Thoughts on the Pandemic; Part 1

In Africa, they’re dealing with locusts AND Covid-19

Well, since I can’t promote my new book because no one can buy it right now, because “virus,” I might as well weigh in on the biggest news story since 9/11.  (Update: Books are finally available, wherever amazingly awesome books are sold. Like here.)

My weight on this issue is about 1.25 micrograms, because I am completely uncredentialed, unqualified, and unequipped to know much about what’s going on. (Which puts me in the same boat as 99.99% of the other people expressing strong opinions online and on television right now.)

What follows are a few random thoughts and observations as of Sunday morning, April 19, 2020. By April 20, some of these thoughts will almost certainly have been modified. 

1. This virus caught us unprepared. But it shouldn’t have.

We’ve had smart, knowledgeable people warning us for years that we’d dodged bullets with outbreaks like H1N1, H5N1, and other mutations of the flu. I tend to read lots of science blogs and I’ve seen scores of warnings over the last 15 or 20 years—warnings that anticipated the very thing we’re facing right now.  

(Which makes it both hilarious and kind of sad that some people think Bill Gates’ TedTalk warning a few years ago consitutes some sort of smoking gun that he helped create the Covid-19 virus. More on conspiracy theories in my next post.)

Nevertheless, we weren’t remotely ready when this thing popped up in China and started spreading around the planet via airliners and cruise ships. So, we needed to buy some time to hurriedly do what we should have already done. Which leads me to my next point.

2. This quarantine business was always a Band-Aid, not a cure. 

It’s becoming increasingly clear that a lot of people think we have to keep sheltering in place with huge chunks the economy frozen until nearly all risk is gone. 

That was never the plan. It can’t be the plan. 

The whole rationale of “flatten the curve” was to buy time for our medical infrastructure to get equipped to handle a lot of sick, infected/infectious people. Ventilators and personal protective equipment needed to be stockpiled. Beds needed to be readied. Virus tests and antibodies tests needed to be developed, mass produced and distributed.

But gradually over the last few weeks, the media, half our politicians, and a whole lot of Americans obviously started thinking that the quarantine HAD to remain in place until it was perfectly safe for everyone to go back to the way things were three months ago. 

Again, no.

This untenable belief quickly emerged for a several reasons. 

First, people trained in planning for and dealing with large-scale events with lots of unknowns and variables (such as planning for wars and natural disasters) are taught to envision and plan for “worst case scenarios.” 

People charged with knowing how to win wars before they start and address earthquakes before they happen must create models and plans of action that anticipate the worst possible set of circumstances. It would be irresponsible not to do so.

Many of the models generated in the early days of the outbreak did just this. (See here for details.) And they did so using variables that weren’t very reliable because the data out of China was so untrustworthy. But the media—which is largely scientifically illiterate—tended to report those “worst-case-scenario models as actual predictions.

Second, in order to justify the lockdown and encourage maximum compliance by the general public, it became necessary to scare the living daylights out of people. (While at the same time falsely telling them that masks weren’t helpful, so people wouldn’t hoard them and make it even harder to equip medical personnel.)

Yes, in the opening days of this event, the President was trying to reassure people and calm panic. But that ended once the disaster planners and epidemiological experts started driving, and the media quickly jumped on board. It worked, sort of.

They’ve been so effective at convincing some significant percentage of the population that going to work or school is flirting with death (and for a small percentage of the population, it is), that many people have now logically concluded that it will not be safe to go into public places until the virus is, somehow, completely eradicated.

There is a third reason so many have quickly begun to think that way.

We have a huge number of citizens who now view the government as their de facto “messiah.” 

They look to their national government to supply everything a savior would provide—provision, protection, assurance, and healing. 

In biblical terms, the Messiah is the one who rolls back all the negative effects of “the curse” that resulted from the fall of mankind. In the deepest part of every person, there is an awareness that we need that messiah. This awareness lies at the root of all false religion and religious activity. 

Today, many have been taught and trained to view the central government in messianic terms. They have religious-style faith that government can and should act to roll back every aspect of the fall and usher us back into the Garden of Eden—just as the ancient prophet Joni Mitchell foretold, and psalmists Crosby, Stills & Nash decreed. 

Still trying to get themselves back to the Garden.

If you reject the biblical narrative of the fall and the curse, then you will view both humanity and creation as essentially good and perfectable. And you will quite logically believe it necessary to invest enightened governing elites with enormous power and control. Liberty and personal freedoms must be curtailed in the utopian quest for collective Eden.

This is why control of the White House, Congress, and the courts is an all-consuming obsession with them. And why they pretty much lose their ever-loving minds if their side isn’t in total political control. 

Now apply this mindset to the current crisis. You end up with: The government must exercise restrictive control over all things in life and business in order to reduce the risk to all people to something close to zero.

Here’s the thing: That’s impossible. And the costs of attempting this fool’s errand are devastatingly high. 

In the U.S. alone, more than 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment claims in the last few weeks. (UPDATE 4/23: Claims are now up to 26 million, or 16% of the U.S. workforce). But they’re actually the fortunate ones. Millions and millions of self-employed people and entrepreneurs whose businesses have been shut down can’t file for those benefits.

