Like Father, Like Daughter

One of life’s rewarding experiences is finally coming my way at this late stage in life. One of my children is actually following in my footsteps in a couple of unanticipated ways.

My adult daughter is now playing baseball, my favorite childhood sport, even though she had shown no prior interest for it when she was young. The cause for this epiphany about the merits of America’s past time has little to do with me and everything to do with her employment. She is on the staff of a company called Life Styles, which serves a special adult community, whose members have developmental challenges of various kinds.

Apparently softball is a popular activity for them and my daughter, by virtue of her place on staff, is the manager for one of their teams. She doesn’t know the rules of the game and has little natural aptitude for the art of catching, throwing and hitting an orb of any size. Her childhood interest was always firmly rooted in the care and maintenance of horses. Still, she’s game to be a manager-player and mix it up with a unique collection of people, who find it pure joy in swinging a bat, running the bases and touching home plate, even if no one is officially keeping score. It is simply the love of the game that puts a little swagger in their step whenever they take the field.

My daughter knows that I spent time coaching her older brother in how to play the game. He had a bat, ball and glove not long after he learned to walk. And at dad’s insistence he learned to use them to the extent that I started talking to him about a professional career before he graduated from grade school. Somewhere along the line he developed other interests, which meant that all of his baseball paraphernalia found their way to the back of his closet, permanently. This fact prompted my daughter to observe all these years later that “You taught the wrong kid.”

O well. Such is the plight of being a parent. You never really know how your best of intentions will turn out as your children’s independence quotient comes into play in their lives. I have a second chance, though, since my daughter is following in my footsteps in a different endeavor, one I am adept at and can coach in lieu of never having taught her to cope with the curve.

She is in the process of establishing a non-profit organization, which I know something about since it is how I made a living all those years that I was neglecting her athletic education. To be honest, I did do a lot of chauffeuring when she was little, ferrying her and her four-legged charges to various equestrian competitions. Although I never really progressed beyond knowing a horse’s head from its tail, the fact that I came to appreciate my daughter’s aptitude for horse sense prompted me to encourage her to develop her knowledge and skills in pursuit of whatever dream might come from it.

The result is a new non-profit, incorporated earlier this year, where she lives in Arkansas. If interested, you can learn more about it by visiting I had a part in helping to file the application with the state to obtain corporate status and then the one sent to the IRS to gain their much needed recognition for gait Ways as a public charity. This will allow my daughter to acknowledge all donations as tax-deductible gifts in support of her mission. And that mission brings us back to those special folks, who are an integral part of her baseball team.

My daughter’s vision is to partner the horses she has rescued with the special needs adults under her care. Since Life Styles is about helping people become contributing members to their respective communities, my daughter’s goal is to partner her horses, who have a natural instinct for being participants in a safe community of their own (aka herd), with their human counterparts in pursuit of building relationships based on trust. The skills and confidence gained from this unusual collaboration will last a lifetime for all involved.

It also has allowed my daughter to assume the mantel of being an executive director of this new non-profit organization. And that allows me to take credit for an assist, just as if I had hit a sacrifice fly into deep right field in order to advance the runner to the next available base.

Wounded Heart, Wounded Soul

I am a late arrival to the works of Dean Koontz. His production stretches back to 1968, which means that I am decades behind his output. To say he is prolific is the type of cliché he would likely avoid using. I’ll say it, though, because playing catchup to someone who has an audit trail of  more than a gazillion published works is intimidating. (I’ll avoid writing “to say the least” because that too is an over-worked cliché that is unworthy of my subject).

The only reason I started reading anything of his is due to the insistence of a friend, whose good intentions have resulted in a manuscript curse. Me being me, once I find an author that I like my OCD kicks in and I must read everything the marketplace can supply. And with Amazon possessing the capability of supplying me (for a fee) every novel, novella, short story and essay Koontz has written, I have a long ways to go before I can draw even with him.

My entry point is the Odd Thomas series. And even there I am only at the beginning. Two titles completed thus far out of nine that I know of and three graphic novels in reserve means that me and Odd will be buddies for a while.

Part of the appeal of reading about Odd and his other worldly buddies is the novels’ California setting. Being a Southern California native myself, there is a certain wish fulfillment that takes place whenever I encounter a good story with an old home setting. Think Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, Louis Lamour’s The Lonesome Gods, the last half of Lisa See’s Shanghai Girls and all the Kinsey Millhone stories by Sue Grafton.

