America's "Good Samaritan" Religion

There is a remarkable book review by Michael Kochin over at The Claremont Institute’s site. The review is of David Gelentner’s new book, Americanism: The Fourth Great Western Religion.

An excerpt of the review:

Americans aim to serve the God of the Old Testament as interpreted by Jesus and his apostles in the New Testament. Here the central teaching of Jesus, at least for the aspects of the American religion that interest Gelernter, is the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), which Gelernter doesn’t cite even though it, too, is echoed in Lincoln’s Second Inaugural. The Good Samaritan, as Martin Luther King, Jr., expounded in his final speech, is the man who, in a dangerous and forlorn place, asked not, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” but “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” This is the American missionary spirit: “When we see that wounded traveler on the road to Jericho,” said President Bush in his first inaugural, “we will not pass to the other side.” It is this teaching that still summons medical missionaries to perform eye operations in the slums of Mombasa or calls Princeton graduates to serve as riflemen in Iraq’s Anbar province.

Gelernter calls this self-sacrifice for others “chivalry.” He is right that knightly metaphors partially explain American efforts to bind up the wounds of the world. Think of Eisenhower’s “Crusade in Europe,” or Reagan’s crusade against Communism. Yet as Gelernter himself points out, the knight engages in acts of knightly virtue to justify his claim to be mounted while others walk. The Americans who fought their way from Omaha Beach to Dachau or who held the Chinese army to a bloody stalemate in Korea did so not as crusading knights aiming to justify their privileges before God, but from a sense of what was necessary for their own security—out of love for their neighbors at home—as well as out of love for their neighbors abroad, fallen under the oppression of idolatrous despotisms.

Americans, like the Good Samaritan, do not feel that their strength, health, and prosperity have to be justified as privileges. These are not privileges but blessings, worldly marks of divine favor, given to all those who serve God by loving their neighbor as themselves after the fashion of the Good Samaritan, who act not out of noblesse oblige but out of sheer neighborliness, out of the equality they recognize in the sufferer. Inquiring into the impulse behind American intervention in the protracted 20th century crisis of civilization, Gelernter asks rhetorically whether “Christianity did indeed help save the world,” but he does not explain what aspect of the Gospel’s teaching led to this apparently Christian intervention.

Do read the whole review. It made me want to add Gelentner’s book the tall stack of books I plan to get around to reading some day soon.

A Global Apology

I would now like to apologize to everyone. In the world.

That’s roughly how many people I’m disappointing, annoying or exasperating right now.

And the great move of 2008 is really only halfway complete. It took precisely one week to pack and move the contents of stately Holland manor into four extra-large pods. And I was pretty much completely off-line work-wise for that entire week. Dear Lord in heaven, what a beating. And we can’t move into the new place for a few more days.

In the interim, the five of us are living with kind relatives like Okies fleeing the Dust Bowl in some sad Steinbeck novel.


Meanwhile, people all over the civilized world are waiting for me to produce things they’ve paid me good money to create. So to all of you I say again: “I’m sorry. . . so very sorry.”

And to myself I say: “Stop bellyaching you big baby. This isn’t ‘hard.'”

Good people do genuine, real-deal “hard” all the time.

I know a couple at church who got the news from the obstetrician that their newborn baby girl had Down’s Syndrome and was profoundly deaf. They bounced back quickly from the shock and disappointment and have found her a source of astonishing joy.


I have a friend with three teenage daughters (just like me) who found himself standing by the caskets of two of them a couple of years back right in the middle of the Thanksgiving holidays. He and his sweet wife pressed into God and, by His grace and comfort, found ways to carry on, be productive, do Kingdom work, and even smile again.

As I said, in this fallen world too many good people do “hard” with too great a frequency.

This? This is just momentary, light obnoxiousness. But to all those innocent folks being affected by it. . . bear with me. This too shall pass.


The Move Begins

We moved into this house seven years ago last month. The heat index was about 105 the day we moved in. It was roughly the same as Mrs. Blather and I spent the day moving the contents of the garage into the portable “Pod” storage container that had been dropped at the foot of our driveway this morning.

Pod #2 is delivered on Thursday. #3 on Saturday. And #4, if necessary, on Monday. We close on the sale of our home on Tuesday.