Yes, it can seem cold-hearted to point it out, but living life on fallen planet earth is a risky enterprise. And there is only one true Messiah who can effectively mitigate those risks. 

They’re out there: Drunk drivers; lightning strikes; meteors; banana peels on floors; crazy people with knives and guns; and forces of nature. And trillions and trillions of germs. Hostile bacteria and viruses—airborne, water-borne, food-borne, tick-borne, and mosquito-borne. 

Anyone who thinks that government can make living life on planet earth a risk-free proposition is delusional.

So again, the quarantine was never about—and could never be about—eliminating the risk for individuals. That’s not the planet we’re on. It could only be about preparing the capacity of our health care system to treat and restore as many sickened people as possible. 

And yet the utopians are already trying to shame and shout down anyone who makes this case.

By the way, I have several “at risk” people in my life who I love desperately. One lives under my roof. I’ll do my best to protect them. But we cannot impoverish millions to simply maintain an illusion of safety for them. Nor do my loved ones want us to.

This is not to say that our leaders don’t have some brutally difficult choices to make over the weeks and months ahead. It will require the wisdom of Solomon at the peak of his powers to strike the right balance between minimizing health impacts and minimizing economic impacts.

And those decisions will have to be made in the middle of a toxic, hyper-politicized, election-year environment. Lord Jesus help us.

In Part II of this post, I’ll address the numerous, spectacular conspiracy theories and rumors this event has generated. 

Here’s Your Roadmap for Navigating the Current Crisis

Here’s an icebreaker question for you. If you could only have one chapter of the Bible to read and study for the rest of your life, which chapter would you choose, and why?

For me, it’s the eighth chapter of Romans. No doubt. Virtually everything you need to know about the good news of the New Covenant and living the Christian life is there. In 39 verses, Paul manages to pack an entire life’s worth of spiritual truth and practical instruction.

And I’ve never seen a more beautiful rendering of those verses than the recently released version called The Passion Translation.

I mention all this because Romans 8 provides believers a perfect roadmap for getting through this current global disruption in peace and victory. You can read it for yourself here. But allow me to summarize the waypoints on this journey:

1. Verses 1-4: The chapter opens with the familiar, treasured declaration that there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The Passion Translation renders it this way:

So now the case is closed. There remains no accusing voice of condemnation against those who are joined in life-union with Jesus, the Anointed One.”

v. 1-2

These opening verses remind you that you have been gifted the very righteousness of Jesus Christ, and therefore fully qualify for everything He died to provide.

In the midst of this disruption and negative news storm, it’s vital to be mindful that every promise in God’s Word belongs to you because your qualification is not in yourself, but in Jesus.

2. Verses 5-9: Paul moves next to an exhortation about focus. He points out the temptation to be mindful primarily of earthy, natural things (the flesh) rather than spiritual things. This is always a hazard because natural things are readily perceived by our five senses, whereas spiritual things are invisible, yet very real. Paul warns:

For the mind-set of the flesh is death, but the mind-set controlled by the Spirit finds life and peace.  In fact, the mind-set focused on the flesh fights God’s plan and refuses to submit to his direction,[f] because it cannot!

v.6-7

3. Verses 14-17: Paul then turns your identity in Jesus. Namely, that you are an adopted son or daughter of the Most High God. The implications of that adoption are . . .

And you will never feel orphaned, for as he rises up within us, our spirits join him in saying the words of tender affection, “Beloved Father!” For the Holy Spirit makes God’s fatherhood real to us as he whispers into our innermost being, “You are God’s beloved child!”

v.15-16

Just as the opening verse of the chapter suggests. This means “you quailify” for every good and perfect gift God has made available in His son:

And since we are his true children, we qualify to share all his treasures, for indeed, we are heirs of God himself.

v.17

Paul then reminds of why things around us often seem so messed up. And why virus plagues, droughts, and earthquakes still stalk the earth from time to time. The world is broken. Sin broke it. But the cure is already in the earth. That cure is us:

 For against its will the universe itself has had to endure the empty futility resulting from the consequences of human sin. But now, with eager expectation, all creation longs for freedom from its slavery to decay and to experience with us the wonderful freedom coming to God’s children.

v.20

The NASB puts it this way: “For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.”

For here, Paul pivots to pointing out, now that the Spirit of God is living within us, we too are inwardly longing and groaning for a fuller restoration of broken Creation and the broken order of things. He says that we don’t know how to pray to help bring this about. But that same Spirit that creates that longing within us, DOES know how to pray for these things.

We learn that Spirit is ready, willing, and available to pray through us, if only we’ll yield ourselves to Him in this way:

And in a similar way, the Holy Spirit takes hold of us in our human frailty to empower us in our weakness. For example, at times we don’t even know how to pray, or know the best things to ask for. But the Holy Spirit rises up within us to super-intercede on our behalf, pleading to God with emotional sighs too deep for words.

v.26

Everything that has come before leads Paul to a point where he can reveal one of the most important and glorious truths in all of the New (and better) Covenant. He proclaims that “God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love Him because they have responded to His wooing call. Or as The Passion renders it:

So we are convinced that every detail of our lives is continually woven together to fit into God’s perfect plan of bringing good into our lives, for we are his lovers who have been called to fulfill his designed purpose.

v.28

Most Christians (and non-Christians) have a skewed, cartoonish understanding of God’s sovereignty. I have written about this at length on this blog (see here) so I want re-cover that ground now.

