let me warn you now, if you are expecting a Ken Burns-style documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old is going to be a disappointment. You will not hear distinguished historians sharing their insights and expertise. You will not learn specifics about the 1st Battle of Ypres, or Mons, or the Marne, or the Somme, or Verdun. You won’t learn about grand strategy or the strengths and weaknesses of the various military and political leaders. You’ll learn nothing about the causes of the war and little about what led to its final conclusion. You won’t see a single map. In fact, if you are trying to cram for a final exam on some college course about WW1, watching this film won’t help you at all. I’d love to see such a documentary someday, but They Shall Not Grow Old is not that kind of film.

What it offers, instead, is an everyday look at the war as seen and described by the members of the British Expeditionary Force who served in France and Belgium. Specifically, this is the war as experienced by the infantry—those line animals who lived the troglodyte existence of the trenches. To do this Jackson and his production team carefully studied those 600 hundred hours of old film and listened to those 200 hundred hours of interviews. They masterfully edited and blended the best pieces into an amazing story of life in the trenches. Then they raised the bar by meticulously restoring and colorizing that 100-year-old film. In the end, instead of the herky-jerky images of an old Buster Keaton movie, you got images that looked like they could have been shot by a war correspondent in Da Nang or the Mekong Delta.

Instead of another history of World War 1, They Shall Not Grow Old offers something far more intimate. It’s rather like listening in on your grandfather and a great uncle swapping war stories after some family dinner, forgetting for the moment that younger ears are listening in.

The film begins with a brief introduction by Peter Jackson. After the credits there is a 30 minute feature describing the making of the movie. It is well worth staying for.

What you see and hear is sometimes horrific, sometimes funny, sometimes deeply moving, but always gripping.

We had to drive and hour and a half to find a theater showing the film. I’d gladly drive twice the distance to see it again.

Five Stars êêêêê

Glen Land

Friday, November 23, 2018

Living Life Unplugged

Unplugged. The word is used in a variety of ways:
  • "Why is the toaster unplugged?”
  • “I unplugged the stopped up drain."
  • “Eric Clapton released an unplugged album.”

Since moving into our new home in the Missouri Ozarks I have been trying to live a life unplugged in a different sense. I have unplugged myself from the news.

Why unplugged? Because of a growing realization that no good was coming from my being “informed.”

Think about what typically constitutes “news.” To be clear, I’m talking now about news as reported by the major broadcast and cable news networks. Most of it falls into about six categories: (1) Politics, (2) Tragedies, (3) Scandals, (4) Economics, (5) Sports, and (6) Weather.

My news abstinence is not absolute. I follow the weather news closely. My only serious interest in sports is the St. Louis Cardinals, so during baseball’s off season that news is mostly of the “hot stove league” nature. My limited investments are handled by my retirement fund advisors so the economic news is of little routine interest. That leaves politics, tragedies, and scandals. These are the stories I have resolved to avoid.

Much has been written about our nation’s increasingly toxic political atmosphere. Both major parties share the blame for contributing to the loss of even a modicum of civility in the public arena. It seems that no political position can be set forth without nastiness. With millions of other Americans, I find the whole business disgusting. So I’ve just stopped listening.

You ask, “What of your responsibility to be an informed voter?” I have a ready answer. The next general election in Missouri is Tuesday, March 10, 2020, the date of the state’s presidential primary. To prepare myself to make an informed vote I will temporarily lift my self-imposed news embargo on February 10, 2020—one month prior to the election. That will give me four weeks to familiarize myself with the candidates—more than enough time. Thus, for the next 444 days I can stay blissfully disconnected from the latest political firestorm. I will follow this same practice before each election. This way, over a four year period I will only have to suffer through three months of political news, thereby fulfilling my obligations as a citizen without being a prisoner of the 24-7 news cycle.

As to scandals and tragedies, how does knowledge of these events in any way enrich, improve, or brighten my existence? Will reading about the latest string of murders in Chicago make me enjoy life more? Will learning of a tragic house fire in New Jersey put a smile on my face? Will hearing that some public figure has broken his marriage vows improve my own marriage? These are events over which I exercise no control whatsoever. My knowledge does not make things better. It just robs me of a little joy in life. So I have pulled the plug.

Pulling that plug has proven to be harder than it ought to be. In part this is because there are many things that still interest me, things that I want to learn. I’m not pursuing a hermit’s existence. It is surprisingly difficult to search for the latest news about natural history, astronomy, gardening, woodworking, weather, or any number of other topics without getting sucked into some story that I’d just as soon avoid.