I’m not sure what it’s like to move in mild, pleasant weather. We moved to Minneapolis from Oklahoma City in January of 1994. The daytime high the day we arrived was 18 below zero. We moved to Texas at the end of June of 1999, and the temps were crazy hot. Today, absolutely ridiculous amounts of sweat poured out of me. Changed clothes twice.

We do have a place to move, I’m happy to report. As I explained in this post, we have decided to rent for a while. But finding a place to lease that will accommodate the five of us, all our furniture, and four cars turned out be a challenge. But we are reminded that God is rarely early but He is always on time. A great place popped onto the market a few days ago and the location couldn’t be better.

We’ll be in the new place in a week and a day. No sweat. (Well, maybe a little.)


Roger Kimball, a hyper-literate guy and the editor of one of my favorite journals–The New Criterion–made a chilling observation about yesterday’s events. An excerpt:

But I suspect that in the years to come what most historians–and perhaps the rest of us, too–will think of when we hear the date August 8, 2008 is not China, and certainly not old what’s-his-name with the hair, the mistress, and pathetic claims of being “99 percent honest“. What we’ll think of is the country of Georgia and we’ll realize that August 8 was the date when Russia began reassembling the former Soviet empire in earnest.

When Russian tanks and troops poured into the separatist Georgian province of South Ossetia yesterday, it was not, as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said, part of a “peacekeeping mission.” It was part of an imperialist mission whose undeclared goal is to reabsorb the whole of Georgia–West-leaning Georgia with its critical oil pipeline supplying energy to an increasingly thirsty Europe–into mother Russia.

You can read the whole thing here.

I mentioned recently that my gut tells me we’re in for some interesting times in the next 12 months or so. Perhaps those “interesting” times began yesterday.

What Becomes a Believer Most

Long before the ubiquitous and long-running “Got Milk” ad series by those Dairy Association folks, there was a famous ad campaign back in the seventies for the Great Lakes Mink Association that featured various celebrities sporting a beautiful fur coat.

These ads were usually placed on the back cover of upscale women’s magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. The legendary double-entendre tag line was “What becomes a legend most?” Here’s an example from early in the 10 year campaign:


Lately I’ve been reminded of that classic campaign as I’ve pondered this question: What are the most definitive marks of Christian maturity? Or: What should a child of God look for in his or her own life as an indicator that they have grown spiritually?

In other words: What becomes a believer most?

I have settled on two rare traits thatI believe will be consistently in evidence in the life of any truly mature Christian. It is not how many Bible verses one knows; how often one is in church; or how many “don’ts” one consistently abstains from. They tell-tale traits are:

  1. The capacity for unselfishness.
  2. The ability to remain peaceful and at rest in a severe test.

Not to point fingers, throw stones, or notice eye-specks or anything, but I’ve noticed that these two traits can be conspicuously absent in folks who have been “in the Way” for a long, long time. Here in my 40th year of sainthood, I’m wondering if I’m as highly developed on those two counts as I should be.

Look through the Gospels at the occasions in which Jesus expressed disappointment or frustration at his disciples and you’ll find it is almost always because they were being self-absorbed or were freaking out in a stressful situation. The longer they hung with Him, the more He expected them to be securely others-oriented and calm in a crisis.

For the mature Christian, self-absorption and fearfulness are simply . . . unbecoming.

Hawk Update

The hawks were vocal and present early this morning when I went outside to do my pool chores.

However, at some point between then and the time I returned home in the late afternoon, having a pair of hawks in residence in the backyard lost all of its charm for Mrs. Blather. For one thing, all of our familiar bird friends who frequent our patio bird feeder were staying the heck away. The mated pair of cardinals that have been pretty much a permanent fixture at the feeder since January are nowhere to be seen.

Then Mrs. Blather saw one of the hawks finishing off a meal of some poor creature from our private backyard ecosystem; and that was it. Apparently she grabbed a skimmer net on a long pole and with a mighty hand drove the wing-ed invaders from our domain. (Possibly violating several federal statutes if they were a protected species.)

They have stayed gone, too–obviously considering the enticement of fresh water and abundant squirrels and lizards not worth the risk of being attacked by a crazy woman with a net.

This backyard is once again a raptor-free zone.


How Hot is It?

It hit 107 late this afternoon. Same story tomorrow.When it gets hot and dry for an extended period, we sometimes start seeing animals around the house looking for water–creatures that ordinarily keep their distance.

