Cliff Barrows (1923-2016): A man of song. And the trombone.

Cliff Barrows (1923-2016): A man of song. And the trombone.

Clifford “Cliff” Barrows, long-time song leader for evangelist Billy Graham, died yesterday at the age of 93. He was part of a trio – along with Graham and singer George Beverly Shea – who defined large-scale Christian evangelism in the second half of the twentieth century. Graham, Shea and Barrows preached, sang and led singing before millions of people since they first worked together in 1946. The photo above shows Cliff Barrows leading singing at the 1946 Youth for Christ meeting in Seattle, Washington.

The newspapers today are full of tributes to Cliff Barrows and a good summary of his life and career is found in his obituary in the Charlotte (North Carolina) Observer. This was a Godly man who changed lives in many ways and he is more than deserving of all of the warm remembrances that are being written about him today.

But several years ago, I learned about a side of Cliff Barrows that most people had either not ever known about or had long forgotten: he played the trombone.

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I first learned that Cliff Barrows played trombone while touring the Billy Graham Center Museum at my undergraduate alma mater, Wheaton College (Illinois). As I came around a corner, I saw photographs of two men that were holding trombones: Homer Rodeheaver (I had never heard of him before) and Cliff Barrows (I didn’t know he had played trombone). I learned quickly that Rodeheaver was the trombone-playing song leader for evangelist Billy Sunday in the first third of the 20th century. And this realization – that the two most influential Christian evangelists of the 20th century were both named “Billy” and both had song leaders that played the trombone  – sent me running to learn more.

I turned my attention to Rodeheaver, a man who was a household name for decades but today has been largely forgotten. Here was a man who played the trombone for over 100 million people; his tremendous influence as a trombonist is incalculable. “Surely,” I thought, “there must be a story in all of this.” And indeed there was. It first led to my writing an article, “Homer Rodeheaver: Reverend Trombone” that was published in the Historic Brass Society Journal earlier this year. And, happily, it has now led to my co-authoring a book about Rodeheaver for University of Illinois Press with my friend, Kevin Mungons. We are, at this moment, deep into the process of writing the book and when it appears in a few years, it will be accompanied by a two-CD set of recordings of Rodeheaver singing, speaking and playing trombone. More on this in time! But while doing research about Rodeheaver at the Billy Graham Center Archives and at Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana (where Billy Sunday and Rodeheaver had their homes and archives for both Sunday and Rodeheaver are found) and the Winona History Center, photos of Cliff Barrows kept popping up. I needed to know more.

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As I researched Cliff Barrows, I learned that he had played trombone while growing up in Ceres, California. With his first wife, Billie (shown above, with Cliff Barrows and Billy Graham around 1946), Barrows worked with evangelist Jack Shuler. The Statesville (North Carolina) Record & Landmark newspaper had this to say about Cliff Barrows at one of Shuler’s meetings in an article from June 26, 1945:

The Barrows’ specialize in piano and trombone arrangements, and their duets and solos have made them friends of everyone who has attended their performances. It was ventured by one who attended the great Billy Sunday campaigns that Mr. Barrows is the equal of Homer Rodeheaver, song leader for the late evangelist, so skillfully does he lead the large crowds in congregational singing of hymns and choruses. Billie Barrows, who, by the way, has been Cliff’s wife for just 13 days, has thrilled young and old with her renditions of favorite songs at the piano.

The mentioning of Cliff Barrows in the same sentence with Homer Rodeheaver was no accident. On April 1, 2014, I interviewed Cliff Barrows and he spoke about Rodeheaver’s influence on his life and ministry:

Homer Rodeheaver  was a most wonderful man. He had a way of using a crowd to prepare them for Billy [Sunday] and Billy would get anxious; he’d want to get up and start to preach and Homer would turn around and say, “They ain’t ready yet.” So he’d pick up his trombone and say, “This is a Methodist trombone, it slips and slides all over the place.” . . . I never met a more gracious man. We had him come to every [Billy Graham] Crusade when he was alive until he died in 1955 and I went to his funeral. They asked me to stand by his casket at the piano at [his home at] Rainbow Point [in Winona Lake, Indiana] and lead some of his favorite songs. And I did. I led “Beyond the sunset, O blissful morning…”

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Unfortunately, there are no known recordings of Cliff Barrows playing the trombone. But there is a brief moment where he is seen on film with the trombone in his hands. The screenshot above is from a video of Cliff Barrows playing the trombone at the 1949 Christ for Greater Los Angeles Billy Graham Crusade. You’ll find the footage of Barrows at around 5:00 in the video (click on the link in the text above to view the complete film).