Nor am I going to run from the room with my hands over my ears every time I encounter a television set tuned to an all-news station. An absolute news blockade is impossible without going completely off the grid. It will be accomplishment enough if I just stop looking for this kind of news.

And there’s the other rub. 24-7 news is popular for the same reason that opioids are popular: it’s addictive. I cut the cord shortly after the November 6 general election. For several days I found myself craving the latest tidbit of post-election news and analysis. It was only with concerted effort that I resisted this craving. Scripture tells us to resist the devil and he will flee from us. The same holds true for news addiction. After the first few days it became easier and easier to resist the urge to seek out the latest headlines.

I’m about halfway through my third week in this post-news world I’ve entered. The old craving is almost gone. I find I am spending a lot less time on the computer. Facebook use in particular is way down.

Where this will ultimately lead is hard t say. But thus far it’s certainly done me no harm.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Life on "PAUSE"

I retired from 45 years in the ministry January 1 of this year. This was three days after my 64th birthday and two days after my 85-year-old father died of prostate cancer. On that same day our house sold. “Retirement” for us began in total chaos.

That time is a blur as I think back on it nearly nine months later. Fresh grief, rapid and profound change, long days and short nights… it all runs together in my memory. We last saw Virginia—our home for almost seven years—in our rearview mirror late in the day on Friday, February 2, as we crossed into Tennessee on southbound I-81. Winter still held sway then, even in the Deep South. But winter became spring, spring shifted into summer, and now it is autumn—and we are still homeless.

During the intervening months we have bounced around from relative to relative, trying not to wear out our welcome at any one place. It has been a weird existence. I have described it as life on pause.

Most of the time has been spent at the Huntsville, Alabama home of Joyce’s twin sister, Janice, and her husband, Tom. Tom is a self-taught master woodworker and furniture builder. So while we’ve been there Tom and I have built new furniture and cabinets to grace that new house. With so much new oak furniture, an old friend of mine has taken to calling our house “Oak Manor.”

Finally, we can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Next week I will drive a U-Haul truck from Alabama to Missouri loaded with the cabinets and some of the furniture. Once the cabinets and countertops are installed the final details of the construction should go quickly. We should be moved in time to see the sugar maple forest on the north side of the house in all of its autumnal glory.

I have been asked how I like retirement. Maybe in a few months I will have an answer. But first I have to hit the “Resume” button.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

My World without Billy

February 22, 2018

I woke up this morning to a world without Billy Graham. It felt strange, because throughout my 64 years on this earth—including over four decades serving in the gospel ministry—Rev. William Franklin Graham has been a dependable constant for me in an all-too-often chaotic world.

Long before I was born on December 29, 1953, Billy Graham was already a national phenomenon who had preached to hundreds of thousands.  But before my first birthday, his fame became global. For it was in 1954 that Billy Graham took London by storm when he held a three month long crusade during which over two million Londoners attended the services and some 40,000 made professions of faith in Christ.

The news this week is filled with the many other mind-boggling statistics about the ministry of this remarkable man and I need not repeat them here. A quick Google search will provide a menu of stories about how Billy Graham touched and sometimes dramatically changed the lives of many famous people, from Johnny Cash, to Pastor Rick Warren, to George W. Bush. But most of the 100 million people who saw him preach in person and the uncounted billions who watched him on TV were not famous, but the impact that he made on their lives was no less significant. This story is about how Billy Graham affected me.

Mine was the first “TV Generation,” and television was a major factor in Graham’s impact on the world—and on me. I grew up watching Billy Graham crusades. It is hard to communicate the impact of those broadcasts to those of you born after the advent of cable television. For most of my childhood St. Louis had three network TV stations plus a PBS channel with a weak signal. So when a crusade broadcast secured one hour of prime time, it effectively tied up one third of the TV viewing options during that time, giving Billy something of a captive audience. No evangelist today, no matter how effective, could hope to capture such an audience. For me and millions like me, the impact of Cliff Barrows leading those massive crusade choirs, George Beverly Shea’s powerful bass voice singing We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder and How Great Thou Art, celebrity testimonies from people like Johnny Cash, Graham’s clear and convicting sermons, and the image of multitudes of people responding to the invitation as the crowd sang Just As I Am made a deep and lasting impression.

