Straight Talk for Street Thugs

Straight Talk to Street Thugs.
Proverbs 1:8-19. DBC. October 28, 2018. Dr. Denny

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This morning we’re going to let Solomon give us all some good advice.  The title of the sermon is Straight Talk to Street Thugs.  You might be thinking to yourself, well this doesn’t apply to me.  I’m not a thug.  But we know from St. Paul that we are all sinners and so I think we should shed our self-righteousness and realize that if we hadn’t had wonderful parents and some good breaks we too could be running wild in some gang somewhere.

Solomon, a man of great wisdom, could have started his book with any of a thousand wonderful themes such as joy or happiness or love. But instead, he begins with the dirty subject of rebellion, and hopelessness, and abandonment.  Mix these ingredients into the life of any young person and you end up with a thug running wild without guidance or a future.

*I read the story of just one such person in the newspaper called The Guardian.  The very title of the piece seems outrageous.  The title of the article is: Dangerous, growing, yet unnoticed:  the rise of America’s white gangs.”  In this provocative story, the writer follows the life of a poor street kid namedBenny Ivey from Mississippi.  When Ivey was 12, he began sniffing Scotchguard. He soon followed his adoptive parents and two uncles,—all school dropouts—into addiction.  His dad made $20 an hour as a carpenter, but most of it paid for their habits…..

If only Benny had listened to Solomon.  He said in verse10—“My son if sinners entice you, do not consent…”.’vs 15 also…  But Benny didn’t know Solomon and the only adults in his life were all addicts and lost in the creases of criminal activity.  This is a long story with a happy ending because after years and years of reform schools, jail time and big-time gang violence, he met a nice woman and found God and actually got involved in Sunday school…

Solomon’s message is for all of us today no matter our age or background.  Live your life with the fear of the Lord.   Listen to your parents and have the courage to resist the dark side of life. These aren’t just words for street thugs; this is advice from a wise man who had seen it all.  His own dad was a powerful man who had committed murder and adultery but who had confessed his crimes to the Almighty and found for forgiveness.  Solomon urges all of us to put God first in our lives and to turn away from the evil that tempts us every day.

**I admire Merle Haggard.  He had such a rough start in life.  He was born in a converted boxcar in California. His father died of a brain hemorrhage when he was young and his life seemed to spiral downward for years and years.  Arrested and jailed many times over, it wasn’t until he was about 23, after a week in solitary confinement in San Quentin prison and then watching one of his buddies namedRabbit die on death row that he decided to change his life.  He learned to sing and play the guitar and he listened to Johnny Cash play at San Quentin, he began a recording career.  He never forgot his upbringing.  One of his early hits began this way:  I turned twenty-one in prison doing life without parole. No one could steer me right but Mama tried…That seems to come right out of Proverbs 1 where Solomon said that you should listen to your mother and if you don’t you’ll simply end up ambushing your own life! (v18). 

I was impressed by how Merle Haggard turned his life around and I invited him to join us today and to sing his song that so embodies the words of Solomon. …

(I played this tune in church)–Merle Haggard singing Mama Tried released in 1968…

Let’s sum up Solomon’s Straight Talk—

  1. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.  (v7).  It seems so simple and basic.  Just find the Lord early in your life and set your heart on pleasing Him. **There is no better place than SS to make this happen.  My whole life was changed by simply attending SS.  It was there that I played with other kids, sat in little classes taught by loving adults.  It was in SS that I learned to do Bible drills,find and memorize verses, do arts and crafts that pointed me to the Lord.  It was in SS that I was challenged to be the youth preacher when I was in high school—a job nobody else would take.  I did it and I loved it.  It was in SS that got little pins for attendance and it was in SS that I learned the basic truths of the Gospel.

Solomon would have loved  SS because that is where you learn the fear of the Lord and love of Christ and joy of the church.  And it was in SS that the street thug Benny Ives from Mississippi finally found his freedom.

  1. Honor and learn from your parents—your father and mother (vs 8-9). Benny Ives had no real parents. The closest thing he had were adoptive adults who were all addicts.  Parenting is such an important skill.     *I could always tell in my class of 8th graders at school who came from a good family.  Those parents always came to the open house and wanted me the teacher to know them. Kids from families with good parents usually behaved better and took their education more seriously.

