James 4:17 (New Living Translation)
“Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.”
It’s supposed to get to about a hundred and seven or eight here today. I spent the early morning hours walking northwest of my place, occasionally stopping to talk to folks as I did. Somewhere near the Emporia Surgical Hospital I spent a few minutes with a fellow who was watering his tomato plants. “Better get ‘er done early,” I said. “You too,” he responded. “I been out here since about six and I’m gonna’ git back inside the house directly and won’t come out again till it rains. I highly recommend you do too.”
Our conversation meandered from the state of the wheat crop in western Kansas to the state of local politics, both of which are poor, finally landing on some of the lessons of history. I reminded him of the summer of 1980 in Kansas City and he did me one better, telling me all about his experience as a teenager during the dust bowl days of the thirties in the Great Plains. With that our conversation ended and I was on my way, contemplating the lessons until I got back home.
I was home by nine-fifteen and after a completing a few chores I turned on the news and watched a bit of FOX, C-Span, and MSNBC. The coverage is now almost universally about the Middle-East crisis. Most of the talking heads, particularly those on the left, support a negotiated settlement. I’m not sure what they mean by settlement, but I have a hunch that somewhere in the fine print it would include some provisions favorable to Hezbollah and Hamas. Europe and Vladimir Putin would claim it’s all in keeping with what scholar Thomas Sowell calls the unconstrained vision. On the east coast of the United States they’d call it win-win. Out here we’d call it appeasement.
This all brings me back to something I wrote last September or October when Israel was pulling of the West Bank and Gaza. Looking back on it, it’s hard to believe that it was that long ago. The history of our times, in small and great ways, was converging on the Kansas Flint Hills in much the same way as it is today. I re-read the piece and found that it was also an eerie reminder to me that along with the convergence of events come moral choices.
I re-post it now, hoping that it will converge with you wherever you are:
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. I finally succeeded and started to make my way over to where Nancy was gathering our intelligence for the day. After about three steps 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 was so confusing it took 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 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.
One 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. Events and nations and people are woven together, strands of history and circumstance. They come together in the lives of individuals. They come together 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, noting that we’ve learned a lesson. Most often, though, they call upon us to act.
In the current circumstance history will either vindicate us for acting on behalf of what is right or condemn us for retreating in the face of evil.
We must not retreat!
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