The small community of Pico Mundo, where Odd lives is fictional, like his self, but not the Mojave Desert, where the town is located. I’ve been there in a long ago former life as a California free-spirit and can recall the sights, sounds, feel and smell of the terrain Koontz invokes with great clarity. So score one for the power of setting, especially as it befits the nature of the primary character and the mood of his haunted adventures.

Odd sees dead people. His relationship with them is compassionate at the core, even when they draw him into the kind of supernatural escapade that is life threatening for Odd and highly entertaining for those of us disinclined to put the book down until we’ve finished the last page. It’s in the second book of this series, entitled Forever Odd, where Koontz sets himself apart for other authors of popular mystery-themed fiction. It’s in the way he describes the relationship between Odd and the spirits, who desperately seek him out for consolation.

That I will touch them, embrace them, seems always to be a comfort for which they’re grateful. They embrace me in return. And touch my face. And kiss my hands.

You don’t have to be a ghost whisperer to identify with this statement. This is a caregiver’s experience, whether trained as a hospice worker or simply a family member thrust into an intimate relationship with the dying. Presence means everything, made all the more valuable by providing that last scintillating encounter with touch. This can be an uncomfortable challenge as the extremities grow cold, making the simple act of handholding a commitment defying our natural revulsion to death’s relentless demand to possess the last breath of a loved one’s sacred vitality. When sight dims, touch prevails. Where words fail, a caress transcends the need for communication.

Odd says of his spectral encounters, Sometimes it seems that to exit this world, they must go through my heart, leaving it scarred and sore.

Caregivers know the feeling. We have the exit wounds to prove it, both heart and soul.

Road Trip

I have been away on one of those journeys you understandably measure in time and distance. Only both quantifying factors have a double meaning for me. In terms of time I was away for eleven days. In terms of distance I covered by car more than 4,600 miles through eleven different states. Those are the objective measures of my travels. The subjective ones defy such quantification.

The road out was a somber one. The purpose was to attend a memorial service of sorts for my younger brother, who passed away earlier this year from the family scourge – cancer. His body had been donated to science for study by medical students and then returned to the family contained in an urn. Cremation was the fair exchange for the opportunity to dissect someone whose life was hard spent on tobacco and beer.

The time element for this part of my travels involved more than the number of ticks on the clock. It also involved a trip backwards as I reminisced about my own childhood and its intersection with family and friends who are no longer with me except in memory.

My brothers and I were born several years apart so we grew up as if we were only children. We did not share friends, interests or many of those life-shaping experiences, which comprise the rites of passage. Other than family and church attendance, we were like acquaintances to one another, known but not intimate. This family dynamic made my recent drive west a duty to be performed; my last as I am the sole survivor of that nuclear family, which defined nearly everything I have become.

The road back was of an entirely different nature. It was a time of discovery. Whereas the route out was as short and direct as possible, the way back meandered through various never-before-seen locales and subsequently took longer. The time spent was enjoyable, marked by the therapeutic qualities offered by natural and man-made landmarks. Both types of achievements can lay claim to being majestic. The Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks were a wonderful compliment to the Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore Monuments.

Still, it is great to be back. My version of the country roads which brought me home had too much on the interstate stamp on them due to my own time constraints. But there will hopefully be other paths to follow at a more leisurely pace made all the more valuable to me as my own sense of mortality rode shotgun during most of the venture. That’s probably an appropriate image to use when you have just traversed the Badlands at such a rapid pace.

There are few now who I will travel so far to mourn. There is much to see, however, and a diminishing amount of time in which to do it. The pathways to further revelation beckons ever on.

Have Maps, Will Travel

I am on the road this week, making a journey through both space and time. The space component is easy to chart. I have maps to consult for plotting a general course between my home and my destination. This aspect of my journey has a distant horizon determined by the breadth of states to be traversed for my arriving. I also have a phone to help me judge more discreet distances when the time comes to gauge the distance to the next relief station. Siri speaks kindly to me to help me effectively and efficiently find my way.

The time aspect of my travels is a little more daunting. Its maps consist of memory and memories, as many of my fellow travelers eventually come to realize, can be faulty. There is no Siri for navigating the pathway back from adulthood to childhood and that is the route I must take in fulfilling the true purpose for my journey.  We are gathering to eulogize the lost; lover, children, extended family, friends and the sole surviving member of my nuclear family, which is me.

