Category Archives: Current Events

Calling all White Hats

In a recent visit to Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm, I did not meet America’s most famous farmer, but I did meet a four-year-old who provided a marvelous tour of the grounds. “Do you want to see the hay that I climb on?” he asked my wife and I.

What could we say in response? He led us to a hay barn, pausing once with a quick “shhh!” when he thought we might see deer across the pasture.  As he clambered onto a mountain of square bales, his mouth kept up a stream of explanations and comments, a few of which we actually understood.

Apparently at some point, he was launching into a story that was playing in his imagination. “And that’s when we got the bad guys!”

“Who got the bad guys?” I asked.

“I did,” he explained, his face relaying his seriousness. “With my good guys!”

What must it be like to be four years old and inhabiting a world of good guys and bad guys, white hats versus black hats, a world more straight-forward in its allegiances than the plots of Gunsmoke or Bonanza that my mother watches each afternoon?

Those stories and the cut-and-dry characters that populate them seem quaint and simplistic to contemporary sensibilities. We prefer far more nuance and complexity in our fictional characters. The white and black hats have been abandoned for a series of greys. We embrace Don Draper and Walter White, Tony Soprano and Olivia Pope. Even someone as close to the old-school Western hero as Mark Harmon’s Leroy Jethro Gibbs from NCIS carries along some fairly disturbing baggage. The simple character seems as passe as the family of Father Knows Best. We’re just a bit too sophisticated for that sort of thing.

After leaving Polyface Farm, we drove back into nearby Staunton, Virginia. Along the roads of that fascinating small city, we saw a number of campaign-style signs that read “Save the Name.” Investigating this plea, we discovered that a movement is afoot to change the name of Staunton’s Robert E. Lee High School. The opposing side wants to preserve the tradition of that name. In the wake of last year’s chaos in nearby Charlottesville, the urgency of this matter seems to have only increased.

While I understand the feelings of those who think a Confederate general to be an inappropriate namesake for a public high school, I can’t help thinking that those who dismiss Lee out of hand are separating the world into good guys and bad guys just as surely as  my four-year-old tour guide had.

Was Lee a perfect paragon of moral rectitude? No. An absolute devil? Of course not. He was a man, generally honorable but with serious flaws.

In that same Staunton, Virginia, the birthplace of Woodrow Wilson, the twenty-eighth president has his name placed on various local landmarks. Was Wilson a saint? No. Did he segregate the Federal offices in his administration? Yes.

But I wouldn’t argue for his name to be struck from the public view. After all, once we start that sort of action, the only names that can remain are those of people who did nothing. In my own home town of Independence, Missouri, the three high schools are named for Harry Truman (who dropped two atomic bombs), William Chrisman (who owned and traded slaves), and Robert T. Van Horn (who was a lawyer, politician, tax collector, and journalist, thereby almost guaranteeing at least some less-than-stellar doings).

People who do things of consequence almost invariably take some faulty steps. And when various people, from various parts of the moral and social compass, bring their ideas of what constitutes a faulty step, there’s very little hope that anyone’s name could remain on a high school or a street.

Humanity has very few absolute “good guys” and many people who can be partly tarred with some “bad guy” accusations. Perhaps we should be as open to complexity and conflict in our real people as we are in our fictional characters. Let’s leave the simplistic stuff for the pre-schoolers.

A 4th of July Blow Up

This is for my grandson, Ira, who asked, with something of a sneer in his voice, “What is Fourth of July supposed to be for?”

There’s a strain of thought in our society that cynically dismisses the United States as the source all the evils in the world. These people, some of whom I’m sure Ira has heard talk, point rightfully to a host of things that this nation has gotten wrong in the past 241 years.

As a nation, we’ve been pretty awful in several respects: slavery, the displacement of Native Americans, a successful war of conquest in Mexico and an unsuccessful invasion (or two) of Canada. Then there are more recent things that aren’t exactly the stuff to put into the scrapbook.

But here’s the deal. When the fifty-six delegates signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, they weren’t claiming to be perfect. Read through the document and you won’t find anywhere where it saysthat we wouldn’t mess up. What Jefferson and company did claim wasthe right to determine their own destinies. In soaring language, theysaid that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.

