Advanced Aircraft

I am fascinated by flight.

There are about four dozen aircraft based at our little airport, and it’s a curious mix. About half are 40 years old or more, but well-maintained and strong as the day they were made. Others were invented by the brilliant young people in our resident aerospace company, taking aviation in directions we had not imagined.

It’s not a simple thing, to launch a machine into the air and bring it safely home. It requires structural strength, aerodynamic balance, and lots of thrust, lift, and controllability. Safe piloting requires vision, skill, and spatial awareness.

Professional pilots often spend $100,000 or more to be trained, yet about half of the aircraft on our field fly autonomously, with no human pilot.

The power, agility, and miniaturization of these aircraft are stunning, and the most advanced run exclusively on biofuels. Some excel at precise flight over long distances and others harness the energy of thermals to remain aloft for extended missions with little expenditure of energy.

In the pursuit of sustainability (and this is particularly remarkable), some can fabricate replacements for damaged parts and even construct an entirely new aircraft of the same model.

It is a marvelous thing to fly; to roar into the sky and sweep through the clouds in our stiff-winged machines, and it is a wonderful thing that brilliant men and women have made this possible.

Still, I am occasionally reminded of our profound inferiority to the fleet of advanced aircraft that shares our airspace. Just now, one has landed on the branch above me and begun to sing.


Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

Matthew 6:26

Old Man Waking

From dream to dark to feeble hint of day

Night’s quiet, dim forgetfulness subdue

Again to slip on self and its worn ways

Again to wake, again to rise and do

Step into a morning bright with star

Ancient, pulsing, murmurating light

From times and places infinitely far

to fading speck of man in fading night

Someone in the mirror. Not quite you.

Echoes of the youth that quickly fled

A deepening of old lines into new

Bright river drying into riverbed

It never seemed a fragile thing, to be

By timeless sense of youth, we are misled

But through the seasons slowly come to see

More pieces of our heart among the dead

It seems we are to learn by ache of years

Learn slowly like a stone in stream is bent

Swept by currents gentle and severe

Shaped by friction more than argument

Along the twisting road from dust to dust

What youth could not believe, age comes to see

Bones go not where we will but where they must

From dream to dark to vast eternity

To Tell the Truth

Why do we have thirty-six verbs that mean “to lie” and zero verbs that mean “to tell the truth”?

Maybe lying is more popular, but I think there is another reason.

It’s the same reason we have the verb “levitate,” but no verb that means “to remain on earth, subject to gravity.” To levitate is to do something unexpected and contrary to our natural state. We need a word for that.

In the same way, a lie is contrary to our natural state. Humans communicate. A lot. In every conversation, we assume the information given to us is true, or we would not bother to listen.

But there’s more to a lie than bad information. The speaker aims to deceive. His untruth invites and depends upon the listener’s assumption of truth. He exploits our natural state to pervert our natural state.

The truth at the heart of every lie is that truth matters. If it didn’t, lies would not work.

But it goes much deeper. Humans communicate, but they also learn and reason and, at last resort, attack. We could destroy one another (and sometimes do), but we more happily use our minds to enrich one another, learning and reasoning together in peace and humility.

It’s not that humans are naturally agreeable, but we know two important things.

First, there are real things about which to agree, things we can confirm with our minds and our hearts and our senses. Second, we know how ugly and futile it is to use force.

Our shared ability to see and discuss real things and, especially, our refusal to use force against those who peacefully disagree, was the foundation of our peaceful culture.

But this appears to be over.

Yesterday’s judicial attack upon a political rival was a dramatic step away from American culture and into the realm of tyranny, but it was not the first. For years, we have seen the power of our government used as a club, overruling more and more of what we know to be true.

We lie about law. We lie about humanity. We lie about history. We lie about science. We lie about medicine. We censor ideas we don’t like and persecute people we can’t control. We lie about the obvious and, as our lies become more outrageous, we use greater force to compel obedience.

