Ordinary Legends: A Review of T.S. 44 – The Button Tree Prophet, by William Spires

One of those unfortunate traits of any generation is the tendency to ignore our elders. Those who take time to talk with and listen to parents, grandparents, and other older people often come away with unexpected blessings. After all, they have lived through experiences that everyone must encounter at some point, and thus have acquired valuable lessons to share with younger people who have yet to go through those experiences. Of course, that is what we expect. What surprises us is that the ordinary life experience of our elders frequently turns out to be the stuff of legends. Will Spires discovered this in conversation with his father. What he learned about his father’s childhood in Columbia, South Carolina, during World War II inspired him to build a coming-of-age story that resonates with readers on many levels.

Spires’ first novel, T.S. 44: The Button Tree Prophet, investigates the world of an ordinary boy from a working-class family. But then, what is ordinary about a boy losing his father on the eve of his tenth birthday? Perhaps that is what makes this novel so compelling from the first page. Travis Shipley’s life is already what contemporary readers would describe as underprivileged. His family is poor, his parents are uneducated, the Great Depression has drained his country of much of its vitality, and global war is redefining every facet of human interaction. In a world where everything that once was normal is now in transition, the merciless scythe of cancer snatches away the greatest source of stability in his young life. All that he has to help him find the right direction is a button his father gives him just before his death, charging him with the task of finding out what it means to be a button.

How Travis adjusts to this new reality is the vehicle by which Spires conducts us on a captivating journey through the convulsions impacting the urban, industrial, segregated American South of the mid-twentieth century. The fact that this Southern society is decidedly Christian – at least culturally – explains why this is a story of faith. Few stories of the South in that era could be otherwise. Christianity defines the culture for all the characters, regardless of their color, economic status, education, or even religion. That is where we find the first unique point of Spires’ novel. As Travis moves through the fog of grief and the daily reality of grinding poverty, he encounters help from unexpected sources. Chief among them is Jacob Meadows, a disabled World War I veteran who serves as the local truant officer. We quickly learn that Meadows, an observant Jew, is somehow able to move comfortably between the Jewish and Christian communities. This is surprising on several counts. First, the average reader likely is not aware that the Jewish community of South Carolina has ancient roots, going back to the earliest colonial days. Spires provides the historical background, establishing credible reason for Meadows to be simultaneously Jewish and Southern. That helps explain the next unusual point: how Jews interact with Christians in the American South. It is actually not so unusual. As a minority in every place where they have lived through the ages, Jews have learned to interact with the larger community, and simultaneously find space to be Jewish. Jacob Meadows helps us understand how that worked out in South Carolina. But then there is the strangest point of all: how this Jewish man can interact with Christians on their own terms. Spires provides not only a plausible explanation, but a very strong one. The answer comes from Meadows’ experience on the battlefields of France in the First World War, where differences of belief and practice fade in the presence of a brotherhood born of sacrificial love extending beyond the grave.

That is what makes Jacob Meadows the perfect mentor for young Travis. As unlikely as it may seem, it is he who is best equipped to help the lad through the inevitable questioning of and anger at God for the hard trials he endures. Meadows comes in at precisely the right moment, helping not only Travis, but his mother. Sarah Shipley is a woman already worn down by the ordeal of caring for her dying husband. Her new role as single parent of a precocious and willful son is all the more difficult because of her long hours at work earning just enough to pay the bills. The Shipley family needs stability and normalcy, which Meadows is willing and able to provide it in good measure. Others assist him, although not always by design. One is Alfred Patterson, a hard-nosed journalist who learns of Travis’ story, and another is Annie Wright, Travis’ classmate and neighbor, who is dealing with her own father issues. Then there is the Ragman, a black shoeshine artist whose long career as a railroad porter and as a pastor give him just the right words to speak into Travis’ life at the moment he needs them.

The encounter with the Ragman stands as one of the most poignant episodes of T.S. 44. This is where Spires deals with one of the ugliest features of the American South: segregation. Spires does not hit it head on. In fact, he does not hit any issue head on. Many aspects of life in that era are uncomfortable and even reprehensible by contemporary standards. The secondary status of African-Americans is but one. So also are the divisions between rich and poor, educated and uneducated, the powerful and the weak, men and women, and Christian and Jew. Moreover, the ubiquitous presence of cigarettes is something contemporary readers will find uncomfortable and even disgusting. Yet all these are part of the reality of mid-twentieth century America. Spires incorporates all of that reality into his story without judgment. That is one of the strengths of his work; had he engaged in judgement, his novel would be nothing more than a shrill cry for social justice that would bypass the deeper human truths he conveys. Thus we see the poignancy of the Ragman’s meeting with Travis: an old black man and a young white boy connecting on very human terms, even in defiance of the color barrier and other realities that otherwise would keep them apart.