I will simply say that Romans 8:28 does NOT say, “For we know that God causes all things.” There is no period after “things.”

The sheer wonder and majesty of all of this—particularly God’s genius in working it all out in advance—sweeps Paul into a song of worship and praise concering the powerful, infinite love of God.

This is a love strong and relentless enough to carry the objects of that love through the any man-made or natural crisis:

So, what does all this mean? If God has determined to stand with us, tell me, who then could ever stand against us? 32 For God has proved his love by giving us his greatest treasure, the gift of his Son. And since God freely offered him up as the sacrifice for us all, he certainly won’t withhold from us anything else he has to give.

v.31-32

v.33: Because God loves us, no one can condemn or judge us.

v. 34: The only one with a right to condemn us—Jesus—is our powerful heavenly advocate!

v. 35-38 There is no power in the created universe strong enough to break God’s loving, good-doing hold on you. Nothing in heaven or hell can separate you, even for a moment, from God’s kindness and care.

Here is everything you need to sail through the turbulent waters in which we now find ourselves.

  • You are righteous and blameless
  • Just keep your focus on spiritual realities rather than natural realities.
  • Live in awareness that you are God’s beloved Child.
  • Allow the Spirit of God to lead your praying, and allow Him to pray through you.
  • Rest in the confidence that, although God isn’t causing the current suffering and disruption, He IS brilliantly causing all things to work for your good, and for the good of all His people, plans, and purposes in the earth.
  • Soak in an awareness of God’s love for you. Be mindul of it. Speak of it. Give thanks for it.
{Note: I recently wrote a decree or proclamation rooted in the scriptures we've just examined, and posted it over at the Cup & Table Co. blog.  It's written as a corporate declaration, but can easily personlize it. You'll find it here. 

“I was Dead, and behold . . .”

Here’s an unlikely Easter Sunday message for you.

How many Easter sermons have you heard where a passage from the book of Revelation was the text? Most likely, the answer is “zero.” Yet, that is precisely where I plan to direct your attention this Resurrection morning.

John knew Jesus of Nazereth better than any living person (with the possible exception of His mother). He was part of the Savior’s inner circle of three. And among those three, he held a special place. Throughout his gospel, he cryptically refers to himself as “the disciple Jesus loved.”

At the time of writing down the vision that contitutes the book of Revelation, John was most likely the only one of the 12 original disciples still living.

While exiled on the island of Patmos in the Mediterranean Sea, John receives a heavenly visitation—not by an angel—but by Jesus Himself.

Now John had obviously been with Jesus constantly throughout His three year ministry. And he had even seen Jesus on numerous occasions following the resurrection. This risen Jesus could walk through walls yet could also share a meal with him.

The last time John had seen Jesus was on a hillside just outside Jerusalem. After receiving some final instruction, he’d watched his friend ascend into the clouds.

Through other scriptures, we now know what happened immediately after that ascension. Jesus was crowned King of Kings and took His rightful seat of rulership—the throne at the Father’s right hand.

So, yes, John had seen Jesus in many settings and times, but until this day, he had never seen Jesus the crowned, ruling King. It was, to say the least, a startling sight:

I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet . . . Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.

Revelation 1:10-16 (NASB)

Now much of the way King Jesus appears in John’s vision carries symbolic significance. I don’t believe that Jesus always has shining feet or a doubled-edged sword coming out of His mouth. Each of the things mentioned in John’s description carried prophetic significance about Jesus’ present, ongoing, and expanding rule as crowned King.

Nevertheless, there is a clear message here. As wonderful as Jesus was during His earthly ministry, and even after He received His glorified body at His resurrection . . . There is still no comparison to the might, glory, and majesty that Jesus now embodies as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

John is so overwhelmed at a mere glimpse of this King, that he collapses in a heap like a dead man. Suddenly the quaking John feels the warmth of a hand on his shoulder. He knows that hand.

Then he hears the voice of his old friend:

“Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last,  and the Living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.

Revelation 1:17,18 (NASB)

In a single, compound sentence, Jesus manages to pack a lifetime’s worth of comfort and reassurance.

  1. “Do not be afraid.” There is no place for fear in the presence of such love and power.
  2. “I am the First and the Last.” In the Greek, “the Alpha and Omega,” the A-to-Z. He is the author and the finisher. All of creation began with Him and now is being remade through Him.
  3. I am “the Living One.” King Jesus is not only alive, He is Life itself. He is the Tree of Life from the Garden of Eden. Connection to Him imparts blessed immortality.
  4. “I was dead.” He had to die. He had to taste death in order to defeat it. He had to die our death, so we could partake of His life.
  5. “And behold, I am alive forevermore.” And yet here he stands before us, gloriously alive, and will be so forever. And because He will live forever, those of us who have partaken of His life will live eternally as well. It was John who had recorded His words on another day, “. . . that whosover should believe on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
  6. “. . . and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” The one who holds the keys can release the prisoners.

