In the world of sports there are the stars and then there are the role players. The stars get the attention, the glory, while the role players work quietly behind the scenes, and yet would Michael Jordan be famous without his supporting cast?
This past week one of those supporting cast men died after becoming infected by Covid-19, having succumbed on Tuesday of this past week, on the same day as another regular during my growing up days, Lenore Miller, 89, who loved to use testimony time at church to sing, and passed after becoming ill of the same disease.
John Kenneth Metzler, 82, better known as just “Ken,” had been in poor health for the past decade and really seemed to be living on borrowed time as it was. He was born in 1938, February 15, in Lancaster County, the faithful husband to his wife of 60 years, Arlene, and proceeded in death by his daughter Brenda.
I almost didn’t write anything about Ken. I mean, the Mennonite denomination is my past and Ken was simply Ken. A deacon in the church. But an awkward and common man. He ran a muffler shop for years, lived in a little ranch house beside it, drove a Chrysler minivan for years (completely practical like him) and spoke with his totally unsophisticated dutchified drawl.
Not really the kind who gets invited to speak in front of the crowds nor mentioned as someone noteworthy, and yet someone always willing to serve.
I’ll admit, as a teenage punk, who knew nothing and prioritized ‘coolness’ over substance of character, Ken was annoying for his self-effacing style. He would literally apologize for himself while sharing a devotional, for his lack of education and many shortcomings.
He also held some odd views, like the time he confessed to enjoying the comics page and acted as if it was some sort of terrible transgression. He would also, while teaching youth Sunday school, ask questions that would be more suitable for kindergarten students, which would leave everyone confused thinking he was asking rhetorically and him frustrated (or “fuss-trated” in his persistent Lancaster dialect) thinking we weren’t paying attention.
But in the end?
Ken was a man with a golden heart, who became more and more endearing as I matured and, despite his slightly stooped posture, had all the true qualities of a hero.
There are plenty of flashy Mennonites, big fish in their small ponds, who act as “missionaries” or “evangelists” and are roundly praised for their efforts. Many of them have the perfect hair, the superior intelligence, the pedigree and popular families. They travel to the exotic places, some have the academic credentials too, they have the wealth (or access to resources) and reputation for their wonderfulness.
Ken had none of that pomp and pizzazz. He wouldn’t want it even if he were capable. Instead he, slow and steady, like the persistent tortoise compared to the haire of children’s book fame, he worked mostly unrecognized for the good of others. If it was to cut someone a break on a repair bill at his shop or consistently running the canned goods distribution, you would hardly have noticed his contribution.
When crowns in heaven are distributed, I believe there will be many surprises. But it will not be a surprise to me if Ken received a reward bigger than that of the known names. No, he did not lead the church outreach, but he supported it wholeheartedly, and remained long after the charismatic movers and shakers chased after that next new and exciting project. He stayed, stayed true to his commitments, and is a hero in a world full of vain and self-serving ‘good’ men.
Ken also died as he lived. He could have, given his poor physical health, cowered in fear and never left his home. Nobody would have criticized him for doing this, he was clearly in that most at risk category and could not be faulted for hiding out the pandemic. But then why miss out on life when you already know that your days are numbered? He got out instead, remained a part of the community, and that is a choice that I respect—even recommend.
Ken’s death was not a big surprise to me. My initial reaction when I heard he had been at church when a visiting chorus was there, basically a Covid super-spreader event, was to think, “oh, Ken,” and question the wisdom.
But, on second thought, Ken made the right and heroic choice. Ken knew that risk of death isn’t a reason to stop living. He had been on death’s door before and made a deliberate choice.
Ken, unlike many in this age, understood life is difficult and every day is a gift. He may have lived a year or two more, possibly, but was not long for this world by any reasonable assessment. Sure, he likely suffered, he spent his last days alone because of nonsense policies created by administrators, but he was a man who never had it easy and lived a life of faith and sacrifice.
Real heroes don’t wear capes or live in the pages of comic books, most of them do not die in some grand saving-the-world deed, many of them pass unnoticed. They quietly play their role, in the background, until it is time to go home.
My heart sank when I saw the image of Jonathan Price. I’ll admit, while the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Jacob Blake do matter, it is hard for me to identify with those who turn them into blameless victims and saints.
But this was different. Price, according to reports, was a “pillar in the community” and had been intervening in a domestic incident when Tazed, then fatally wounded, by a responding officer.
The officer has been charged with murder and it will be up to the justice system to decide his guilt or innocence. There is no reason for me to demonize him nor to defend his actions. There are always multiple sides to every story, the bodycam footage is likely to tell us more about the circumstances that led to the shooting, and the officer deserves his day in court.
