Earlier Today

True story. It happened earlier this afternoon, and I still cringe to think of it.

I buy fifteen bucks’ worth of gas at the station down the street, and I go inside to pay, and the gal behind the counter is new to me. Slim, attractive, dark hair—but what’s this? She’s wearing a huge fake nose—in the manner of a Groucho Marx nose, only minus the mustache, plus it’s lumpy and deformed, like a potato with tumors. Okay, well, we’re coming up on Halloween and the displays are out, so I guess she’s just getting into the spirit of things a bit early.

So I decide to play the game. Tease her, have a little fun, right? “Oh, my gosh!” I blurt out loudly, feigning shock, “what happened to your nose?” My voice resounds throughout the gas station. Calm and nice as you please, the girl replies, “It’s a birth mark.”

That’s when I realize it’s her real nose.

Kindly hand me a gun so I can shoot myself. I am ready to melt into the floor. I’m about to explain, “I am so sorry. I thought you were getting a jump on Halloween,” but fortunately, my instinct for damage control kicks in directly after the word “sorry.” Anything I can say beyond that is going to be no improvement at all. So I continue to repeat the first sentence like a mantra: “I am so sorry. Omygod, I am sorry. Sorry. Very sorry. Oh so sorry . . .” My Sorry Machine is in turbo drive.

The gal is very sweet. “It’s okay,” she says. She doesn’t appear to be even slightly offended. But I am sure that those in the line behind me are thinking, “What a jerk!” That’s what I’d be thinking if I were standing behind me.

From whence do I get this talent for making monumental gaffes? It extends decades back and seems to be improving with age. I’d rather it didn’t—I wish it would just go away. But at fifty-eight years, I ruefully accept that my social graces are not spun from silk. More like cobbled together with pieces of burlap from an old potato sack.

Ridiculous?

I was lying on the couch, halfway between awake and asleep, when the difference between Christianity and every other non-derivative world religion struck me. It is this:

Christianity is premised on something that simply cannot happen.

A dead man rising? That’s not just implausible—it’s impossible.

That’s the difference. For a swami or holy man to present a body of teachings—that’s no big deal in itself, no matter how profound or spiritually intense those teachings are. Shoot, I’ve said some pretty deep things myself in my time, and so have we all. Poets devote their lives to saying deep (and not so deep) things with beauty and emotion, using words that penetrate the soul. Lofty words and teachings aren’t exclusive to any one person or religion. That’s one reason why you hear those who subscribe to today’s patronizing brand of syncretism refer to “Jesus, Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed, and Ghandi” all in the same breath. (Another reason is that people who talk this way have no idea what they’re saying, but that’s a different topic.) All of those men are lumped into the category of “great spiritual teachers,” and that seems to be good enough for a lot of modern minds.

But of those men, only one requires me to believe something unbelievable. Something that is, quite frankly, ridiculous.

My brother the scientist, a truly wonderful guy, knows it’s ridiculous. He’s told me so often enough: “I simply can’t believe that a person rose from the dead.” Why? Because he’s an intelligent man. He knows such a thing just doesn’t happen. The notion is flat-out absurd.

Unless, of course, it really did happen.

Then, of course, it’s not ridiculous. It’s a miracle. Something that can’t happen—but does. Something that flies in the face of natural laws.

The earmark of a miracle is that it’s unbelievable, but it happens anyway.

That’s why Jesus told his disciples, “You will be my witnesses.” What he wanted wasn’t great reasoners or great theologians, but people who would simply tell the world what they had seen with their own eyes.

Those witnesses may have been simple folk, but they weren’t stupid and they weren’t gullible. In that callous culture, where public executions were common and the Romans were brutally expert at it, these men and women knew all about crucifixion preceded by near-evisceration with a flagellum. They knew a dead body when they saw one. And that’s why, as far as they were concerned, their whole world had come crashing down in a single weekend. Because Jesus was dead. Period. End of story.

Imagine you were one of those men. All your actions line up with nothing but grief and fear. The person you’ve loved, followed, believed in, and built your life upon—you saw what happened to him. It was horrible—and you are shattered. Now what? Where do you go from here?