Parents are like guiding lights that keep us on the right path. When the temptations of the dark world ensnare us, and social pressures summon us to do wrong, parents step in and show the way.  If you had good parents, remember to thank God for them.  Not everybody is this fortunate.

**When I was in my 20s I remember going with Alice deep inside ofLuray Caverns.  Down and around we went further into the labyrinth of narrow winding paths. Finally, after about 20 minutes of starring atstalagmitesand listening to the gurgles of water in the distance, the guide stopped and did something that nearly killed me—literally.  He turned off his flashlight and plunged us all into the pitch black that only a cave can deliver.  In an instant, my heart began to race, and perspiration bubbled up on my arms and forehead.  I began hyper ventilating, unable to breathe.  Panic overwhelmed me, and I wanted to run, but I couldn’t see any escape.

This is the effect of living in a world without parents who know the way forward and who are guiding lights.  Parents guide.  It was what they do and kids need that.  They even need it when they become adults. We still get calls from our grown kids when they seem lost or perplexed or in some type of danger.

Solomon reminds us that parents are invaluable and they are the key to avoiding endless troubles in life.

  1. And finally, Solomon tells to have the courage at any age to learn to say NO to temptations that we know will lead us astray.  He tells us in v 15—“My son, do not walk in the way with them.  Keep your feet from their path.” Solomon’s advice is simple.  Just say no like Jesus did in the wilderness where He wandered for 40 days.  Every time the Devil dangled some tempting offer before him, Jesus resisted.  It’s a basic skill but its an essential one.  It takes courage to say no when others are doing wrong.  But Solomon had an unusual take on what was really going on.  He said inverse 18—These people who rush toward trouble are really  ”ambushing their own lives.”

*It was Nancy Reaganwho had the famous slogan “Just Say No!” to drugs.  Much of the media and the world laughed at her naivety for creating such a silly slogan.  Kids can’t do that the experts said.  And maybe that was true, but Solomon seems to be saying the same thing.  I could paraphrase verse ten by saying, “My son, if sinners entice you, ”Just say no.”

Conclusion:

So let’s sum up Solomon’s Straight Talk to Street Thugs and the rest of us.

  1. Put God in the center of your life.  It might be old fashioned, but there is something powerful about living a life that is centered around the divine.
  2. Listen to and value your parents. They know a lot more than you think.
  3. Learn how to have personal courage. Just say no when temptation strikes.

The Search for Happiness

The Search for Happiness. 1 Timothy 4:12-16. DBC—October 21, 2018. David R Denny PhD
Happiness

Introduction:  On a scale of 1-10 rate yourself right now on personal happiness.  Tuck that number away.  No one has to see it except you.   *There is an article in Psychology Today entitled Ten Simple Ways to Find Happiness.   One of them applies to our text today.  #6 on the list is Find Purpose.  The writer says this:  “Those who believe they are contributing to the well-being of humanity tend to feel better about their lives.  Most people want to be part of something greater than they are, simply because it’s fulfilling.”        

            Our text today is all about finding that purpose in your life.  Finding what it is that makes you happy.  Everybody has some gift within them that they excel at, something they are uniquely qualified to do that benefits the world and makes you happy in the process.  What is that thing in your life?  That is something we want to find out this morning.

            I have a feeling after reading our text today that Timothy, the young pastor of the church in Ephesus is a little unhappy. He has lost his way.  He has forgotten his gift.  And this troubles Paul greatly.  We know that some elders in the congregation were looking down on Timothy because he was so much younger than they were.  I think this was having an impact on Timothy who was doing his very best to lead the church forward.

            But there is another hint about Timothy’s well-being tucked away in the Greek text of verse 14.  *My little red Greek book.  I remembered a very important Greek lesson that my old professor Dr. John Burns taught us at the seminary.  I even marked it in my little red Greek book.  I noticed in the front cover of this book that I had stamped my address on it.  5900 Rhonda Road, Terrace Apt., Lynchburg Va.I had just gotten married and we lived in a tiny apartment in the basement of a large house in a quaint neighborhood near the school.  The Greek lesson that my professor taught us this day in class was that sometimes an imperative verb has to be translated with the word STOP.  And 1 Timothy 4:14 is one of these places.  The best way to translate verse 14 is this:  “Timothy, stop neglecting the gift that is within you.”