Our lies have destroyed the foundation of peace upon which this nation was built.

So, move over, George Washington. You’re being traded for the Father of Lies.

What Doesn’t Change

What’s more surprising; the way our culture has changed, or the way it hasn’t?

The changes are obvious: our novel ideas about men and women and sex, about the role of government, about the value of children. The new ideas seem to have won, but – strangely – their supporters shrink back as if embarrassed by their success. As if, even in victory, they see their ideas as inferior to those they pushed aside.

This is apparent in the confusion and half-measures of their crusade, the constant attempt to dress up new ideas in old language.

If a man really could escape the ancient and obvious category of Male, why in the world should he promptly (and pointlessly) run toward the equally ancient and obvious category of Female? If he claims to overthrow gender, let him get on with it. Let him take pride in being a neuter or gelding, or whatever new category he offers to replace the old.

If a man rejects the ancient conclusions of Christianity and morality, why should he cling to its framework by claiming to be “good”? Let him take pride in being evil or offer some new category to replace good and evil.

If a man spends his career stopping the hearts of children, or surgically mutilating their gender, why hide his actions behind the veil of medicine and a clamor for rights? Let him take pride in his carnage and stop pretending that he is a doctor.

But of course, these things will not happen. Evil may triumph, but it will always hide. It may rage, but it will always feel ashamed. It cannot take pride in its distortions because it knows, as we know, that they are distortions. It will always pretend to be something else – to be that eternal, indelible thing we call Good.

The Clue of Beauty

A girl begins to sing, and she sings very well. The other judges are pleased, but one sinks into her chair, hides her face in her hands, and weeps.

A busy mall in December. The roaring crowd of shoppers abruptly stops and looks around, silenced by a lonely voice singing a half-forgotten Christmas song.

In a movie theatre with my young son, something inside me leaps as the rings of Saturn crawl across the window of our spaceship.

It feels like a clue, the way beauty can capture us, the way it sometimes tears a hole in the dense fabric of the day, allowing something deep and heartbreaking to shine through.

We might stare in wonder, or close our eyes for a moment, retreating to a secret place. It feels like memory, like a familiar voice we had somehow forgotten or the scent of a home we somehow lost. It calls to something deep inside us, and something in us longs to answer.

And then it is gone. The tear is mended, and we return to ourselves, immersed in the events of the day.

Such experiences are easy to dismiss. We call them emotion, or art, or nostalgia. We pin them like dead butterflies and file them away. But they leave us tender, either wary of whatever waits outside, calling to half-forgotten parts of us, or maybe wishing we knew how to answer.

And that is the question. What to do with the clue?

If our culture is right, we humans are biological accidents with no soul, no reason to love, and no reason to feel awe or joy in the presence of beauty. Beauty means nothing because life means nothing.

But what if our hearts are right after all? What if we long for more because there is more? What if the beauty that captivates us is more solid and enduring than our everyday routine? What if something outside is calling to the most important part of us, and there is a way for us to answer?

And that’s the point of Christmas.

We find great beauty in this world, but it is a world of goodbyes. Good things come, but also evil, and in the end we die.

In this angry and hopeless world, if we happen to think of God, we often think of him as distant and vague, but Christmas brings us back to reality. To a tired man and woman, far from home, making do in a cold stable. To a newborn baby, wrinkled and freshly scrubbed, looking into his mother’s face. Not God up there, but God right here. God so small. God with us.

The Christ-child came as beauty always comes, as a gift and a word. A gift that offers joy and demands nothing. A word that tells of the giver and his goodwill toward us.

When we are moved by beauty, we are moved toward home. Toward the Creator of beauty who is always giving and always calling to the deepest part of us. Toward the Christ-child who gave us his very self, living and dying in a way that is still tearing holes in the darkness.


Talent show:

Mall choir:

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart, yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

-Ecclesiastes 3

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

-Luke 2