In my conversation with Cliff Barrows, his affection for the trombone was palpable. By that time, he had not played the trombone in many years. After the 1953 London Billy Graham Crusade, Graham and Barrows began making changes in their manner of presenting the Christian Gospel, creating their own style after having been compared so frequently to Sunday and Rodeheaver. By 1957, he had put the trombone down. Still, during our interview, he told me that he was holding a trombone in his lap that had been given to him by the 1950 Atlanta Billy Graham Crusade Choir, on which was inscribed the verse from Psalm 98:1: Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. As we spoke at that moment, Cliff Barrows was nearly blind and near the end of his life, yet when we talked about the trombone, he wanted it in his hands. Of Rodeheaver and the trombone, Cliff Barrows said, “Well, they are two of my best friends.”

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Cliff Barrows, like Homer Rodeheaver before him, found that the trombone was an effective tool in leading song for large groups of people. The photo above, from the 1946-1947 Youth for Christ meetings in England, show the young Billie Barrows, Billy Graham and Cliff Barrows standing out with their exuberant, youthful energy. In our interview, Cliff Barrows talked about how he used the trombone to lead singing:

I would play with the choir and bring the downbeat with my horn and when I would hold a long note, I’d hold it out with them and the horn was just a part of me. I felt so natural with it hanging on my arm.

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Of all of the photographs I have seen of Cliff Barrows, it is the one above, taken at the 1954 Billy Graham Crusade at the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki, Finland, that I like the best. Look at the tens of thousands of people sitting in the stadium. The infield is empty. And on the platform is Cliff Barrows, playing his trombone accompanied by an upright piano (see the enlargement, below). Two people playing a hymn tune. They are minuscule and nearly lost in the enormity of the crowd. But when a trombone was in his hand, Cliff Barrows knew how to make it sing.

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When my interview with Cliff Barrows was drawing to a close, I thanked him for his time and insights. But this humble man turned it around on me, and said,

You’re welcome, Brother Yeo. God bless you brother. Thank you for letting me visit with you.

And with that, two trombone players named Cliff Barrows and Douglas Yeo hung up the phone. Today, as I reflect on the life and ministry of Cliff Barrows, I am so grateful my life intersected with his for a brief moment, where our shared love of Jesus Christ, music and the trombone came together. It was Homer Rodeheaver who led me to Cliff Barrows, the same Homer Rodeheaver who was such an encouragement when Cliff Barrows was just beginning his ministry with Billy Graham. And like Rodeheaver, shown below with Billy Sunday (in a white suit standing behind Rodeheaver) at Winona Lake, Indiana in 1931, Cliff Barrows used the trombone as a tool for leading singing and for bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to millions of people. It’s something I’ll be doing this Sunday when, with my wife at the piano, I pick up my trombone and play the great song by George Beverly Shea and Rhea Miller, I’d Rather Have Jesus Than Silver or Gold as the offertory in our church’s Sunday morning service. At that moment, I certainly will be thanking God for the life, ministry and influence of Cliff Barrows, a man of song. And the trombone.

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[With thanks to the Billy Graham Center Archives and Winona History Center and Grace College for the photos that accompany this post.]

76 Trombones

76 Trombones

Last week I had the great pleasure of traveling to University of Illinois to take part in several immensely rewarding activities.

Over the years I have been a guest artist at dozens of schools, colleges and universities around the world. The opportunity to engage with students – whether in a lecture, performance, masterclass or, as was the case at University of Illinois, something completely different – is exceptionally rewarding and I always enjoy becoming part of the local musical culture when I am visiting.

The invitation to travel to Champaign-Urbana came from Scott Schwartz, Archivist for Music and Fine Arts and Director of the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music on the University of Illinois campus. Scott and I had met many years ago at the Great American Brass Band Festival in Danville, Kentucky, where I had presented a paper about the use of serpent and ophicleide in brass bands and I performed a solo on ophicleide accompanied by the Athena Brass Band.

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Scott asked if I would be interested in coming to Illinois to give a lecture/demonstration about early American trombone makers, their innovations and marketing strategies. The Sousa Archives had set up a very nice exhibit of six late-nineteenth and early-twentieth trombones as well as mouthpieces, catalogs, advertisements and other ephemera. In addition, we had selected six other instruments for me to play and demonstrate. Oh, and not to be lost in the moment is that the Chicago Cubs had just won baseball’s World Series and it seemed appropriate to make my Cubs hat part of the display.