            I find this statement so troubling and sad. Paul had found young Timothy on his missionary journeys years earlier and was immediately impressed by the young man. He was so fond of him he led him to Christ and then invited him to follow along on the missionary journeys ahead. Paul became very attached to him. He had so much promise.  He was a natural leader and teacher.  This gift had come to Timothy directly from God and through the laying on of hands by the influential men who supported Paul’s ministry (v.14).   It was the gift that made Timothy happy.  But recently he had stopped using it.  When he spoke in the church his face betrayed a tinge of depression and his sermons dragged. He had a gift for these things, but he had laid his gift aside and now he merely went through the motions.  And this is what is sad.  Timothy was no longer happy!  His gift had withered away.  And this is what prompted Paul to say “Timothy, STOP neglecting your gift.”

     *This summer I had a beautiful pot of cornflowers only my back deck.   I loved looking at them.  They were bright and cheerful.  I was a little haphazard about watering though.  I would give them a sip of water every once in a while.  I didn’t have time for watering.  But I sure enjoyed the effervescent blooms.  One day I went out to sit beside the flower pot and I noticed they were dead.  The blush of life was gone.  I had done the very thing Timothy had done.  I had neglected them.  That is the meaning of the Greek word here in verse 14.  And it is Paul who saw it at once when he returned to the church from his travels.  And it was Paul who commanded the Timothy to STOP DOING THIS!  “Stop neglecting your gift, Timothy.”  You’re a natural at preaching and exhorting others to love life. So get back to it.

But wait.  It was not enough to just urge Timothy to find his gift again.  He said another fascinating thing in the opening words of verse 15.  He said to Timothy.  “I want you to pour yourself into your old gifts.  Get yourself all lathered up and excited about it” ( 15 ταῦτα μελέτα ἐν τούτοις ἴσθι). This is the very word that is used in Psalm 2.  “Why are the nations in an uproar and the people so excited in their hatred of God?”  And it was this very Ps 2 text that was repeated in Acts 4 after Peter and John had been released from jail for healing the lame man at the temple.  The saw how worked up all of the people of Jerusalem were against Jesus and the work of the Spirit.——“Timothy, I want you to be like this, frenzied almost about your gift.”

        *I still remember to this very day how worked up my old high school basketball coach used to get at halftime if we were losing. He would come storming into the locker room, slam the door and stare at us without a word for a few seconds. Then he would kick a chair across the room, and when that didn’t seem to rouse us enough he would slam his fist into a locker.

       This is the urgency Paul is commanding Timothy to have.  Timothy, revive your gift.  Put your heart and soul in it.  It is the very thing was made you so happy before.  Stop neglecting it.

Application:

      Now let’s shift our attention away from Timothy and back to us.  What is the one thing you love to do?  Are you still doing it?  If you neglect your talent, you will lose it.  —*I loved to play the cornet in high school.  I played all the time.  But at some point in the past, I laid it down and now I can’t even find my old horn.

            Paul said something very important to one of his other congregations.  He said to the Corinthian church, “All of you have a gift.  You need to find it and pull it out.  Dust it off and use it again. It will bring you happiness and purpose.  And then Paul did something very creative to get his message across.  He created a little play and all of the actors were body parts.  Yes.  That sound strange but look at 1 Corinthians 12 and you will see this playful side of Paul. —-Mr. Foot comes out first and looking very gloomy says “I am not much use to anybody.  I am not a hand.  Everybody knows how valuable a hand is.  It can do everything.  But I’m just a foot.”

            And then Ms. Ear comes out on the stage.  “Man, I know how you feel.  I’m just a big old ear.  I’m nothing like an eye.  Eyes are so useful.  They can see everything, and you can put makeup on them etc. But what good is an ear.”

            Paul closes the play by stepping up to the mike and saying loud and clear—Ears and feet are just as important hands and eyes.  Everybody has a gift.  Timothy has a gift but he neglected it.  You have a gift.  Stir it up. Bring it back to life.

            This is so important in the church.  We all have a place here and everyone can do something for the greater good.

Conclusion:

      What was your happiness number this morning when you rated yourself?  True happiness comes from serving others and using your unique talents for good in the church and in your community.  Dust off your gift and then put it to use again.  And let’s all go down to Timothy’s church and listen to him now that he’s back on track and using his talents.