My thoughts are not theirs. My perception of how a life was lived is distorted with those sinister moments the others cannot and likely should not know. Why disturb their search for solace by summoning up the demons that time alone has attempted to dispel? Limit truth and allow love to do its best work in covering a vast multitude of sins and sorrows and hopeless aspirations. Let delusion bury the dead once again.

I have maps and am willing to travel, just not this way again. There are places which exist expressly for me to locate with a passionate fascination among their vibrantly illustrated musings, while I dare to allow the unrepentant past to disappear in the rearview mirror. My only reservations will be those for securing another night’s lodging, with comfort in mind for body as well as soul. Life’s lessons cannot displace the past merely redeem it as long as our gaze is on the road before us with a determination to finish well by arriving safely.

Losing Walter Cronkite

One of the most enduring myths of the Viet Nam era is the role CBS newsman Walter Cronkite played in bringing about America’s disillusionment regarding the nature of the war. His February 1968 special report on conditions in South Viet Nam following the Tet Offensive questioned our ability to win the war, stating that we were “mired in a stalemate.” In response President Johnson supposedly told an aide that if he lost Walter Cronkite, then he would lose the support of Middle America.

W. Joseph Campbell, American University professor in the School of Communications, debunked the myth of Cronkite’s clout and the impact he had on both the nation and the president in his 2010 book Getting it Wrong: ten of the greatest misreported stories in American journalism. (If you don’t have time to read the book then do an internet search for “Q&A: W. Joseph Campbell” to see his C-SPAN interview with host Brian Lamb. He makes his case quite succinctly about the phenomena of the Cronkite Moment).

I was an avid watcher of the evening news with Walter Cronkite. I still hold a grudge against Dan Rather for forcing the most trusted man in America into early retirement. But I would not be surprised if Campbell wrote a sequel to Getting it Wrong, which would debunk the Rather myth of sending Cronkite packing. Still, my point here is to be very candid with anyone reading this message about my own investment of trust in Walter Cronkite as a source for all the news fit to broadcast. There is a corollary here that I must also acknowledge for the sake of full disclosure. I believe we were better served when news was limited to 30 – 60 minutes each evening instead of the current litany of opinions plaguing us 24/7/365.

I do have my own opinion, though, about what it means to lose Walter Cronkite. It concerns trust and over reporting over an extended period of time. Once it became known that America had “advisors” in Viet Nam, the Gallup folks annually asked people if they thought our intervention was a mistake. Survey results showed the nation strongly behind the Johnson administration in 1964. But the level of support gradually diminished until the nation was shown to be evenly divided (much as it is now) by the fall of 1967.

Cronkite’s special report in February 1968 was a latecomer to the growth of dissention concerning our involvement in Viet Nam. His influence was no doubt bolstered, however, by Johnson’s announcement one month later that he would not seek reelection to the presidency. Johnson’s decision was triggered by other events and other people. And what we tend to forget in our interpretation of those events all these years later is that we were well into the Nixon administration before the war was brought to an end.

With all due respect to Professor Campbell I think there is a place for accepting the thought of losing Walter Cronkite as a symbol of the change that takes place in public sentiment, which is often referred to as a paradigm shift (rightly or wrongly). We don’t handle depth and breadth too well. We need a defining moment, which can be expressed in a sound bite such as, “If I’ve lost Walter Cronkite, then I’ve lost Middle America.”  The Cronkite Moment, then, is not a matter of a single sentence in a television broadcast. Its significance must be seen as the culmination of a much longer process involving many more people, who never want or warrant an on-air interview, yet still have a role in forging policy and performance. We just need a certain someone, of hopefully indisputable trustworthiness, to tell us it is so. The Cronkites of the world serve that purpose, likely unintentionally.

I bring this up now as an uninformed but bemused observer of the current political scene. For the damage the Democrats are attempting to do to the current president’s political future, it seems to me that more attention should be paid to what is taking place at FOX News. From time to time one of their own makes a statement exposing a gaff, an exaggeration, a misrepresentation, a lie or a clearly defaming rant coming from the President for what it is, inexcusable.