However, the reason I’m writing this is that there some who are now mocking Price for his taking to social media, back in June, to encourage peace with law enforcement officers. They would have you believe that this is some sort of lesson to him or those who would follow in his footsteps.
This is his post:
The glee that this man learned the hard way and that “they will still want to kill yo’ ass” is wrong on so many levels. No, the death of Price does not disprove his advice nor help to prove the narrative that black men are being gunned down for being black. It certainly does not justify the hatred of the police or make anything he said wrong.
1) There is no proof (yet) that the officer acted with malicious intentions. Police officers are human. Humans make mistakes. It could be very possible that the officer who shot Price horribly misinterpreted the situation or that Price himself did something unintentionally that made him appear to be a threat. If he was simply out to kill black men there would be many far easier ways he could satiate those aims without being as clearly identified as the killer.
2) With rare exceptions, it is still far better to cooperate with law enforcement and not see them as our enemies. Most deadly encounters with police involve some kind of criminal behavior and resistance to lawful commands. That is why I can’t see many of those killed by police (or who died in police custody) as being hapless victims as they are often presented. If people did not fight with officers or run there would be very few deaths.
Price, despite his own tragic end, was right. Yes, he was a black man killed by a police officer. But the officer was promptly charged and, more importantly, this case is the rare exception. The fact remains, no matter your skin color, a person who does not engage in criminal behavior or resist the lawful commands of a police officer is at a much lower risk than a person who does those things.
No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
Those trying to make a positive difference in the world are taking a risky posture. The sardonic quip, “no good deed goes unpunished” pays homage to this reality that being a Good Samaritan is often not safe. Doing the right thing, getting involved, can cost a person their life. A Google search for “Good Samaritan killed” shows many times where those intervening were harmed and that’s why many keep their heads low rather than get involved.
Chris Kyle, the ‘American Sniper’ was one of those go-getter types. He took an active role in the lives of others and with this trying to help made himself more vulnerable. He took a man under his wing who had some serious mental health issues and ultimately paid with his life.
That, above, is precisely why many run the opposite direction from a crazy person. It is a self-preservation instinct. We know when something is off and we run. This man couldn’t even appreciate the fact that the only reason that he was included at all is that the men he murdered cared about him. They took the risk, they were doing something good that very few are willing to do and paid the ultimate price for their courage.
Price too, by getting involved in a domestic dispute, put himself in a position that was very risky to himself and certainly could’ve just been a bystander. He would very likely still be alive today had he not gotten involved. And yet his bravery took him into a confusing circumstance, led to a police officer mistaking him for the offending party and ended up with him being shot.
Price, like Kyle, had their lives together. They very well could’ve avoided dangerous people and risky situations. They could’ve taken the safe position that many people do. But quite obviously they were willing to stand apart from others. Price by humanizing law enforcement and refusing to go along with the easy tribal narrative. Kyle in his willingness to lay aside his privileged life, as a successful warrior and publicly known personality, to spend time with a troubled man that most would avoid.
These stories could be used as a cautionary tale against this sort of faithfulness. The tribal cynics and true cowards now ridicule Price. They will have you believe that being like him will lead to you being shot. And these same people would probably have stood by, as bystanders, laughed, and made a video for YouTube rather than attempt to intervene on behalf of another. Kyle and Price should be commended for not being content to steer clear of danger as many do. They were being peacemakers.
For They Will Be Called Sons of God
The Beatitudes are a regular part of the liturgy and a wonderful reminder to think beyond our present circumstances. It is basically a list of what true righteousness looks like and the rewards of righteousness:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for your reward is great in heaven.
All of those things listed come at a short-term cost. Humility as opposed to arrogance; sobriety as opposed to mindless merriment; taking a submissive rather than aggressive posture; leaving our comfort zone rather than being complacent, all of these things require one to sacrifice something in the present tense. But the promise, in relation to all, is a later and greater reward.
This is completely at odds with the “get mine” attitude and pursuit of instant gratification of this age.
The idea of a “peacemaker” is not to be in denial of the personal risks of involvement. Entering into the conflict-zone is always a risky affair. Those on either side of a divide could easily mistake you for an enemy combatant. In the fog of war, friendly fire or getting caught in the crossfire are very real possibilities and those entering the fray usually are not unaware of this.
It is courage, not ignorance, that drives a peacemaker into danger. A Christian is supposed to “count the cost” (Luke 14:28) of following after Jesus, the ultimate peacemaker, and consider the price of His obedience. Jesus, the son of God, came into the fray, knowing full well of the pain and suffering He would endure, as a means to make a path of peace between us and God.