In time, Travis finds an answer to the question of what it means to be a button. The Ragman is one of those who help him find that answer. Along the way, Travis not only receives help from unexpected sources, but finds himself helping others in unexpected ways. In the end, a tragedy that should never befall one so young imparts a life lesson that few learn even in old age: every one of us impacts multitudes of others in ways we usually do not realize. What Travis Shipley learns is that it is better to make that impact a good one by easing the burdens of others whenever possible. This opens him to what may only be described as a miraculous encounter with his Creator. Is that miracle believable? By the time Travis is ready to walk it out, the question is turned on its head. He has already come through improbable circumstances just by making himself available for God to use as He pleases. In a sense, his very survival to the age of ten is miraculous. Why, then, should he question Divine intervention at all? If it comes in small things like responding with compassion to the presence of a mouse in his room, then surely it is there in moments of great need. And that is how Travis Shipley, the unlikely Button Tree Prophet of Columbia, South Carolina, teaches us what it means to be human.

T.S. 44: The Button Tree Prophet is available at Key of David Publishing (https://www.keyofdavidpublishing.com/).


© Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog, 2018.  Permission to use and/or duplicate original material on The Barking Fox Blog is granted, provided that full and clear credit is given to Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Understanding the Seed of Abraham: A Review of Redeemed Israel – Reunited and Restored By Batya Ruth Wootten

One of these days, the people of God will be amazed to learn that any power Satan retains is only that which God allows him to have, or that God’s people themselves give to him. That is the testimony of Scripture (Job 1:6-12, 2:1-10; Isaiah 14:12-20, Colossians 2:8-15; Ephesians 4:7-10; Psalm 68:18-19). It is a testimony lived out in recent centuries as Christians and Jews of all denominations and sects cling tightly to their own unique perspective of the Creator’s work, while questioning the inclusion of others with them in that work. The result is a terminal fragmentation, evident in the declining effectiveness of the church (at least in the West), and a Judaism split between an assimilated Diaspora and an internally focused observant segment largely concentrated in Israel.

The stumbling block, of course, is the Messiah – the one Christians call Jesus Christ, but whom Jews for the most part disregard. Even those who fall in between these two major elements of God’s people have their issues. Although Messianic Jews and non-Jewish Hebrew Roots adherents agree that Jesus (whom they call by his Hebrew name, Yeshua) is the Messiah, and that the Torah (teaching, instruction, direction, law) of God are still applicable to Yeshua’s followers, the agreement tends to stop at that point. Thus the terminal fragmentation persists even in this expanding space that is filling the gap between Judaism and Christianity.

Where is the remedy for this sad state of affairs? Batya Ruth Wootten offers an answer in Redeemed Israel – Reunited and Restored. Her answer rests squarely on the question of identity, a question that leads her to ask, “If our God is the God of Israel, and the Jewish people are Israel, then who is the Church?

Please click here to continue reading

What is the difference between these and the B’nei Menashe?

What a fitting way to end the week – and find another footnote to our forthcoming book, Ten Parts in the King (https://tenpartsintheking.com/)! Thank you, Margot, for this timely and encouraging word!

losttribesfoundblog

What is the difference between these and the B’nei Menashe?

This was the question that Christine Darg, from Jerusalem TV, asked when she first saw the three Mizos that had accompanied me. We were in the UK and the two girls had missionary visas so the could take the gospel back to the Welsh people, of whom they owed such a great debt. The man was a pastor and teacher at a bible college in Birmingham.

My reply was, “Nothing, except they haven’t converted to Judaism yet, they’re still Christian.”

“What!” she exclaimed, “why hadn’t I been told.” This was her reaction after ascertaining from the three Mizos present that it was indeed the case. The B’nei Menashe were simply a subset of the Mizos [or Kuki, if they come from Manipur] that were no longer Christian, but had converted to Judaism.