As these pronouncements continue to take place I am wondering if Chris Wallace, Judge Napolitano or even Brett Baier is about the have a Cronkite Moment of their own and get credit for achieving what the Democrats can only contentiously dream of. There is plenty of time, after all, for the President to shock the nation, as LBJ did in 1968, by announcing his decision not to seek reelection in 2020. The true motivation behind just such a turn of events will likely take place because of the legal proceedings taking place in New York and not Washington, DC.

Forgiveness Is Not Access

I love history. There is no surprise in that for anyone who has followed my blog posts. Historic events, writings and even historically based novels have informed the content of these messages from time to time. This week’s message is another case in point.

I just finished watching the second season of The Crown miniseries. It has been available for a while, but I was reluctant to watch it due to the rather negative portrayal of the Kennedys prominently featured in the publicity prior to the second season’s premiere. When the message is potentially negative, I prefer to ease into it without surrendering to absolute denial. And since our nation did not crumble in light of the revelations of this patently British production, I finally tuned in. I actually binged watch, if the truth be told.

To my surprise it was not the Kennedy episode that troubled me but the one relating Queen Elizabeth’s fascination with Billy Graham’s Greater London Crusade, which took place in 1954. This was placed in juxtaposition to her quandary about allowing her uncle an opportunity to return to some form of public service, her uncle being the former King Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne reportedly for the sake of the woman he loved. The focus of The Crown’s storyline, however, was his Nazi sympathies expressed prior to World War II and the Queen’s dilemma about whether or not to forgive him in allowing his return in an official capacity.

I cannot attest to the historical accuracy of how this was all presented. Commercial productions of any kind, purported to be based on true stories still take great liberties with the truth for the sake of drama. To me such a maneuver is an admission that the people involved with the production lack faith, pun intended, in the importance and dramatic appeal of the truth. You can guess, therefore, by this diatribe that I was not pleased with the handling of this particular episode. All the personalities involved deserve an accurate portrayal of their character if not the factual basis of their behavior and words.

Of greatest concern to me was the scene in which Graham was summoned to the palace to advise Queen Elizabeth on the nature of forgiveness. She did not say who she had in mind to forgive or the details of the person’s offense. So any reply Graham could give would have to be of the generic sort. Christian doctrine is clear that generally withholding forgiveness is not an option and that is essentially the point mouthed by the actor portraying Graham. I found his response generically weak in keeping with the vagueness of the question presented to the young evangelist. This may be attributed to the script writer’s ignorance of Christian doctrine rather than the lack of insight and meaning offered by Graham if such an encounter ever took place.

To me movies and television programs are fantasy. You don’t go to them for a history lesson. But in keeping with their nebulous (and potentially nefarious) qualities, allow me to do a little time travel, mentally transporting myself back to that questionable encounter about forgiveness as the mans to provide my own opinion on forgiveness – had it been sought –  in service to Her Majesty.

I would first want to know, without the need to divulge the details, whether this was a personal matter or a matter of state. Not that it would change my answer necessarily, but it would likely impact the wording and tone of my reply. You can do a lot of verbal handholding as a form of comfort when given permission to discuss matters on a personal level. The alternative is to speak in a cold, academic manner, as if one were lecturing seminary students by relying on the meaning of words in the original language and the cultural context in which the words were written. But the subject of forgiveness deserves a better, more humane and compassionate presentation than the cold economy of intellectual discourse.

Forgiveness is a hallmark of the Christian faith, although it is not to be presumed that it is our exclusive domain. Forgiveness generally follows a person’s repentance and request for mercy, but even that simple form of process is not always the case. Forgiveness defies the scope of the transgression. Magnitude is not a prohibitive obstacle to redemption. But not all who are forgiven are to be trusted! My basis for such a sentiment rests on a little scrutinized statement written by the Apostle John contained in his second epistle.

Appropriately it was written to a chosen lady, befitting the status of someone like Elizabeth, chosen by right of birth as England’s queen. John acknowledged the woman’s children, implying that there was no husband at hand to provide the much needed care, comfort and protection in a society divided by ethnic, religious and political factions. His counsel to her was to continue loving everyone in truth, indicative of someone who understood the power inherent in the self-denying aspect of forgiveness. But he also counseled her with a qualifying factor I would want the Queen of England or anyone else struggling to understand their obligations when it comes to forgiving an offense.

John wrote, If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching (loving in truth), do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work (II John, verses 10-11).