I was only twelve years old when I first began to sense God leading me into the ministry. By fifteen I preached my first sermon. As God’s Spirit was working on my heart, Billy Graham was my much admired role model. The longer I was in the ministry, the more I learned about Graham’s life and approach to ministry, the stronger that role model became. For as I came to better appreciate the challenges of serving in the ministry, and the temptations that come with the calling, the better I appreciated the steadfast consistency of Billy Graham and the wisdom he demonstrated in handling those challenges in his own life. Vice President Pence was in the news last year because of his longstanding commitment to follow the so-called “Billy Graham Rule”—a policy of never allowing himself to be alone with a woman not his wife. Actually, this is only one aspect of a far broader set of principles that came to be known as the Modesto Manifesto:

During his meetings in Modesto, California, in November 1948, Graham met with his co-workers and friends George Beverly Shea, Grady Wilson, and Cliff Barrows (at the motel on South Ninth Street where they were staying) to determine what were the most common criticisms of evangelists and how they should organize their own meetings so that they would be above reproach. Among the points they agreed on was that the Graham team would avoid even any appearance of financial abuse, exercise extreme care to avoid even the appearance of any sexual impropriety (from that point on, Graham made it a point not to travel, meet or eat alone with any woman other than his wife Ruth), to cooperate with any local churches that were willing to participate in united evangelism effort, and to be honest and reliable in their publicity and reporting of results. The so-called Modesto Manifesto was the name they gave among themselves to the principles they decided on and applied in Graham's ministry from that point on. (

Graham’s example helped me to craft my own set of guiding principles to protect my own ministry from any hint of scandal.

Some years ago I put down on paper my longstanding guideline for avoiding sexual sin in my ministry, Glen Land’s 10 Rules for Avoiding Personal Disaster in Pastoral Relations with the Opposite Sex (

Years ago I determined to stay well clear of the money handling aspects of parish ministry. In any of the churches that I served I made certain that I had no role whatsoever in the process of collecting and depositing offerings. Nor would I have access to the giving records of members lest an accusation of favoritism toward large donors be leveled against me.

Finally, again learning from Billy Graham’s example, I have consistently steered clear of politics in my ministry. The pulpit is not a political stump. My calling is not to promote a political party or a candidate for public office. It is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ to a world in desperate need of his saving grace.

I regret that I never had the chance to personally meet and shake the hand of Billy Graham. Less than three months after we got married, Joyce and I attended nearly all of the services of Graham’s St. Louis crusade in November 1973. Twice I heard him address meetings of the Southern Baptist Convention. But I was never closer than one more face in a sea of faces. Nonetheless I feel like I know him well.

The world is an emptier place without Billy Graham’s presence. Still, grief is not what I am feeling today. Rather, I am profoundly grateful for the privilege of having lived so much of my life at a time when this great man of God was in the full flower of his ministry.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Retirement Reflections

On Sunday, December 2, 1973, a little rural church in the Missouri Ozarks, deep in what is now known as the Mark Twain National Forest, called a very green kid who was still 27 days shy of his 20th birthday, to be their fulltime pastor. The church was Grassy Hollow Baptist Church. That boy pastor was me.

A lifetime of vocational ministry that thus began 44 years ago drew to a close last month on Sunday, December 17, when I preached at Gospel Community Church Rivermont for the last time. As of that day I officially retired.

Forty-four years ago I could cradle my entire theological library in one arm. Today I have some 40 bankers boxes filled with books—and that after culling my collection by at least 20%. But I collected a lot more than books over those 44 years. My ministry has taken me from Missouri to Texas, back to Missouri, California, back to Missouri, Chicago, Wisconsin, Virginia, and in a short time, once again back to Missouri. In addition, my many mission trips have taken me to the Amazon Basin of Brazil, Russia, Yemen, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kuwait, Thailand, Guatemala, and the United Kingdom. Along the way I’ve gotten to know and love some amazing people. Joyce and I have collected some wonderful memories.

The setting for the next chapter of our story will be close to where it all began, back in Washington County, Missouri, just a few miles east of the little village of Caledonia, a quaint little tourist town about 80 miles south of St. Louis. There my brother, Lindell, will be building our new home on a ridgetop clearing in the woods near the farm where our family lived when I was in high school. Here I hope to do some serious writing, both fiction and non-fiction. When I’m not writing I intend to slowly transform those 7½ acres of Ozark woodland into our own private garden. And I expect I’ll still be doing a lot of preaching in the dozens of little country churches within an hour’s drive of our new home.