Each of the Mizos knew someone who had…

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Looking Like Joseph

Enrique Simonet, Flevit super illam (He wept over it). (Prado Museum, via Wikimedia Commons)

How do we evaluate dreams and visions? Like everything else, we test them to Scripture.

There is no question that God sends these Divine communications to people. There is also no question that there are alternative sources of dreams: satanic influences, mind-altering drugs, wild imaginations, or even the aftermath of a wrestling match with disagreeable food. That is why we evaluate everything according to the standard of Scripture to see if it is consistent with the Word of God. Not everything will stand up to that standard, which is why we must be careful to sift the legitimate messages from the deceptive, the irrelevant, and the just plain loony. This is important because we now live in the time when the words of the prophet Joel are coming to pass:

It will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. (Joel 2:28-28, NASB)

It has been nearly two thousand years since the Apostle Peter verified that humanity had entered the era when Joel’s prophecy was coming into fulfillment (Acts 2:14-21). Where are we now on the timeline of fulfillment of all prophecy – especially the ultimate redemption of Israel, YHVH’s covenant nation? That is something addressed in this vision related by my friend Jesse Jury (Jesse ben Yosef).

I first heard Jesse’s account of this vision while recording an interview of him and his wife, Amy, for the B’ney Yosef North America radio program, Reunion Roadmap. The podcast of that interview is available at this link:

https://bneyyosefna.com/2017/08/14/byna-radio-reunion-roadmap-august-12-2017/

It is worth hearing, not only for Jesse’s vision, but for the insights he and Amy share on a life of walking in Torah with Yeshua, and for the other enjoyable elements of the show. What you will read below is Jesse’s full account of the vision which he posted recently on his blog, Torah Driven Life. You will see that he has attempted to evaluate the vision according to Scripture in the interest of finding an interpretation, and understanding its validity. Maybe you will be able to find more meaning as you do your own testing of this word by the Word of God.


Looking Like Joseph

Jesse ben Yosef
Originally posted on Torah Driven Life, August 9, 2017

As Shabbat started on Av 13, in the Gregorian year 2017, the Ruach HaKodesh came over me, and I began sobbing uncontrollably with joy over the restoration of the sons of Joseph. What I am about to share was so overwhelmingly “real” to me that I cried not only in the evening, but in the early morning of Shabbat as well. It was as if the Father cracked the door, ever so slightly, to share with me a portion of His grief, as well as His excitement, over the separation of Ephraim from the flock of Israel, as well as our coming restoration. One thing in particular that stood out from this prophetic “download” was an emphasis on “looking like Joseph,” which I will explain as follows.

It began with a vision of the heavenly throne room, in which the angels had assembled themselves before the Father. He commanded them, “Go, and bring Me My firstborn son Ephraim, for I long to see his face yet again.”

And the angels left, and searched over the face of the whole earth, and returned back to the throne room, empty handed. They said to the Father, “We cannot find Your son.”

But He would not accept it, and He sent them out many more times, saying to them each time, “Go, and find My son, and bring him back to Me, that I may look upon his face yet again.” But each time, they came back more confused than they were the time before.

“We cannot find Your son.” they said to the Father yet again. “We have searched over the top of the highest mountain, and in the depths of the deepest valleys, and Your son is nowhere to be found.”

“Of course you can’t yet find him,” the Father said, “Because he no longer looks like Joseph. When the time comes when he looks like Joseph, then you will be able to find him.”

The final word that I received from the Father was that the time of the ingathering would be very soon.

An Explanation

After the vision had ended, the first Scripture which came to mind was Matthew 24:30-34, “And then will be seen the signal of the Son of Man in heaven: and then will all the tribes of the earth mourn, when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great trumpet and they will collect together His elect from the four winds, from one extremity of heaven to the other. Now learn an illustration from the fig tree. As soon as its branches become tender and its leaves shoot forth, you know that summer is coming on. So also, when you perceive all these things, you know that He is near, even at the door. Truly, I say to you, that this generation shall not pass away, until all these things shall come to pass.”

First, we see that it is not Yeshua directly who gathers in His lost sheep, but that the Father sends forth His angels to do the ingathering in the last days. This is literally what I saw in my vision, with the angles assembled, looking for Ephraim, but unable to see him, because he did not yet look like Joseph.