Sure, we’ve been figuring out over those years exactly what all people being equal means, but let’s recognize that even the very limited idea–allwhite men (not women) were equal–was revolutionary in the nations of their day. Sure, the wags of the Enlightenment talked in those terms, but nobody actually tried to act on it.

Our forebears acted on it. We did it imperfectly, but we did it. On July 4, 1776, a teetering little nation reared its head against the greatest power on earth and said, “Enough! We’re in charge of our own destiny!”

July 4 commemorates a revolution that stuck. We didn’t, like France a few years later, start guillotining everyone in sight. We didn’t, like Russia in 1917 and beyond, begin murdering hundreds before moving on to thousands and then millions.We move through parties and philosophies and presidents and problems, usually without resorting to bloodshed. And when 620,000 lives were extinguished in an effort to maintain the union and end slavery, when at the very moment of triumph the president was murdered, our level of retribution was exceptionally measured. Former Confederate President Jefferson Davis died of natural causes, a free man in New Orleans.

So those who hate the country that gives them a constitutionally guaranteed right to put on Guy Fawkes masks and chant whatever they’re chanting today can have their say. I say they’re ignorant and childish, but I’ll stand to defend their right to be ignorant and childish. I’d ask them to return the favor.

The Fourth of July? It’s not about the United States of America being a perfect place. It’s about it being a place where people are allowed to make their best efforts to succeed or fail. It’s about us continuing to listen to and learn from one another. It’s about a place on earth where people can worship or not worship how they please. It’s about a nation that seems capable of surviving its own worst sins, coming out breathing onthe other side.

That, Ira, is what Fourth of July is all about. Isn’t it appropriate that we celebrate it by blowing things up?

How the Duggars Are Right and Their Haters Are Clueless

Angry mob with torches and pitchforksMy four kids were all homeschooled, but I have felt totally inadequate compared to TV’s Duggar family, the bunch with 19 kids whose names all begin with “J.” I said that I “have” felt totally inadequate, but with recent news of the “Josh Duggar Scandal” filling the airwaves of the various cable news shows that I see at the gym, I’m not feeling so bad. I will confess that my knowledge of this topic of profound importance to our world is quite limited since I have only seen images and read a few closed captions.

It seems that when one of the family’s sons, Josh, now 27, was something like 14 years old, he did what many 14-year-old boys would do if given the opportunity. He groped a teenage girl. For this, the left-wing lynch mob has assembled, sharpened their pitchforks and lighted their torches, demanding that network TLC cancel the Duggars’ reality show, because, you know, Josh was accused of fondling girls more than a decade ago.

To be clear, especially as the father of three daughters, I do not take lightly any sort of sexual assault, regardless of its nature. However, Josh was a minor, no charges were filed, and it was a very long time ago.

But there’s a message in all of this that the lynch mob is too myopic to notice. The Duggars are right. They are right when they attempt to carefully chaperone their kids. (I’m not sure what happened to allow Josh’s hands their opportunity, but that’s another matter.) The Duggar parents understand that young people, especially young men, have a lot of hormones in action and not a great deal of restraint in the brains. Because of that, these parents attempt to carefully control their kids to keep them out of the sort of stupid actions that Josh apparently didn’t avoid.

My college has campus sexual assault posters plastered all over the halls. Why? Because we as a culture have abdicated our responsibilities to young people and thrown them into coed dorms, booze-addled parties, and a general hook-up culture. It’s no wonder that we have an epidemic of sexual assault and of sexually transmitted diseases.

According to one study, 1 in 4 college students has an STD. That’s 25%, but the Duggars’ TV show is an affront to our national morality? Coincidentally, I hope, 1 in 4 female college students can expect to face a sexual assault during her academic career. That’s horrific, but the real danger here is a TV show that features a guy who, 13 years ago, put his hands where they didn’t belong.

I find it sad that when a family attempts to raise their children according to some standards of decency, they are mercilessly attacked when one of their number is found to have stumbled in the past. Did these parents ever claim to have perfect children? Do the critics believe that they should have performed some sort of ritual honor killing when they learned of their son’s behavior?

The Duggars are right about human nature, about human sexuality, about parenting, and about the nature of sin. In the end, I think, it is this awareness of sin, this willingness to call it what it is, that most rankles the lynch mob. That mobnever wants to think that anysexual behaviorcan be condemned as sin. Unless, of course, it is some groping done by a randy adolescent more than a decade ago.

