Recycling the Beach Boys, Again

On April 28, I know you were anxiously awaiting this press release from Capitol Records to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Beach Boys:

To kick off the yearlong celebration and provide the perfect summer soundtrack, Capitol Records and UMe will release a newly remastered and expanded edition of The Beach Boys career-spanning greatest hits collection, Sounds Of Summer: The Very Best Of The Beach Boys, on June 17. Originally released in 2003, the album soared to no. 16 in the US and stayed on the chart for 104 weeks. Now certified 4x platinum for sales of nearly four and a half million albums, the collection has been updated in both number of songs and audio quality, expanding the original 30-track best of with 50 more of the band’s most beloved songs for a total of 80 tracks that span their earliest hits to deeper fan-favorite cuts and from their 1962 debut album, Surfin’ Safari through to 1989’s Still Cruisin’.

I know where you will be on June 17. You will be at your local record store waiting for an employee to unlock the door so you can rush in and be the first in your neighborhood to make this purchase.

There could be a slight problem with you making the trip to your local record store. Depending upon where you live, your community might not have a local record store anymore. Of course that is another story too— how independent record stores and bookstores manage to stay open.
But, before we go any further, I must confess. I am a long time fan of the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson. I have disclosed this before in other post about the Beach Boys.

In someways, I guess it is sad that a 68 year old man still keeps up with these now ancient singers, songwriters, and musicians. Yet, there is something about the music created by the Beach Boys that tugs at my old heart and sometimes moistens my eyes.

This isn’t the first time that Capitol Records has recycled the hit records of the Beach Boys. The first was on July 5, 1966 when Capitol released Best of The Beach Boys.

That album contained twelve songs and not all of the songs were top ten hits. The album appeared two months after the release of the Pet Sounds album. Some speculate that Capitol quickly compiled this album to counter the lackluster sales of Pet Sounds.

Eight years later on June 24, 1974, Capitol released Endless Summer a double album of greatest hits. Four months later this album hit number one on the album sales charts.

Since 1974 to the present, a wide range of greatest hits albums have been released in America and around the world. Some have been very successful in their sales. I’m sure this makes record company executives and the Beach Boys happy.

But to be truthful with you, this eighty song release to celebrate the band’s 60th anniversary is a disappointment. I believe Capitol Records missed an opportunity to focus on the band’s live in concert recordings.

Despite all of the ups and downs the Beach Boys experienced in their sixty years of work, there’s been one constant—they have always toured.

In the lean years from 1967 to 1969, when their record sales fell into a deep ocean trench, touring saved them. This was especially true when they played in Great Britain and Europe.

All that touring forced Al, Mike, Dennis, Carl, and Bruce to really work at their musicianship. And it necessitated adding other competent musicians to more fully capture the studio recordings in a concert setting.

From 1970 -1975, the Beach Boys gradually became a hot in concert band. Rolling Stone magazine at the end of 1974 proclaimed the Beach Boys their band of the year. This was an affirmation of how strong the group’s concert performances had become.

Clearly, Capitol Records would have plenty of concert material to pull from the well stocked vaults of the Beach Boys. Over the years, fans have been treated to some unreleased live recordings being a part of compilations and box sets that have been released.

You can hear how the band’s concert sound evolved with those recordings.

From the first live album Beach Boys Concert in 1964, we hear the screams from the audience, the nervous tightness of the band, and the silly banter of Mike Love

The 1970 Live In London captures a fuller sound with the addition of a horn section and keyboards. And this recording also captures the adoration of the audience, and the bold a cappella performance of “Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring.”

In 1973, the double album offering The Beach Boys In Concert captures a balance of the band’s oldies with their new songs, plus a few songs rarely performed in concert. If you doubt the band was cherished in America, listen to the audience’s reaction when Carl Wilson sings the opening “I” to “Good Vibrations.”

And, I’ll toss in one more live album—“Good Timin’” Live at Knebworth.” This concert in England was recorded in 1980, but was not released until 2003. This performance was captured on film too. The concert is noteworthy in that the three Wilson brothers Brian, Dennis, and Carl were all present as were Mike Love, Al Jardine, and Bruce Johnston. Song selections for this concert were predictable.

I’m sure archivist Mark Linett and Alan Boyd have found in the vaults plenty of live recordings to sift through.

An example of this took place over the last few years when to protect copyrights, Capitol Records released several live recordings and studio sessions from the mid to late sixties. This included Lei’d In Hawaii concert recordings.

And yes, the Beach Boys 2012 50th Anniversary Tour did birth a live album capturing forty one songs from the fifty song set. However, I will stubbornly hang on to the premise that the live recordings from the 1970s are better.

Linett and Boyd’s work from the Sunflower and Surf’s Up Sessions included a sprinkling of live tracks that really showcased how strong the band’s concert performances were in the early 1970s. It is remarkable how the group performed the very beautiful and complicated song “Surf’s Up” in concert.

For me, my favorite years as a fan were from 1970-75. I thought the group was at their best in the studio and in concert. I will never forget seeing the Beach Boys concert in November of 1972 at Appalachian State University.