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I always enjoy getting my hands on, talking about and playing old instruments, such as the alto valve trombone pictured above. The time at the Sousa Archives was very rewarding and was made more so because of the engaged audience and their great questions. the trombone exhibit will run for many more months along with an exhibit about the great American composer and bandmaster, Henry Fillmore. If you’re in the area, don’t miss it.

From the Sousa Archives I went to the University of Illinois School of Music where I gave a trombone masterclass. I worked with three talented students and also enjoyed getting together with my friend, Jim Pugh, who teaches jazz trombone and composition at University of Illinois. That was fun.

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I have known Jim for decades and have the utmost respect for him as a player and a person. Several years ago I reviewed his superb CD, X Over Trombone, and I consider him to be one of the most creative players – and composers – on the scene today. Despite our long friendship, we had never played together, so we started the masterclass with a performance of Charles Small’s duet Conversation.

The third piece of my University of Illinois trip was a performance with the Marching Illini Band under the direction of Barry Houser. As an event with another connection to my trombone lecture and masterclass, I led a group of 75 trombone players – both members of the Marching Illini Band and students from local high schools – in a performance of Meredith Wilson’s 76 Trombones to start the halftime show of the Illinois/Michigan State football game. 75 + me = 76 Trombones. That doesn’t happen every day. Click the video image below to see the whole halftime show; it begins with 76 Trombones, and continues with a tribute to the Chicago Cubs and much more.

Now, when you put 76 trombones on a football field accompanied by a marching band, that is one impressive sight and sound. My hat is off to the Marching Illini for inviting local high school trombone players to join with the 40 trombonists of the Illini Band to get us up to 76 trombone players. This is one fine band, and I was caught up in many of their great traditions. School spirit was alive and well; it was a great day of interaction for all of us and, hey, Illinois won the game. It must have been the trombones.

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I want to send a big THANK YOU to Scott Schwartz for making all of this happen, to Jim Pugh for his setting up the trombone masterclass and for playing Conversation with me, and to Barry Houser and all of the members of the Marching Illini Band for a great few days where we all came together in Illini blue and orange and celebrated the trombone. This was a memorable and very satisfying trip. Go Illini! I – L – L – – I – N -I !

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[And thanks to Scott Schwartz and Grace Talusan for the photos.]

B.B.B.

B.B.B.

When you pick up a hymnal or book of songs, you usually find the composer and author of the lyrics listed at the top of the page, near the title. When both music and lyrics are written by the same person, often just the person’s initials appear. Today, November 7, marks what would have been the 100th birthday of one of the most popular and beloved writers of gospel songs, Beatrice Bush Bixler, or B.B.B.

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Bea was a gifted and prolific song writer. After attending Houghton College for two years, she toured with evangelist Burton B. Bosworth in the late 1930s and early 1940s; Bosworth was a trombone player in addition to a speaker and it was there that Bea first accompanied a trombonist. It was not to be her last time doing so. She continued and finished her studies at Nyack Missionary Training Institute, later renamed Nyack College, where my wife’s father met her when he was in school there after World War II. She went on to publish dozens of gospel songs including Life is a Symphony, I Am Not Worthy, It May Be Today and The Breaking of the Bread, many of these were featured in the song  books by Singspiration, Favorites. These songs were particularly popular in the 1940s through 1970s in church meetings and revivals. Singspiration published two books of her music, now out of print, that contain many of her most beloved songs.

Bea Bixler had a style that was all her own. I’ve often described her voice as that of a rough-hewn Kate Smith. Her piano playing was, at times, typical of the style used among evangelical Christian pianists of her time – fingers running up and down the keyboard, huge waves of sound that swept over you like a mighty wave. But Bea also had a beautiful, poetic piano touch that could melt your heart. She recorded two LPs of her singing, also long out of print.

Here is a track of her singing (and playing piano) on the Bibletone Records LP, BL-1519, her song, It May Be Today:

I had the pleasure – no, the joy – of meeting Bea Bixler many  years ago at the Hepzibah Heights Camp in Monterey, Massachusetts. From that first meeting our family forged a deep friendship, one that came to particular fruition when I recorded my CD, Cornerstone, in 1999. That recording featured music that my wife and I had played in churches over the years and I wanted to use four pianists with whom I had collaborated many times over the years. In addition to my wife, Patricia, the other pianists were Stephen E. Gerber, Wesley Ross and Bea Bixler. The photo below shows all of us at the recording session on November 4, 1999:

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Cornerstone recording session, November 4, 1999. Sonic Temple, Roslindale, Massachusetts. Left to right: Douglas Yeo, Patricia Yeo, Beatrice Bush Bixler (seated), Stephen E. Gerber, Wesley Ross

Bea died in 2013 but her influence is still felt today by those who knew her and heard her music. The wife of a Christian and Missionary Alliance pastor, she loved Jesus deeply, and she was vivacious and energetic. I treasure the times our family had with her, enjoying the stories of how she came to write her songs, collaborating with her in music, and listening to her robust laugh.