It is by the God-man Jesus, the word of God made flesh, that we can become the sons of God through adoption. To be a peacemaker at personal cost is to live beyond ourselves, to live by faith rather than fear, and put on the divine. For those of faith, doing what is right will be rewarded in the end and even if it costs us everything in this life.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.
I’ve never been one to get caught up in the latest hysteria. I tend to be a skeptic of everyone from fundamentalist doomsayers to their secular climate catastrophe counterparts.
There are many things are not worth getting worked up about, things that I can’t really change myself or prevent, and it takes discernment to know what we should or should not be concerned about. The media tends to turn everything into a crisis. Sensational headlines invite clicks and clicks produce ad revenue. So, yes, minor problems or statistically unlikely scenarios do too often get blown out of proportion. Politicians, for their part, love to capitalize on anxieties and fears of the public as a means to gain power for themselves.
These false prophets of the corporate media and political establishment do a terrible disservice to the public, they are like the boy who cried wolf and eventually paid the price for his deception.
The cynical exploitation of the public by those who should be making them aware and leading out against real threats eventually leads to distrust of authority and an apathetic response. Many take to heart the adage, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me,” and use it as a reason to reject all warnings from all established sources or at least those that do not comport with their own political alignment. Unfortunately, an overreaction against all authority can also leave the ‘sheep’ vulnerable when the real ‘wolf’ finally does arrive.
My own concern over Covid-19 did not originate with the recent media hype over the story and the foolish efforts to politicize it against the current administration. My concern began weeks ago and originated from my own personal analysis of the characteristics of this particular virus and the extreme Chinese response in trying to contain it. Those who continue to trivialize the threat do not understand it, they are only reacting like those townsfolk fooled one too many times, and need to take a step back, take off their jaded lenses for a moment and reexamine the evidence.
No, Covid-19 is not the same as SAR’s, Swine Flu…
There are many silly memes out there about all the public scares that we have survived. And all that is true. But, while it is important to see the current claims of the media in the context of their previous record, it is also important to remember that even a broken clock is right twice a day and therefore must be able to discern for ourselves.
When I first became aware of the new (or novel) “Coronavirus” outbreak in Wuhan back in January there were several things that initially jumped out to me then and continue to stand out. Covid-19, as it has more recently been designated, is not nearly as deadly as Ebola or some other flu viruses, nevertheless the Chinese effort to contain it has been extreme.
Chinese authorities have taken unprecedented steps to try to stop the spread, going as far as to quarantine huge industrial centers of millions of people and building massive new hospitals. Why? Well, probably because they have a reason to be concerned. A country does not deliberately cripple their own economy to the extent that the Chinese have done without there being a good reason to do so.
One reason to be concerned is that the Chinese, not wanting to scare away foreign investment, also have plenty of reason to try to conceal or downplay the reality on the ground. That is why they made efforts to silence those who brought broader attention to the situation by sharing what they saw on social media. They accused an optometrist, Li Wenliang (who himself would later would become infected and die while in treatment) of “spreading rumors” for telling the truth, so can we trust that they are telling us the full extent of what is happening now?
What we do already know is that Covid-19 is not as deadly as Ebola and other viruses. But, according to current estimates, it still kills an alarming number of those who become infected:
“On Tuesday, WHO said the global death rate for the novel coronavirus based on the latest figures is 3.4% — higher than earlier figures of about 2%. The World Health Organization’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that the new coronavirus “is a unique virus with unique characteristics.””
However, it is not the death rate or that Covid-19 is extremely deadly that caught my attention.
No, it was how transmissible and impossible to contain that it has proven to be. In many cases, the most deadly viruses are less dangerous, on a world scale, because they kill their host quickly enough that it cannot spread far or they are not easily transmitted. Covid-19, by contrast, does spread through the air, it has a long incubation period that makes it hard to detect those infected, it does kill a significant number of those infected, and has successfully spread around the globe in a matter of weeks.
But doesn’t the flu kill X amount of people per year?
One of the dumbest reoccurring comments I’ve encountered is of those who point to the higher death count of the flu as a reason not to be concerned about Covid-19. Many have reasoned that since the flu has killed more people than Covid-19 this past year that therefore the flu is a bigger threat. Of course, those making this claim have obviously not paid attention in probability and statistics or simply fail to grasp the difference between those killed previously and future death rates.
Sure the flu has absolutely killed more last year before Covid-19 arrived on the scene, but it only kills a fraction of a percent and nowhere near even the low estimates for Covid-19. In other words, if Covid-19 were to continue to break containment, as it has consistently, and spreads around the world, it will likely kill millions of people worldwide. In fact, if you multiply the current estimate of death rate out to the US population, that’s well over 11 million Americans, and that’s assuming everyone else who becomes seriously ill, needs to be intubated and weeks of ICU treatment or would probably die, is getting good medical care.