The architect of their resurgence in the early 1970s was their manager, Jack Rieley.

Before the start of the show, Mr. Rieley introduced the band by gently telling the audience that the concert would be in two sets. He asked that all requests be held until the end of the second set. Then, he would call each band member by name, and ask the audience to welcome the Beach Boys.

That concert was fifty years ago. The performance has never left my gray matter. That night, the Beach Boys were exceptional, and the audience could feel the passion of their performance.

So, Capitol Records, thanks, but I will not be among the purchasers of this June 17 release. My old ears probably can’t detect any enhancements from new technology tweaks in the remixing of the songs. Plus, I know I have all of the songs featured in this release.

And I’ll agitate Capitol executives a bit further. You should have used Bruce Johnston’s “Endless Harmony” to close out the eighty songs, not “California Feeling.”

But, if it makes you feel any better, I was excited to read in the press release that Mr. Linett and Mr. Boyd have been readying for a fall 2022 release archival sessions featuring two more Beach Boys’ albums: Carl and the Passions “So Tough” from 1972 and Holland from 1973.

You can put me down for a pre-order on that set.

And finally, if you’ve never been a fan of the Beach Boys, this eighty song compilation would be worth adding to your record collection. The endurance of their sound, the legendary vocals, the songwriting, the production, and musicianship are captured here.

Who knows maybe these songs will touch your heart and moisten your eyes too.

Staging and photo of album covers by Elizabeth Pike

Hey God, mothers aren’t suppose to die at 39.

On the morning of Friday, April 22, the text message came to me—“Keri Marston is at home in hospice.”

Saturday morning, April 23, another text appeared—“Keri passed away last night.”

I responded to the first text with—“boo!”

With the second text, I responded—“Long talk with God coming up, this isn’t acceptable.”

Of course, this is all courtesy of our dearly beloved friend—cancer.

I had the privilege of working with Keri at our church. She was our communication specialist.

We, our staff, and our congregation benefitted from her expertise. In fact, anyone who worked with Keri within the realm of church communication learned and grew because of her set of skills.

But more importantly, anyone who encountered Keri gained more than communication competency.

Keri’s more was grounded in a sincere desire to give of herself for the betterment of others. That all came from her heart, and her capacity to connect with people. Keri’s heart was both passion and compassion for people.

We eventually lost Keri to her home church. There she continued to make a difference in helping the church grow and touching the lives of the congregation.

On the morning of Thursday, April 28, I and two other staff members from our church attended the funeral service for Keri.

The service was perfection. The music, the selected scriptures, and the words of the speakers captured and celebrated Keri’s short life. Mothers are not supposed to die at 39.

I was touched that Keri’s two school age daughters shared their hearts about their mother. This was tough duty. Keri would have been proud. In their own unique way, each daughter captured their mother.

Even in their emotional pain, Rachel and Rebecca made us laugh. They spent so much time at the church with their mother that the girls considered themselves to be a part of the Shady Grove staff. I’m sure Keri knew that humor too as both of her parents are Methodist ministers.

Perhaps, you recall the hurricane scene in the movie, Forrest Gump. Forrest, and his friend, Lieutenant Dan, are attempting to ride out the storm on Forrest’s shrimp boat. The storm is fierce. Their survival is uncertain.

In the height of the storm, on the deck of the shrimper with wind, waves, and rain crashing around him, Lieutenant Dan, decides to confront God. He curses God, and shouts out to God: “It’s time for a showdown, you and me.”

I’m sorry God, but right now, at this very moment, I feel like Lieutenant Dan—“It’s time for a showdown.”

Keri’s funeral had a very polite tone, but I’d wager every heart in that sanctuary was asking the same question my heart is asking—“How in the world could God let this happen?”

I wonder what pastors are thinking during a funeral service like Keri’s.

I wonder if they are thinking—“Thanks God, you just made my job tougher. I have a whole sanctuary full of people who believe in you, your words, and yet, one of your pillars is gone. These people want to know why you didn’t intervene, why didn’t you stop this cancer, and guess what God, I’m right there with them.”

1 Thessalonians 5 verse 17 states: “pray without ceasing.” What do you think we have been doing since Keri was diagnosed with cancer? I want to know, are my prayers and the people I pray for worth the time?

Were you in that sanctuary on Thursday morning? Did you hear the tears from Keri’s youngest daughter? Did you see the grim faces of Keri’s parents as they recessed out of the Sanctuary?

Hebrews 11:6 reads: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists, and that he rewards those who seek them.”

Are you telling me and everyone who knew Keri that she didn’t have faith? That is absurd, and you know it. How is cancer a reward for having faith?

And then there is one of my favorite verses from the Bible, Jeremiah 29:11: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

How does this verse apply to Keri? Where was her welfare, her future, her hope? Cancer wasn’t a good plan for Keri, nor is it for anyone else. God, what were you thinking?

And the real crusher for me is in Matthew 9 verses 20-22: “ Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.”

One single touch of his cloak, and instantly this woman is made well!! Keri had faith. How come she had no touch of his cloak?