Living Youthfully

Living Youthfully—1 Timothy 4:12—Drummontown Baptist Church—Accomac Va 23301 October 14, 2018—David R. Denny PhD

How many of you would like to look 10-20 years younger?  Well, this is your lucky day.  All you have to for this to happen is to listen carefully to my sermon and take mental notes.  It always pays to go to church.  There is no charge for this secret to youthfulness.  It is a gift from me to you.

*I don’t think I’ve ever watched the Shark Tank.  This is a tv show where 5 rich entrepreneurs listen to a business proposal from some rookie who hopes to strike it rich.  If they like it, they will invest and help to launch the dream. I read a recent news story about this show.  Two young women had an idea for a facial cream.  Rub this cream on your face daily and it will literally remove wrinkles and restore a baby’s complexion to your weary face.  When they finished their presentation, all five members of the Star Tank bought in—instantly!  All of the movie stars are now using it.  (For a small fee I will happy to give you the name —Livali—of this product).

*I searched online for secrets to staying young.  Someone interviewed several centenarians in Okinawa, Japan.  All were over 100 years old and still quite youthful. One of their secrets is just so down to earth.  When they eat, they always stop when they 80% full. They never eat to capacity.  They also ate more plants than meat, got the belly fat off, and used their brains.


In our text today, Timothy had just the opposite problem.  He wasn’t old and wanting to be young.  He was too young as the pastor of the church in Ephesus and so many of the older men were looking down on him. READ TEXT—4:12—“Don’t let anyone ‘despise’καταφρονείτω.your youthfulness.  This unique word means literally to “think down”.  Its a cruel way of sizing up someone you don’t like and trying to demean them.   This is actually just plain bullying.  (I was glad to see that Melania Trump is involved in an anti-bullying campaign saying she knows what it feels like to be bullied herself).

Paul is very upset at this. I can tell by reading his words.  He commands Timothy, using the imperative mode, to never let anyone do this to him.  Rise above it Timothy, he says to the young pastor.  —-And then Paul creates a fascinating ingredients list for positive youthful living.  And so let’s look quickly at the five ingredients in Paul’s forever young secret cream.  Each day this week, get up and immerse yourself in Paul’s secret for youthful living and observe the effect upon your life.

 

  1. Be positive and helpful in what you say to others.ἐνλόγῳ, The old playground taunt went this way:  Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.  A writer on workplace culture rephrased it this way:  “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can break my heart.”

*On a customer service blog, there were 25 top words that resonated with customers. The top three were: Definitely—I will definitely make sure that it gets done 2.  Absolutely—I absolutely agree with you.  3.  Certainly—I can certainly help you etc.  etc..

Paul says to Timothy—Don’t worry about your critics.  Just let your words be gold and you will see them take effect over a long time.

  1. Live your words. Let your behavior prove your character.  The word here for behavior ἐν ἀναστροφῇ, is Peter’s favorite word.  (“Up—Turn”). Peter uses it 8 times in his two short letters. Why?  Because behavior tells the world who you really are.

*I watched a guy doing some basic Yoga moves the other day. On one Yoga exercise, he started low and swung his arms up high very slowly breathing carefully.  This word means a new inward change charges through you and results in positive, spiritual behavior.

Paul says to Timothy.  Just live your beliefs.  Let the world around you and these old critics in the church see that are you serious about serving God.  You’re not just a charlatan or a pretender.—Do this and your youthfulness will shine through to the world about you.

  1. Love more, hate less. ἐν  ἀγάπῃ,    Frowning can cause wrinkles!  And anger can make you age faster.  In the British Medical Journal Thorax, scientists found that anger and hostility are associated with a host of long-term health problems.

Paul’s advice to young Timothy was simple.  Just love more, Timothy.  Put aside your anger toward those who are against you.  When people resist you, just determine in your heart to retaliate with love.

* My tuna sub at Was Mart.  I waited for five minutes while the lady counted her change 10 times the register.  Finally, another lady showed up and with a smirk just stared at me at the preparation area.  No greeting. No pleasantries.  Now words period.  Just staring waiting for me to make a tuna move.—I didn’t say anything.  I didn’t show much love but I didn’t get mad.