Now imagine you’re in a room with the rest of your grieving little band when suddenly, there he is. Right there, looking right at you. “Don’t be afraid,” he says. “It’s me.”

Would you say that’s incredible? This kind of thing just doesn’t happen every day, does it. In fact, it doesn’t happen ever.

But it’s happening now, and it’s happening to you. You and your friends. And it continues to happen over the next forty days.

How would you feel about that? How would it change you?

What would you say to a doubting world—a world that ridicules your experience and finds all kinds of ways to explain it away, minimize it, dismiss it, and do everything except consider that it actually happened?

How about simply, “I was there. You weren’t. I know what I saw; you don’t. Don’t tell me it can’t happen, because it did. Jesus is alive. Period. End of story.”

Ridiculous? Only if it’s not true.

But if it is true, then who’s the fool? Those who know what they saw and you couldn’t tell them otherwise—and there were more than five hundred of them, not just eleven apostles and several women—or those who are cocksure it didn’t happen simply because it couldn’t have.

Maybe it could have.

What if it did?

On Government Regulation: Precision versus Micromanagement

Some of my better posts originate as rants in Facebook. I write them, post them, then realize that I want them to have a longer shelf life than Facebook offers. This is one of them. I am not one who normally froths at the mouth about government red tape. But sometimes . . .

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Yesterday I drove past a small livestock farm just in time to notice a cow laying itself down in the pasture. It was all by itself—the other cows were elsewhere, all standing up. I know nothing about cows or farming, but this struck me as odd behavior.

When I passed the place again a while later, the cow was just lying there. I thought it might be distressed, maybe ill, so I turned around and drove into the driveway to let someone know, just in case they weren’t already aware. As I did, I saw the farmer making his way into the pasture, and he saw me, and we had a conversation that just . . . well, I guess I can’t say I’m shocked, because I’m beyond being shocked by government lunacy anymore. But angered—yeah, I was angered.

The cow had a broken leg, the farmer told me, and would have to be killed. But she was pregnant, and he hoped to be able to deliver the calf in a couple weeks before doing the deed. He didn’t expect he’d be able to, though. When a cow winds up in that situation, he told me, its kidneys eventually fail. The cow wasn’t as bad off as she looked lying down, he explained; she was simply stretching. But she couldn’t get around—she could only kind of drag herself, and there was nothing the farmer could do for her. So she would have to be killed.

Now, here’s the kicker: The cow couldn’t be butchered. It couldn’t be sold for meat. It couldn’t be parceled up and given to a charity. The farmer couldn’t even butcher the cow for his own family’s use. All that meat, gone to waste because of a government regulation that forbids the butchering of animals in such a condition. “They’re afraid of mad cow disease,” he told me, “so now any cow that lies down like this one can’t be butchered. I know what’s wrong with this cow. She went lame two weeks ago. She’s not diseased. She has a broken leg, that’s all. Other than that, she’s fine.”

The cow could keep a family in meat for a year, the farmer told me. Some needy household would be overjoyed at the prospect. Instead, the cow will be killed and thrown away. Or perhaps the farmer, being more sensible than the government and possessing knowledge specific to the circumstances, will butcher the cow and use it for his own family regardless of some damn-fool law that says he can’t. I hope so.

Understand, I am for government regulation when it’s wisely and ethically applied. We’ve all witnessed a disastrous example, for instance, of what happens when big financial institutions are allowed to call their own shots with nothing in place to hold them accountable. But regulation often needs to take the form not of a blunt instrument but of a precision scalpel, and there is a big difference between a scalpel and micromanagement. When the latter is in force, then wisdom and ethics aren’t what prevail; political expediency, money, and rhetoric do. As a result, the little guys like this farmer, who actually know and care about what they’re doing, get hammered while the big guys like Monsanto get away with hell.

Yet it’s the little guys who generally display a conscience, heart, and common sense and who actually give a rip about their community. It’s the little guys who actually have their sleeves rolled up and their hands in the earth of whatever their occupation may be. This farmer deserves better than having his common sense held hostage by a poorly conceived regulation that wastes resources rather than serves people at the grassroots level.

Okay, rant over.