Tuesday, September 27, 2005


James 4:17 (New Living Translation)

17 “Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.”

I get together with a group of guys from church on Tuesday mornings for breakfast at the Commercial Street Diner. It’s a good way for me to get the pulse of Emporia. I like to think of these little excursions as time spent with the “ham and eggers,” the men with barrel chests, ham hock hands, and plain speech.

It’s taken time, but I’ve become a regular of sorts. Almost all of the other guys order biscuits and gravy or eggs and hash browns while I order my usual, a large glass of apple juice, oatmeal, and an English muffin. In fact, I’ve become such a regular that the waitress brings my apple juice even before I sit down. Then, this little cycle of the seasons ends with the rest of the guys having a good laugh at my expense. I’ve come to love and appreciate it.

For most of the guys there is a day of hard work ahead of them, hence the hearty breakfasts. While I sit here thinking and typing Danny Horst is out in some field near here, “thrashing” something or other. Mike Blake is selling cellular phone service and is more than likely on the road to Fort Scott right now. Cliff Allen is either hanging or repairing a door. Steve Quandt is probably pretty close to Kansas City with his wife, Marletta. He’s needing some supplies for the car washes he owns and operates here in town and Marletta is going to be looking for some furniture. That’s hard work if you ask me. Gene Stair is a retiree like me, but I suspect he’s in the middle of some project that’ll keep him busy for the rest of the day. And Mike Stubbs, our pastor, is in all likelihood, preparing a sermon, praying for the flock, or binding wounds. And, as I said, I’m sitting here half thinking, half meditating on the morning, occasionally, in bursts of twenty or thirty words, putting those thoughts down in as concrete a fashion as I can.

One of the things that struck me this morning was on how things so often converge. After breakfast had been ordered this morning Mike Blake shared about some recent experiences he had in Kansas City. He’d been given an exercise to go out into the “marketplace” and find someone to break bread with. It seems that “coincidence” led him to a Jewish woman who worked in a store in the mall Mike had decided would be a good place to break bread. I think if it had been me I’d have chosen a different venue, but “coincidence” is often tailor made. The woman was apparently taking a break from work and that gave Mike the opportunity to strike up a conversation. One thing led to another and the two began to talk about matters of faith, Mike from a Christian world view and the woman from a very nominally religious, albeit Jewish, point of view. It all ended with the woman telling Mike that he seemed to be a very kind, caring man and then offering him a piece of a pretzel she was eating. As I sat listening I was amazed by how closely coincidence and convergence were aligned. It all began with a little exercise and wound up being a profound experience in breaking bread. I’m certain that in the days to come I’ll find out where the coincidence and convergence were leading.

As I ate I listened to the conversation around me. Most of it concerned itself with Israel and the Jewish people. The guys are, to a man, staunch supporters of Israel’s right to exist and are also, to a man, concerned with the pullouts from Gaza and the West Bank. “Where will the concessions end?” was the question of the day.

It’s a really good question. Where will the concessions end? Or will they even end?

The breakfast conversation brought to mind another little “coincidence” Nancy and I had during or recent vacation. We were in Washington D.C.’s Union Station. While Nancy was getting as much information as she could about our final destination, the
National Holocaust Memorial Museum, I was buying day passes for the Metro from the most confusing dispensing machine I’ve ever been around. It took me about three or four minutes to decipher what I was supposed to do and another two or three to mash the right buttons, pay, and get the tickets. When I finally succeeded I started to make my way over to where Nancy was gathering our intelligence for the day. About three steps into my journey I heard a woman’s voice. “Can you please help me? This machine is so confusing.” Another three or four minutes deciphering, another two or three mashing buttons and the rescue mission seemed complete. By this time Nancy had made her way over to me, wondering out loud, “Are you okay?” “I’m fine,” I responded. “Just helping this woman buy a metro ticket. The damned machine is so confusing it takes a genius like me to figure it out.” The woman, understanding the degree of difficulty of the task we’d been through, laughed. “I’m Rachela Dotan. Thanks for helping me.” With that she handed me a business card that read “Rachela Dotan, Licensed Tourist Guide. I scanned down and saw an address – 11 Harel St. Haifa 34555. I put the card in my wallet and asked her, “Where are you going today?” “To the Holocaust Museum,” she replied.
“What a coincidence. My wife and I are going there too. Why don’t you come with us?”

