Choosing life rather than death sounds simple enough. Who would have a problem making such an obvious choice? But is it really that simple when the choice we make concerns the intrinsic value of another human being – especially when that person is someone whose value may be questionable in our eyes?
In the summer of 1982 I crossed the Pacific Ocean for the first time to spend some time in Japan and China. The occasion was a Christian missions trip. After six weeks of ministry work in Tokyo, we concluded the trip with a few days of sightseeing in Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and Beijing. I thoroughly enjoyed China, but it was somewhat surreal walking around Tiananmen Square, through the Forbidden City, and over the Great Wall. As one of my companions said at the time, we wouldn’t fully realize until we were back home in America that we had been all the way on the other side of the world.My companion was right. We don’t appreciate experiences at the time nearly as much as we appreciate them years later, when we can see the impact they had on us and how they shaped the course of our lives. It’s the same with people. We don’t know how important they have been to us until years later. Maybe even decades or centuries later, when the full tale of their story can be considered in context.
The full tale of Billy Graham’s impact on my life is not yet told, but I have an idea what it encompasses now, nearly 50 years after I first saw him. That occasion was in the spring of 1972, during his second visit to my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. It was just before my 11th birthday, and I had no idea at the time what a tremendous effect Reverend Graham had already exerted on my city. For some reason, my parents deemed it best to shield us from the momentous societal transformations wrought by the Civil Rights Movement. All I knew in my childhood was that Billy Graham, like me, was a Southern Baptist, that he loved Jesus like I did, and that he was a very important preacher. I did not know that it was he who insisted on having an integrated choir in his first crusade in my divided city in 1964, and that the crowd gathered at Legion Field in that year was the largest integrated audience in Birmingham history. He addressed a deep, deep wound with the healing admonition of Jesus Christ – one of many ministers of reconciliation the Almighty used in that era to right grievous wrongs, curb the worst of abuses, and prepare the next generation to carry the progress forward. Please click here to continue reading
The National Shabbat movement arrived in the Lone Star State through a gathering of about 100 people on March 19 at Fischer Park in the city of New Braunfels. As with National Shabbats in Georgia and South Carolina, some participants traveled many hours to get there, coming from as far away as Sabine Pass on the Louisiana border, Wichita Falls near the Oklahoma border, Arlington in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, and Corpus Christi on the Gulf Coast. Most of those assembled in New Braunfels came from around Austin (Georgetown, Cedar Park, Round Rock, Kyle) and San Antonio (Boerne, Converse, Poteet, Adkins, Floresville), with a significant number from the Houston area (Katy, Sugarland, Pasadena).Please click here to continue reading
In recent days I had the great honor and pleasure of delivering the keynote address to my nephew Daniel on the occasion of his attaining the rank of Eagle Scout. Those familiar with the Boy Scouts of America and with Scouting around the world understand that earning the highest rank in that organization is no small accomplishment. In pursuing this goal to the end, Daniel, like his older brother Austin and his father, proved at an early age that he is worthy of honor and of great responsibility. That is a large part of the message I gave to Daniel and to those gathered for the occasion. I publish it here in hope that this message may be an encouragement and exhortation to others.
For Daniel Victor McCarn at His Eagle Court of Honor
February 27, 2015
Daniel, this day of recognition has been long in coming. All of us rejoice with you that it has come at last. We recognize you for your considerable accomplishments in attaining the rank of Eagle. Those accomplishments are worthy of celebration and remembrance, but I will let others speak of them. What I want to address with you is something greater than what you do. I would like to consider who you are.
By way of introducing this subject I invite you to consider three men who have become legendary in the annals of Texas history. Today the names of David Crockett, James Bowie, and William Barrett Travis exist in a space far removed from the reality these men occupied in their lifetimes. We know them as the great heroes of the Alamo, men who stood bravely against overwhelming odds in the noble cause of freedom. It is fitting to remember them at this time, the anniversary of the Siege of the Alamo which began on February 23, 1836, and ended thirteen days later on March 6 in the great battle that claimed the lives of these heroes.
Like barnacles on a ship, legends have encrusted the names of Crockett, Bowie, and Travis. After 179 years it is hard to distinguish myth from truth. Those who remember them at all remember them either as heroes or as villains, depending on the point of view. There is enough of both in each man to justify each perception. But who were they in reality? When we strip away the layers of time and legend, what do we find? We find flawed men like all of us whose ordinary lives played out in the crucible of extraordinary times.
When Empires Die was originally published June 28-July 28, 2014, as a six-part series. The original six part format is accessible here.
I. THE ROAD TO SARAJEVO
The world took a giant step toward death on June 28, 1914. On that day a young atheist shot and killed a prominent Catholic and his wife in an obscure Southeast European city. Within five years, four world empires were dismembered and two new ones arose in their place. Within 40 years, three more global empires breathed their last as the new world system spawned in 1914 grew to maturity. Today, one hundred years later, that world system wheezes with its own death rattle, soon to expire in the process of giving birth to yet another global system which may be the last – and worst – of its kind.
As a historian, a political scientist, a soldier, and an intelligence professional, I cannot let the centennial of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination pass without pausing to remember what his life and death meant to the world. The circumstances that brought the Archduke and his wife, the Duchess Sophie, to Sarajevo, Bosnia, are not difficult to explain, but to understand the significance of their deaths, both in their day and in ours, requires a detailed explanation. If that explanation seems too focused on Europe, the simple reason is that Europe in 1914 ruled the entire world. No nation outside Europe – neither ancient India, nor populous China, nor even the rising powers of America and Japan – was immune to events that shook the state system of the Continent. If we are to know why the world went to war in 1914, we must look at the major players of that state system. Only then can we begin to discern what happened to the world in the summer of 1914, and what is happening to the world now in the summer of 2014.