Construction of that new house is set to begin in a few weeks. But it will be a big job. The access road must be improved, power has to be run to the site, a well drilled, a basement dug… the list goes on and on. Till then we will be at the mercy of family members for room and board. Our well-ordered world will be in chaos for the next several months.

I’ve come a long way from that terrified 15-year-old boy who preached his very first sermon on March 9, 1969 at Fellowship Baptist Church in High Ridge, Missouri. Yet in some ways, it seems like only yesterday.

Life has been an adventure. The story is not over.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

A Eulogy

My 87-year-old father died on December 30, 2017. I shared the eulogy that follows at his funeral on January 3. - GL

I have trouble even imagining the world of my father’s childhood.

Fred Harry Land, the fourth of six children born to Holman and Mary Land of Crawford County, Missouri, entered this world on the night of December 21, 1930, the night before the winter solstice—the longest night of the year. As the story of that event has been passed down, it was a night of heavy snow and bitter cold in the Ozark countryside just a few miles south of the little village of Leasburg.

Dad was born in a weathered, rough sawn, oak slab, cabin with a rusty tin roof. It boasted neither electricity nor plumbing. An old wood stove in the front room and a wood cook stove in the kitchen struggled to provide such heat as there was, but this was insufficient to prevent ice from forming in the chamber pots in the two small bedrooms on such a night as that one. Kerosene lamps offered dim illumination at best. Water was hauled by hand from a nearby spring. As an alternative to the chamber pots, there was a privy out back for those willing to brave the elements. Newsprint, pages from old catalogs, and as a last resort, corn cobs served as toilet paper. In many respects that cabin wasn’t much different from the far more spacious oak barn that provided the family milk cow and a mule shelter from the elements. But at least the cabin had a wooden floor.

Dad grew up deprived of the many advantages that he and Mom gave to Mona, Lindell, and me. The Great Depression was barely into its second year late in 1930 and for millions of people around the world things would continue to get worse long before they got better.

Life on my Grandpa Land’s farm would have been tough enough had the economy been booming. Those rocky clay ridges begrudgingly yielded a living at the price of cruel toil. Boyhood for Dad was little different from what his ancestors many generations earlier would have known. Two adults and six kids were crammed into a tiny cabin—personal privacy was the luxury of the rich. Food was what you could raise, grow, or bag hunting. Meat on the table was salted pork, fried chicken, or squirrel taken with the heavy old 10-gauge, double-barreled, black powder, shotgun that was the only gun in the house. Most meals were accompanied by thick flour gravy. The rest of the meal came from Grandma’s garden. It was a high fat, high calorie, high salt diet in which lard figured prominently, but long hours of hard manual labor demanded it. Obesity was never an issue.

Bathing was limited to a once a week ritual when a big galvanized wash tub was hauled into the kitchen and filled with water heated on the cook stove. The same water that rinsed off the lucky guy who got first dibs was still in the tub for the hapless soul at the end of the line. The soap used was the harsh homemade lye soap that Grandma was still making when I was a little boy in the early ‘60s. After all these years I would still instantly recognize its distinctive smell.

It was a tough world that demanded toughness from those who survived. That was certainly true of my father. When he graduated from high school at age 17 he was a wiry 5’9” and 150 lbs. By this point he had survived a bad concussion that left him blind for a couple days and a broken arm that was improperly set by the local saw bones, leaving him with a slightly crooked right arm. (Believe it or not, he got the concussion from running down a hill jumping stumps. He lost his footing and did a header into one of them.) He had a quick temper, a tendency to boast, and a habit of settling arguments with his fists.

Dad was no scholar. Educational opportunities in Leasburg were rather bleak in those days, and to make matters worse, Dad had vision problems that glasses never completely corrected. Consequently reading for any length of time tended to give him a headache. But his educational attainments had nothing to do with his intelligence. He was certainly bright enough to know that there was no future in remaining in Leasburg. He wanted to see the world. So in 1948, shortly after graduating, he got Grandpa to sign for him so that he could join the navy.

The first bit of the world beyond Leasburg that Dad saw was the U.S. Navy’s Great Lakes Training Center just north of Chicago. He wasn’t impressed. In fact, he was convinced that he’d made the biggest mistake of his life. Just eight days after enlisting he petitioned—in vain, of course—for a hardship discharge.