Look God, you’ve known me a long, long time. Yes, by my name, there is a substantial list of black marks on your checklist documenting my wrongs. Despite that list, I must tell you, I’m not the only person down here who is asking these frustrating questions.

Yes, I am happy that Keri is no longer being battered by that vile cancer.

But, God, I have another question for you—how can Keri’s life in heaven as an angel be worry free as she looks down upon her daughters on earth?

How will their father, Chris, attempt to nurture their daughters without the presence of his wife and their mother?

And God while I’m in the whining mode, I’ll take a poke at our own thinking here on earth—the money angle.

Consider the following:
James Webb telescope cost $10 billion dollars
New York Mets pitcher, Max Scherzer’s contract $43 million
Three private citizens paid $55 million a piece to spend eight days in space

Elon Musk purchases Twitter for $44 billion

University of Virginia Athletics Department announced that a former athlete has pledged $40 million dollars

I know individuals have the freedom to do what they want with their pennies. But, I wonder if we might be closer to knocking cancer out if our spare change thinking was better?

This past Christmas, our youngest daughter, Elizabeth, gave her mother an Amazon Echo Dot. The Echo Dot resides in the kitchen. I’ve enjoyed asking Alexa to play a variety of songs while prepping a meal or cleaning up dishes.

The other morning, Alexa played “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall.” The song written by Allan Robert and Doris Fisher was recorded in 1944 by the Ink Spots and Ella Fitzgerald. The song is based on a line in the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem “Rainy Day.”

The lyrics to the opening verse appealed to me:
Into each life some rain must fall
But too much is falling in mine
Into each heart some tears must fall
But some day the sun will shine

When a person and their family are dealing with cancer, they must feel like the weariness of the rain never stops.

And I know for Keri’s family and friends tears are still falling in their hearts.

Those tears are likely to linger for a long, long, long time.

But in losses like this, we have a responsibility, and that is to help the family to hang on until the day that the sun will shine.

And despite my anger at you God, deep in my heart, I know at some point the sun will shine for Keri’s family.

Sunrise Cape Newagen, Maine photo by Bill Pike

Letter: Work together to tackle what ails our schools

Honored to have this letter published in the May 4, 2022 edition of the Roanoke Times.

Dear Editor,

Before the 2021 governor’s race in Virginia, our public schools already produced headlines for the news media.

Accreditation, safety, equity, funding, morale, race, and deteriorating buildings could attain front page coverage in any region.

For two years, COVID-19 added to the headlines as schools faced multiple challenges. Academic and social recovery from the pandemic is on-going. Catching students up is a daunting task.

Truthfully, our public schools have always faced challenges. With little hesitation, society looks to our schools to solve problems that students, their families, and our communities face. Often, these impactful intrusions are beyond a school’s control.

I wonder why researchers, policymakers, politicians, and educational leaders fail to study more carefully data in those habitual cycles that are beyond a school’s control?

Fixing the challenges in our schools lies in breaking vicious cycles in economic deprivation, housing, employment, mental health, and perhaps the most important— parenting.

Even in normal circumstances, parenting is stressful. I can only imagine the demands a single parent faces in an unstable environment.

Is their a solution?


Is it possible for Virginia to tackle the virulent cycles that impact schools as a collective team rather than individual silos?

Could Virginia recruit practical thinkers from nonprofits, established agencies in social services, health, and justice, school systems(including students/parents), and academia to confront these malignant cycles and frame a workable template for a feasible fix?

Consider how rapidly a vaccine was developed to combat COVID-19.

Why can’t Virginia have the same urgency to solve these longstanding disruptive cycles that impact our schools?

Perhaps, our political leaders feel this urgency is better served in the recently implemented “tip line” to tattle on teachers.

Sadly, a “tip line” doesn’t solve problems.

It only widens our divide.

Bill Pike

Henrico County, Virginia

Post Easter Quarterbacking: Warning Light On The Dashboard

My Good Friday started early.

At our church, I switched out the purple cloth on the cross to a black cloth.

Later that morning, the Commander Supreme and I would be driving to Summerfield, North Carolina.

Our oldest daughter, and her family were hosting the Pike side of the family for a Easter gathering and Easter egg hunt on Saturday afternoon.

The Commander Supreme and I drove separately. That would allow me to return to Richmond late on Saturday afternoon so I could be available to help at Trinity for our four services on Easter Sunday.

Aside from a low tire pressure warning light showing up on my dashboard, my drive was uneventful.

From that tire warning light, I learned the following: on a road trip, always have a tire pressure gauge and quarters.
We had a good family gathering on Saturday afternoon. Our one living uncle Harry and his wife, Carol, were there, and it was good to see cousins who I hadn’t seen recently.

The kids enjoyed the Easter egg hunt. In the weeks ahead, I expect a few undiscovered eggs will be found around the yard.

When we drive to Summerfield, we take what I call the back way. The main roads are U. S. Highways—60, 360, 58, and 29.

Truthfully, there isn’t much to see along this route. Lots of small towns whose names have “ville” in their spelling—Danville, Turbeville, Keysville, Farmville, Burkeville, Jetersville.