The situation shown in The Crown involved the Queen’s decision about whether or not to assent to her uncle’s request to be granted a position in which he would be viewed as a representative of England’s commercial and political interests. He had sinned by placating Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party, when der Fuhrer’s intent was yet to be fully realized for its diabolical means and goals. The question posed in the dramatization of his quest asked if the Duke of Windsor, the former King Edward VIII, should be forgiven for his folly as a proponent of appeasement in the build-up leading to World war II. The answer on strictly religious grounds is of course! But should he bet let back into the house? The answer is emphatically no! He exhibited no sense of repentance and doubtless was clueless about the extent of his gullibility and stupidity. To have granted him a place of responsibility would have been to accept a share of his form of wickedness.

If we were to search the historical records, we would no doubt find that denying the Duke a place of public prominence was a political decision and not a matter of Christian doctrine. But by invoking a role for Graham in the decision making process muddies both the history and the truth of what it means to forgive in light of those nuances which accompany it. Forgiveness is not access. Protecting the house and all of its members is sound doctrine.

To ignore this aspect of biblical teaching is to leave the rest of us at the mercy of the King Edwards of our lives, for we do have them. Just ask the people who have shared their stories as part of the Me Too movement. The alternative is to allow the serpent back into the garden.

A Different Kind of Music Lesson

When I was very young I wanted to take piano lessons. My older brother was doing it and I enjoyed imitating everything he did even though there was a six year difference in our ages. Besides the obvious advantage he had by virtue of being more mature and disciplined, he also by nature was more of a studious person, comfortable staying indoors for long periods of time, while I was the outdoor type. Every minute of my day was dedicated to playing outside, which is not remotely conducive to becoming a competent pianist.

Much later I did learn to strum a guitar and finger the major chords plus a few minor ones. That allowed me to be part of our impromptu folk groups, not just to harmonize vocally, but to be a player in real terms, a musician if only at the most elementary level.

I must thank my competitive nature for this accomplishment, engendered from all those prior years of playing outside games since competition was my motivation for learning to play the guitar in the first place. A girl I met during my college years could play and I was not about to let her show me up, at least not in this area. She has subsequently found many other ways to do so during the 40-plus years of our marriage.

Still, I love music and am disheartened at this late stage of my life by the awareness that I never developed the proper discipline to read and interpret music the way I can words. A large part of my management career required some fluency in communicating with others of differing interests, whether they be clients, staff, supervisors or peers. But had I been as fluent with musical notations as I was with blog posts, news releases and promotional talking points, I would have been in league with those who can speak the language of angels.

One of my recent reads is a book published in 2016 entitled Absolutely on Music. It consists primarily of a sequence of discussions between the celebrated conductor Seiji Ozawa and novelist Haruki Murakami. I honestly understood very little of it. I simply lack the knowledge of the classical music they discussed in order to capture the nuances of the points they were making about composers and the challenges of leading others in creating inspiring performances on an orchestral scale. But Ozawa did make a few statements, which I found both intriguing and applicable to my own professional experiences and therefore came away with an awareness of having enjoyed a music lesson of a different kind.

When asked if he spent his time preparing for a performance by memorizing the score, Ozawa said no. A conductor, after all, has the score in front of him when he conducts the orchestra. Rather what was of the utmost concern was his ability to understand the score. And this is where I felt that being a manager and being a music conductor crossed paths, sharing a common perspective. A large part of my time was spent presenting my organization to customers, members and donors, which required me to have the most complete understanding of the organization possible. No one would acknowledge me as being an artist or call me maestro, no matter how effective my informed presentation might be. But I do believe that my compatriot, conductor Ozawa, would understand and offer a respectful nod of affirmation.

A True Son of Adam

Anyone familiar with the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden likely knows that a serpent enticed Eve into eating the forbidden fruit. She in turn convinced her chump of a husband to do the same. One of the lesser elements of this story, which many people may not know, is that when asked by God why he, Adam, ate what Eve had offered replied that, “The woman you put here with me  – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” In essence Adam’s defense was that the woman, not the devil, made him do it and indirectly it was God’s fault for making the woman in the first place.

Like a true son of Adam I am prepared to make the same assertion as my forebear. In my case, however, the excuse needs to be stated in the plural. It’s the women’s fault! And what in heaven’s name is my offense? I have given in to an insatiable gluttony of watching all of those athletically gifted daughters of Eve who are competing in the World Cup.