Click here to hear a track from my CD, Cornerstone, with me on bass trombone and Bea Bixler at the piano, playing her song I Am Not Worthy. She improvised her accompaniment at the recording session; it makes me smile as I remember this remarkable woman. Beatrice Bush Bixler, B.B.B. A dear friend and saint of the Lord who would have been 100 years old today.

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Conversation

Conversation

I know I’m not the only person who thinks that Conversation by Charles Small is the finest duet ever written for tenor and bass trombone. I’ve played this piece dozens of times with dozens of tenor trombonists over the year, beginning with the first time I played it in a recital at Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore with my then Baltimore Symphony trombone colleague, Jim Olin in 1983. I recorded Conversation in 1996 with my Boston Symphony colleague, Ronald Barron and that recording was released on my CD, Proclamation, and Ron’s CD, In the Family. This past spring, I played it at Arizona State University on a doctoral recital given by my one of my students, Tim Hutchens. In fact, I will be playing it again this Friday, November 4, with jazz trombonist Jim Pugh at a masterclass I’m giving at University of Illinois School of Music at 2:30 PM in the University of Illinois School of Music Auditorium (the class is free and open to the public). Charlie wrote the duet for himself and bass trombonist David Taylor and has become a regular feature on student and professional trombone recitals for many years.

I have always played Conversation off set of parts that were done from Charlie Small’s original manuscript by a copyist (shown at the top of this article). But that version was not widely available, and in 1993, Conversation was published by Kagarice Brass Editions. The duet saw several printings by KBE but each had particular problems – things that were missing or not clear. Kagarice Brass Editions is now part of Ensemble Publications, and I asked the owner of Ensemble Publications, my friend Chuck DePaolo, if he would be interested in making a new printing of Conversation with Charlie Small’s approval. Chuck thought it would be great to to this so a few days ago, I called up Charlie Small – he lives here in Arizona, not far from where my wife and I live – and yesterday, we spent a several hours going over Conversation with a fine toothed comb.

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It should be said that spending time with Charlie Small is a rare and truly wonderful thing. A member of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in the 1940s when he was a teenager, Charlie has been a major influence on the trombone scene for many decades. Conversation is only one of his many compositions and it was great not only to sit down and talk about his piece, but hear Charlie tell some great stories as well. We went through Conversation measure by measure. After several hours of working together, Charlie felt confident that we had identified all of the things that needed to be changed/fixed in this new edition. It’s now been sent off to the publisher and very shortly, a version of Conversation that reflects the composer’s intentions will soon be available. At last!

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They will come for you

They will come for you

Today, October 31, is Reformation Day, commemorating the 499th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. The day is associated with Martin Luther’s Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences which became popularly known as the 95 Theses. Luther sent this document to the Archbishop of Maenz, Albert of Brandenburg,  on October 31, 1517, and a few days later,  posted it on the door of the Church of All Saints in Wittenberg, Germany. This event is considered to be the spark that led to the Protestant Reformation, a major reform movement in the Christian church.

In our church’s worship service yesterday morning, we sang Luther’s great hymn,  Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, usually translated into English as A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. The image above shows the original version of the tune in the handwriting of Luther’s friend, Johann Walter. Luther composed the words and melody sometime between 1527 and 1529 and it has been used in churches around the world since that time, in particular since Frederick Hedge made his English versification in 1853. It was also used by Johann Sebastian Bach in his Cantata for Reformation Day, BWV 80.

When I was a student at Wheaton College, I memorized the four verses of this hymn for extra credit in a class. While I was grateful for the extra credit, I’m very glad I took the time to memorize A Mighty Fortress. I call it to mind every day.

Translations of texts into English that originally appeared in other languages help us to sing songs with understanding. But in the case of A Mighty Fortress, the standard English translation of the fourth verse has always struck me as being overly pleasant; it does not truly reflect the seriousness of Luther’s original text.

Here is what we often find in English hymnals for the fourth version of A Mighty Fortress Is Our God:

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;

The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him who with us sideth.

Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also.

The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still:

His kingdom is forever.

This is all well and good, but the phrase, “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also,” sounds like we should simply let things go – let go of things, even our own lives, since they are, in the big scheme of things, not as important as knowing that one is a Child of God.

But Luther’s original German text includes something very important. A better, more literal rendering of this verse in English looks something like this:

That word they must let stand, no thanks to their own efforts.