Coming back on Saturday, in the outer city limits of Danville, I started counting churches. I’m sure I missed a few, but as I neared U. S. 60 in Powhatan County, I stopped counting. At that point, I was in the mid-twenties.

And with that I asked my curious questions about these churches—what was planned for Easter, how were these small, rural churches holding up, will they still be around next Easter?

Back at the house, I unloaded, fixed something to eat, and headed for bed.

Sunday morning would come early. The sunrise service had a 6:30 start time.

I opened up the church. Next, I headed to the front lawn to transition the cross from the black cloth to chicken wire. The chicken wire would allow the congregation to add fresh flowers to the cross.

I’ll admit, the tangled chicken wire tried my patience.

Yet, we made it through all four services, and attendance was good.

We saw new faces, faces we hadn’t seen during the pandemic, and the tried and true.

The highlight was the modern worship service with lots of young families and their children.

Just like Christmas services, the challenge for churches following Easter Sunday is always this— how do we lure all those people back into the building?

The plain hard truth is that many will not be back the next Sunday, or the one after that. In fact, in some instances, it will be Christmas before they return.

Why is that?

Maybe churches burn so much energy on Easter Sunday that they forget about the next Sunday. In truth, the next Sunday should be just as important as Easter Sunday.

Out on 58 and 360, there is lots of time to think, and here is something I asked myself related to Easter: Why can’t Easter Sunday become a permanent date?

Some years, Easter is in March. Other years, Easter is in April.

I’m sure there is a very carefully thought out process as to when Easter takes place.

For example, imagine if Easter was always the third Sunday in April. We would keep the forty days of Lent, but give Easter Sunday a permanent home.

I know the answer. Easter will never have a standing date.

A church change like that would mean the end of the world, and an assurance that Bill Pike will burn in hell.

On Thursday, April 21, I went out to the front lawn of the church to remove the weary flowers from the chicken wire wrapped cross.

I managed to untangle the chicken wire from the cross, and I returned it to the Eaton Hall mechanical room where it will rest until next year.

Despite trying to keep in shape, I struggled to pull the wooden cross out of the ground. My upper body strength is fading just like those flowers faded on the cross.

Once out of the ground, the cross felt heavier this year. The walk to the Eaton Hall mechanical room was an effort.

I angled the cross down the old concrete steps, slid it through the double doors, and into its resting place in the mechanical room.

Silently, I thought to myself, I wonder if I’ll be able to do this next year?

And in truth, that is part of my question for the hope that Easter is supposed to bring us.

Despite the hope of the cross, the life challenging headlines don’t stop for Easter.

I struggle with the Easter story every year.

I want its hope not to be a one and done day.

But it seems each year, we creep further and further away from the cross, and its hope.

Just like that low tire pressure warning light appeared on the dashboard of my car, the warning lights on the dashboard of the church have been flashing for a number of years.

And in truth there are warning lights flashing inside of me.

At times, I sense the pace of life pushes me to ignore those warning signals.

Maybe Easter is a warning light.

Perhaps, Easter is a reminder about how tough life can be when I fail to be patient, to listen, to be kind, to understand, and to love.

After all, wasn’t “to love one another” the essential take away from the short life of Jesus?

Stained glass window Trinity UMC photo by Bill Pike

Easter Hope

Monday, April 11, 2022

Dear Editor,

As an imperfect Christian, I struggle every year with the season of Lent, the events of Holy Week, and Easter.

This is despite studying scripture from the Bible, reading thoughtful devotionals about Lent, and listening to sermons on Sunday mornings.

From my naive perspective, a good person, Jesus, lost his life on the cross for challenging us to love each other.

For the first time in two years, we will have four in person worship services at our church on Easter morning.

The slog through the pandemic for churches has been painful.

But, not as painful as the loss of life on that cross.

I wonder if you, me, we, us, are ever going to wake up and love as Jesus suggested?

How many of our senseless societal tragedies in our daily living might have been avoided if we could set aside our differences, our division, and soften our stubborn hearts with love?

For too long, we have become very good at destroying ourselves.

When are we going to say enough?

Regardless of my personal struggles with Lent, Holy Week, and Easter, I still hold on to hope.

Hope that our hearts can change.

Bill Pike
Henrico County, Virginia

Easter morning Trinity UMC in Henrico County, Virginia photo by Bill Pike

When Baseball Doesn’t Fit

On the morning of Saturday, April 2, 2022, my wife, the Commander Supreme, and I were in Summerfield, North Carolina. It was opening day for the Summerfield Little League.

Pretty North Carolina sunshine was out in its famous blue sky, but the unseasonably cool overnight temperatures were still lingering for our ten o’clock game.

Our grandson turns four this month. He is excited to be playing baseball for the first time. This morning, he is all decked out in his uniform, hat, and backpack that carried a bat and other necessary baseball stuff.

His team was playing a doubleheader today. The second game was scheduled for noon. Today, these youngsters would make Ernie Banks proud with his famous, “let’s play two,” quote.

Unfortunately, the first early morning game started late. Now, the whole schedule was behind.

We were watching what seemed like an endless game on the field where our grandson would be playing.