Rachela, probably thinking that the trip might be just as complex as the ticket dispensing machine, agreed.

We only got lost once on our way to the museum, but Rachela didn’t seem to mind. About a couple of blocks from the museum I moved from directions and small talk to the politics and philosophy of the Middle East. “How do people in Israel feel about the pullouts from Gaza and the West Bank?” “Our feelings are mixed,” she replied. “We’ve had to spend billions protecting so very few of our citizens that most of us feel that we can make things safer by pulling out.”
“What about security in the future?”
“No Israeli harbors any illusions there. We want peace and secure borders, but we also know that our Arab brothers who surround us really want to destroy us. There’s talk of peace and we make concessions, but we know that we must rely on ourselves alone for our defense. We will never again allow ourselves to have our security placed solely in the hands of others.”

Rachela’s words became more animated as we entered the museum. “This building tells something of our story. It tells a story we don’t want others to forget.” With that, she gave us two of the tickets she had and said her goodbyes and final thanks to us, then made her way to the one exhibit she wanted to see, I assumed in privacy.

The museum tour actually begins on the third floor. I think there’s some symbolism to it, part of the terrible lesson the Jewish people took from the Holocaust. Madness descends; it never elevates. There were other lessons in the ambience as well. The third floor was relatively comfortable and warm, but as we made our way to the lower levels the air became increasingly cold. The message, again, was clear. Evil casts a chill upon the human soul; it never brings warmth or comfort.

I think of our breakfast conversation, though, and sense that there are other lessons as well. Just like the convergence and coincidence overtook Mike Blake at the mall the other day and in the same way that convergence and coincidence overtook Nancy and me in the Washington, D.C. metro a few weeks ago, history and coincidence often converge on all of humanity.

On the second floor of the Holocaust Museum there is a small exhibit tucked quietly in with the more renowned ones. In the mid to late thirties it was becoming increasingly clear to Europe’s Jews, in general, and Germany’s Jews, in particular, that the “final solution,” the Holocaust, had grown from its infancy and was picking up the force of a deadly storm. In September of 1935 the
Nuremberg Laws were passed. In October of 1938 it was Kristallnacht. Evil events were converging on the Jewish people. Some Jews, seeing the oncoming evil, tried to emigrate. A few were successful, but most were rebuffed. For those trying to escape to America their need for safety from der Fuhrer was converging with our national need to recover from the depression. Some lawmakers pleaded for increased Jewish immigration, but most, seeing their constituents in need of jobs and security themselves, felt that European Jews were a threat to American labor. In the end, American economic need won the day. The Jewish people had few allies. The rest, as we all should know now, is history.

Convergence. Coincidence. They come in the lives of individuals. They come in the history of nations. They come in our malls. They come while we’re having breakfast at an Emporia, Kansas diner. They come while we’re in the subways. And, they come when evil collides with all that is good in the world. In some cases they only require that we nod, knowing that we’ve learned a lesson. Most often, though, they call upon us to act.