He is “the Living One.” He is mightier than we can imagine. He is our King. And today you can feel that reassuring hand on your shoulder, too. Because He is your friend.

A Gentle Word of Caution: Guard Your Hearts, Tend Your Souls

Pay attention to the welfare of your innermost being,
for from there flows the wellspring of life.

Proverbs 4:23b (The Passion Translation)

I’m concerned about something that may be coming at us over the next few weeks.

Yesterday, a stranger I follow on Twitter solely for fantasy football insights reteweeted the following:

Social media is a funny thing. I don’t know Dave Richard. And I don’t know if he actually knows Tommy Tran. Perhaps he does. Or he could just be one of Dave’s 127,000 Twitter followers. Neverthelss, there it was in my feed. News about the death-by-virus of a woman I never knew, accompanied by pictures of her with the loved-ones who are now grieving her premature death.

I’ve seen quite a few of these over the last few days. I’m moved by every one of them. I’m prompted to pray for those left behind. As a naturally empathetic person, each sends my mind and emotions off in grim directions. This one appeared as I was writing the last paragraph:

As I said, these are only a trickle now. But barring some a miraculous turnaround—and I’m certainly contending for that miracle—that trickle is about to surge into a flood.

We’re in the early stages of the first global crisis of the social media age. It’s easy to forget how recent a phenomenon social media actually is. It did not exist on September 11, 2001. And it was in its infancy during the onset of the Great Recession of ’08-’09.

Add to the above facts, the reality that most of us are quarantined and spending more time on social media than ever before. This means there’s a freight train headed our way I am compelled to warn you about it. Let me explain.

Over the last few years, huge sections of our soceity have become habituated to publically posting every aspect of their lives, experiences, and feelings. Indeed, it seems that for many, a thing didn’t really happen unless it’s been shared on Instagram.

At the same time, over the last 10 to 12 years, we’ve cultivated a culture of people who feel more significant if they are the victim of, or at mininum, have proximity to, a victim of a tragedy. And the higher profile the tragedy, the more significant they feel if they are touched by it.

This means that nearly every person falling sick over the next few weeks is going to post about it publically on social media. (This is very different than privately emailing family and friends to request prayer and agreement.) Then most of the followers of that person will share that announcment to their networks. And many of those will pass it along to their networks.

And every person who knows that sick person is going to post about it, too. They call it “viral” for a reason.

The same is even more true for deaths. Every death by Covid-19 is going to be endlessly shared through trees of interlocking networks.

It’s understandable that people want to honor their deceased family and friends by announcing their passing on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This is natural. But the viral sharing of those tragic deaths is a certainty. It will travel far, far beyond their small circle of acquaintances.

This all adds up to this reality: If we remain glued to social media when, as some experts are predicting, the daily death count soars to 1,000, 2,000, or more per day, (as it very well might when we reach the peak of our [hopefully] flattened curve,) we will rapidly become swept away in a tsunami of terrible, terrible news.

The danger here is succumbing to the false perception that “everyone” is getting sick. And that everyone getting sick is dying.

It will easily feel that way, but it will not be true. Social media is not real life.

Again, I’m with all those who are contending for an Easter miracle. But if we don’t get it, we at the Cup & Table Co. will embrace the miracle of Passover instead. “It shall not come near us.” And we’ll continue to intercede for our neighborhoods, our city, our state, ouir nation, and the world.

Nevertheless, I need you to know that if that Easter miracle does not manifest, a tsunami of bad news and sadness on social media is almost certainly coming. And I do not want you to be swept away by it.

We’re going to be fine. The Church is going to be fine.

In my business, we’re always talking about the need to raise awareness. But the truth is, there is only so much awareness the human heart can bear.

Perhaps only God is emotionally equipped to know about all the suffering in this world. You and I are not God. In the weeks ahead, be wise. Guard your heart diligently. Tend the garden of your soul.

The Night Paul Harvey was Arrested for Espionage

Photo: Argonne National Laboratories

Paul Harvey pulls his long overcoat around him and buttons the top button as his two companions shiver in the cold beside his car. It is nearly 1:00 a.m. on February 6, 1951, and the temperature is below freezing and dropping rapidly.  

The three had rendezvoused in Chicago at midnight as planned, ridden together in Paul’s car about thirty miles southwest of the city on U.S. 66, and then pulled off the main road just before reaching the main turnoff for Lemont, Illinois. Then a series of turns on county and dirt farm roads led them into a grove of trees near a 12-foot-high security fence with three strands of barbed wire at the top. Here, within the cover of the trees Paul had killed the headlights, pulled the car off the road, and shut it off. In the distance, beyond that security fence, the men could see the lights of Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), one of the most important and sensitive installations for top secret atomic research in North America. 

Now, fewer than sixty days after realizing his dream of becoming a national network news commentator, Paul is about to become national news, for within the hour he will be arrested and placed in federal custody on suspicion of espionage.

