World War II ended on September 2, 1945 with the surrender of the Empire of Japan. How do you remember that war – or do you even think about it? Maybe there are some lessons from the Pacific War that still apply today.
Doing what we are trained to do is good. Doing it at the right time is even better – but how do we know?
Ecclesiastes 3:1-11; Luke 7:1-10; 1 Corinthians 10:23-33
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Is it possible that we spend all our lives waiting for God to act while He spends all our lives waiting on us to act?
© Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog, 2016-17. Permission to use and/or duplicate original material on The Barking Fox Blog is granted, provided that full and clear credit is given to Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
It takes a conscious effort for me to bless an elderly person whose slow, feeble steps are impeding my progress. The default position in my mind is to examine possibilities for hastening the moment when I can get them out of my way. Much though I am reluctant to admit it, that default position amounts to a curse aimed at removing an obstacle to my own selfish definition of happiness. That is why I am cultivating the habit of blessing the gray head. I have lived enough years to know that each of those gray hairs was purchased at great cost, both in joy and in sorrow. Who am I to ridicule those transactions in time and sweat and blood and tears, seeing that I, too, engage in those same transactions every moment of every day?
This is the way of all flesh, and it scares us. We do not like to consider the fact that we all are destined to grow old – provided something does not take us out before our time. That reality first dawned on me as a teenager, watching my once-vigorous grandfather lie helpless in a hospital bed, swollen with the fluids that would eventually crush his heart. Then there was my mother, whose loud and lively voice was silenced in the last weeks of her life by the feeding tube the doctors inserted in a desperate attempt to help her recover. And my father? The pain there was watching his brilliant mind lose its ability to remember, until at last he could recall nothing more than the blissful sleep of eternity.
Surely growing old is not for the faint of heart. Solomon understanding of this led him to a very wise conclusion:
Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come, and the years draw near when you say, “I have no pleasure in them”:
While the sun and the light, the moon and the stars, are not darkened, and the clouds do not return after the rain;
In the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men bow down;
When the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look through the windows grow dim;
When the doors are shut in the streets, and the sound of grinding is low;
When one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of music are brought low.
Also they are afraid of height, and of terrors in the way;
When the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper is a burden, and desire fails.
For man goes to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets.
(Ecclesiastes 12:1-6 NKJV)
Careful reading of Solomon’s poetry reveals his references to weak and aching muscles, brittle bones, dim eyes, deaf ears, rotting teeth, jaded spirit, and broken heart. It is enough to drive one to desperation – which is why Solomon begins this passage with an exhortation to remember the Creator while we can. Without the Creator and the hope He imparts, we face a terrifying descent into debility before we cease breathing.
Which explains why each generation since Adam has wished so intently for the resurrection.
What is this tendency of human minds to discard unpleasant things and cling to what is pleasant, nice, and amusing? This can be useful in remembering loved ones who pass from this earth. Whatever annoyances or difficulties they presented us in life fade from our memories, leaving only the glow of happy moments – of childhood kindnesses, of good smells and kind voices, of triumphant moments when a cooperative effort and patience brings victory over a harsh trial. This is good, but in truth these happy things have no meaning if not set apart by the unhappy things.
This truth of life has its reflection in art. Consider, for example, Of Mice and Men, a tragedy penned in 1937 by John Steinbeck to portray the pain of American society in the midst of the Great Depression. It is the tale of George and Lennie, two migrant farm workers in California with a dream of owning a farm of their own one day. From the opening of the play we see that Lennie labors under mental challenges that make him unable to care for himself. He depends on George to keep him out of trouble and think for both of them. All he knows is that he likes to pet nice, soft things with his fingers, and that one day when he and George have a place of their own, he can tend the rabbits they will raise. Lennie is simple, kind, trusting, and hardworking, but he does not know his own strength. The soft things he pets often end up dead. At first it is a mouse, then a puppy, and finally a flirtatious woman who invites him to stroke her hair. This last “bad thing” is something George cannot fix except by ensuring Lennie will never hurt anyone again. The play ends as George tells Lennie one more time about the rabbits, and then takes his life.
Steinbeck lived to see his sublime tragedy dismembered and parodied in superficial popular culture, beginning with animated cartoons. As Of Mice and Men became an Oscar-nominated film in 1940, Warner Brothers gave birth to a new American icon, Bugs Bunny. It did not take long before Lennie’s simpleminded fixation with furry rabbits became a standard feature in Looney Toons shorts, reaching a climax in 1961 with “The Abominable Snow Rabbit”. In the cartoon Lennie becomes an Abominable Snowman in the Himalayas who encounters Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. Mistaking Daffy for a rabbit, the snowman picks him up and utters these now-famous words:
Just what I always wanted. My own little bunny rabbit. I will name him George, and I will hug him and pet him and squeeze him and pat him and pet him and rub him and caress him.
With these lines, this absurd cartoon illustrates how distorted shadows supplant what is unpleasant and tragic, leaving only a form of the truth, but lacking its power. Those who have no knowledge of Steinbeck’s story will laugh at the cartoon, but they remain ignorant of the full context, and are thus robbed of the life lessons Steinbeck sought to impart. The same is true of those who take the Bible in sound bites rather than in its full context, including these words of Moses:
And He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flock, in the land of which He swore to your fathers to give you. (Deuteronomy 7:13 NASB)