But in many respects the navy was good for him. With the high protein diet that he enjoyed in boot camp he quickly added 30 pounds of muscle to his lean frame—mostly on his chest and upper arms. He maintained the upper body strength that this gave him until just a few weeks ago by which time cancer had finally taken its toll. One of the contributing factors to his muscular upper body was the fact that Dad was the undefeated company boxer in boot camp. He boasted of beating the Golden Gloves champion of Chicago in the ring. He particularly liked boxing because after a bout he got all the steak he could eat.

Dad avoided most of the usual sailors’ vices. He didn’t drink, smoke, or womanize. But he did gamble, both poker and craps, and he was good at it. So after a few hours in port, when many of the ship’s crew came back aboard from liberty hungover and broke, Dad was saving his pay—and putting it to work with a little payday loan business for his cash-strapped shipmates. Consequently, when he was discharged he had enough money saved to pay cash for a brand new ’51 Chevy and to make the down payment on a house. The financial futures of his shipmates I leave to your imagination.

It was in the navy that Dad learned the trade that he would pursue until he retired. He was discharged with the rating of Electrician’s Mate 3rd Class. Not long after moving to High Ridge, he went to work in St. Louis for American Car and Foundry rewinding electric motors for trains. It was a dirty, dangerous place to work, so when an opening in the electrical shop at the Anheuser-Busch Brewer came up, he jumped at it. He would work at the brewery, first as an electrician and then as an electrical foreman, until he retired. He soon became known as the best electrician in the brewery. Plenty of men could fix a piece of equipment if told what was broken, but Dad was a troubleshooter. He could study a piece of complex electrical machinery and figure out why it wasn’t working. It was his rare skill as a diagnostician that made him so valuable to the company. When lesser men were stumped, the order would go out: “Send for Land!” I have often wondered what Dad might have accomplished with a first class education. He had a good head for math. Combined with his mechanical aptitude and his analytical ability, he would have made a fine engineer.

I must confess that it was this very ability that used to frustrate and exasperate me no end. I grew up hearing Dad say—and if I heard it once I heard it a thousand times—“What man has done I can do!” And though there was a lot of hyperbole in that boast, it also reflected a solid core of optimism and self-confidence that defined who my father was. Faced with a recalcitrant piece of equipment, maybe something that he had never worked on before, Dad would tear it down and tackle the repair, confident that he could master the problem, leaving us lesser mortals shaking their heads in shamefaced wonder when he succeeded. I recall one particular winter Saturday when Dad left for work having assigned me to a day of woodcutting. I headed to the woods but try as I might, I couldn’t get the chainsaw started. (I never have been on very good terms with 2-cycle engines.) When called to give an account at the end of the day, I reported to my father my tale of woe. To my lasting mortification, he went outside and had the saw running in five minutes.

But Dad’s biggest accomplishment while in the navy wasn’t boxing, loan sharking, or learning the difference between AC and DC. It was marrying his sweetheart back home. On May 31, 1950, while on leave, Dad married Beverly Faye Pennock, a young girl from the neighboring town of Bourbon. After a whirlwind honeymoon Dad reported back to his ship, the USS Abnaki (ATF-96), and headed out to sea, bound for Korea. They wouldn’t see each other again for a year. Perhaps that is why for the rest of their 67+ years of marriage, they did almost everything together. Theirs was not a relationship that included poker nights for the boys or coffee klatches for the ladies. Whether it was work or play, they almost always did it together. Mom would provide the creative impetus—there was nothing of the artist in my father—and Dad would provide the muscle. They made quite a team. Together they built and remodeled multiple homes. In fact, I would argue that they were never happier than they were sweating together in the middle of some big project.

Dad is one of only a handful of men that I have known in my life who could literally build a house from digging the footings to the finish work without having to contract out a single task. He could do it all. He really didn’t have the patience to do fine finish carpentry—he was much better at framing. Of course wiring the house was no challenge for him. And he was a self-taught plumber. His water lines didn’t leak and his toilets always flushed properly. But as I was reminded just a few weeks ago when spending the night at Mona and Joe’s where I used a shower that my Dad had installed many years ago, he had this weird quirk, as many of us can testify, of getting the hot and cold water lines crossed. After Mona and Joe bought the house from Mom and Dad, Joe set about uncrossing numerous mixed up waterlines. That shower was the only one he hadn’t gotten around to. I kinda hope he leaves it as it is—a memorial if you would. But if so, a warning label needs to be added for the benefit of the uninitiated.