But gradually, the game ended, and the teams and their coaches lined up to shake hands before scurrying off the field for their post-game snack.

With assists from parents and coaches, our grandson’s team entered their dugout.

I have lots of admiration for volunteer coaches. This assignment is not for the faint of heart.

A volunteer coach must be able to wear multiple hats. Those hats require skills in time management, organization, delegating, communicating, patience, listening, and yes, it helps if the coach knows a tiny bit about baseball.

Additionally, a coach who has a degree in psychology might have an advantage over other coaches in working with players and their parents who present all kinds of personality challenges.

There were no warmups, one team took the field, and the other team batted.

Batting order was based on a player’s uniform number. Our grandson’s jersey has a two on the back. So, he was batting first. In the field, his coach had assigned him to play first base.

One of the coaches pitched four, slow overhand pitches to each batter on his team. If the batter failed to connect and hit one of those pitches, the batting tee was put into play.

I loved watching the hitters swing. Some swung early, some late. Once in awhile there was contact. Often, those hits dribbled off into foul territory.

At times, swinging at the ball on the tee was just as frustrating. That was largely due to how the batter’s feet and body were distanced from the tee.

When there was a hit, the words “go or run” was shouted out from the coaches and spectators.

With runners on base, rarely was a base runner tossed out when a ball was fielded.

Instead of throwing a ball to the base where a player was advancing, sometimes the fielder would run the ball to the base. In this case, fast feet were more accurate than an imprecise young arm throwing a ball in the direction of a daydreaming teammate.

Our grandson did pretty well at first base. He was able to stop most of the balls that came his way. Even though he did not pitch, he was a bit unsure of himself when he was moved to the pitcher’s spot. In that space, he basically was positioned behind the coach who was pitching to the batters.

But not all of the players on the team were doing well.

One player had not made it out on to the field. Unfortunately, this player and his father were in a struggle with each other. For whatever reason, the son had no interest in being on the field with his teammates.

It was quite clear that the son and the father were not happy with each other. I could tell that the father was upset, but he was doing a pretty good job of containing himself.

At one point, they packed everything up, and along with two siblings left the grounds. A short while later they reappeared, and the father and son entered the dugout. But, there was no more cooperation generated from the son, so they departed again.

Another father became agitated with his son’s lack of interest on the field. The father removed him from the game. There was quite a conversation between the husband and his wife. The husband was also displeased with how the team was faring on the field. I heard him say out loud, “they look awful.”

I thought to myself, “Nope, the awful is how you are handling this first game of the season.”

I was and still am an imperfect parent.

But, I learned from all of my years working in schools that being a parent is tough work.

Parenting in public is even more challenging because the eyes of the spectators are upon you too.

Playing little league baseball isn’t inexpensive. I would assume frustrated parents are thinking—“We paid all of this money for you to play, so by golly you are going to play.”

Parents want their children to find success whether it is on a baseball field or learning to play a musical instrument.

No matter if it is the pursuit of a sport or learning to play an instrument, parents will invest money, time, and support into their child. Despite this effort, sometimes the outcome isn’t successful.

And there is another significant piece—patience. A parent must have the capacity to be patient no matter how fragile the journey might be for the child and the parent. Parental patience is very difficult in our overly impatient world.

Coming to grips with patience also requires a parent to be reflective by recalling and asking—how did I respond when my parents pushed me to pursue sports or other activities?

Along with the patience, there is another essential skill—listening.

What is a child really saying to a parent when he/she refuses to participate? Trying to listen in the chaos of an uncooperative moment just adds another layer of stress and pressure on the child and the parent.

Later in May, we are scheduled to return to Summerfield. It will be interesting to see if the team has progressed from the opening day.

As the Commander Supreme was strolling around the grounds waiting for the game to start, she came upon a sign posted by the Summerfield Recreation Association. The sign’s gentle reminders are very appropriate.

Please Remember

These are kids. This is a game. Coaches are volunteers. Umpires are human. This isn’t the majors.

I love those words.

I love the honest truth in each statement.

And I know the challenge—keeping that wisdom in front of me before, during, and after the game.

But, if we really love our children and grandchildren, living those words should not be a challenge.

Photo by Betsy Pike

God said, “Let there be a kaboom,” and there was a kaboom.

Since early on the morning of Friday, March 25, the pace at Trinity had picked up.

At 3:30 this afternoon, we are hosting our second large funeral of the week. Both funerals also included our first receptions for family and friends since the start of the pandemic.

Funerals require lots of attention to detail, and the reception piece pushed us to remember previous plans and set ups.

Through the morning, flowers and food arrived. Family members rechecked photo and floral displays. Staff fingers were crossed that any technology gremlins hidden deep in cables and circuit boards would take the afternoon off.

I spent a good portion of the morning wedding in high traffic areas. Weeds love our Bicentennial Garden and cracks in the mortar of brick sidewalks.

After 1 p.m. I sensed we were in pretty good shape.

Just to be sure, I checked in with Judy Oguich, our Minister of Congregational Care, who was in charge of the service this afternoon. Judy agreed that we were ready, as she was making her final preps before departing for the graveside service at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.