Today the girls were in the pool and reported seeing a couple of hawks swooping low over the backyard. At one point I walked out into the blast furnace and saw one of the hawks sitting on a low branch of one of the trees by the pool. Around sunset I could hear their screechy cries from all the way inside.

I looked out back and saw one of the mated pair standing beside the pool by a puddle of water that had splashed out. The mate was in a tree right above. Grabbed the camera and shot this:backyard-hawk.jpg

These are not the Red Tailed Hawks that I commonly see perched atop telephone poles. As best as I can tell, I now have a pair of pet Broad Winged Hawks–which customarily pass through Texas on a migration route between Central America and the East Coast of the U.S..At least I hope that’s what they are. If they’re actually an endangered species, it might goof with my home sale. (Which gets consummated in about two weeks.)

Where are we moving, you ask?

Great question. I’ll get back to you on that.

Wanting What You Have

I drove the three-and-a-half hours into the hills of Eastern Oklahoma to surprise my Mom on her 77th birthday Thursday. And surprised she was. Pleasantly, too, I hasten to add.

Trips up to see my folks grew disgracefully infrequent over the last two years as the demands of the hamster wheel (“Faster! Faster!, More! More!”), became more unreasonable and loud. This coincided with the decline in their comfort with negotiating Dallas traffic in driving down to see us.

All that to say, it was a pretty good birthday surprise I think. And justifiably so. Seventy-seven sounds like a milestone number to my ears.

Do the math and you’ll know that Mom was born in 1931. That was two years into the Great Depression and, to make things more interesting, her father, my Grandad Andrew Jackson, was a barely-literate tenant farmer in Grady County, Oklahoma—also known as the buckle of the Dust Bowl.) In the event early 20th Century U.S. history is not your long suit, here’s a quick refresher on the context:

The drought hit first in the eastern part of the country in 1930. In 1931, it moved toward the west. By 1934 it had turned the Great Plains into a desert. “If you would like to have your heart broken, just come out here,” wrote Ernie Pyle, a roving reporter in Kansas, just north of the Oklahoma border, in June of 1936. “This is the dust-storm country. It is the saddest land I have ever seen.” (PBS)

It was in Ernie Pyle’s year of heartbreak, 1936, that Mom lost her mother to a post-operative infection. The little girl standing at the dusty grave site holding the hand of a toddler sister was the second youngest of five kids; and only five years old. Hard times simply don’t get much more granite-like than that.

Nevertheless, Mom says that Grandad Jackson used to claim that he lost nothing in the crash of ’29 and ensuing panic—because he literally owned nothing to lose. And that was close to the truth. He farmed a section of Grady County land owned by a wealthy man in Kansas City and squeezed his family of seven into the little house that sat on that land. He faithfully sent the owner an agreed-upon percentage of the profits after the crop came in . . . if and when a crop came in.

Single-parenting wasn’t an option for a man in my grandfather’s situation. So he quickly remarried and five more half-siblings came along in quick succession (four girls, one boy). Mom, as the oldest girl in the clan, must have shouldered an impossibly large measure of responsibility at an astonishingly young age.

And though she knew real hunger and real hardship, what they experienced was “normal,” because everyone they knew was in the same state. In fact, they often felt more fortunate than the desperate families that passed through on their way to what they hoped was a better life in California—“Okies,” with all their earthly possessions piled on rattle-trap cars—who would sleep in the Jackson’s barn or even their chicken coop for a few nights, grateful for the hospitality.

I took Mom and Dad to dinner Thursday night but she insisted on cooking a big breakfast for me Friday morning before I had to head back to the Dallas hamster wheel. And oh, what a spread it was. Thick ham steaks, hot biscuits, country gravy, fried eggs, and deep red sliced tomatoes fresh from Dad’s garden. I want to weep just thinking about it. It was great.

It was, in fact, what Mom’s concept of Heaven must have been back in 1939 and ’40. A table full of food, a good roof over your head, a soft bed and everyone you love reasonably healthy and whole.

There is a great, neglected truth about life which tells us: “The secret of happiness is not having what you want; but wanting what you have.” Mom wants what she has. With the possible exception of more frequent visits from her first born. And I’m going to see what I can do about that.