Responding to the news that a grizzly bear has escaped containment by pointing out that a mountain lion also killed last year only shows how little a person understands the situation. Sure, the grizzly isn’t going to kill everyone in the neighborhood, but it is certainly a bigger threat than the mountain lion, it actually compounds the danger, it only adds another deadly creature when one was bad enough and certainly isn’t going to improve the experience for those living in the neighborhood of where it now roams free.
At very best Covid-19 being on the loose only adds to the misery of flu season and, at worse, well…
Do I think it is the end of the world?
My cousin Mel suggested that there are two ditches that people fall into, those who see it as “the normal flu here, move along,” and the “Run!!!!!”
I’m not sure what camp he would place me in, but I believe that there is definitely a middle ground between those two extremes. My own position is that Covid-19 does present a unique threat to the ‘normal’ flu, in that it is a novel virus and currently killing by at least a whole order of magnitude greater or more. But, at the same time, I’m not in that window of those most vulnerable and most people will survive.
So, no, it is not the end of the world. Humanity has come through many similar events, many plagues far worse than a virus that potentially kills 3.4% of the current population, and here we are. Covid-19 won’t kill us all. As of March 6th, at the time I am writing, the virus has already killed 14 here (in America) and 3,300 worldwide. Not much when you consider how many die in automobile accidents, etc.
Do I think it is a big joke?
No, absolutely not!
If Covid-19 continues to get past all containment lines, as it has, and spread into the general population the death rates could be much higher as our medical infrastructure would reach capacity, as supply chains break down (watch this video) due to the extreme worldwide demand coupled with decreased production, and more people, afraid of the infection, began to stay home rather than go to work and risk their health.
In an era of just in time deliveries and global supply chains, we are actually more vulnerable than ever if the proverbial excrement were to hit the proverbial fan and would very soon learn how very dependant we are on those who produce, transport and distribute our goods. Even those in rural areas cannot escape the potential fallout if there was a breakdown of the systems that we take for granted as potentially millions would flee urban areas in search of basic necessities or simply to get away from the chaos.
Even if the social order didn’t collapse and death rates remained at current levels, are you really going to say that burying three out every hundred people you know is not a big deal? That could include your grandparents, your parents, possibly close friends, and coworkers. It could also mean that you spend weeks in the ICU, as medical bills pile up, gasping for breath and wishing to die, thinking you might and possibly even being right. I would not do anything where there is a three percent chance of death for myself or a friend, would you?
Should you panic?
I’m reminded of the refrain of a movie “Bridge of Spies” where Tom Hanks plays a lawyer defending a captured KGB spy and asks his client, who is likely facing death at the hands of the Russians if he’s turned over or the Americans if he is not, “aren’t you worried?” To which the old spy answers, with a deadpan expression, “would it help?“
Panic would do absolutely nothing to help a person trying to survive a deadly viral outbreak and is something that must be avoided. It is why you see the true experts (not the talking heads on the media) taking a measured approach and treating Covid-19 as if it is not a big deal. Ultimately, what will be will be and tanking the economy ahead of time, with dire predictions, would only make matters worse.
If the worse case scenario were to play out fear would likely be as big a threat as the disease itself and that is why I say…
The best way to prevent future panic is preparedness. No, I’m not talking about taking things to an extreme, you probably won’t need that hazmat suit and I’m doubtful converting your life-savings to gold is a good idea. But having a few weeks of food stocks (canned goods, dried beans and rice) along with purified water, iodized salt, ethyl alcohol, and other disinfectants, some N95 masks, all things that could be good to have around anyways, could be enough to ride out the worst case scenario.
Remember the parable about the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) where some came prepared with extra oil, thus were ready for the bridegroom, while the others had run out and desperate? That story has some general application and can be applied to our attitudes pertaining to Covid-19. It is better to have some foresight, to be aware of the various scenarios that could play out, and plan accordingly, rather than wait until the last minute when it is already too late. There is still time (at least as I write this) to be reasonably prepared and that is my suggestion.
Failure to anticipate and plan accordingly can be fatal…
As 339 students boarded the MV Sewol, a Korean ferry, for a school outing, I’m doubtful any of them could’ve imagined the nightmare that would soon play out. I’m still haunted by the videos made as they chattered nervously while the stricken ship began to list. They had been told, by those in authority on the vessel, to stay put in their cabins—and that is exactly what they did up until those final moments of terror as the ship capsized. Had they been proactive, had they disobeyed and went on the deck rather than allow themselves to be trapped, they would have easily avoided a terrible fate.