I’ve been working out of Room 317, and I walked up to check a few e-mails before heading home to clean up. I had the window open. I had just finished responding to my last e-mail, and that’s when I heard this really loud kaboom! It seemed to rumble for a few seconds, and the lights in the room barely flickered.

I poked my head out the window. We’ve lived in the neighborhood since 1983, and sometimes, our stately, specimen trees have a violent disagreement with power lines. But as I looked around the Stuart Hall Road side of the building I saw nothing unusual.

I walked down to the church office to let our Financial Secretary, Diane Ladd, know that I was headed home. I asked her if she had heard the loud kaboom, and she hadn’t.

I decided to cut through Trinity Hall to check on our weekly food drive, and that’s when I ran into Ronnie Johnson, our Head Building Caregiver.

Ronnie asked if I had heard the kaboom. I acknowledged that I had.

He walked me outside, and said the explosion scared him to death, and that he had seen a plume of smoke come out of one of the large green underground transformer boxes.

Ronnie was so startled that he moved his truck away from the area.

So, I quickly headed back into the building. I let Diane know what Ronnie had witnessed. I told her I was calling Dominion Energy to report the explosion.

In my urgency to call Dominion, I failed to notice that the Trinity Hall elevator door was partially open and frozen.

With Dominion, I detailed what I knew. The dispatcher took the information and placed a work order. And since smoke had been seen, I was directed to call the fire department.

I placed the call to the fire department and explained the situation. The dispatcher was thorough, and asked good questions. She also warned me to be aware of electrified water when we checked the mechanical room.

Ronnie and I checked the Trinity Hall mechanical room. One back corner near the elevator controls was dark, but no electrified water was to be found.

We went back outside and waited for our helpers to appear.

It wasn’t long before we saw the shiny red body and lights of a firetruck heading down Stuart Hall hill. We waved the truck in toward the back of Trinity Hall.

The driver stayed close to the truck, and two firefighters started to walk the interior of the building. Smarter than me, they were looking for indications that the explosion had taken down one phase of electricity that fed our building.

Within the next few minutes, Dominion employees in an assortment of trucks began to arrive. They were looking to find the power pole on our property that fed to our underground connection. And some where between answering their questions, I let them know that we had this large funeral at 3:30.

Dominion employees at the unhappy transformer Photo by Bill Pike

In their walk through, the firefighters had found that all three elevators in our building were down.

Dominion linemen located the pole transformer that had tripped from the explosion. They asked for permission to shutdown power to the building. This would allow them to open up the transformer that had exploded.

When the Dominion repairmen opened up the underground transformer, they found one component on the left side that had failed. The component on that side of the box was charred and black.

The Dominion team had a plan for making the repair with the electricity to the building off. I was directed to shutdown all of the elevators and any HVAC equipment that could be affected when the power was turned back on.

With the power off, our emergency lights kicked on, but we had some dark spots.

Diane gathered up candles for restroom countertops, and Judy worked to keep the family calm.

The reception volunteers had the tough job. With no elevator, they had to physically move food and other reception items from the Eaton Hall Kitchen into the Welcome Center. This included climbing stairs in a darkened stairwell.

By the time I returned to the location of the faulty transformer, the Dominion team reported they were within minutes of returning power to the building.

At the appropriate time, I re-entered the building and scurried into the Trinity Hall mechanical room and the two other mechanical closets for elevators.

When I returned power to the elevator in Trinity Hall, a huge panel where the electricity entered the room made a series of mournful electrical moans. I just knew the cover of that panel was going to kaboom off before I could get past it.

Unfortunately, the three elevators did not like the return of their electrical feed.

I reported this to the Dominion team. They asked for permission to enter the Trinity Hall mechanical room. In here, they focused the attention on the big panel that had made the disgruntled groans.

A meter was quickly applied to check the electricity readings. They didn’t like the numbers. The readings should have been higher. Something was still not quite right with the incoming power.

The low readings indicated they had missed something in the quick repair to get us back on line. So, electricity to the building was shutdown again, and I hustled back into the building to turn off equipment, and waited.

With their thinking caps on, the Dominion team made one little tweak, and then turned the electricity back on.

This time the big panel made no grumbling sound. It was silent when I hit the elevator’s main switch. This elevator and the two others were now back on line.

I thanked the Dominion team for all of their help. I went back to the Welcome Center to check on our reception volunteers, and to gauge how the service was going. Both were in good shape.

Sometimes, I think God needs a diversion in his work.

Part of me thinks on that Friday afternoon, God thought to himself— “Rapidly aging Bill needs a challenge, let’s play with some electricity in the building and see how he responds.”

And God thought further, “Let’s see if he cusses me like a blue streak as hot as an unchecked electrical arc, or maybe he will keep his wits, and learn something.”

There was no time for a blue streak of harsh, hot words directed toward God.

But upon reflection, I did learn quite a bit in those two hours of contained chaos.

Let me share.

Transformer explosions are fickle, unpredictable.

Firefighters are trained to be calmly observant.

Dominion employees are well-trained, and equipped, but more importantly— they are good listeners.