But Paul goes further with Timothy—Return Love when you’re mistreated. Not easy but it leads to youthfulness.   Love more—hate less.

  1. Practice having more faith.   ἐν πίστει,  What was the one thing that upset Jesus more than others?  It was when His disciples or followers demonstrated little faith.  Jesus found it so hard to understand this.  Faith just came naturally to Him.  (Matt 8:26). “He said to them, Why are you afraid, you men of little faith”?      

          Living by faith runs contrary to the modern mind.  We want to be able to explain everything.  We prefer logic and facts.  But Jesus preferred faith.  And he passed that lesson on to Paul who now passed it on to Timothy.  “Timothy, he said, when the critics say it can’t be done or it won’t work, just smile and believe in your heart.  Have faith.

It’s a simple yet profound truth.  Living by faith means we walk hand in hand with God trusting that He can lead the way through this difficult world.  It’s a secret to youthfulness.  It’s daring and bold, and refreshing.  Practice living by faith each day, trusting in God’s care for your life and believing in miracles.

  1. Live a life of Purity. ἐν  ἁγνείᾳ.  This is a rare word but it should not be a rare trait in your life. Purity means casting out the dark and negative influences that abound in this modern world.

*In the OT times there was a unique pledge of purity that individuals often used when they wanted to draw nearer to God. It was called the Nazarite Vow. From the Hebrew word Nazir—separated ones.  Numbers chapter 6 explains this ritual.  If you chose to draw near to God or needed His help, you could take the Nazarite Vow.  You would not drink any alcohol during the vow time. You would never go near a dead body and you would not cut your hair.

Men and women could take the vow.  It was always voluntary and set numbers were created so it didn’t go on forever. Hannah took such a vow in 1 Samuel and Samson did so in Judge 13:5.  Samson was known for his long uncut hair.  This was part of the Nazarite Vow.

We don’t have to take a vow.  But living a dedicated life to God, a pure and chaste life, is one of the commands to young Timothy.

Conclusion: So here you have the secrets to youthful living:

  1. Be positive and helpful in what you say.
  2. Live your words—Behavior
  3. Love more, hate less
  4. Practice living by faith
  5. Live a life of Purity.

Do these things and join ranks with youthful Timothy.  Do these things and watch the wrinkles fall off your soul.

Anticipation

They aren’t flying.

They are just sitting at the end of the driveway in a little forlorn huddle, about ten of them.

No more darting and diving in front of the porch. No more shameless displays of acrobatic somersaults.  Ten swallows just sitting in deep contemplation at the end of my driveway staring at the sky.

Anticipation.

Will they leave today? Will they linger a little while longer?

I sat motionless on the porch and hoped they would stay. These little friends have brought me such joy every morning. If I ever woke with night burdens still pulsing it only took a visit to the morning porch to reassure me. They always greeted me with chirps and drive by wing salutes to awaken my heart to the possibilities of a new day.

It hurts to see them motionless at the road’s edge as if somehow childhood was slipping away and the long flight to somewhere haunted them.

Couldn’t they stay a little longer carefree and young? Does it have to change?

There is sadness in the air today, an anxious anticipation of a farewell that I don’t think I can avoid.  Still, they linger in the distance staring off into the mystery.

But wait.

They’re up.
They’re circling.
They’re coming this way slipping happily under the porch to their mud huts. I hear singing again!

The morning sun is now above the distant marsh pines, and I am happy.

I always hated goodbyes.

David R. Denny 2018

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https://www.amateurphotographer.co.uk/technique/wildlife_photography/photographing-swallows-60356

 

The Invitation

Bird feeder

I hung the invitation beneath the tree in the backyard and waited. I was so excited. Who would stop by, I wondered? I don’t get many visitors way out here by the sea, so I was hopeful.

But nobody came.  Nobody.

Each morning for the first few days since I had hung the invitation beneath the tree on a little golden hook I had screwed into the low hanging branch, I had waited breathlessly. Somebody will come, I said to myself. And then when they do come, I will greet them, and we will be friends.

But nobody came.  Nobody.

Perhaps it was my fault, I thought. Maybe I had been a bit vague about who could come. I hadn’t meant to exclude anyone, but the feeder was built for the songbirds only. The little-spiraled wire that encircled the feeding tube was thin and delicate, so the invitation was for the smaller songbirds.