We are able to make predictions based in available evidence. But many are distracted (or just plain oblivious) and otherwise unable to sift through the information to find the signs of danger and make the correct call. I would venture a guess that those thousands who have contracted Covid-19 had no idea, when the first symptoms started to show, that they would have their lives upended. Those who died probably thought this was just another flu, like the many they had experienced before, and their lack of awareness would not save them.
And yet we can’t prepare for everything...
We can’t know the future. An asteroid could collided with our planet tomorrow, end life as we know it, and there is very little we could do now to be ready for that.
But, that said, there are many things we are able to anticipate and should. If you are not concerned about pandemic, I suggest you do some reading about the Spanish flu or Black Death and consider that we would not necessarily be any better off the day that the ‘perfect storm’ flu finally does arrive. Vaccines cannot be developed overnight (sorry, antivax conspiracy theorists) and a third of world population (including you) could be gone before an effective solution was found.
That is reality. There are many who had their lives planned out, they had hopes and dreams, before meeting their unexpected demise.
Death is coming, are you ready?
Sounds dark and yet it is true. If it isn’t Covid-19 it will be something else and it is good to live with a little awareness of our true vulnerability and eventual end. We might make better use of our time if we were a bit more mindful of death.
Fools laugh when they should be sober and consider their time is short. There are many things that are easily take for granted could be wiped away in an instant. Those of us born at the top can have a tendency towards arrogance. But neither God nor the universe care about your feelings of self-importance and one only needs to consider how many powerful civilizations have collapsed as fast as they rose in prominence. Oftentimes the “writing on the wall” was there and had they not been too drunk with their own hubris they may have changed course.
I’ve needed to deal with my own regrets for having not taken an illness seriously enough. It simply did not occur to me that an eighteen month old child could die from what had seemed to be mundane and easily treated medical issues. Had I known what would happen to her I would have moved heaven and Earth to be sure that she received top notch treatment. I’ve dealt with years of post-traumatic stress symptoms as a result of my own failures then. And even today it is a reminder to be vigilant and to do today what is too easily put off until tomorrow. Being ready for death means living a worthwhile existence in the present moment.
So what is my final position of Covid-19?
In the end, I’m not losing any sleep over Covid-19, it is still something on the horizon and what would it help to get all worked up about it?
At the same time, I do believe it is a serious threat and am glad for the resources being directed to combat and contain the virus. We should be taking precautions for the good of ourselves and our communities. A little more conscientiousness in our society could do a whole lot of good. Consider the example of the Japanese who, because of measures taken to stop the spread of Covid-19, had a far less severe flu season this year. Think about it. If we were to practice a little better hygiene and show a little more respect to the reality of our environment we could, at very least, avoid suffering through a few days of sickness.
I really do not know for sure what will happen in the coming weeks, months and years. The disruptions caused by Covid-19, already being experienced, will probably be short-term. We might even forget about the whole story by April. Soon enough, by the diligent efforts of some, a vaccine will be developed and those skeptical of the attention being brought to this virus can convince themselves this success is proof they were right not to be concerned. But it is very likely that millions around the world will not see next Christmas.
If you are a man over fifty it very well could be you.
I’ve never been a huge thrill seeker. I’m too aware of gravity’s power to take my chances with heights and think drowning in the ocean would be a stupid way to die for someone who had no business being in that nasty salt water to begin with. I mean, I understand, there are risks worth taking in construction or in travel, but there is no need to play games with a terrifying trip to my final destination. Besides, I’m in awe of enough things of substance (science, history, architecture, etc) to have no need to chase after cheap excitement at the cliff’s edge.
Although that is not entirely true, there is one vast exception to my normal cautious streak, that being when I’m behind the wheel of any machine and know it well enough to be confident. From my youth until this very day, there is no better feeling than that dance, on the edge of control, where senses heighten, time slows and instincts take over. For those who have seen my more inspired moments, I’m legendary, or Biblical as in 2 Kings 9:20, “The driving is like that of Jehu son of Nimshi—he drives like a maniac.” And, whether talented or just plain lucky, I’ve pushed vehicles to their outer limits and came out of the teeth of death alive.
One of those glorious moments was a cannonball run out of the mountains. My church youth leader, now a conservative Mennonite deacon, was an equally furious driver, had a slightly more capable car, and was right behind me. My own car, a Ford Tempo, was made for a pedestrian existence (brakes that would fade after a couple hard stops, lots of body roll, and underpowered) was vastly outmatched by the Pontiac Sunbird GT Turbo in my rearview mirror, and overloaded with the weekend’s gear and at least one slightly terrified passenger.