I have yet to miss a game other than when the Fox network simulcast two games a day during the group stage. Otherwise my calendar has been loaded with the start times and opponents engaged in soccer combat that has come to dictate my daily regimen. My obsession with the tournament has completely obliterated my previous discipline of writing, including posting this belated web log message. Saturday was my self-imposed deadline, but this fall from grace in my daily productivity is the best indication I can offer of my inclination towards the deadly sin of sloth.

I know that you will think that lust should be included in my explanation of why I am doing little more than sitting in my recliner for several hours a day. But I plead an interest in watching a sport I could never master being played by my fellow exiles from the Garden in a way that the testosterone charged bad boys of soccer cannot. I can envy the abilities of the female combatants precisely because of their natural allure whereas the athletic prowess of the elite men in the international world of football, aka soccer to those of us in the US, produces a wrath born of competitive impotence by comparison.

My sense of greed fuels my desire for the US women’s team to be the ones to hoist the World Cup trophy when the final whistle blows. And the pride I will feel at witnessing their achievement can only be equaled by seeing them do it again four years from now. I will be watching, Lord willing.

Whose Past? Whose Path?

One of my addictions is my walk to the library on a Saturday afternoon to read the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal. The addiction stems from my reliance on their Review section to let me know if there is a new book of inordinate promise for my reading interests and pleasure. In case this seems like a source for capitalist consumption only, I must point out now that I learned about George R. R. Martin through WSJ long before Game of Thrones was a mega hit for HBO as well as the works of Bernard Cornwell without the knowledge of Sharp’s Rifles having been a popular series of lesser status on the more cultured PBS network.

I mention this as the setup for the articles which absorbed my attention in the June 1-2 edition of the paper. Front page and occupying a large part of the Review section was a group of articles about the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations for democracy, which prompted the brutal crackdown by the Chinese ruling party. This was at a time when the mainstream news outlets in America were still committed to reporting the news and those of us old enough to cherish those times of a reputable free press remember the televised image of a single man confronting a line of tanks. The exhilarating promise of the birth of democracy within a totalitarian regime gave way to censorship during a bloody repression tantamount to a botched abortion.

This being the first weekend in June 2019, space was also made available for reviews of five new books about the 1944 D-Day invasion of the Normandy coast in France, which ultimately led to the defeat of the German army the following year. As something of a sidebar there was also a review of a book entitled The Washington War by James Lacey about the inner workings of President Roosevelt’s administration during the entire conflict. The timing of the books’ release is easily understandable since this is the 75th anniversary of the allied armies establishing the much hoped for western front by the launching the most complex logistical invasion ever undertaken in human history. The result bequeathed to the world a largely free and independent Western Europe. Those nations liberated by Russia didn’t fare so well.

The contrast between the two anniversaries can only be described in polar opposite terms. If there be any point of commonality between them it is only in the bloody nature of the fighting which accompanied the clash between ideologies on the shores of the French coastline and later in the streets of Tiananmen. The absence of events commemorating the sacrifices made by the exuberant Chinese students who launched a peaceful protest for democracy thirty years ago gives silent testimony, mercilessly enforced, to the basic contrast between the two events. We cannot say enough often enough to memorialize what was done seventy-five years ago, hence the issue of new books about a day in the life of freedom.

There is much about Chinese culture that we praise, sometimes to the point of envy. The ancient nation’s achievements in the arts and sciences dwarf American aspirations when the comparison is based on their longevity. But the disparate legacies of a June day in 1944 and that of one in April 1989 should tell us about whose path we wish to take based on whose history portends the greatest promise for a free and prosperous future. America the upstart is still the beautiful and sometimes wonderfully boastful to the point of national arrogance. But as long as our good intentions continue to let freedom ring, then I can join in with a little flag waving and even dare to kneel at the sound of our national anthem in prayerful gratitude for the time and place of my birth.

Prisoners of Hope

I am drawn to statements which turn our perspective from the obvious to what we often regard as being counterintuitive. It intrigues me that someone has the gift to see below the surface of our conditions and experiences to recognize an opportunity we would otherwise miss as the result of being mesmerized by the reflection of a glistening facade. We bestow on such people a mystic quality denied the rest of us held captive by the ordinary vistas of plain sight. We even revere them or sometimes fear them based upon our own emotional strengths and weaknesses.