Secondly, Yeshua then compares the ingathering to branch of the fig tree, which– when it begins to bud and bear fruit– is the sign that the harvest is approaching. The branch is used here as a euphemism for Ephraim, and specifically recalls the stick of Joseph in Ezekiel 37. When the stick of Joseph becomes tangible, visible, and identifiable– when the wheat and the tares are distinctly known from one another– this is when the Messiah returns and sends out the gathering angels.

And lastly, Yeshua says that “this generation shall not pass away until these things shall come to pass.” I believe He is referring to the generation of the fig tree, the budding branch of Ephraim, the stick of Joseph. And I believe that WE are that generation.

When I shared the vision with my wife, she brought to mind the parable of the Wheat and the Tares from Matthew 13:24-30, “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. And while people were asleep, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. And when the plant shot up and bore fruits, then the tares also appeared. And the servants of the householder came, and said to him, ‘Our lord, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where did the tares that are in it come from?’ And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Is it your pleasure that we go and gather them out?’ And he said to them, ‘No, lest while you gather out the tares, you also eradicate the wheat with them. Let them both grow together until the harvest; and at the time of harvest, I will say to the reapers, “Gather out the tares first, and bind them in bundles to be burned; but gather the wheat gather into my granary.”’”

In this parable, it is seen that “the wheat” and “the tares” are indistinguishable from one another for a long course of time, where they will “both grow together until the harvest.” And at that time, “the servants of the householder” are commanded to separate the two, and bring the wheat into the granary. Now what makes this parable fascinating is when it is examined from an agricultural perspective. The similarity between these two plants is striking; the tares, called “false wheat” in some regions, resemble the wheat nearly identically throughout its growth cycle, and is only discernible from it at the end, when the wheat bears fruit, but the tares do not. And because of its fruit, the heads of the wheat become heavy, and literally “bow down” due to the weight of the grains, indicating a metaphoric resemblance of humility, as opposed to the tares, which stand proud, bearing no fruit.

What does it mean to “look like Joseph?”

As mentioned above, the time of the ingathering would come very soon. He did not give me a tangible date, but the impression I had was that these were events that He was putting into motion in the relatively immediate future. And in the meantime, our calling is to “look like Joseph” with every ounce of our being, by exhibiting good fruit, by showing humility, and by living the fruit of the spirit: “love, joy, peace, endurance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and patience,” (Galatians 5:22) not only as individuals, but also in our families, our communities, and our Ephraimite nation. For me, the ultimate picture of Joseph’s character, revealed in the Torah, is his response to his brothers in Genesis 45 for having sold him into slavery. He did not respond with judgment, nor malice, nor a will for vengeance; but rather with forgiveness, with love, with compassion, and with sincere concern for the well being of his family– that same family which had betrayed him twenty-two years prior.

So when the Father tells me that we need to “look like Joseph,” this is what that means to me. I look forward to hearing what this means to you in the comments below.

Source: Looking Like Joseph. If you like what you’ve read, drop by Jesse’s blog and leave a comment.


© Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog, 2017.  Permission to use and/or duplicate original material on The Barking Fox Blog is granted, provided that full and clear credit is given to Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Nexus of Torah, Messiah, and Israel

In this inaugural show of our new format, Mike Clayton and Al McCarn talk about the scriptural basis for the return of the House of Israel/Ephraim, and why so many Christians are awakening to an understanding of this and of their part in it. If Israel really is our home, then what happens there now should be of interest to us, and we should prayerfully consider how to get involved in support of the State of Israel and the Jewish people.

Our second hour features a lively conversation with Jeremy Chance Springfield, a lifelong student of Biblical Hebrew. His studies have resulted in fascinating and thought-provoking teachings now available on his web site, Random Groovy Bible Facts. He shares with us some of his insights, such as why the Torah requires Messiah to be born of a virgin. That’s just one of many eye-opening perspectives Jeremy brings about the foundation in Torah of many important points we have believed by faith, but may not know how to explain from Scripture.

To listen, click here:

http://hebrewnationonline.com/hebrew-nation-morning-show-the-remnant-road-8717/

The Remnant Road, with co-hosts Al McCarn, Mike Clayton, and Barry Phillips is the Monday edition of the Hebrew Nation Morning Show.  You can listen live at 11:00–1:00 EST, 8:00-10:00 PST at http://hebrewnationonline.com/, and on podcast at any time.

© Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog, 2017.  Permission to use and/or duplicate original material on The Barking Fox Blog is granted, provided that full and clear credit is given to Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.