The game? Keep the bowtie derivative behind me through the twists and turns of these narrow poorly maintained roads. A sane person would tread very carefully on these unfamiliar cow paths, some with loose gravel, and especially driving a vehicle built with no purpose in mind besides being cheap basic transportation, certainly not made for excitement nor even to be especially reliable. Fortunately, I had two things going for me: 1) It was all downhill, some portions quite steep and 2) my teenage adrenaline.
The strategy was simple. Conserve brakes, slide the turns, stay in the lane when visibility was poor and take the inside track when available. Oh, and no trips over the edge into the ravines, trees, and rocks below, that would probably be a big ouch and possibly paralysis and permanent disability or death I was young and stupid, but still understood that one bad move could lead to permanent consequences. However, pride, a competitive spirit, and that dopamine reward awaiting me at the end meant embracing the challenge.
So, off we went, testosterone overriding our developing frontal lobes, my senses sharpened, awareness heightened and was as completely alive as one could possibly be.
I wound up that 2.3 liter, the poorly conceived four banger it was, with two valves per cylinder, breathing out the same side as the fresh air came in, probably designed by the bean counters in Dearborn, and more suitable for a boat anchor than any vehicle of the era performance or otherwise. The suspension and braking matched, it had drums in the back that were probably near useless and nearly the body roll of an Oldsmobile station wagon from the 1970s. Still, it would have to do, it was my cherished first car and all I could afford at the time.
The first turns were soon behind me in a cloud of dust. The speedometer, as I recall, only went up to 85 or 95 mph, and I had it pegged. As I tested the outer limits of this habitually understeering, bathtub on wheels, of a sedan, my companion, Alex, the son of Russian speaking immigrants, sat wide-eyed and held on to whatever he could grab—perhaps the only security that he could find at the moment or maybe a desperate bid to keep the car from coming apart? I’m pretty sure he was praying, repenting of his sins and asking for God’s mercy to be upon him.
My brakes were basically mush after the first couple hard stops, so balancing current and future needs became a priority, but the fact that the pesky Sunfire was still behind me ensured that my grin remained wide. I was maintaining just enough momentum to keep him from chancing a pass on the few straights. That and my dedication level, as someone young, single, the clear underdog and oftentimes frustrated, might have given me the slight edge.
The unannounced race ended as we swung onto the interstate onramp. My car, clearly outmatched, would easily outrun on the highway and, besides that, the State Troopers were sure to be out there lurking. I had my fill of exhilaration, man and machine had passed the test, the sun shone more brightly in the sky and it was, indeed, a great day to be alive!
Postscript: Say what you will, I can’t say this was not foolish, but all human progress depends on this love of novelty and risk-taking spirit. Had some idiot not experimented with keys, a kite, and a lightning storm, you would not be reading this blog on an electronic device. Certainly, we should try to temper these urges and try to direct them to more useful outlets, but we should never stifle the youthful in their pushing the boundaries of experience. Yes, to make civilization possible, we may also need to subdue our most aggressive impulses, still, all creativity, advancement, and pleasure depend on engaging in a bit of risky behavior. It is those glorious moments, riding that line between control and chaos when we are most truly alive.
A week ago someone had called my grandpa and identified himself as being my younger brother. He needed to be bailed out after some kind of traffic law infraction. My grandpa, not one quick to give vast sums of money over a phone call, quizzed his ‘grandson’ and inquired as to why he did not ask his parents first. The spoof caller answered that he wasn’t getting with his parents, at which point it was obviously a scam and my grandpa hung up.
The other day my grandpa called to inform me that someone had just called claiming to be me, his eldest grandson. This time he hung up without hearing another word.
On the same day my grandpa told me about this I had a plea for help, on social media, from an orphanage in Pakistan. Their profile pictures featured a bunch of dear children and those images momentarily tugged at my heartstrings. However, there was no way to verify who they really were. So, I tried to kindly explain my brotherly assistance was required elsewhere. When continued to repeat the request for a Christmas donation, like a broken record, I blocked them. I’ll probably be slower to accept a similar friend request in the future to avoid the need to try to reason with someone only interested in my wallet.
The communication era has brought the world together in ways unimaginable a century or two ago. And, with that development, predatory hoards from around the world can now invade our personal space at any given moment. The marauders no longer need to travel in longboats over dangerous seas, they simply pick up the phone and pretend to be your grandchildren.
This is frustrating for me. There are so many legitimate needs, including that of my family in the Philippines, and these are the real victims of the scammers and schemers. Those who exploit our kindness and generosity do a great disservice to the people around the world who work hard, experience hardship, and could use a little help. It is easy to become callous and uncaring under the deluge of requests. But we must have the courage to care even when there’s a chance of being exploited.
What is the real war on Christmas?