One such person was an Old Testament prophet by the name of Zechariah. He appeared among the Hebrew people at a time when they were attempting to rebuild their culture following their return from an forced exile imposed on them by the Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar. The duration of their captivity was approximately seventy years, a type of statute of limitations foretold by another prophet named Jeremiah. He also advised them to pursue an industrious life while in exile. His rationale was that while their labor would benefit their captors, they would also be benefitting themselves, acquiring skills and wealth in preparation for their ultimate return to the land of promise.

Upon their arrival they did start to construct the foundation for a new temple, the central component of their national identity. They also built an altar on which to resume their practice of animal sacrifices to symbolically bring cleansing to the people. But then a form of apathy set in and all progress stopped. They regressed into a form of self-aggrandizement, which produced a negative return. Their resources were dwindling and all the promises inherent in a sense of restoration became seemingly ethereal. This denouement in their return was the cue for Zechariah to take center stage and convince them otherwise.

Bible scholars debate the credibility of his message. But what else is new? All the books contained within the cover of the Bible, especially those which claim prophetic privilege, are critiqued for time, place, and authorship based on the internal evidence of the writer’s syntax and historic references. Regardless of the efficacy of these critiques, students committed to puzzling through Zechariah’s sequence of visions have identified eight key pieces in the peoples’ spiritual heritage, which he used as the means for inspiring them to resume their labors in constructing the temple and abiding by the rules of sacrifice to and worship of the Maker of heaven and earth.

What certain scholars claim to see in his eschatology is: 1) the people of Israel were God’s chosen for whom he cared deeply; 2)  their foes had been completely destroyed; 3) God’s blessings would follow the completion of the temple; 4) Joshua, the high priest, was symbolic of the coming messiah; 5) the work would be done “not by might” but by the invigorating power of God’s spirit; 6) the land would be purified of all wickedness with the teaching of the law; 7) wickedness, itself, would be banished to the land of Israel’s former captors; and 8) the end result would be the kingdom’s perpetual security.

I must acknowledge that the preceding paragraph is simply a theological freebie. Such conclusions are beyond by capabilities to discern from my casual reading of the text and is offered here as a surrender to substance before getting to my own point for this message. By comparison to what Biblical scholars may offer, my own dalliance with a single phrase lifted from Zechariah’s writing might best be viewed in keeping with the proverbial phrase plucked from the pages of the New Testament in which the Apostle Paul admitted to looking through a glass darkly. I am not of the time or culture in which Zechariah made his prophetic statements. Yet echoing down through the long ages (another borrowed sentiment) Z’s words do have a pleasant, perhaps even pertinent, implication for our own particular time and place.

Zechariah said of these returnees from seventy years of captivity in Babylonia that they were prisoners of hope. Here, then, is that counter-intuitive insight of which I am enamored. The young prophet turned the political aspects of their enslavement into a moral and emotional one. Building on the foundation laid by his revered predecessor, Jeremiah, he was able to upend the peoples’ popular concept of their troubles by interpreting their captivity as a time of hope. During their years in exile they had anticipated their own return to the land of their origin due to Jeremiah’s promise of a time limit to their exile, which would also prove to be a time of spiritual and temporal growth. The people had lived with hope despite the restraints on their movements and what we term their civil liberties.

Given the malaise in which Zechariah found them, this was like a splash of cold water tossed in the face of their despair. His wakeup call to their true status may have damaged his credibility given the all too apparent harsh reality of the circumstances, which kept the people focused solely on their subsistence. So Zechariah urged them on to something greater than themselves by changing their perspective about those circumstances supported by a vision for Israel’s future. He was vindicated in his strategy when the people renewed their avowed purpose and finished the temple’s construction.

If we are to be captives, what better jailer could we have than the positive outlook that overrides every situation in the anticipation that something good will happen? This is not in spite of the circumstances, but because of them; good emerging in the midst of oppressive conditions because of what we make of them. Otherwise we let circumstances define us and yield to the chorus of woes, which reinforce the tendency to do little or nothing at all.

Prisoners are people, who are denied the liberty of movement by a force more powerful than themselves.   Hope is an attitude, which seeks the perfect expression of liberty. To be a prisoner of hope, therefore, is to be controlled by an overwhelming force, which empowers us without deviation to pursue the goals which give life meaning. Let us choose in this day and age to heed Zechariah’s words and be prisoners of hope rather than prisoners of an all-consuming hopelessness.