Declassified FBI document.

America’s respite from war and the threat of war hadn’t lasted very long. In many respects, it never came at all. 

The ink was scarcely dry on the German surrender documents when General George Patton warned U.S. leaders and anyone else who would listen about the threat of Soviet expansionist ambitions. He had requested permission to use his Third Army to push the Russians out of Eastern Europe, where reports of atrocities and oppression by Stalin’s forces were already leaking out. It was clear to everyone that the Soviets had no intention of relinquishing control of any of the blood-soaked territory they had covered on their push to Berlin. And the Soviet forces were in fact weak and vulnerable, having sustained losses of more than 10 million soldiers in the Eastern Front of the war and just as many civilian deaths. 

General Eisenhower and newly installed President Truman believed, probably correctly, that the war-weary American public had no stomach for a fight with a country that had been our ally only weeks earlier. Furthermore, there was still Japan to contend with. 

A dizzying cascade of events seemed to validate Patton’s warning over the next five years. In March of 1946 Winston Churchill stunned a still-celebrating America by declaring the demise of freedom across half an entire continent. In a speech titled “Sinews of Peace” at little Westminster College in Missouri, Churchill had declared, “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.” That same year a Soviet-backed insurgency in Greece triggered a civil war in an effort to overthrow the pro-Western government in that country and install a communist dictatorship. 

In 1948 the Soviet Union succeeded in installing a puppet government in Czechoslovakia and a few months later triggered a crisis with its blockade of Berlin. To the latter provocation, the West had been forced to respond with the Herculean and costly “Berlin Airlift.” The following year the most populous nation on earth became “Red” China as Mao Se-tung’s communist forces drove pro-Western Chinese president Chiang Kai-shek and his armies off the mainland to the island of Taiwan.

Almost simultaneously, the Soviet Union shocked the West when it successfully tested its first atomic bomb. American military and political leaders had assumed it would take the Soviets years, perhaps decades, to replicate the technological breakthroughs achieved by the U.S. through its super-secret Manhattan Project. The speed with which the Soviets had achieved nuclear parity caused many to suspect that American secrets were being leaked from within. Time would reveal that those suspicions were correct. 

Communist Party of America members Julius and Ethel (Greenglass) Rosenberg, along with Ethel’s brother David Greenglass, were instrumental in passing huge quantities of top secret U.S. military technology data to Soviet agents working inside America’s borders. Not only were key secrets about the creation of atomic weapons passed along, the Rosenbergs had also delivered the complete plans for a “proximity fuse,”—vital for the development of missile detonators— and a complete set of design and production drawings for Lockheed’s P-80 Shooting Star jet fighter.

The Rosenbergs’ betrayal of their country was uncovered in 1950, and they were tried, convicted and executed the following year. They went to the electric chair denying any involvement in espionage activity. Forty years later, however, when the collapse of the Soviet Union gave historians and reporters unprecedented access to Kremlin archives. Records from the time confirm that the Rosenbergs were indeed Soviet agents and had been instrumental in transferring nuclear-bomb-making know how to that country. Those records also reveal a labyrinth of other Soviet spying networks operating in the U.S. before, during and after the two nations became allies during World War II. These networks reached into almost every sphere of American life—corporate, academic, artistic and even the very federal government itself.

Some, like the Rosenberg ring, had been exposed. Most never were.

As if all this weren’t enough, there was one additional element about to be thrown into the stew of anxiety and mistrust simmering in the summer of 1950. In late June, communist North Korea, backed, armed and aided by Red China, invaded South Korea. The invasion presented the United Nations, formed in the aftermath of World War II, with the first real test of its “collective security” doctrine and mandate. Led and prodded by Harry Truman, the United Nations intervened on behalf of South Korea. It was almost unbelievable. Less than four years after the bloody, global war to thwart the expansionist aims of the Nazis, America found itself sending young men into harm’s way once more. 

Though unreservedly anti-communist, Paul wasn’t so sure this was America’s war to fight. He was growing increasingly concerned about the security and strength of his own nation. Throughout 1945 and beyond, he had been among the voices in America urging suspicion of the Soviets and sounding warnings about clandestine Russian efforts to weaken and de-stabilize the world’s only economic, military, and nuclear superpower. Indeed it was his calm, reasoned eloquence in making the case for vigilance that had caught Joseph Kennedy’s ear and led to the broadcaster’s promotion to the network level.

Thus, when the Rosenberg spying case broke in the middle of 1950, it not only alarmed and dismayed Paul, it confirmed some of his most visceral fears and suspicions. Countering these negative emotions was the exciting knowledge that his elevation to the network was scheduled to start in a few months.  He and Angel were already in discussions with the ABC Radio Network’s programming executives in New York about the what, when, and how of this new opportunity. It was an exhilarating time.

Many of the stories dominating the headlines in the opening weeks of 1951 centered around what was coming to be known as “the Cold War”—a term coined by Democratic financier and presidential advisor, Bernard Baruch. Each morning Paul’s newspaper as well as the wire service tickers he pored over would have contained numerous items about Soviet spying, communist subversion in America, and testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), testimony that grew more alarming with each passing week.