The Problem with Tomorrowland

There’s nothing that seems to motivate a certain stripe of Hollywood star like the opportunity to wag their finger at all of us unwashed masses, shaming us for not agreeing with them on the cause du jour.

At the Oscars this year, it was Patricia Arquette opining in sound-bite fashion on the exceptionally complicated idea of gender pay inequity. This summer, in theaters, it is George Clooney preaching throughTomorrowlandabout global warming and other forces that threaten to put an end to civilization.

On first blush, nothing can seem more relevant to someone who is concerned with the Christian body than a force that threatens to kill off all of those bodies. But the problem here is that while the various human-destructive forces seem to continue growing in power and scope, the solution offered by the likes of Clooney is so anemic. As reviewer Kevin Fallon explains, Clooney’s character inTomorrowlandis a stand-in for the audience, for all of us.

Hes the one who, like all of us, is educated on the environmental issues and human behaviors that are leading to the destruction of the Earth and the end of civilization. He, like all of us, knows that we hold the power to fix these things, should we choose to do so. And he, like all of us, is resigned to not doing anything about it.

The world will expire, and all of us with it, unless we do something, right? Let’s all clap our hands and say, “I do believe in fairies!” Oh wait, that’s a different Disney vehicle and a different part of the Magic Kingdom.

If the threat of global warming is as bad as the experts have been predicting for so long, then it will not be halted by a few million earnest movie-goers “doing something about it.” We cannot protest our way out of the drought in California. We cannot petition our way past the threat of extinction. No matter how hard George Clooney works his “concerned” eyes–you know that look, don’t you?–fracking will still be driving Matt Damon bonkers.

If thereis hope for a threatened world and our threatened bodies that live in that threatened world, itdoes not lie in the sanctimony of George Clooney. Whatever hope the world has lies in Jesus Christ.

But better yet, even if there is no hope for the world, even if we are all going to die through our own folly, our souls and our bodies still have a hope in Christ. That’s the only Tomorrowland worth my time.

The Rise and Fall of Dean Potter

I have to admit that I’d never heard of Dean Potter until he died a few days ago at age 43. Since then, I’ve been reading a bit about this guy, and let me say that watching videos of his most extreme adventures gives me the willies.

What killed Potter was a BASEjump, leaping not from a perfectly good airplane but from a perfectly good rock and then attempting to glide to earth with a parachute. As someone who has always struggled to deal with his fear of heights, I simply do not understand what would make a person find such a sport to be a desirable thrill. But I have a friend who has long been attracted to rock climbing, so I don’t believe that such risky behavior necessarily involves madness.

When I hear about somebody performing such feats–climbing the great rocks of Yosemite, BASE jumping, or doing that crazy high-wire bit embedded above, I’m reminded of Satan’s temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4:

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.If you are the Son of God, he said, throw yourself down. For it is written:

He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

Jesus answered him, It is also written: Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

So was Dan Potter putting God to the test? I know that I won’t be taking up any of his extreme sports any time soon ever, but is that really the point? If we shake our heads at a man like this dying at something that he truly enjoyed, then are we just applying our likes and dislikes as if they were absolutes? I engage in risky behavior every day, riding my bike in traffic, driving my car in the rain, or eating Fettuccine Alfredo without my cardiologist on call.At what point does the acceptance of everyday danger morph into putting God to the test? (In popular memorythat Matthew 4 termwas translated “foolish test,” which, while not in the original is pretty reasonable.)

How do we assess risk, not being employed in the insurance industry? Should risk be avoided altogether? Jesus certainly did not tell his followers to “go into all the world if it’s safe,” as it certainly wasn’t safe. On the other hand, He didn’t say anything about BASE jumping or skydiving or tight-rope walking. He didn’t say anything about BMX biking, skateboarding, or snowboarding.

My life verse is Matthew 6:33: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” While the things Jesus had just been mentioning were food and clothes, can’t we expect that safety and even enjoyment might fall into that category as well?

It is not for me to judge the heart of Dan Potter, to know whether he did the crazy things he did for the Kingdom of God or for the kingdom of himself. I can attempt, however, to judge my own motivations when I ride my bike in traffic, drive in the rain, or even eat that fettuccine. If my foolish actions are for my own benefit, then my sins differ from the ones Dan Potter may have committed only by being a good deal less dramatic.