Generosity is perhaps not the first trait that leaps to mind for those who had the occasion to share a meal with Fred Land. How often I remember Mom’s exasperation with Dad as he inevitably took the first place in line at the buffet table at some family gathering. Nor was he shy about laying claim to the last piece of pie. If challenged it was hard to fault his logic. “I’m the one who worked to earn the money to buy this food, who better than me to eat it?” But any greediness in such petty things was more than compensated for by his extraordinary generosity when it came to the big things in life, especially when it came to his children. I remember the pride in his voice when years ago Dad told me that he realized that he had become a millionaire. He had added up his cash plus the value of his stocks, bonds, and property and for the first time the total topped one million dollars. Not bad for a kid who left home with the clothes on his back.

Most of that million is long gone. In part this was from some bad investment decisions. But the fact is that Mom and Dad have given much of their hard-earned assets to their children and grandchildren. A car here, a house there, a school loan paid off, a farm signed over, a big wad of cash handed over free and clear… the list goes on and on and on. If nothing else, my parent’s generosity is an effective curb on any tendency toward pride that I might have. When I get in one of those self-congratulatory moods I need but ask myself, “Where would I be were it not for the help of Mom and Dad?” I was once tempted to tell a pastor search committee: “I was born in Bourbon and Anheuser-Busch helped put me through seminary.”

One of my early memories—I was about six at the time—was seeing my father baptized by Pastor John Sullivan at Fellowship Baptist Church, our church in High Ridge. Just a couple years later I would follow his example. Dad was never a Bible scholar. Reading typically put him to sleep. Nor was he inclined to talk much about his faith. But I never doubted the reality of it. For by the time I was old enough to watch and learn from his example, that brash young man from Leasburg had matured into a solid, sober, faithful, loving husband and father. The life he lived was a far stronger testimony of what a godly man is like than any sermon that I’ve ever preached. There wasn’t a lot of “do what I say” in my father. But there was a world of “do what I do.”

Dad taught us the meaning, importance, and value of work. I’m sure that he must have called in sick on occasion but such occasions were so rare that I can’t remember one. What I do remember is Dad getting up early to put chains on his pickup so that he could make it to work on time in the teeth of a winter storm. I don’t think he ever missed a day of work because of weather, even when he was commuting 80 miles from the farm to St. Louis. And when he got home from work he worked at home. I still remember the winter in Caledonia when he overhauled the engine of his old Chevy pickup in an unheated barn, handling those pieces of cold metal dripping with gasoline with his raw, chapped hands. When he did relax, he enjoyed nothing more than following his beloved St. Louis Cardinals. And unlike many baseball fans, Dad really understood the game.

Dad taught us the importance of loving and caring for your family. Not once did he ever lay a hand on my mother in anger. He didn’t hesitate to spank one of us kids if we had it coming, but he never struck us with a clenched fist. And when we needed him, he was always there. He never made a promise to me that he didn’t keep. He never disappointed me. He never let me down.

I never saw him drunk. I never saw him paralyzed with fear. I never caught him in a lie. I never heard him make an excuse. My father taught me what it means to be a man. As a young man his dashing good looks included a mane of thick, wavy, jet black, hair. He bore a striking resemblance to how Superman was depicted in the comic books of my childhood, which is appropriate, since that is how I always thought of him.

He had plenty of opinions but he wasn’t one to offer unsolicited advice. After I left home he only did so twice: Always buy good tools and have your kids close together so that you get them out of diapers quickly. He also told me, “When in doubt, vote Republican,” but I think that was before I moved out.

Over a decade ago Dad was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer. The doctors attacked it with a vengeance: surgery, chemotherapy, hormone therapy… the works. And though in the end all of their efforts failed to permanently eradicate the disease, they did buy him over a decade of continued life. But such aggressive treatment was not without a cost. For the rest of his days he would cope with such unpleasant side-effects as a leaky bladder.

How he responded to all of this tells us much about the measure of a man that some of you knew as Fred, others as “Grandpa,” who my sister called “Daddy,” who my brother called “Pop, and whom I simply knew as “Dad.” To be reduced to wearing a diaper in your old age might cause a lesser man to slide into a permanent state of depression. But not my Dad. Optimism tempered by pragmatism has always defined his outlook on life. He seldom complained and he NEVER whined. Instead of bitching about the umpire’s call, he just hit what was pitched. A pithy comment he made to me soon after the cancer treatment ended, succinctly summed up his attitude. He said, “A man only has two pleasures in life. At least I can still eat.” In an email a while back my friend, Bob, put it this way, “Your dad would survive a concentration camp while others perished out of frustration and hopelessness.”