Church volunteers are rapidly aging. Churches must figure out the means for bringing on board younger volunteers.

I re-learned something that I already knew. Sam one of the employees from Bennett Funeral Home is a gentleman, who is always willing to help.

God protected us. No one was injured when the kaboom occurred.

And if God really needed a diversion that Friday afternoon, I forgive him because I slept well that night.

But, here is what I really learned.

Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1:3)

When there is a kaboom in your life, the light switch in the hearts of good people are nudged on by God.

On Friday afternoon, the light in the hearts of many good people saved us.

I am thankful for their good hearts.

Thanks God for nudging them on.

Some of God’s early morning sunlight piercing through door top windows into Trinity Hall photo by Bill Pike

The Office of Life Improvement: The Life of Becky Goshorn

On Monday, March 7, the recorded high temperature in Richmond, Virginia where we live hit 81 degrees.

Five days later on Saturday, March 12, those warm temperatures were gone.

That Saturday morning, I met a team of volunteers at our church. Their task was to remove old carpet from the church’s parlor, and to use a special fabric to recover the worn speaker screens in the Sanctuary.

By midday, we were finishing the chores. The cold rain that had been pelting down all morning had changed over to snow. With the falling temperatures and gusty winds, the snow managed to repaint the landscape.

Snow covered front lawn at Trinity UMC March 12, 2022 photo by Bill Pike

Early on the morning of Sunday, March 13, I arrived at church to make sure that sidewalks and steps weren’t icy. Turns out we were clear of ice, but we had a couple of other challenges.

The still relatively young steam boiler that heats the Sanctuary did not want to start. Luckily, an experienced technician from the HVAC company that services our building persuaded the cantankerous boiler to fire up.

Later that morning, I was summoned to a newly renovated Kids Church classroom. A heating radiator in one corner of the room had decided to leak. Before I could spew out a hot hissing line of harsh words, I caught myself—there are children in this room.

Once, the class was over, I pulled up the wet carpet tiles. I wrapped a towel around the suspicious pipe dripper, and aimed a box fan on to the damp concrete sub-floor.

Just before, the start of the 11 a.m. worship service, we received notification that a long time member (who was loved by all) was taking her last breaths courtesy of a crummy intruder—cancer.

Later that afternoon at home, our friend, Pat Rollison, called. She had some more disturbing news. Our mutual friend and educator, Becky Goshorn, had passed on Saturday.

This news about losing Becky tugged at my heart.

Becky had been an outstanding math teacher at Hermitage High School in Henrico County. Hermitage is where I also landed after teaching four years in Martinsville. And after we both retired, our paths crossed again as we worked with the Virginia Department of Education’s Office of School Improvement.

Becky and I were part of teams that visited schools in Virginia who were struggling to find success with the state’s Standards of Learning tests. Again, Becky was an excellent teammate with her expertise in math helping the teachers in these schools retool with practical instructional strategies and techniques.

We were also part of a group of Virginia educators who worked with teachers in the Department of Corrections schools. These incarcerated students had no exemption from the Virginia Standards of Learning tests.

For Becky’s children, Anne and Jack, losing their mother was an untimely challenge. Just six months earlier on September 17, 2021, they had dealt with the unexpected passing of their father, Larkin.

Becky was in her second battle with cancer. By all accounts, she was making progress.

I know that I will not be lucky enough to make it to heaven, but if by some miracle I sneak into the pearly gates, my first question to God will be this—“If a person pushed cancer out of his/her body once, why in the world should a woman, man, or child have to endure another wretched round of this awful disease?”

Monday, March 21, was a pretty spring afternoon. A visitation was held for family and friends to honor Becky. The setting was perfect. The clubhouse for the recreation center allowed guests to mingle inside and outside. My wife and I saw many of our education colleagues, and we met Anne and Jack.

Even though, I was not a math major, in Becky’s obituary, I counted at least nine community and professional organizations that Becky helped during her lifetime.

Combine those organizations with her career in public schools, and there are multiple opportunities for storytelling about Becky.

Here is a Becky story from our work with the Office of School Improvement.

I was preparing for a school review in northern Virginia. At the last minute, a team member had to bow out. I called Becky who was in another part of the state finishing a review.

I asked if she would consider filling the math spot on the team. With no hesitation, she agreed to pinch hit.

But, she did have concern. Becky like me had been living out of a suitcase. Becky was worried that she might not have enough clean underwear to finish out the week.

I have never forgotten that story for many reasons. First, her humor, but more importantly this was an example of her loyalty, dedication, and heart.

A teacher can’t survive in public education without a heart, and Becky had a heart. Just ask her family, former students, co-workers, and community.

Recently, I listened to an interview on the NPR show Fresh Air with Frank Bruni. Bruni has written a book, The Beauty of Dusk. The book chronicles his journey of losing sight in his right eye due to a unusual stroke that impacted the optic nerve.

In the interview, these words from Bruni caught my attention:

But after going through a period of shock and terror, Bruni saw himself at a decision point: He could fixate on what had been lost, or he could focus on what remained. He chose to do the latter.

