On A Bias for Action (A Quotation)

Christian life is action.

Not a speculating.

Not a debating.

But a doing.

One thing, and only one, in this world has eternity stamped upon it. Feelings pass; resolves and thoughts pass; opinions change. What you have done lasts –lasts in you. Through the Ages, through eternity, what you have done in Christ, that, and only that, you are.

—F.W. Robertson (d. 1853), Scottish evangelist

On Dying Too Young

It was a jarring moment. More than a week later, I’m still processing it.

Allow me to back up and explain.

In my previous post I mentioned that I have spent quite a bit of time on Ancestry dot com piecing together the various branches of our family tree. I’ve taken most lines back several centuries.

In biological terms, each of us has two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents and so forth in an arithmetic doubling progression. That means we all have 128 5x-great-grandparents. For me, all but a couple of of these 128 forbearers were born on U.S. soil.

Put another way, when I’m pursuing a line of my ancestry and want to find the person who “came over” from Europe, I invariably have to go back at least to the early 1700s and in most cases to the 1600s.

At the risk of sounding like a Nativist, I find that kind of cool. It’s colonial era pioneers and farmers as far as the eye can see—with a few Methodist preachers thrown in for good measure.

The jarring moment I mentioned came when I was doing a little of this genealogy research the other day—however it didn’t involve any of these 17th century pioneers.

I found a picture I’d never seen of my paternal grandfather—that is, my dad’s dad—who died in 1961, when I was not yet two years old. I have no memories of the man and had only ever seen photos taken later in his life. So, I was fascinated to have come across this one:

Floyd John Holland

Floyd John Holland was born in 1905 in Sallisaw, Oklahoma. That’s two years before Oklahoma became a state. He appears to be about 15 years old in the above photo so I’m guessing it was taken around 1920–maybe a year or two earlier.

He was the second oldest of 11 children, and the date of his birth made him too young to serve in the first world war and too old to serve in the second one. He married my grandmother when he was 20 and she was 15. They went on to have six kids, their second-eldest was my father.

He died a slow, painful death from prostate cancer in a day in which treatment options were limited. He knew he was dying for months before the disease finally took him.

In attaching the above photo to the Ancestry dot com record for my grandfather, I took note of the date of his death and did something I, for some reason, hadn’t ever done. I subtracted his birth year from his death year to determine his age at death.

He was only 56.

I am 56.

It was a sobering moment. I could not help wondering what it would feel like to be finished right now, at this very point in my life. To know there would be no more accomplishments. No more milestones. No more discoveries. No more legacy building.

Yes, I know it sounds a little morbid, but in that instant I couldn’t help putting myself in his place— knowing that there would be grandchildren I’d never see born, much less have the opportunity to influence.

Fifty-six is far too young to to be done.

My grandmother survived him by 41 years and never remarried. A few months before she died, she pulled me aside and quietly shared an extraordinary piece of new information about my grandfather’s final days.

He had never been a spiritual man.  He wasn’t a church-goer. But my grandmother wanted me to know that shortly after the cancer had confined her husband to a bed he knew he’d never leave, he’d asked her to summon the preacher.

Knowing the end was near, he did business with God.

One of the countless wonderful things about the grace-driven offer of salvation God makes to every person in every place and time is that, as long as breath is in our bodies, it is never too late to say “yes” to it.

Forgiveness, peace and Heaven are not a prize to be won or a paycheck to be earned. These are only gifts to be humbly received.

He left behind something more than a wife and six children. He bequeathed to us all an example of a man working hard to do whatever was necessary to provide for his large, young family.

In my previous post I mentioned how every genealogical researcher secretly hopes to find royalty or nobility in their family tree. It strikes me that I’ve found it.

In the depths of the Great Depression, in one of the hardest hit areas of the country, my grandfather simultaneously worked as a custodian, drove a bus, sold cars on the weekend and farmed—all in order to put food on table and shoes on feet.

I can think of few things more noble than that.

Even so, 56 is far too young to be finished. And that jarring realization has added fuel to my resolve to be a good steward of however many years I have remaining.

Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if I have 56 more in front of me—112 is a good number. But we never know, do we?

This day—today—is the gift we’ve been given. Let’s see what we can make of it, shall we?

Crowdsourcing Bad Information



Here at Hacienda Holland,  we enjoy watching the PBS show “Finding Your Roots”—where each week three celebrities, politicians and other people of note have their family trees researched by professionals and learn previously unknown and often startling facts about their ancestors. It’s a fascinating and often quite moving viewing experience.

For example, this week’s episode profiled the genealogies of Jimmy Kimmel, Norman Lear, and Bill Hader (formerly of SNL.) You can watch that episode here.

Lear learned that several branches of his direct Jewish ancestors came to America fleeing horrific, genocidal pogroms in Russia. He also discovered he carries the Cohanim gene, meaning that he is likely descended from the priestly Hebrew tribe of Levi.

Hader, who hails from Tulsa, Oklahoma, was stunned to discover he is a direct descendant of the 9th Century emperor Charlemagne.

FamilyTreeA few years ago I bought Mrs. H a subscription to Ancestry dot com for her birthday after she’d expressed some curiosity about her roots (she’s half Czech).

Research, however, is one of my super-powers, not hers (she has many others). As a result, I have been the one who has spent the most time online trying to fill in blanks on our respective family trees.

Originally, the Ancestry dot com site simply allowed subscribers to search record archives (births, deaths, baptisms, census records, etc.) and then start building a family tree based on the information they discovered. Eventually, the site—due to popular demand from users, no doubt—began to let members share their family trees and related research with others.

This is where it all went horribly, hilariously wrong.

Oh sure, this feature was great at first. It allowed you to glom onto the hours of painstaking work some diligent, meticulous researcher had put in determining the parentage of some common ancestor. With a couple of mouse clicks you could grab all that information and watch it pop right into your own tree.

The problem is that this same feature also allows bad information to go viral, spreading through Ancestry dot com family trees like Dutch Elm disease.

And the internet’s genealogy sites are awash in bad information. Really, really bad. Why?

Because, when researching one’s genealogy, there’s nothing more frustrating than hitting a dead end. Human nature being what it is, many people address that frustration by attaching their family line to a branch to which it doesn’t belong.

This is doubly tempting when that branch has some cool factor. You see, everyone wants to be Bill Hader, tracing his or her lineage back to the European royalty or a famous person in history.

It only takes one person erroneously connecting their ancestor to the wrong person to lead astray thousands of others who share that same ancestor. And clearly people are easily led astray—just uncritically assuming everything presented to them is correct.

Anytime I’m researching my family lines, I’m presented with countless suggestions—based on other users’ trees—that contain one or more of the following based on the associated dates:

  • Men who became fathers when they were three or four years old.
  • Women who gave birth when they were three or four years old.
  • Women who gave birth with they were 73 or 74 or 104 years old.
  • People who are older than their parents.
  • Couples who give two of their children the same first name.

The greatest safeguard against falling prey to these errors is the ability to do simple math (subtraction mainly) and a rudimentary understanding of the human reproductive cycle–two skills that are clearly rarer than I’d previously presumed.

growthcurveNevertheless, it’s fascinating to see how one individual’s mistake can snowball into something huge and seemingly universally accepted. Two or three people replicate that one person’s error. Then others observe that three or four people seem to all agree. Soon it seems like hundreds of people have all reached the same conclusion. It must be true!

Which reminds me . . .

Something very similar roughly seventeen centuries ago may be the reason we’ve all been taught that John, the Beloved discipled, penned the book of Revelation in the A.D. 90s when John was in his 90s.

But I’ll save that for another day.