I once made a list of the most influential people in my life. Four of those individuals are in this room today:
  • My mom, who first opened my mind and heart to the truth of God’s Word.
  • My old friend, Bob, who for some 50 years has been there for me through thick and thin and who kept me honest through it all.
  • My beloved wife, Joyce, the one great love of my life, who provided a much needed civilizing influence on me.
  • And my Dad, who taught me to be a man.

Late on the night of December 30, lying hand in hand beside my mom, Dad peacefully slipped into eternity to stand in the presence of his Lord.

A couple weeks ago in the Belgrade Bank Selma Akers briefly mistook me for my father. Joyce tells me that with each passing year I look, sound, and act more like him. And some mornings when I look into the bathroom mirror I think, “What’s Dad doing in my bathroom?”  That said, I close with this. I can think of no greater honor than to have it said of me, “He reminds me of Fred Land.”

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

The Story of the Green Bay Jailer

[NOTE: This story was written on December 12, 1994. At the time I served as pastor of Valley Baptist Church in Appleton, Wisconsin. – GL]

Dan Bozich is in daily close contact with some of the vilest people in northeast Wisconsin. Dan is a corrections officer at the Green Bay Correctional Institution, one of Wisconsin’s maximum security prisons. When Dan goes to work in the morning it is to spend his day rubbing elbows with murderers, rapists, and drug dealers. Some days he works in the segregation unit where he deals with such people as child molesters—people deemed unfit even for the general prison population.

The work of a corrections officer is not for everyone. It requires both physical and mental toughness to a degree not found in most people. Dan Bozich more than meets the necessary criteria. Dan is a physically imposing man. He has the build of a football lineman: broad shoulders, huge biceps, and a thick muscular neck. Slap Dan on the back and it’s like slapping a shoe sole. Matching his physical condition is his mental strength. Like most people in law enforcement, Dan has learned to suppress the instincts of compassion and tenderness that are a part of normal human interaction, for there is nothing normal about the prison environment. The very qualities that make life worth living on the outside can cost you your job or even your life when you work in a prison. Any way you look at him, Dan Bozich is a hard man.

Dan’s wife, Jill, has been a member of Valley Baptist Church in Appleton, Wisconsin, for some time. A few months ago Dan and Jill’s twin daughters, Erin and Erica, were saved and later baptized. Dan attended the baptism and was moved by it. He started attending occasional church services. His interest grew. Finally, after the worship service on December 4, Dan made an appointment for later in the week to meet with me.

On Thursday afternoon, as we talked in my study, it quickly became obvious to me that Dan was under conviction. A part of him wanted to follow Christ but another part had real fears about how that could be possible in the work environment that he faced each day. How could he be a Christian without hypocrisy given the way he felt about some of the people he was charged to watch? Dan was ever so close to making a commitment, but it appeared that he was not going to be able to make that last step of faith. I silently prayed in desperation that God would not let this opportunity pass, that somehow he would give me the words to secure for Christ the soul of Dan Bozich. And then, in a glorious moment of supernatural insight, God showed me the key that would release Dan from his prison of sin. And at the very moment the insight was granted, I knew that Dan’s life was about to be changed forever. I inwardly smiled and said to myself, “I’ve got you now!”

“Dan,” I said, “Did you know that there’s an account in the New Testament of a corrections officer who gave his life to Christ?”

“No!” he replied with evident interest.

“Would you like me to read that story to you now?”

“Yes, I would.”

Then I opened my bible and read these words from Acts 16:22-34:

25About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, 26and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's bonds were unfastened. 27When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. 30Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

And as I read, I saw in the expression on Dan’s face the evidence that the last line of resistance had just dissolved. Dan and I knelt together and Dan Bozich, the Green Bay jailer, asked Jesus Christ to be the Lord of his life.

That passage from Acts has long been a favorite of mine. But never before had I connected “jailer” with “corrections officer.” And I will never again read those verses without remembering Dan Bozich and how a corrections officer in ancient Philippi once showed a corrections officer in Green Bay, Wisconsin, the path to salvation.