He is with us indeed according to the plan, with his Spirit and gifts.

Though they take from us our body, possessions, honor, child and wife,

Let them have all these things; they gain nothing from them: 

There still remains for us the Kingdom.

Do you see the difference? It’s not a matter of just “letting things go.” No, THEY TAKE FROM US OUR BODY, POSSESSIONS, HONOR, CHILD AND WIFE. They will come for you and all that you hold to be dear. Persecution WILL come. The things that are most valuable and important to us – including our own lives – are not simply things that we will have to let go of. No. They will be taken from us. Yet God, who rules over this fallen, messed up world, reminds us that even when you have lost everything, you still have the most important thing: the Kingdom of God. This is a tremendous comfort for the Christian.

We live in troubling times. Increasingly, in some parts of the world, to speak of the Christian faith leads to persecution, even death. Luther’s great text reminds us of this; it is as fresh today as when it was written centuries ago.

Luther’s first verse, as it usually appears in English, is a good translation that captures the original intent of the text even as it is in rhyming verse, and it is a great reminder for those who know and follow Christ. Amidst the craft and power of the ancient foe, the evil one, Satan himself, God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble (Psalm 46:1):

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;

Our helper He amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.

For still our ancient foe, doth seek to work us woe – 

His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,

On earth is not his equal.

Likewise, the second verse – and this is the verse I call to mind every day – tells us who it is that will conquer this evil one:

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing,

Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing.

Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is he;

Lord Sabaoth his name, from age to age the same;

And he must win the battle.

Today, the 499th anniversary of Reformation Day, reminds us that in the midst of the trials and tribulations of life, God is there, our mighty fortress.

luther_eine_feste_burg_02Martin Luther’s Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, published by Josef Klug, 1533.

Location. Location. Location.

Location. Location. Location.

It has often been said that there are three rules about buying real estate:

  1. Location
  2. Location
  3. Location

OK, it’s an old joke. But it happens to be true.

Recently we’ve been traveling and have visited two places that are in spectacular locations. And they have the hallmarks of important, memorable buildings that stay in our minds in the midst of the chaotic, frenetic pace of life. One is simple and rough hewn. The other is modern and sleek. Both speak to timeless things. Both are reminders  for us to take moments in our busy lives to find places where we can stop, think, reflect and, after renewal and a deep breath, push on.

The Chapel of the Transfiguration in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, shown above. Location. Location. Location. This simple Chapel was built in 1925; it is a survivor made of lodge pole pine. Through decades of ice, wind, sun and snow, through the cycle of the seasons – death and new life – it has stood as a place of worship and contemplation in the midst of the exceptional beauty of the Grand Teton mountain range. The altar frames this spectacular view:

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I’m sure every visitor to the Chapel of the Transfiguration takes this photograph. And why not. With the Grand Teton centered above the altar cross, our eyes go up. Up. It reminds us of the words of Psalm 121 (KJV):

I will lift mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.

He will not suffer thy foot to be moved; he that keepeth thee will not slumber.

Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD is thy keeper: the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand.

The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.

The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.

The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

As soon as you enter the Chapel you are aware of two stained glass windows – one on the left and one on the right – beautiful, artistic reminders of the natural beauty you see ahead through the window behind the altar:

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The Chapel of the Transfiguration in the Grand Tetons of Wyoming. Stop, think, reflect, renew, push on.

Closer to home is a very different kind of Chapel in a very different kind of location.

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The Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona, Arizona, shown above. Location. Location. Location. The Chapel was built in 1956, perched high on a promontory of rock. It appears to be emerging out of its surroundings and in fact, until you get right up to it, you’re not even aware that it is there, so well does it integrate with all that is around. Here is a view of the Chapel from the Bell Rock/Courthouse Butte trail, below; the Chapel is in the exact center of the photograph:

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Can you see it? Just a tiny speck of tan colored rock, but it is the Chapel of the Holy Cross, disguised as part of nature’s landscape. Inside, its altar frames a dramatic scene:

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Secure on the rocks, the Chapel stands as a sentinel, looking out at the massive red rock formations of Sedona, not far from the Grand Canyon, majestic, solid, immovable. We are reminded of the words of the Psalmist (Psalm 93:1-2, NIV):

 The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed in majesty and armed with strength; indeed, the world is established, firm and secure.

Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity.

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Stop, think, reflect, renew, push on.

Paul Hindemith had it right with the closing words of his poem, The Posthorn:

Your task it is, amid confusion, rush and noise,

To find the lasting, calm and meaningful and, finding it anew,

To hold and treasure it.