Political activists are constantly claiming a war here or a war there. The left claims that not providing women with free stuff constitutes a “war on women” and the right, not to be left out of the grievance culture fun, whines about the words “Merry Christmas” not being on Starbucks cups—who can forget Joshua Feuerstein’s coffee cup fury and the backlash?
But the real war on Christmas has little if anything to do with corporate marketing and tit-for-tat politics.
Christmas is not about compelling others to use a particular greeting or ensuring that religious displays are allowed in public spaces.
Christmas is a celebration, for the Christian faithful, of the most incredible gift ever given, that being the incarnation of God’s logos in the person of Jesus Christ and the opportunity for our divine adoption. This miraculous birth, to a virgin mother, represents a new hope for humanity and a reason to change ourselves. The true Christmas spirit is our being filled with this same spirit of love and giving of life for the good of others that Jesus embodied.
Turning Christmas into the latest battleground of a broader culture war is to entirely miss the point. Giving Starbucks hell isn’t going to further the message of glad tidings and joy, that’s for certain, and is not likely to win any hearts or minds either. Pettiness is never going to convince a skeptic to consider the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a distraction at best.
The commercialization of the holiday also takes away from the true reason for the season. The birth of our Lord and Savior wasn’t really intended to inspire stampedes of shoppers hoping to wrestle a few dollars of savings from their neighbors. But Christmas has become a marketing boon for retailers and they (along with the rest of our culture) push people to spend money they don’t have for things they don’t need—things manufactured using underpaid foreign workers while the bulk of the profits enriching a few globalist elites. It is a scheme nearly as exploitative as the telephone scammers, but completely legal.
However, those two things (culture wars and commercialization) are mere symptoms of the bigger disease and the one thing that can undermine the Christmas spirit in us—the soul-eating disease called cynicism. If Christmas has a true enemy in this world it is cynicism. Cynicism is a cancerous attitude. It is natural (albeit unhealthy and inhumane) response to a world full of self-interested people and corrupt institutions. The cynical person is one who has seen behind the curtain, who may have been taken advantage of once or twice and is now too overtaken by their skepticism to truly love their neighbors.
It is often the disillusioned idealist who becomes a bitter, critical, and faithless or cynical. Cynicism is, in that sense, a product of those who exploit trust for financial gain, a result of fatigue of being hit from all angles, and a retreat to a position of disengagement. But it is not dispassionate, as it often claims to be with a shrug, nor is this retreat from personal involvement a moral high ground. No, in reality, cynicism is an excuse for being uncaring, cold-hearted and self-centered.
The clever trick of the cynic is to be uncharitable while presenting oneself as being someone concerned about morality or morally upright for being able to identify the evil intentions of others. But the reality is that cynic is a hypocrite merely using the abuses of others as a cover for their own true self-interested indifference. They might cite scams as a reason why not to care and yet will always have another excuse waiting in the wings if that one isn’t applicable. They are simply unwilling to give of themselves.
Truly the cynic is a coward. They are too cowardly to do good in the face of evil, to be vulnerable and take a chance of being exploited. They are also too cowardly, fearing the social cost of revealing the full truth of their real underlying lack of concern for others, to make a full commitment to the evil they truly envy and yet claim to despise. The irony of the cynic is that they are as selfish and as much a part of the problem as the people that they claim has caused their cynical condition.
Caring requires courage and courage requires commitment…
It takes courage to have life experience and not be cynical. I’ve held back on giving to many charitable causes because some of them did seem more like self-interested scams. There is definitely a case for good stewardship, we should be “wise as serpents” because there are “wolves” (Matthew 10:16) who would devour us and lay waste to our hard-earned savings. It does the world no good to empower criminals or encouraging laziness in those who could learn to help themselves.
However, the dividing line between a person desperately in need of love and one merely taking advantage of the generosity of others is razor-thin. In fact, in many cases, there are overlapping motives in those asking for help, some genuine and others corrupt, and knowing how to respond requires a great deal of wisdom and discernment.
For example, a single mother, raised by the system, may indeed be inclined to take advantage of the charity offered and especially the half-hearted kind that comes out of religious obligation rather than a full commitment to love. They might simply intend to get what they can get before moving on. In those cases, it is easy to dismiss such a person, to conclude that they are unwilling to make the changes necessary to be free of their current circumstance, wash our hands, and move on.
Unfortunately, while there is a time to let people learn from their mistakes, the salvation of those who are mired in generational poverty (or otherwise unable to help themselves) often requires an investment that is beyond reasonable. In other words, it takes an investment of faith rather than of mere religious obligation. It requires the courage and commitment to look beyond the risk of being exploited and to unconditionally love another person before they have proven themselves worthy of our help. Faith means being the hands and feet of Jesus.
