Monday, May 01, 2006

Taking Moral Inventory

“In the city’s melted furnace, unexpectedly we watched
With faces hidden while the walls were tightening
As the echo of the wedding bells before the blowin’ rain
Dissolved into the bells of the lightning
Tolling for the rebel, tolling for the rake
Tolling for the luckless, the abandoned an’ forsaked
Tolling for the outcast, burnin’ constantly at the stake
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.”

Bob Dylan – “Chimes of Freedom” (1964)

I’ve been back from the Carolinas for about a week now, taking some time to conduct inventory. Me? I’m fine. I’m just trying to make sense of what’s going on in America these days. I haven’t completed it yet, but what I have done so far makes me conclude that it’s somewhat like adding two plus two over and over in order to come up with a sum of five.

When we left a couple of weeks ago gasoline was about three bucks a gallon. That’s about what it is today. Somewhere during our travels I heard the hard-luck story of a man who had to pawn an antique gold watch, a family heirloom, in order to buy gas for his car. He was a real media darling. How heart-wrenching it was to think that a fellow American had to make a choice between a family heirloom and fuel for his beloved Jaguar XK. It didn’t add up.

Last week Bill Frist cavorted before the cameras, offering every American a hundred bucks to cover the cost of vacation gas this summer. The Democrats did their own cavorting in turn, calling for investigations of oil company executives, their kin, and anyone who had every associated with them. How many investigations in the past two generations does that make? Ten, I think, maybe more. Both political parties are advocating increased fuel efficiency requirements, something on the order of two more miles per gallon in the next ten years. Meanwhile, any time Nancy and I find ourselves on the road between Topeka and Lawrence we see the construction going on. The highway is being widened from four lanes to eight. We saw the same thing on our trip east and back. The construction is everywhere, with highways being widened and added. It doesn’t add up.

Just about everyone’s complaining about gas prices. Many are like that “poor soul” and his Jaguar, with painful choices to make. I read today that March consumer spending was up by six-tenths of a percent and incomes were up by eight-tenths. It doesn’t add up.

Here in Emporia today Tyson has shut down for the day. On one side of town there’s going to be a pro-immigration demonstration, on the other a counter demonstration. A lot of anti-immigrant folks here now seem willing to cut the cows they would never have considered cutting a month ago. And a lot of the illegal immigrants here seem less willing to cut ‘em than they did a month ago. It doesn’t add up.

Half a world away, in Darfur, Black Africans by the thousands are being murdered, raped, and starved into submission by their Muslim countrymen. Leftists in America are calling for international action. The U.N. response so far has been to either ignore the mayhem or extend peace-talk deadlines. The numerical threshold for genocide apparently hasn’t been reached yet. Besides, the last thing Kofi Anan needs right now is to offend the Chinese and the Russians, whose diplomatic language seems to be saying that genocide is okay. And, why not. They’ve got lots of first hand experience and expertise with it. It’s in the character of their political genes. On the other hand, conservatives have been, for the most part, eerily silent about it all. I think they’ve gotten the message. The minute some conservative would dare to advocate unilateral action to stop the bloodshed and horror, the left-wing bloggers and politicians would rise up in unison against any action that would offend our “allies.” The preference for “dialogue” would win out. So, in the end, Darfur will almost certainly be ignored and become another Rwanda or Sudan. It doesn’t add up.

Less than half a year from now America will be five years removed from the attacks of September 11th. I remember those days well. My heart ached. And, so did the hearts of almost all Americans. With few, if any, exceptions we were united as a nation. I didn’t matter that the economy was in tatters. I didn’t matter that the stock market plunged and plunged and plunged. We were together in our adversity; we were Americans to the core, and we were going to find the way to win. We sensed in those days that we could lose something very, very valuable and we decided to pull together so that we could preserve the things we cherish. Today, the Dow is up and national unity is down. Division is in. It’s the order of the day. Was it only five years ago we were “one nation under God?” It seems so much longer, maybe generations ago, maybe even a time relegated to ancient history. It doesn’t add up.

About the only thing that seems to make sense is the work of our enemies. Every four months or so since that fateful day Osama or one of his cohorts crawls out of the sewer like a cockroach, threatens us, and says we’re doomed. We turn the lights on for a minute, then crawl back into the darkness, and we turn the lights off. It’s a deadly dance. I think maybe they believe they can win this thing by just allowing us to defeat ourselves. And, I think they may be succeeding beyond their wildest dreams. We’re about ready to implode. We’re richer than we’ve ever been. We’ve got bigger houses than we’ve ever had. We’ve got two, three, or four cars per family. We eat out almost every night of the week. We spend more for pet food than a lot of countries spend on food for people. Our stores are jammed with inventory. Our closets are filled to overflowing. We own so much we now have to rent storage space for what won’t fit into our houses. And yet, we’re splintered and dissatisfied. It doesn’t add up.

I can’t help but wonder where America is going. I fear we’re somewhere between having sown the wind and reaping the whirlwind. While our wallets are full, our hearts are close to empty. I can almost hear the sound of hissing as what little there is left of our national morality oozes slowly from our bankrupt souls.

Jesus once illustrated this type of emptiness. What he had to say was stark, very pertinent to America today:

“Then he said, “Beware! Don't be greedy for what you don’t have. Real life is not measured by how much we own.”
And he gave an illustration: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. In fact, his barns were full to overflowing. So he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I'll have room enough to store everything. And I’ll sit back and say to myself, my friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!’
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get it all?’
“Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”

It’s a message that’s needed, but I fear it will go unheeded. We’re on the brink, at the edge of the precipice and our wealth and self-centeredness are pushing us over the edge. The cockroaches are crawling all around us and we’re too afraid of losing our wealth to turn the lights on. It doesn’t add up.

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Gasoline prices

Illegal immigration

Osama bin Laden



klau said...

great blog... its really hard to find one that has smart text...

=O.. that..
auf wiedersehen~

Douglas said...

I heard the Tocqueville quote about America being great because it is good was never said by Tocqueville.

Amanda said...

Great post. You're absolutely right: it doesn't add up. I look forward to reading your writing in the future.

Don said...

It is amazing the spectrum in which people live and exist on this planet. You have the filthy rich elite all the way down to the poor orphaned aids kids in Africa. It's a total injustice.