Each morning after my initial disappointments vanished, I checked the tube to make sure the birdseed was plentiful. It was. No one touched it. I also cleaned out the bird feeder that sat beside it keeping the water fresh.

Two days ago, when I rose with waning enthusiasm to check the feeder, I was so surprised. A little cardinal was on the wire pecking at one of the feeder holes. I stared through my binoculars so I wouldn’t disturb him. Finally, I thought, they’re coming. And they did. Soon the Brown-headed Nuthatch stopped for a snack along with a boisterous Northern Mockingbird.

Then something unusual happened. Some huge blackbirds sat nearby on a fence rail reading the invitation. They saw the fine wire and the tiny holes and sensed that they weren’t welcome. I stood back and wondered what they would do. I noticed they chatted furiously with one another, their conversation public and a bit edgy.

Then one flew over to the feeder and grasped the spiraled wire. It didn’t fit his oversized claws, but he was tenacious. He hovered, half-perched on the wire, wings fluttering to help him keep his balance. He tore at the feeder holes and poked out huge chunks of seed that fell to the ground.

At first, I was annoyed. These birds were too big, I thought. I hadn’t invited them. But then I slowly realized that they had determined that the invitation was for them.

I’m glad they come now. I’ve thought more about this whole thing, and I have decided that invitations should always be for everyone.

David R. Denny

 

Lucky Penny

Owl1

The claw marks on the front porch said it all–Owl.

And Penny was missing. She’s an indoor cat and hates to get her paws dirty. Each morning brings a feline routine that begins in front of her mirror grooming, getting the whiskers just right, fluffing up the hair on her elegant tail, etc. Toss her outside, and she’ll hate you for life.

But Penny was missing, and the ominous owl talon marks stretched from the door to the front steps. Off an on all night long we called from the porch our hands clenching the railing, our eyes searching the dark yard for any sign of movement. Our somber pleas blended with the distant voices of pond frogs and crickets who hadn’t seen her.

I tried consoling my wife while standing on top of the claw marks so she wouldn’t see the traces of nature’s cruelty. “Something has happened to her,” she wailed. Unable to summon a wise Greek proverb relevant to this emergency, I merely shrugged. “She’ll be fine. She’s just exploring.” Even I didn’t believe that.

After a fitful night of difficult sleep, I woke early and stepped outside. No Penny. The claw marks were fresh and deep. I pieced the crime together in my mind. The owl had studied her patterns of peering through the screen door. He had timed Penny’s brief dalliances with the outside world, her ever so short and tentative excursions a few paces from the door onto the porch.

He had watched, veiled behind pinecones and hunger, lurking. And as Penny played with a cricket just beyond the safety of the den door he struck, his threatening talons striking the jugular and dragging her across the rough boards into the upper branches of the marsh pines.

Just as I was preparing myself to call the undertaker, I saw a little paw flicker in the tall grass. And then came whiskers, a smirk, and a sarcastic trot past me into the house. I stood stunned.

I thought of asking her what happened, and fleshing out the power of needless fear, but she was in no mood for light chatter.

David R. Denny

The Roadster

The chrome engine rose
like a molten pyramid
out of a custom blue lagoon.

The top was down
and she sat beside me at a traffic light
preening.

Her silver hoop earrings gave her status.
I gave her a bucket seat
on a highway stage.

She took the lead part without prodding
nodding to the gawkers in the rusted heap
smoking and growling next to us.

She wore a short brim paper fedora
natural tone
with a broad black band
as wide as the Nile
tucked tight around the base.

Like a matinee idol on a red carpet,
she blew kisses to her fans
who pulled up,
horses wheezing and coughing.

I gave the roadster a little drink
shoving high octane bourbon down its gullet
and making the eight angry pistons jump and dance.

She liked that.  
Oh yea.
She liked that!

So I repeated the bar scene by
jamming another round of spirits down
my stallion’s throat pumping the pedal
with a lover’s vigor.

She pecked at my cheek
leaving red tire marks steaming.

The light turned green.

I wrapped a hot arm around her shoulder
and put her hand on the walnut shifter.

The white wall Hoosiers
torched the asphalt spitting up gravel
with an attitude
while she torched my soul in
the Roadster.

David R. Denny  (for Alice)

Roadster2