Had God waited for us to be worthy of his love, he would not have sent his son, we would still be waiting for a Savior and be hopelessly lost in our sin forever. The true Christmas story is God showing us how to love by becoming personally involved and being completely willing to sacrifice himself as an example for us to follow:
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3-7)
Christianity and cynicism are completely at odds with one another. They might be similar in that both see the chance of being taken advantage of and exploited, but are completely different in how they respond to that chance. The cynical person lives based on fear and uses their knowledge of the risk as a reason to do nothing for those in need. The Christian, by contrast, makes a commitment to do good despite the strong possibility they will suffer great loss for their efforts.
A Christian must go to war with their cynicism, they must help that diseased man heaped at their doorstep, they must aid the broken traveler discarded along the path they trod and must make an unreasonable commitment to overcome evil with good. That is how soldiers win wars, they understand the risk and are still willing to sacrifice themselves for the cause. It takes courage to overcome our fears, to give ourselves as a sacrifice for the good of others, and live out the true meaning of Christmas.
Be courageous and don’t let the scammers and schemers turn your Christmas spirit into cynicism!
It has been a serious few weeks for me. I had been cruising along until then ran smack into a brick wall of reality and have been sorting the damage for what I can salvage since.
But, still, amid disappointments and deliberations, I have found enjoyment in various things, from meeting new and interesting people to learning more about quantum mechanics. I have things to look forward to in the coming months, one right around the corner and that the chance to fly with my little brother.
My little brother actually isn’t too little. He outgrew me to about 6′-2″ and is a (mostly) responsible adult. He also followed through on a childhood dream a few years ago by earning a pilot’s license. However, sad as it is considering he was my first ever wingman, I have not yet taken the opportunity to fly with him.
Well, weather cooperating, I will get my chance to fly with him and I thought those of you with a morbid sense of humor may enjoy are little email exchange. The plan is for me to join him in flying into a family cabin or rather landing on a small airstrip cut in the woods beside the cabin.
Here is my request:
I have a proposal that could maximize your use of a small aircraft and increase my risk of dying a terrible death at the hands of my own brother. My idea is that I meet you in Lock Haven, fly with you to the Moyer cabin and then fly back with you later. I don’t know how that fits in with your plans, but I put it out there as a proposal and under the condition that you agree to ditch only into trees or rocks rather than water. Crashing would be terrifying enough without the prospect of drowning with a broken femur while trapped in the crushed confines of a small aircraft. Burned alive has a far more romantic appeal. So anyhow, bring a contact with correct legal language and I shall consent.
Oh fun! Violent death! Yes, it’ll be way more romantic to share those last, lingering moments with someone instead of slipping away unnoticed.
Lock Haven airport was part of the plan. I was going to stop by to refuel on the way back to Franklin (airport of origin). However, it doesn’t add much to stop there on the way to the Moyer cabin as well. It’ll be nice to have someone along to mutter to while I figure out if it’s possible to get the craft down at the cabin. Worst case, we’ll abort the whole thing and go back to Lock Haven. Or, in a shame-induced delirium at a failure to land, we could take it into the pond. There, amidst a flaming slick of avgas, we’d slip beneath the ripples before the horrified paddle-boaters.
Piper Memorial airport (Lock Haven) has public parking at the end of Proctor Street. Time of meeting TBD.
The benefit to you is having a backup plan for reaching the cabin. We already know the Focus can get stopped on that runway…
We could try to cartwheel across the pond wing tip over wing tip, the visuals would be stunning for all observers. Maybe someone would get our parting moments on video and we’d be a YouTube sensation postmortem? I could try to flash a peace sign out the window or something…
Good point. It’ll be nice to have a backup plan.
You’ll be the perfect right-seat man. We’ll fly over the place at altitude, do a low pass on the airstrip (to scare away forest critters), and then shoot an approach. If the approach is stable, we land. If not, it’s a go-around. Practice landings yesterday ranged from 800-1200 feet. The strip at Ponderosa is 2400, so we should be ok.
Hopefully, enough glory will be won by a successful landing to make a grandstanding exit unnecessary.
Wouldn’t it be great if all business could be handled that way?
Despite appearances and the risk inherent in flying, I am quite confident that we will arrive safely at our destination. I trust my brother’s hands are capable. But if they and our plans fail, then may our death be glorious! So, if you are somewhere in the vicinity of Lock Haven and the mountains just north this weekend, keep an eye on the sky and be ready for anything.
Anyhow, pictures to follow…
(That, assuming the camera survives two crazy brothers in an airplane. — If things are looking down while we are up I shall attempt one last parting Instagram post before we become one with nature, intimate with the terrain, a flaming mess of twisted metal and broken bones, etc.)