“I feel like once you’ve recognized what’s happened, … it is so important and so constructive and so right to focus instead on all the things you can still do, all the blessings that remain,” he says. “I ended up determined — determined to show myself that I could adapt to whatever was going to happen.” (NPR Fresh Air 3/22/22)

Frank Bruni’s words make me think of Becky’s children, Anne and Jack. They must be in shock having lost both parents so quickly.

I hope Anne and Jack sense in Bruni’s comments that Becky always did in life what he suggests.

Despite the cancer, Becky constructively focused on all the things she could still do. She knew her blessings. She was determined to adapt to whatever was going to happen.

In her obituary, Becky offered the best advice to us all—“live life to the fullest because it is shorter than you think.”

Becky’s work in the Office of Life Improvement is an example of what one person can do to make a community better.

Whether she recognized her skills or not, Becky understood and embraced three lines of scripture from Ecclesiastes Chapter 3:

“To everything there is a season, and time for every matter under heaven: a time to build up, a time to speak, and a time to love.”

Becky’s talents helped to build up many community organizations.

She understood the importance of using her voice to speak up for the good of the cause.

And most importantly, she loved even in life’s difficult moments.

In the time I have left on this earth, I hope I can follow Becky’s example.

We will miss you, Becky.

A Man With No Heart

I am certain there have been moments in my life when my actions, my decisions have left this impression—that guy has no heart.

Sometimes, I have thought the same related to people I have encountered during my lifetime.

How does a person become heartless?

What is in the person’s makeup that forms an unkind heart?

I would like to ask Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin about his heart.

Because as far as I can tell, Mr. Putin has no heart.

If Mr. Putin had a heart then there would not be a cesspool of human atrocities swirling about his leadership.

Greed, power, control rule his thinking.

Mr. Putin is an unchecked demon, a fiend with no redeeming qualities.

He enjoys wrecking the lives of innocent people, including his own Russian citizens.

Mr. Putin excels in lying through misinformation.

Fear must be one of his favorite words.

His ego must thrive on the fear he invokes.

Mr. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is like all of his other senseless acts—shameful. Shame doesn’t bother him.

Perhaps during the destruction of Ukraine, you have asked yourself this question—“Why did America and its coalition come so quickly to the aid of Kuwait when Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi troops invaded in 1990?”

What’s the difference now with Ukraine?

My guess is that Putin is crazier than Saddam Hussein, and the other part of the answer is nuclear weapons.

I’m glad to know that sanctions imposed by countries around the world are having an impact on Russia.

Apparently, military weapons sent to Ukraine from thirty countries are allowing Ukrainian troops to fight back with an unanticipated tenacity against Putin’s army.

On Wednesday, March 16, the same day that Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, addressed the United States Congress, we held a day long prayer vigil at our church for peace.

President Zelenskyy’s speech was a heart tugger. His passionate points referenced significant challenges in our American history. He used those challenges to help us to understand the urgency of his country’s immediate needs.

Before Volodymyr Zelenskyy was elected President, he was a professional comedian. I know there is never humor in the tragedies of war, but I believe the ghost of Ernest T. Bass could take out Putin.

Putin would not know what hit him. A properly hurled rock from Ernest T could take Putin down just like David did with Goliath.

Song lyrics have always intrigued me. For lots of different reasons, I admire the Billy Joel song—“All About Soul.” Two lines in the lyrics describe Mr. Putin. Joel wrote, “There are people who have lost, every trace of human kindness.”

It is quite possible that Mr. Putin never had an ounce of kindness in his body. Clearly, his assault on innocent, defenseless targets in Ukraine prove he is an unkind human being with no heart, no soul, and no conscience.

According to one source (Bible Gateway), the Bible contains at least 430 verses that use the word evil. I did not review each verse, but I did stumble upon this one from James 3:16: “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” Those words accurately describe Mr. Putin.

With 430 references to evil in the Bible, I concluded that God and the world have been dealing with evil for a long, long, long time.

I wonder what God is thinking about Ukraine and Mr. Putin?

Over the years, anyone who has read my baloney, knows that I am not a Biblical scholar. But, here is something I don’t understand. In the Bible, Lot’s wife, and a gentleman named Uzzah are taken out by God.

Lot’s wife was told not to turn around to view the city she was escaping, and Uzzah was told not to touch the Ark of the Covenant.

I’m sure theologians have debated and written much about these stories, but here is my question for God—hasn’t Mr. Putin done worse than these two Biblical characters?

I guess that leads me back to prayer, and continuing to pray for those things in life that I don’t understand.

I pray that we can avoid a global war with Mr. Putin.

I pray for the people of Ukraine.

I pray for the people of Russia who have been suppressed by their evil leader.

And God if you are listening in your heavenly headquarters, I pray that the 430 verses in your book about evil will prompt us to arm our hearts with persistent prayer, support, courage, unity, hope, and love for the people of Ukraine.

After all there are 686 (Bible Gateway) verses in the Bible that use the word love.

Of course, Mr. Putin, the man with no heart, has no understanding of love.

And that is a bad formula.

No heart minus love equals evil.

God, we can’t let evil beat love.

Help us.

Photo by Bill Pike