For example, on the morning of January 28, Paul would have opened his Chicago Tribune to find the following headline and article:

College Profs Tell Why They Became Reds: Secret Testimony of 2 Released by Probers

Washington—Two college professors outlined the philosophy that led to their enlistment in the communist movement in secret testimony released today by the house un-American activities committee.

Prof. David Hawkins, 37, Texas-born, now professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado, who worked during the war on the ultra-secret atom bomb project at Los Alamos, N.M. . . .

Professor Kenneth O. May, 35, Oregon-born, now associate professor of mathematics at Carleton college, Northfield, Minn, who lost his teaching position at the University of Berkeley, in 1940 because of communist activities.[i]

Even before moving his broadcast over to the network, Paul had made lax security measures at many of the nation’s sensitive research facilities a regular focus of his commentaries. There had been too many reports of breaches and compromises at civilian and university-run facilities that were doing important work for the military. When reporting one of these incidents, Paul would ask, “When are we going to start taking seriously the protecting of these secrets which are keys to our competitive advantage in the arms race and perhaps the keys to our very survival?”

One of the most important keepers of such secrets was in Paul’s backyard—Argonne National Laboratory (ANL). ANL refers to itself as “America’s first national laboratory” and with good reason. It was established in 1946 as the University of Chicago’s Metallurgical Laboratory, boasted some of the top scientific minds in the country, and was a key part of the Manhattan Project team that successfully developed the first atomic bomb.

By 1950, ANL was not only the U.S. Department of Energy’s oldest research and engineering lab, it was the largest. Some of the most important and sensitive research being done there involved the creation of small, manageable nuclear reactors, the kind that will ultimately enable the creation of nuclear submarines. But Argonne did not have a spotless record where security was concerned.  

On February 8, 1949, Argonne made headlines when it was reported that a bottle containing thirty-one grams of enriched uranium was discovered missing from an Argonne vault. An investigation ultimately found that all but about seven grams of the material had been shipped to Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. The remaining seven grams were found in a trash container in Argonne’s landfill. The congressional investigation that followed resulted in a tightening of Argonne’s record-keeping procedures for sensitive materials.

Sometime in late 1950 or very early 1951, amid this steady stream of reports about spying and subversion around the nation, Paul received a call from U.S. Congressman Fred Busbey (IL), a personal friend of his. Representative Busbey had someone he thought Paul would be interested in talking to. He couldn’t elaborate over the phone. Paul was intrigued and agreed to meet the man.

The mystery man turned out to be Charles Rogal, a part-time security guard and switchboard operator at ANL. He told the broadcaster a story of sloppy security, poorly followed protocols and under-qualified security staff. To Paul, it sounded like another deeply damaging espionage loss to the Soviets just waiting to happen.

Paul formulated a plan. Whether it was a foolhardy plan or not has been debated for more than five decades. Nevertheless, Paul contacted a man he knew who worked for the Office of Naval Intelligence, John Crowley, and persuaded him to join him and Charles Rogal on that trip out to the security fence in those early morning hours of February 6.

* * * * *

As his two companions watched, Paul began to scale the fence. When he reached the top, however, his overcoat snagged on the barbed wire. He struggled for several minutes to pull free, and before he could get clear, a jeep patrolling the perimeter happened by.

When his companions saw the headlights approaching they slipped off behind some bushes and then ran off through the trees. They eventually came to the main road and caught a ride back to town. Unfortunately for them, they left a wallet and some identifying papers behind in the car. 

The following day, puzzled Tribune readers learned of this improbable event:

Paul Harvey Seized Inside Atom Lab Area

Paul H. Aurandt, 3400 Lake Shore Dr., an American Broadcasting Company radio and television newscaster under the name of Paul Harvey, was seized by a guard at the Argonne National Laboratory in Du Page county at 1:10 a.m. yesterday, a few minutes after he had climbed a fence surrounding the laboratory’s restricted area.

News of the arrest was released in a statement by the atomic energy commission only after it was approved “at the highest level” in Washington. Aurandt was turned over to Federal Bureau of Investigation agents for questioning and later released.

Later in the day Aurandt said: “I have been working in conjunction and cooperation with the investigating divisions of several departments of the United States government for the last several months. I am not at liberty nor am I authorized by the governmental investigating divisions to release any story or information concerning the matters upon which I have been working.”[ii]

Follow-up stories appeared in papers across the country for several days thereafter, with much speculation about what government agencies, if any, Paul may have been working with to test ANL’s security measures. Few in the general public or the press seemed inclined to believe that Paul Harvey was a Soviet spy. Federal investigators on the other hand weren’t so sure. Records indicate they didn’t know what to make of the incident. 

Everyone had an opinion about it, though. University of Chicago professor and researcher, Dr. Harold Urey, winner of the 1934 Nobel Prize in chemistry, was quoted as saying he was disappointed that guards did not shoot Harvey. When reporters asked accomplice Charles Rogal—who was fired by Argonne after the incident— if there had been any fear of being shot by guards, he said, “Not one of them could shoot and hit the side of a barn.”[iii]

There was much mirth and joking surrounding the whole thing, but it didn’t change the fact that Paul was potentially in serious trouble. The federal government was planning to bring charges that carried a possible 10-year prison term and $10,000 in fines. 