The failure to act at these historic points of convergence brings tragic consequences. As I think of these historic failures I’m reminded of
George McClellan, one of the greatest military logisticians in history. At a point in history where events were converging upon the American Union, calling upon the great nation to eradicate slavery, McClellan was given command Abraham Lincoln’s Army of the Potomac and further told to quickly prosecute the war that had begun which would answer the great moral question that had precipitated the conflict. Lincoln ordered McClellan to act, but McClellan pursued a course of “caution.” Robert E. Lee and his brain trust saw this and took full advantage of it. McClellan would hatch grand schemes and gather great armies, only to be either outflanked or outfoxed by his Confederate counterparts. In one colossal failure, the Peninsular Campaign, he had a huge numerical advantage, with twice as many troops as his adversaries. He had a supply chain that stretched for miles and miles, a testament to his skill as a logistician. But he had no will to fight. John Magruder, his Confederate counterpart, knew this well and took advantage of this fatal flaw in character. Magruder, who was an amateur actor, had small units of his army march back and forth along the field that stood between him and McClellan. As the Confederate troops marched back and forth along the fields and roads a cloud of dust rose. McClellan, seeing this, feared the worst. Rather than attack he stopped his army in its tracks and wired Lincoln, requesting reinforcements. Lincoln wired back, exasperated, noting that if McClellan had no real use for the army at his disposal he would certainly love to borrow it to do what it was formed to do, to fight.

The Peninsular Campaign, and McClellan’s failure to act, only prolonged the war. All we have today is the history of those times as they really were. But I wonder, as events converged during those dark days, how much shorter, how much less bloody the conflict might have been if only McClellan had acted.

In 1864, McClellan ran against Lincoln, as a “peace Democrat” in the presidential election. He lost a significant electoral battle which belied the closeness of the popular vote, which he only lost by about four hundred thousand votes.

Years after the Civil War he was elected governor of New Jersey.

I also wonder how different things might have been had the “peace Democrats” won the election of 1864. Would a “peace president” have concluded that the freedom of America’s African-American slaves wasn’t worth the price in blood that the nation was paying? Would a “peace president,” heeding the cries of a war weary nation, have sued for peace? Would a “peace president” have rescinded the
Emancipation Proclamation of 1862?

Thank God we don’t have to answer those questions. Events converged on the nation and the nation responded. In the end, history vindicated the cause and the man who, when events converged upon him, refused to bend his knee to expediency. On March 4, 1865, he expressed, in vivid language, the nation’s need to pursue a course that was, while paved in blood, later to be
vindicated by history:

“The Almighty has his own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses! for it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through his appointed time, he now wills to remove, and that he gives to both North and South this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to him? Fondly do we hope--fervently do we pray--that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn by the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, “The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

Events seem to converge in so many ways. They converge in diners and in subway stations. They converged a century and a half ago along the lines of battle and principle drawn before a nation. They converged a few generations ago before a world turning its back on Abraham’s seed. They converge before us now in the Gulf of Mexico. And they converge before us in this new millenium, day by day, in the
Cradle of Civilization.

Each point of convergence along the way demands an answer, a response. One generation’s leaders responded and paid a heavy price in blood and treasure for the just victory. Another generation’s leaders responded by pitting its need for full employment against the need of brothers and sisters half a world away to escape evil and tyranny. Today, in diners and subway stations, in banks and suburban homes, in brownstones and the halls of power, events are also converging. In the face of all that’s converging there are cries to retreat and there are cries to advance.

Beyond the diners and the brownstones, good and evil are also colliding in a great test of cosmic wills, converging with all of humanity. In the light of all that’s converging Divine Providence has positioned America in a place of great responsibility. History will either vindicate us for acting or condemn us for retreating. We are being tested and we must not fail. We must not retreat. We must advance!


Pastor Mike said...

Great! It is as if there were an invisible hand at work!

Jim Baxter said...

Pastor, it's not so much that His hand is invisible; it is that egoistic humans cannot SEE.

One of Dillon's finer pieces of reliable insight. The illusion of invisibility, compromise, the 'middle ground,' and stalling for a collectivist safe- opinion-without-consequences.

"Good boy, Dillon!" semper fidelis

"Got Criteria?" See Psalm 119:1--176

Search: Electro-Magnetic Spectrum, visible light (a narrow band)

Anonymous said...

"And he made from one every nation of men to live on the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him" (Acts 17:26-27a). All of these convergences are working together for His purpose. History isn't just a series of cycles, it has purpose and direction "...to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth" (Eph. 1:10). My feeble mind cannot grasp how or why any of these tragedies could have a part in working out God's purpose in this world, but we are a day closer to meeting the One who can tell us. --Hawkeye Gold