A federal grand jury was called. Presiding was a future Illinois governor, U.S. Attorney Otto Kerner. He heard the charges against Paul: “conspiracy to obtain information on national security and transmit it to the public.” In response, the broadcaster requested permission from Kerner to appear before the grand jury. Kerner agreed on one condition: Paul had to first sign a waiver of the right to later claim immunity from prosecution for anything his testimony might reveal.

The accused happily signed it. The professional talker apparently had a high degree of confidence that if he could get the ear of the grand jury, they would view his act as more of a public service than a crime. His appearance was scheduled for March 21. 

In the interim, the feds view of Paul apparently softened considerably. The Chicago office of the FBI even filed a supplemental report, indicating that, upon further study, the Justice Department had reached the conclusion “that Aurandt had not willfully violated security laws.” Paul also received a good word from an unexpected source. As the Tribune reported, “Merlin W. Griffith, business agent of the Argonne security guards union, yesterday praised Aurandt for exposing what Griffith charged were security ‘flaws’ at Argonne.”[iv]

Paul’s confidence turned out to be well founded and his appearance must have had its desired effect. On April 4, 1951, the grand jury voted not to indict him. Later the foreman of the grand jury told the press the vote was not even close. 

Paul Pre-toupee

Precisely what Paul was thinking when he climbed the fence that night remains a matter of debate. It was something that, in his later years, he declined to talk about. It seems most improbable that he was working officially on behalf of any government agency. If a high-level department wanted to see if Argonne’s perimeter could be breached, they would almost certainly not recruit a radio newsman in a wool overcoat for the task. 

Perhaps a savvy self-marketer who had just gotten himself a national newscast thought it would be a brilliant promotional ploy to breach one of the country’s most sensitive facilities. The headlines would really put him on the map. But this motivation seems deeply out of character with everything else we know about the life and values of Paul Harvey. The most plausible explanation is the most obvious one. 

What he learned from Charles Rogal about the security situation at Argonne must have troubled him profoundly. In the wake of the ongoing Rosenberg affair, he was concerned that secrets and technologies vital to the safety and survival of our nation were at risk. He and others had been publicly calling for greater vigilance for several years but without apparent effect. So he took it upon himself to expose the vulnerability the only way he knew how. 

It would be like a volunteer fireman setting a small blaze to create a fire break, in hopes of keeping an inferno from destroying his town. The fact that this would-be firefighter could easily have gotten himself shot either didn’t occur to him or didn’t matter.What was clear to Paul in early 1951 was that communism was spreading like a prairie fire in a drought all over the world and that, inexplicably . . . maddeningly . . .  a good number of the brightest, most talented and most privileged of his fellow Americans considered this a good thing. Even more bewildering to him was the desire of some of them to bring that fire to our shores. 


[i] Edwards, Willard. “College Profs Tell Why They Became Reds.” Chicago Daily Tribune 28 Jan. 1951: p. 32.

[ii] “Paul Harvey Seized Inside Atom Lab Area.” Chicago Daily Tribune 7 Feb. 1951: 8.

[iii] McGregor, Steve. “Argonne passes a reporter’s security test.” Argonne National Laboratory. p. 6 Feb. 1996. 21 Mar. 2009 <http://www.anl.gov/Media_Center/News/History/news960206.html>.

[iv] “Kerner to Read FBI’s Report on Harvey Seizure.” Chicago Daily Tribune 13 Feb. 1951: p. 8.

Silencing the Accuser of our Times

This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Everything is terrible. It’s all just the worst . . . the absolute worst.

This is what most people in the Western world walk around thinking most of the time. It’s not true, of course. Things are generally pretty great. The fact is, wherever it has spread, Western/Christian Civilization has created levels of comfort and abundance that are nothing short of mind boggling.

The typical American, even one of modest means, lives a life that medieval kings would envy. For most of human history, people spent most of their days trying to acquire enough food to keep their family alive. Winter was a dreaded existential threat.

Today Food is so abundant and affordable that it’s no longer about survival or even sustenance. As hundreds of television series testify, food is now about art and pleasure and style, and frequently, virtue signaling. It’s a luxury no generation on earth has even been afforded.

Instead of spending our days scrounging and scraping for food and fighting off invaders, we indulge in pursuits available only to the ultra-rich just a couple of generations ago. We’re free and able to dabble in art, style, design, hobbies, and travel–both in reality and in our television viewing and internet browsing.

The struggle for shelter has become a quest to express your individual design style and aesthetic in the most authentic way possible. And our major unconquered diseases are the ones associated with old age.

To be sure, infant and child mortality are still heartbreaking realities is some corners of the world, but almost exclusively in those places where the gospel and Christian Civilization has not yet worked its tranformative wonders.

No matter what measure you use:

  • Number of people living in absolute poverty
  • Child labor
  • Percentage of income spent on food
  • Violent crime
  • Literacy rates
  • Hours of leisure time
  • Deaths in war

. . . the statistics show that things have never been better.

By the way, if you want to understand how and why Christianity made all this progress possible, I highly recommend this brand-new book by the UK historian Tom Holland (no relation!). It’s beautifully written and absolutely fascinating:

So given all of this good news, why are we all walking around with clenched teeth and knots in our stomachs? As if there have never been grimmer, darker times than this particular moment? I addressed this question, in part, in a recent white paper I presented at a theological round table. Here’s an excerpt:

Three factors work together to cause us to over-estimate the present power and success of what Paul called “world forces of darkness.”

One is the 24-hour instant news cycle—enabled by the Internet and fed by ubiquitous video cameras in more than 3.5 billion smart phones worldwide. If something horrific happens anywhere in world, we’re all watching video of it and shaking our heads in sadness within the hour (and sharing it with all our friends on social media). 

The second is our woeful ignorance of history. We have little understanding of how dark things in the world really were prior to the dawning of the light of the Gospel. Nor do we have the information that allows us to put in perspective the transformation the world, and the kingdoms of this world, have undergone as the carriers of that light have spread across the planet.

(By the way, if you want a little historical perspective on what truly crazy times previous generations lived through, check out a series of posts I wrote called, “We’ve Seen This Before.” Here, here, and here.)

The third is an America-centric myopia. Believers here in the U.S. often come perilously close to conflating the Kingdom of Jesus and our own nation-state—as if they were one and the same thing. We also observe what has happened in what has come to be called “post-Christian” Europe, see many of the same patterns being replicated here, and leap to the conclusion that the lights are going out all over the world. 

The fact is, the Gospel is advancing in extraordinary ways all over the planet.

There is another reason we all seem to believe that things are terrible when they’ve never been better.

With our phones constantly in our hands and computers on most workplace desks, we’re spending massive amounts of time online. And the online marketing world has learned to monitize outrage, fear, resentment, and horror.

Clicks equal money. And nothing generates clicks like news designed to enrage, alarm, or frighten you. Attention is the scarcest commodity in our economy, and few things attract attention like tragic news or someone saying something infuriating.

As a result, massive digital fortunes are being made by inundating you with online ads filled with headlines crafted and meticulously tested to trigger fear or anger in you.

Likewise, “likes” and “shares” are the currency of the social media world. Thus our social media feeds overflow with links to stories designed to have the same effect. We share and retweet the outrage of the moment in hopes of feeling significant or striking at perceived enemies. (This’ll show ’em!)

Esseentially, we’ve all voluntarily signed up to be bombarded throughout our waking ours with news, posts, and ads intentionally crafted to stir up negative emotions. Is it any wonder an entire generation of people are convinced that everything is terrible?

Many aspects of this are not new. The news business has always known that bad news sells papers much more effectively than good news.

You mean your waist doesn’t look like this? How can you live with yourself.

And from the very beginning, the advertising industry has understood that the most effective ads play upon our deepest fears and insecurities.

Ads are designed to make us feel like we’re not enough, or don’t have enough, or that others who have more are more significant or more happy. And the science of psychology has made advertisers more effective at these things than ever before.

One of Satan’s primary tactics is to accuse. He is, at the vile, miserable core of his being, an Accuser. It seems it’s not just people he accuses. He’s smearing our times. And in the process robbing us of much peace, contentment, and hope.

It can’t be healthy to walk around angry and fearful all the time. Silence the accuser.

(Published 9 years ago yesterday) 41 Years Ago Today

I was nine and had a special parental dispensation to stay up as late as I could manage to keep my eyes open.

Like countless other little boys in the late sixties, I was captivated by space travel and astronauts. And on this night, men were walking on the surface of the moon.

The Eagle had landed at 3:17 that afternoon, Wilburton, Oklahoma Daylight Time. Around 7:15 Neil Armstrong took a small step and created a human footprint on another world. Walking outside a little later, I found the half-moon low in the pink western sky, chasing the recently set sun. I recall thinking, “Men are up there. Brave men. Men from my country.” I also remember wondering what amazing places we would be exploring when I was my father’s age.

Today I am ten years older than my father was on that wondrous night. Of course, we haven’t had many “gee whiz” moments since that era. But I must admit that some of the pictures those little rovers on Mars sent back were pretty stunning. And more than a few of the images of Saturn and her moons delivered home by the Cassini-Huygens were simply jaw-dropping:

Take a look at the above image in full glorious resolution (here) and you will see a pale blue dot inside the next-to-outermost ring on Saturn’s left side. That dot is home. It is Earth, as seen from almost a billion miles away.

It has become increasingly clear that it is not government-funded space exploration that is going to be providing our gee whiz moments in the future. As Bill Whittle points out in this wonderful video piece for Pajamas TV (free registration required), if we’re ever going to see a real version of Star Trek’s USS Enterprise, it most likely is going to built by private enterprise.

Last year, the National Geographic Society marked the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing by releasing freshly restored video imagery of the mission. Enjoy. And feel the wonder again.